Review: Once Upon a Maiden Lane

Review: Once Upon a Maiden LaneOnce Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane, #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Published by Forever Yours on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

“Mary Whitsun did not like comely gentlemen.”

FINAL DECISION: Enjoyable story that feels like Cinderella, except that there is a twist that gives the story and characters more depth. The story is short and everything happens pretty quickly but I still enjoyed Hoyt giving us this secondary character’s HEA.

THE STORY: Mary Whitsun knows better than responds when a handsome young aristocrat accosts her when she is at the bookshop. Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell mistakes Mary for his fiancee. Indeed it appears that Mary, who was raised in an orphanage may be the long lost twin of Henry’s fiance. If that is true then in fact Mary is Henry’s rightful fiance since they were betrothed at birth. In this Cinderella story, Mary, the servant, is transformed into a Lady.

OPINION: This story is sweeter than most of Hoyt’s books as the characters are younger. (This story definitely has its sexy side, but not as graphic as most Hoyt novels).  From the beginning, this novella has a Cinderella vibe as Mary is transformed from the servant she was raised to be to a young lady ready to take her place in society and be married.

The majority of the story is about Mary’s transformation and her getting to know the man who was contracted to be her husband. I liked that this story takes these young people as where they are in life. Henry, especially, is struggling to be his own man in the face of the demands of his parents. (Not that his parents are evil people, but rather they are more fully “adult”.) Henry begins his rebellion when he recognizes Mary in the bookshop and then realizes that he is more attracted to her than the second sister who was his replacement fiancee. In order to be the man for Mary, he has to finally assert himself.

Mary has to figure out who she is as well. Swept into the aristocracy, she is threatened to be swamped by the expectations and demands of others. She has to determine who she is and who she is going to be.

While the story focuses on Mary’s transformation, there is some drama and some danger involved. There is also a twist at the end that makes this more than a sweet cake of a story as the characters face some issues that allow them to demonstrate their depth and maturity.

I judged that I really enjoyed the story by the fact that I immediately wanted to re-read some of the interactions between Henry and Mary. The characters are always my touchstone for romance stories and I really liked these two.

I would have enjoyed this story just for Mary and Henry’s romance but there are some special treats for fans of the Maiden Lane series. We get some glimpses into the happy domestic lives of some of the couples from the series which was quite a treat as this series comes to a close.

WORTH MENTIONING: The biggest problem with this story is that it gets the origins of Mary Whitsun wrong. Her origins are an important part of WICKED INTENTIONS but there is a completely different story presented here. It is unfortunate because it detracts from the story for those who are fans of the series, but after deducting for my distraction from the story, the remainder of this review judges the story with this flaw set aside.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ONCE UPON A MAIDEN LANE is book 12.5 of the Maiden Lane series. The story is self-contained and can be read on its own, but readers of the series will get some glimpses of favorite characters. This story is most connected to the first book in the series, WICKED INTENTIONS.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: Duke of Desire

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Duke of DesireDuke of Desire (Maiden Lane, #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #12
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 17th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 364
Goodreads
five-stars

“Considering how extremely dull her life had been up until this point, Iris Daniels, Lady Jordan had discovered a quite colorful way to die.”

FINAL DECISION: Haunting, filled with angst and drama and, of course, intense, deeply emotional passion and love, DUKE OF DESIRE is a worthy final novel in a superlative series.

THE STORY: Lady Iris Jordan wants nothing more than a happy marriage and children after enduring a polite but unhappy marriage. Instead, she has found herself captured by the Lords of Chaos (a group of men who engage in sexual assaults on women and children). When one of the masked participants carries her away in his carriage, Iris shoots him only to discover that the man is the Duke of Dyemore, Raphael de Chartres, who claims to be rescuing her. Raphael says that he is attempting to infiltrate the Lords of Chaos in order to destroy them. In order to protect Iris, Raphael insists they must marry. The challenge is that Iris insists on taking their marriage seriously no matter how it starts. But the possibility of happiness is challenged not only by the Lords of Chaos but also by Raphael’s own dark past.

OPINION: Is there anything better or worse than the final book in a beloved series? I’d like to begin by admitting that the Maiden Lane series has been one of my all time favorite series. I have been immensely impressed with how consistently fantastic the books have been. For me, there hasn’t been one book in the series that I would skip in a re-read, and I’ve re-read all of the books numerous times. But there is always the possibility of the last book failing to live up to expectations.

I’m happy to report that this book exceeded my expectations in every category except one. Intense and dark, the book managed to leave me with an overwhelming feeling of joy and hope by its end. There is a real sense that the darkness may not have been completely defeated, but that love is triumphant and will always manage to beat down the tendrils of darkness that might pop up.

DUKE OF DESIRE is the final novel in the series and the final book in the “trilogy” concerning the Lords of Chaos. (Although book number nine, SWEETEST SCOUNDREL, also has a connection to the group). The Lords of Chaos have wrecked destruction and pain upon many of the heroes and heroines of the Maiden Lane series and this book brings that story to a final conclusion.

Iris Jordan is a widow who readers were introduced to in DUKE OF PLEASURE. What I liked best about Iris is that she is a strong, grounded woman. After enduring a marriage that failed her as a person, Iris realized in DUKE OF PLEASURE that she deserves something more. And if things don’t present themselves like a fairytale love story (like being forced into marriage to save herself from the Lords of Chaos), Iris is determined to make her voice heard and demand a life she wants.

Raphael has been attracted to Iris from the moment he saw her and when circumstances force their marriage, he thinks he will be able to control Iris and control his feelings for her. But Iris will not be placed in a protective box by Raphael. Instead she challenges him at every turn, breaks down his walls and barriers. Iris will not allow herself to be controlled, but it is clear that her pushing of Raphael comes from a place of caring and a desire for relationship.

Raphael is a survivor and a man who, like Val (DUKE OF SIN) and Eve (SWEETEST SCOUNDREL), has been formed by the actions of a hideous father (readers of the series will recognize that Raphael’s father was for a time the leader of the Lords of Chaos). All three of these characters have to deal not only with the abuse they suffered, but also from the pain of betrayal of the paternal relationship.

This book is the story of the end of the Lords of Chaos, but also the story of how Raphael is brought from the darkness of his past by the determined and steadfast love of Iris.

The book also has a touch of PHANTOM OF THE OPERA and BEAUTY AND THE BEAST which is to be expected in a series that borrows so beautifully from fairy tales both explicitly and implicitly.

This book is, at times, difficult to read as the pain and dangerous situations of the characters involve deep emotional pain caused by abuse. (Although it is difficult to top the animal abuse depicted in DUKE OF SIN). Yet, there is an innocence and a beauty that is depicted in the relationship between Iris and Raphael that balanced the deep darkness that readers have to travel along with the characters. Like the sun rising after a terrible storm during the night, the ending of the story was so refreshingly normal and hopeful that it managed to banish so much of the darkness that came before.

I did have one disappointment with the story. If this novel was truly the end of the Maiden Lane series, I would have been intensely missing so many of the characters that have made the series memorable. DUKE OF DESIRE is intensely focused on Iris and Raphael and even when I thought other characters from the series might make an appearance, they didn’t. But thankfully, although this is the final novel of the series, there is still more Maiden Lane on the way. There are two novellas ONCE UPON A MAIDEN LANE and ONCE UPON A CHRISTMAS EVE to come in this series which will tackle the romances of some of the secondary characters from earlier in the series. I have great hopes that these two novellas will give fans of the series one last glimpse of the world and the beloved characters which inhabit it.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book deals with sexual abuse and rape of children and women. While not graphically depicted, it is a central issue to the plot.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DUKE OF DESIRE is the twelfth and final novel in the Maiden Lane series. This book could be read as a standalone, but I think that reading the prior book which introduces the hero and heroine will make this book more enjoyable.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author in order to provide a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

five-stars

Review: Duke of Pleasure

Review: Duke of PleasureDuke of Pleasure (Maiden Lane, #11) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #11
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 29th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 364
Goodreads
five-stars

“When had the Ghost of St. Giles become a woman?”

FINAL DECISION:  Loved! Loved! Loved!  Immediately one of my favorite books I’ve read this year. Alf is an amazing character — cynical and world wise and yet hopeful, gentle and innocent in a way that touches and changes the heart of a man who doesn’t want to hope.  Alf’s also a kickass hero in her own right and Hugh is a man who can appreciate her.

THE STORY: Hugh Fitzroy, Duke of Kyle is the bastard son of the King. Returning to England after years abroad, Hugh is trying to rebuild his relationship with his sons after his wife’s death. He has spent much of his adult life doing “tasks” for the English Crown. His latest is to destroy the Lords of Chaos — a group of depraved aristocrats who prey on women and children. When Hugh is attacked in the dangerous St. Giles area of London it looks like his luck has run out until he is rescued by the Ghost of St. Giles. Hugh is thankful for the help but is amazed when he discovers that the Ghost is a woman.

Alf is 21 year old woman who has protected herself in St. Giles by living her life as a boy. During the day, she is the street rat informant who makes her living getting information. At night, she becomes the Ghost of St. Giles to protect the innocent.  When she rescues Hugh, she can’t resist stealing a kiss.

OPINION:  I absolutely loved this book.  I consumed this book in one quick gulp — reading late into the night.  But even more, I didn’t want to leave it behind.  I normally read a book a day…but this book lingered for me.  I felt compelled to revisit parts and I essentially almost re-read it in its entirety.  Beautiful, exciting, adventurous, deep and meaningful and just plain fun.  This one has moved onto my favorite of 2016 list for sure.

A book about longing for connection, for being known as ones true self, for belonging, for hope and dreams, this is a book that grabbed me from the first to the last page. Sometimes a book soars because of the characters (and this one does) and sometimes it soars because it has something significant to say about the human condition (and this one does) and sometimes it is just a good exciting adventure (and this one is).

“At night she was the Ghost of St. Giles. She protected the people of St. Giles — her people, living in the big, dark woods. She ran out the monsters — the murderers, rapists and robbers. And she flew over the roofs of the city by moonlight, free and wild. During the day she was Alf, a boy. She made her living dealing in information. She listened and learned, and if you wanted to know who was running pickpocket boys and girls in Covent Gardens or which doxies had the clap or even what magistrate could be bought and for how much, she could tell you and would — for a price.”

Alf has been a longtime presence in this series.  She is an informant, a information rat.  If you want to know something, Alf is your “man”.  Having worked for many of the characters in the series, she has loyalty to those who pay her, but looks out for herself.

As this book begins, Alf has also become the Ghost of St. Giles. As has been true with each “Ghost” in the series, Alf has her own reasons for taking on the role. Forced to hide herself in her role as Alf for most of her life, Alf finds a freedom in being the Ghost. It allows her to be a different self than she appears as Alf. Reckless, daring, free. It is entirely fitting that Alf first kisses Hugh as the Ghost because while her face is masked as the Ghost, her femininity is not.  As Alf, she binds her breasts and acts as masculine as possible. It is as the Ghost, that her breasts are unbound and she is free to act on her attraction to Hugh.

What Alf is not free to be is a woman. The world is a dangerous place for a woman.

Remarkably, while Alf is worldly and cynical (having grown up on the streets), she has been able to retain a sense of innocence, dreams, and hope.  It is those qualities which most appeal to Hugh.

“He wanted her worldly cynicism and her innocent wonder.”

Hugh is a man who has learned to not want too much. He has learned that wanting can only lead to disappointment.  For Hugh, every promise of happiness  had actually been problematic. He is a king’s son who grew up without a father. He found love and married the woman he wanted, only to end up estranged from her and his children.

His attraction to Alf is something Hugh inherently distrusts.

“He didn’t want to know her. Didn’t want to care about her, didn’t want to worry about her, didn’t want to long for her.”

Yet, Hugh is helpless before the reality of Alf. She is more than he ever could have imagined. Hugh is a generous caring hero and he is captivated by those same qualities in Alf along with her wildness, her intelligence and her ability to see beauty and hope in the world.

“He and she were more alike than she ever would’ve guessed, that first time she’d seen him”

Hugh and Alf seem to be opposites as the book begins and yet they have an essential sameness which attracts them to one another.  There is a real sense of camaraderie between them as they work together to take down the Lords of Chaos.  There is a swashbuckling feel to this book that had me completely enthralled.

This book has a tremendous amount of energy because of their adventures. There is a sense of wildness and freedom and a real pull of these two together as they fight and scheme and puzzle their way through the mystery of the book.  Hugh truly respects Alf’s abilities. She is a skilled swordswoman and a clever thief. She is strong and fearless and sometimes reckless. While Hugh wants to protect her, he doesn’t try because he knows she had incredible skills. I loved that about Hugh.  He demonstrates true respect for her as a person throughout this book.

While I loved all those aspects to this book, what kept me thinking about this book all day was how Hugh and Alf are revealed and exposed to one another. Hugh is a man who appears on the surface the perfect cold duke and yet Alf discovers that he is an incredibly loving father, a man who gives money to his commoner relatives but eschews requests from the aristocratic ones. Hugh discovers Alf’s secrets and asks the one thing she wants and fears — for her to publicly become a woman. Hugh wants and needs all of Alf — boy urchin, Ghost and woman.

I loved Alf, loved Hugh and loved the excitement and adventure of the story of this book. Hoyt has a beautiful and lyrical quality to her writing which tugs on my heart and makes me warm and happy.

I loved, loved, loved this book!

WORTH MENTIONING: This book also sets up the next book which is advertised as being the final in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DUKE OF PLEASURE is the eleventh book in the Maiden Lane series. Normally, I recommend reading these books in context, but I think a new reader could read this book as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars!

five-stars

Review: Once Upon a Moonlit Night

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Once Upon a Moonlit NightOnce Upon a Moonlit Night (Maiden Lane, #10.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #10.5
Published by Forever Yours on July 5th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 100
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“‘I am Hippolyta Royle, the wealthiest heiress in England.  I’ve been kidnapped by a scoundrel bent on forcing me into marriage.  If you bring me safely back to my father in London you shall be richly rewarded.’

The man blinked as a raindrop ran down his nose.

Then he burst into laughter.”

FINAL DECISION: For a novella, this is superior.  The novella manages to squeeze in a lot of romance, danger, drama, sexual tension, witty arguments and banter and a mongoose. I am happy that Hippolyta ends up with an unusual man who can understand and appreciate her fully.

THE STORY:  This novella answers the question from DUKE OF SIN of “what happened to Hippolyta after she escaped from the Duke of Montgomery?”  The answer is that the heiress stopped a coach on the road and ended up making her escape.  Hippolyta is the wealthiest heiress in England, but she has a secret.  The truth is that her father was married to an Indian woman and Hippolyta is the result of that union.  Despite her love for her deceased mother, Hippolyta hides the truth in order to not damage her marriage prospects.  After escaping, Hippolyta is dressed in rags, is dirty and stinks.  It is no wonder that Matthew Mortimer, the Earl of Paxton believes Hippolyta to be an actress of other grifter.  Matthew, a cartographer, has unexpectedly inherited the earldom and will need to marry an heiress because of the estate’s debts.  The funny thing is that he doesn’t realize that the woman he picks up on the road would fit that bill.

OPINION:  Novellas as never as satisfying as a full length novel.  That being said, I prefer to judge the novella on its own merits without wishing for some other format.  For a novella, this is superior.  The novella manages to squeeze in a lot of romance, danger, drama, sexual tension, witty arguments and banter and a mongoose.

I thought that the characters were eminently likeable even though Matthew jumps to conclusions about Hippolyta in the beginning.  Despite believing her an actress or whore, he treats her with respect – even though the two argue like crazy.  Although the length of the novella precludes complex situations or characters, these characters are not one dimensional.

I liked the characters, thought the story was funny and sweet and I enjoyed the way these two argued and eventually fell in love.  Hoyt also does a great job of bringing both a road trip story and a blackmail story together and making the pace work.

As the Maiden Lane series wraps up, I especially appreciate that Hoyt has made the time and effort to give readers this novella to finish up Hippolyta’s story and give her a happy ending.

WORTH MENTIONING:  The fairy tale for this one is The Prince and the Parsnip.  I love the parsnip part which is so much more fairy tale than a carrot.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ONCE UPON A MOONLIT NIGHT is book 10.5 in the Maiden Lane series.  It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this novella 4.5 stars.

 

four-half-stars

Once Upon a Moonlit Night Released Today

by Elizabeth Hoyt
Genres: Historical

ONCE-UPON-A-MOONLIT-NIGHT-Launch-Day-Blitz

ONCE UPON A MOONLIT NIGHT by Elizabeth Hoyt (July 5, 2016; Forever Yours Ebook; A Maiden Lane Series Novella)

Hoyt_OnceUponaMoonlitNight_Ebook

From New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt comes a delightful Maiden Lane novella that begins once upon a moonlit night—and ends wickedly, wonderfully ever after . . .

Hippolyta Royle is running for her life. Pursued by hounds on a cold rainy night, the heiress flags down a passing carriage and throws herself at the mercy of the coach’s occupant. Whoever this handsome traveler may be, he is her only hope to escape a terrible fate. But should he agree to escort her to safety, he’s in for much more than he bargained for . . .

At first Matthew Mortimer doesn’t believe Hippolyta’s story, that she’s a fabulously wealthy heiress who’s been kidnapped. He assumes she’s a beggar, an actress, or worse. But once his new travel companion washes the mud from her surprisingly lovely face, and they share a breathtaking kiss, there is no turning back . . .

Buy the Book!

Amazon: http://amzn.to/25YAAUD

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Google: http://bit.ly/1UMqq4a

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About the Author:

Elizabeth Hoyt is the New York Times bestselling author of over seventeen lush historical romances including the Maiden Lane series. Publishers Weekly has called her writing “mesmerizing.” She also pens deliciously fun contemporary romances under the name Julia Harper. Elizabeth lives in Minneapolis, Minnesota, with three untrained dogs, a garden in constant need of weeding, and the long-suffering Mr. Hoyt.

HoytElizabeth

Social Media Links:

www.ElizabethHoyt.com

Twitter @elizabethhoyt

Facebook.com/ElizabethHoytBooks

Add Once Upon a Moonlit Night to your shelf on Goodreads: http://bit.ly/1S30

There is also a giveaway for a SIGNED copy of DUKE OF SIN: http://bit.ly/29dxlnQ

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Review: Duke of Sin

I received this book for free from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: Duke of SinDuke of Sin (Maiden Lane, #10) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #10
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 31st 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 364
Goodreads
five-stars

Decadent, Tempting and Oh, So Bad

“I am vengeance.  I am hate.  I am sin personified. Never mistake me for the hero of this tale, for I am not and shall never be. I am the villain.”

FINAL DECISION: Unique, compelling and gorgeously sensual, DUKE OF SIN is a book about the happy ending for a villain.  It asks a lot of readers who might be expecting his redemption in a traditional fashion, but the book allows Val to remain his wicked self while making him someone that readers can root for.

THE STORY: Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is immoral, a rake, and some would say evil to the core.  He is also a blackmailer.  Bridget Crumb is Val’s housekeeper who is seeking the information that Val is using to blackmail illegitimate Bridget’s aristocratic mother.  Val and Bridget begin a game of feints and weaves as each works to outsmart the other.  While Val may never been heroic, Bridget cannot help but be attracted to the emotionally scarred, lonely man.

OPINION: As amazing and unique as Val himself, DUKE OF SIN does the almost impossible job of redeeming a villain without turning him into a nice guy.  Readers who come to this book expecting that we will find that the man who orchestrated the kidnapping and almost forced marriage of a heroine in a prior book will turn out to be misunderstood or pretending or acting under another pretense will be disappointed.  Val is an immoral man who commits murder, blackmail and kidnapping — after he meets and begins to fall for the heroine.

‘His Grace was urbane male sophistication personified — but anyone who therefore dismissed him as harmless was a rank fool. The Duke of Montgomery was as deadly as a coiled adder discovered suddenly at one’s feet.”

Val is fascinating in the same way that a snake is fascinating.  He is dangerous, sneaky and does only what pleases him without any concern for what is right or wrong.  Val’s reasons for developing his peculiar nature are fully revealed here (although readers of SWEETEST SCOUNDREL have been given some knowledge).  Hoyt does an admirable job of explaining Val’s development without excusing it.  Val is not a nice guy even though he does nice things some times.  He is mercurial and damaged.

“I find committing to one side leaves out a world of possibilities.”

Readers of the series know that Val has one person that he cares about — his half sister Eve.  She has sometimes been able to restrain Val’s worst instincts.  As this book opens, however, Eve has found happiness with Asa and that leaves Val somewhat adrift.  Val unrestrained from any moral compass is terrifying indeed.

At this precise moment, Val becomes captivated by his housekeeper who he knows is up to no good.

“She looked at him soberly, and despite her martyr’s eyes, she seemed to make no judgment of him, which, if nothing was refreshing.”

It might have been tempting to match the wicked Val with a sweet innocent, but Hoyt instead given Val a practical, crafty woman who has a strong sense of right and wrong and yet is not judgmental.  Deprived of her legacy because she is the product of her mother’s indiscretions, Bridget has made a good life for herself and is loyal.  Her willingness to place herself in harm for the woman who essentially abandoned her demonstrates her pure nature.  Bridget knows the way of the world and thus she is a good balance for Val rather than being overwhelmed by him.

“Blackmail was a nasty, vile crime and the duke was a nasty, vile man.”

“He couldn’t remember when last he’d had an opponent whose response he couldn’t predict.  It was rather refreshing.”

The relationship between Val and Bridget begins with Val testing and playing with Bridget the way a cat plays with a mouse.  He enjoys the interplay between them because she challenges them.  In fact, although Bridget is Val’s housekeeper, she quickly interacts with Val as an equal.  The two duel with one another and try to outwit the other.

“She’d outmaneuvered him.  And that? That hadn’t happened in a very, very long time.”

They end up engaged in a deeply sensual relationship with one another through their familiarity with one another. Emotionally engaged with one another, their sparring acts as intellectual foreplay for them.  Hoyt goes deep into the emotional lives of these characters as Bridget by inches slowly becomes more to Val then something to play with.  Through their relationship, Bridget becomes the moral compass that Val himself lacks.

“She’d said she loved him. Loved him.  What a strange and wondrous thing.  And how it hurt, this love! What pain it caused, like tiny knives in the veins. He didn’t think he liked it much, but he’d endure it, yes he would, if only she’d return and stab him again.”

Val and Bridget’s relationship is blunt and not sweet in the way that many romances are, but the sometimes violent imagery fits Val’s character.  He is not a man with tenderness and gentleness in him.  And yet, there is something sweet and innocent about his love for Bridget even if it is somewhat twisted as well.

The book is hot but it is always grounded in the emotional connection between the characters.  I am a big fan of the way that Hoyt explores her characters and the highly sensual and lyrical way she writes.  I am a huge fan of the Maiden Lane series.  This book is one of the most complex because of Val’s role in the series.  (Remember he IS the villain). This book kicks off what might be the final trilogy of the series and so several new characters are revealed here.

This book is so good and has so many layers that I read it twice before writing this review because I got sucked into the book the first time and couldn’t even begin to write my normal notes.  Definitely one of the best of a great series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Hoyt always does a great job integrating animals into her novels.  Pets play a pivotal role in this book and Pip is adorable.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DUKE OF SIN is the tenth book in the Maiden Lane series. The book can be read as a standalone although knowledge about Val is given in the books since DARLING BEAST and there are secrets revealed which impact on the series since the beginning.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: Sweetest Scoundrel

Review: Sweetest ScoundrelSweetest Scoundrel (Maiden Lane, #9) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #9
Published by Grand Central Publishing on November 24th 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 328
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Loved This One: Sexy, Sensual with One of the Best Non-Sex Sex Scenes Ever

“This had been a mistake. A terrible mistake. The garden was in shambles, the opera didn’t look like it would ever be staged, and Mr. Harte was a brutal animal.”

FINAL DECISION: The plot of the rebuilding a pleasure garden mirrors the rebuilding of Eve’s own life and ability to find joy and happiness and pleasure after a horrible incident in her childhood. Sensual and emotional with a good dash of mystery and action, this is a great addition to a wonderful series.

THE STORY: Asa Makepeace aka Mr. Harte is the owner of Harte’s Folly — a theater and pleasure garden. Rebuilding after a fire that destroyed his life’s work, Asa entered into a deal with the devil when he took an investment from the Duke of Montgomery. Now Asa has the Duke’s half sister Eve Dinwoody looking over his shoulder. The prim and proper Eve has agreed to oversee her brother’s investment. The sensual and physical Asa frightens Eve even as she challenges him. An incident in her childhood has left her with a deep fear of men — especially angry, violent ones. At the same time, Eve finds herself intrigued by the loud and brash Asa.

OPINION: Hoyt once again creates unique characters that dazzle in many ways — and in this case, she gives us regular looking people for the main characters — not models in historical garb.

“His face wasn’t pretty. The exact opposite, in fact. It was strong, lined, and fierce, and everything that was masculine. Everything that Eve most dreaded.”

Asa is bawdy, bold, emotional, earthy, and physical — thus being reflective of the theater world he lives in. Impulsive and a bit wild, Asa is the black sheep and the last unmarried Makepeace sibling (the siblings make appearances here for fans of the Maiden Lane series). His relationship with Eve allows Asa to have quieter, more protective moments — although he also protects her violently. Asa is sexy and earthy and definitely different from the outward appearances of the Makepeace family. Readers of the series know that underneath the reserve of the siblings there is definite heat. For Asa all the passion is on the surface and the quiet and reserve is hidden. Asa is determined, he never gives up. That quality is important here where he has to be patient with Eve, but refreshingly he doesn’t treat her as fragile and unable to deal with life. Indeed, he believes she has been protected too much.

“Eve liked her quiet life.”

Eve is reserved and plain with a long beak-like nose (that Asa rudely insults). She wants a quiet controlled life. For over ten years, Eve has been placed in a bubble and protected from the things that frighten her. A horrible incident as a child has made Eve afraid of being touched by men or even being around angry, violent men. Although Eve sees herself as broken, Asa recognizes her as strong (he calls her a harpy). Eve fights in a quiet and polite fashion but she is strong and determined.

“She should be afraid of this man. Perhaps she was. Perhaps the hammering of her heart, the quickening of her breath were fear.”

What a romance that begins which Asa insulting Eve’s nose! Asa and Eve have a contentious relationship from the beginning. The two fight but when Asa witnesses Eve’s pain, his protective instincts toward her begin to turn the two from adversaries to friends and then to lovers. Asa not only calms Eve’s fears by giving her control and opportunity to rebuild her own sexual identity.

Wow this book is hot. Asa recognizes in Eve a passionate woman hidden away from the world. Because she is afraid of the touch of a man, Asa and Eve have some interesting sexual encounters before they finally engage in intercourse. There is one scene (no I won’t give away spoilers) that is incredibly sexy and hot and the two never touch one another. Sexy and sensual and earthy but steeped in relationship and emotion so these are not gratuitous sex scenes but ones that are vital to the storyline.

The plot involves the suspense of who is trying to stop the reopening of Harte’s Folly and that threatens the lives of Asa and Eve. Closely connected with the couple, this plot is important to the romance itself.

The book has one of Hoyt’s trademark fairy tales to begin each chapter. Because there are often subtle and clever connections between the fairy tale and main story, puzzling out those connections is part of the enjoyment of the novel for me and I often (as I did here) re-read the fairy tale only at the end to appreciate the full story.

WORTH MENTIONING: The line that made me anxious to read the next book: “Bridget Crumb kept the house of the wickedest man in England.”

CONNECTED BOOKS: SWEETEST SCOUNDREL is the ninth book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read as a standalone but it closely connected with DARLING BEAST and DEAREST ROGUE (which form a mini trilogy in the series) and I recommend reading those first.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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four-half-stars

Review: Dearest Rogue

Review: Dearest RogueDearest Rogue (Maiden Lane, #8) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #8
Published by Grand Central Publishing on May 26th 2015
Genres: Historical
Pages: 326
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Two People Who Will Not Be Limited By Others’ Expectations of Them

“Wasn’t freedom a universal desire? Something every human being longed for no matter their circumstances?”

THE STORY: Lady Phoebe Batten struggles against the restrictions imposed upon her. She is young and loves the social whirl that she has been almost completely excluded from by her brother, the Duke of Wakefield. Almost completely blind, Phoebe now has to deal with the bodyguard her brother has imposed upon her.

Captain James Trevillion was forced to leave his service in the King’s dragoons by a serious injury that left him with a limp (events depicted in DUKE OF MIDNIGHT). Despite his injury, he is still able to shoot and ride and the Duke of Wakefield has hired him to be the bodyguard for his youngest sister.

When Phoebe becomes the target for a kidnapping, James must risk his life to save her from being forced into marriage.

OPINION: The sister of a Duke and an ex-dragoon are the definition of two people who have no business falling in love with one another.

“She was everything he was not: young, innocent, filled with the joy of life. She had the blue blood of centuries of aristocrats running in her veins. He was a cynical, older ex-soldier and his blood ran common red.”

“Blindness had neutered her in the eyes of the world.”

Phoebe is young, sweet, caring and has the Batten stubbornness and willfulness. As this book opens, she has finally had enough of those who love her trying to protect her. Phoebe has a sweetness but she is not silly or annoying. She is a strong young woman trying to balance her love for others, her own desires and her fears. As the book develops, Phoebe grows and develops more of a tartness that she displays. As a right of passage for all the Batten sisters, she also has to confront her brother, Maximus. Readers of the series will recall that he is intensely protective of those he loves – especially Phoebe. This book wonderfully depicts Phoebe’s point of view including her anger and at times desperation about her blindness, but also her strength in learning to do for herself. As a story about Phoebe wanting and crafting her own freedom, I especially appreciated that she is an active participant in her claiming her own freedom.
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“He might be a cripple on land but by God in the saddle he was a demon.”

James Trevillion is a man struggling against his own limitations. It is clear from the beginning of this novel that his feelings for Phoebe have moved beyond the impersonal. He cares about her even as he acknowledges that there is no future for them. Instead, he sublimates his budding love for her into a desire to see her happy. A principled man, Trevillion is willing to break rules for a good cause. He is also incredibly strong willed in his own right which is one reason why he and Phoebe clash in such a proper manner before their relationship progresses beyond the proper. One of the nice plot points is how James has his own past demons that prompt him to want to protect Phoebe but he is the first to recognize that she cannot be protected to such an extent that she is smothered.

“Sometimes I rather dislike you, Captain Trevillion.”
“I am most gratified that it’s only sometimes, my lady.”

The disabilities that Phoebe and James possess are their bridge to one another. Neither fits into the place which they had expected to inhabit and, the fact that each is separate from their expectations allow them to subvert society’s expectations. Phoebe, especially, knows that despite her birth, she will never be able to be part of the aristocracy except as a treasured pet.

Phoebe and James have great banter between them. It is restrained and witty and biting and full of meaning. There is a tremendous amount of subtext going on between Phoebe and James from the beginning. His calling her “my Lady” is at times proper, annoying, angry and loving. These two argue with one another in such polite terms that it is funny.

“Did you shoot someone back there?”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Why?”
“It seemed a good idea.”

Like all of the Maiden Lane novels, DEAREST ROGUE is very sexy, but for me the most sensual parts of this book are the incidents where touch is emphasized. Because of Phoebe’s blindness, touch and smell are more important in this book than sight. I loved how Hoyt focuses on the sensuality of simple acts like Phoebe putting her hand on James’ arm and then expands the exploration between the two to putting on perfume and removing stockings.

I am a fan of the Maiden Lane series and while this is not my favorite (I prefer the darker more angst filled stories), it is certainly a good addition to the series. I especially appreciate Hoyt’s reward to longtime fans by giving us glimpses of the lives of characters who have already had their story told.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book introduces the heroine of the next book in the series SWEETEST SCOUNDREL. Her backstory seems to be very intriguing. Fans of the Duke of Montgomery will also be pleased to know that he makes a significant appearance here.

FINAL DECISION: Befitting Phoebe’s character, DEAREST ROGUE is sweeter than others in the series. The story of finding joy in what life gives a person is perfect for these two characters who are genuinely good people. The dark edge of the story is really about other characters whose stories are to be told in the future.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DEAREST ROGUE is the eighth book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read as a standalone even though fans of the series will be pleased with the continuation and glimpses of favorite characters.

STAR RATING: I give DEAREST ROGUE 4.5 stars.

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four-half-stars

Review: Darling Beast

Review: Darling BeastDarling Beast (Maiden Lane, #7) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #7
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 14th 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 321
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Bold, Emotional Story

A man wrongly imprisoned, in hiding and keeping secrets to save his life. A woman, desperate to keep her ragtag family together and also keeping secrets. The ruins of a pleasure garden. DARLING BEAST is the story of a rebirth for all of them.

THE STORY: Apollo Greaves,Viscount Kilbourne has escaped from Bedlam where he was imprisoned for four years for the murder of three of his friends. Apollo is lucky that he was not hanged for his “crimes” but rather was committed as criminally insane because of the intervention of the Earl of Brightmore. Apollo suffered greatly during his captivity suffering starvation and beatings and inhumane conditions. He almost died in Bedlam due to a severe beating that robbed Apollo of his ability to speak. Having escaped with the help of his twin sister Artemis and her husband, the Duke of Wakefield, Apollo has been in hiding at the ruins of the pleasure garden known as Harte’s Folly. Before his imprisonment, Apollo had invested the little money he had in Harte’s Folly. Soon after his escape, Harte’s Folly burned to the ground and now Apollo works as a gardener (but few know that he is actually the landscape architect) to rebuild the garden.

Apollo meets Lily Stump who is also living in the ruins with her son, Indio, and a maid servant. Lily is a famed actress Robin Goodfellow and also a secret playwright. She is living in the gardens because the fire also destroyed the theater and she cannot get work until the theater and gardens are restored. When her son sees Apollo, he fears and is fascinated with the “monster” in the garden. The immediate reaction of Lily and Apollo to one another is simple — each wants the other gone from their sanctuary.

Of course, the two keep being pushed together but before they can have any peace, they must discover the secret of who framed Apollo, save him from Bedlam and also uncover the secret that Lily is harboring.

OPINION: Hoyt has an incredible ability to create deeply emotional stories with bold, unique characters. Usually her books contain a great amount of angst and pain so the romance in this book is almost sweet in comparison. The reason for that is that Lily is the light that bring Apollo out of the half-life he has been living since he was framed for murder. Lily is bright and talented and dedicated to her little family even though she has seen much pain and heartache in her life. That lightness of spirit attracts Apollo who, is clear, values family and meaning and a quiet peaceful life after the horrible years he spent chained.

Despite his past and his painful experiences, Apollo is not really a dark character. He is a gentle giant of a man who is filled with kindness and compassion rather than anger and hate. I loved his character and his deep desire for peace. Once he fixes his attention on Lily, Apollo doesn’t worry about the incongruence of a viscount and future earl marrying an actress. In fact, Apollo frets about his plain appearance in comparison to Lily’s gamine looks.

Lily is a strong, independent woman who takes care of herself and others. One of the great things about Hoyt’s Maiden Lane series is that she crosses all types of social classes. Her books about about dukes and pirates and orphanage managers and actresses and governesses and heiresses. Because of this, her books have a great sense of place and time.

I also appreciated that Lily’s son Indio is such an important character in the book. Readers get a real chance to see that Apollo will make a great adoptive father for Indio. Sometimes existing children are only infrequently seen. Here, readers get a chance to see the relationship develop between Indio and Apollo at the same time it develops between Lily and Apollo. By the end of the book, I was convinced that they will make a nice little family together.

The sex between these two was also really hot. Both are experienced and so there is no virginal trepidation to overcome. Both know who and what they want. At the same time, while the scenes are strong and bold and explicit, there isn’t anything gratuitous about the scenes – just really hot scenes between two grown experienced adults.

Finally, I really enjoyed seeing some of my favorite characters again including Wakefield and Artemis, Hero and Phoebe. We get to learn more about Captain Trevillion in preparation for his and Phoebe’s book DARLING ROGUE which is next up in the series. Readers also get a good look at the Duke of Montgomery who has a very mysterious past and present and is up to something. Readers should not be fooled by his foppish appearance because Hoyt has made such characters very dangerous (see THE SERPENT PRINCE). I’m looking forward to learning more about him and his motives.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved that Apollo refers to Maximus, the Duke of Wakefield, as “His Grace the Ass” because while I loved Artemis and Maximus’s book, he is kind of an ass!

FINAL DECISION: I love this book. I would read it again (and I’ve already read it twice). I also look forward to the unveiling of the mysteries that this book sets up regarding the motives of the Duke of Montgomery.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DARLING BEAST is the seventh book in the Maiden Lane series. It can be read independently of the other books in the series, but I recommend that a reader at least read DUKE OF MIDNIGHT because it introduces Apollo and provides the setup for DARLING BEAST.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Duke of Midnight

Review: Duke of MidnightDuke of Midnight (Maiden Lane, #6) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #6
Published by Grand Central Publishing on October 15th 2013
Genres: Historical
Pages: 360
Goodreads
five-stars

How Does Hoyt Turn An Unlikeable Duke Into a Hero?

Spoilers abound so beware…

Duke of Midnight is the story of Maximus, The Duke of Wakefield and Artemis Greaves, the companion of Lady Penelope Chadwicke (the woman Wakefield has decided to marry). Maximus and Artemis do not get off to a good start. Maximus insulted her in Lord of Darkness (book 5) as being “an invisible little woman who trails … like a pale wraith.” Artemis sees Maximus as cold and heartless.

Maximus has created a cold, hard shell over himself after having witnessed the murder of his parents in St. Giles at the age of 14 for which he blames himself. He goes out at night as the Ghost of St. Giles, but unlike the other two ghosts (whose stories are told in books 4 & 5), Maximus does not take on the guise of the Ghost to seek justice or to protect others, but rather to seek vengeance for the deaths of his parents. He has been seeking their murderer for two decades.

Artemis is haunted by the actions of her twin brother Apollo. (Yes, the mythology references are obvious and plenty). Her brother was accused of murdering three of his friends, but rather than being hanged was committed to Bedlam as incurably insane. He has been there for several years but Artemis is afraid that her brother will not live much longer if he is not freed.
One night Lady Penelope goes to St. Giles on a dare. Artemis as her companion has no choice but to accompany her. In St. Giles, the women are attacked and are saved by Maximus as the Ghost. This encounter is the first time that Maximus truly “sees” Artemis, who is ready to draw a knife to protect herself and Penelope. In the resulting confrontation, Artemis comes away with the Ghost’s signet ring and realizes that the Ghost is an aristocrat.

Putting the clues together, Artemis soon realizes that Wakefield is the ghost and decides to blackmail him in order to gain Apollo’s release. Her blackmail attempts puts Maximus and Artemis together alone and the two begin to be attracted to one another. Eventually, Maximus agrees to free Apollo because of his feelings for Artemis and hides him in his London home. Artemis arranges to be a temporary companion to Wakefield’s sister so that she can come into Wakefield’s home and be with her brother.

While under the same roof, however, Maximus and Artemis begin an affair. She has no hope of marriage because of her station. Maximus, because of his guilt about his parents, has devoted himself to the duty of being the Duke and thus must seek an appropriate wife – not one whose family is tainted with madness. The two, however, are enamored of one another and Maximus quickly realizes that while the Duke cannot marry Artemis, Maximus, the man, needs her in his life.
Of course, the situations are resolved and the HEA is well-earned and satisfying. I found it
beautiful and compelling.

This is the sixth book of the Maiden Lane Series. My absolute favorite of the series was book 2, Notorious Pleasures. In that book, the Duke of Wakefield was incredibly unlikeable. I came close to hating him for the way he interfered between Griffin and Hero. Wakefield has made some cameo appearances in the subsequent books and while I had moved from hate, I certainly did not view him as a hero, even as I could see that Hoyt was going to pair Artemis and Wakefield together. It is the magic of Hoyt’s writing, that by the end of this book, I not only loved Wakefield’s character, sympathized with him, and rooted for him to have his HEA, but I also could understand his actions in Notorious Pleasures.

Oh, Hoyt! How do you make me love your characters so much, even when I am reluctant to do so?

The book has one of my favorite ending passages ever. (Not in the epilogue, which is in true Hoyt fashion a teaser for future books). The language of the last few paragraphs was definitely something to sigh about. It was the perfect way for Maximus to communicate that Artemis would never be unworthy of being his Duchess. Loved it. Beautiful!

My only tiny, tiny complaint was that I didn’t find the fairy tale story accompanying the text as compelling as other ones in the series. The last two were so wonderful that I guess I had somewhat of a letdown for The Legend of the Herla King. The fairy tale, however, continues to operate as a mirror and a contrast with the main story, an interesting device that Hoyt uses in all her books.

I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I have a policy of never giving a book 5 stars upon one reading, so I finished it once on the day of release and then turned around and read it again the next day. I’ve been intrigued by bits and parts of it in the subsequent days and have gone back to read certain passages. To me, that signals a book that I will re-read again and again. So definitely 5 stars.

I can’t wait for the next book in the series. The Epilogue was very intriguing!

five-stars