Review: A Scandalous Deal

Review: A Scandalous DealA Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Four Hundred #2
Published by Avon on April 24, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
two-stars

FINAL DECISION: Felt more like historical women’s fiction than romance. I enjoyed the story of Eva’s fight to be recognized for her architectural talents, but I really didn’t think the romance was exciting or interesting.

THE STORY: Lady Eva Hyde has three dead fiances and a father who no longer can do his work. When Eva gets the opportunity to pretend to be her father in order to be an architect on a project in New York, Eva leaps on the opportunity. On the trip across the Atlantic, Eva succumbs to passion with a stranger and then flees. She is horrified when he arrives in New York and realizes that her stranger is Phillip Mansfield, who happens to be her employer. Eva continues to pretend that her father is in charge of the project and she is there to execute his will. The antagonism from others about her working on the project, threaten Eva’s desire to establish herself as a professional.

OPINION: I’ve really enjoyed Shupes Guilded Age books, but this one was a big miss for me. While I was really interested in Eva’s professional journey, I didn’t like the romance at all. In fact, I sympathized with Phillip through the entire book and really thought he should dump Eva to find a better woman.

This book felt like a historical woman’s fiction book focused on Eva remaking her life. But she felt selfish and self-centered to me. She lies about who is the architect and then has the nerve to be annoyed at Phillip when he is almost destroyed by her deception. While there is a pro forma “making up” on her part, I never felt that she put her relationship with Phillip over her own ambitions. She lies to him, keeps him at a distance, and basically treats him as beneath her dreams.

I didn’t like her treatment of him, couldn’t understand his willingness to deal with her unless he has no self-respect himself. I want my romances to be about the relationship over all and this book doesn’t come close to meeting that standard.

The book is well written for what it is and I am sure that readers looking for a woman’s journey to fight prejudice to be a trailblazer will find something good in this story, but I prefer my romances to be about romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book takes place during the Gilded Age.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A SCANDALOUS DEAL is the second book in the Four Hundred series. While there are small appearances by characters from the prior book, this book is a complete standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

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

 

two-stars

Review: A Devil of a Duke

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

Review: A Devil of a DukeA Devil of a Duke (Decadent Dukes Society, #2) by Madeline Hunter
Series: Decadent Dukes Society #2
on April 24, 2018
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed the interplay between Gabriel and Amanda. There story seems hopeless at times which makes the story poignant, but I wished for something more from the grand gesture at the end.

THE STORY: Gabriel St. James, Duke of Langford is used to getting what he wants. When he meets a mysterious woman who is willing to meet with him but doesn’t want to reveal anything about herself, Gabriel is intrigued and determined to uncover her secrets. Amanda Waverly is being forced into a double life. She is acting the respectable secretary to a society matron while plotting thefts. When she gets tangled up with Langford, she fears that everything will collapse around her.

OPINION: I enjoyed this book because of the couple. Gabriel and Amanda are a prickly couple. She has lot of secrets and he is determined to find out everything about her. I liked that she outsmarts him in the beginning and that he is ultimately willing to risk everything for her.

The book manages to have more fun than I expect because it operates on the fringes of society. Amanda is desperate but determined to do what she can to protect her loved ones. I thought that she was foolish for doing so much, but it also shows her kind heart. And her kindness is an essential part of her character along with her cleverness.

The weakness of this book for me was that we never really get to see Gabriel’s inner decisions regarding Amanda. He ultimately risks everything for her, but I suppose I wanted to see his turmoil or hear him verbalize more. The grand romantic moment was a bit muted for me as a result.

But I enjoyed these characters matching wits and I really liked Amanda’s character.

WORTH MENTIONING: I’m hoping we will eventually get to know more about Harry and Emilia.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DEVIL OF A DUKE is the second book in the Decadent Dukes Society. Although there are some overlapping characters, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to prepare 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: The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh

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

Review: The Designs of Lord Randolph CavanaughThe Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens
Series: The Cavanaughs #1
Published by MIRA on April 24, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
two-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I found the topic very interesting dealing with an invention of the combustion engine, but I thought the romance bland and the ultimate story line didn’t have much consequence. I liked the characters, but the story didn’t give them enough to delve into.

THE STORY: Lord Randolph Cavanaugh is determined to make something of himself through his investments. Traveling to Throgmorton Hall to see the status of an investment in an engine and finds that the inventor has died. The son has taken on the task of finishing the engine. The daughter, Felicia, has been keeping the family afloat for years and is not a fan of inventors’ obsessions. With someone out to make sure that the invention fails, Rand and Felicia must work together to save all their fortunes.

OPINION: I really love the Cynster books and I loved the story of Rand’s brother, but I couldn’t love this one.

The characters were really nice and I liked them, but just about everything about the story failed them. Nothing was particularly interesting to me.

The romance was really bland and I never felt a connection between Rand and Felicia. There romance felt formulaic to me without any real spark between the characters. I ultimately liked how they related to one another, but I never felt that these two had the desperate passion between them that I would expect. The whole romance felt too left brain for me.

Then there was the story itself. The beginning felt like it would be dramatic and interesting and while the Victorian topic of engines was interesting, the story itself didn’t feel compelling. The twists hinted at in the blurb ended up less intriguing that I supposed.

The entire book felt too cold and plotted for me and lacked the passion on all levels that I look for in Laurens’ books.

WORTH MENTIONING: Ryder and Mary Cavanaugh make a significant appearance here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DESIGNS OF LORD RANDOLPH CAVANAUGH is the first book in the Cavanaughs series. This book is connected to THE TAMING OF RYDER CAVANAUGH which tells the story of Rand’s older brother.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

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

 

two-stars

Review: The Duke Identity

Review: The Duke IdentityThe Duke Identity (Game of Dukes, #1) by Grace Callaway
Series: Game of Dukes #1
on April 19, 2018
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Hot and sexy romance between a scientist turned policeman and the young woman who would rather rule in the underworld than marry a duke. Lots of secrets in this one, but I loved the chemistry between Tessa and Harry.

THE STORY: Harry Kent has been forced to leave his dreams of science and the Royal Academy behind when he was betrayed by a woman. Taking on the family business of being a policeman, Harry is tasked with helping to take down Black, the king of the underworld. When a chance encounter has him meeting, Tessa Todd, who is Black’s granddaughter, Harry takes on the job of her bodyguard in order to spy on the family. What Harry doesn’t expect, however, is the intense attraction between him and Tessa which once again threatens the life he has built for himself.

OPINION: This is an enjoyable tale. Harry and Tessa are adventurous and I liked their interactions and while the story depends a lot upon Harry keeping his identity from Tessa, the hotness between the two keeps any possible annoyance factor low.

Harry is a man trying to rebuild and reshape his life after all he worked for was destroyed. Harry loved and was betrayed and now has to find out what his purpose is. He also doesn’t want to make himself vulnerable to a woman again.  He has honor even as he continues to lie to Tessa because he has conflicting loyalties. The book goes on his journey where he has to decide what is most important to him. I like that Harry is vulnerable and a little nerdy and on the razor’s edge for most of the story.

Tessa is a spunky and independent woman. Her grandfather wants her to marry into the ton, but Tessa wants nothing more than to stand by her grandfather’s side.  Her unconventional upbringing makes her innocent but not ignorant. She can fit anywhere she wants to, but she feels at home with the whores and thieves of St. Giles. She doesn’t fit into any box of what a woman of the period should be. I liked that she is willing to do what she has to in order to make her own dreams a reality.  The interesting mixture of her traits and interests intrigue Harry the scientist.

I really liked how the book mixes the heat that the two generate and the curiosity and sweetness of their intellectual relationship. The plot also was interesting as it combined both the people of the streets and also the ton. The mixture allows the hero and heroine to be their own people rather than having to fit in perfectly into expected roles and social classes. I also really ended up liking the ultimate resolution.

The only negative is that Harry keeps his secrets for far too long. That ends up being the primary obstacle between Tessa and Harry. After a while, I tired of him lying to Tessa and justifying it because it seemed to become clear that his reasons were not as strong as in the beginning.

Despite that, I really enjoyed this book and I look forward to the next one in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: Two words: pet ferret.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DUKE IDENTITY is the first book in the Game of Dukes series. This book is, however, connected with the Heart of Enquiry series through the hero. It is not necessary to read that series, however, to enjoy this one.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author in order to prepare 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: Murder in St. Giles

Review: Murder in St. GilesMurder in St. Giles by Ashley Gardner, Jennifer Ashley
Series: Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries #13
Published by JA / AG Publishing on April 10th 2018
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 300
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Very enjoyable entry in the series. This one is more mystery than personal but is an interesting jaunt with plenty of appearances by the cast of characters in the series.

THE STORY: Captain Lacey is called to look at a body in St. Giles by Brewster (who is the bodyguard/spy who follows Lacey around). The man appears to have been beaten to death and Lacey intends to make sure that Brewster is not unjustly accused of the crime. Lacey’s desire to investigate, however, is complicated by his stepson being in danger from his relatives who want to take him away to live with them. This mystery has multiple layers and storylines.

OPINION: This book is focused primarily on the mystery which although Lacey has some concerns about protecting Brewster is not really a personal quest for Lacey. Instead, there is some distance between his emotions and the case (which happens to make him more rational in his investigations). Indeed, the book has a very meaty set of clues and characters who need to be interviewed. The story has a nice flow and ultimately the solution works perfectly for the set of facts.

For me, however, I prefer these books for the personal journeys of Lacey rather than the pure mystery portion of the book. The moments I remember best are of Lacey’s humor and relationships with the recurring cast in the book. Ultimately, I most enjoyed that Lacey has some struggle to make in determining the relative moral positions of the people that he meets.

The secondary story about Lacey’s stepson works to give some personal drama that the main mystery is lacking. I wish that there had been more integration of that story throughout, but I still enjoyed the chaos that the conflict causes in the Lacey household. The ending of that story and the book were especially well done. In fact, the last couple of chapters had me bumping up my rating because the surprises that were revealed. My appreciation was entirely character based as development and changes were evident. This book also nicely sets up some developments that I’m certain will be explored in future books.

WORTH MENTIONING: I’ve become a big fan of a bunch of historical mysteries lately. This series is one of my favorites because Lacey is so imperfect a character who has a strong moral compass that doesn’t always follow the rules.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MURDER IN ST. GILES is the thirteenth book in the Captain Lacey Regency Mysteries series. This mystery is self-contained but there are characters that have stories which go from book to book. I think the book can be read as a standalone unless having to catch up bothers you.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

four-half-stars

Review: My Lady’s Choosing

Review: My Lady’s ChoosingMy Lady's Choosing: An Interactive Romance Novel by Kitty Curran, Larissa Zageris
on April 3rd 2018
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Goodreads
four-stars

MY LADY’S CHOOSING is a novelty book where the reader gets to make choices as the story goes on changing the outcomes of the story depending on the choices.

In the early 1980s, Choose Your Own Adventure stories were a popular series with children. This book updates that concept for today’s romance books. The book is a novelty so a reader should not approach the book expecting amazing stories. Instead, the stories are funny and a loving parody of the romance genre. The book takes a series of romance book tropes and characters (the brooding aristocrat, the sexy Scotsman, the governess, supernatural characters, sexy garden times, exotic locations) and gives the reader a choice of what to do at critical and not so critical times.

I found the book amusing and tried several variations by coming back to a juncture and trying different options. The stories were lovingly amusing. They didn’t mock the romance genre, but rather made the reader part of an inside joke.

I really enjoyed this book, but a reader must approach it with a sense of humor and a willingness to participate in the fun.

I want to note that I thought it was especially nice that the heroine (the reader) is active in the story and one of the options includes a ff romance which was and unexpected and welcome option.

Rating: 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Hellion

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

Review: The HellionThe Hellion (Wicked Wallflowers, #1) by Christi Caldwell
Series: Wicked Wallflowers #1
Published by Montlake on April 3rd 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 295
Goodreads
three-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: This story was serviceable and solid, but I wanted more from the romance. There could have been more angst or more sexy romance. Instead, I just ended up wanting more from a decent book.

THE STORY: Cleopatra Killoran has agreed to sacrifice herself to a marriage to a man of the ton in order to protect her family. She has even agreed to be sponsored by her family’s enemies in order to find a husband who is willing to accept a woman of questionable background who can bring only a fortune. Adair Thorne doesn’t trust this woman who is one of his family’s enemies. He intends to watch her closely while she is embedded with his family. But soon her finds himself watching this complicated woman for other reasons, but a reason for which might bring betrayal down on his family.

OPINION: This was an enjoyable read, but lacked something in its drama and intensity based on the way the story developed. I liked the book, but wanted more.

Adair is a hero that I wanted to know more about. Although we get his story recited, I never felt connected with him on a emotional basis. His inner life remains a mystery in this story and thus I felt the story lacked some of the intense connection between him and Cleo that the story really wanted.

I loved the setup. I loved that Cleo is a woman who was raised on the streets and has become strong and a dangerous character in her own right. Too much of the book, however, explains rather than engaging the reader in the deep emotions between these characters. This might have been an extraordinary book rather than just a good read.

What is here, however, is good. I enjoyed the story and the potential of this story was immense. The characters are interesting in concept and the story has some great possibilities from the beginning.

It is a compliment to the potential of this book that I wanted more intensity and emotion from the story than I got. I enjoyed the book and it is an essential part of the Sinful Brides world.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book sets up the series which now focuses on the Killoran family.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE HELLION is the first book in the Wicked Wallflowers series. This series is, however, connected with the Sinful Brides series. There are overlapping characters, especially in this book which operates as a bridge between the two series as both these characters appeared in the Sinful Brides series. I think this book fits better as part of the prior series in order that all the relationships can be understood.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

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

 

three-half-stars

Review: The Secret to Flirting

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

Review: The Secret to FlirtingThe Secret of Flirting (Sinful Suitors, #5) by Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Sinful Suitors #5
Published by Pocket Books on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I really enjoyed this one. Jumping off from real historical events, this book is improbable at times, but the relationship between Fulkham and Monique is testy and witty and quite lovely.

THE STORY: Spymaster Gregory Vyse, Baron Fulkham, is at a pivotal moment of his career when he is to participate in the choosing of the first royalty of Belgium. One of the contenders, Princess Aurore of Chanay, is the favorite. But Fulkham also believes her an imposter as he thinks he met her three years before when she was Monique Servais, an accomplished actress. Fulkham is entangled with trying to figure out what she is up to when an attempted assassination and Fulkham’s own attraction to the purported princess threaten his career.

OPINION: The one was very enjoyable because of the relationship between the characters. I especially enjoyed the witty banter and verbal combat between the hero and heroine. These two are working on outsmarting one another from the moment they meet.

The strength of the story in this book is clearly that it is based on real events. Although, as acknowledged in the author’s note, liberties are taken with the storyline, by giving this book true historical events gives it a grounding in its historical times. The book always feels time relevant with the issues and concerns of the times.

Monique is a woman who is accomplished, but her desire to care for her grandmother leads her into intrigue and Fulkham’s world. I really enjoyed the combination of her worldliness and her naivety at the machinations of others. Her dignity and cleverness was a good match for Fulkham. And while some of the events in the story seem unbelievable, her innate believable actions as a character allow the events that seem improbable to work in the story. I liked Monique.

Fulkham is a man with many secrets — some his country’s and some his own. He becomes entwined with Monique as he tries to figure out what she is doing. He is a man who acts carefully and deliberately — except when it comes to Monique. I loved that she gets under his skin and makes him act in all the ways he never expects. Fulkham’s ultimate willingness to do whatever it takes to be with Monique is romantic and a fine comeuppance for the spymaster.

I really enjoyed this book. The pacing and development of the plot and the romance just worked so well for me. It never felt rushed or lagging. The series is coming to a conclusion on a definite high note.

WORTH MENTIONING: For fans of the series, there are small updates about the other couples and the setup for the final novella of the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE SECRET TO FLIRTING is the fifth book in the Sinful Suitors series. While there are overlapping characters, this book can be read on its own as it provides all the information about the characters that you need to enjoy it.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

 

four-half-stars

Review: The Undercover Duke

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

Review: The Undercover DukeThe Undercover Duke (The 1797 Club Book 6) by Jess Michaels
Series: The 1797 Club #6
Published by Passionate Pen on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 247
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed this book because of the relationship between Lucas and Diana. Some of the historical reality was lacking, but the cautious and slow unfolding of these characters made this book an enjoyable journey.

THE STORY: Lucas Vincent, Duke of Willowby, has been a spy for the crown for years. Grievously injured in his last assignment, Lucas is sent to Diana Oakford to recover. Diana is the daughter of one of the men killed in the mission where Lucas was injured. Having been burned by the spies who surrounded her father before, Diana knows better than to give her heart to such a man. The attraction between her and Lucas, however, burns from the beginning. And as they agree to an affair, each believes that they can keep the relationship on a physical level, but things get complicated (on many levels) as they work together to find the traitor who almost killed Lucas.

OPINION: I have really been enjoying this series. The stories, while serious in tone, are not particularly deep or disturbing. They are a nice read that I can finish in a day and which don’t haunt me for days after. The books emphasize the relationship between the characters and the plot really works in service of that relationship.

Diana and Lucas are similar characters. Pain in their lives has taught them to keep their distance. As they start their relationship, there is plenty of sex but little relationship. Usually I dislike these instant sex books, but it really works here. The sex begins to allow these characters to open up to one another. Then there are small moments of revelation and caring that draw them out of their self-protective shells.

Because much of the book takes place solely between these two characters, the relationship really worked for me. There are hot encounters but also moments of tenderness.

Then there is the spy plot. Some of the resolution seemed obvious, but there were some interesting surprises. There isn’t a lot of “story” in the plot, but I also enjoyed that because while I certainly like deep plot filled books, I really prefer books where the relationship is the focus and gets the primary focus in the story.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book is front loaded with the sexual encounters which lessen as the plot picks up.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE UNDERCOVER DUKE is the sixth book in the 1797 Club series. There are overlapping characters, but this book can be read completely as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley in order to prepare 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: What a Difference a Duke Makes

Review: What a Difference a Duke MakesWhat a Difference a Duke Makes (School for Dukes, #1) by Lenora Bell
Series: School for Dukes #1
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
two-stars

“It was a desperate gamble. It was also her best hope at the moment.”

FINAL DECISION: I was disappointed in this one as the hero didn’t seem heroic to me but rather a milquetoast who was dominated and dictated to by the heroine.

THE STORY: Mari Perkins is desperate when she arrives in London, has her baggage stolen and is late for an appointment with her agency. Rather than getting the governess position she was promised, she is turned away. Mari, however, is never going back to the orphanage where she was raised and worked. Instead, she overhears the resignation of the governess of a duke and decides to appear as the replacement. Edgar Rochester, Duke of Banksford, is not the typical duke. To the despair of his mother, he is engaged in trade in order to save the family fortunes. He has also just been presented with two illegitimate children who keep scaring off the governesses he hires for them. What he needs is a strong, scary governess, and the sweet, innocent optimistic Mari is definitely not what is required.

OPINION: This book disappointed me. I was interested in the premise and I have really enjoyed the authors previous books. And while I liked the strength and independence of the heroine, the hero was weak and uninteresting.  The book suffers from too much modern concerns and sensibilities for a historical novel.

Mari is a woman looking for her past and trying to build a future for herself.  She is clever and kind. While I understand trying to make unique characters, Mari feel entirely too modern a character to me. If her character had been transported into a modern book, she would be entirely comfortable in a contemporary novel as a nanny.  Her sexual aggression for an innocent period woman raised in an orphanage just feels completely out of place. While I am not a reader who looks for historical accuracy in her books, this book just felt too modern for the time period and the characters did not fit and nothing else about the story was good enough to distract me from those facts.

The biggest problem with this book for me was the hero. First, he doesn’t feel possible as a historical character. He is given a tragic background, but it felt forced and not really impacting his life except to give him two illegitimate children which we are supposed to believe that everyone around him accept as reasonable that he would be raising in his own home. Nothing about Edgar works together or feels organic. Perhaps there are too many issues for him: a duke who rejected his rank, a man betrayed by the older woman he loved but who might have used him, a scientist, a tradesman, a new father trying to have a relationship with his children. Just too many parts that don’t mesh well together. Then there is all the moralizing over his concerns about abusing his relationship with Mari who is his employee. This feels like it is taken from a modern manual of how to deal with subordinates. Mari ends up making all the moves in their relationship. Having the woman take control can be sexy but just feels forced here. The combination of all these things makes Edgar a weak character that I would bet is totally controlled by his wife in the future. There is nothing of his “hero” that feels like a man that deserves to be a hero. And nothing about his character that interested me.

There is just too much going on with not enough interest on my part. There is also the story of Mari’s parentage which feels like a predictable afterthought designed to at least make her relationship with Edgar reasonable in the end.

WORTH MENTIONING: Now the story of India and Ravenwood sounds really intriguing and is probably the best part of this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DUKE MAKES is the first book in the School for Dukes series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

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

 

two-stars