Review: Devil in Spring

Review: Devil in SpringDevil in Spring (The Ravenels, #3) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on February 21st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 370
Goodreads
five-stars

“You do not want to marry me, my lord. I would be the worst wife imaginable. I’m forgetful and stubborn, and I can never sit still for more than five minutes. I’m always doing things I shouldn’t. I eavesdrop on other people, I should and run in public, and I’m a clumsy dancer. And I’ve lowered my character with a great deal of unwholesome reading material.”  Pausing to draw breath, she notice that Lord St. Vincent didn’t appear properly impressed by her list of faults. “Also, my legs are skinny. Like a stork’s.”

FINAL DECISION:  So rarely does a highly anticipated sequel live up to expectations.  While not as good as DEVIL IN WINTER, this book is a worthy successor.  Will take a place on my favorites’ shelf.

THE STORY: Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent has accidentally compromised an unusual young lady, Lady Pandora Ravenel.  Neither, however, wants to marry — Gabriel because he sees that Pandora is completely unsuitable to be the type of dignified wife he needs; Pandora because she has no intention of allowing any man to control her fate and life.  Gabriel is fascinated with Pandora and finds himself drawn to her.  Pandora finds in Gabriel a man who listens to her and respects her opinions, but the risk of becoming essentially his to control is something she doesn’t want to risk even as she falls for him.

OPINION:

“No matter how she had tried to make herself want what she should want, she knew she would never be happy in a conventional life.”

Pandora is an amazing creation.  She is neurotic, opinionated, intelligent, oh so clever and yet sweet in a unique way.  I loved just about everything about her.  She is a different kind of wallflower.  A woman who is so brilliant that she has difficulties with the social niceties that society demands. Always the odd person in the group, she has managed to forge a future for herself as a game designer. (I absolutely loved her devotion to her budding career).  Everything about her character felt fresh and new and oh so lovely, especially for all of us who feel out of step with what people expect from us.

Gabriel is a hero who is so different from his father and yet has the best qualities of both his parents. He manages to be so incredibly caring and supportive of Pandora.  She is a special person and Gabriel knows exactly how to care for her. He is kind and so so dreamy.  Sexy and definitely a man in charge, he also has the gentleness of his mother and the benefit of having grown up in a loving family. He is a man who doesn’t need to be reformed to be a wonderful man — he just is.

“Your problem,” his sister continued, “is that you’re too good at maintaining that facade of godlike perfection. You’ve always hated for anyone to see that you’re a mere mortal. But you won’t win this girl that way.” She began to dust the sand from her hands. “Show her a few of your redeeming vices, dear. She’ll like you all the better for it.”

I rarely love a book as much as I loved this one primarily because Gabriel was such a warm loving man and he made it his mission to balance out all the jagged edges of Pandora’s life. His giving nature and willingness to put his own needs and desires aside to help fulfill Pandora was so wonderful to read about.  He finds Pandora incredibly charming and she brings something to him that makes him want to protect her.  And yet, he cannot crush her by forcing her to conform and be “safe”.

“It was insane to let a creature so perfectly beautiful and artlessly spirited and vulnerable as his wife venture out into the world that could crush her with casual unconcern, and he had no choice to but allow it. For the rest of his life, he would feel a stab of dread every time she walked out the door, leaving him there with his heart wide open.”

I loved this book and if I liked it a smidgen less than the book on Gabriel’s parents it is only because the timeless trope of that book — wallflower and rake — is probably my favorite.  But this one is original and fresh and very wonderful.

“Their marriage would be a partnership, just like their waltzing…not perfect, not always graceful, but they would find their way together.”

Just incredibly lovely!

WORTH MENTIONING:  I would buy this book for the Prologue alone where Evangeline and Sebastian from DEVIL IN WINTER are most prominent.  One of my all time favorite books and the prologue shows why.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DEVIL IN SPRING is the third book in the Ravenels series.  This book is much better if read as part of the series, but a new reader should also include DEVIL IN WINTER which is from Kleypas’s Wallflowers series.  This book is a direct sequel from that book as it tells the story of the son of the DEVIL IN WINTER couple (who make appearances of their own).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: The Deed

Review: The DeedThe Deed (Deed, #1) by Lynsay Sands
Series: Deed #1
Published by Avon on August 30th 2011
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  The story is uneven and while it has some very funny parts, I ultimately found it pretty average.  It was okay as a one time read but I don’t think I would read it again and I’m not excited about reading further in the series.

THE STORY:  Emmaline Eberhart has to petition the King to get her husband to consummate their marriage.  When her husband dies on his way home to do his duty, Emmaline is widowed and now in a vulnerable position.  The King sends Lord Amaury de Aneford to marry her.  He doesn’t want to, but agrees to in order to gain the estate.

OPINION:  This book had great promise based on its blurb.  The book has some great humorous moments surrounding Emmaline’s innocence regarding sex.  I liked how she tries to grieve her dead husband by dying every single piece of cloth in the castle black.  She doesn’t even really understand that her prior marriage was not fully consummated and that leads to some humorous moments.  But at times, her innocence and naive nature got annoying to me.  It is a one joke story that never really gained any depth to the story after the punchline was told.  I did like the story one time going in but those little issues are what I remember about this story rather than the romance.  I really like medieval stories so I wanted to like this one, but I just found it average.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book was originally published in 1997 and has been republished with a new cover.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DEED is the first book in the Deed series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars

Review: Seven Minutes in Heaven

Review: Seven Minutes in HeavenSeven Minutes in Heaven (Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers, #3; Desperate Duchesses, #9) by Eloisa James
Series: Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers #3
Published by Avon on January 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“‘This conversation has gone from improper to obscene,’ she observed. He shook his head. ‘Haven’t you noticed, Eugenia, that almost all of our conversations start at improper?'”

FINAL DECISION: Incredibly lovely story of two people quietly falling in love despite their best intentions.  The story gently pulled these two characters together and I loved every moment of them falling in love with one another. As a fan of James’s work, this book was immensely satisfying as it pulled so many other books together.

THE STORY: Eugenia Snowe is a widow who owns a elite agency for governesses. She has shocked the aristocracy by taking on a profession but has managed to keep some standing with the ton. Edward “Ward” Reeve is the son of an earl and needs a new governess for his wards (his half-siblings) and comes to Eugenia’s offices in order to get a replacement. Ward desperately needs a governess to help shape up his siblings in order to fight for guardianship of them. Although Ward is the son of an earl, he is illegitimate.  He also doesn’t realize that Eugenia is actually a “lady”. Eugenia and Ward immediately are in a contentious relationship and yet the two are attracted to one another. When Ward ends up kidnapping Eugenia to help in his cause, the two begin an affair that neither intends to lead to anything more.

OPINION: Some books are fun one time reads where the entirety of the book occurs on the surface of emotions, and some books urge you to sink deeply into the emotions of the characters, their lives and their romance.  This book is the latter.

Nothing in this book turns on quick resolutions, excessive drama or quick action. I loved how I got to know the strengths and weaknesses of these characters.

Ward is a self-made man who has accomplished so much and yet has his own insecurities. A true gentleman, Ward is smart and talented, but entirely willing to give up his life for his half-siblings.  Ward’s life has changed dramatically after his engagement to Mia in FOUR NIGHTS WITH THE DUKE. The events in that book left Ward more cynical, with phobias and PTSD from his imprisonment. He is also remarkably clueless about social conventions and doesn’t realize that Eugenia is the daughter of a marquess. He is, however, determined to save his half-siblings from the tender mercies of his material grandmother. For that, Ward needs to turn two unschooled “small devils” into model children so that he can keep guardianship. I loved the balancing of Ward’s human foibles in this book. He is imperfect and thus fascinating because of it. When he makes the “almost” unforgivable mistake with Eugenia, he takes well to the groveling required in those circumstances.

Eugenia is a woman who controls her own destiny. She is strong and an entrepreneur long before women were accepted in such roles. A widow, she thankfully deeply loved her husband (which is a nice change from women who seem to only have terrible first marriages). True, she might look back on her marriage with too much nostalgia, but the death of her husband and the years, changed Eugenia and made her more independent and stubborn. After years of being alone, she is shocked out of her widowhood by Ward. Attracted to him physically, she considers the possibility of an affair. I liked that Eugenia is not afraid of her sexuality even as she initially wants to linger in her memories of her husband.

For me, this book was a treat because it brought back two precocious children from James’s Desperate Duchesses series. Bringing back children is often tricky because, of course, those with happy stories usually are not good subjects for books of their own. James has managed to provide the right amount of angst but focusing not only on their very early days of unhappiness, but also pivotal moments each experienced as adults which brought them moments of darkness. This makes the characters more interesting (because hey, who wants a story about well adjusted, perfectly happy and normal people without any flaws or painful pasts?).

This book made me fall madly in love with it as each page turned. Ward and Eugenia are smart and banter with one another as adults. They are completely willing to enjoy a sexual affair, but can’t help but become emotionally entangled with one another. I only took a small amount off my rating because I couldn’t help but feel that Ward should have been smarter to realize he was being a jerk with regards to Eugenia and, if nothing else, should have realized her origins long before he did. But that is just quibbling.  This book is a joy to read and what it made me want to do is start reading the prior series over again because there is so much good stuff in this one.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of James’s Desperate Duchesses series may remember both Ward and Eugenia as children who appeared in her Desperate Duchesses series (DESPERATE DUCHESS and DUCHESS BY NIGHT).

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SEVEN MINUTES IN HEAVEN is the third book in the Desperate Duchesses by the Numbers series.  (This series is a spin off of the Desperate Duchesses series).  This book can be read as a standalone although there are overlapping characters that make the book better having read the other books in the series (actually both series).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

four-half-stars

Review: Four Weddings and a Sixpence

Review: Four Weddings and a SixpenceFour Weddings and a Sixpence: An Anthology by Julia Quinn, Elizabeth Boyle, Stefanie Sloane, Laura Lee Guhrke
Published by Avon on December 27th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue and a sixpence in your shoe.”

This is an anthology of four stories about four friends from Madame Rochambeaux’s Gentle School for Girls and the sixpence coin which brings each of them a husband.

SOMETHING OLD by Julia Quinn:  This is the prologue to the stories and introduces the four heroines: Miss Beatrice Heywood, Miss Cordelia Padley, Lady Elinor Daventry and Miss Anne Barbourne.  The four find a old coin which they agree to use to find their husband and if it works, they will pass it along to the next girl.  For a prologue, this one managed to pack a lot of information into a few pages.  It definitely made me want to know more about these girls.  Rating: 5 stars.

SOMETHING NEW by Stefanie Sloane: Miss Anne Brabourne has an uncle as a guardian who has declared that she must marry by her twenty-first birthday. Anne, however, doesn’t really want to marry but if she does she certainly doesn’t want to marry for love.  Her parents tempestuous relationship has soured her on the idea of passion and love. Rhys Alexander Hamilton, Duke of Dorset is a man determined not to marry until he has no choice meets Anne and is charmed by her.  He doesn’t fit Anne’s ideal husband (he will never be easily controlled) but he proposes that he help her find a husband.

This was a sweet little story. I liked the characters and I liked their situation. Both Anne and Rhys have reasons to not recognize that they are falling in love and yet their connection pulls them together throughout the story.  I found this story charming.  The only thing that didn’t fit was the obligatory sex scene which I thought did not actually fit with these characters.  Rating: 4 stars.

SOMETHING BORROWED by Elizabeth Boyle:  Miss Cordelia Padley grew up rich but at her father’s death she learned that he was squandered his entire fortune. She has another, more pressing problem. She has three aunts who are determined to find her a husband, so Cordelia has made up a betrothed to stop their efforts.  Now that one of her dearest friends is marrying, Cordelia has to produce that betrothed or admit her deception.  She goes looking for a temporary fiance to produce and then have him jilt her.  Winston Christopher Talcott, Earl of Thornton needs rich bride to save his failing estate.  Just when he is about to get engaged to an heiress, Cordelia comes back into Kipp’s life and turns it upside down.

This was a wonderful story.  I loved the connection between Cordelia and Kipp. They had a sweet and childhood friends to lovers story. This was a story that was so good that I could have read a whole book about these two.  Cordelia finds her old friend and is dismayed that he never had the chance to fulfill his dreams. Kipp finds a vivacious woman who makes him believe in his dreams again even has his goals have changed. I loved the hope and joy these two bring to one another.  Yes, the resolution was predicable (I figured it out from the beginning), but the story was so good that I was willing to go along with the predicable solution.  Everything worked for me.  Rating: 4.5 stars.

SOMETHING BLUE by Laura Lee Guhrke: Lady Elinor Daventry is determined to marry the son of a duke to help save her father from the investigation by Lawrence Blackthorne who is determined to prove her father is a criminal.  Ellie and Lawrence were childhood friends who were in love and set to marry until he chose his duty and honor over their love and she chose her father over their love.  Lawrence steals the sixpence in order to prevent Ellie’s marriage.

This was an enjoyable story because Ellie and Lawrence are such combative towards one another. The two have deep unresolved feelings even though they are on opposing sides regarding Ellie’s father. There is some serious push and pull between them as they clearly love one another and yet neither can abandon their principles. The interactions between the two were funny and yet sad as it seems at times that these two will not be able to find a way to be together.  I like my books with some angst and drama and this one fulfills those requirements.  Rating: 4 stars.

…AND A SIXPENCE IN HER SHOE by Julia Quinn:  Miss Beatrice Mary Heywood plans never to marry but rather to care for her aunts who took her in when she was orphaned. She takes the coin only reluctantly, but she has the coin when she literally runs into Lord Frederick Grey-Osbourne on the street.  Frederick is sensitive to his looks because of an accident which left him with a scar and blinded in one eye, but he finds himself intrigued by the academic minded Bea who has a passion for astronomy.

Bea and Frederick are so cute together. This is another story that I could have read an entire book about. There is an awkwardness and a pure sweetness of these two being interested in one another. There are meddling aunts, sexy scientific talk, deep empathy and even some sexy moments.  There is a wonderful scene between them (I don’t want to give it away) but it is all about trust and vulnerability between them.  I loved that scene.  This was my favorite story in the anthology and it struck the perfect ending note for me.  Rating: 5 stars.

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

four-half-stars

Review: Somewhere I’ll Find You

Review: Somewhere I’ll Find YouSomewhere I'll Find You (Capital Theatre, #1) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Capital Theatre #1
Published by Avon on October 1st 1996
Genres: Historical
Pages: 377
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: A different type of story about child marriages, a marchioness turned actress and two people who have to learn to compromise.  Don’t read this if you are going to nitpick the story.

THE STORY:  Julia is an actress who has finally gotten a position in a respectable theater.  She is living her dream of independence. Her heart stays her own, and she has a big secret. Damon, Marquess of Savage is searching for the bride his father married him to as a child.  The heiress has fled her family. Damon is shocked to find out that the woman he has been married to for years is none other than the actress he wanted for his mistress.

OPINION: I really enjoyed this book.  Is it unrealistic? perhaps, but if you regularly read my reviews you should know that I will forgive a lot of historical inaccuracies, plot holes, grammatical errors, etc for a good story with characters that I fall in love with.  Does it seem reasonable that a aristocratic woman would abandon her family, become an actress and eventually become a duchess.  Maybe not, but this is one great story anyway.

Julia is a woman who wants to make her own independent decisions. If she was born in modern times, she would fit right in, but in her times, she is disinherited by her father and on the run from her “husband”. Is she too obsessed with her independence? Perhaps it seems so to our modern sensibilities, but in her time, when men owned their wives, is it unreasonable to be worried about losing your independence when your husband could control everything that you could do? Or when your father could marry you off when you are a little child.  I loved how Kleypas brings the opposing forces of Julia and Damon each wanting control. After both were stripped of control by their parents each wants to be in total control of their lives.

Damon has made himself into a completely responsible predictable gentleman because his father was irresponsible — resulting in Damon being offered in marriage to Julia (when both were small children) in order to save the family coffers.  The lesson Damon learned from that was that he needed to control his circumstances.  He struggles with Julia who will not submit to his control. Even worse, he ultimately realizes that she would not be the Julia he falls in love with if she did.

The story of how Julia and Damon navigate their desire for control and their trust issues was what kept me turning pages. The characters sparkled off the pages, their pain and struggle and intense attraction to one another kept me interested until the very end.

The secondary characters also were full of life. The best story is one where I could imagine all the relationships and intrigues involved and this one does a great job at that.

I only took of a star because I have read better books by Kleypas, so I know that she has pushed these boundaries even further with even better characters.  I can’t wait for the next book about Logan Scott.  He’s got some story.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I loved the epilogue which was necessary for this book to show how these two adapted to one another and continued to evolve their relationship.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SOMEWHERE I’LL FIND YOU is the first book in the Capital Theatre series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Wild at Whiskey Creek

Review: Wild at Whiskey CreekWild at Whiskey Creek (Hellcat Canyon, #2) by Julie Anne Long
Series: Hellcat Canyon #2
Published by Avon on November 29th 2016
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

“That was the paradox of his life. To be stretched out on a sort of Catherine wheel, pulled between equal and utterly opposing desires. And if you believed the legend of the Eternity Oak, he has only himself to blame.”

FINAL DECISION: No one does the slow burn romance better than Julie Anne Long. Destiny and fate, decision and mistake, the pushing and pulling of characters live.  Glory and Eli are characters that feel fated and yet fate can be fickle.  Loved this one.

THE STORY:  Glory Greenleaf and Eli Barlow have been moving toward and away from one another almost all their lives. They grew up together in their small hometown and their lives have always been connected because Eli was Glory’s older brother’s best friend.  At seventeen Eli carved their initials on the Eternity Tree which by local legend sealed his fate. He has loved Glory in the decade since but they have not gotten together. A year ago it seemed like things were finally moving toward them being together when Eli had to arrest Glory’s brother. Since that day, Glory has refused to talk to Eli.

OPINION:  A story about fate and freewill about a love that is destined to be and life which gets in the way.  Glory and Eli are a couple that I haven’t stopped thinking about since I finished reading this book over a week ago. I held off writing this review because it is hard for me to put into words why I find this book so appealing.

This is a second – third – fourth chance at love story.  Eli and Glory have been so close so many times to having a relationship but decisions, situations and life keep getting in their way.  As this book progresses it seems like once again Eli and Glory might pass one another by.

Eli is completely devoted to Glory. He is the man who is willing to stand beside and behind Glory — who Eli knows is an amazing woman. He has been satisfied with the idea of being Sir Walter Raleigh to Glory’s Queen Elizabeth. Honest, dedicated and a genuinely good person, Eli has finally come to the decision that he needs to build a life for himself apart from Glory.

Glory is a woman who comes from a family from the “wrong side of the tracks”. Everyone knows that she is an amazing singer who is destined for more. A year ago it seemed likely that she was on her way.  But when her brother was arrested for drug dealing by Eli, not only did it destroy the budding romance between Eli and Glory, but it also left Glory with a series of dead-end jobs rather than her flight to stardom.

This is a book of small moments, little decisions, close calls, missed opportunities and choices. I loved in this book how Eli and Glory are so obviously fated to be together and yet fate is not enough. They both have choices. Choices that can bring them together or drive them apart. The combination of fate and choices makes the story of Eli and Glory powerful and left me thinking.

One of the other wonderful things about this book is how completely Long has captured the small town world. Her secondary characters are memorable and fun and they create a sense of community and interest. Hellcat Canyon has a true sense of place, of identity. I feel like I could drive up the California coast and right into this story.

And perhaps that is why I can’t stop thinking about this story. Everything about this story feels so real to me.  Glory’s ambition and dreams and hopes. The pain and sorrow that keeps Eli and Glory apart. The strange, snarky California vibe that combines celebrity with quirky places.

This is a book I will read again and again. (I already have a playlist of the songs mentioned in this book on my phone).  Bravo!

WORTH MENTIONING: Pornographic garden gnomes. (Do you need any other information to try this book?)

CONNECTED BOOKS:  WILD AT WHISKEY CREEK is the second book in the Hellcat Canyon series. This book can be read as a standalone although there are overlapping characters.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: No Mistress of Mine

Review: No Mistress of MineNo Mistress of Mine (An American Heiress in London, #4) by Laura Lee Guhrke
Series: An American Heiress in London #4
Published by Avon on August 30, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

‘He’d been ready to sacrifice everything dear to him, to turn his back on everyone else he loved, in order to keep her.  And then, she had left him.”

FINAL DECISION:  This is my favorite book of the series.  I loved just about everything about this book.  The characters were good people, intelligent and demonstrated growth in the story.  The romance was difficult and there was no magic solution for these two but rather a mature acceptance of the painful things that can go with love.

THE STORY:  Lord Denys Somerton has finally regained the respect of his family after a wild period where he fell for a cancan dancer and thought to make her his future countess until she abandoned him for another man.  Now Denys is considering marrying his childhood friend while managing his family businesses.  Then Lola Valentine walks back into his life.  Having inherited half a theater from the man she left Denys for, Lola has returned to London to fulfill her dream of being an actress.  Denys finds himself an unwilling business partner of Lola.  Denys knows that Lola is bad for him but he has never been able to resist her.

OPINION: I don’t if I can express how much I loved this book.  A fallen woman.  Class differences.  Hero is a genuine nice guy.  Heroine is smart.  Setting someplace other than the ton balls. Second chance at love.  Accepting love requires sacrifice.  This hit so many of the points that make my heart soft and gooey.

I loved Lola.  This woman is a survivor.  Intelligent and self made.  She has taken risks and brought herself so far.  And yet she is haunted by the choices she has made to get where she needs to be.  Being with Denys challenges her because she feels unworthy because of her past and because of their class differences.  She let Denys before in order to protect him from the sting of their relationship, but she also wanted to save herself.  She has returned, older and stronger and perhaps willing to try harder.

Denys is adorable.  I love that he acknowledges his mistakes and tries to remedies them.  He is also completely devoted to Lola.  Even when he is hurt from her actions, he still treats her with more respect than other people.  I like that he attempts to understand her.  When he realizes that he did not know Lola as well as he assumed, he takes actions to remedy that.  It takes a brave man to toss everything he loves away for a woman and an even stronger one to try and convince those he loves to support her.

The romance between Denys and Lola begins in this book with them being equals in a way that they were not in their prior relationship.  Lola, especially, feels the inequality between them so it means something for the two of them to be equal business partners.  Their equality in business which Denys accepts become a proxy or a more equal personal relationship.  Their equality also refreshingly comes into their acceptance of their sexual history.  Denys realizes that he cannot condemn Lola for her sexual experience in light of his own. He cannot judge Lola and that allows him to see her in way that is personal and meaningful.

I adored that this book is about two people recognizing their mistakes, learning to trust and talk to one another and then just jumping into love with all it’s complications and pitfalls.  At the end of this book, Denys and Lola know that not everyone will accept their love but the important ones will.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I hope Pongo eventually gets his own story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  NO MISTRESS OF MINE is the fourth book in the An American Heiress in London series.  While characters from the other books make appearances, it is not necessary to have read those books to enjoy this one.  This book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: If I Only Had a Duke

Review: If I Only Had a DukeIf I Only Had a Duke by Lenora Bell
Series: The Disgraceful Dukes #2
Published by Avon on August 30, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Thea had made an error of epic proportions.

A tall, broad-shouldered, duke-sized error.”

FINAL DECISION:  Rollicking road trip with a man haunted by his brother’s death and the woman whose plans he ruins by making her a social success.  Filled with humor and great emotion, I greatly enjoyed this book.

THE STORY:  After three disastrous seasons and an infamous jilting at the altar by the duke who ended up marrying her illegitimate half-sister, Lady Dorothea Beaumont intends to get through one last season and then retire to her aunt’s estate in Ireland and freedom.  Then, the Duke of Osborne decides to single her out and make her popular by waltzing with her.  Dalton believed that he was avoiding Thea’s desire to trap him into marriage, but his actions incense Thea who insists that he help her escape.  But Dalton has secrets including his search for the man who destroyed his family.

OPINION:  For me, the highlight of this book was the witty relationship between Dalton and Thea that deepens as they two travel together and learn one another’s secrets.  The two begin by exchanging letters (one of my favorite devices).  Amusing and revealing, the letters jump start their relationship.  By the time they encounter one another in London, they each already have plans on how to deal with the other.  Both Thea and Dalton have hidden scars that are not obvious in their society roles.

Thea has been raised her whole life to make the perfect match.  When her debut was a failure, Thea knew that her lack of perfection reduced her importance to her family.  Feeling as if her only value is her marriage prospects, unable to form real relationships with others and lonely beyond belief, Thea has allowed life to happen to her.  When her plans for her future are upset by the duke’s actions, she begins to find out who she really is.  I loved the amusing personas that Thea tries on during her journey with Dalton which are truly all facets of her becoming the woman she wants to be.

Dalton is a man who appears to be an aimless rake about town but is actually a man with a secret identity hunting for the man who murdered his younger brother.  He, too, has been emotionally abandoned by his family.  He has a hard protective shell around himself, but inside he cares deeply about people.

The story of who murdered Dalton’s brother had a surprising ending, which I enjoyed.  I thought the story was in good proportion with the romance.  Enough to keep the book interesting, but not so much as to overwhelm the romance.

I enjoyed this book even more than the first in the series.  I thought that the characters had a more interesting emotional journey and their romance was more complex.  While humor is key component to both books, this one felt more complete and emotional (a quality I especially like in my romances).

Bell is a new author and I’m glad I took a chance on reading her books.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This hero has a bit of the Robin Hood/Batman flavor without being a duplicate of those stories.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  IF I ONLY HAD A DUKE is the second book in the Disgraceful Dukes series. It can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: A Scot in the Dark

Review: A Scot in the DarkA Scot in the Dark (Scandal & Scoundrel #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Scandal & Scoundrel #2
Published by Avon on August 30, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

Raw, Powerful Story of the Scot Who Rides to Rescue of the Scandalous Woman Who Can Save Herself

“Of course, she was the instrument of her own saving.

She was magnificent enough to save herself and the world in the balance.

If only she could save him, as well.”

FINAL DECISION:  Simply awesome.  A book I will read again and again, I loved this story of a man who comes to save a damsel in distress and finds a woman who ends up saving him.  A story about embracing the human mistakes that we make and being worthy of love.

THE STORY:  Lillian Hargrove was reputed to be the most beautiful, perfect woman in England.  Perhaps for that reason, society is thrilled when it is revealed that Lillian has scandalously ruined herself by posing for a nude painting that will be exhibited in public.  At this moment, Alec Stuart, who had inherited the dukedom of Warnick, unexpectedly and unwanted.  Alec learned that he also had inherited a ward, Miss Hargrove.  Alec comes to London to save Lillian from her own foolishness.

OPINION:  I can’t speak highly enough of the beauty and power of these characters Lillian and Alec.  They both are highly damaged people as the book begins. Unwanted, ignored, rejected, they both make bad decisions in their lives that cause them shame even as both Lillian and Alec assert their independence.

“Flaws saw flaws.”

Like sees like and Alec and Lillian recognize in one another in their pain and flaws.  Alec recognizes Lillian first and his response to her “transgression” is more understanding than she expects.  I fell in love with Alec because he doesn’t judge Lillian in the way the world does.  Despite what one might expect from the storyline of this book the conflict between the characters is not about Lillian’s mistake in posing for the portrait or her sexuality.

As the story begins, Lillian seems like the stereotypical damsel in distress who is waiting for a man to come rescue her.  Appearances are not truth, however.  Although Alec comes to rescue Lillian in the ways of men, she neither wants nor needs to be redeemed by him.

“I am in the market for neither guardian nor savior.  Indeed, if the last few years have taught me anything, it is that I would do well to save myself.  Play my own guardian.”

Lillian is the heroine of her own story.  But she is not immune to needing Alec.  Lillian doesn’t need Alec to rescue her, but she does need him to believe in her, support her, show her an example of a decent and caring man.

Both Alec and Lillian desperately want love.  It leads them into their “scandalous” activities.  Alec and Lillian’s relationship allows them to accept their own failings and recognize that mistakes allow them the ability to recognize true love and the unfailing decency in one another.

What I loved about this book is that there is no magic wand, no pretending that the scandal did not happen.  These characters look beyond scandal, accept the mistakes themselves and each other have made, and find decency and love.

This book is deeply emotional and completely engaged in the relationship between these characters.  MacLean has a way of writing angst and pain that breaks my heart, engages my mind and makes my spirit soar when the happy ending arrives.

This book will end up on my favorite books of the year list.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of Sarah MacLean’s other books get some glimpses of some familiar (and perhaps unfamiliar) characters.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A SCOT IN THE DARK is the second book in the Scandal & Scoundrel series.  Although there are some appearances by characters from other books, this book operates as a standalone.  No prior information is necessary.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: How the Duke was Won

Review: How the Duke was WonHow the Duke Was Won (The Disgraceful Dukes #1) by Lenora Bell
Series: The Disgraceful Dukes #1
Published by Avon on April 26th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 370
Goodreads
four-stars

“Four ladies.  Three days.  How bad can it be?”

FINAL DECISION: Funny and with unconventional characters, HOW THE DUKE WAS WON is a light and amusing Regency romance.  The unexpected characters and hysterical situations made this a winner.

THE STORY:  James, Duke of Harland requires a bride.  Having unexpectedly inherited the dukedom, he wants a bride who has a spotless reputation and is the epitome of what a duchess should be so that he can leave her in England to manage the dukedom’s affairs while he returns to his international interests.  To efficiently choose his bride, James invites four eligible women and their mothers to spend some time at hi estate so that he can choose among them.  One of the women is Lady Dorothea who is supposed to be a paragon but who quickly appears unconventional and attracts James despite his reluctance.  But Lady Dorothea has secrets.  The biggest one is that she is not Lady Dorothea at all but rather her illegitimate half-sister Charlene Beckett. Charlene has agreed to impersonate Lady Dorothea in order to secure a proposal from the duke. If Charlene does this she will gain a fortune which will allow her to care for those she loves.  The problem is that Charlene begins to care for the duke herself.

OPINION:  At points in this book I laughed hysterically.  This is definitely not your proper restrained Regency novel.  No, indeed, it is irreverent and tosses some tried and true Regency tropes on their head.

The hero is a duke, but he is neither stuffy nor conventional. At the same time, his view of what he needs in a wife is completely conventional and conservative.  He defaults to this view in order to keep his distance from any potential mate.  As Charlene tell him, James has become an expert at running away from love and connection.

Charlene may be impersonating her half sister, but despite her great accomplishments she has internalized the rejection that her father and society have given her.  Through her competition with the other ladies, she finds that she is not inferior in any way.  In fact, she wins the duke’s heart as well as the proposal.

I like that both James and Charlene are unconventional people and thus complement one another perfectly.  I loved how Charlene steals James’ heart despite his wish for a conventional wife.  The twist at the end as all is revealed endeared me further to him.

The only reason this isn’t a five star romance for me is that I generally prefer more drama and angst in my stories.  For a lighter, funny romance this one sparkles.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I suspect that we will see many of these characters again in future book in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HOW THE DUKE WAS WON is the first book in The Disgraceful Dukes series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars