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: 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: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + GiveawayA Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters, #4.5) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Essex Sisters #4.5
Pages: 112
Published by Avon Impulse on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again….and unfortunately virginal.
Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.
When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.
Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behavior…once again.

My Review:

This one was just good fun. And sometimes that’s exactly what a reader, or at any rate this reader, is looking for.

Oliver is just so earnest. He really needs the element of whimsy (and occasional hair-pulling insanity) that his niece Hattie brings into his life. She lightens him up, and he needs that lightness, even as both he and the reader want to shake his sister. Oliver has become Hattie’s guardian not through the usual tragedy, but because his sister and brother-in-law have run off to Africa to convert the locals to their version of Christianity.

Hattie is much, much better off with Oliver. And is old enough to understand that she is. She also seems to be permanently plotting to bring him out of himself, and to get her own way. She and her best friend connive to do both, dragging Oliver to a house party at Lady Windingham’s two days early, so that she has more time with her best friend.

Fifteen-year-old Hattie has yet another ulterior motive. Back when Oliver and his friends were young and insufferable, they put about a whole series of cruel witticisms about various young ladies in the ton. Those witticisms set back the victims marriage prospects considerably at the time, even though all was well that ended well.

Lady Windingham was one of those young ladies, and Oliver needs to apologize for helping to attach “The Woolly Breeder” to her name.

But when Oliver discovers Cat Windingham’s beautiful but withdrawn sister Lizzie Troutt, he develops more than a few ulterior motives of his own.

As part of his apology to Cat, he makes a deal with her. He will make Lizzie laugh before the rest of the guests arrive. Including a man that Cat hopes will convince her sister to marry again.

Oliver plans to get there first.

Escape Rating B+: A Gentleman Never Tells is light, frothy and just plain fun, even though I haven’t read the rest of the series. (But now I plan to!)

Both Lizzie and Oliver very seriously need to lighten up, and the best way they can do that is with each other. While Oliver’s tenacious courtship and the sparkle of their banter carries the story, one of the underlying points is the often exasperated but always loving relationship between the sisters Cat and Lizzie. Even though they are currently driving each other crazy, they clearly want the best for each other. And Cat will stop at nothing to make sure that her sister gets a chance at happiness.

pleasure for pleasure by eloisa jamesThere is also a deeper layer underneath the froth about the way that guilt eats away at a person. Oliver feels guilty about the young ladies whose lives he and his friends attempted to ruin through their cruelty. And he has become an old sobersides to punish himself for his youthful peccadilloes. Those ladies deserve an apology, but he needn’t wallow in guilt for the rest of his life. If Cat and her best friend Josie (see Pleasure for Pleasure for details) are any indication, he seems to have accidentally done them each a very big favor.

Lizzie is also wallowing in guilt, along with a much healthier dose of anger. But being angry at dead people never gets a person anywhere at all. Her husband was an ass, and dying in his mistress’ bed was his last act of asshattery. But not before he blamed poor, inexperienced Lizzie for his inability to consummate their marriage. As I keep saying, and as Oliver says, her dead husband was an ass.

That Lizzie is both a widow and a virgin is its own delicious and shameful secret. It also fires Oliver’s desire to make Lizzie his and only his. Before his would-be rival appears on the scene.

But his real opponent is Lizzie. After her experience, she has absolutely zero willingness to trust another man with her fate or her future. Her father knowingly bartered her into the arms of her late asshat husband, a man who openly intended to spend her dowry and his nights with his mistress, while leaving her to care for his dying mother in a run-down house with few servants and even fewer comforts. When her father wouldn’t take her back, she swore off the entire male gender and was prepared to make it stick.

It takes more than a bit of persuading for Lizzie to see that either Oliver is an exception, just like her sister’s loving husband, or that her late, unlamented husband was just a singular ass and not a representative of his whole species.

Watching Lizzie and Oliver come out of their respective shells and find each other is just oodles of fun.

Reviewer’s Note: I will admit that the virgin widow trope is a personal pet peeve. It always seems like a contrivance to arrange for the ritual romantic deflowering by the hero, even when the heroine is no longer a dewy debutante. My two pence.

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

Eloisa and Avon Impulse are giving away an Essex Sisters Boxed Set to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + Giveaway

Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + GiveawayBurning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: Hanukkah romance, holiday romance
Pages: 400
Published by Avon Impulse on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This December, take a break from dreidel spinning, gelt winning, and latke eating to experience the joy of Chanukah. When you fall in love during the Festival of Lights, the world burns a whole lot brighter.
It’s definitely not love at first sight for Amanda and her cute but mysterious new neighbor, Ben. Can a Chanukah miracle show them that getting off on the wrong foot doesn’t mean they can’t walk the same road?
Lawyers in love, Shari Cohen and Evan Sonntag are happy together. But in a moment of doubt, he pushes her away—then soon realizes he made a huge mistake. To win her back, it might take something like a Chanukah miracle.
When impulsive interior designer Molly Baker-Stein barges into Jon Adelman's apartment and his life intent on planning the best Chanukah party their building has ever seen, neither expects that together they just might discover a Home for Chanukah.
All Tamar expected from her Israel vacation was time to hang out with one of her besties and to act like a tourist, cheesy t-shirt and all, in her two favorite cities. She definitely was not expecting to fall for Avi, a handsome soldier who’s more than she ever dreamed. 

My Review:

In the avalanche of holiday romances that arrives every November and December, I seldom see anyone like myself. Why? Because there is a dearth of Hanukkah romance in the middle of all the Christmas. And just like the heroines in this collection of Hanukkah romances, I’m Jewish. It was beyond marvelous to read romances that reflected some of my experience, where the cultural background is the one that I remember from my own family. So for that alone, this collection is a marvelous collection of Hanukkah lights.

But these are also terrific love stories, and anyone looking for something slightly different in their holiday romance will certainly find someone and something to love in this bunch of treats. Or bag of chocolate Hanukkah gelt.

My favorite story in the book is the first one, Miracle by Megan Hart. It’s a love story, and it is also a story about finding your own path, even if it is not the one that other people think you should follow. So it’s a story about growing up and breaking away. Ben has moved to Harrisburg, PA of all places, in order to get away from his ultra-orthodox religious community back in New York. While it is impossible to grow up in the U.S. without some exposure to popular (and Christian) culture, Ben’s community in NYC was as isolated in its own way as the Amish. Popular culture was something forbidden, and something that happened very much on the outside of the insular and insulated community. But when the girl that Ben was supposed to marry falls in love with his best friend, Ben takes the opportunity to escape a life that doesn’t fit him. He wants to travel, he wants to experience the entire world, and he doesn’t want to take over his father’s kosher grocery store chain. He isn’t sure what he wants for his life, but he wants a wider world than the one he has experienced so far.

In Harrisburg, he meets Amanda. While Amanda is also Jewish, she has grown up in the wider and predominantly Christian world. In Amanda’s life, while she is proud of being Jewish, she has also experience some anti-Semitism and has the experience of being a minority where most people she meets are different from herself. Ben often seems critical because she does not act the way that he was brought up to expect “good girls” to act, while at the same time he is definitely attracted both to her and the adaptation to the world as a whole that he craves. When his father shows up at his doorstep in an attempt to guilt Ben into returning home, Ben is caught between the life he had, and the life he wants with Amanda.

In both A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen and A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern, while the details in the stories are different, the theme is the same. In both stories, the couple are negotiating the shift from friends and lovers to lovers and partners. And in both cases, there is a huge bump in the smoothness of that road. In Gracen’s story, Evan and Shari have been lovers for several months, long enough for both of them to think seriously about the future. But they are both lawyers, and Evan in particular is a divorce lawyer. He has soured on marriage so much that he isn’t sure he will ever want to enter that institution for himself. When he brings Shari home for the holidays, his unwillingness to ever marry runs headlong into his family’s desire for him to settle down with Shari, and Shari’s coalescing thoughts that someday she would like to marry and have children, and that she would like her someday with Evan.

The relationship between Jon and Molly in Agdern’s story is much newer than the one in A Dose of Gelt, but hits similar rocky shoals. Jon invites interior designer Molly to turn his empty apartment into a place he will feel at home – but when he comes back from a business trip and sees what she has done, he feels invaded and exposed, and pretty much shoots the messenger, meaning Molly. It takes a lot of appropriate groveling and some very pointed nudging from Jon’s family and Molly’s friends to get Jon to see the light. Or lights.

KK Hendin’s story, All I Got, gave me a bit of trouble. I liked the happy ending, but getting there was a bit confusing. Tamar returns to Israel for Winter break, and meets a handsome soldier. She falls in love, but keeps her feelings to herself, knowing that she has to return to the U.S. to fulfill her college scholarship. That handsome soldier, Avi, finds a way to follow her to the States, so he can discover if what they feel for each other is real. The story is told from Tamar’s first person perspective, with lots of inserted quotes from either her friends or from others who have written about the experience of traveling to or living in Israel. The quotes are fascinating, and Tamar’s story is lovely, but for this reader they didn’t blend together well.

Escape Ratings:
Miracle by Megan Hart: A-
A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen: B
A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern: B+
All I Got by KK Hendin: C+

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

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The authors are giving away a $25 Gift Card to the bookseller of the winner’s choice:

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