Review: Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James + GiveawayMidsummer Delights: A Short Story Collection by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance, short stories
Pages: 96
Published by Avon Impulse on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


A Midsummer Night's Disgrace
​Eloisa revisits the ​scintillating world of the Essex Sisters with a story featuring a young lady, Cecilia Bellingworth, who has decided she would rather ruin her reputation than endure further speculation about whether her children will be "silly," like her brother, Billy.​ ​After two failed seasons, ​Cecilia ​decides she ​will dress as she likes​ (in a scandalous red dress!)​ and flirt outrageously​ (with a scandalous pianist!)​. Fortunately, a gorgeous musician at the Duchess of Ormond's house party presents the perfect candidate for scandal…

​Previously published in the Essex Sisters Official Companion Guide (e only).


At Midnight
​Elias Hempleworth-Gray has one thing and one thing only of value—his title, Earl of Leyton. Determined to leave England and the scandal of his gambler father behind, Elias hopes to turn his fortunes around and come back a respectable man to claim the only woman for him, Miss Penelope White. But Penny has other plans for the man she has loved all her life…plans that include a masquerade, a stolen kiss and a lost shoe.

Previously published in the Fairy Tale sampler (print only).


Ever After
When she was sixteen, Miss Violet Leighton spent one blissful month romping around her family estate with Rothwell Talcott…thirty days of shared kisses, culminating in a very illicit afternoon in a berry patch. As Rothwell leaves for his grand tour, he gives his word of honor that he will return for her. Four years and seven refused proposals later, Violet is about to give up and marry when he finally returns. Now the Duke of Cambridge, Rothwell wants to make her his duchess. But how can Violet trust the man who stole her virtue—and then broke her heart?

Previously published in The Ugly Duchess (print only).

My Review:

This will be a short and sweet review of three short and very sweet (also slightly naughty) historical romances.

All three of these stories have been published before, but in separate collections. And while they all hearken back to earlier series, all three also have something in common.

The stories in this collection are very short. In fact, very, very short. If you are looking for a quick romantic getaway, the individual stories in this collection can probably each be read over a cup of coffee – or certainly over a quick lunch.

One of the dilemmas of romances in short stories is that they can easily smack of insta-love – especially if one is hoping for a happily ever after. In the case of these three stories, the author has worked around that problem by making these, not exactly second chances at love, but returns to, or reveals of, an existing love that is quickly re-established in the course of the story.

In A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, the heroine has had enough of pretending to be the perfect debutante. While not exactly on the shelf yet, she really wants to be relegated to that shelf, so she can retire to the country and pursue her musical studies. If she had been born male, she would be able to take lessons and possibly even be a musician, but it is deemed unladylike and inappropriate for her female self.

She plans on seducing, or being seduced by, the marvelous and utterly gorgeous piano player at the house party she is attending, only to discover that the mysterious pianist is actually the very well grown up version of the boy who used to put grasshoppers down her dress when they were children. And that he can give her all the music her heart desires.

At Midnight is the story of a young man with a prestigious title and pockets to let, courtesy of a father who gambled away just about everything else the family owned. He loves the young woman whose father bought his former patrimony, but is unwilling to ask for her hand and let it be said that he is only marrying her for the land he once called home. It takes the contrivance of their friends, along with the seeming anonymity of a masquerade ball, for the course of true love to find its way.

Ever After, like A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, is also the story of a young woman who has turned down all her suitors. But in this case, it’s because none of them measure up to the young man she fell in love with when she was 16. At the time, she believed that he loved her in return, but he has been out of the country for four years and she has received only two letters in all that time. She’s sure he’s moved on, and equally sure that no one else will ever replace him in her heart. Then he arrives, in the middle of a ton ball where she is dodging yet more suitors, and literally carries her off to plead his case. She shouldn’t forgive him, but of course she does.

Escape Rating B: These stories are all, as I said at the top, short and sweet, with just a touch of naughty. In spite of their brief length, each one does a fairly good job of establishing its characters and the connection between them without making it feel like insta-love.

For readers who are familiar with the series from which each story came, I’m sure that it is an extra treat to see familiar characters in the background. But for those who are not, as I am, each story is surprisingly complete within itself, especially considering their brevity.

In addition to these little confections, the book also includes a teaser first chapter for the next book in the Wildes of Ludlow Castle series, Too Wilde to Wed. This teaser is a real tease! I loved the first book in the series, Wilde in Love, and was already looking forward to the next book. Having read the first chapter, now I know that May is much too far away. I want it now!

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/gfG1vy
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Two winners will each receive a paperback copy of A Kiss At Midnight by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 2/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: 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: From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eva is giving away 5 paperback copies of From Duke Till Dawn to lucky entrants on this tour
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Guest Review: Tender Wings of Desire by Harland Sanders

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

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

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

Guest Review by Amy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Escape Rating: Extra Crispy

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

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

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

Review: A Reckless Promise by Kasey Michaels + Giveaway

Review: A Reckless Promise by Kasey Michaels + GiveawayA Reckless Promise (The Little Season #3) by Kasey Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Little Season #3
Pages: 400
Published by HQN Books on July 26th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

London's Little Season has never been so scandalous 
It's the kind of vow often made on the battlefield. Darby Travers, Viscount Nailbourne, never imagines he'll have to honor it. Yet here she is on his doorstep—his late comrade's young daughter, and Darby's new ward. Worse, she comes with the most overprotective, mistrustful, bothersome chaperone—the child's aunt, Sadie Grace Boxer. Darby is quite sure that behind her lovely facade, the woman is guarding a secret. 
Sadie Grace faced many trials working in her brother's surgery, but none prepared her for the world she's thrust into with his passing. Navigating the ton, with its endless ball gowns and parade of parties, is difficult enough, but hiding the truth about her niece while the sophisticated viscount watches her every move proves nearly impossible—particularly when his searing gaze tempts her to bare all. But when her family's past catches up with her, she'll have to trust in Darby…no matter the cost to her heart.

My Review:

The lark of The Little Season continues, even though the birds are mostly confined to cameos this time around.

The entire series has a very high froth quotient. If you are in the mood for a bit of light-hearted entertainment filled with intelligent banter, this series is marvelous. And although each book stands alone, there are characters that continue through the series that readers, or at least this reader, will be glad to see get their happily ever after.

The story in A Reckless Promise is similar in many ways to the other books in the series, but the characters make it every bit as delightful to read as the earlier books. Now that I’ve finished, I can see the patterns, but while the story is rollicking along, it’s just pure fun.

It all goes back to the Napoleonic Wars. The four English officers, Darby, Rigby, Sinclair and Cooper who are the heroes of this series were prisoners of war. They just barely made it out with their lives. Darby, the hero of A Reckless Promise, owes his life to the Army Surgeon who was imprisoned with them, John Hamilton.

And that’s where this story begins. When the four men escaped, they begged the doctor to come with them, but to no avail. Hamilton refused to leave his other patients. But he did extract a promise from Darby that if the doctor did not survive, then Darby, the Viscount Nailbourne, would stand as guardian to his little daughter Marley.

It takes nearly two years for Marley to show up at Darby’s door, with her redoubtable aunt in tow. Darby is more than willing to take care of the child. Not just because a promise is a promise, but because he genuinely likes the seven-year-old spitfire, especially after she kicks him in the shin.

But her aunt, Mrs. Sadie Maxwell Boxer, gives him a great deal of pause. He’s more than willing to take her in as well, but the immediate question in his mind is “take her in as what?” The widowed Mrs. Maxwell is relatively young and surprisingly beautiful. Even though she is a widow, Sadie is much too young to remain as the sole female in his bachelor establishment, no matter how much Marley loves her.

The situation becomes even more dire when Darby figures out that the Mr. Maxwell Boxer he has been desperately trying to find was the doctor’s dog. Mrs. Boxer is really Miss Hamilton, and Darby decides he has to marry her. Or at least that’s the excuse he gives himself for doing what he really wants.

What they both really want.

scandalous proposal by kasey michaelsEscape Rating A-: Just like A Scandalous Proposal, this story is carried by its utterly marvelous piffle. If you are looking for something serious, find another book. This one, and the series, are to be read just for the pure light-hearted fun of it.

At the same time, one of the great but slightly serious things that the author has done with this series is to create unconventional heroines that are easy for the 21st century reader to identify with but who do not seem to be anachronistic. It’s not just that Sadie is a doctor’s sister, but that she was forced to take over much of his practice while he was in the Army. And then to continue that practice after he came home debilitated by the lingering wound which eventually killed him.

Sadie has been forced to act as a professional, to have her advice taken seriously, to run a household, and to think entirely for herself. That’s unusual in society-based Regencies, and makes this series stand out. All four of the heroines, including Clarice Goodfellow who unfortunately does not seem to have a book of her own, are unconventional in ways that seem plausible, and that give them a lot of agency. Even if it’s the kind of agency that their society does not expect from a woman.

In addition to the marvelous banter and developing romance, there is also a serious subplot to this book. Sadie and Marley fled to Nailbourne in secret, out of what turns out to be justifiable fears for Marley’s safety. John Hamilton whisked an heiress away from the life her mother planned for her when he married his Susan. Now that both he and Susan are dead, the family that rejected Susan wants Marley back. John’s last wish was that Sadie make sure they don’t win.

But it isn’t Marley’s grandfather who is trying to claim his only grandchild. Instead, there is a much more nefarious plot afoot that Darby and Sadie must thwart in order to secure Marley’s happiness. But their focus on Marley’s happiness almost gets in the way of their own.

As someone who has read the series, the conclusion to Duke Basil’s birthday woes was appropriately a hoot.

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

Kasey and Harlequin are giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky entrant in this tour:

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Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + Giveaway

Review: The Daredevil Snared by Stephanie Laurens + GiveawayThe Daredevil Snared (The Adventurers Quartet, #3) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #3
Pages: 464
Published by Mira on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

He has something to prove 
Captain Caleb Frobisher, hedonistic youngest son of a seafaring dynasty, wants to be taken seriously. Seizing the next leg of the covert mission his brothers are pursuing, he acts decisively and effectively in securing the mission's objectives. But responsibility has taken root, and he remains in the jungle to ensure the mission's ultimate goal. 
She will risk everything 
Katherine Fortescue fled a life of poverty and came to Freetown as a governess, only to be kidnapped and forced to oversee the child workforce at a mine. Guarded by well-armed, well-trained mercenaries, the captives have lost all hope of escape. Then Katherine meets a handsome man—a captain—and he brings the sweet promise of rescue. 
Together they will face the future 
The sadistic mercenary who runs the mine has other plans, but Caleb's true strength lies in extracting advantage from adversity, and through the clashes that follow, he becomes the leader he was always destined to be. The sort of man Katherine can trust—with her body, with her life. With her love. 
Race with THE ADVENTURERS as these passionate daredevils lead the way to the stunning and dramatic conclusion.
#1 New York Times bestselling author of the beloved Cynster novels, Stephanie Laurens takes you on a fresh journey with THE ADVENTURERS QUARTET, a daring Regency-era adventure laced with mystery, tropical heat and passionate romance 

My Review:

The daredevil gets truly, and quite willingly, snared in this third entry in Laurens’ Adventurers’ Quartet.

ladys command by stephanie laurensAnd while I read the first book in this series, The Lady’s Command, and really enjoyed it, I have not read the second book, A Buccaneer at Heart. But I got more than enough clues about what happened that as I read The Daredevil Snared, I really thought I had read Buccaneer. The story does an excellent job of catching readers up with previous events!

The suspense part of this quartet deals with a clandestine diamond mine in West Africa, being operated by nasty mercenaries on behalf of mysterious “backers” located in the halls of power back home in England. But other, and more honorable servants of the crown are moving forces to get the English men, women and children being used as slaves to work the mine out of harm’s way before the mine plays out and their lives are forfeit as “loose ends”.

Katherine Fortescue was kidnapped from Freetown because she was a governess would could manage the children being used as nimble runners and sweepers. She’s also the figurative lieutenant keeping the other women and the children in order as part of the English community at the mine. A community dedicated wholeheartedly to finding a way to escape before it is too late.

Caleb Frobisher is the latest of the Frobisher captains sent to gather intelligence on the operation, with an eye to shutting it down without getting the slaves (read hostages) killed. Caleb, being the most reckless of his brothers, sends the intelligence he gathers back with his ship and a skeleton crew. He then gets himself and the rest of his men kidnapped into the mine. Not necessarily intentionally, but certainly serendipitously. And not without causing almost, but not quite, as many problems as it solves.

Where he falls in love and organizes a quiet rebellion, not necessarily in that order. And nearly gets himself killed.

Escape Rating B: The Daredevil Snared is a solid, and just occasionally stolid, entry in The Adventurers’ Quartet.

The action in this story is constrained by necessity, and it makes things drag a bit in the middle. Their situation, as slave diamond miners trying to hang on until they can be rescued, does not lead to lots of big, dramatic events. Most of the story involves a lot of small plots to do incremental damage, with the threat of death always on the horizon. So lots of angst, but only intermittent action.

It’s necessary for the story, but it does give the reader the urge to say “on with it!” already.

However, one of the things that does work very well is the way that the situation acts upon the romance. While the characters both firmly believe that they would have found each other sooner or later, and would still have fallen in love, the prisoner scenario does strip away all of the posturing that normally went into a Regency era courtship. They are in a situation where life may literally be too short for that crap. And it’s lovely in all sorts of ways, as they get to know who each other really is. There are no pretenses here.

Because of the way that the “adventure” underlying this series only unfolds a little bit in each book, this one doesn’t have a satisfactory ending. While the hero and heroine not only confess but act on their romance, the options for a happy ever after are severely limited. Both because “happy” is somewhat strained under the circumstances, and because “ever after” is a wish, a hope, a belief, but far, far from certain.

lord of the privateers by stephanie laurensBoth Caleb and Katherine are still prisoners of the evil slaver gang that has kidnapped so many English people from Freetown. As the story ends, we have a reprieve, and the end seems to be in sight, but it is not here yet.

Which makes the anticipation for the final book in the series, Lord of the Privateers, all that much sharper.

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

Harlequin Books is giving away a $25 Amazon Gift Card to one lucky commenter on this tour:

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Review: A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels + Giveaway

Review: A Scandalous Proposal by Kasey Michaels + GiveawayA Scandalous Proposal (The Little Season, #2) by Kasey Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Little Season #2
Pages: 384
Published by HQN Books on March 29th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Includes bonus story How to Woo a Spinster
The drama of London's Little Season continues in USA Today bestselling author Kasey Michaels's vibrant new series featuring three courageous war heroes surrendering at last to love…
Who would have thought a man could tire of being fawned over and flirted with? Ever since Cooper Townsend returned from France as a hero with a new title, he has been relentlessly pursued by every marriageable miss in London. Perhaps that's why the unconventional Miss Daniella Foster is so appealing. She doesn't simper or flatter. She only wants him to help unmask her sister's blackmailer, and Coop has never been so intrigued…
Let every other woman in London fight over His Lordship's romantic attentions. Marriage is the last thing on Dany's mind…at least until she samples his illicit kisses. Now, as a mutual enemy races to ruin Coop's reputation and Dany's family name, an engagement of convenience will spark an unlikely passion that might save them both.

My Review:

Read this one for the piffle. By that, I mean that this is a banter book, where the hero and heroine fall for each other through very clever conversation that never flags for a minute. Or a page.

While the initial meeting between Cooper Townsend and Danielle Foster may seem just a bit contrived, everything that happens to them and between them after Dany initially bumps into Coop (literally) really puts the spark into the phrase “court and spark”. Even when they are not getting along, Dany and Coop entertain each other endlessly. And it is their burgeoning but unconventional friendship resulting in an unintentional courtship that lets them fall in love with each other.

A Scandalous Proposal is one of those lovely stories where the heroine holds her own every single minute, in spite of the historical setting. Dany may be sexually innocent at the beginning of the story, but intellectually she is a match for Coop and his friends, and never gives in to what society expects of her. She is never going to be a simpering little miss. Dany is an “original”.

And it’s lucky for both of them that Coop has oodles of experience dealing with “originals”, because that allows him to see Dany for who and what she is, and not merely accept her, but love her for those differences. He gives her just the little bit of grounding that she needs, and in turn, she keeps him from becoming a staid stick-in-the-mud. This is a relationship made in heaven.

But the circumstances that bring them together are far from heavenly. Coop is being blackmailed, as is Dany’s sister Mari. Admittedly, Mari made a complete “cake” of herself, and basically handed herself over to the blackmailer. The happily married Mari was miffed at her husband for going off to a shooting party on her birthday. In petty revenge, she began a clandestine correspondence with a “secret admirer”. They never met, nothing ever happened, but silly Mari actually signed her own name to the incendiary letters, and is now being blackmailed for her thoughtless peccadillo.

Coop, on the other hand, is being blackmailed for being a secret hero. He was at the Battle of Quatre-Bras, and he did rescue of group of orphans who were in harm’s way between the Napoleonic and British armies. But the circumstances of that rescue, which led to a very generous reward from the Prince Regent, are not merely secret but clearly involve the highest levels of the Crown and government. Even though Coop did nothing remotely wrong, his blackmailer is threatening to reveal the secret he is protecting, an event which will probably get Coop either exiled or more likely killed.

Dany entreats Coop, as a bona fide hero, to recover her sister’s silly letters. But as the two of them dig deeper into the plot, they discover that the two blackmailers are, in fact, one and the same. A revelation that will eventually result in the villain’s unmasking and downfall.

But not before Coop and Dany talk themselves into turning their investigative association into something much, much more.

Escape Rating A-: A Scandalous Proposal contains a great deal of delightful froth, and is pure fun from beginning to end. Dany is an “original”, and makes a terrific heroine. She doesn’t merely know her own mind, but she says what she is thinking, and to hell with what society thinks of that. While her family hopes that she will marry, no one, including Dany, has any expectations that she will find anyone who can put up with her straight talking. She is not what society expects her to be and has no plans to change, which makes her marvelous fun and tremendously easy for 21st century readers to identify with.

It does turn out that the plot against Coop and her sister Mari is quite serious. And it is lovely to see the villain get his just desserts without it resulting in a traditional beat down, or beating up. Nor does Dany ever find herself seriously in danger. This is thankfully not one of those stories where the hero has to ride in with the historical equivalent of guns blazing to save the heroine from a fate worse than death.

This is a story where brains and charm outwit the villain, and it is a romp every step of the way. If you are looking for a story to put a smile on your face, A Scandalous Proposal is it. Dany manages to skewer every convention of historical romance, and the reader applauds her for doing it. Especially when she reminds Coop that she has her own views on everything, and that he ignores those views and actions very much at his own peril.

reckless promise by kasey michaelsA Scandalous Proposal is the second book in Michaels’ Little Season series, but it can certainly be read as a chuckle-a-minute stand alone. While some of the characters introduced in An Improper Arrangement, particularly the marvelously down-to-earth Clarice have roles to play in A Scandalous Proposal, they get more than enough introduction in this second book to weave them into the plot.

Read this one for the absolutely marvelous piffle. Then wait with bated laughter, for the third book in the Little Season, A Reckless Promise.

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

Kasey is giving away a $25 Victoria’s Secret Gift Card to one lucky entrant!

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Review: An Improper Arrangement by Kasey Michaels

Review: An Improper Arrangement by Kasey MichaelsAn Improper Arrangement (The Little Season, #1) by Kasey Michaels
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Little Season #1
Pages: 380
Published by Harlequin HQN on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Experience the drama of the Little Season in the first of a new series by USA Today bestselling author Kasey Michaels, in which three dashing war heroes have finally met their matches…
Gabriel Sinclair has returned from battle as reluctant heir to a dukedom. As if his new responsibilities weren't enough, Gabriel's aunt enlists him to sponsor a young heiress through London's Little Season. Yet Miss Thea Neville is hardly the tedious obligation he expected. She's exotic and enchanting—and utterly unaware of the secret poised to destroy her family's reputation.
After ten years in America, Thea is ready to do her duty and marry well. Deportment lessons, modistes, balls—the ton is a minefield she could scarcely navigate without Gabriel's help. By rights, she should accept the first bachelor who offers for her. Instead, she's succumbing to a dangerous attraction to her wickedly handsome chaperone—one that could unhinge her plans in the most delicious way.

My Review:

This story is for the birds. Not in the slightly pejorative sense that the phrase is usually used, but literally. This historical romance pretty much gets its story stolen by a flock of birds. That the ton gets its collective pocketbook emptied by those same birds, and the nobleman who is, ahem, hawking them, just adds to the fun.

An Improper Arrangement also rides, or flies, on the strength of the witty banter between its two protagonists, Lord Gabriel Sinclair and Miss Dorothea Neville. For a historical romance in the Regency period, the relationship between Gabe and Thea is surprisingly equal. They seem to have both thrown off the expectations of their class and positions and become openly and honestly friends, which inevitably leads them to romance as it leaves them unsuited to the kind of spouse that they would normally find.

Thea may be English, but she was raised in America. She is also, as she often says, “two and twenty”. She is not a simpering miss fresh from the schoolroom, and she is used to saying what she means and doing a good bit of what she likes. She’s also a skilled fisherman (fisherwoman) and excellent with a bow. She competes with Gabe, and she often wins.

In the battle of wits that ensues, they are equally matched.

But what seems to be the central plot here is an actual plot. Gabe and his friends want their bit of revenge against Henry Neville. Why? Because his very wet-behind-the-ears son left them in Napoleon’s clutches instead of carrying a warning to the British and Russian armies. And after the war, while Gabe and his friends languished in a French military prison, the aforementioned Henry Neville arranged for his cowardly little boy to get a medal, for bravery of all things.

Thea wants her own bit of revenge against Henry Neville. He’s her father. The father that she thought was dead, while he deposited herself and her mother in America and returned to England to remarry (without benefit of divorce) and father the aforementioned “wet behind the ears” son. In other words, Henry Neville is a bigamist and his be-medalled son Myles is a bastard and not heir to Henry’s earldom.

A lot of the story is about Gabe and Thea each planning their separate revenge while they draw closer and closer together with a huge secret wedged in between them. Except that the secret isn’t really that secret. The secret is that they know each other’s secret. Yes, there is sometimes an element of farce to this story, but the banter usually carries it off.

Can they each give up their desire for revenge in favor of a future together?

Escape Rating B: While the story of Gabe and Thea’s secrets and counter-secrets is fun, it is also a bit predictable. What makes this story is the game that Gabe pulls on the entire ton. That’s where the birds come in.

When Gabe’s great-uncle Basil was merely the fifth son of the previous duke, Basil and his wife travelled the world on his generous allowance and brought back exotic birds from every place they visited. There are now over 100 exotic birds in Basil’s makeshift aviary at one of his estates. Basil seems to be roosting there too, right along with the birds.

Basil became Duke by accident. Actually, by four accidents, and he doesn’t want the title or the job. He’s confined himself to his rooms, waiting for death to overtake him just before his 60th birthday. Thea convinces him to get out again by having Gabe threaten the birds.

So all the while that Gabe and Thea are driving each other crazy, the birds are a constant source of tension and humor. Gabe takes all the birds to London and runs a giant con on the ton, making the birds the most fashionable thing ever, so that he can get rid of them and make a profit. And then skip town as the bird dropping pile up.

All the while, he keeps his best friend, a cockatoo named Caspar who imitates the sounds that Gabe made as a boy, crying all alone. Gabe’s scenes with Caspar, and Thea’s reaction to them, are quite touching.

But while the birds often steal the show in this slight tale, the story as a whole is just a lark.

Review: The Lady’s Command by Stephanie Laurens

Review: The Lady’s Command by Stephanie LaurensThe Lady's Command (The Adventurers Quartet, #1) by Stephanie Laurens
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Adventurers Quartet #1
Pages: 384
Published by Mira on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The instant Captain Declan Frobisher laid eyes on Lady Edwina Delbraith, he knew she was the lady he wanted as his wife. The scion of a seafaring dynasty accustomed to success, he discovered that wooing Edwina was surprisingly straightforward—not least because she made it plain that she wanted him as much as he wanted her.
Declan’s vision of marriage was of a gently-reared wife to grace his arm, to manage his household, and to bear his children. He assumed that household, children, and wife would remain safely in England while he continued his life as an explorer sailing the high seas.
Declan got his wish—up to a point. He and Edwina were wed. As for the rest—his vision of marriage…
Aunt of the young Duke of Ridgware and sister of the mysterious man known as Neville Roscoe, London’s gambling king, even before the knot was tied Edwina shattered the illusion that her character is as delicate, ethereal, and fragile as her appearance suggests. Far from adhering to orthodox mores, she and her ducal family are even more unconventional than the Frobishers.
Beneath her fairy-princess exterior, Edwina possesses a spine of steel—one that might bend, but will never break. Born to the purple—born to rule—she’s determined to rule her life. With Declan’s ring on her finger, that means forging a marriage that meets her needs as well as his.
But bare weeks into their honeymoon, Declan is required to sail to West Africa. Edwina decides she must accompany him.
A secret mission with unknown villains flings unexpected dangers into their path as Declan and Edwina discover that meeting the challenge of making an unconventional marriage work requires something they both possess—bold and adventurous hearts.

My Review:

This is a fascinating Regency romance, because it breaks all the conventions. Most romances, historical and otherwise, are all about the chase. The couple meet in the beginning, work their way through one or more roadblocks to their relationship, and the story ends with the clinch or even better, the wedding. And then they live happily ever after.

The Lady’s Command turns that convention on its head by starting with the wedding. At the wedding between Declan Frobisher and Lady Edwina Delbraith, both parties are thinking about how they will turn their whirlwind courtship into a real marriage. The problem is that they have very different visions of exactly what constitutes a “real marriage”.

If the marriage had been arranged, this unconventional plot would not be as surprising, but it is clear from the outset of the story that Declan and Edwina met, courted and married because they fell in both love and lust with each other. They both wanted this marriage.

They just never talked about what would happen after the honeymoon was over.

Declan assumed that Edwina would be just like any high-born wife. That she would wait patiently at home for him while he conducted his business. As his business is as a ship’s captain for his family firm who sometimes undertake secret missions for the Crown, Declan was expecting his wife to wait patiently at home six months out of the year, and to keep his sometimes dangerous and sometimes secret business very, very separate from his private life.

He should have asked Edwina first. Her vision of their marriage is that she will be his partner in all things, even though he has successfully kept the picture of what those “all things” are carefully obscured until now. Both Edwina and Declan are in for rude awakenings.

Both Declan and Edwina come from very unconventional families, so it is not surprising that they finally do figure out that they are better off, not just together, but as partners in a very unconventional marriage.

They just have to survive their first steps together on that journey.

Escape Rating B+: This is a historical romance that I was pleasantly able to sink my teeth into, without those teeth either rotting away from sweetness overload or gritting from the constant institutionalized sexism that sometimes permeates the genre.

In other words, The Lady’s Command is fun. Because this is Edwina’s story, and Edwina seizes the initiative at every opportunity. Declan’s role in this affair is to recognize that his life, his happiness and his business are better off if he accepts Edwina as his partner.

And while he certainly has his fits of protective possessiveness, he does manage to make the journey with her. And not against her.

One of the ways in which this worked for me is that Declan finally recognizes that while Edwina’s skills at manipulating the ton and its impression of her family are incredibly useful, her role as part of the social “powers that be” is a mask she wears and not her true self. He understands that she has many hidden depths and talents that are equal to, if different, from his own.

There’s also an adventure/suspense plot in the middle of the romance. And it’s fascinating because we only get a piece of that story. English men, women and children are disappearing from the British colony of Freeport in West Africa. Agents who investigate those disappearances also disappear. And instead of investigating the disappearances, the British Governor is quashing any rumors, claiming that all those people (almost 20 that are known) just walked into the jungle of their own accord in search of fame and fortune.

Declan’s job is to find out the first clue about what is going on and rush back to London, before he too disappears. In that search for truth, it is Edwina who gets too close and nearly joins the disappeared. And even so, they have only discovered the tip of a very nasty iceberg, an iceberg that it will be the next agent’s job to plumb further.

buccaneer at heart by stephanie laurensSo we see Declan and Edwina establish the future path for their relationship, and the future path for the investigation into what’s going wrong in Freeport. Further steps in the investigation will be someone else’s to discover in the succeeding volumes of The Adventurers Quartet. Declan’s brother Robert will be posted to Freeport in the next book in the series, A Buccaneer at Heart.

I’m looking forward to further clues to the mystery, and another marvelous and unconventional romance. It should be oodles of fun!

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Review: The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue Not Taken by Sarah MacLean + GiveawayThe Rogue Not Taken (Scandal and Scoundrel, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Scandal & Scoundrel #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 29th 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

LADY SOPHIE'S SOCIETY SPLASH
The youngest of the infamous Talbot sisters scandalized society at the Liverpool Summer Soiree, striking her sister’s notoriously philandering husband and landing him backside-first in a goldfish pond. And we thought Sophie was the quiet one…
When she finds herself the target of very public aristocratic scorn, Sophie Talbot does what she must to escape the city and its judgment—she flees on the back of a carriage, vowing never to return to London…or to society. But the carriage isn’t saving her from ruin. It’s filled with it.
ROYAL ROGUE'S REIGN OF RAVISHMENT!
The Marquess of Eversley was espied descending a rose trellis—escaping an irate Earl and his once-future countess. No lady is safe from Eversley’s Engagement Ending Escapades!
Kingscote, the Marquess of Eversley, has never met a woman he couldn’t charm, a quality that results in a reputation far worse than the truth, a furious summons home, and a long, boring trip to the Scottish border. When King discovers stowaway Sophie, however, the trip becomes anything but boring.
WAR? OR MORE?
He thinks she’s trying to trick him into marriage. She wouldn’t have him if he were the last man on earth. But carriages bring close quarters, dark secrets, and unbearable temptation, and suddenly opposites are altogether too attractive…

My Review:

When I started compiling my Best of 2015 lists, I noticed that I hadn’t read a lot of historical romances this year. Not merely that there weren’t any on my “Best” list, but that I hadn’t picked up more than a handful to read at all. Plenty of historical fiction, and LOTS of historical mystery, but very few historical romances.

So when the opportunity to get this book for a tour came up, I decided that a revisit to the Regency and its aftermath was in order. And now that I’ve come back from that journey, as much as I enjoyed this book, I understand why I’ve been turning away from historical romances in general.

I prefer romances where the heroine and the hero are relatively equal. Possibly not in social standing, but in intelligence, action and agency. She has to have something, be something, more than a pretty face and nubile body willing to swear undying devotion in order to be interesting as a character.

On of the things I liked about Eva Leigh’s Forever Your Earl is that she found a way to give her heroine independence and agency that wasn’t so anachronistic as to be completely unbelievable.

I’ve also discovered that I really dislike the artificiality and ridiculous lack of mores of the ton. I can understand a desire for material comfort (can’t we all) but I can’t seem to let go of my willing suspension of disbelief enough to understand why anyone would want to join this set of complete fakers.

I will try to get down off my soapbox now.

As I said, I really did enjoy The Rogue Not Taken, and I think it is because the rogue in question, and also the road that Sophie Talbot travels down with him, are unexpected. That road sets them both loose from society and its expectations. Even though Sophie knows that her temporary freedom is just that, temporary, she has still come to the conclusion that whatever time she manages to steal from the expectations of society is totally worth it.

The beginning scene of the book displays just how little agency that Sophie, her sisters, and upper class women in general, have in that society. She catches her brother-in-law the Duke in flagrante delicto at a house party with a woman other than her pregnant sister. And when Sophie verbally lays into him to defend her sister’s honor, he is the one who society follows. He’s a duke and she’s an upstart. It doesn’t matter that she is right and he is an ass and boor and a cad. He’s quality and she’s not and that’s it.

And her sister is just supposed to quietly bear it all, and no one except Sophie ever defends her. While one wants to stand up and cheer for Sophie, the way that it all fell to her and then on her feels uncomfortable for 21st century readers. Possibly historically accurate, but squirmy-wrong.

Sophie’s story is all about her escape. In one decisive moment, she decides to go back to the place she used to be happy – her childhood home. If her only way of getting there is to buy a footman’s livery and masquerade as the Marquess of Eversley’s footman, so be it.

What I enjoyed about this story was their journey, because they are outside society. Eversley initially doesn’t want Sophie around, and disparages her, often unintentionally, at every turn. But the sparkle of her unconventional personality, and just the simple way that she attracts trouble like a magnet, keep him amused. It isn’t that she is pretty, although she is. It’s the way that she approaches life and moves past roadblocks that has engaged his attention like nothing has in years.

Kingscote Eversley is having fun, and doesn’t want it to stop.

Sophie Talbot is having freedom, and she doesn’t want it to stop, either. While she is often a bit naive about the amount of danger that a young woman can bring down on herself by traveling alone, she is determined to reach her destination with as little help as possible. King finds himself protecting her without being overbearing about it. She needs a bit of looking after, and he needs someone who rushes into new experiences with eyes and mind wide open.

That they fall in love with each other, while inevitable, wasn’t half as much fun as their journey to get there.

Escape Rating B: I liked Sophie a lot. Just as Sophie does, one comes to like King Eversley as the journey goes on. I’ve discovered that I hate the ton and all it represents, and I enjoyed this story a lot more when it was far divorced from the society from which it sprang.

The Rogue Not Taken comes to a nice but conventional ending. I found the journey much more unconventional, and therefore much more fun than the destination. And I loved that King was proven completely and utterly wrong. Sophie was definitely not the “unfun” Talbot sister after all.

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

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Sarah and Tasty Book Tours are giving away a paperback set of her complete Rule of Scoundrels series to one lucky U.S. commenter:

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