Review: The Daring 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 Daring DukeThe Daring Duke (The 1797 Club 1) by Jess Michaels
Series: The 1797 Club #1
Published by The Passionate Pen on March 14th 2017
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION:  A pretty straight forward historical romance, the story of these characters is complicated by miserable families which have hurt them and made them question the institution of marriage.  A good beginning of a new series premised on the improbable coincidence of a number of eligible dukes available for marriage at the same time.

THE STORY:  James, Duke of Abernathe, is a founding member of the 1797 Club — a group of young dukes who work together and help one another navigate their positions.  A central part of being a duke is marrying to carry on the family, but James intends never to marry even though no one knows why.  Miss Emma Liston is a bluestocking and wallflower and in four seasons has not found a spouse.  She asks James to help her by pretending to be interested in her in order to increase her popularity among the other men of the ton.

OPINION:  This is a book with immensely likeable main characters.  Both Emma and James have been hurt by their dysfunctional families which has made both wary of marriage.  Yet they quickly find in one another passion and friendship and eventually love.

Emma is a bluestocking and wallflower who wants love and marriage but has a father who threatens all her possible happiness.  The book manages to keep the exact nature of her father’s threat secret and gently moves toward the crisis in the book.

James is a man who is determined never to marry in revenge on the father who abused him as a child.  James is a kind man who wants the best for his family but cannot forget the neglect and active abuse of his father who never wanted James as his heir.  James wants Emma and uses the excuse of “helping” her find another man as an excuse to get closer to her — even though James himself doesn’t recognize that fact.

The book is highly focused on the couple in this book and the plot is really designed to bring these two together and thus doesn’t have much impact other than that purpose.

My one complaint about the story is that Emma quickly agrees to engage in sexual acts with James without any intention of marriage. While the intense sexuality is expected in a Jess Michaels book, I thought that the innocent Emma too quickly agrees to allow James to debauch her as long as she remains technically a virgin.

This one complaint doesn’t impair my overall enjoyment of the story primarily because the characters are so likeable.

WORTH MENTIONING:  I can’t wait to read James’s sister’s story.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  THE DARING DUKE is the first book in the 1797 Club series which tells the story of ten dukes.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

NOTE:  I received and 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.

four-stars

Review: Adored in Autumn

Review: Adored in AutumnAdored in Autumn (Seasons Book 4) by Jess Michaels
Series: Seasons #4
Published by Passionate Pen on January 10th 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 213
Goodreads
four-stars

“He kissed her because he loved her. And he had never stopped loving her for one moment in all the years they’d been apart. Even when he wanted to. Even when he tried.”

FINAL DECISION: I love the cross-class story where the man is of the lower class. Here, there was a bit of angst, a bit of drama and I really liked that the characters knew the value of characters over title or privilege.

THE STORY:  Felicity, Viscountess Barbridge, killed her abusive husband in self-defense.  Now her secret is in the hands of her family’s enemy.  In order to track down the potential blackmailer, her brothers call in Asher Seyton, solicitor and financial advisor, to help with the financial investigation. Asher is the son of a servant and grew up with Felicity and her brother. Asher broke Felicity’s heart when after a kiss, he left her.  Now Felicity and Asher have to face their long ago feelings and the current threat on Felicity’s future.

OPINION: I love books with cross-class romances — especially ones where the man is of a lower class because it upends the normal trope.  Here, Felicity is an aristocratic woman, the daughter of an earl and Asher is the son of her father’s valet. The two were children together and friends (along with Felicity’s two older brothers). As Felicity grew up, however, an attraction grew between Felicity and Asher.  At her debut six years ago, the two had their first and last kiss as Asher left the next day.  Felicity married the Viscount who beat and abused her.  Now Asher has returned at Felicity brother’s request because Felicity is in danger.

In the prior book in the series, an enemy of the family has found out that Felicity killed her abusive husband in self-defense.  The potential blackmailer must be tracked down before the secret is revealed, ruining Felicity and her family.  This plot moves the story along, but the center of this book is the romance between Felicity and Asher.

Felicity is a woman who has closed herself off after her horrible marriage. Fear, disappointment, lack of trust in herself and others dominate her life now.  When Asher returns, Felicity begins to feel again and wonders if she can at least have a sexual relationship free from fear.

Asher and Felicity are good people who got torn apart by their class differences. Asher feels keenly the class differences.  I thought this book did a really good job of showing that even if Felicity *thinks* that the two of them were always equal, Asher’s reality was something different.

There is something very sweet and gentle about these characters together and yet their is definite heat in their relationship. I liked these characters quite a bit and the story is not dark or angst filled but rather is about two people working their way through past obstacles and finding a future together.

This is an enjoyable read and a fine conclusion to series as it wraps up the ongoing storylines and gives readers a look at all the characters coming together and solving the mysteries that have arisen.

WORTH MENTIONING: Everyone gets what they deserve in the end.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ADORED IN AUTUMN is the fourth and final book in the Seasons series. The romance in this book is self contained by there are continuing storylines that depend upon the prior books in the series.

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.

four-stars

Review: One Summer of Surrender

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: One Summer of SurrenderOne Summer of Surrender (Seasons, #3) by Jess Michaels
Series: Seasons #3
Published by The Passionate Pen on November 8th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 212
Goodreads
five-stars

“What she had done to him deserved anger and revenge and a great deal else. She had already served part of her penance in a desperately unhappy marriage. Perhaps this was the rest.”

FINAL DECISION:  Filled with angst, longing, pain and love, this book made me fall in love with Lucien, a man who can’t help but love the woman who broke his heart. The path from his complete brokenness in the prologue to the ending was a fantastic journey.

THE STORY:  Lucien Danford, Earl of Stenfax had his world destroyed when the woman he loved abandoned him to marry a duke instead.  Lucien is determined to stay away from Elise, Duchess of Kirkford, now that she is widowed but he cannot deny thinking about her.  When the two unexpectedly end up in the same place, the anger and passion explodes between them.  The past is an obstacle that Lucien and Elise cannot seem to overcome even as they cannot resist one another.

OPINION:  This book begins with one of the most devastating depictions of a broken heart that I think I have read in a romance book. It immediately made me fall for Stenfax.  A man who could love that deeply is a good man indeed. I was also surprised with the direction that Michael’s took with Lucien’s despair. I thought it very brave to depict his reaction in such a manner because some people would see him as weak. I didn’t but there are still stigmas. Everything about Lucien was wonderful. Even angry and brokenhearted he is such a wonderful human being in how he treats Elise that I just wanted to hug him.

My sympathies were completely in Lucien’s corner and thus I was prepared to dislike Elise, but instead, I felt sympathy for her as well even as her motives remain murky.  She is a desperate woman and her situation is so untenable and it is imperative to remember how few choices women had in the past.  Elise is left with nothing else other than using her body to save herself.

These two are so desperate to be with one another even as they know it is hopeless.  I love the amount of angst and pain in this story because the darker the journey, the more beautiful the happy ending.  Both Lucien and Elise are put through the wringer in this book.  Even as the truth comes out, there is still pain and betrayal for the two to overcome.

In addition to the angst filled romance, I really enjoyed the interaction between all the prior series characters.  They have intriguing interaction among one another.  There is caring and anger and it is clear that Lucien and Elise are the pivot in this book with all these people.  I’ve liked these characters in the prior books and it is nice seeing them again in substantive ways.

Finally, there is a nice plot which motivates the actions of the characters. That story is clearly going to continue in the next book in the series (not the romance but the overarching plot) so be prepared to accept that when reading this book.

WORTH MENTIONING: Felicity is up next.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  ONE SUMMER OF SURRENDER is the third book in the Seasons series.  This book can be read as a standalone although it has more power having read the other two books in the series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 5 stars.

five-stars

Review: A Spring Deception

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: A Spring DeceptionA Spring Deception by Jess Michaels
Series: Seasons #2
Published by The Passionate Pen on September 6th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 239
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“He had set the wheels in motion for the next phase of his investigation. And for her heartbreak, no matter how successfully this case ended.”

FINAL DECISION:  This was a book that slowly built the relationship between the hero and heroine.  By the time the book ended, I adored them as a couple.

THE STORY: Celia Fitzgilbert is recovering socially from a broken engagement when she meets the reclusive Duke of Clairemont.  There is something special between them from the moment they meet.  Celia is thrilled that she might actually find a man she can love.  But the Duke of Clairemont is actually an imposter who is masquerading as the duke to uncover a murderous traitor.

OPINION:  This one quietly crept up on me as a book I really enjoyed.  There was a bit of suspense in determining what happened to the real duke and also the story behind the hero.  What I loved best was that while the two were falling in love under false pretenses, the truth is that both had things to hide.  When the hero’s secret is revealed, Celia is shocked and upset but then realizes that there is much she can forgive.  The sweetness of their story after the big reveal made me love the romance between these two.  Everything seems hopeless and yet there is still a possibility for a happy ending.  Best of all, there is no magic wand at the end.  These two have to live with challenges because of the hero’s past but love makes all of it worthwhile.

I liked Celia as a character.  She is pragmatic and willing to forgive when I expected drama when the deceit is revealed.  To have the man she falls in love with go from a duke to a not-duke might be expected to make a woman despair about all she has lost.  But Celia truly only loves the hero and is willing to sacrifice much to be with him.

An oh, how I loved the hero.  I especially liked that he is truly a nice guy.  His conscience clearly bothers him as his interacts with Celia.  Accomplished and unexpected in what his story turns out to be.  Michaels does a great job of having seemingly unexpected pairs work well together.

There are a lot of secrets at play in this book and I don’t want to give away anything more.

I do want to say that I liked this book even more than the first in the series.  There was just an easiness with the characters and their relationship.  I expected more drama and angst and while there are many secrets to be revealed, the characters themselves have a core commitment to their feelings for one another that gave me a warm feeling.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Oh, I can’t wait to read what is going on with Stenfax.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  A SPRING DECEPTION is the second book in the Seasons series.  It can be read as standalone although there are connecting characters and an overarching story.  This book gives all the information a reader needs.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: An Affair in Winter

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: An Affair in WinterAn Affair in Winter (Seasons Book 1) by Jess Michaels
Series: Seasons #1
Published by Passionate Pen on July 12, 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 215
Goodreads
four-stars

“‘This isn’t going to be quick, Mrs. Wilde,’ he assured her between kisses that tasted her skin. ‘It isn’t going to be perfunctory.’

She shuddered and leaned back against his chest. ‘What will it be then?’

He lifted his fingers to the top button of her gown and unfastened it, letting his fingers slide into the gap he’d created.

‘A night to remember,’ he vowed.  ‘For both of us.'”

FINAL DECISION:  I very much enjoyed this book of these two people who are on opposite sides of their siblings upcoming marriage. I thought the story and connection between the characters was good and I found their story sweet if a bit simplistic in its resolution.

THE STORY:  Mrs. Rosalinde Wilde is a widow traveling on her way to her sister’s wedding when a snowstorm forces her to stop at an inn.  There she meets Grayson Danford.  The two end up having dinner together in the crowded inn and then decide to spend the night together — two people attracted to one another knowing almost nothing about one another.  A night of passion out of time.  How surprised they are to discover one another again as siblings of the couple getting married where Gray is determined to stop the wedding.

OPINION: AN AFFAIR IN WINTER is the start of a new series, and I think this series has great potential.  This book begins with a 19th century one night stand between the hero and heroine.  Although the night is special for both of them, they part in the morning never intending on seeing one another again.  Of course, they end up being siblings to a couple getting married. The two are placed in opposition as Rosalinde supports the marriage, while Gray is opposed.

The one night stand, of course, complicates what would have been a pure adversarial relationship between Rosalinde and Gray.  I loved that these two are so likeable when the events easily could have led either of them into being conniving and betraying any possible relationship between them.  Everything between them ends up being handled in such a reasonable and deft manner, that I never moved from my initial liking of the characters.

Rosalinde is recovering from a bad marriage, but she never loses her optimism and her belief in the joy and love of life.  And despite a love match gone wrong in her own life, Rosalinde wants love and happiness for her sister.  Gray is determined to avoid love after seeing both of his siblings suffer because of bad relationships. He cannot resist Rosalinde despite his resolution.  Both are incredibly loving siblings (even when they are wrong) and this essential characteristic gives these two a foundation that connects them in unexpected ways.

Even when they are at cross-purposes, there is an essential element of caring that keeps them from being torn apart.  I thought that their evolution of their viewpoints of their sibling upcoming marriage was amusing but also represents their intelligence and the complexity of the situation.  The ultimate lesson is that people should be free to make their own choices having all relevant information.

The connection between Gray and Rosalinde is hot and intense — even in proper society dress.  I really only had one complaint and that is that the solution to all the dilemmas seemed too simple and didn’t necessary convince me completely.  Despite that, however, I enjoyed this book and look forward to future books in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING:  Oh, now I really want to read Gray’s brother’s story.  I think that is going to be an angst filled one.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  AN AFFAIR IN WINTER is the first book in the Seasons series.

STAR RATING:  I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Seduced

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: SeducedSeduced: The Wicked Woodleys by Jess Michaels
Series: The Wicked Woodleys #5
on May 17, 2016
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
three-half-stars

“I have never been abducted by a lady before,” he drawled, looking at her pale face in the dim carriage.  “This is very exciting.”

FINAL DECISION: An enjoyable conclusion to the Wicked Woodleys series that essentially is an add on to RUINED.  Employing one of my favorite tropes: the lower class hero with a heroine who is his social better, this story lacked the angst of RUINED but still had a lot of action.

THE STORY:  Jack Blackwood is known as Captain Jack, a criminal mastermind who is king of the criminal world that lurks in London. As his brother has married into the titled class, Jack ends up mingling with the aristocracy. There he meets Viscountess Leticia Seagate, a widow who has a secret.  As the two circle around one another, Letty decides to take a lover and can think of no one who fits her better than Jack.  There is danger, however, as Jack has a rival for his business who threatens him and anyone he cares about.

OPINION: Jack and Letty’s story was enjoyable but a little bit of a letdown from the wonderful RUINED. For me, there was a lot of things going on in the story (Letty’s secret, Jack’s enemy, Letty’s brother’s issues) and while I enjoyed the book, I was not enthralled.  I felt that with so much going on, the connection between Letty and Jack was not as strong as I would like.

I still enjoyed the book especially because I am a fan of the lower class hero story.  Michaels has done several of this trope in this series and I seriously love these guys.  Jack is a criminal but he clearly has done well for himself and is in the process of improving himself.  The marriage and happiness of his brother has made him question his own life.  It is at this pivotal time that he begins his relationship with Letty.  The two expect nothing beyond sex from one another and yet, they become intertwined with one another.

I liked the sexy relationship between Jack and Letty and there is always a sense of equality between them personally even if society does not see it.  I also liked how Letty’s personal sense of worth is healed by Jack’s devotion to her.

Overall, I found the story and romance uneven but I liked the characters, loved getting updates on the prior couples and was satisfied with the book as a whole.

WORTH MENTIONING: Michaels also gives a nice update on the other Woodley couples without it being forced.  A nice treat for fans of the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  SEDUCED is the fifth book in the Wicked Woodleys series.  The book gives readers enough information to be read as a standalone although I recommend reading RUINED first because the two stories are closely connected.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: Ruined

Review: RuinedRuined (The Wicked Woodleys, #4) by Jess Michaels
Series: The Wicked Woodleys #4
Published by The Passionate Pen on March 8th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 248
Goodreads
five-stars

“Since she’s been gone, Claire had obviously developed the ability to hide her emotions. In the kind of world where she had been living, she would have had to do so to survive.  But in that moment after she shouted out her secret, War saw everything she’d been fighting to hide. Her pain was so clear, it might have been tattooed across her face in words like grief, terror, and anguish.”

FINAL DECISION: A satisfying resolution of the mystery regarding Claire that has dominated the Wicked Woodleys series.  I absolutely loved Claire and War who are strong and compelling characters.  My new all time favorite by Jess Michaels.

THE STORY: Claire Woodley made a terrible mistake two years ago.  The aristocratic daughter ran off to marry a man who turned out to be a liar, a thief and extremely dangerous rogue.  Avoiding her family who has been searching for her, Claire has immersed herself in the underworld where her lover lives.  Finally, she has emerged and seeks the help of the Woodley horsemaster Warrick Blackwood to retrieve something that her lover stole from her. War has wanted Claire for years, even though he rejected her attempt to seduce him two years ago.  Claire’s request for help requires him to confront his own past and perhaps sacrifice his future, but he cannot resist her.

OPINION: I absolutely loved this book.  Claire is a woman with a scandalous past, a desperate present, and only a vague future.  Throughout the series, readers have been teased with hints of what motivated Claire, what her current situation is and questions as to why she has not returned to her family.  I’m pleased to say that this book provides a satisfying resolution while still providing a hot, sexy and suspenseful story.  Thankfully, Michaels doesn’t make readers wait long to discover one of her big secrets.  Even better, the hot romance between Claire and the man she wanted but who rejected her, War gets off to a fast and torrid start.

War becomes an intriguing hero because he is a good man who has dark secrets.  This gives him a complexity that makes him interesting and worth reading about.  I especially like how he orchestrates the reunion of the Woodleys.  He truly cares for the family and he is a good man who is willing to risk much to help Claire.  War rejected Claire for her own good once and that ended up in Claire’s running off with a con man.  Now that Claire is not so innocent, War is determined not to let the possibility of being with Claire slip by him again.  War is sexy, earthy and complicated.

War and Claire together are combative, emotional and a perfect pair.  The two work together to solve Claire’s problem and end up discovering that their pasts have ended up making them an ideal match for one another in a way that wouldn’t have been possible before Claire’s downfall.

One of my favorite parts of the Wicked Woodleys series has been the cross-social class romances.  For those who like more historically accurate romances, this may not be the story for you.  This series tends more toward erotic sexual encounters and the morals of the characters feel more modern.  For me, however, I love this type of historical book where the time and setting provide texture and substance to the story but where the actual execution of the story has more of a romanticized fairy tale feel to it.  If I want pure historical accuracy, I read historical fiction not romance.

I enjoyed the plot of the book which was suspenseful and worked to provide an opportunity for the relationship between War and Claire to develop and deepen as te two depend upon one another and discover all the secrets each are hiding.  I read through this book in record time and immediately went back to reread passages.  For me, that is the primary indicator of a book that I will reread again and again in the years ahead.  A book that exceeded my expectations!

WORTH MENTIONING: Oh, I can’t wait until Jack’s book.  That’s how an author builds a great series by having compelling characters that demand their own stories be told.

CONNECTED BOOKS: RUINED is the fourth book in the Wicked Woodleys series.  This book can be read as a standalone, but is so much more fulfilling after reading the stories of Claire’s siblings.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 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.

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five-stars

Review: Tempted: The Wicked Woodleys

Review: Tempted: The Wicked WoodleysTempted (The Wicked Woodleys, #3) by Jess Michaels
Series: The Wicked Woodleys #3
Published by Createspace Independent Publishing Platform on January 11th 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 232
Goodreads
four-stars

An Appetizer for Claire’s Story

“In that charged moment, he was flooded with wishes. He wished he had never met her. He wished she weren’t so beautiful. He wished he were more capable of expressing the emotions he normally crushed down deep inside himself. He wished she would ride away and never come back. He wished, very fervently, that she would come up the stairs and kiss him.”

FINAL DECISION: I liked this book but it suffered for me because it made me want Claire’s book more than I was excited about reading this story. There was nothing particularly wrong with this book, but it raised the anticipation for Claire’s book such that I wanted to read that book more than this one.

THE STORY: Gabriel Woodley, the youngest son, has been obsessed with finding his twin sister since she disappeared. He keenly feels the loss of his sister because he considers her the emotional part of himself. Without his sister, Gabriel has difficulties with personal relationships. Indeed, Gabriel doesn’t want anything or anyone to get in the way of his search for his sister. The one person who threatens his single minded devotion is Juliet Gray. Juliet is a healer who helped save his mother’s life. In gratitude, the Dowager Marchioness of Woodley wants to take Juliet to London to help her find a husband. Juliet agrees only because of the budding romance between her father and the Dowager. For herself, she knows that she cannot hope for marriage because she is already ruined. She cannot help her attraction to Gabriel even as she knows that there is no future in it.

OPINION: Gabriel is a difficult hero to like. He keeps himself emotionally apart from others and his obsession with finding his sister has made him a jerk in other books. Through this book, however, readers get to see that Gabriel loves his sister tremendously and while it makes him disregard others, he has good intensions. As Gabriel falls for Juliet, he finds a new outlet for all that passionate caring. His journey in this book is to turn from his obsession to find meaning in his own life.

Juliet is sweet and independent and too willing to sacrifice herself for others. For a great portion of the book Gabriel doesn’t treat her very well and frankly, I would have smacked him silly. Juliet’s compassion and intelligence makes her a great pair for Gabriel. She moves him in a different direction even as she understands and accepts his obsession.

This book doesn’t feel as grounded in an actual historical period. Because the Woodleys are nontraditional people and so are their friends, the standards and morals of the time don’t really apply to them. I don’t mind these types of historical books – where the historical part is more flavor than accuracy, but I know that some people are particularly disturbed by these types of books.

I was also pleased to see a cameo by characters from the Notorious Flynns series. I have a particular fondness for seeing old characters again. Readers who are not familiar with that series will not be confused.

My only problem with this book is that I would much rather be reading Gabriel’s sister Claire’s book. Her story has been an incredible mystery since the beginning of the series. Her book is next in the series and this book brings forward more questions about what is going on with her. I suspect that I will like this book better after Claire’s mystery is solved and I can concentrate on something other than my questions about Claire.

WORTH MENTIONING: Virgin hero catnip.

CONNECTED BOOKS: Tempted is book 3 of the Wicked Woodleys series. There is an ongoing story in the series regarding Gabriel’s missing twin sister, but enough is recapped here that readers could start with this book.

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.

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four-stars