Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + Giveaway

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + GiveawayUnmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters, #1) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #1
Pages: 320
Published by Avon Impulse on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

My Review:

This is my first book from the author who claims on her twitter profile to write “Marxist tracts with boning,” but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll admit that when I read the quote, I expected “boning” to be more of a double entendre, not just referring to sex but also to the boning in ladies’ corsets during the Regency period.

But there are no boned corsets here, at least not ever on the person of the heroine. And that’s a huge part of the point of the story.

The Marquess of the title, Alistair, is unapologetically bisexual. He may have a giant stick up his fundament about his role and his place in society and proper behavior, or at least proper public behavior, for that place, but he doesn’t whinge, whine or feel the least bit guilty about his bisexuality. And that’s refreshing and different, particularly for a character who begins as the epitome of the stock Regency hero of the aristocratic type.

It seems to be the one part of himself that he accepts unconditionally, because most of the rest of the time he’s putting on an act. Multiple acts. In his heart of hearts, he’s not nearly as buttoned up as he plays – but that stick is fairly firmly lodged and it takes Robin and that “champagne pop of laughter” to slowly begin to dislodge the damned thing.

Robin, however,  is nothing like he appears to be. And that is an epic understatement.

Once upon a time, Robin was Charity Church, a foundling who was literally discovered in a church, and raised there for several years. Let’s just the late clergyman who raised her was way better at teaching her to read, write and figure than he was imaginative when it came to names. Charity went from being a foundling at the vicarage to a servant at the Selbys, taking care of old Mr. Selby along with his two children, Robert and Louisa. Robert and Charity were the same age, and Laura just six years younger.

They became friends, and co-conspirators, and eventually family-of-choice. So when it came time for Robert to go off to Cambridge, and he really, really didn’t want to go, Charity went in his place. Literally in his place. As far as her fellow students knew, Charity Church WAS Robert Selby.

As Robert Selby, Charity had the life of the mind she always dreamed of, and the freedom, if not the pockets, to indulge it. The real Robert was an indifferent student at best, but Charity-as-Robert took a double first. She absolutely had the time of her life, and wished it would never end. But she didn’t expect it to continue quite like this.

Charity doesn’t see herself as playing a part. Except for having to pretend to be Robert Selby in particular, as opposed to just being a man and not a woman, she feels like she has found her true self. Being Robert becomes the real person, while being Charity becomes the pretense.

At least until Robert dies, and Charity feels compelled to pretend to be Robert full-time, at least long enough to see Louisa happily and safely married.

And that’s when “Robert” and Louisa come to London for the only Season they can manage to afford, in the hopes that Louisa’s extremely beautiful face will indeed prove to be her fortune. And that’s where “Robert” inserts himself into the outer social circle of Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, and finds all the stratagems that were devised to take care of Louisa have made an absolute mess out of “Robert” and any chances he might find happiness.

Or have they?

Escape Rating A: As a Regency romance, this still has its occasional farcical aspects, but overall this story is an absolute delight from beginning to end, while skewering pretty much every single trope of the genre along its merry way.

Alistair, on the surface at least, seems like the typical, overbearing and often priggish Regency hero who just needs a good woman to help him become less stuffy and less priggish (even if not less overbearing) so that he can find his happy ever after with a woman who will grace his life and give him the heirs his title requires.

Instead, Alistair gets the person he eventually nicknames Robin, and all the qualities, as well as all the flaws, that make Robin Robin are what Alistair really needs – even if he takes a long time and rather a lot of heartache to finally let go of everything holding him back. Because as much as he loves Robin as he is, once he learns that Robin is also Charity he spends a long but not incomprehensible time both loving him as he is and trying to mold Charity into what she isn’t in a way that is as much stubborn as it is stupid.

Even so, part of what makes this story so much fun is its intelligence. Robin and Alistair find their way towards each other with witty dialog and shared interests. Their scenes together are a joy to read and laugh along with.

One of the problems of historical romance, at least for this reader, is the necessity for the author to walk the tightrope between making sure that the heroine has enough agency to actually BE a heroine, without making her so anachronistic that she does not at least plausibly fit into her time and place.

As a solution to that particular dilemma, Charity/Robert/Robin is utterly marvelous. And also marvelously subversive. Robin is who Charity really is, on the inside. She doesn’t seem to want to actually BE a man, but she certainly does want to have the freedom and agency that men have, and she is not merely unwilling but absolutely unable to give it up. But she’s also not just a woman in men’s clothing – that clothing represents her real self. But that real self is neither male nor female as her society defines those terms.

Society may not be able to make heads nor tails of Robin’s gender identity, but Robin knows what works for her. And what I loved about this story is that in the end she doesn’t give up who she is to be who the hero thinks he needs her to be. Instead, Alistair finally realizes that she is, as she is, exactly what he needed all along.

And that’s something that doesn’t happen in historical romance nearly enough.

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

LINK:  https://goo.gl/qQovFr

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 4/22/2018 @ 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: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + Giveaway

Review: Counting on a Countess by Eva Leigh + GiveawayCounting on a Countess (The London Underground, #2) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

For a shameless libertine and a wily smuggler in the London Underground, marriage is more than convenience—it’s strategy...

Christopher “Kit” Ellingsworth, war veteran and newly minted Earl of Blakemere, buries his demons under every sort of pleasure and vice. His scandalous ways have all but emptied his coffers . . . until a wealthy mentor leaves him a sizeable fortune. The only stipulation? He must marry within one month to inherit the money. Kit needs a bride and the bold, mysterious Miss Tamsyn Pearce seems perfect.

Husband hunting isn’t Tamsyn’s top priority—she’s in London to sell her new shipment of illicit goods—but she’s desperate for funds to keep her smuggling operation afloat. When a handsome earl offers to wed her and send her back to Cornwall with a hefty allowance, Tamsyn agrees. After all, her secrets could land her in prison and an attentive, love-struck spouse could destroy everything.

But when an unexpected proviso in the will grants Tamsyn control of the inheritance, their arrangement becomes anything but convenient. Now, Kit’s counting on his countess to make his wildest dreams a reality and he plans to convince her, one pleasurable seduction at a time.

My Review:

This is a marriage of convenience story that lives up to the old saw that goes “marry in haste, repent at leisure” because that’s definitely what happens to Kit and Tamsyn. Not that the repentance turns out to be leisurely per se, as they are both awfully, awfully busy while they are repenting.

Kit needs a wife, and Tamsyn needs a husband, and not for any of the usual reasons. Kit can claim a fortune if he marries within 30 days. He may be an earl, but the estate is broke. And Kit wants the money for a completely different reason – he plans to open a pleasure garden to rival Vauxhall as a way of laying his own wartime demons to rest.

If Kit’s reasons weren’t unusual enough, there’s Tamsyn. She needs a husband to give her enough money to buy her uncle’s rundown country house in Cornwall, so that she can continue to lead the smuggling operation that is keeping her village almost literally afloat.

The fishing is down, the taxes are up, and without the money from bringing in brandy and lace from France and far away from the Customs and Excise, the folks of tiny Newcombe would be starving. As they were before then 16-year-old Tamsyn became their de facto leader.

Both Kit and Tamsyn go into their marriage of convenience with what they believe are eyes wide open. Kit plans to purchase the land for his pleasure garden as soon as the ink on their marriage lines is dry. He also plans to continue his life as one of London’s most celebrated rakehells – and has no plans to be faithful to his wife, nor cares if she is faithful to him once she has presented him with the requisite heir – a spare is not even required.

Tamsyn plans to beg her husband to buy the neglected pile in Cornwall so she can continue the smuggling operation.

Neither plans to tell each other anything of much significance, or even spend more than the minimum amount of time necessary together.

But the best laid plans often go astray. The will that gives Kit his fortune has an unusual clause in it – in order to inherit the money Kit has to give control of it to Tamsyn. So instead of her begging him for the funds to buy the estate in Cornwall, he has to beg her for the funds to start his pleasure garden.

There’s only enough money for one – or the other.

Kit isn’t honest about his reasons for seducing Tamsyn, but neither is she honest about why she married Kit. They are caught in a web of lies, and bound together not just by the bonds of matrimony, but by a sexual chemistry that gives neither of them any peace.

It might even be love. But not even the strongest love can survive as much dishonesty as exists between Kit and Tamsyn. Or can it?

Escape Rating B: I picked up Counting on a Countess because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, From Duke Till Dawn, and because I love the action/adventure romances that this author writes under her other name, Zoe Archer.

One of the things that this author does well are her unconventional heroines, and Tamsyn is certainly no exception. She’s a smuggler. She’s even good at it. At the same time, the illegal operation is not romanticized, she’s not a pirate heroine – although she could be. Tamsyn turns to smuggling as the best way to play out a truly awful hand. Her parents are dead, her aunt and uncle are despicable, and the village desperately needs a way to keep the roof over its head and food in its bellies. In a choice between smuggling and starving, most people would pick smuggling every time.

But part of that repenting in leisure is that Tamsyn and KIt barely know each other for less than a week when they marry. Kit isn’t aware that Tamsyn’s frugality is ingrained in her by hard choices – she is used to squeezing every shilling until it screams in agony because those shillings are hard to come by, while Kit has been spending the years after he returned from Waterloo spending money he doesn’t have and not worrying about when the bills will come due.

Tamsyn, for her part, while she is aware that Kit is a former soldier, is not aware that his service has made him a principled defender of his country and its laws. To his mind, smuggling French goods into England without paying taxes is flouting the law he fought to uphold and robbing his country at the expense of its enemies.

She doesn’t see the value in a pleasure garden, and she can’t reveal her part in the smuggling. They are at an impasse.

This story had all the earmarks of a potential misunderstandammit, but it doesn’t feel that way. They are keeping secrets from each other, but those secrets feel necessary and not gratuitous or ridiculous.

However, a big chunk of the story revolves around Kit and Tamsyn moving tentatively and hesitantly towards a relationship, in spite of the vast gulf of lies between them. The one-step-forward, two-steps-back nature of their physical relationship takes up a lot of pages, to the point where it slows down the narrative. While I appreciated the celebration of consent, particularly in a marital relationship, I did find myself wishing they’d just get on with it already.

But the way that they finally manage to come together, not just in the sexual sense but as a working partnership, was marvelous. They find a compromise that allows both of them to get what they need from the relationship, and it works beautifully.

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/kSHsTN

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will each receive a paperback copy of From Duke Till Dawn by Eva Leigh.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 4/6/2018 @ 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: 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.