Review: A Daring Arrangement

Review: A Daring ArrangementA Daring Arrangement (The Four Hundred, #1) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Four Hundred #1
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Do we have a deal?”

FINAL DECISION: Big and brash and exciting, A DARING ARRANGEMENT is a great start to a new series set in America’s Guilded Age with characters who are navigating a new world with new rules and fall in love despite all their good intentions.

THE STORY: Lady Nora Parker, the daughter of an earl is sent in disgrace to America to find a husband, but Nora has no intention of conceding to her father’s wishes. Instead, Nora intends to find a thoroughly scandalous fiance that will make her father bring her back to London where she will be reunited with the man she loves. Nora finds the “perfect” candidate for fiance in Julius Hatcher, a rich self-made financial wizard who gets a lot of press for his notorious actions. Julius finds himself agreeing to Nora’s scheme because she can gain him entry into the social elite in New York, where Julius intends to discover the identity of the men who ruined his father. But instead of being the scandal that Nora wanted, she finds that Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiance and perhaps a man that Nora herself finds irresistible.

OPINION: I have become a great fan of Shupe’s Guilded Age books. In an era not often explored in historical romance, these books and characters feel fresh and innovative rather than relying on the same scenarios. The Guilded Age is a time of great change and disruption which is something that Shupe explores to great effect in A DARING ARRANGEMENT.

The collision in this book of the self-made man and the aristocratic woman brings a lot of energy to this story. Nora especially is asking herself who she is. She is a new woman in a time where the roles of women and especially aristocratic women are changing. She has strength and determination and wants to control her own life beyond expectations and social norms. Sexuality, social mores, gender roles and self-determination are all deftly explored here are Nora begins to remake herself in America. She finds support for her organized, bold and even wicked personality. She is brighter and stronger and different.

In the same way, the relationship between Julius and Nora also is involved in remaking norms. Their relationship feels more contemporary in many ways as the Guilded Age begins to move towards the modern world. Julius is just adorable in this story as he struggles with his feelings towards Nora while being determined to avoid marriage and entanglements. He is protective and caring and really sexy.

I found this story very compelling because it feels different. The stakes are murkier and so are the standards. The rules are being remade and worked out and it makes the relationship between Nora and Julius more unpredictable. These two have to work to figure out what their relationship will be as rules are being subverted all around them.

I really enjoyed this one and can’t wait for the next in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: Even though this series takes place in the same world as Shupe’s Knickerbocker series, there is no overlap since she moved to a new publisher.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DARING ARRANGEMENT is the first book in the Four Hundred series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss 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-half-stars

Review: Wilde in Love

Review: Wilde in LoveWilde in Love (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #1) by Eloisa James
Series: The Wildes of Lindow Castle
Published by Avon on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Frankly, she might as well have waved a red cloth in front of a bull. The uncivilized male inside him, the one who hated wearing a wig, had got wind of a hunt.”

FINAL DECISION: This was a lovely story that was incredibly funny and romantic. The characters were amazing. I generally prefer my books with more personal angst, but readers looking for a fun romantic historical romp will love this one.

THE STORY: In Georgian England, Lord Alaric Wilde, the “spare”, has returned to London after traveling the world to discover that he has become a sensation in his absence. He has become a true celebrity to his distress as he is chased by women all over the country who want a glimpse or a souvenir from the rakish explorer. Escaping to his father, the duke’s, castle, Alaric finds himself enamored of Miss Willa Ffynche who doesn’t want anything to do with the notorious Lord Alaric. Willa is a private person who keeps herself well disguised among society and has made herself a social success and wants nothing more than a quiet man to spend her life with. Definitely not Alaric — but his pursuit of her tempts her in ways she never expected.

OPINION: I had to think a lot about this book after I read it. I was not certain where to rate it and how to explain my feelings about it. I wavered between giving it 4 stars or 4 and a half stars because while the book wasn’t as dramatic as I tend to like them and the romance builds very slowly, I came away from the book still thinking about it. As I reviewed parts of it to write this review, I loved the characters and the humor so much that I think this book will grow on me as the series develops further.

And that is where I want to start this review — with the series. As the first book in the series, this book serves as an introduction to the Wilde Family. And I loved them. The characters are so big and bright and romantic that I immediately wanted to know all their stories. These are likable people and have such a family spirit together that endeared them to me.

Alaric is such a sweet, sexy and romantic character.  He falls for Willa so quickly and spends much of the book trying to win her. (I have to admit that I enjoy the books where the hero falls for the heroine early). His willingness to open himself up wide to Willa is so sweet. And he truly wants to know Willa which is so sexy. He is interested in her — her thoughts, those parts of herself that she hides from others, and he wants her to be herself with him.

Willa is a heroine who is discovering how to be herself. Her background has led her to present a social face and to keep her true self hidden. So much so, that she doesn’t really expect to be herself in life. Alaric desperately wants the imperfect Willa. The real person hiding behind all the Georgian finery and social polish.

This book is not only romantic but also laugh out loud funny. A bawdy farce of a play about Alaric’s life (including cannibals!), a pet skunk and mangy cat, naughty etchings of Alaric’s life, a hero that won’t be deterred from the woman he wants and a heroine determined to avoid him at all costs.  But this book not only has humor but has a deep heart to it.

The story is a slow build and you have to commit to it. The story isn’t slow, but the drama is smaller than in many books (Willa’s determination not to fall for the big public notorious Alaric) and therefore the book is more personal to these characters. While I prefer more dramatic stories generally, I really loved the humor and big romantic gestures of this book.

My final word on this book is that the cliffhanger as a prelude for the next book was so shocking that I don’t know how I’m going to last until the next book comes out.

WORTH MENTIONING: While the main romance is complete at the end of this book, there is a cliffhanger which sets up the story for the next book about a different couple.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WILDE IN LOVE is the first book in the Wildes of Lindlow Castle series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss 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-half-stars

Review: Dirty Dancing at Devil’s Leap

Review: Dirty Dancing at Devil’s LeapDirty Dancing at Devil's Leap by Julie Anne Long
Series: Hellcat Canyon #3
Published by Avon on August 29th 2017
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“He’d had nothing but good-natured scorn when she’d told him about her fantasy of slow dancing on Devil’s Leap to what she thought of as her namesake song, Roxy Music’s ‘Avalon’, ‘Of, Avalon. That’s just ridiculous. No one actually does that kind of thing in real life.'”

FINAL DECISION: Another simply lovely addition to the Hellcat Canyon series. Long has such a lyrical and beautifully emotional way of depicting characters who have come to Hellcat Canyon with their world ripped apart. A second chance at love romance filled with humor and deeply emotional moments, Avalon and Mac’s story is a welcome addition.

THE STORY:  Avalon Harwood has (temporarily) returned to Hellcat Canyon after her perfect relationship and business partnership has blown up and she needs time to make decisions. She comes home and finds an opportunity in purchasing the Coltrane estate. She intends on flipping the house as part of her dealing with her heartbreak. The estate has memories for Avalon. Her younger self worshiped the rich son Mac Coltrane until he broke her heart. After his father was convicted of fraud, the family fell apart. Mac has returned and when Avalon snaps up the house under his nose, he is determined to convince her to change her mind.

OPINION:  I can hardly express how much I love the Hellcat Canyon series. Each of the books has such a different romance. This book is a second chance at love story. Avalon and Mac had a chance together when they were younger, but Mac was spoiled and insecure and unable to recognize the value of what he had.

But he has recognized it in the intervening years.

“It took him a long time to adjust to her absence. He hadn’t realized that she was the lens he’d begun to see nearly everything through. That even though she was kind of a secret, she was also, in a way, his center of gravity. And when it was clear he was just never going to see her again, life had taken on a peculiar, almost dreamlike quality. What he did had ceased to matter because nothing had consequences in a dream.”

Both Avalon and Mac in this story have lived a non-consequential “dream” world in the intervening years. Life has happened to them. When they reunite, it is like they wake up and rediscover a life of meaning and value.

The story really revolves around the idea of living a life of active participation.  Avalon sees her “perfect” world fall apart and finds herself yearning for a life that reflects what decisions she makes — what she actually decides she wants rather than what happens to her.

Mac, too, has had to confront the absence of meaning in life. Growing up privileged, Mac accepted everything that his privilege entailed and tossed away those things that could bring meaning. Losing everything has forced him to figure out how to start from the bottom and create a life that he wants. He has done this in the financial world and in his business life, but it takes the reappearance of Avalon for him to find out what actually has meaning in life.

I loved these characters and I loved their interaction. A book that is almost entirely centered on the estate, the “claustrophobia” of Mac and Avalon’s interaction allows them to have some of the funniest banter and one-ups-man-ship that I have read. These two are completely competitive with one another and they know one another so well (and yet they have so many secrets and mysteries from the intervening years), that they can needle one another. I laughed and snickered at Avalon and Mac’s antics.

In a wonderful manner, the humor and lightness turns into deeply emotional and revealing events. Mac and Avalon not only know one another, but they have hurts which can only be healed by one another.

As the title itself expresses, this book is about finding meaning. As we learn, Mac has mocked Avalon’s dream of dancing on Devil’s Leap seeing it as hokey and silly. One might guess that through his examination and refocusing on his life and encountering true relationship with Avalon, he invests Avalon’s dream with intense meaning and significance on a personal level between them.

The worst part of this series is having to wait to read the next book.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I really missed the Eternity Oak in this story along with the quirky town characters since this book is really focused on the Coltrane estate.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  DIRTY DANCING AT DEVIL’S LEAP is the third book in the Hellcat Canyon series. The series has continuing characters, but this romance is completely self contained. In fact, this book is only tangentially related to the rest of the series and most of the continuing characters don’t make any appearances so this book can be read completely on its own.  (But this series is so good, go ahead and read the others as well).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss 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-half-stars

Review: The Day of the Duchess

Review: The Day of the DuchessThe Day of the Duchess (Scandal & Scoundrel, #3) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Scandal & Scoundrel #3
Published by Avon on June 27th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

“I am Seraphina Bevingstone, Duchess of Haven. And I require a divorce.”

“The only woman he’d ever loved. The only woman he’d ever hated.”

FINAL DECISION:  Fabulous. The villain of the first book becomes a hero and the woman he wronged becomes a strong, independent woman who makes him pay for being an ass. The book just works on so many levels, but a reader has to be willing to give the jerk a chance.

THE STORY:  Seraphina and Malcolm Bevingstoke, the Duchess and Duke of Haven, have been apart for over three years.  Mal viciously sent Sera away when he discovered that she planned to have them found in a compromising situation in order to force their marriage.  Now Sera has returned demanding a divorce. Mal has promised her the divorce she wants if she helps him find her replacement.  The two are to spend the summer together, but Mal has no intention of finding a new wife when he has finally gotten the one he wants to return to him.

OPINION:  This is a powerful and angst filled book. There is no easy road for these characters who are complex and not always the easiest to cheer on.  This book is not for everyone.  Before this book even begins, readers of the series know that Haven has been unfaithful.  Caught in the act, he was pushed into a fish pond by his sister-in-law (kicking off the events in A ROGUE NOT TAKEN).  I will be honest with you friends.  There is no mistake, no wishy washy out, no hidden secret to take away that truth.  The hero of this book was unfaithful to the heroine after they had met, fallen in love and married. For some readers, that might be a deal breaker which turns them away from this book, but I hope not.  This book deserves a chance because the reality is rich and complex and the journey difficult and worthwhile.

The reality of what happened between Mal and Sera in the past is dark and nuanced and has an explanation.  Not an excuse, not a justification, but an explanation and an understanding.  There is no justification for Mal’s actions and, in truth, he doesn’t seem to want to justify his past actions.  The question this book is interested in is different.  Is there a way forward in a relationship where the foundation was intertwined with lies and deceit and betrayal?

The structure of this book interweaves the past and the present.  Beautifully conceived, the very structure and form serves to tell the entire story of Mal and Sera but also clearly demonstrates how the past haunts these characters.  Their obstacle is the past which is both horrible and beautiful in parts.

I find myself most satisfied by books that delve deeply into the emotional life of the characters and MacLean is a master of this type of story.  Can these characters understand and accept the past and move forward?  Is it even possible for forgive the past which will never be forgotten?  For that is at the heart of the conflict.  Sera and Mal will never be able to forget the past.  They can only accept is and decide if they love one another enough to be willing to build a future together.

This was a difficult book for me.  I finished it a week ago and knew that I would give it a 5 star review, but I didn’t know how to approach the review.  I needed to let the story and the characters settle with me.  I ultimately loved this book because the conflict these characters have is real and genuine and seemingly insurmountable.  But that is also its beauty.  They can move forward, they can love one another again in a better and more honest way. Perhaps that is what I most like about this book.  Flawed and damaged people also can find love and are entitled to their happy endings — even if they have done terrible things, even if they have made mistakes and are not perfect.

Isn’t that hope for all of us?

WORTH MENTIONING:  Spoiler! Spoiler! Content Warning!

There is a miscarriage depicted in this book for those who might be sensitive to the content.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS is the third book in the Scandal & Scoundrel series.  While this story is independent of the others of the series, Mal and Sera’s story is part of both of the prior books in the series.  This book is just better if you have read the others (especially A ROGUE NOT TAKEN).

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband

Review: The Girl with the Make-Believe HusbandThe Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys, #2) by Julia Quinn
Series: Rokesbys #2
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“Husband? They were calling him her husband? Was he married? He couldn’t be married. How could he be married and not remember it? Who was this woman?”

FINAL DECISION:  Behind the British lines in the American Revolutionary War, this intense and emotional story of a husband and wife learning one another is a winner.  The twist? They aren’t actually married but only she knows it.

THE STORY:  Edward Rokesby awakes in a military hospital in the American colonies, he has a hole in his memory of what he was doing on an assignment in Connecticut.  Months are missing during which he apparently also acquired a wife he does not remember — Cecilia Harcourt.  The sister of Edward’s best friend, she has come from England in search of her brother who is missing.  There is a good reason that Edward doesn’t remember marrying Cecilia — they are actually not married.

OPINION:  An usual Julia Quinn book with less humor and more seriously emotional content.  Quinn’s books always have an underlayer of seriousness but usually there is more amusing events.  This book is quickly more serious than I expected.  With a different setting (the colonies during the American Revolution) and much of the action taking place in confined settings (so much happens in the four walls of a room) and a different emotional temperature, this book feels more fresh and different than other Quinn books while retaining the wonderful and likeable characters.

One of the best parts of this book is that both Edward and Cecilia are such nice people. Yet, circumstances twist them up and make them do things that they don’t anticipate.  This story is how two people who seem like they should have an easy road to happiness together become so mixed up that it seems like their happily ever after will pass them by.  The story goes deep into these characters as these semi-strangers begin to get to know one another.

I would say that this is a slowly developing story, but I don’t want to give the impression that the story is boring.  No, this is the story of two people who are discovering one another.  The deception that lies between them and the search for Cecilia’s brother has enough drama to keep the story interesting even as these two talk and laugh and cry and know one another.

I also especially enjoyed the change in venue to the colonies — especially because we get a glimpse of the British side of the war (which is not the usual side in this time period). Moving away from the expected place gives energy to the story as these new details suffuse the story was new relationships and details.  (Plus, I’m glad that we finally get a glimpse of a significant event that is often missing from historical romance books of the period).

I liked this book much better than the first in the series primarily because I really liked these characters who feel like nice people trapped in a situation that they cannot control which challenges their essential goodness.

WORTH MENTIONING:  It is pretty obvious who the next book in the series will be about.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE GIRL WITH THE MAKE-BELIEVE HUSBAND is the second book in the Rokesby series.  It is not necessary to have read the first book in the series since this book is only loosely connected and the other characters of the series only make a very brief appearance.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss 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: An Affair with a Notorious Heiress

Review: An Affair with a Notorious HeiressAn Affair with a Notorious Heiress (Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James, #4) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James #4
Published by Avon on May 30th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION:  Lyrical and emotional story of a woman who is a scandal and the man who wants to avoid scandal and yet ends up not wanting to avoid her.  I loved the unexpected sweetness and romance of this story.

THE STORY:  Alistair Mabry, Marquess of Rexton and future duke, has no plans to marry soon, but when he does he will choose a bride with a perfect reputation.  His own childhood showed him the consequences of being the child of a scandalous union.  While he loves his parents, he has no desire to repeat their story.  When he is asked to court a young sweet woman in order to help her marriage prospects, he agrees, but finds himself spending more time thinking about her older and scandalous sister, Tillie, Lady Lansdowne.  Divorced after her affair with a footman became known, the American heiress lives separate from society but is determined to see her sister happily married.  She doesn’t think that Rexton is the man for her sister, but can’t stop thinking about him herself.

OPINION:  This book follows two books that are among my all time favorites.  The stories of Rexton’s parents and that of his sister are so heartbreakingly beautiful.  As I began this book, I was honestly a bit disappointed because I thought Rexton’s attitude toward his mother’s past was not worthy of the oldest son of his parents.  As the book progressed, however, I fell in love with Rexton and understood his position (even if thought it misguided).

Heath has a marvelous way of making the romance between Rexton and Tillie seem completely hopeless. There seems to be no future for these characters, but all that is needed is complete and utter surrender to love.  I am always done in by Heath’s way of ripping into my emotions.  This romance is quieter and sweeter than I expected — perhaps because their outward challenges are so large and overwhelming.

I love watching these two fall in love.

The man who thinks that he wants perfection, but discovers that all he really wants is love — even if it is messy and imperfect — and perhaps because it is. The woman who has been so thoroughly disappointed by love that she fears risking any part of herself again. And perhaps she has internalized her lack of worth because no one has ever put her first.

The story slowly built until reaching a wonderful crescendo.  This book wasn’t as gut wrenching as my other favorites in this world, but the intense sweetness was worth the journey.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of the series will be pleased to see quite a bit of Rexton’s family.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  AN AFFAIR WITH A NOTORIOUS HEIRESS is the fourth book in the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series.  The book can be read as standalone, but honestly is much better after reading both the Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James series and the connected series about the parents generation, the Scoundrels of St. James series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE:  I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss 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-half-stars

Review: Just One Touch

Review: Just One TouchJust One Touch (Slow Burn, #5) by Maya Banks
Series: Slow Burn #5
Published by Avon on May 23rd 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 352
Goodreads
three-half-stars

“But the simple truth was that he needed her every bit as much as she needed him, and he couldn’t come up with a reason that made any sense to him.”

FINAL DECISION:  A good romantic suspense with a paranormal bent.  The weakest part of the story is the instant love between the main characters.  That being said, the two are a good match and the story is well paced and filled with twists.

THE STORY: Isaac Washington comes out to his car after getting coffee and bagels to find someone attempting to steal his vehicle.  Instead of the thief he expected, Isaac finds Jenna — a young abused woman who is fleeing for her life.  When Isaac is shot by her pursuers, he finds out why.  Jenna saves Isaac’s life when she heals his mortal wound.  Once he meets her, Isaac, who works for Devereaux Security is determined to use his skills to protect this vulnerable woman.

OPINION:  This was a good suspense story with a paranormal twist as is true of the other book in the Slow Burn series.

The main weakness of the story from my view is the instant love aspect.  Before the two even know anything about one another, there is something between them.  (That works in many books where there is a paranormal or supernatural aspect, but here there is no “mate” or explanation for the instant connection).  But this book is anxious to get into the suspense story and deep into the potential of the relationship.  I can put aside my initial disbelief in the instant love if the rest of the story is good…and this one worked for me.

Isaac is a strong alpha protector and is determined to protect Jenna and make those who have harmed her pay.  While he is possessive, he is also completely devoted to Jenna from almost the moment that they meet.  He throws over everything in his life to help her.  While the devotion appears unrealistic at times, it also jacks up the tension and suspense in the story because the immediate devotion he has for Jenna makes the story move.

Jenna begins the story abused and weak.  But she does not stop there.  Much of the story is about Jenna discovering herself and obtaining autonomy over herself.  There are quite a few twists and turns in the story and I don’t want to give any of the plot away because the suspense is an essential part of the story.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Readers should be willing to accept Banks version of the Alpha male who is possessive with a lot of talk about the heroine belonging to him.  Some might find it a little too aggressive and controlling.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  JUST ONE TOUCH is the fifth book in the Slow Burn series.  While there are overlapping characters, this story is independent of others in the series and can be read alone.  There are plenty of appearances by the characters from the other books and readers of those books will be happy for the updates.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3.5 stars.

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

three-half-stars

Review: Blame It on the Duke

Review: Blame It on the DukeBlame It on the Duke (The Disgraceful Dukes, #3) by Lenora Bell
Series: The Disgraceful Dukes #3
Published by Avon on April 18th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

“She’s insulted him, lied to him, and done everything in her power to repel him…and somehow ended up completely charming him.”

FINAL DECISION:  Loved, loved, loved this one.  Quirky and funny with incredibly serious and heartbreaking turns, this book ended up being my favorite of the series.

THE STORY:  Nicholas, the future of Duke of Barrington intended to never marry but rather enjoy his debauched life until the madness that runs in his family claimed him as well.  When his father gambles him away in marriage to the daughter of a rich merchant, Nicholas eventually ends up making a deal with his “fiance” Miss Alice Tombs. Alice doesn’t want to marry either…she has spent three years avoiding that outcome by scaring off suitors.  But Nicholas’s proposal tempts her.  The two will marry and spend one month together and then she will be free to pursue her interests in travel and scholarly pursuits and Nicholas will be free to pursue his scandalous life.

OPINION:  I absolutely loved this book — and not how I expected to.  From the first book in the series, I fell in love with Alice — a woman willing to use her intelligence to avoid an unwanted marriage.  She was incredibly funny with her incessant chattering about strange subjects that manage to repel unwanted suitors.  From the moment she discovers that her father has won her a fiance, Alice goes to work to try the same tactics on Nicholas.  But he sees her in a way that she never expected.

And what can be more attractive than a hero who actually wants to know the heroine’s dreams?  Nicholas is a man who knows that he has no future and so he is only living for today.  With a family history of madness, Nicholas plans never to marry, never to have children, but rather lead as big and scandalous life he can until the family madness claims him as well.  I adored Nick. In the same way that Alice begins to learn more about Nick, the readers also discover that there is far more to him than she or we expect when we meet the man putting on scandalous shows.  Despite his despair about his own life, Nick is determined to launch Alice into a wonderful future.  And the truth is that Nick’s life hides a great deal of pain and fear and desperation.

The book deals in a wonderfully thoughtful and realistic way the pain of mental illness.  Nick suffers both as a son and because of his own fear of descending into mental illness.  Mental illness is not usually a topic in romance books — especially not when it might effect the main characters.  Here, Nick is living with it every day.  The isolation, the fears, the anger, the pain are all depicted here.  I don’t want to give away more of the book but I loved how the events played out in this book. It was beautifully constructed and is immediately on my keeper shelf.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Yes, there is an Alice in Wonderland theme going in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  BLAME IT ON THE DUKE is the third book in The Disgraceful Dukes series.  While the characters appear in other books in the series, this book can be read on its own.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: The Truth About Love and Dukes

Review: The Truth About Love and DukesThe Truth About Love and Dukes (Dear Lady Truelove, #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke
Series: Dear Lady Truelove #1
Published by Avon on March 28th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“We love who we love, Henry. Love can’t bend to one’s will.”

FINAL DECISION:  A cold, old-fashioned man and a woman who works publishing a newspaper.  These two should be complete opposites, but instead is an unveiling of the true nature of the selves.

THE STORY:  Henry, Duke of Torquil is determined to make “Lady Truelove” pay for advising his mother to go with her heart and marry a penniless artist.  When he goes to confront the writer at the paper, he meets Irene Deverill, the publisher (and secretly Lady Truelove herself).  When he demands that Irene fix the problem that she caused, the two are put into close contact.  An attraction turns into an affair that threatens the lives each is seeking to lead.

OPINION:  Can I be honest?  Henry starts out the book being pretty much an arse about everything.  Determined that his life go smoothly, he is arrogant, self-absorbed and a definite snob.  Jerk is another name for him.  But isn’t it good when he gets his comeuppance?  Just you wait till the end of the book.

I am always impressed when an author can draw readers into a character such that an unsympathetic character can be understood and ultimately become a hero.  Gurhke does such a good job here.  Henry hides a sensitive soul under old-fashioned, rigid behavior.

Just what he needs is the unconventional vibrant Irene.  A woman who has expanded her horizons (somewhat from necessity until she decided she liked it), Irene is a suffragist and a businesswoman.  She is unconventional and believes deeply in love.

The romance between these two starts out slowly and it appears that they are doomed to be a mismatched.  But as we get to know these two, we find out that they both are the caretakers of their families.  As the superficial layers of the two are peeled away, it becomes clear that the two have more in common than they expected.  That combined with an intense passion leaves them both with the question — what will they give up for love?

Another part of this book that I really like is that it sits on the edge between traditional and modern society.  Taking place in the age of indoor plumbing and telephones, there is a real tension between the old ways and the new ones.  The characters have to confront this reality again and again.  It is a refreshing spot for a romance and I really enjoyed it.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I wish we had learned more about Henry’s mother and her lover.  Their story fascinated me as well.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE TRUTH ABOUT DUKES is the first book in the Dear Lady Truelove series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

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