Review: Waiting for an Earl Like You

Review: Waiting for an Earl Like YouWaiting For an Earl Like You (Masters of Seduction, #3) by Alexandra Hawkins
Series: Masters of Seduction #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 352

FINAL DECISION:  This book was fine, but I never felt compelled to find out what happened.  The story moved too slowly to build up interest and the premise of twin switching without the heroine knowing the difference seemed too unlikely unless the men dressed identically all the time.

THE STORY: Justin Reeve Netherwood, Earl of Kempthorn nicknamed Thorn has a twin brother Gideon.  The two have been at odds for years. Now that Gideon has returned from his travels, a woman from their childhood has returned to their lives.  Miss Olivia Lydall has been friends with Gideon for years. When she seeks him out asking for advice, Gideon kisses her instead. What Olivia doesn’t know is that it is actually Thorn who is kissing her.  Thorn can’t tell her but intends on nudging her away from any potential interest in Gideon.  Unfortunately for Thorn, he wants her for himself but can’t tell her the truth.

OPINION:  The premise of this book interested me, but the execution left me finishing the book but having little interest in reading more.

The idea of a man impersonating his twin and falling for a woman while he becomes twisted in his own lies seemed intriguing as a premise.  But the execution of the story left me stopping and starting this book and instead of being wrapped up in the story, I started nitpicking it.  I never got past the idea that a grown man could impersonate his own twin brother again and again — while the two men were in the same place.  I kept thinking that either these men strangely dress identically as adults or the heroine must be incredibly unobservant.

I never could care very much about these characters. The idea of the reserved, brooding brother being in love with the woman who has a friendship with the reckless more open brother seemed interesting, but I didn’t like Thorn much for how he was entirely willing to impersonate his brother. He didn’t seem as heroic because it seemed that he had no good reason for doing so other than the fact that he and his brother have switched before.

This was an okay read.  The story itself was well written and there were some very funny moments, but it isn’t a book I would pick up again.

WORTH MENTIONING:  There are appearances by characters from the other books in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  WAITING FOR AN EARL LIKE YOU is the third book in the Masters of Seduction series.  I have not read any of the other books in the series. This book works fine as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 2 stars.

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


Review: Intense Pleasure

Review: Intense PleasureIntense Pleasure by Lora Leigh
Series: Bound Hearts #14
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on January 3rd 2017
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Pages: 320

“Their weakness.”

FINAL DECISION: A menage story, but more than that.  This is a great suspense story with some hot sexy moments with two brothers and their fellow agent thrown in.

THE STORY: After years of working as an agent, Summer has had enough.  But when her identity is revealed and an enemy intends to eliminate her, two men who worked closely with her for years come to help her.  Falcon and Raeg are half-brothers who share their work and their women.  Now they want to protect Summer and there is a strong attraction between them all.  But Falcon and Raeg have secrets of their own and it might mean that having summer will break the brothers apart.

OPINION:  This book is grounded in the suspense story of the man hunting Summer and also the secrets that Falcon and Raeg have. There are two dangerous stories at play here and plenty of action to satisfy readers.

Summer is a complex woman.  A longtime agent, she can take care of herself.  Yet Falcon and Raeg are surprised by the woman they see when she is with her family. She is sexually attracted to both men and willing to engage in a relationship that many would see as extreme and yet Summer is also entirely emotionally attached to these two men from the beginning.  She is hurt by the standoff nature of Raeg. She is also haunted by the necessity of her killing the woman she thought of as her best friend — even though the woman betrayed Summer and resulted in the enemy who is hunting Summer now.

Falcon is the most approachable of the brothers. Charming and easy going is what people see in him and yet he also possesses a dominant side which comes out with Summer.  I loved that Falcon likes brushing Summer’s hair.  That attribute is so sweet and yet so sexy. He is the more open of the brothers to Summer’s allure. Although he wants his brother as part of their relationship, he insists that Raeg be an equal partner and not absent himself emotionally from the relationship.

Raeg is especially haunted by the brothers past.  While Falcon can accept that they might not be able to hold Summer forever and yet wants what he can have today, Raeg is afraid of emotionally opening himself up.  He is the dark, brooding, jerky brother. His dominance is dark and especially strong. It is his emotional journey which makes up most of the romantic conflict in this story.

The relationship in this book is complex. The two brothers are different and each fulfills something different for Summer. Having a triangle romance emotionally is a difficult enterprise especially where there are secrets and difficulties that the brothers are not revealing. Half of this book is about the developing relationship between the three main characters and the remainder is the suspense story which keeps the plot moving quickly.

The one weakness of this story is that what happened with these characters before the beginning of this book appears central to the connection between these characters (working together and being “friends” for eight years) and yet that building of the relationship is completely absent.  Everything happens offstage and thus truly feeling the connection between these characters is more difficult to feel for the first half of the book.

Despite this, I enjoyed this book and it fits right in the Bound Hearts series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This is a MMF romance with an emotional as well as a sexual relationship between each of the men and the woman.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  INTENSE PLEASURE is the fourteenth book in the Bound Hearts series, but this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

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


Review: Wicked Pleasure

Review: Wicked PleasureWicked Pleasure by Lora Leigh
Series: Bound Hearts #9
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on April 24th 2012
Genres: Contemporary, Erotica
Pages: 400

FINAL DECISION:  Filled with angst and drama, this is my favorite of the series. Cam is a tormented man desperately trying to keep the woman he loves without revealing his pain and torment. Sexy and emotional, this is a well rounded book.

THE STORY: Jaci Wright has loved Cam Falladay since she was a child but for seven years she has been running from Cam and his twin brother Chase.  When she was twenty one she thought that she was finally going to get the night she wanted with Cam until she found out that Chase is part of the deal. Her current job for the Club (unknown to Jaci the Club is a menage club) brings her back into the Falladays sphere.

OPINION:  This book depicts a difficult relationship.  Cam and Jaci love one another from the start of this book but both have secrets. In Cam’s case, his secrets prevent him from having a normal relationship with Jaci. He cannot sleep with a woman, cannot hold and comfort her, and he needs to keep himself emotionally removed during sex. Despite this, Cam is a strong man. He has survived and managed to cope as well as he could.  Now Jaci is demanding more that survival from Cam and his coping mechanisms are crumbling.

The two have a very difficult relationship journey in this book. Abuse, pain, shame, despair, love, desperation, desire are all explored in this book.  Jaci is incredibly strong in this book.  It is her love, her devotion, her ability to love Cam even when he is acting like a jerk that centers this book. Her willingness to accept Cam’s limitations even for a short time and yet continue to push his boundaries makes this book.

The menage relationship is also more complicated here. Jaci and Chase are friends, and they both love Cam. The menage relationship is exciting for them but it is also a way for both of them to connect with Cam who keeps himself closed up most of the time. The menage is neither one where there is a romantic love between the woman and the two men nor one where the man is just a third functionary. Chase, Cam and Jaci have an emotional connection that goes beyond sex but doesn’t involve romantic love between Jaci and Chase. Leigh is pushing and exploring different versions of the menage relationship as the Bound Hearts series continues.

I enjoyed this book.  Sexy and hot, it also has a deep emotional core between the characters.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book has a MMF menage within a MF relationship.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  WICKED PLEASURE is book 9 in the Bound Hearts series.  This book can be read on its own.  The series is connected only by the appearances of characters. The story is self contained.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: The Legendary Lord

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

Review: The Legendary LordThe Legendary Lord (Playful Brides) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #6
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on November 1st, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 318

Funny and Yet Deep Emotional Undertones

FINAL DECISION:  A man must take the risk to get what he wants and a woman who must upset expectations and disappoint others.  THE LEGENDARY LORD starts with two people who are obviously meant for one another but have to fight their own natures to be together.  Funny at moments but emotional as the two are seemingly destined to be apart. I loved the characters and the resolution.  A winner!

THE STORY:  Christian Forester, Viscount Berkeley, has many women friends but no woman to call his own.  Every woman he might be interested in becomes his dear friend instead.  Retreating to his hunting lodge in Scotland, Christian doesn’t know how to proceed.  When he arrives, he is held at sword point by a beautiful young woman who turns out to be Sarah Highgate, a woman who has run from her arranged engagement to a marquess.  Now Sarah is beginning to have regrets for her flight because she realizes that she will disappoint her parents and be ruined.  Christian realizes that he can be a friend and help Sarah avoid scandal and return to London.  In exchange, Sarah offers to give Christian advice on how to change his image and become a Legendary Lord — the gentleman of the season — in order to find a wife.  The problem becomes that Christian soon realizes that the woman he really wants is the one that he truly can only be a friend to — Sarah.

OPINION:  A hero who convinces the heroine to return to an arranged marriage and then regrets it.  A heroine who wants to find love but is convinced to settle for the approval of her parents.  These two are seriously mixed up.  That is what makes them interesting because they are both struggling against convention and expectations.

Christian is a man who has made a habit of saving women and becoming friends with them.  Unconcerned about town life, Christian is only serviceable in dress and he is more friendly than flirty.  When he meets Sarah, she offers to help remake his image — and she does.  As with image, however, Christian remains who he truly is.  As Sarah discovers, there are reasons that Christian remains single that has nothing to do with his clothes or image.  I loved Christian because he is kind and supportive and he treats women well.  I like that he has women friends (characters from the prior books in the series that he has helped) and he treats them as equals.  They treat him as a beloved brother who they needle and care for.

Sarah was more difficult for me to immediately like because she starts out in such a great spot — having taken a chance to run from her arranged marriage, but then experiences regret such that she is willing to return to her fiance to satisfy her parents (who I heartily disliked!)  The question I had to ask was what other choices did Sarah really have.  Sarah’s opinions don’t matter to her parents because society accepted that.  To reject her parents’ choice would mean that not only would Sarah lose the love of those she cared about but her physical and financial security as well.  It’s not easy being a rebel without support.

The story of Christian and Sarah is ultimately about commitment — about putting yourself out for those you love — about taking huge chances.  These two people who mostly play it safe, but there can be nothing safe in love — especially when you have to risk scandal to be together.

Christian and Sarah have different types of risks and challenges in their relationship.  As much as Christian says he wants to marry, he is afraid of emotionally risking himself. As much as Sarah says she wants love, she is afraid of the approbation of her parents and society.   Both claim to want to love, but neither wants to take the first scary step.

Balancing the mild angst in this book is humor from the heroines of the prior books in the series.  As they scheme to push Sarah and Christian in the right direction, I laughed at their meddling ways and urged them on when it appeared that Sarah and Christian might miss their chance to be together.

I find it immensely satisfying to read about characters that I like and who I can identify with.  Neither of these characters wants to be in the limelight.  I can imagine them leading a happy and quiet life together after the pages of this book end and living happily ever after.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Keep an eye out for a romance that is certainly on the horizon with Sarah’s brother.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE LEGENDARY LORD is the sixth book in the Playful Brides series.  While there are appearances by continuing characters of the series, this book gives you everything you need to know and thus is a complete standalone as well.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: It Must Be Christmas

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

Review: It Must Be ChristmasIt Must Be Christmas: Three Holiday Stories by Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward, Mandy Baxter
Series: , Billionaire's Club #4
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 4th 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384

This is an anthology of three previously released novels/novellas all themed around Christmas.

HOT TOY by Jennifer Crusie

The story is cute and sweet. There is only the beginning of a romance since the story is so short, but it is a nice Christmas treat.  Trudy Maxwell, college librarian, is on the hunt for the hot Christmas toy for her nephew when she encounters Nolan Mitchell. Trudy had thought that Nolan was “the One” until after three dates, he didn’t call her again. Now Nolan wants another chance, but Trudy doesn’t want to risk herself again.  This is a cute and sweet Christmas romance with some twists. When the story started, I didn’t expect where the story would go, but it kept the plot interesting. The romance was cute and funny as Nolan followed Trudy around trying to convince her to give him another chance. The weakness was that the story was so short that there wasn’t much to the characters and the plot dominated.  Rating: 3.5 Stars


Dr. Charlie Yang gets some surprises for Christmas.  First, the man who she has been watching from afar ends up at the same church as her preparing for the Christmas season.  Charlie has been attracted to the ex-SEAL Dave Ricker but it is easier to imagine at a distance than risk her heart with a man who seems her opposite.  Second, Charlie and Dave find an infant left in the manger and Charlie finds herself unable to turn away from the little Christmas miracle.  The story had such promise. There were several stories that could have been explored: uptight doctor versus free thinking man, second families, the found baby.  Unfortunately, I don’t think that any of these stories were truly explored.  Instead, I kept waiting for something to happen in the book.  I don’t mind slow, thoughtful stories, but I want some payoff.  The first half of the book was Charlie saying this guy can’t be right for me; the second half was Dave saying, I don’t think want the same things.  I never really got any connection with these characters; I never truly felt that we explored the characters emotional foibles.  I just ended up with a “eh” feeling at the end.  Rating: 2 stars.


Nate Christensen has an inheritance from a father he could barely stand.  He doesn’t want the inheritance or all that goes with it.  Chloe Benson comes to the memorial intending to ask for money for her charity. Instead, she ends up hooking up with Nate.  This is a sexy, sexy book.  I loved how the two first have an instantaneous attraction that moves to emotional connection and love.  For such a short length, this story has energy with characters that I really connected with.  I ended up just wanting to read more about these two. It is a tricky proposition to make sex so central to the beginning of a relationship and yet allow the characters to develop an emotional connection that feels deep and real.  Baxter walks that line very well.  I liked this book so much that I ended up buying to stories of Nate’s brothers as well.  Rating: 4 stars.


Review: Hero in the Highlands

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

Review: Hero in the HighlandsHero in the Highlands (No Ordinary Hero, #1) by Suzanne Enoch
Series: No Ordinary Hero #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on October 4th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384

“Adam looked liked he’s swallowed a bug.  Gabriel, though, didn’t feel nearly as annoyed as his aide looked; she’d called him by his given name in front of someone else.  It shouldn’t have mattered in the slightest, but it did.  Covering his abrupt urge to smile by turning his back to collect Jack, he couldn’t explain even to himself what seemed to be happening, except that in the midst of this chaos and fristration at the stubborn nonsense keeping him from his duties, he felt…easier.  Not quite relaxed, because God knew he’s stepped from one battle direction into another, but lighter.  Because of her, and her relentless pushing at his well-established sensibilities.  It would never serve him in Spain, but here humor seemed to be an essential part of dealing with Highalnders and the Highlands.  And it felt like it had been a very long time since he’d laughed.”

FINAL DECISION:  The is an enjoyable read that is focused a lot on the plot.  The romance between Gabriel and Fiona is not that complex.  Definitely external problems that keep these two apart.

THE STORY:  Major Gabriel Forrester has dedicated his life to military service when he learns that he has inherited a dukedom he had no knowledge of.  Traveling to Scotland, Gabriel intends to investigate his holdings, put things in order and return to the war on the Continent.  When he arrives at his property, he find a curse, Highlanders unhappy with the arrival of the English Duke, sheep theft, and a woman acting as steward.  Fiona Blackstock wants nothing more than for the new duke to leave but she doesn’t know what to do with the man who doesn’t act like any duke Fiona expects.

OPINION:  This was the first Suzanne Enoch book I’ve read.  I don’t know how it compares with her other books, but I certainly will be reading more.

The story has a slow building romance without much emotional drama between Gabriel and Fiona.  This is a book that is grounded more in the plot with the drama centered there.  Gabriel and Fiona have a little conflict in the beginning, but as they recognize that they can have common goals, the conflict recedes and the plot drama increases.

I really, really liked Gabriel.  He is an honorable man who is trying to do the right thing.  Despite the anger and dismissal that he experiences in coming to the Highlands, he always considers the feelings of others.  He can understand and empathize.  And when he decides that Fiona is for him, he jumps in with all his heart and mind and talents.  He is willing to change everything for Fiona.

I liked the development of their relationship as partnership. When Gabriel commits himself to Fiona, he shows his willingness to listen, to learn, to take her counsel.  Sometimes a hero who has not obvious flaws is boring, but not Gabriel.  He struggles with finding his place in the world.  He works on learning how to take what he has learned as a soldier and adopt that to a civilian world.

Fiona was a bit more of a cypher and I while I liked her character, I never felt that I understood her as well as Gabriel in this book.  I suspect that there is more to learn about some of the events that formed her (especially the disappearance of her brother), but for me, there was just too much I don’t yet know.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are lot of books featuring a Scottish hero and an English heroine.  I liked the switch of having an English hero and Scottish heroine, a twist I haven’t read a lot of before.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HERO IN THE HIGHLANDS is the first book in the No Ordinary Hero series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.


Review: Dirty Little Lies

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

Review: Dirty Little LiesDirty Little Lies by Lora Leigh
Series: Men of Summer #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 30, 2016
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 320

“Once she put two and two together, the realizations of the scope of the betrayals from those she loved would destroy her.  And it would destroy any bonds she had with those who’d lied to her.  Zach included.”

FINAL DECISION:  Lacking emotional intensity between the characters, this book is more about secrets and deceptions. There are many twists and turns but I didn’t like the romance as much as the prior book in the series.

THE STORY: Zach Richards has been avoiding getting involved with Grace Maddox because he knows that the sweet innocent Grace would not be able to deal with his secret life.  When Grace is hurt because people believe she has information from her traitor mom, Zach has to come and protect her.  Thus, Grace and Zach learn that neither is the innocent that they thought the other was.  In order to protect Grace, Zach insists that the two act as lovers. Then the long simmering fire burst into a hot conflagration.

OPINION:  There are a lot of lies in DIRTY LITTLE LIES.  For me, the book was slow going for the first third and then got much better.  The first third had way too much exposition and explanation. The pace picked up when the serious action started.

This book had a lot of twists and turns, I only wish that I cared more about the characters here.  There was so much action, intrigue and drama that I often lost track of what should have been the emotional center of the book.

I liked the story, but I missed the drama and emotional of the second book of the series which I liked much better.

On thing I really enjoyed about this book is that Grace is a strong willed woman of her own.  While she pretends to be innocent, she is perfectly able to take care of herself.  After all the lies and deception she has been forced to endure, I am surprised that Grace is able to trust anyone again.  I liked how she gives Zach grief and doesn’t allow him to run over her with his alpha ways.

WORTH MENTIONING:  For readers of the series much of the continuing story is revealed and resolved here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: DIRTY LITTLE LIES is the third book in the Men of Summer series.  I think without reading the other books in the series, a reader might be lost in places because there are a lot of characters and situations continuing from the prior books.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 3 stars.

Review: Her Darkest Nightmare

Review: Her Darkest NightmareHer Darkest Nightmare (The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles, #1) by Brenda Novak
Series: The Evelyn Talbot Chronicles #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 30th 2016
Genres: Contemporary, Romantic Suspense
Pages: 432

FINAL DECISION:  I loved this book primarily because of Evelyn and her hottie state trooper Amarok, but I also enjoyed the mystery which was twisty and creepy and kept me guessing.

THE STORY:  Dr. Evelyn Talbot was only a teenager when her world was torn apart by her psychopath boyfriend killed her best friends then imprisoned and tortured Evelyn for three days before leaving her for dead.  Twenty years later, Evelyn studies psychopaths. She is in charge of a maximum security facility which is studying serial killers. Located in a small town in Alaska, Evelyn is not the most popular person for bringing these killers to town.  It has placed her on opposite sides of State Trooper Sergeant Amarok who also tempts Evelyn as no man ever has.  Now a mutilated body of a woman seems to confirm Amarok’s deepest fears about the facility while Evelyn fears that the monster who almost killed her before may have returned.

OPINION: I am a longtime mystery and suspense reader but I prefer my books with a strong dose of romance.  I enjoyed this book because I like Evelyn with all her hangups due to her encounter as a teenager with her psychopath boyfriend.  Evelyn is damaged and while she is accomplished professionally, she is stunted in her relationships.

I love the sweetness of her reaction to Amarok and, for me, their relationship centers and makes the rest of the book worth reading.  While I enjoy a good, creepy suspense, I like to have sweeter and lighter moments as well as a reason to care about the characters.  I like these two and look forward to reading more about them.

I always find it difficult to review suspense and mystery books because I don’t want to give too much away.  That being said, I think this one kept me guessing until the end.  I thought I had it figured out and then the story would twist and go in a new direction.  Plus, there is some really creepy and messed up stuff going on.  I always admire a story that I don’t solve immediately.  There are plenty of suspects here and I didn’t guess the right one, but was satisfied that the ultimate solution was supported in the story.

The mystery/suspense story intertwines so well with Evelyn’s own personal journey that I was fully engaged during the entire book.  This book can satisfy both romantic suspense readers and those who just like a good mystery.

WORTH MENTIONING:  There are still threads of the overarching story for the series that are left at the end of this book, but the main mystery of the book is completely resolved.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  HER DARKEST NIGHTMARE is the first book in the Evelyn Talbot Chronicles series.  There is a prequel but this book can be read without having read that.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: The Highlander

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

Review: The HighlanderThe Highlander (Victorian Rebels, #3) by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels #3
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on August 2nd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 368

“What a tragedy they both were. Bruised and beaten by those who were supposed to have loved and protected them. Tossed upon a sea of cruelty, and seeking refuge in this unforgiving world.  Seeking sanctuary, but hoping for redemption.”

FINAL DECISION:  The story of two people haunted by violence, Liam and Mena are incredibly sweet in their romance even with all the dark secrets that seem to be against them.

THE STORY:  Laird Liam Mackenzie, Marquess Ravencroft is known as the Demon Highlander from his career in the army.  Returning to his home in Scotland to care for his children, he is in need of a governess and writes to the wife of his half brother who happens to be the king of London’s underworld, the Blackheart of Ben More. Farah sends Liam Miss Philomena Lockhart, to care for his children.  Philomena has secrets.  The most important is that she is being sent to Scotland to hide from her abusive Viscount husband who had her sent to an asylum for going against his family.  Pretending to be an unmarried spinster governess, Mena never expected to be attracted to the dangerous laird.

OPINION:  Can two people haunted by violence find a sweet love together?  What I loved about this book is its relentless determination in showing that everyone deserves love and can find it.

“A good man with a frightening past. A violent man with a wish for peace.”

Liam is a man haunted by the violence that has dominated his life since he was a child. Growing up the heir of an evil and sadistic man, Liam has had violence ingrained in him. Years of being useful to the British Army because of his brutality has only confirmed his belief that he is unworthy of peace and happiness or even forgiveness.

“‘Do ye believe, Miss Lockhart, that we may be forgiven our sins? That the past can ever be left behind us?’  She shook her head. ‘We may try to leave the past, but I don’t think the past ever truly leaves us.  It is part of us; it shapes us into who we are.  don’t think any of us escapes that fate, my laird.'”

Mena is the last woman who should have any feelings for a man of violence. Abused by her husband, sent to an asylum because of her honesty, Mena is now in hiding.  I loved that she discovers a woman who can stand up for herself against a man that she should rationally be frightened of.  For a woman who has had such a difficult life (abused by her husband, dominated by her husband’s family, barren), Mena still has such a good heart. Her capacity for love, understanding and forgiveness was amazing. As she finds confidence in herself, she develops into a very special woman.

In fact, the generousness of Mena’s spirit is what makes their relationship even possible. I love how two people who should never work find their scars and fractures bring healing to the other. Mena gets a strong man to protect her and value her and allow her to be strong.  Liam needs to use his strength to protect rather than hurt and to find someone who accepts him and his past.  I love how these two find compassion, forgiveness and love in one another.

“‘The devil is in all of us, I think.  That’s what makes us human rather than divine. I believe there is a tenuous balance between redemption and damnation. You cannot have one without testing the limits of the other. No light, without first conquering darkness. No courage, without battling your fear. No mercy, unless you experience suffering.’ She turned to gaze at the golden cross gleaming on the altar, her mouth pressing into a line. ‘No forgiveness without someone having wronged you.'”

Byrne is the queen of darkness and angst giving us characters which are tortured and in pain. Yet, there is always a way to happiness and joy for these people.  I have a great fondness for stories where the characters are mired in darkness as the book starts.  Having damaged characters find happiness affirms that everyone deserves love.  The best part of Byrne’s tortured characters, however, is that she never slips into her stories being sad and depressing.  No matter how dark the past of her characters, there is a light at the end of their journey.

The book contains one of the most painfully emotional scenes I have ever read. Sent to an asylum by her husband and her family, Mena is subject to abuse there as well.  Knowing that real women in history suffered the same kind of confinement and abuse merely because they were impertinent and inconvenient for those with power over them, devastated me and I found I could only read those scenes in small doses.  Yet there was nothing gratuitous in those scenes, the truth was painful enough.

I also wanted to mention something I noticed in both THE HUNTER and this book which is Bryne’s incredibly deft way she deals with children who are not related by blood with one of the main characters. Here Liam has two children who are nearly grown. Mena has to develop her own relationship with these children and Liam, himself, having been absent for most of their lives has to find out how to relate to who his children actually are. I enjoyed seeing these secondary relationships develop and am also happy that Bryne didn’t magically “cure” Mena’s infertility but instead gave her a family built on love rather than merely biology.

Finally, I love the appearance of characters from the series who make significant additions to the story.  I prefer when characters intertwine throughout the stories. Here, there is a very nice balance. Readers who haven’t read the other books in the series will not miss anything, but readers who follow the series get to see favorites again.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Kerrigan Byrne is very naughty for giving a preview of the next book in the epilogue. Three intriguing words “rather scandalous duchess.”

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE HIGHLANDER is the third book in the Victorian Rebels series.  While there are overlapping characters, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: The Untamed Earl

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

Review: The Untamed EarlThe Untamed Earl (Playful Brides, #5) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #5
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on May 3rd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 304

“Being fifteen years of age an a bit plump and unconventional when one’s elder siter was eighteen years of age and willowy a ethereal — if waspish — was decidedly unpleasant.”

FINAL DECISION:  My favorite of the series, THE UNTAMED EARL benefits from a sweet romance between two people who are overlooked, underestimated and unappreciated by others but find something special in one another.

THE STORY: At fifteen, Lady Alexandra Hobbs feel in love with a “knight in shining armor” who saved her brother and his friend. The object of her affections is Lord Owen Monroe, a rake who leads a life of drink, gambling and women.  Three years later, Alex discovers that her father, the duke, has chosen Owen to marry Alex’s older sister who happens to be a genuine shrew.  Owen has to marry because his father will cut off his allowance if he does not convince the duke’s eldest daughter to accept his match.  Alex wants to sabotage Owen’s courtship so she offers to groom him into the man Alex’s sister will want to marry while intending exactly the opposite.

OPINION: I loved the couple in this book.  Two people who are overlooked, misunderstood and underappreciated by their families find something special in one another.  Alex has always been placed second to her older sister.  What she wants doesn’t matter in the face of her older sister’s wants.  Alex makes a break when she becomes determined to sabotage the engagement of her sister to the man that Alex has wanted since she was fifteen.  Through the story and the romance, Alex discovers that she matters and what she wants matters.  Owen has also been misunderstood by his father.  Because his father does not think much of him, Owen has tried to live up to his poor reputation.  In his heart, however, Owen is a good man which Alex recognizes quickly and thus sets her heart toward this “hero” rake.  When Owen agrees to marry Alex’s sister, he does so because his father threatens to cut off his allowance, but also because it gives him an opportunity to finally satisfy his father.  The need for parental acceptance is strong with Owen even as he denies that desire.  For Owen, his journey is being his own man without the desire to satisfy or thwart his father.

In a plot that at times is funny, at times frustrating and at times horrifying, I loved how Alex and Owen find acceptance, strength and purpose in their relationship.

WORTH MENTIONING: The story has a passing feeling of being inspired by Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew even though there are not really strong parallels. The shrewish older sister that must be married first, mixed up romances and some comedy gives this a Shrewish feel without being derivative.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE UNTAMED EARL is the fifth book in the Playful Brides series. It can be read as a standalone although other characters from the series appear.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.