Review: A Duke in Shining Armor

Review: A Duke in Shining ArmorA Duke in Shining Armor (Difficult Dukes, #1) by Loretta Chase
Series: Difficult Dukes #1
Published by Avon on November 28th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“She pushed open the window. ‘Adieu,’ she said. And climbed through, in a flutter of satin and lace.”

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book and the characters. Focused intensely on the hero and heroine, this book is about moments which change their lives, fate and chance, and making and living with their choices.

THE STORY: Hugh Philemon Ancaster, Duke of Ripley, has arrived in London for one of his best friend’s wedding. He is one of the trio of dukes known as Their Dis-Graces for their rakish and reckless behavior that had society hiding their innocent misses from them. Tasked with making sure the wedding goes off without a hitch, Ripley has a challenge when the brides slips out a window and disappears. Lady Olympia Hightower is in a position that women envy. Seven years the Most Boring Girl of the Season until she became engaged to one of the Dis-Graces. On the eve of her wedding, she has second thoughts and fueled by too much alcohol she makes a run for it.  Ripley is determined to protect Olympia on her run and intends on returning her to his friend — until he realizes he can’t.

OPINION: I have to admit that while I read all kinds of books and certainly all kinds of romance books, what I read for is relationship and characters. The external drama in this book is small — a woman engaged to one man falls for his best friend. What makes this book extra special is the exploration of how these two characters fall in love and deal with their love and their guilt.

The relationship and dialogue between Ripley and Olympia sparkles with humor and great emotion. The exploration of fate and missed chances and grabbing onto what one wants gave this story depth. It is would incredibly easy to formulate the story of the fiance who is unworthy or a liar or who doesn’t really care. Chase doesn’t take the easy route. These two feel intense guilt and really wonder if they had missed their chance.  Choices are not always easy or clear. There is a real call to action — what will you regret now, what will you regret forever?

There is such a connection between Ripley and Olympia — humor, exasperation, understanding, lust, anger. They days they spend together and the intensity of their experience brings them to love. Usually romances that only last days are difficult to understand. This book works beautifully in that sense. This is not insta-love but a mutual recognition of something more that is built upon years of awareness combined with an intense period of interaction.

There are some laugh out funny scenes in this book — including an indoor race that might be my favorite I’ve read this year. The intensity, humor and deep emotion of this book will stay with me for a long time.

WORTH MENTIONING: Introduced in this book, there are two other couples and the cast off Duke of Ashmont whose stories should be explored in this series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DUKE IN SHINING ARMOR is the first book in the Difficult Dukes series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 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 Viscount and the Vixen

Review: The Viscount and the VixenThe Viscount and the Vixen (Hellions of Havisham, #3) by Lorraine Heath
Published by Avon on November 29th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 389
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: With a heroine who is unusual in historical romances, this book shatters traditional romance tropes. Deeply emotional and difficult, I ended up liking it quite a bit, but had to struggle with it a bit.

THE STORY: Viscount Locksley intends to save his mad father from a mercenary woman who has shown up to marry him. Instead Locke marries her himself because he knows that while he wants her, she is the type of woman he could never love. Portia Gadstone is desperate for security and is forced to agree to marry Locke in his father’s place. Two people who plan never to love find that getting to know one another changes everything — until secrets from the past threaten everything.

OPINION: It’s taken me nearly a year to actually read this book because I made a mistake that I’ve done before and likely will do again — I read reviews that gave away the big secret in the story and I hated it. And then I couldn’t read the book because every word I tried to read was infused with my dislike for the ending.

I know better — especially with Lorraine Heath books. Heath often challenges the assumptions and expected stories. Her characters are imperfect and are put in terrible situations. Yet I love her books for exactly that reason.

While this book never fell into the intense love that I have for some of Heath’s books, I managed to enjoy this book quite a bit in spite of the revelation I knew was coming.

The characters here are complex, especially Portia who is a woman who has been burned by love and has no intention of being vulnerable again. She is different from other heroines and I think that a reader is supposed to learn about her before her secret is revealed.

Locke is wonderful. A dear and caring man who has learned the wrong lesson from his father’s intense sense of loss of his wife. He is so ready to fall in love despite his protestations that he will not. He is kinder and more forgiving than I expected. His character was what made the book for me because through him I could understand how I should respond to Portia.

This is a worthy book to read because of how it challenges the standard historical romance, but I do recommend that a reader approach the story with an open mind, an open heart and without reading spoilers.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a novella about Locke’s father which overlaps this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE VISCOUNT AND THE VIXEN is the third book in the Hellions of Havisham series. This book can be read as a standalone although there are character crossovers.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Lady’s Legacy

Review: The Lady’s LegacyThe Lady's Legacy (Half Moon House, #3) by Deb Marlowe
Series: Half Moon House #3
Published by Deb Marlowe on November 27th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 283
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: A sweet romance with a whole bunch of drama and intrigue surrounding the couple.

THE STORY: Miss Francis Headley has come to Edinburgh to search out the long-lost son of her employer. Rhys Caradec is an artist who keeps himself apart from all connections because of his past. When Francis comes into his life, Rhys has no intent of getting involved with his “mother” but he definitely is intrigued with Francis who switches between boy dress and a beautiful young woman. Francis believes that she can change Rhys view and Rhys believes that Francis has agreed to his view. But there are still dangers from the battle between Rhys’ parents to contend with.

OPINION: This is a sweet romance between Francis and Rhys. The two meet and have a philosophical difference about a person’s place in the world and involving oneself in others’ lives.  That is the center of the drama between them (along with Rhys wanting nothing to do with his parents). But most of the book is these two getting to know one another and seeing the world from the other’s viewpoint.

I liked both characters and I smiled at Rhys’ artistic temperament and his devotion to his art. I smiled at Francis’s abilities to masquerade as a boy. The book has an interesting storyline with the exception that the drama between Rhys’ parents is not fully set out. I suspect that more is explained in the other books but while I could figure out what was going on, I didn’t feel as much drama as I expect I was supposed to.

WORTH MENTIONING: I think the end of this book gives hints of an upcoming book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE LADY’S LEGACY is the third novel in the Half Moon House series. It is not necessary to read the other books in the series to enjoy this one. I’ve read a couple of novellas from this series, but have not read any of the prior books. I do note, however, that there are some references to prior events and other characters from the series so it might be more enjoyable to read the books in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC from the author in order to write a review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

three-stars

Review: Wicked Deception

Review: Wicked DeceptionWicked Deception (Regency Sinners, #4) by Carole Mortimer
Series: Regency Sinners #4
Published by Carole Mortimer on November 22nd 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I didn’t think much of the story as it started, but the relationship between the hero and heroine as the story progressed made me enjoy the story quite a bit. This is a simple easy story and certainly not a complex drama, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

THE STORY: Maximillian Smythe, Earl of Carlton is taking his turn searching for the traitor that the eight Sinners are searching for. The woman he is to investigate is his own stepmother Heather. The young and beautiful second wife to his father. Six years ago Maxim and Heather had a whirlwind romance before Maxim left to spy for the Crown and returned to find Heather married to his father. Now Maxim must determine what Heather is hiding.

OPINION: The story line here is not surprising and almost everything is quickly disclosed to the reader (if not to the characters). A second chance at love for these two characters complicated by deceptions and lies and misunderstandings.

The story and the characters are not particularly deep, but sometimes an uncomplicated story makes a nice easy read. The characters were not stupid despite their misunderstandings and I liked that they quickly were able to unravel the secrets between them.

I liked Maxim as a character and thought that his darkness was actually what made the story interesting. This book reminds me of the category romances in the past (although more erotic and explicit) because of the simplicity of the story.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a novella.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WICKED DECEPTION is the fourth book in the Regency Sinners series. This is a series of books with the overarching storyline of the search for a woman traitor. While there is some connection between the books, this book can certainly be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Alec Mackenzie’s Art of Seduction

Review: Alec Mackenzie’s Art of SeductionAlec Mackenzie's Art of Seduction (MacKenzies & McBrides, #9) by Jennifer Ashley
Series: Mackenzies and McBrides #9
Published by JA / AG Publishing on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This was a very enjoyable book. I loved Alec and Celia together and there is a good plot surrounding the romance.  I can’t wait for the next book.

THE STORY: Alec Mackenzie is dead…at least to the English who are searching for the traitors after the Scottish uprising that ended with Culloden. After his remaining family fled to France, Alec has returned to England with his young daughter in order to search for his brother Will who may have been captured by the English. Alec is masquerading as Mr. Finn, a poor Irish artist taking on students. His student is Lady Celia who is the daughter of the duke that Alec suspects is implicated in his brother’s disappearance. Celia is intrigued by Mr. Finn and feels that there is much more to the man than he presents.

OPINION: I loved the interaction between Alec and Celia. That interaction is what made the book for me. Like the other Mackenzie books, this book has larger than life characters who have intense feelings for one another. The connection between these two is immediate and quite beautiful.

Alec’s kindness and gentleness made me fall for him, too.  He is a man who has big emotions and love. One of his best qualities is the love he has for his daughter and his family. He is adorable in that seriously manly fashion. As he meets Celia, he is pulled into caring for her as well. His support for her artistic talent and her wishes and thoughts is very attractive as well.

Celia is strong and determined even under the intense manipulation and pressure of her mother.  Her willingness to do what is right for her despite the pressures of society which leaves her ruined, her complex feelings for her family members, and her insistence of being treated as a partner give Celia depth that I enjoyed as well.

The plot here works as well. Alec’s search for his brother involves various schemes and plots and unwinding the villains and heroes. There is also enjoyable glimpses of the remainder of the Mackenzie family so those who have read THE UNTAMED MACKENZIE will be pleased to see what has happened with the family since the events of that book.

Ian and Beth also open and close this novel. Fans of the original books will be pleased. I’m hoping that in the next book we will get to see more of the more of the Victorian era Mackenzies.

WORTH MENTIONING:  This book sets up Alec’s brother Will’s book. I can’t wait to hear his story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ALEC MACKENZIE’S ART OF SEDUCTION is the ninth book in the Mackenzies and McBrides series. While this book is a self-contained romance (which is a prequel to others in the series), there is an introduction from Ian Mackenzie (THE MADNESS OF LORD IAN MACKENZIE) and I think at least that book should be read first just to put the story in context.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC from the author 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: Once Upon a Maiden Lane

Review: Once Upon a Maiden LaneOnce Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane, #12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt
Published by Forever Yours on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

“Mary Whitsun did not like comely gentlemen.”

FINAL DECISION: Enjoyable story that feels like Cinderella, except that there is a twist that gives the story and characters more depth. The story is short and everything happens pretty quickly but I still enjoyed Hoyt giving us this secondary character’s HEA.

THE STORY: Mary Whitsun knows better than responds when a handsome young aristocrat accosts her when she is at the bookshop. Henry Collins, Viscount Blackwell mistakes Mary for his fiancee. Indeed it appears that Mary, who was raised in an orphanage may be the long lost twin of Henry’s fiance. If that is true then in fact Mary is Henry’s rightful fiance since they were betrothed at birth. In this Cinderella story, Mary, the servant, is transformed into a Lady.

OPINION: This story is sweeter than most of Hoyt’s books as the characters are younger. (This story definitely has its sexy side, but not as graphic as most Hoyt novels).  From the beginning, this novella has a Cinderella vibe as Mary is transformed from the servant she was raised to be to a young lady ready to take her place in society and be married.

The majority of the story is about Mary’s transformation and her getting to know the man who was contracted to be her husband. I liked that this story takes these young people as where they are in life. Henry, especially, is struggling to be his own man in the face of the demands of his parents. (Not that his parents are evil people, but rather they are more fully “adult”.) Henry begins his rebellion when he recognizes Mary in the bookshop and then realizes that he is more attracted to her than the second sister who was his replacement fiancee. In order to be the man for Mary, he has to finally assert himself.

Mary has to figure out who she is as well. Swept into the aristocracy, she is threatened to be swamped by the expectations and demands of others. She has to determine who she is and who she is going to be.

While the story focuses on Mary’s transformation, there is some drama and some danger involved. There is also a twist at the end that makes this more than a sweet cake of a story as the characters face some issues that allow them to demonstrate their depth and maturity.

I judged that I really enjoyed the story by the fact that I immediately wanted to re-read some of the interactions between Henry and Mary. The characters are always my touchstone for romance stories and I really liked these two.

I would have enjoyed this story just for Mary and Henry’s romance but there are some special treats for fans of the Maiden Lane series. We get some glimpses into the happy domestic lives of some of the couples from the series which was quite a treat as this series comes to a close.

WORTH MENTIONING: The biggest problem with this story is that it gets the origins of Mary Whitsun wrong. Her origins are an important part of WICKED INTENTIONS but there is a completely different story presented here. It is unfortunate because it detracts from the story for those who are fans of the series, but after deducting for my distraction from the story, the remainder of this review judges the story with this flaw set aside.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ONCE UPON A MAIDEN LANE is book 12.5 of the Maiden Lane series. The story is self-contained and can be read on its own, but readers of the series will get some glimpses of favorite characters. This story is most connected to the first book in the series, WICKED INTENTIONS.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book from the author 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-stars

Review: The Silent Duke

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

Review: The Silent DukeThe Silent Duke (The 1797 Club, #4) by Jess Michaels
Series: The 1797 Club #4
Published by Passionate Pen on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 200
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: This is a sweet little story as two friends navigate the hero’s insecurities and fears and find their way to a happy ending. The conflict here is the hero’s, but I enjoyed the interaction between these two.

THE STORY: Ewan, Duke of Donburrow was born mute and abused by his father who wanted to commit him to an asylum so that one of his “normal” sons could inherit. The wounds inflicted by Ewan’s father have scored deep. Charlotte, Countess of Portsmith, has loved Ewan forever. When he rejected her years ago, she rebounded into a loveless, but not horrible, marriage. Now widowed, Charlotte is determined to try again with Ewan.

OPINION: This story was sweeter than I expected. These two love one another from the start and just have to work through the pain of Ewan’s childhood to find one another.

Ewan is a good man. Abused as a child, he has managed to become a worthy gentleman. Charlotte is a woman who is determined to try and get what she wants finally. She comes to Ewan’s house for Christmas determined to try and seduce him finally. There is no doubt that these two are meant to be together. The intimacy of their friendship and the closeness they feel is obvious from the start.

The emphasis in this story is Ewan’s own growth. He has to make the change to be with Charlotte. I found that while this story isn’t particularly long, its length works here where there isn’t a tremendous amount of conflict to be resolved. There is one external drama that happens towards the end of the story, but by then most of the drama between the characters has been resolved.

The sweetness of the characters and the story made me really enjoy this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: Virgin hero.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE SILENT DUKE is the fourth book in the 1797 Club series. While the book can be read as a standalone as the romance is self-contained, there are overlapping characters that are discussed.

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 review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-stars

Review: A Scandalous Destiny

Review: A Scandalous DestinyA Scandalous Destiny by Ava Stone
Series: Scandalous Series #8
Published by Ava Stone on November 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: I liked the connection between the hero and heroine but the book had too slow a start for me as it covered a lot of backstory. The resolution of a years old separation was too simple for me.

THE STORY: Major Gabriel Prideaux has returned to England to find his older brother in a lunatic asylum with much left unexplained. As he works to uncover what has happened in his absence, he has a reunion with the woman he loved and had to leave. Miss Sophia Hampton has always gone her own way. She eavesdrops at doors and dons men’s clothing in order to make her way around town. She doesn’t expect to find Gabriel again. As the two join forces, they discover that what they felt for one another is not in the past.

OPINION: I really liked the characters and the last third of the book was really good with lots of drama and character driven issues. Gabriel is a man who gave up the woman he loved (for reasons revealed in the book). He and Sophia are so perfect for one another that the story had to create an external factor keeping them apart because otherwise the story would be over too quick.

In fact, that is probably my biggest disappointment…something that kept these two apart for years was resolved too neatly. In fact, I wish the promise of these two defying everything to get together might have been more satisfying — if not as neatly a happy ending.

I found the book a bit slow to get into as there is much explanation and introduction, but once the book picks up, I couldn’t turn away. I think this book is worth reading and I might try it again with my expectations tempered by my understanding of what is happening.

The romance between these two was honorable and sweet in many ways and I really liked how Gabriel accepts and appreciates Sophia’s rascally ways.

WORTH MENTIONING:

CONNECTED BOOKS: SCANDALOUS DESTINY is the eighth book in the Scandalous series (but it takes place at the same time as book 6).  While this book is a separate and self-contained romance, there are connected characters that might prompt some people to want to read the books in order. I’ve read some and not others and didn’t feel that I missed anything.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC from the author 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.

three-stars

Review: The Gentleman Who Loved Me

Review: The Gentleman Who Loved MeThe Gentleman Who Loved Me by Grace Callaway
Series: Heart of Enquiry #6
Published by Colchester & Page on June 15th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Not a book for everyone. Rosie is a hard heroine to have empathy for and Andrew’s past is not fully confronted. Despite this, I enjoyed how these two interacted and grew together through the book.

THE STORY: Primrose Kent has been disappointed with her prospects. Although supported by influential people, she is a bastard and society will not let her forget it. Determined to marry a title, Rosie creates a whole new set of problems for herself. Andrew Corbett is the owner of a prominent brothel in London. A former prostitute himself, Andrew has built his own business. He is also determined to protect Rosie. The two share a past that she is not aware of. Andrew, however, finds that the girl he once thought of as a sister has grown up — and he is unwillingly aware of it.

OPINION: This book begins with several strikes against it, but despite that ended up being a story with depth and I liked it quite a bit.

Rosie is a difficult heroine to like. She is spoiled and self-destructive and sometimes quite annoying…but she does grow and change as the story progresses. I was happy that I gave her a chance. Her background and past warped some of her views, but as she experiences the world more, she begins to recognize her own failings.

Andrew is a complicated hero. Having become a prostitute by necessity, he both fully claims and is ashamed by his past. I thought that his history and his current circumstances were nuanced and complicated and his rags to riches story is certainly hero worthy. My complaint, however, is that his past and occupation was just too quickly dismissed as important by Rosie’s family. That just bothered me throughout the story. It felt contrived and I thought that there needed to be more drama or angst surrounding it.

The plot includes a mystery (expected in the Heart of Enquiry series) that keeps the story moving while Rosie and Andrew explore their passions together.

This is a dark and complicated story in parts and while I enjoy such stories, I know that not every reader is willing to take a darker journey.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book contains voyeurism (not the hero and heroine) and a certain event that some may consider cheating after the hero and heroine have become involved.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE GENTLEMAN WHO LOVED ME is the sixth and final book in the Heart of Enquiry series. Although the romance is self-contained and thus can be read as a standalone, the relationships between the all the characters in the book make this a book better read as part of the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Never Say Never to an Earl

Review: Never Say Never to an EarlNever Say Never to an Earl by Grace Callaway
Series: Heart of Enquiry #5
Published by Colchester & Page on December 21st 2016
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I really admire this book for giving us a hero with a mental disorder. I loved the mystery and relationship between these characters and I thought the journey these two take gave this story more depth. And it’s really hot!

THE STORY: Miss Polly Kent, a wallflower, has a special talent that has convinced her that she cannot hope for love. Polly can see the aura of people which gives her a sense of their emotions. A chance encounter has her meeting up with the ton’s biggest rake, Sinjin Pelham, Earl of Revelstoke, the last man she wants to see. Sinjin is in a jam as he apparently attacked a prostitute (although he has no memory of the encounter). Soon Polly and her family are helping Sinjin find out the truth. He also has a dark personal secret that keeps him painfully separate from people. The personal encounters between Polly and Sinjin crackle with intensity and threaten ruin.

OPINION: I enjoyed this book. I especially liked the complexity of Sinjin’s character and the willingness of the author to take the chance to give her hero a flaw that is definitely not common among heroes or heroine’s in romance. The reality of the situation and the decision to not have a magic solution to solve the lifelong problems that this couple will have was a refreshing take that I did not expect.

What I did expect from this romance was lots of heat and mystery. Both were just as I expected in the story. The story has a small paranormal twist with Polly’s talent (but standard historical readers shouldn’t turn away from this book for that reason because it is not a big part of the story).

Sinjin is one of my favorite Callaway heroes. He is deeply flawed and has struggled with his problems without much support. Like all good rakes, he finds something lasting and stabilizing about Polly — a man who has any vice he wants sees something necessary in a decent and honorable woman.

Fans of the Heart of Enquiry series will also get some significant appearances by characters from prior books.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book also has appearances from the hero and heroine of the next book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: NEVER SAY NEVER TO AN EARL is the fifth book in the Heart of Enquiry series. While this book is a self-contained romance that can be read as a standalone, there are overlapping characters from previous books in the series that means that a reader gets more if they have read those books.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars