Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre + Giveaway

Review: The Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre + GiveawayThe Third Mrs. Durst by Ann Aguirre
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, thriller
Pages: 312
Published by Midnight Ink on August 8, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Some people just need killing.

Marlena Altizer Durst lives in her husband's shadow. He controls her every move--what she wears, the food she eats, and the friends she's allowed to make. If she disobeys, there are...consequences. And he has all the power.

To outsiders, it seems that she leads a fairy-tale life. But nobody ever wonders if Cinderella was happy after she married the prince. Marlena has traded freedom and safety for luxurious imprisonment, and most days, that seems like a bad bargain. Death may be the only exit she's allowed. Just like his first wife. And his second. Unless she flips the script.

Some people just need killing.

Praise:

"The Third Mrs. Durst is a slow, dark burn that leads to a fantastic explosion of an ending."--Victoria Helen Stone, bestselling author of Jane Doe

My Review:

They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. The Third Mrs. Durst serves it as if it were Baked Alaska, carefully prepared, frozen, and set on fire.

I almost said there’s no mystery here, that The Third Mrs. Durst is purely a thriller – and purely a thrill from beginning to end. Then I thought about it a bit, and realized that yes, it is also a mystery. Just not the mystery that the reader expects until the very, very end.

It seems like a dark twist on the Cinderella story, as it’s intended to be. Marlena Altizer escapes from the cowboy heroin capital of the world. The backwoods of Kentucky where oxycodone has destroyed lives, families and entire towns.

Marlena runs away to escape a world that holds no future for her except early and too many pregnancies, too many easy but temporary escapes via drugs and alcohol, and an early death after a battered life. The life that her mother chose.

Marlena chooses another path.

At first it seems like she’s chosen to be Cinderella, escaping from her drudgery of an existence to a world of glitz and glamour – but with an even darker underbelly. She gets lucky – becomes a model and mostly doesn’t have to pay for her chances with her body.

Until she chooses to trade that body for the high-life as the trophy wife of a high-roller who just so happens to have a taste for beautiful young women with no pasts – so that he can mold them into exactly what he wants.

Marlena knows it’s a dark and dirty bargain – but it’s exactly what she bargained for. Until it looks like her “loving” husband has set his plans to make her follow the first Mrs. Durst, and the second Mrs. Durst, a little sooner than she was ready for.

Marlena Altizer Durst has no intention of joining her predecessors in the death that their Bluebeard of a husband has planned for her. Whether she can escape his deadly clutches is another thing entirely.

And get him into hers.

Escape Rating A+: This one had me from beginning to end. I got sucked in at breakfast and didn’t spill out until after dinner – gasping at the ending. An ending which reminds me a lot of the classic movie, The Sting, the kind of ending where you gasp and blink and realize that everything you thought you knew was what you were intended to know – and that you have been completely misdirected right along with most of the characters in the story.

And that’s as much as I’m going to say about that because I don’t want to spoil the effect. But it’s a wow!

What makes this so compelling is the character of Marlena, and the way that her story and her motivations are revealed slowly and carefully. In spite of being inside her head, we’ve been deceived right along with everyone else.

At first, this seems like a dark Pretty Woman. And it’s a story that we’ve seen and read about too many times. A young woman thinks she’s found a golden ticket only to discover that she’s been bought and sold by a man who holds all the cards. She’s his creation, and his puppet. He controls her with isolation, with violence, and with threats to anyone that she loves. She’s trapped and she knows it and he loves knowing that he has all the control.

But as the story progresses, we discover that it’s not exactly what we thought. Marlena went into this horror with her eyes wide open. She has an agenda of her own. She wants revenge for her sister, the first Mrs. Durst. She’s just not sure she can get it. Michael Durst is more ruthless – and less hinged, than she imagined.

She still plays her hand, fearing all the while that she may have dealt herself into a higher stakes game than she planned. As hard as it is to read about the abuse that she suffers, we are frightened for her. It seems as if its too much for her to take – and too much for us.

Then it all goes completely pear-shaped – not that it was any bed of roses before. It looks like her plans have unraveled. And then – boom! A boom that will explode everything. For her, for him, and especially for the reader, blinking and gasping at the end.

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

To celebrate the release of THE THIRD MRS. DURST by Ann Aguirre we’re giving away a $25 Amazon gift card to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2xR3Suw 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a $25 Amazon gift card. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Ann Aguirre. Giveaway ends 8/18/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + Giveaway

Review: Her Other Secret by HelenKay Dimon + GiveawayHer Other Secret: A Novel by HelenKay Dimon
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, romantic suspense
Series: Whitaker Island #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


Is it the perfect escape?

 Whitaker Island is more than a getaway. For Tessa Jenkins, the remote strip of land in Washington state is a sanctuary. Fleeing from a shattering scandal, she has a new name, a chance at a new beginning, and a breathtaking new view: Hansen Rye. It’s hard not to crush on Whitaker’s hottest handyman. At six-foot-three and all kinds of fine, he’s also intensely private—and the attraction between them soon simmers dangerously out of control.


…or a private trap for two lovers?

After a devastating family tragedy, Hansen finds the pebbled shores of the faraway island to be an ideal refuge. Letting down his guard for the sexy, impulsive Tessa is an unexpected pleasure. But there’s another newcomer to Whitaker. He’s no stranger to Hansen. And when he’s murdered, the crime casts a threatening shadow. As suspicion falls on Hansen, all his secrets are about to collide with Tessa’s. Now the pasts they were determined to outrun are catching up to them. So is a killer who’s putting their love—and their lives—on the line.

My Review:

Don’t let the hottie on the cover fool you – as he tries to do to every single person on Whitaker Island. Her Other Secret is definitely romantic suspense, and that hottie has plenty to hide.

As does our heroine – as well as every single other resident of this tiny island off the coast of Washington State. But only some of those secrets are deadly.

While everyone on Whitaker is running away from something, it’s hottie Hansen Rye’s secrets that have come to get him – not that he knows that – at least at first.

Tessa Jenkins has been watching a yacht parked in the water opposite her tiny cottage for more than 24 hours, and she’s had enough. Something has to be wrong. The marina has plenty of space – and its on the other side of the island.

There are no lights on the boat – and no movement. It’s interesting that Tessa doesn’t think it’s her own secrets that have come to get her, but then, the person looking for her is generally a whole lot splashier than anything happening on that boat – which seems to be nothing at all.

Tessa is currently on the outs with the island’s only cop, so when she can’t stand the suspense any longer, she calls the person that everyone on Whitaker calls when they need something done. She calls Hansen, the resident handyman – and Tessa’s secret crush.

Not that Hansen isn’t the secret crush of every woman on the island – single or not – and probably some of the men as well. He’s gorgeous. A complete grump to the point of being an antisocial asshole, but gorgeous.

And generally useful. He fixes everything that’s broken, so Tessa is sure that he can fix whatever must be wrong with that silent, parked boat. That it’s a good excuse to call him is just icing on the cake.

That’s when things go pear-shaped. As Hansen and Tessa argue about going out to the boat, a man walks out of the water, fully dressed in a business suit, and heads inland – right past them. It’s weird. Really, really weird – especially when the man disappears.

It gets weirder still when the man turns up dead on Tessa’s front yard the next day. And all of Hansen’s secrets come out. And Tessa’s comes to the island to get her.

Escape Rating B: This is one of those stories that can best be described as “oddly charming”. I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, but it doesn’t hold up to a whole lot of scrutiny. It’s what I call “mind candy”. A good reading time that does not require deep thought that I probably won’t remember this time next year. But fun while I on Whitaker Island with Hansen and Tessa. It’s a beach read, ironically (or not) set mostly on a beach!

The setup of Whitaker Island, both the way it works and the people who inhabit it, was interesting. All 200 or so residents merely rent their cottages – there’s a mysterious owner behind the scenes who actually owns everything. There’s no government – just a governing board. One firefighter and one cop – both employees of that mysterious owner. Who remains mysterious throughout the book. I kept expecting him, her or it to be revealed, but they were not. (There’s a second book in this series, The Secret She Keeps, coming out in December. Maybe all will be revealed then.)

Whitaker seems to be a place where people escape from the rat race but bring all the rats with them – including their own ratty selves. Everyone has something to hide, and everyone gossips like it’s going out of season – which of course it never does.

I liked both Hansen and Tessa, as well as the way they got together, but I think that their respective secrets were both a bit over-the-top, contributing to the whole “fun while it lasted” vibe of the story.

While not giving those secrets away, it felt like Tessa’s secret just wasn’t nearly as big or as bad as she made it out to be. And the “ripped from the headlines” reasons for that secret didn’t quite gel.

Hansen’s secrets, on the other hand, were so big and so bad and ended up being so convoluted that they ended up in “bwahaha” villain territory. And I did figure out whodunnit way before our protagonists and wondered why they didn’t feel the clue-by-four whizzing over their heads.

But then, the epic storms cutting off the island and isolating the villagers may have had something to do with their distraction – not to mention their on-its-way-to-resolution sexual and emotional tension.

They were busy!

In the end, a good reading time was had by all. Her Other Secret feels like it would be a great beach read – at least as long as a corpse doesn’t turn up on your stretch of beach!

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

To celebrate the release of HER OTHER SECRET by HelenKay Dimon, we’re giving away a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2EQgLJt 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of Her Other Secret and The Protector by HelenKay Dimon. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/15/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + Giveaway

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + GiveawayThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: F/F romance, historical romance
Series: Feminine Pursuits #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

My Review:

In late 19th century New England, they’d have called the relationship between Lucy Muchelney and Catherine St. Day a “Boston Marriage”. In early 19th century “old” England, it becomes a life and business partnership, because a traditional marriage is not a possibility for two women who want to spend their lives together in their own happily ever after.

Along the way it’s a beautiful story about falling in love, creating a partnership of equals, and dealing with all of the crap that society doles out to those of us “living while female” – no matter who we love.

It begins with Lucy. Lucy thinks of herself as an astronomer. She knows that she has spent the last ten years as her father’s unpaid and unacknowledged apprentice and assistant, performing the complex mathematical calculations that made it possible for others to follow his erratic but brilliant paths across the stars.

But her father is dead, and no one except her brother knows that she provided the backbone of his work for the previous decade. Stephen, a mostly unsuccessful painter, is now the head of her family and household. He tells her that it’s time for her to give up her “hobby” and get married. He plans to sell her precious telescope to keep himself in paints and parties.

In the wake of witnessing her lover’s wedding, Lucy takes a desperate leap. One of her father’s patrons needs him to translate an important work of astronomy, currently available only in French. There are plenty of people who can translate the language, even a few who have the necessary background in astronomy, but none who have the language, the astronomy and the crucial ability to follow the mathematical calculations that are integral to the text.

Except Lucy.

Having nothing left except the work that her brother has threatened to take away, Lucy takes herself to London, to the (not-so) Polite Science Society of which her father was a member, and to the potential patron who made the request, Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth, widow of the naturalist George St. Day, world traveler and funder of her husband’s many, many expeditions.

Catherine has no desire to yoke herself to another genius. She’s been there and done that, and has the emotional scars to prove it. Her late husband has been dead for two years but she still flinches upon entering the rooms that he marked out as “his”.

But Lucy needs succor. And a patron – or perhaps a patroness. Catherine needs a purpose.

Together they set the scientific world on fire. And each other.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I enjoyed this a LOT, but there were points in the middle where I kind of wanted to turn my eyes away. Not in a bad way, but I FELT for both characters so much, and I kept expecting more bad things to happen to them than actually did. Or for the story to descend into misogynistic cliches – which it never does.

The romance here, while it does happen just a bit fast, is a beautiful exploration of consent at every turn. No one ever overpowers the other. There is no sweeping away of one by the other. But there is still plenty of love and heat and fire, as these two women carefully – and sometimes not so carefully – explore what they can be to each other. It is every bit as romantic as any romance I’ve ever read.

Unfortunately that includes the misunderstandammit that nearly breaks them apart. It does, however, lead to a beautiful and epic reconciliation scene. As it should.

Once upon a time, an author of m/m romance told me that she had fallen for the genre because both protagonists in a romance were equals. The power imbalances that used to be a traditional feature of traditional romance simply aren’t present. Which made it easy to identify with either or both characters.

That observation came to mind somewhat ironically in the case of The Lady’s Guide, because in this f/f romance the protagonists are also equal. What gives this story its heart and soul is that both protagonists are equally in the “one down” position in society. In spite of Catherine’s wealth and relatively high social position, her opinions, her contributions, her very presence is always discounted by the men she deals with. That is true even when it is her money making their work possible.

The way that the so-called “important” men in this story attempt and frequently succeed in cutting both Lucy and Catherine down at every turn is heartbreaking – and easily identifiable with for any woman. We’ve all been talked over, talked down and discounted at every turn.

That Lucy and Catherine discover a way to not just knit their own lives together but to also bring many of the forgotten women of science and art out of the shadows into which they have been cast by male scientists and artist felt like a phenomenal way to bring this historical romance to a wonderful conclusion.

As well as set up hopefully many future stories in the Feminine Pursuits series!

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

 

To celebrate the release of THE LADY’S GUIDE TO CELESTIAL MECHANICS by Olivia Waite, we’re giving away a bound manuscript copy of the book to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2HIlsH1 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a bound manuscript copy of The Lady Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/9/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James + GiveawaySay No to the Duke (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #4) by Eloisa James
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, large print, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Wildes of Lindow Castle #4
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


One little wager will determine their fate—a daring escape or falling into temptation with a rakish lord.

Lady Betsy Wilde’s first season was triumphant by any measure, and a duke has proposed—but before marriage, she longs for one last adventure.

No gentleman would agree to her scandalous plan—but Lord Jeremy Roden is no gentleman. He offers a wager. If she wins a billiards game, he’ll provide the breeches.

If he wins…she is his, for one wild night.

But what happens when Jeremy realizes that one night will never be enough? In the most important battle of his life, he’ll have to convince Betsy to say no to the duke.

My Review:

The Wildes of Lindow Castle are all very, very wild. Or, at least the Wildes that have featured in the previous books in this marvelous series, Wilde in Love, Too Wilde to Wed and Born to be Wilde certainly have been very wild indeed. But the Wildes of the previous books have all been men.

The story in Say No to the Duke is the story of Lady Boadicea Wilde. Who would rather be called Betsy. Not just because Boadicea is rather a mouthful, but because Betsy fits much better with the persona she projects to the world. Lady Betsy gives the outward appearance – and performs all the public actions – of the perfect lady that she pretends to be.

Only one man seems to see through Betsy’s never-ending stellar performance. Jeremy Roden may seem to be in his cups nearly all the time, but his performance as a drunken wastrel is just as perfect as Betsy’s – and just as fraudulent.

Not that Jeremy doesn’t seem to drink like a fish – but he doesn’t get drunk. He wishes he could. Get drunk. Or sleep. Or do pretty much anything to keep his demons at bay. The ghosts of the men he lost during England’s vain attempt to get her rebellious North American colonies back.

It may be that it takes one to know one. Jeremy pretends to be drunk to keep his well-meaning friends away while he stews in his own regrets and remorse. Not to mention his misplaced guilt, his all-too-real fears and his PTSD.

Betsy pretends to be a lady because her mother manifestly was not. And because the “mean girls” at her boarding school spent all of their gossiping time speculating on just when her mother’s lascivious nature would manifest in her daughter.

Betsy can’t get their cutting words and nasty whispers out of her head any more than Jeremy can stop the voices of the men who followed him to their deaths. So Jeremy drinks and Betsy projects the perfect image of a perfect lady, while underneath she is torn between “winning” her debutante season by being perfectly respectable every single moment and collecting marriage proposals from all the high-ranking bachelors participating in the Marriage Mart – or being the person she really is.

Because what Betsy really wants is an adventure – just like all of her brothers. She wants the chance to go out and do the things that men do without either thought or consequence. Not anything truly scandalous – or not exactly. She’s not really looking for a romantic dalliance. What she wants is the opportunity to play pool in a club, go to an auction and bet on something – on her own. She wants a day without having to be a perfect lady every minute and watch every second of her own behavior – because men never have to.

Betsy is every bit an unconventional as every single one of the Wildes – even the ones who are adopted. And she wants one adventure of her very own before she says yes to that duke.

But just as she’s beginning to edge her way towards that “yes”, Jeremy finally realizes that he wants her to say “no” – even though that duke is a good man and one of his best friends. And that as much as Jeremy himself wants Betsy, he knows that he is much too damaged to be good for her – even if she’s perfect for him.

Escape Rating B+: There are a lot of things that I really enjoyed in Say No to the Duke, and just a couple that made me go “huh?” and kept it from being a Grade A book.

One of the great things about this one, like all of the books in the Wildes series, is the quality and quantity of the banter between the characters. All of the characters in this series are both interesting and intelligent, and they all talk to each other, about each other and frequently over each other with wit and style and verve.

Another thing that worked really well is that even though this story sounds like it might veer into the dreaded “love triangle” territory, it actually doesn’t. The heroine does have to make up her mind between the duke and the (pretend) drunkard, but there’s no “torn between two lovers” angst.

Not only is her decision-making logical, she also has the option of choosing neither. She does not have to marry either one. Unless she wants to. Or unless she thinks she ought to for some reasons that didn’t work too well for this reader.

I also liked that this one did not fall into the dreadful trope of being forced to choose between a dreadful but financially stable marriage and a happy but poor one. The Duke in question is a decent man, and will make someone an excellent husband. He’s just the wrong husband for Betsy and she’s the wrong wife for him. But there’s nothing wrong with him. Nor does he pursue once he knows his suit will not be accepted. A decent chap all the way around.

There were just those couple of niggles.

I liked Betsy as a character a whole lot more after she stopped nattering on about stamping out any hint of anything less than ladylike behavior for fear that she would be seen as just like her rather wayward mother. I understood why she kept up that veneer in public, but her inability to let herself be herself in private didn’t quite ring true – particularly with the wild reputation of the Wilde family – both male and female – to bolster her.

The other issue revolves around the villain of the piece, Jeremy’s completely vile cousin. As a character he was over-the-top and his part of the puzzle ended up feeling unresolved. When his hamfisted attempts to either get Jeremy killed or remove him from the line of succession to his father’s marquessate fail, it felt like the punishment phase was left unresolved in rather glaring fashion. And the whole farrago just didn’t feel necessary to add tension to the story or to put roadblocks in the way of Jeremy and Betsy’s relationship. They were perfectly capable of adding plenty of obstacles without outside assistance.

In the end, Betsy and Jeremy fall for each other not just because they complete each other, but because they truly understand and accept each other – as they are – warts and impulses and demons and all. And it’s lovely.

Betsy Wilde may have said “No” to the Duke, but you’ll want to say “Yes” to this book. If you love witty historical romance, you’ll be glad you did!

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

To celebrate the release of SAY NO TO THE DUKE by Eloisa James, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Wilde in Love by Eloisa James to one lucky winner!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2VyJ1Wf 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Wilde in Love by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 6/28/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Books will send the prize to the winner directly.

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + Giveaway

Review: The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe + GiveawayThe Rogue of Fifth Avenue (Uptown Girls, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, eboook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Uptown Girls #1
Pages: 400
Published by Avon on June 4, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Silver-tongued lawyer.Keeper of secrets.Breaker of hearts.

He can solve any problem…

In serving the wealthy power brokers of New York society, Frank Tripp has finally gained the respectability and security his own upbringing lacked. There’s no issue he cannot fix…except for one: the beautiful and reckless daughter of an important client who doesn’t seem to understand the word danger.

She’s not looking for a hero…

Excitement lay just below Forty-Second Street and Mamie Greene is determined to explore all of it—while playing a modern-day Robin Hood along the way. What she doesn’t need is her father’s lawyer dogging her every step and threatening her efforts to help struggling families in the tenements.

However, she doesn’t count on Frank’s persistence…or the sparks that fly between them. When fate upends all her plans, Mamie must decide if she’s willing to risk it all on a rogue…

My Review:

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue is the first book in the Uptown Girls series, a followup to the author’s Four Hundred series. Both take place among the elite “Knickerbocker” society of New York City in the Gilded Age.

I have to admit, though, that the possibility that this series is named for the Billy Joel song Uptown Girl just makes me smile. It also gives me a rather pleasant earworm. And the lyrics actually work, come to think of it.

The romance in this one is between Mamie Greene, who’s a bit of a “poor little rich girl” and Frank Tripp, who is very definitely a rich little poor boy. Frank is a rich and successful uptown attorney who counts Mamie’s rich and influential father, Duncan Greene as one of his biggest clients.

(There are a LOT of rich people in this story – but in the end the story is surprisingly NOT about their wealth.)

Frank has been following Mamie and her sisters to rather an alarming number of dives and gambling dens. He thinks he’s keeping her out of trouble. Of course, he has no idea what he’s actually gotten himself into.

He thinks he’s saving Mamie. What really happening is that they get along like kerosene and matches – combustible at every encounter. Neither of them can afford to acknowledge the attraction between them. Mamie’s father will never allow her to marry his lawyer, no matter how successful Frank might be. And Mamie is promised to another man.

Frank thinks he’s saving Mamie FROM herself. He’s not willing to acknowledge that he’s really saving her FOR himself. Or that he’s the one who really needs saving.

Escape Rating B-: Although the Uptown Girls series is a spinoff from the Four Hundred series, it is not necessary to read the Four Hundred to get right into the thick of things in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. There are occasional mentions and appearances by a few of the characters from the previous series, but nothing to interrupt the flow of this story for those who have not read those.

That being said, I really, really liked all three books in the Four Hundred series, and liked them more than I did The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. Or rather, I liked the actual “Rogue”, Frank Tripp, just fine, but I didn’t enjoy Mamie’s character nearly as much as I did the heroines of the previous series.

On my other hand, this one really is the story of Frank’s journey and Frank’s redemption. Mamie feels more like the instrument of said redemption. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

Both Frank and Mamie have secrets. Mamie’s secret is that she is literally robbing the rich, picking the pockets of the swells who frequent the elite gambling halls, to provide funds for poor women and their children who quite seriously need the help. And that she is keeping her thievery and her visits to Five Points from her parents.

I found myself applauding her desire to help people while decrying her methods. Not just in the “two wrongs don’t make a right” sense, but in the sense that Mamie has money and could pay out of her pocket as well as fund raise among her rich friends. If her parents had forbidden her activities the secrecy would make more sense, but she hasn’t asked, she’s just assumed. Possibly a correct assumption, but still…considering her parent’s personalities, it would have had a fair chance of working.

Frank, on the other hand, is hiding that he began as a poor boy in Five Points, the child of a drunken wife beater and the poor wife he beat. He got lucky and received a hand up from a local business owner who helped into law school. Everything Frank got from there was on his own merits and hard work, as well as a silver tongue that convinced the upper crust swells that he was one of them.

The story here is that Frank’s old life collides with Mamie’s hidden life, as one of the women she has been helping is arrested for killing her husband. Which she, in fact, did. Not in self-defense, but in defense of their five-year-old daughter. The deck is stacked high against the woman, and Mamie wants Frank to use that silver tongue of his to get the woman off – no matter how much the corrupt police department wants to sweep the case under the rug.

In the process of defending the case, Frank finds himself confronting the family he left behind, and the facade he has created in order to maintain his life cracks under the strain. Whether Mamie is able to forgive him for his necessary deception provides the romantic tension at the end of the story, but this is one of the few times where I really wanted the heroine to forgive the erring hero a lot quicker and more easily than she did.

That being said, the way that this one works out, both in the romantic sense and especially in the courtroom, made for one heck of a slam-bang (also a wham-bam!) ending.

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

To celebrate the release of THE ROGUE OF FIFTH AVENUE by Joanna Shupe, we’re giving away one paperback set of the entire Four Hundred series!

Link: http://bit.ly/2WQzECI

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Giveaway open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Four Hundred series by Joanna Shupe. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books. Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 1159pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copy out to the winner directly.

Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins + Giveaway

Review: Rebel by Beverly Jenkins + GiveawayRebel (Women Who Dare, #1) by Beverly Jenkins
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Women Who Dare #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on May 28, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The first novel in USA Today Bestselling Author Beverly Jenkins' compelling new series follows a Northern woman south in the chaotic aftermath of the Civil War...

Valinda Lacey's mission in the steamy heart of New Orleans is to help the newly emancipated community survive and flourish. But soon she discovers that here, freedom can also mean danger. When thugs destroy the school she has set up and then target her, Valinda runs for her life—and straight into the arms of Captain Drake LeVeq.

As an architect from an old New Orleans family, Drake has a deeply personal interest in rebuilding the city. Raised by strong women, he recognizes Valinda's determination. And he can't stop admiring—or wanting—her. But when Valinda's father demands she return home to marry a man she doesn't love, her daring rebellion draws Drake into an irresistible intrigue.

My Review:

Considering that a big part of the romance in this book is all about Drake LeVeq persuading Valinda Lacey to let her inner hellion out of the straight-jacket her father has tried to wrap it in, this book would have been better titled Hellion than Rebel.

And that’s about the only quibble I have with this book. It is simply marvelous from beginning to end. Sometimes heartbreaking, but marvelous every step of the way.

(Don’t let that bit about heartbreaking worry you, there is an HEA for our hero and heroine. But some of what they have to go through to get there, and what the Black community of post-Civil War New Orleans – and in the rest of the country –  had to experience both before and after Freedom, that is frequently heartbreaking, all the more so because it doesn’t feel over.)

Rebel is a story on two levels, and it works excellently on both of them.

On one level, it’s a romance. On the other, complementary level, its historical fiction about the Black experience in Reconstruction era New Orleans in specific, and in U.S. in general during that period.

In the end, figuring out that they love each other is the easy part of their story. Working their way through and/or around the forces arrayed against them is the hard part. The combination of the two is what makes Rebel terrific – and terrifically readable – all the way around.

Escape Rating A+: Yes, I know I’m squeeing. This was a book that I just loved, even though I often have difficulties with historical romance these days. Those difficulties occur because historical romance heroines have a high tightrope to walk, in that they both have to be women who have enough agency for me to identify with and be women who can at least plausibly fit into the time and place where their story is set.

Valinda succeeds because she has a tremendous amount of agency that springs directly out of her time, place and circumstances. While her disgusting father does his best/worst to clip the wings of her spirit, that he expects her to be meek and submissive is plausible for the time period.

That, as a Black woman in the late 19th century she feels both duty-bound and able to support herself and make her own living and give of her best for the betterment of her people feels equally plausible and downright likely. The world is not going to be handed to her, and she’s seen the results of submitting meekly to her father’s will in the lives of her mother and older sister. It’s all too easy for 21st century women to see themselves in her pride in her work and her ambitions.

That growing up in her family circumstances has left her with no belief in love makes perfect sense and fits her right into the company of many romantic heroines who learned early that their marriages would be business deals and not love matches. That the marriage her father wants for her is more vile than that puts him in the bad company of many fathers of romantic heroines. Valinda spends the book rightfully dreading his appearance in New Orleans, and he lives down to all of her fears.

But her hopes by that point have been placed in Drake LaVeg, a man who has grown up in a family filled with love, led by his strong, determined and successful mother. It’s Drake and his family who coax the real Valinda out from the restrictions her father placed around her.

At the same time, this book does its best to portray the circumstances under which Drake’s and Valinda’s community was forced to endure. The freedom granted by the Union victory in the Civil War was precious – and it was under attack by all sides at all times. Those attacks were often legal, governmental and bureaucratic. Even the illegal attacks were sanctioned by the government and the powers-that-be.

So much of the circumstances that surround and intrude upon the romance feel viscerally wrong and historically accurate at the same time. And should make readers reflect that not nearly as much has changed as we like to believe.

In the end, Rebel is a romance that provides a historically accurate setting that we don’t read about often enough, featuring a dashing hero, a heroine with intense agency, and a promise of more to come.

I can’t wait to meet the rest of the Women Who Dare!

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

To celebrate the release of REBEL by Beverly Jenkins, we’re giving away a paperback copy of Tempest by Beverly Jenkins to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2Hr1RLq

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of Tempest by Beverly Jenkins. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 6/10/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + Giveaway

Review: Anything but a Duke by Christy Carlyle + GiveawayAnything But a Duke (The Duke's Den, #2) by Christy Carlyle
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Duke's Den #2
Pages: 368
Published by Avon on April 30, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Self-made man Aidan Iverson has seen more closed doors in his thirty years than he’s ever cared to count. As a member of the elite Duke’s Den, he has all the money he could possibly need, but the one thing he can’t purchase is true power. If roguish Aidan can’t buy his way into society’s hallowed halls, he’ll resort to a more extreme measure: marriage.

Brought up to be a proper lady, the only thing Diana Ashby desires is to be left alone to the creation of her own devices. But when her dreams are crushed, she must find another way to secure the future of her invention. Knowing his desire to enter her world, Diana strikes a deal to arrange Aidan’s marriage to the perfect lady—as long as that lady isn’t her. She doesn’t need any distractions from her work, particularly of the sinfully handsome variety.

As Diana and Aidan set out to find him an aristocratic match, neither are prepared for the passion that ignites between them or the love they can’t ignore.

In the Duke’s Den, can happiness ever be a winning prospect?

My Review:

I picked up Anything But a Duke because I absolutely adored the first book in the Duke’s Den series, A Duke Changes Everything. So naturally I wanted to see what happened next to the Duke’s Den gambling den and investors’ club.

While the two things that go on in the Duke’s Den may seem like opposites, they also aren’t. Because the three owners of the Duke’s Den, Nicholas Lyon (hero of A Duke Changes Everything), Aiden Iverson (the hero of our current tale) and Rhys Forrester (presumably the hero of the next book) invest in inventions. Often very large inventions on a grand scale, but not always. But whether those inventions will succeed or fail is really just gambling under a different name – and a slightly more respectable one at that.

Think of the Duke’s Den as a historical version of Shark Tank. The rules seem to be very similar – but without the posturing for TV cameras. (And OMG the original international version of Shark Tank is called Dragons’ Den!)

Diana Ashby has come to the Duke’s Den, just as inventors come to Shark Tank, to convince them to invest in her household, housewide, vacuuming system. It’s ingenious in its way, a system that once installed in an establishment, will vacuum every room with merely the priming of a suction pump.

While Diana is unable to immediately convince the members to invest in her device, she IS able to get a stay of execution on their refusal – because Aiden Iverson clumsily broke her model. And because once upon a time, not so very long ago, she saved his life.

There’s a spark that runs hot between them, so in a bit of self-deception they decide to use each other – as an excuse to remain in each other’s company just a bit longer.

Diana needs funding for her inventions. She’s under a deadline from her mother to either get funding within a month or finally throw herself into the “marriage mart”. Fully aware that marriage will probably make her miserable. Not that she might not want to get married and have a household and family of her own, but that under the current laws any husband can and probably will force her to stop inventing – and she needs to invent rather as much as she needs to breathe – possibly more.

Iverson needs to marry into the aristocracy. He has plenty of money, but his origins, both that they are common and that they are secret, keep him from the highest strata of society. And it’s that strata that controls memberships and inclusion into the areas that he needs to be in to bring the inventions he funds to their fullest potential.

They make a bargain. Diana will find Iverson an aristocratic wife, and he will fund her vacuum invention and help her find a buyer.

But no woman can live up to the fire in Diana, and no invention – no matter how successful – can make Diana feel as alive as Iverson does.

The question is whether they can step back from what they both said they wanted to what they truly need – each other.

Escape Rating B+: Anything But a Duke is a whole lot of fun. I’ll confess it’s not quite as much fun as A Duke Changes Everything (which was pretty amazeballs), but it is a terrific historical romance and I enjoyed every minute of it!

One of the things that I really liked about Anything But a Duke is that the characters, while part of the upper classes (that’s a whole ‘nother topic we won’t get into here) were neither of them actually titled members of the aristocracy.

Rather they were both upper-middle class, and both had mixed feelings and reactions about that situation. Diana feels stuck because she really wants to work on her inventions, but is being forced to submit to being “a lady” with all of the restrictions that are involved.

Meanwhile her brother is out drinking and gambling and wasting money that the family cannot publicly admit they don’t have. Diana’s mother needs her to make an “good” marriage to save the family from penury. (I have thoughts about her brother – and they are not complimentary thoughts in the slightest – but this isn’t his story.)

Iverson, on the other hand, is a self-made man. His mother abandoned both him and his sister to the workhouse. He’s not even sure that “Iverson” is his true name and has absolutely no idea who his father was. His lack of pedigree keeps him from getting into places that he needs to get into to further the inventions he invests in. He’s willing to make an arranged marriage, offering his money to save some aristocratic family’s position in order to get the entree into society he requires.

Diana and Iverson really do belong together. It’s obvious to the reader – in a very good way – and seems to be obvious to everyone except the two of them for the longest time. The way that the tension builds between them is delicious – even more so because it isn’t fake in any way but is inherent in the situation in which they have placed themselves.

And Diana is a wonderful character for 21st Century readers to identify with! I’m not sure her position is historically accurate, but it feels plausible enough to work – and work well.

One final note, there have been a rash of historical romances where the hero unexpectedly becomes a duke, with mixed results. Based on the title, I expected that to happen here, and I was so happy when it didn’t. Part of what makes Iverson so interesting is that he isn’t part of the nobility. I really liked seeing a hero and heroine who are not, were not and do not become aristocrats. It’s a refreshing change and I hope to see more of it!

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

To celebrate the release of ANYTHING BUT A DUKE by Christy Carlyle, we’re giving away one paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2WmtcTY

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback set of A Duke Changes Everything and Anything But a Duke by Christy Carlyle. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 5/16/2019 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly.

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: 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: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne LongLady Derring Takes a Lover (The Palace of Rogues #1) by Julie Anne Long
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Palace of Rogues #1
Pages: 373
Published by Avon on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpool, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, "Dear Dull Derring," is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It's a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue's Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armor around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he's ever known?

My Review:

Lady Derring Takes a Lover is absolutely delightful. And it was exactly what I was in the mood for, which made it even better.

In a way, this story reminds me of Someone to Love by Mary Balogh – which is high praise considering just how many “best of the year” lists that book turned up on!

There’s a similarity between the two books because they both effectively begin with Dickens’ Christmas Carol opening, “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Because both stories have their effective beginning with the death of someone else.

To make them resemble each other even more, there’s nothing “dear” about the lately departed in either Someone to Love or Lady Derring Takes a Lover. In both cases, the late and unlamented was a bastard. Not the literal kind, but the kind that leaves disaster in his wake.

In the case of “Dull Derring”, he’s left behind a mountain of unpaid bills, a destitute Countess and an equally destitute mistress. I do not mean destitute in the relative sense of having to scale back their extravagant lifestyles. I mean completely skint. Stony broke. Not having two pence to rub together.

But they do manage to rub along together, surprisingly enough. They shouldn’t have anything to do with one another, the lady and the courtesan. They should hate, or at least resent, each other on sight.

Instead they band together, both broke but not in the least heartbroken, and both completely disillusioned with men and the world that believes their only existence should be in relationship to some man who will expect them to suppress their wants and needs and personalities to flatter his ego while leaving them to clean up his messes.

Delilah Swanpool, the “Lady Derring” of the title, has one and only one asset – along with the jewels that her late husband’s mistress, Angelique Breedlove, advises her to sew into the hems of her dresses on her way out the door. Derring owned one building outright, in his own name, not entailed to his estate and not mortgaged beyond its value. Free and clear.

And located on the Thames docks. Not the most salubrious neighborhood, not even for Mrs. Breedlove, let alone Lady Derring. But it’s what they have. It’s all they have except grit and determination and a strong desire to never be dependent on any man ever again.

Their dream of opening a wholesome boarding house in an area that is much more likely to host a brothel – in fact their building used to BE a brothel – seems naive, and is almost doomed from the outset.

Their determination not to depend on any unreliable man – and in their opinion ALL men are inherently unreliable just by being men – is undermined, at least for Lady Derring, with the advent of Captain Tristan Hardy of the King’s Blockade into their attempt to create a bit of domestic bliss for the assortment of people who find their little out of the way genteel boardinghouse.

Because Derring owned that old building in that odd location for a reason. A reason that put the late unlamented squarely in the sights of the Blockade. Hardy knows that Derring was up to his mortgaged neck in smuggling, and he’ll do anything to roll up the last big smuggling gang in England.

No matter how many heads, or hearts, he has to break in the process. Including his own.

Escape Rating A: This is one of those books that just plain is a great time for the reader. I had a blast. Until 2:30 in the morning, because I was having too much fun to stop before the end.

At the beginning, I said this reminded me of the utterly awesome Someone to Love in the way that it starts. But Delilah also reminded me a bit of one of my favorite heroines, Amelia Peabody Emerson, from Elizabeth Peters’ historical mystery series that begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank. Not in time or place, because the stories are more than half a century apart, but in attitude.

Although it is never stated outright, it’s clear from context that Lady Derring Takes a Lover takes place during the reign of George IV, the former Prince Regent who gave his title to an era. Both Delilah Swanpool and Amelia Peabody know how women are supposed to think and act, the way that they are supposed to behave. And both reject those “supposes” and “oughts” and “shoulds”, albeit under different circumstances. And both find themselves liberated by that rejection. Also both want to be seen for who they are and as they are, and not as society, particularly men, believe they should be.

Also they both discover that they really like sex, even though neither expects to and both have a difficult time discussing the act – but definitely not a difficult time doing it and thoroughly enjoying it. Whether they should or not.

There are three stories going on in Lady Derring Takes a Lover, and they play off each other and intertwine with each other in ways that really worked for me.

There’s the obvious, Lady Derring does indeed take a lover. But the romance between Delilah and Tristan, while filled with sexual tension and coming to a well-deserved happy ending, doesn’t feel like the heart of the book.

The two parts that do feel like that heart are the creation of Delilah and Angelique’s desperate business partnership, along with their surprising creation of their boarding house, and Tristan’s quest to find the smugglers – a quest which reminded me a bit of last week’s The Woman in the Lake, because we again see smugglers not as romantic antiheroes, but as members of organized crime.

I loved the way that Delilah and Angelique end up in business together. They’re desperate and cynical and scared and determined to make a home not just for themselves but for others. They build a strong friendship from a very unlikely beginning and it just works. The way they take in such a disparate bunch of people and weave them into an unlikely family of choice was fun to read, in spite of them also being taken in by two of their boarders.

They have a dream that they make come true – without the help of man to make it all come together.

And while Tristan’s hunt for the smugglers was certainly the stuff of derring-do (pun intended, because the late Lord Derring mostly didn’t) it’s a story that wove itself around everything else – as well as providing the crisis necessary to push for the HEA. And I’m equally glad that the crisis did not involve the heroines in jeopardy, as such crises do entirely too often.

There’s a niggling voice in the back of my head saying that this delightful froth of a book played much too fast and loose with historical accuracy – but I can’t prove that. And I enjoyed it so much that I don’t care nearly as much as I should.

A good time was definitely had by this reader. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Angel in a Devil’s Arms – which looks to bring about Angelique’s much deserved HEA.

 

Review: Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh

Review: Dare to Love a Duke by Eva LeighDare to Love a Duke (The London Underground, #3) by Eva Leigh
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: London Underground #3
Pages: 384
Published by Avon on December 24, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


For a dashing duke and the proprietress of a secret, sensual club in the London Underground, passion could lead to love… if they dare

Thomas Powell, the new Duke of Northfield, knows he should be proper and principled, like his father. No more dueling, or carousing, or frequenting masked parties where Londoners indulge their wildest desires. But he’s not ready to give up his freedom just yet. The club is an escape, a place where he can forget about society and the weight of his title… and see her, the woman he’s wanted forever.

Lucia—known as Amina—manages the Orchid Club, a secret society where fantasies become reality. But for Lucia, it’s strictly business, profitable enough to finance her dream: a home for the lost girls of the streets. Surrounded by lovers, she only observes, unwilling risk her future for any man. No member has ever intrigued her...until him, the masked stranger whose heated looks sear her skin. After months of suppressed longing, they dare to give in to temptation…

But the late duke’s legacy comes with a shocking secret, and the scandal threatens to destroy everything Tom loves… his family, the Orchid Club, and even Lucia.

My Review:

This is the third book in the author’s London Underground series, and it makes a fine and fitting conclusion to that series. But it also works as a standalone. The story in this entry bears some resemblance to the circumstances in the first two (From Duke Till Dawn and Counting on a Countess) but the reader knowing where they are and who the characters are in Dare to Love a Duke is not dependent on having read the other books first.

Not that they are not a lot of fun in their own right!

As has been true in the previous books in the series, the romance here is between a newly minted nobleman and a woman of not merely lesser rank and status but also someone who has been operating on the shady side of the street in one way or another. The heroine of From Duke Till Dawn is a confidence trickster, while the heroine of Counting on a Countess is a smuggler. There weren’t a lot of legal, well-paying professions for women during the Regency, or let’s face it, for centuries before or after.

The heroine of Dare to Love a Duke is the manager of an unusual but not exclusive sex club. A club that admits anyone and everyone. All the participants are masked. Anything goes, and anyone can have sex with anyone else – or multiple anyone elses. The only requirement is that consent is king, queen and knave. People can, and do, do whatever they want – but only what they want. No force, no coercion, no “persuasion”. Only freely given consent.

The hero is the newly invested Duke of Northfield. His father has just died and Tom has inherited the title, along with a whole slew of expectations and a tonne of responsibility. On what he believed was his last night of relative freedom, he finally seduces, or is seduced by, or they both simply give in to the sexual chemistry that has always swirled between himself and Lucia, the manager of the Orchid Club.

Only to discover the following morning that his father can’t possibly have been the paragon of virtue that he claimed to be – because Lucia comes to the Duke of Northfield’s house to deliver the monthly profits from her club which he owns – only to discover that the new duke is the man she just spent a long and very pleasurable night with.

The situation is a mess. If it comes out, it will be a scandal that will affect his mother’s place in society and his sister’s prospects for marriage – not that those aren’t already threatened enough.

Tom’s father was a staunch Tory, a member of the conservative political faction that wants to preserve the status quo, keep power in the hands of the wealthy aristocrats, and oppress the poor, the nascent middle-class, and pretty much anyone else who isn’t one of them.

His father’s friends are pressuring him to remain in their faction, and are holding his sister’s marriage to the man she loves as hostage. Sparing her will force him to reject the stirrings of his own conscience.

When he can’t decide he turns to Lucia, spending a weekend in the house he owns while working incognito as one of the team. A few short days working himself to exhaustion, while spending blissful nights with Lucia, give him the space he needs to decide whose man he will be, and at what price.

The courage of his convictions nearly costs him everything – but it also gives him the greatest prize of all.

Escape Rating B+: Eva Leigh also writes action-adventure romances as Zoe Archer, or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that Zoe Archer also writes historical romances as Eva Leigh. In either case, one of the reasons that I love this author is that she does an excellent job of writing heroines who are able to kick ass, figuratively always and occasionally also literally, while still fitting into their time and place.

This is particularly important when it comes to historical romance. I’ve frequently talked about the tightrope walking involved in creating historical heroines with enough agency for 21st century readers to identify with while making sure that these standout women still feel like they fit into their setting. A book I reviewed last week failed to walk this tightrope, and when that happens it does break the willing suspension of disbelief At least for this reader.

Lucia has had a difficult life, and it’s a life that has left scars. She’s not a pampered princess in a gilded cage. She’s had to make her own way in the world since she was 12, and she’s done it any way she could. Including on her back. It’s brutal but it’s also realistic – there just weren’t that many options. Being forced to make her own way has given her very different attitudes from the kind of privileged ladies that have often been the heroines of historical romance. She knows how to take care of herself because she’s had to. And she’s all too aware that in the end she only has herself to rely upon. No one has ever rescued her, and until she meets Tom she has no reason to believe that anyone ever will.

She’s aware of what society thinks of her, but she’s also all too aware that pride and propriety will not fill an empty belly or keep a roof over one’s head. She tries not hurt anyone, but she does what she must and she lives with the consequences.

On the one hand, Tom has had an easy life. And on the other, he is suddenly weighed down by a huge responsibility – and it’s a responsibility he takes seriously. He knows that he’s privileged and he wants to use his position to make life better for others as much as he can. He’s between a rock and a hard place when his father’s old allies attempt to blackmail him into following their dictates instead of his conscience. His dilemma is made all too real by throwing his sister’s happiness under the carriage wheels rather than his own. He is caught between warring duties – his duty to protect his sister and his duty to help others.

It was a relief when he finally told his sister what his choices were and what the cost would be – and that she agreed with him all the way – as their mother initially does not. And when the feces hits the oscillating device his sister stands by him.

In the end, as with the other books in this series, the story is about the unconventional couple finding a way to defy convention, rise above it, and grab their happy ever after with all hands.