Review: Remember Love by Mary Balogh

Review: Remember Love by Mary BaloghRemember Love (Ravenswood, #1) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Ravenswood #1
Pages: 400
Published by Berkley on July 12, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

The undisputed queen of Regency romance is back with a brand-new story perfect for fans of Bridgerton.
The handsome and charismatic Earl of Stratton, Caleb Ware, has been exposed to the ton for his clandestine affairs—by his own son.
As a child, Devlin Ware thought his family stood for all that was right and good in the world. They were kind, gracious, and shared the beauty of Ravenwood, their grand country estate, by hosting lavish parties for the entire countryside. But at twenty-two, he discovered his whole world was an elaborate illusion, and when Devlin publicly called his family to account for it, he was exiled as a traitor.
So be it. He enlisted in the fight against Napoleon and didn’t look back for six years. But now his father is dead, the Ware family is broken, and as the heir he is being called home. It’s only when Gwyneth Rhys—the woman he loved and then lost after his family banished him—holds out her hand to help him that he is able make the difficult journey and try to piece together his fractured family.
It is Gwyneth’s loyalty, patience, and love that he needs. But is Devlin’s war-hardened heart even capable of offering her love in return?

My Review:

Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale and Caleb Ware, Earl of Stratton must have been bosom buddies. Possibly literally. Certainly they seem to have been cut from the same despicable cloth. Both were wealthy aristocrats who lived a lie and expected everyone around them to go along with that lie rather than face up to the uncomfortable truth.

Westcott hid his perfidy until after his death, which makes the shocking opening of the Westcott series, Someone to Love, all that much more upsetting. But at least Westcott didn’t require that others go along with his false front because he kept his secret very well hidden indeed.

Caleb Ware, very much on the other hand, needed admiration, approval and even applause from all those who surrounded him. He projected the image of a loving husband and father with a perfect family because he needed people to love him at every turn. Not that there weren’t plenty of men in his position who lived lives completely separate from the wives and families and didn’t care about the winks and nods that followed in their wake.

But Ware needed to have it all. A perfect family at his country home, and a mistress or two, or three, in London. When he brought his current mistress to his country estate and flaunted his affair in front of his friends and family he expected everyone to turn the same blind eye that they always had. And when one member of his family refused to turn that blind eye, and refused to sweep the entire tawdry incident under the rug for the sake of peace and not rocking the family boat – he likewise refused to take responsibility for his actions. And the rest of the family punished the young man who could not stand idly by after learning that his oh-so-perfect father, his hero, had feet of clay up to the knees – or perhaps a bit higher.

And that’s what kicks this story into a higher gear – that the expected pattern of the lives of not just the Earl and his heir are knocked off course – but that the entire family’s future is irrevocably altered over the course of one disastrous night.

The aftermath of which makes for a much more fascinating – and occasionally dangerous – life than anyone would have expected for the heir to an earldom – and for the woman he once expected to be his bride.

Escape Rating A-: The Ravenswood series is off to a heartbreaking but eventually heartwarming and redemptive start in this opening entry in the series. It has the potential for all the elements that made the Westcott series so fascinating, with Devlin Ware’s condemnation of his father’s behavior and his family’s complicity drastically altering ALL their lives.

What makes the initial break in the story such a huge change is that it encompasses both Devlin’s sharply learned lesson that his father is not worthy of being anyone’s hero, and that the rest of his family would rather keep lying to themselves and each other than try to fix what’s broken. That Caleb Ware is the one who behaved so very badly but Devlin Ware is the one who gets punished for it puts the hypocrisy of the whole mess on disgusting display.

But Caleb eventually does get his just desserts, while Devlin immediately gets a commission in the infantry. During the worst of the fighting of the bitter Napoleonic Wars. From one perspective, it’s the making of him, while in the other it represents the shattering of his heart into pieces so tiny that Devlin is no longer certain he even possesses such an organ.

The heartbreak for Devlin’s family is that the only way he can survive the hell of his war is to compartmentalize his feelings for his family and reject all contact with any of them – except for his father’s bastard son who is serving as his batman. It’s a cold, hard, bitter road that he walks – but he does survive it.

Only to return home after Napoleon’s surrender, two years after his father’s death, to do his duty yet again and pick up the reins of the earldom that he has inherited. He has done his best to cut his family out of his heart, but Devlin Ware is a man who has always done his duty – and taking up the mantle of the Earl of Stratton is his duty.

Once Devlin is back in the place he once called home, doing his best to fit himself into the place that is his duty, he tries to convince himself that it is out of duty alone and not the emotions he swears he’s no longer capable of feeling. He eventually learns that duty does not have to mean burden, and that if he allows himself to feel all the things that he locked away during his war, his peace can be filled with not just true peace, but also real love and belonging.

In the end I enjoyed Remember Love because it is a story where the life that’s supposed to happen gets pushed aside for a life that is harder and darker but in the end much more real, and that’s the same thing that made the Westcott series so fascinating. Young Devlin, before he left, was a bit of a prig. He meant well and generally did well but could really be a self-righteous young man. He’s much more interesting when he’s much less sure of things – as well as a whole lot more approachable and loveable.

Gwyneth Rhys, the heroine of this romance, doesn’t pine. She doesn’t wallow. But what she does is know herself, her strengths, her weaknesses and those situations up with which she will not put. She is not going to change to suit a man, but she does deal pragmatically with the life she has.

The character who turned out to be a complete surprise was Devlin’s mother, the Dowager Countess. The woman who did her best not to know about her husband’s frequent infidelities until he brought them to her very door. At first, she seems weak in that she didn’t protest her husband’s affairs and actually participated in her son’s banishment. It’s only when she acknowledges to Devlin that she did the best she could with the cards she was dealt because women were forced to lie all the time to survive. She lied to herself because that is what she and women like her were trained to do practically from the cradle.

It makes Devlin think. It makes the reader think. And it makes the reader wonder – or at least this reader wonder – whether or not all that much has really changed.

Remember Love is the first book in the Ravenswood series. Now that Devlin is back home and has found his own HEA, I wonder what will happen next in the slightly altered lives of his family and friends in the coming entries in the series. Hopefully we’ll see sometime next year!

Review: The Roguish Baron by Sophie Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

A daring forbidden love romance from a USA Today bestselling author

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: Ten Rules for Marrying a Duke by Michelle McLean

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: Mr. Dale and the Divorcee by Sophie Barnes

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

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

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Wedding Wager by Eva Devon

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie Barnes

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just because she can finally see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The men in her life, not so much.

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

Review: Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh

Review: Someone to Cherish by Mary BaloghSomeone to Cherish (Westcott #8) by Mary Balogh
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Westcott #8
Pages: 336
Published by Berkley on June 29, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Is love worth the loss of one's freedom and independence? This is what Mrs. Tavernor must decide in the new novel in the Westcott series from New York Times bestselling author Mary Balogh.
When Harry Westcott lost the title Earl of Riverdale after the discovery of his father's bigamy, he shipped off to fight in the Napoleonic Wars, where he was near-fatally wounded. After a harrowing recovery, the once cheery, light-hearted boy has become a reclusive, somber man. Though Harry insists he enjoys the solitude, he does wonder sometimes if he is lonely.
Lydia Tavernor, recently widowed, dreams of taking a lover. Her marriage to Reverend Isaiah Tavernor was one of service and obedience, and she has secretly enjoyed her freedom since his death. She doesn't want to shackle herself to another man in marriage, but sometimes, she wonders if she is lonely.
Both are unwilling to face the truth until they find themselves alone together one night, and Lydia surprises even herself with a simple question: "Are you ever lonely?" Harry's answer leads them down a path neither could ever have imagined...

My Review:

There should be a truly hot place in hell for the late, unlamented Humphrey Westcott, Earl of Riverdale. But, and it is now a huge, 8 marvelous books and counting BUT, the results of his metaphorical bastardy, to whit, the legal and actual bastardy he inflicted on his three children who believed they were legitimate, have been glorious.

So maybe an exceptionally hot place in hell with a few occasional luxuries. Because it’s all his fault, including some of the surprisingly good things. Like this series which began with Someone to Love and doesn’t seem to be over yet.

Thank goodness. Or perhaps I should be thanking Humphrey’s badness. Maybe a bit of both?

As big of a factor as Humphrey’s badness has been in this entire series, a more fitting summation of the issues in this entry might be this particular paraphrase of Thoreau, the one that goes, “If you see someone coming towards you with the obvious intent of doing you good – run like hell.” with the added codicil that it goes double if that someone – or many someones in the case of Major Harry Westcott, are family.

There are an awful lot of well-meaning, good intentioned families in fiction who have, let’s call them, boundary issues. As in entirely too many of them ignore any boundaries set by other members of the family. They’re just sure they know best. And maybe, sometimes, they do. But even when they might, even if they do, they can be a bit much and more than a bit annoying and extremely frustrating when the boundaries they are riding roughshod over belong to adults who might, equally and with much better justification, know what they do and don’t want for themselves.

The story in Someone to Cherish centers around two people, both adults nearing 30, so really, really actual adults mostly adulting, whose families are both firmly convinced that neither of these adults could possibly know what they want for themselves, or really mean anything they say about what they want for themselves, and that other people in the family, older if not wiser, know best.

Ironically, or paradoxically, it’s the women of the Westcott family who are certain that Harry doesn’t know what’s good for him, while it’s the men of Lydia Winterbourne Tavernor’s family who are just as certain that she can’t possibly know her own mind or truly desire her own independence.

But there’s a critical difference. When Harry’s family invades his country home to give him a huge 30th birthday party whether he wants one or not, he goes along with their plans because he loves them, because they are already there, and because it would be horribly rude not to. However, that they brought along three young ladies as possible brides for him, all he has to be is polite. No more, no less. His family can’t make him marry or even make him consider one of those young ladies as a possible bride. Even with all of his wealth and titles stripped from him by his illegitimacy, as a man he is still free to live his life as he pleases.

Lydia’s experience is completely the opposite. During her girlhood, her father and brothers did their best to wrap her in cotton wool and protect her from everything she might worry her little head about. Her father refused to allow her a season because London “wasn’t safe” and she wouldn’t be properly protected from the rakehells of the ton. When she married, she went straight from her father’s loving but demeaning protection to her husband’s dictatorial pronouncements about every single facet of her life. As a woman, she has no recourse, the men in her life, who actually do love her, control her very being and expect her to acquiesce. It’s only as a widow with enough money to support herself that she has the freedom to be who and what she wants to be.

A freedom that she will lose if she trusts herself to another man – no matter how much that man claims to love her. After growing up in an environment designed to keep her childlike, and marrying a man she loved but who dictated her every move and thought, the first person whose judgement she questions is always herself.

And yes, this is a personal soapbox that I’ve climbed on and now can’t quite figure out how to get down from. Pardon me a moment while I search for a very tall metaphorical ladder to use for a descent.

All of that being said – and yes, I know I said a LOT – what eventually becomes the romance between Harry and Lydia is very much of a slow burn kind of romance, because they are both slowly burning kind of people. Both have experienced tragedy, both have hidden their true selves behind masks that they are having a difficult time pulling off, and both are very uncertain about trust.

They are also both prominent people in the tiny village of Hinsford, a circumstance that comes to bite both of them in the ass – but also forces them to decide who they are and who they want to be.

It takes them more than a bit of time to figure out that what they want to be is together, because together they have that trust that both of them have lacked.

Escape Rating B: This one turned out to be kind of a mixed bag for me as a reader. I got up on that really tall soapbox because there were a lot of elements of the setup that obviously drove me utterly bananas. It has felt like every other book that I’ve read in the last couple of months has been chock-full of families with boundary issues and generally heroines who have trouble saying “NO” and setting and maintaining boundaries with their well-meaning but annoyingly intrusive families.

The power dynamics of Lydia’s relationship with her birth family AND her late husband add fuel to that fire, as she has no agency until she becomes a widow – and even then her birth family is eager, insistent and downright smothering in their attempts to snatch that agency away from her.

I see that soapbox looming again so I’ll move on.

Lydia has been self-effacing to the point of disappearing in plain sight for most of her life. A huge and lovely part of this story is watching her stretch, grow, and STOP HIDING. Her two steps forward, half step back progress feels real.

At the same time, one of her first steps forward is to ask Harry, in an extremely roundabout and circuitous way, if he’d be interested in starting what we would call a “friends with benefits” relationship. With her.

And every single thing that both of them expect, along with a passion that neither of them knew to expect, happens. Especially all the bad things. It’s their response to those bad things that forms the heart of the romance in this story, but it takes a bit too much of the book to get off the ground – even though they’ve already gotten off. So to speak.

Ahem.

So as much as I’ve enjoyed this series as a whole, the book in the series that this one most reminds me of is Someone to Care, the story I liked the least so far. In that one, the first half was lovely and the second half drove me bananas. With this one its the other way around. The first half was a slog but the second half worked itself out into a lovely HEA.

I’m glad I read this, both to see how the rest of Harry’s large and boisterous family are doing and to see one of the original “victims” of Humphrey’s bastardy finally get his own life fully together and happy.

I’m still fascinated with the Westcott family, so I’m already looking forward to the next book in the series, Someone Perfect – we’ll see about that! – coming just in time for the holiday season.

Review: Her Scottish Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: Her Scottish Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayHer Scottish Scoundrel (Diamonds in the Rough, #7) by Sophie Barnes
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #7
Pages: 424
Published by Sophie Barnes on May 25, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Destined for the hangman's noose, love is a dream he cannot afford to have...
When Blayne MacNeil agrees to be Miss Charlotte Russell's bodyguard, he doesn't expect her to expand the job description to fake fiancé. After twenty years in hiding, announcing his engagement to a viscount's daughter could prove fatal. For if anyone were to recognize him, he'd be charged with murder.
Determined to keep her independence in order to safeguard her writing career, Charlotte must avoid marriage. After all, no respectable gentleman would ever permit his wife to pen outrageous adventure novels. But when her most recent manuscript disappears, the roguish Scotsman posing as her fiancé becomes her closest ally—and the greatest threat to her freedom.

My Review:

I picked this up because I fell in love with this series all the way back at its very beginning, with A Most Unlikely Duke. Because he was, and because the way that story worked was just lovely.

I’ve stuck with the series because I’ve enjoyed every single one of these unsuitable romances, admittedly some more than others as is generally the case with a series that is 8 books and happily counting.

Or at least I’m happily counting, and I’m sure that other readers are too.

What makes this series so much fun in general, and this entry in particular, is that all of the matches that occur are not just unlikely, but are completely unsuitable and generally downright scandalous into the bargain. And that the reason for the unlikeliness, unsuitability and scandalousness shifts and changes from one story to the next and from the spear side (male) to the distaff side (female) and back again as the series continues.

(I had to look up just what the opposite of “distaff” actually was.)

The other thing that makes these so fascinating, and something that was a big part of this particular story, is that the women have agency in an era when we didn’t used to expect that in a romance, and, even better, that their agency feels at least plausible – if not necessarily likely – for their time and place.

BUT, and this is a huge but that provides a lot of both realism and tension, their agency is always precarious, even if they aren’t necessarily aware of it. They have agency at the sufferance, benign neglect or downright absence of their fathers. And that agency can be taken away at any point.

That’s what happens in this particular story. Now in her late – very late – 20s, Charlotte Russell is very firmly on the shelf. She’s happy with that fate, and believes that her parents are resigned to it. Charlotte, because of her on-the-shelf designation, has a fair bit of freedom, and she has used that freedom to become a best-selling author of the slightly scandalous adventures of a rakehell spy.

Of course, those stories are written under a male nom-de-plume, and published by a friend who owns a small publishing company. Keeping her secret is of paramount importance to Charlotte, as the scandal that would result from her exposure would taint not just her own non-existent chances of marriage but also her parents’ reputation in society as well as that of her two sisters and their husbands.

And it would absolutely kill sales of her books, which she is counting on to secure her own freedom.

But everything Charlotte believes about her life and her parents’ acceptance of it all goes down the drain when her father announces that he’s invited an American businessman to London to not just meet her but to marry her, will she or nil.

In response to being essentially bought and sold, Charlotte makes an arrangement with the entirely unsuitable owner of a dangerous pub and boxing establishment in the East End to be her bodyguard and fake fiance. Not that she’s consulted him about the second part of the arrangement before she springs it on him in front of her parents!

So Charlotte Russell finds that she was always much less free than she thought. She has no idea that Blayne MacNeil is much more unsuitable than she believed.

And neither of them expects to fall in love.

Escape Rating B+: What made this story for me was, honestly, Charlotte. Because she wants the same two things that many of us still want – love and purpose. And she’s honest enough with herself to understand that those two desires may lie in opposition to each other.

Not that fulfillment through marriage and children is not a noble or worthwhile purpose, but it isn’t Charlotte’s purpose. Her dream is to write, and she is aware that in order to be free to achieve that dream she’ll most likely have to be a spinster. And she’s okay with that choice.

Her parents don’t know about her writing, because it’s too scandalous to reveal, and don’t understand or don’t care that she is willing to quietly flout societal expectations in order to make her own way in the world.

Her mother, honestly, just wants what’s best for her and isn’t able to make that leap that what most people think is best just isn’t what is best for Charlotte. But her father doesn’t care what Charlotte wants and further doesn’t care that he initially treated her as a son because he didn’t have any, and his expectation that she will now be obedient like a daughter is supposed to be is more than a bit shortsighted.

And he needs the money that her marriage to the American businessman will bring – because he screwed up the family finances – and can’t bring himself to give a damn about any dissenting voices from anyone.

Charlotte’s crisis is that she just didn’t see how easily all of her freedom could be taken away if she didn’t tow the line. That diminishing of freedom diminishes her spirit and in turn, herself.

Where Blayne gets himself in trouble is that he can’t bear to watch that diminishment, no matter how dangerous it makes his own situation. And it IS dangerous. Because he is not what he seems.

This is a big part of the reason that this entire series reminds me of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt, in that many of the characters either live and work on the wrong side of the law abiding fence or are caught in criminal circumstances not of their own making. In Blayne’s case it’s both.

And the resolution of that part of the scenario was a bit of a surprise. It’s not a surprise that Blayne and Charlotte manage, in spite of several rather desperate circumstances, their HEA, because this is after all a romance and they’re supposed to reach it. What’s surprising is the way it’s achieved.

Blayne has to choose between being right and being happy. In real life that can be a harder choice than it ought to be, and it’s not easy here, either. But it makes that ending very much earned.

Diamonds in the Rough will be back later this year when The Dishonored Viscount (of course through no fault of his own!) makes his own way to his own kind of honor – and falls in love along the way.

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Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ Charles

Review: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by KJ CharlesThe Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K.J. Charles
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, M/M romance, regency romance
Pages: 276
Published by KJC Books on February 24, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne are the hit of the Season, so attractive and delightful that nobody looks behind their pretty faces.
Until Robin sets his sights on Sir John Hartlebury’s heiress niece. The notoriously graceless baronet isn’t impressed by good looks, or fooled by false charm. He’s sure Robin is a liar—a fortune hunter, a card sharp, and a heartless, greedy fraud—and he’ll protect his niece, whatever it takes.
Then, just when Hart thinks he has Robin at his mercy, things take a sharp left turn. And as the grumpy baronet and the glib fortune hunter start to understand each other, they also find themselves starting to care—more than either of them thought possible.
But Robin's cheated and lied and let people down for money. Can a professional rogue earn an honest happy ever after?

My Review:

Like their namesakes, Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne (from Nottinghamshire, no less!) have entered the ton’s Marriage Mart to steal from the rich and give to the poor. The difference all lies with who the later Robin and his sister have put in the positions of ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ and just how they intend to accomplish that ‘steal’.

That’s also where all the tropes, along with everything we ever thought about Regency romance, get turned on their heads.

Because Robin and Marianne, in spite of their carefully constructed appearances and personas, know themselves to be the poor – especially in comparison with the high-flyers and high-sticklers of the ton’s elite. Who are, in this scenario, the rich that the Loxleighs are planning to steal from.

Not directly. They are not pickpockets or jewel thieves – although Robin does cheat more than a bit at cards in order to help keep their precarious gamble afloat. What they plan to steal is not so much a thing but rather a place – each – among the upper crust who would spit on them – quite possibly literally – if they managed to see behind the pair’s carefully constructed facade.

They are well on their way to using their exceptional good looks and exceptional well-crafted images to find themselves rich – and if possible titled – spouses to provide them with the financial security they’ve craved.

It all seems to be going entirely too well. Marianne has a marquess well in hand while Robin has been making steady progress with an awkward but intelligent young woman eager to marry and finally gain access to the money her father left for her.

And that’s where the carriage of their intentions comes to a screeching halt, as a protector comes to town to save the young lady that Robin has been pursuing from any designs on her fortune.

At first, Sir John Hartlebury casts himself as the enemy that no plan survives contact with. But all is not as it seems. Not Robin’s plans to marry, not John’s plans to interfere, and not even the young lady’s plans to marry.

It’s damnably difficult for Robin to continue his pursuit of the young lady’s fortune when what he’d really rather chase are her protector’s muscled thighs!

Escape Rating A: The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting is an absolutely delightful Regency romp, if not exactly the kind that Georgette Heyer made so much her own.

There’s so much that gets completely turned on its head – and that’s what makes the whole thing such an absolute pleasure to read.

At first Robin and Marianne seem like grifters, out to take what they can get. But as the layers peel back we see that what they really are is fairly young and desperate for security. Money and position buy a lot of security so that’s what they are hunting for when they hunt those fortunes.

The story also exposes the darkness underneath the glitter of the ton. As long as they pretend to be impoverished but well-born, they can be accepted. Any exposure of who and what they really are will get them kicked out the door. But they are the same people either way.

While it’s Robin’s enemies-to-lovers romance with Sir John that strikes all the romantic sparks in this story – and are they ever explosive together! – the character I really felt for was young Alice, the bride that Robin initially pursues.

Because Alice has her own plans. She wants to be a mathematician. She has the capability, the capacity and the talent. What she doesn’t have is the money to pursue her studies, at least not without marrying so she can get the money set aside for her. She’s looking for a deal, or a steal, every bit as much as Robin is and is just as willing to use him to get what she wants as he initially was willing to use her.

In the end, there are a whole lot of witty and intelligent characters who finally discover ways to reach towards their own happiness by learning to ignore all the voices that tell them they shouldn’t have it.

This is one of those times when I know I’m not quite conveying it well. My words feel about as awkward as the brusque and blunt Sir John. Describing what I liked about this book so much feels like trying to capture the effervescence of champagne.

A dry champagne, a bit tart, but with plenty of sparkle and lots of bubbles – of happiness and joy. So if you’re looking for a romance filled with heat, bubbling with laughter and having just a bit of a bite, this one is a winner.

Review: The Rakehell of Roth by Amalie Howard + Giveaway

Review: The Rakehell of Roth by Amalie Howard + GiveawayThe Rakehell of Roth (Regency Rogues, #2) by Amalie Howard
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Regency Rogues #2
Pages: 400
Published by Entangled: Amara on February 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In this game of seduction, the rules don't apply...
As owner of the most scandalous club in London, the last thing the notorious Marquess of Roth wants is a wife. Keeping up his false reputation as a rake brings in the clients with the deepest pockets—money he needs to fund a noble cause. Even though everything inside tells him not to leave his beautiful, innocent wife behind at his country estate...he must.
But three years later, tired of her scoundrel of a husband headlining the gossip rags, Lady Isobel Vance decides enough is enough. She is no longer a fragile kitten, but as the anonymous author of a women’s sexual advice column, she’s now a roaring tigress...and she can use her claws.
Isobel decides to go to him in London, channeling her powers of seduction to make him beg to take her back. But she didn’t expect her marauding marquess to be equally hard to resist. Now the game is on to see who will give in to the other first, with both sides determined like hell to win.

My Review:

There are marriages of convenience. And there are convenient marriages, which is more the case of the marriage between Winter Vance, Marquess of Roth, and his wife Lady Isobel.

But after  Roth conveniently weds her and beds her and leaves her at his father’s country estate in Chelmsford so he can return to London to run his gaming hell, the girl he leaves behind is most emphatically NOT the woman his father escorts to London three years later.

The little mouse in desperate rescue has grown up into a hell-cat bent on sinking her claws into her wayward husband – one way or another. Although she certainly knows which way she’d prefer she’ll take a win any way she can get one.

Almost any way.

What she wants is a husband and a real marriage, with the possibility of children – even if she has a hard time admitting that her young and innocent heart fell in love with her handsome husband – and that his subsequent dastardly behavior has not killed that love.

What he wants is to be left alone. Not just by Isobel, but also by the rest of his estranged family; his uptight father and his jealous younger brother. Winter’s heart is frozen in the past, with the sister he couldn’t protect and the mother who was betrayed and abandoned by her husband. Both women are dead, and Winter believes that if he couldn’t protect them, he shouldn’t let anyone else get close out of fear that he won’t be able to protect them either.

Winter is pretty much a complete mess. A successful businessman, but emotionally and psychologically more than a bit of a wreck – albeit a VERY well built one.

Isobel comes to London believing that she’s there to get revenge on her wayward husband for the disrespect he’s shown her. And that she’ll be able to return to the country – after he’s groveled at her feet, of course – with her heart intact.

Winter believes that all he has to do is keep pushing Isobel away until she finally gets the message that she’s better off as far away from him as possible. Back in the country at his father’s estate.

Of course, they’re both wrong, wrong, wrong. But watching them figure that out is a whole lot of sexy and scandalous fun!

Escape Rating B+: For all the people who are shying about from this book because the blurb reads as if he cheats – he really doesn’t – and that’s obvious early on so not a spoiler. This book is a fun romp and I’d hate for people who are interested to miss it because of something that doesn’t happen after all.

I have to say that the first chapter is very hard reading. Isobel is so naïve that her attitudes and internal dialog are sweet to the point of tooth decay, while Winter is a cold, jaded bastard – except in the bedroom – where he burns hot enough to immolate them both – only to abandon Isobel as soon as he’s spent. Calling him an ass is an insult to asses everywhere.

Fortunately, in fact very fortunately for the entire story, Isobel’s cloying innocent phase doesn’t last long at all. After Winter leaves immediately upon consummating their marriage (and I do mean IMMEDIATELY and not the next morning), the story picks up 3 years later and Isobel has changed a LOT and for the better.

This is where the story gets to be fun!

It’s not just that Isobel has grown up and gotten righteously angry at her situation, it’s the WAY she’s gotten angry. She and her best friend Clarissa have not just been rusticating at Chelmsford.

Together, they’ve become the early 18th century version of Dr. Ruth, writing and publishing a scandalous sex education column for women under the penname Lady Darcy. Under the guise of research, they’ve acquired a LOT of book knowledge about love, sex, what men want and more importantly, what women want and especially what women need to know. Not about pleasing men or capturing men, but about pleasing themselves. Possibly by capturing, or at least captivating, men.

But it’s sex writing and sex education centered on women. It’s marvelous. It’s scandalous. And it gives them both an independent income. It also gives Isobel the inner fortitude to go to London and confront – and possibly captivate – the husband who has just been featured in the gossip rags for fighting a duel over another woman!

The romance in this one is all about the push and pull between Isobel and Winter. Not just that they burn up the pages like fire, but that the burn has all of the sex positivity in it that The Rakess tried to have and just didn’t, or at least it didn’t for me. The romance between Isobel and Winter is all about the way that they explore every facet of what they have together, including more than a bit of totally consensual kink. And it’s wonderful.

On the other hand, after all of the asshattery that Winter has committed, he doesn’t grovel nearly enough when he finally does figure out that he is both capable of loving and that he really does love Isobel in spite of his protestations.

And that the scene where they save each other from thieves, kidnappers and murderers and then screw each other senseless was the only point where I missed having read the first book in the series, The Beast of Beswick. Because everything to do with their being in danger in the first place circled back to events from that book. Their mutual ravishment in a back alley did, however, make the scene end with a resounding climax even if I didn’t get all of the underlying causes of the fight.

There’s one thing keeping this from being a “Grade A” read for me. The hero who believes his unworthy of love is a tried and true trope that I enjoy when it’s done well. A lot of the reasons that Winter believes he’s unworthy make sense, that he couldn’t protect his mother and sister and has never been able to measure up to his father’s high expectations. But he’s also unwilling to love anyone because his mother was destroyed by her love for his father and his father’s lack of ability to return that love. He’s learned that love is a destoyer and he has no interest in being that vulnerable to anyone. Period.

Even before we discover the truth of that past, this part of Winter’s motivations didn’t quite work for me. Men had so many more options for, well, everything, in the early 19th century than women. Winter proves to be not nearly stupid enough or oblivious enough to NOT be aware of that fact, as some of his later actions prove. I just didn’t buy that part of his story.

But overall, The Rakehell of Roth is a terrific froth of a Regency romp with just enough serious bits to really keep the reader engaged – if occasionally also enraged at the hero along with the heroine. If this kind of story sounds like your cup of tea, it reminded me a lot of The Wildes of Lindow Castle series by Eloisa James and any of Eva Leigh’s three series, The Union of the Rakes, The London Underground and especially The Wicked Quills of London. The heroines of all of those series would find plenty of common cause with Isobel and her BFF Clarissa. So if you find yourself cheering Isobel on and want more like her then those ladies will fill your TBR pile nicely indeed.

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