Review: The Roguish Baron by Sophie Barnes

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

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

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

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

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

A daring forbidden love romance from a USA Today bestselling author

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Review: The Dishonored Viscount by Sophie Barnes

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And not just because she can finally see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The men in her life, not so much.

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

Review: Her Scottish Scoundrel by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

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

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

My Review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And neither of them expects to fall in love.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Formidable Earl (Diamonds in the Rough, #6) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #6
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He's breaking the rules for one woman, and coming dangerously close to falling in love…
Simon Nugent, Earl of Fielding, knows he's flawed. He's arrogant, possessive, and haunted by a terrible choice he made long ago. So when a former friend's daughter gives him the chance to do a good deed, he grabs it. Except he'd like to grab her as well and teach her a thing or two about kissing. If only she weren't so damn stubborn.
Ida Strong wants one thing – justice on behalf of her father. She has no room for anything else, in spite of her growing and (at times) inexplicable attraction toward a certain earl. But for a woman who knows what betrayal tastes like, placing her trust in others is hard. Risking her heart, would be downright foolish. Until it's the only thing that seems to make sense.

My Review:

The Formidable Earl harkens back to the first book in this series, A Most Unlikely Duke. In that first story, Raphe Matthews, the very unlikely duke, steals the Earl of Fielding’s fiancee. Not that it was actual theft, not that Gabriela didn’t go extremely willingly, and not that Simon was even remotely heartbroken.

The only parts of Simon that took any kind of hit were his pride and his reputation. Possibly along with the stick up his ass – although that may have become more firmly embedded as the years went by. After all, Simon only proposed to Gabriela because she’d make a perfect countess – not because he cared about her or even really knew her.

It was, after all, what the Earl of Fielding was expected to do. So he did. But fortunately for everyone both in that story and this one, SHE didn’t.

Considering that Simon has a terrible habit of doing what is expected instead of what he wants, well past the point of his own detriment, he’s actually better off without Gabriela, who wasn’t nearly as perfect for the role he imagined for her as he thought she was.

But she’s perfect as the Duchess of Huntley, and Raphe and Gabriela are perfect for each other.

Leaving Simon, in his mid-30s, alone and in need of a wife, or so he – and polite society – believe.

What Simon is really in need of is a LIFE. It’s only when he steps just a bit outside his comfort zone to get one that he finds everything he really needs. All he has to do is consign his starched and pristine reputation to the scrapheap where it belongs.

By marrying a woman who everyone insists is a traitor, a prostitute, and very nearly a murderess into the bargain.

Escape Rating B: There’s a theme to this series, and it’s pretty obvious from the series title. One protagonist or the other is just not “suitable” for marriage into the ton, whether it’s because they were raised outside it, because they were forced out of it, or because they were never part of it in the first place. The usual progress of each story is for the person who does belong to realize that what polite society thinks and believes is a whole lot of horseshit.

The books in the series are only kind of loosely linked, so it really isn’t necessary to read the previous books, or to read all of them, before diving into The Formidable Earl. (I just discovered I missed one along the way and now I WANT to go back to it, but I don’t HAVE to go back.)

The reason for, in this case, the heroine’s unsuitability was fascinating, but the hero’s reaction to it was at times just a bit squicky. Let me explain.

Ida Strong’s dilemma is a reminder that this series takes place at a time when the Napoleonic Wars were not far in the past at all, and that there were still a lot of hard feelings, wounded veterans and general all-around recriminations going on at the time. (The Napoleonic Wars, in a fictional sense, are a gift that just keeps on giving. So many dramatic possibilities both during the war and in the following years.)

Four years before this story begins, Ida Strong’s father, a celebrated British Army General, was convicted of treason in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Matthew Strong was executed for a heinous crime that he did not commit, and his daughter vowed to find the men responsible and clear her father’s name.

In those intervening years, Ida lived in a brothel owned and operated by her mother’s sister. And that’s where Simon Nugent, the Earl of Fielding, discovers her the one time he decides to break away from his extremely priggish persona.

Simon’s exposure of Ida puts her life in danger from the men who connived at framing her father. The story here is Simon attempting to protect her while falling in love with this woman who is oh-so-wrong according to everyone who is anyone, but oh-so-right for Simon.

But, the exposure of Simon’s thoughts and feelings about the possibility that Ida is a prostitute is extremely uncomfortable to read. It’s not that it isn’t true to what we think of the Regency, it’s that, quite honestly, it just feels awful. It makes all kinds of sense for the era, but it still makes the reader, or at least this reader, squirm when reading it.

Which gives me mixed feelings that Ida has to reject the idea so forcefully in order to be considered “worthy” of becoming his heroine equally squirmy. Again, not that this isn’t true to what we believe of the era. But it still made me uncomfortable.

All of that being said, I really, really liked Ida. She’s a terrific heroine, forthright and proactive with plenty of agency. She was more middle-class to begin with, but society has completely rejected her so she’s pretty much said “to hell with it and the horse it rode in on.”

That Simon is both slavishly devoted to worrying about what people will think and falling desperately in love with Ida puts him on the horns of a delicious dilemma. That Ida has decided what she wants and what she doesn’t, and has no plans to settle, in contrast with Simon’s need to keep her with his initial unwillingness to buck society provides the romantic tension.

That someone really is out to get her, and that they nearly succeed, provides plenty of dramatic tension to keep the reader turning pages until the very last.

I’m certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series with Her Scottish Scoundrel in May of 2021. Not nearly soon enough!

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Review: The Infamous Duchess by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Infamous Duchess by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Infamous Duchess (Diamonds in the Rough, #4) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #4
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on March 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


A woman with a shocking past…

Branded a money-hungry con artist for marrying the elderly Duke of Tremaine days before his death, Viola Cartwright has found refuge in her work at St. Agatha’s Hospital. No one must know the painful reason behind her marriage. She steers clear of attachments—until Henry Lowell, heir to the Viscount Armswell, lands on her operating table after a duel. Charming and wickedly handsome, Lowell is one of London’s most inveterate scoundrels. Yet he may not be all that he appears.


And the man who can promise a future filled with love…

Posing as an unrepentant rake has helped Lowell avoid women pursuing him only for his title. But now that duty has finally called on him to marry, he finds himself entranced by the mysterious, independent-minded Viola. Then her late husband’s son returns from overseas, contesting Viola’s inheritance. Lowell longs to help her and sets out to convince Viola that a strategic union may be the best way to save all she holds dear. But can he also persuade her to take a chance on love…?

My Review:

The longer this series goes on, the more it reminds me of the Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt. Considering how excellent and popular that series was, that’s a terrific thing!

What has made this series so interesting has been the way that either the hero, the heroine, or both, are definitely unconventional for their time while still seeming to be at least plausible. That unconventionality has made the characters more readily identifiable with for 21st readers while not feeling so far out of the realm of the possible as to whiplash the reader out of the story.

In the case of both Viola, Dowager Duchess of Tremaine and Henry Lowell, a viscount’s heir, there is plenty that draws them out of the ordinary while not shifting them into the impossible.

Viola has been a part of the series from relatively early on. Her business partner is Dr. Florian Lowell, an excellent physician AND the heir to a dukedom. Florian’s story was told in the previous book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke.

Viola was trained as a surgeon by her late father, and often works with Florian in the operating theater as well as running the hospital where they work. Viola’s late husband left her a small fortune, and she used that inheritance to start the hospital.

But her late husband was an elderly man when she married him, and society sees her as a conniving gold-digger. So she shuns society in return. Running the hospital is her work, her duty and her fulfillment. She doesn’t care about society – except in so far as she can use her notoriety to raise funds to further develop the hospital.

Henry Lowell is Florian’s brother. He’s also a rake of the first order and seems to find himself in more than his fair share of duels.

That’s how Viola and Henry meet – in the wake of yet another duel. Florian has to patch up his brother. One wonders if at least some of Florian’s original interest in medicine might have been born out of necessity – as Henry gets into more than his fair share of trouble.

But the near-brush with death has Henry re-examining his life. It’s time for him to settle down and start a family, to provide an heir for the title he hopes not to inherit for a long time. He obviously loves his grandparents very much and has no desire to inherit anytime soon.

Henry and Viola have a lot in common. They are both on the outs with society and they both have acquired undeserved and undesirable reputations. They are also both practical-minded people and both are in business for themselves and are successful at and responsible to those businesses.

And they have an intense chemistry that neither wants to deny, although perhaps they both should.

When Viola’s past returns to not merely haunt her, but to strive to take all she has earned away from her, it is her relationship with Henry that provides her with strength – along with even greater vulnerability.

But it is her unconventionality that finally saves the day.

Escape Rating B: Like all of the books in this series, The Infamous Duchess is a lot of frothy fun with just a bit of an unconventional bite to keep things interesting.

(It is not necessary to read the entire series to get into the action in this fourth entry, but they are delicious. Start with A Most Unlikely Duke to see exactly what I mean.

A couple of things about this story that I’m still thinking about.

One is that the portrayal of the cruelty and vindictiveness of Regency society does make one wonder what made it such a fruitful period for romance in general, and why anyone would aspire to be part of that society in particular. While there are some likeable individuals and even families, overall the ton seems petty and venal and just plain nasty. But then again, isn’t that just people?

While both the heroine and the hero of this story are, as is usual, extremely pretty and or handsome, they are both surprisingly deep characters in a lot of very unusual ways. Even more surprising is the way that their unconventionality dovetails together so neatly.

Part of what I enjoyed about Viola was the depth of her character, but also the unusual breadth of her experience. Like many of the protagonists in this series, Viola did not come from the upper classes. Her father was a physician, making her solidly a member of the small middle class. That her marriage raised her to the peerage is not surprising – and neither is the amount of gossip and downright disgust it engendered. That she’s made so very much good out of her circumstances shows a great deal of strength of character. And it is wonderful that it is that strength that draws the hero to her – as much as if not more so than her looks.

It’s also marvelous that he believes from the very beginning that she is the most beautiful woman in any room – even though she does not see herself that way and that objectively she probably would not have been considered a “diamond of the first water”.

Another part of her experience that is out of the ordinary is that while Viola’s marriage was never consummated because of her elderly husband’s illness, she is not a virgin. And the cause of that particular “lack” was the result of her being taken advantage of by her husband’s son – before she married. That the consequences of that act, while in their way shameful and heartbreaking did not lead to either pregnancy, poverty, prostitution or all of the above is refreshing.

And it leads to the dramatic tension of the story – but not in any of the ways that one might expect. It certainly made for a very interesting twist as well as a lingering sense of creeping menace.

There is (obviously as shown above) a villain in this piece, and he’s extremely villainous – almost to the point of caricature. A part of me wants to think of him as a “Snidely Whiplash”, complete with evil cackle, twirling mustache, and tying the heroine to the metaphorical tracks, but the disgusting pustule in this book is so horrible that even Snidely would be rightfully insulted to be considered as part of his company.

Evil does mostly get its just desserts, after a truly frightening climactic scene, but one of his henchmen manages to miss being properly punished, so that part of the story feels a bit unfinished. Perhaps in a later book in the series we’ll see him get his.

Speaking of later books, the series clearly continues. We watched the hero and heroine of the next story meet as The Infamous Duchess concluded, and their entry in the series looks like a real treat!

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

To celebrate the release of THE INFAMOUS DUCHESS by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke!

Link:   http://bit.ly/2SXHs2Y

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the first three books in the series━A Most Unlikely Duke, The Duke of Her Desire, and The Illegitimate Duke.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 4/5/2019 @ 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: The Illegitimate Duke by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Illegitimate Duke by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Illegitimate Duke (Diamonds in the Rough, #3) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on August 28, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


United in a common cause...

Juliette Matthews longs to be much more than just another pretty ornament in society. But using her recently acquired fortune to do some good is more complicated than she anticipated. Young ladies are not expected to risk their safety in helping the less fortunate. And the one gentleman who could help in her mission is stubborn, infernally handsome--and far too honorable to act on their mutual attraction.


And in a desire impossible to deny...

Florian Lowell has suddenly been made heir to the Duke of Redding--a far cry from his status as a dedicated physician. Yet even with his new role as the country's most eligible bachelor, the beautiful, fearless Juliette is utterly beyond his reach. The scandalous circumstances of his birth would destroy both their reputations if they became known. But when a more urgent danger threatens Juliette's life, Florian must gamble everything...including the heart only one woman can tame.

My Review:

This is a fish out of water story. In fact, it’s part of a whole school of fish out of water stories. The fish currently uncertain about its welcome in the pond is Juliette, sister of the first two fishes.

Ok, I’ve probably baited that metaphor as far as it can go. In the first book in the Diamonds in the Rough series, St. Giles resident and bare-knuckle boxing champ Raphe Matthews learns that by a strange quirk of fate he has become the Duke of Huntley. And while he might not be willing on his own to return to the social classes that ejected himself and his sisters years ago – he desperately wants to do what’s best for them. It’s not even the wealth of being Huntley that attracts him, but the opportunities that it provides for comfortable and healthy living. His sisters will have much better chances once he takes the title. So he does, and the story of just how that works out for him is told in the first book in the series, A Most Unlikely Duke.

Next in line came his sister Amelia’s story in The Duke of Her Desire, which turned out to be a delightful romp from beginning to end.

The Illegitimate Duke is, of course, the third sister Juliette’s journey to her happily ever after.

(BTW, the whole series is pretty delightful. The Matthews’ make for slightly different historical romance protagonists in ways that really work and are fun to read. You don’t have to start at the beginning of this series, but if you like historical romance, these are a lot of fun!)

Back to Juliette. Like her sister Amelia, Juliette is not content to wrest on her laurels or just sit back and spend her new-found fortune shopping. While living in St. Giles had many, many difficulties, the one thing it did have was that women had to live lives of purpose – even if that purpose mostly consisted of helping to keep the wolf from the door.

In comparison, the life of a society miss feels dreadfully empty. Juliette has a mind that she wants to be able to use, along with access to a fortune that gives her the opportunity to assist her former neighbors in tangible ways – if she is willing to take the bull by the horns and stand up for herself.

It’s not just the figurative bull of what society expects of women of her new class, or even what the gossips expect of a woman with her origins. There’s also a literal bull, Dr. Florian Lowell, soon to become the Duke of Redding. Florian is the physician in charge of the charity hospital that serves St. Giles, and Juliet wants to not merely donate money to that hospital but also have a say in how that money is spent.

And that puts her squarely in Florian’s orbit – and very much vice versa.

They fascinate each other, and it is not just a matter of looks.

Juliette needs to be of use and not merely the ornament that society now expects her to be. She hates the falsity of the marriage mart but would be very happy to find a man who is willing to be her partner and accept her as she is – just as her brother and sister have found with their respective spouses.

Florian, although born to the upper crust, devotes his life to being a physician. While he will inherit a dukedom, he still plans to maintain his medical practice. I would say that he’s looking for a woman who will not merely accept, but actually understand his devotion to his practice and his interest in furthering medical science.

But he has no plans to marry and populate a nursery as his new position will require, because he carries a secret that he feels makes him unfit to court any woman who would be either worthy of his title, or more importantly, willing to be both friend and lover as well as wife.

That secret has come back to London to make all of his hopes, dreams and plans turn to smoke. If the incipient typhus epidemic doesn’t kill them first.

Escape Rating B: One of the terrific things about this series is the way that all of the women have been just a little something extra in ways that make them easier for 21st century readers to identify with while at the same time not stretching the bounds of plausibility too far. Or at least too far too far.

Juliette’s need to oversee the expenditure of her donation, and her willingness to serve on the hospital board, do seem possible, and even the acceptance of her presence by the titled men who are also on that board does not stretch things too far. Women did such things under the heading of doing good for the less fortunate – Juliette is perhaps a bit more active in that regard than most.

The horror of the potential typhus epidemic that hangs over the story, Florian’s attempts to contain it and the tragic results of his one failure in that regard were harrowing and all too real.

But as much as I enjoyed this fish out of water story, and as much as I certainly liked both Juliette and Florian, the difficulty that keeps them apart is all too similar to the secret that kept Amelia and Thomas apart in The Duke of Her Desire.

Like Thomas, Florian has a terrible secret, and it truly is terrible. He fears that society will not merely judge him harshly, but actually ostracize him if it comes out. And his fears are well founded. But what keeps Florian and Juliette apart is not the secret itself, but Florian’s belief that something that is manifestly not his fault is his responsibility and his punishment, when neither is the case, just as Thomas felt in the previous book.

The similarities between the two situations meant that The Illegitimate Duke did not sparkle as much for me as The Duke of Her Desire. The gravity of the external situation – that typhus epidemic – may also have had something to do with that lesser sparkle, because there was less to sparkle about.

But I did like the protagonists a great deal, and it was also lovely to see how Juliette’s sister and brother are getting on with their happily ever afters. The hints about the next book in the series, now that we have run out of Matthews siblings, looks intriguing.

I’ll certainly be back to discover what The Infamous Duchess is up to next spring!

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

To celebrate the release of THE ILLEGITIMATE DUKE by Sophie Barnes, we’re giving away a paperback bundle of The Most Unlikely Duke & The Duke of Her Desire!

CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback bundle of A Most Unlikely Duke and The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 9/7/2018 @ 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.  CLICK HERE TO ENTER!

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Duke of Her Desire by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Duke of Her Desire (Diamonds in the Rough #2) by Sophie Barnes
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 26th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


He was only supposed to keep an eye on his friend’s sister . . . now he’s about to lose his heart . . .

When Thomas Heathmore, Duke of Coventry, agrees to steer his friend’s inexperienced younger sister through society, he doesn’t expect the lady in question to be so infernally stubborn. Amelia Matthews seems to have little interest in balls or suitors at all. Instead, she intends to open a school, and against his better instincts, Thomas offers to help. Yet somewhere along the line, Amelia ceases to be a simple responsibility . . . and becomes an undeniable temptation.

Since her brother inherited a dukedom, Amelia’s prospects have transformed. But though she’s long been secretly infatuated with Thomas, she refuses to heed the arrogant aristocrat’s advice. If only it were as easy to ignore his heated touch. And as Amelia soon learns, the ton is a minefield, where one moment’s indiscretion can unleash a scandal—or entice her to surrender everything to the duke of her desire . . .

My Review:

In the past couple of months I have read a lot of Sophie Barnes, and they’ve all been a lot of fun, particularly A Most Unlikely Duke, the first book in her Diamonds in the Rough series. This second book in the series is every bit as much of a romp as the first.

The series features the family of the newly elevated Duke of Huntley, who was discovered to be living in the slums of St. Giles when he inherited his title, along with his two sisters Amelia and Juliette. Once upon a time they were gentry – until their father committed suicide and their mother abandoned them.

Now, after a lot of unexpected deaths between Raphe and the title, he is now a Duke. The story of his semi-adjustment to his new status, as well as his finding his happily ever after, is the story that is told in A Most Unlikely Duke.

But now that Raphe is settled (or as settled as he’ll ever be), it is his sister Amelia’s turn. Their new society friends believe that Amelia’s turn needs to be fairly urgent – she is over 20 and if she does not marry this Season she will be labeled as permanently on-the-shelf and doomed to eternal spinsterhood.

There are at least two problems with seemingly everyone’s plan to find Amelia a suitable husband and marry her off posthaste.

While some of the high-sticklers in the ton think that Amelia’s background in St. Giles will prevent her from ever being “one of them”, her background per se is not the problem. What is a problem is that her sudden elevation from poverty to riches, combined with her own gifts in mathematics and other subjects that women of the ton never even get near to, has left her with a desire that borders on compulsion to find a way to give back to society in the broader sense and St. Giles in particular. She wants to found a school for the children of the area so that they can have a chance to escape the grinding poverty and make something of themselves.

She is more than willing to put herself and her reputation at risk to achieve her goal, and is unwilling to accept much aid or any restriction in its pursuit.

The other stumbling block to everyone’s plans for Amelia to marry someone “suitable” is that Amelia has already fallen in love with someone that she believes is well above her touch. As a Duke the equal of her brother, Thomas, Duke of Coventry is more than suitable for her, but she is certain that with her background she is far from suitable for him. And his treatment of her, correcting her at every turn, reinforces that view.

But the real problem between them is that Coventry doesn’t believe he is in a position to marry anyone. He is raising his late sister’s bastard child as his own, and keeping that secret is worth sacrificing his own happiness for. But Coventry’s plan to hold Amelia at a figurative rather than a literal arm’s length is doomed when Raphe asks him to watch over Amelia and Jessica while he is away on his honeymoon, and Coventry discovers that the only way to protect Amelia in her mad plan to open a school is to help her with it.

The more time they spend together, the less they are able to resist each other. But when their marriage seems as if it is forced, they both try to turn away from their best hope of happiness.

Escape Rating B+:The Duke of Her Desire is every bit as delightful as A Most Unlikely Duke. I think that this one might have been just a bit more fun as the story is mostly told from Amelia’s perspective – and she is anything but a typical society heroine.

So often in historical romances the woman has had a very sheltered upbringing and needs time to learn her own mind before she can insist on having it. This is definitely not the case with Amelia. Like her brother Raphe, she is old enough when the family is ennobled to be all too aware of the contradictions and the injustices that are part of life among the upper crust. While she feels disheartened by the people who won’t accept her, she is also fairly sure of who she herself is and what her values are – and what she needs to do to live out those values. She also chafes at the loss of freedom that comes from being part of society. Her life was freer, and had more purpose, in St. Giles.

Coventry is an interesting choice for a hero. He is trying so hard to do the right thing by both Amelia and his son/nephew Jeremy. In the conflict that he perceives between those two desires he is often priggish and in a foul mood with all and sundry, including his adored mother – who is eventually forced to give him a well-deserved dressing down over the hash he is making of his life. But his conflict between his best intentions and his basest desires is constant, and only resolved when he finally gets his head out of his gorgeous ass about the situation.

If you like historical romances with unconventional heroines, and especially if you enjoy historical fiction that takes a good hard look at both sides of the way things were (and were not), the Diamonds in the Rough series is marvelous fun.

I’m now looking forward to the next book in the series, The Illegitimate Duke, where Juliette goes after the man she’s loved all along. In spite of everything that says he doesn’t deserve her. Because of course he does.

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

LINK:  https://goo.gl/xXFeax

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. Three winners will receive a paperback copy of A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes.  This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 1/5/2018 @ 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 Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: A Most Unlikely Duke by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayA Most Unlikely Duke (Diamonds in the Rough, #1) by Sophie Barnes
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 27th 2017
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


He never thought he'd become a duke, or that the secrets of his past would cost him his greatest love...

Raphe Matthews hasn’t stepped foot in polite circles since a tragedy left his once-noble family impoverished and in debt. The bare-knuckle boxer has spent the last fifteen years eking out an existence for himself and his two sisters. But when a stunning reversal of fortune lands Raphe the title of Duke of Huntley, he’s determined to make a go of becoming a proper lord, but he’ll need a little help, and his captivating neighbor might be just the woman for the job…
After her sister’s scandalous match, Lady Gabriella knows the ton’s eyes are on her. Agreeing to tutor the brutish new duke can only lead to ruin. Although she tries to control her irresistible attraction to Raphe, every day she spends with him only deepens her realization that this may be the one man she cannot do without. And as scandal threatens to envelop them both, she must decide if she can risk everything for love with a most unlikely duke.

My Review:

A Most Unlikely Duke is a surprisingly likely source of fun. It takes one of the standard tropes and turns it on its head, then beats it to a satisfying pulp – just as its hero does with any contenders for his bare-knuckle boxing crown.

That is part of what makes this particular duke so very, very unlikely. Raphe Matthews and his two sisters have survived in one of London’s worst neighborhoods, St. Giles. (If that name sounds familiar, St. Giles is also the setting of Elizabeth Hoyt’s marvelous Maiden Lane series. And that’s also a read-alike suggestion – anyone who enjoys the Maiden Lane series will also like Diamonds in the Rough.)

Raphe and his sisters Amelia and Juliette used to be gentry, once upon a time. But when their father died in debt and their mother abandoned them, Raphe and his sisters were forced into poverty. Raphe eventually grew into his work at the dockyards and his career as a bare-knuckle brawler, and now they have a measure of comfort. They’ve adapted to their surroundings, and most people forget that where they are isn’t where they came from.

Until Raphe receives a letter informing him that, due to a quirk of the law and a series of unfortunate events, he is now the Duke of Huntley. It’s a shock. It’s a surprise. It’s not even something that Raphe wants for himself. He hates the gentry and has no desire to become one. But he loves his sisters, and the wealth and power that comes with being a Duke will make their lives much, much easier. And considerably a whole lot safer. And they can all stop wondering where their next meal is coming from – an all too frequent occurrence during their early days in St. Giles.

All they have to do is learn to play the parts that they were born for, but have outgrown and discarded along the way.

That’s where Gabriella Warwick comes in. Lady Gabriella remembers all too well what it was like to be condemned by society, not for something she did, but for something that she is. She has a fascination with insects, and studies entomology in her spare time. Time that she used to have much more of, before her older sister made a scandalous marriage and nearly ruined the family’s social standing. Gabriella’s parents are determined to mold her into the proper young woman she was never quite meant to be, and seem perfectly willing to crush her into submission. She is dutiful but miserable.

When Raphe and his sisters arrive on the scene, she finds Raphe compelling, but it is his sisters to whom her heart reaches out. After the past year she has spent having social lessons drummed into her nearly 24/7, she is capable of teaching them what they need to know to have half a chance in society. And she wants to keep them from suffering the stings of social opprobrium as much as possible.

But spending time with the Matthews sisters necessitates spending time with Raphe Matthews as well. And she likes his unaffected manners as much as he likes the enthusiastic woman who occasionally peeks out from behind the socially polite mask she has been forced to wear.

They discover that they belong together – but only if they can weather the storms that threaten to drive them apart at every turn.

Escape Rating B: The “lessons” trope is one that I’ve always liked. As I read A Most Unlikely Duke I had the feeling that I had read a similar story before – it’s a pretty common trope. Likewise, the device where an unlikely hero is suddenly elevated to the peerage has also been done before. I think what made A Most Unlikely Duke so much fun was the way that those lessons in deportment took place between Gabriella and Raphe’s sisters, rather than Raphe himself. Not that Raphe didn’t need the help, because he most certainly did, but because Gabriella’s fellow feeling was for the young women. Raphe got his lessons elsewhere.

Part of what worked for me in this story was the way that Raphe merely takes on protective coloration, and only but so much of it. He changes his manners, but he never loses sight of the fact that all of the social rules and meticulous etiquette are just so much bunk. He does what he has to, but he never loses himself, and he makes friends because of that authentic self.

And it’s that authentic self that Gabriella comes to love. Not just because Raphe is way more real than the fop her parents want her to marry, but because Raphe loves the person she really is as she is, and not the person that her parents and society expect her to be. Loving Raphe sets her free, where the man her parents chose for her wanted to break her spirit. He’d probably treat his horses better – because he valued them more.

There were any number of times during the course of this story where it kept toeing up to some of the expected traps, but didn’t fall in. There were a few too many occasions where it looked like Gabriella was going to cave in and do what her parents wanted. And when she dithered about it, the story dragged a bit. Her forced engagement to the pompous ass was one of the very low points. While her desire to get out of it without risking further social ruin felt real, it kept things on tenterhooks a bit longer than I would have liked.

But all in all, A Most Unlikely Duke was a fun read for a long day of waiting in airports. I liked the cast of characters, and I’m looking forward to Amelia’s story in The Duke of Her Desire, coming just in time for a cozy Xmas read.

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