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

Review: Marrying Winterborne

Review: Marrying WinterborneMarrying Winterborne (The Ravenels, #2) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on May 31st 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 416
Goodreads
four-stars

“I can’t be a gentleman,” he said hoarsely. “Not even for you.”

“You don’t have to be a gentleman. Only gentle.”

FINAL DECISION: Absolutely and completely adored Rhys, who might be one of my all time favorite Kleypas heroes.   I knocked down the rating a bit because I didn’t like Helen as much and became somewhat annoyed by her keeping secrets from Rhys.  Regardless, I overall enjoyed the book very much and look forward to the next in the series.

THE STORY: Rhys Winterborne is a Welsh commoner who has managed to create an business empire for himself. To complete his triumph he only needs an aristocratic wife to give him an entry into society.  Everything is going well with his engagement to Lady Helen Ravenel until their brief engagement is called off by Helen after their first kiss.  Then Rhys is surprised when Helen comes to him to plead with him to continue their engagement.  The gentle and quiet Lady Helen Ravenel seems a mismatch for the brash Rhys but something about him attracts her. She knows that she does not want to end their engagement although he overwhelms her. Helen scandalously comes to Rhys alone and is willing to do scandalous things in order to ensure their marriage.  As she falls for Rhys, however, Helen realizes that she has a secret that might destroy any chance they have together.

OPINION:  I would read this book again for no other reason that Rhys is so wonderful.  A self-made man who has the arrogance and determination required to be so, Rhys is also forwarding thinking, willing to adapt and change and take risks.  Incredibly supportive, understanding and really willing to do anything for Helen, I simply adored him.  What surprised me and endeared him to me most was his reaction once he discovered Helen’s secret.  Who could resist a man like that?

For me, the weakness of this book is Helen. She begins as a product of tradition and the stuffy aristocracy, but seems willing to break the chains in order to be with Rhys. Then he proceeds to keep secrets from him (which obviously will not be able to be kept secret) and fails to trust in him.  My annoyance with her grew as she takes bigger and bigger risks but won’t tell Rhys the truth.  (In comparison, Rhys is a saint).  It felt to me that she only revealed the truth when there was no other option rather than trusting in Rhys’ love for her.

I very much enjoyed this book and would read it again, but my reaction to Helen keeps this from being an instant classic for me.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Oh, oh I can’t wait for the next book of the series.  The preview for the next book gets 5 stars.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MARRYING WINTERBORNE is the second book of the Ravenels series.  Because the relationship between Rhys and Helen begins in the first book of the series, it is better to read that book first.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Hot in Hellcat Canyon

Review: Hot in Hellcat CanyonHot in Hellcat Canyon by Julie Anne Long
Series: Hellcat Canyon #1
Published by Avon on May 31st 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

“Somehow he’d forgotten the sort of pleasure that could be had in making someone happy for no reason at all.

“He frankly couldn’t think of the last time anyone else had tried to make him happy for no reason at all.”

FINAL DECISION:  Full of the emotional complexity, beautiful enthralling descriptions of love and stuggle and pain that readers have come to expect from Julie Anne Long, HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON is Long’s first contemporary.  Thankfully, the answer to the question of whether Long’s style could work in contemporary romance is an enthusiastic yes!

THE STORY:  Britt Langley is a waitress in Hellcat Canyon who has rebuilt her life in the protective womb of the small town.  Then a man walks into the diner where she works and threatens to blow her safe little world apart.  John Tennessee McCord, a small town boy, who grew up to be a Hollywood star, recognizes Hellcat Canyon’s small town atmosphere and finds himself pulled towards something there that he knows he has lost.  With a faltering career and an infamous breakup, J.T. seems to be guided to Hellcat Canyon by his broken down truck.  Two people who want no commitments begin an affair but find that what they find together is not what they expected.

OPINION:  I became a huge fan of Julie Anne Long through her Pennyroyal Green series. I found her books in that series to have a deeply emotional, lyrical quality with characters who are complex, clever and who always managed to capture my attention.  When I read that after her triumphant book THE LEGEND OF LYON REDMOND, Long was turning to contemporary books, I mourned a bit.  You see, I’ve been on this road before with authors who turn away from the very things that I loved about them to attempt a more popular genre.  So it was with not just a little trepidation that I began this book.

I’m happy to report that Long’s style has transferred beautifully to the contemporary genre.

HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON is not a modern version of Pennyroyal Green and yet there are similarities that I loved.  Long has a great ability to construct small towns with souls.  Hellcat Canyon feels like a place I might not have been but could imagine going with characters and relationships that feel classic and yet not stereotypical.  I laughed out loud at the owner of the local “inn” who collects cherub angels the quantity of which begins to drive J.T. crazy.  Yet Long does not leave this woman as a joke.  Her obsession is explained with sympathy which gives complexity to those quirky qualities which we all have.  I have a great fondness for books grounded in a strong sense of place and time. Hellcat Canyon is a place I feel I could visit and the reality of that place gives the book an automatic depth from which to build the relationship between Britt and J.T.

Britt and J.T. are both afraid of commitment. For different reasons, neither wants more than a short term affair when they first meet.  Painful pasts, fears and uncertainties plague both of them.  It becomes obvious, however, that despite their overt intentions, in their hearts, both are starving for love, protection, and acceptance.  The romance between them is beautifully constructed.  It is a story of small everyday moments, peaceful acceptance, and the intense joy of finding someone who cares for and about you.  Towards the end of the book J.T. gives a magnificent exegesis on love that captures for me the beauty of the relationship in this book: “But in real life, it’s the little things.  Maybe it’s peanut butter in the house because she knows you like it…And it’s in the silences.  In how you enjoy everyday things more, like reading, because she’s reading next to you.”

Not that there isn’t drama and angst in this book.  There are ex-girlfriends, and painful pasts and seemingly incompatible presents to be worked through for these two to find a HEA.  But the real essence of the book is the human experience of love and home.

I loved this book and I can’t wait to read about the couple in the next book in the series.  There seems to be some history there that ups the possibility for angst and drama.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Two words: billboard graffiti.  Read the book, you’ll understand.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HOT IN HELLCAT CANYON is the first book in the Hellcat Canyon series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 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.

five-stars

Review: This Heart of Mine

Review: This Heart of MineThis Heart of Mine (Chicago Stars, #5) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #5
Published by Avon on February 5th 2002
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 432
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Witty Story of Two Kindred Souls

THIS HEART OF MINE is the fifth novel in Phillips Chicago Stars series. Molly Somerville is the younger sister of the owner of the Chicago Stars. She has always been so perfect except for times when she has changed her hair — and then a reckless, self-destructive person has emerged. Kevin Tucker is the quarterback for the Chicago Stars and Molly has had a long-time crush on him. The two end up together and Molly takes advantage of Kevin while he is asleep. She ends up pregnant and they end up married. That is where the romance actually begins.

This book is not for everyone. Molly, in essence, rapes Kevin while he is sleeping. This premise will probably turn off some readers. Having lived through the bodice ripper romances, however, this did not prevent me from enjoying the romance. There is also a miscarriage and its emotional aftermath that I thought was dealt with in a realistic manner. Ultimately, I enjoyed this story of two people who want love so much but are afraid of being hurt. Phillips has a way of making a story funny and yet serious. The characters in her story make serious mistakes on their way to happiness, but I liked the journey. A Story that can make me smile ans sigh at the same time is special indeed.

I’d rate this a 4.5.

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four-half-stars

Review: The Earl Takes All

Review: The Earl Takes AllThe Earl Takes All (The Hellions of Havisham, #2) by Lorraine Heath
Series: The Hellions of Havisham #2
Published by Avon on April 26th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

“Don’t let her figure out that it’s me, the sneaky bastard who takes what isn’t his. Don’t let her realize that I’m not her husband.”

FINAL DECISION: I love how Heath creates situations between characters that seem impossible and then goes deep into the emotions of the characters to make a situation work out.  I thought this story would never work and yet Heath made it a lovely romance.

THE STORY: Edward Alcott returns from a safari with his dead twin but is himself masquerading as his twin.  It was his brother’s dying wish that Edward care for his wife who is pregnant. Edward intends on pretending to be his twin until his sister in law gives birth.  Pretending to be his brother is more difficult than he expected since Edward has been enamored of his sister in law for years.  Julia is surprised by the changes in her husband on his return.  He seems more wicked and bolder than the man she married.  As she falls even more in love, she can’t help but wonder what has changed her husband so much.

OPINION:  I often start a Lorraine Heath book thinking “there is no way she can make this work” sometimes I even hate the premise.  This book was difficult to imagine from the blurb of the book.  I couldn’t imagine that a relationship that begins with the hero impersonating his dead twin to his sister-in-law was going to work.  For the most part, the book did work. There were a couple of rough parts that called for more acceptance than analysis on my part, but I got wrapped up in the emotional journey of these characters that by the end, I was totally bound up with wanting their happy ending.

This book does demand some patience from its readers as (1) you have to accept that Julia would not recognize Edward’s impersonation of her husband and (2) you have to accept that she will ultimately forgive him for his deception.  Some readers might not be able to get past these hurdles, but accepting these premises allowed me to become absorbed by the emotional conflict in the story which is filled with love, guilt, pain and joy.

In the story, Edward begins as the typical rake, but we soon find out that he is hiding a love for Julia which he always believed was hopeless.  His masquerade of a thoughtless rake allowed him to mask his feelings.  By pretending to be his brother, Edward begins to lose control of those feelings and falls deeply in love with Julia.

I liked these characters and especially appreciated how Heath walks the line of Julia falling in love with both brothers without diminishing either of them.  This is a difficult task and is largely successful — even if I admit that I like Edward better.

The central conflict of the story becomes that even if Julia and Edward fall in love, the deception will have to continue because English law forbids a man from marrying his brother’s widow.  The resolution of this story might seem like a cheat to some, but I really liked that the solution, like the conflict itself, is based on historical fact.  Heath explains some of the real legal issues involved in her afterword.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of Heath’s other series might see some familiar faces.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE EARL TAKES ALL is the second book in the Hellions of Havisham series.  It can be read as a standalone although the first book of the series gives some further background on the characters and their connection to significant secondary characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Because of Miss Bridgerton

Review: Because of Miss BridgertonBecause of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys #1) by Julia Quinn
Series: Rokesbys #1
Published by Avon on March 29th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 375
Goodreads
four-stars

Bridgerton Prequel Spinoff That Satisfies High Expectations

FINAL DECISION: A worth successor (although a prequel) to the fabulous Bridgerton series, BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON is good with the feel of the Bridgerton novel with a whole batch of new characters, a different time period, and a different set of troubles.

THE STORY: Billie Bridgerton is what might be termed a tomboy. The eldest child, she loves the family estate and helps to run it, although she is denied the opportunity to inherit because she is a girl. She knows she will eventually marry and everyone (including her) expects that she will marry one of the Rokesby brothers, lifelong neighbors. There are so many choices between the brothers, but the one brother Billie never plans on hitching herself to is George, the heir of the earldom and the one that Billie can’t help but bicker and argue with. The two can’t stand one another and yet when they are thrust together unexpectedly, they find that the sparks they strike off one another might hide a passion for one another.

OPINION: I am a big fan of Quinn’s Bridgerton series. As a result, I worried that this book would be a disappointment because so many of those Bridgerton books are classics. For me, BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON doesn’t meet the best books of the Bridgerton series, but it would fall smack in the middle of the series. It is sold and satisfying and at times hilarious.

BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON has the wit and humor and genuinely nice characters for which Quinn is famous. I am a big fan of the “adversaries” to lovers trope. This one has hysterical situations between Billie and George. The two have known one another forever and yet never looked at one another in a romantic fashion before. Quinn is well known as having couples who fall in love slowly and unexpectedly. This story realistically portrays two people who grew up together but for the first time see one another as a romantic partner. I loved that they have so much in common and have a deep respect for one another which comes from their familiarity with one another. The romance in this one takes some time to develop but ultimately is sweet and fulfilling.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of THE VISCOUNT WHO LOVED ME’s infamous Pall Mall game will find another fabulous — and yet different — game here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BECAUSE OF MISS BRIDGERTON is the first book of the Rokesby series which is a prequel spin-off series to Quinn’s immensely popular Bridgerton series. This book can totally be read as a standalone even though there are lots of Easter eggs for fans of the Bridgerton series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Dream a Little Dream

Review: Dream a Little DreamDream a Little Dream (Chicago Stars, #4) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #4
Published by Avon on February 1st 1998
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 400
Goodreads
five-stars

A Story of Love After Loss

DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is the fourth novel in Phillips’ Chicago Stars series. It doesn’t actually deal with the Chicago Stars team, but rather is a spin-off of NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. DREAM A LITTLE DREAM is the story of Gabe Bonner, the younger brother of Cal Bonner in NOBODY’S BABY BUT MINE. Two years ago, Gabe suffered the loss of his beloved wife and son in a car crash. If not for his family, Gabe would have nothing to live for. He has abandoned everything in his life and is merely existing. Rachel Stone has come back to Salvation, North Carolina. Rachel is the hated widow of a discredited televangelist, but now lives in serious poverty with heroine year old son.

Gabe and Rachel are two people who have been smacked down by life. Both have great pain that they have to deal with in their journey to happily ever after. This story is more poignant and less funny than the other books in this series. It is not always easy reading about the relationship that Gabe has with Rachel’s son. Gabe is not very nice. I appreciated the realism of the story. It is a longer journey for Gave and Rachel’s so than for Gabe and Rachel. I really enjoyed the story and I was happy to get an update on Cal and Jane. There is also a sweet secondary story involving the youngest Bonner brother Ethan.

I highly recommend this book.

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five-stars

Review: Heaven, Texas

Review: Heaven, TexasHeaven, Texas (Chicago Stars, #2) by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Series: Chicago Stars #2
Published by Avon on April 1st 1995
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

Witty Novel About Opposites

HEAVEN, TEXAS is the second novel in the Chicago Stars series. It tells the story of Grace Snow who at the age of 30 is just beginning to live her life. She takes the job as an assistant for a movie company. Her job is to make sure that Bobby Tom Denton, one time star receiver, makes it to his first acting job. Bobby Tom, however, has no intention of listening to the mousy Grace. Grace is determined, however, and Bobby Tom for the first time in his life has met a woman that he cannot immediately win over.

Wonderful, wonderful novel. Phillips’ characters just leap from the page and the story while sometimes outlandish, is funny and heartwarming. I kept smiling throughout the book. At the same time, I thought the story was deep and emotional. The characters have to travel to reach their happy ending. This is a book to read again.

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five-stars