Review: After Dark with the Duke

Review: After Dark with the DukeAfter Dark with the Duke (The Palace of Rogues, #4) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #4
Published by Avon on November 30, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: Oh, I loved this one! Emotional with lots of longing and (not too dark) angst. This combined with the beautiful lyricism of Long’s writing makes this an example of the reason I’m a big fan of Julie Anne Long’s books.

THE STORY: Fleeing to the Palace on the Thames, Mariana Wylde is considered a harlot as an opera singer who had a duel fought by two men for her favor. Almost penniless and desperate to hide from gossip and those who want her to pay for her part in the duel. The proprietresses of the Palace see an opportunity to promote the Palace and also to help Mariana’s reputation. At the Palace is also General James Duncan Blackmore, the Duke of Valkirk, honorable and deeply respected. A self-made man who gained his own title, Valkirk initially scorns the scandalous opera singer but finds himself drawn to a woman he finds to be intelligent and deeply vulnerable.

OPINION: In the story of Mariana and James, the series gets a fantastic emotional story. What is not to love about the self-made Duke who always does what is right and proper and the woman who has found herself on the seedy side of society’s judgment. The slow entanglement of these two was deeply satisfying.

The Duke is almost twenty years older than Mariana and is a widower with a son who is already an adult. He has structured his life as being proper and above reproach. Now he has reached a midlife crisis of a sort and is having trouble writing his memoirs. His meeting of Mariana changes his life. He finds a new purpose and a threat to his perfectly organized life. The gentle way in which Long demonstrates how James changes throughout the story is what makes her such a great writer.

Mariana’s past is something that she doesn’t apologize for. She recognizes her mistakes but doesn’t enter into society’s condemnation of herself — and neither do the owners of the Palace. Her story is one of self-acceptance and accepting her mistakes.

One thing I really enjoy about this book is that the story is concentrated between these two characters. By centering both of these characters in the Palace, there is an ability for them to spend time together and grapple with their relationship. This is a great device that allows Long to avoid many of the expected interactions between a stuffy proper Duke and the opera singer. The domestic setting allows the book to avoid the setups for Mariana and James to meet and instead allows the story to focus intently on their relationship.

I loved this book because of the emotional resonance of the characters and how deeply invested I became in their relationship.

WORTH MENTIONING: One thing I love about this series is following the development of the Palace itself. I’m rooting for it to succeed as the Palace itself is a central character in this series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: AFTER DARK WITH THE DUKE is the fourth book in the Palace of Rogues series. This book can be read as a standalone although there are characters that appear in other books.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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

 

five-stars

Review: I’m Only Wicked with You

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: I’m Only Wicked with YouI'm Only Wicked with You (The Palace of Rogues, #3) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #3
Published by Avon on August 24, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400
Goodreads
four-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: A solid entry in the series that was slow to develop, but ended in a satisfying fashion. The book is my least favorite in the series as I didn’t find enough emotional conflict in the story, but even an average Long book is better than most books I read.

THE STORY: Hugh Cassidy is an American who has traveled to London searching for a missing woman. Instead, he finds Lillias Vaughn, a lady who is a bit out of the ordinary and strains against acceptable lady behavior. The two meet at the Grand Palace on the Thames where the boardinghouse guests must adhere to rules which require them to interact with one another. Hugh and Lillias, however, have difficulties with the “civilly” part of the rules. Instead, they needle one another as each has interests elsewhere, and yet the two end up in a compromising situation necessitating a hasty engagement. But there is hope that the engagement could be unraveled with a little effort from both of them.

OPINION: I struggled through the first third of this book. There was a lot of talking but not much conflict that felt interesting. Once the forced engagement occurred, the pace of the book picked up and I felt that the relationship between Lillias and Hugh became emotional and engaging. I was willing to give the story time to develop, but less dedicated readers might have given up by then. I’m not sure why that first portion of the book was so unengaging, but I think it might be because so much time is given to explaining Lillias’s unconventional outlook on life. The real conflicts in the story (her other connection) are kept as a surprise and the reader doesn’t really get a good sense of Lillias’s interior emotional life.

At the same time, once the surprise reveal occurs, the emotional depth between these two main characters had resonance. This was a book where I could see the first third of the book excised and then expanded in the last portion. I loved Lillias’s parents who become real characters by the end.

Why did I rate this so highly when the first part was disappointing? Because if that portion did not exist, the story would have been fulfilling just based on the last two-thirds. I finished the book satisfied with these characters’ story even if it took a while to get to the good part.

WORTH MENTIONING: Readers of Long’s Pennyroyal Green series will be happy to know that this series takes place in the same universe. Watch for the reference!

CONNECTED BOOKS: I’M ONLY WICKED WITH YOU is the third book in the Palace of Rogues series. This book can be read as stand-alone although the supporting characters appear in other books in the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

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

 

four-stars

Review: Angel in a Devil’s Arms

Review: Angel in a Devil’s ArmsAngel in a Devil's Arms (The Palace of Rogues, #2) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #2
Published by Avon on October 29, 2019
Genres: Historical
Pages: 368
Goodreads
five-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: A book that just lifted my spirit and heart. Beautiful, lyrical and filled with acceptance and redemption.  Some books just fill my heart so much that I can’t find the words to express how much it touched me. This is one of those books.

THE STORY: Angelique Breedlove has begun to build a new life for herself. After failed love affairs and a turn as the mistress of her now business partner’s deceased husband, Angelique knows that men are trouble. Trouble walks into the Grand Palace on the Thames in the form of Lucien Durand, Lord Bolt. Ten years after his supposed death, Lucien has returned to London seeking revenge. Angelique is deeply attracted to Lucien, but that is a reason she is determined to keep her distance. Lucien ends up having to decide if he wants to pursue Angelique or seek his own justice.

OPINION: I loved this book. It didn’t feel huge in the story (in that it didn’t feel like the world was at stake), but the heart of it was large and emotional and it lingered in my thoughts. Long has become a favorite of mine because the story is always centered on the emotional journey of the characters. The heart is always unabashedly center her books.

Angelique is a woman who has a disappointing past love life, but she accepts her life without apology. She is not a virgin and doesn’t see that as shameful but rather as a person who looked for love and was disappointed by the men she trusted. Indeed, a theme of both this book and the prior one are the ways that men disappoint and use women and how those women find strength to go on. I liked Angelique’s brassy and bold personality which hides a deeply hurt and vulnerable heart. She has loved too unwisely because she loves deeply. The question here is whether she is willing to risk again. How does she know that Lucien is a man who will not be yet another disappointment for her.

Lucien is always dealing with his own disappointment. Rejected by his father and left for dead in a plot which send him on a decade journey to make himself, Lucien has returned for revenge. But it is clear that what Lucien really wants is to belong. His question is whether he is willing to give up the chance for revenge in order to have his chance to be a part of something. Lucien, like so many of Long’s heroes, have a deep emotional center. They feel so much and indeed his emotional core is quickly unlocked in this book. Much of the book is him finding a way to show his worth to Angelique.

I’m impressed how this book creates and expands a community that is primarily based in a few rooms in what is essentially a bed and breakfast. The characters and their relationships have significance and there are some nice payoffs from what appeared to be peripheral issues in the first book.

Lyrical and emotional, this is another winner by Julie Anne Long.

WORTH MENTIONING: I love the found family in this series and want to know more about the characters as the series develops.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS is the second book in the Palace of Rogues series. Although the romance here is self-contained, I think the series is better read in order because the interconnected relationships between the characters are important.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

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

 

five-stars

Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover

Review: Lady Derring Takes a LoverLady Derring Takes a Lover (The Palace of Rogues #1) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #1
Published by Avon on March 26, 2019
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

“I have perhaps seen more beautiful women, but the difference between them and you is like the difference between the grimy window and one rubbed clean, one though which the sun shines. It is about a certain quality of light.”

FINAL DECISION: A book about love and friendship and building a family, I loved this book. Long writes such beautiful prose about love and relationship that I just fell into this book and didn’t want to find my way out. A great start to Long’s return to historical romance.

THE STORY: Delilah Swanpool, Countess of Derring, finds out upon her husband’s death that not only was he in financial debt and has left her nothing but a useless building in a poor area of London, but that he also had a mistress. Delilah decides never to be at the mercy of man again and opens a boarding house in the building her inherited. One of her guests is Captain Tristan Hardy who, unknown to Delilah, is hunting a smuggling operation and Delilah and her new boarding house are under suspicion. Tristan begins to question his mission as he gets to know Delilah who touches a heart that he doesn’t believe he has.

OPINION: This is a wonderful book. As it began, I wondered if I would like it because the story and tone was different than I expected, but by the time the two central relationships in the book (Delilah/Angelique and Delilah/Tristan) were established I found myself relaxing into the sigh-worthy beauty of the text and the relationships.

The first book in the series tends to suffer as characters and places and situations are introduced. This book does have some of that in the first portion of the book, but I truly enjoyed the development of the friendship between Delilah and Angelique. Two women left penniless by the same man, find common ground. Their relationship is important to this story (and I expect this series). I especially appreciated how these women look at their lives and see how they are not “seen” or “known” by people and find a way to help themselves. I very much like seeing women take power into their own hands. These two women have an interesting story even without the romance and in essence are the “founding mothers” of the new family built in The Grand Palace of the Thames aka the Palace of Rogues.

Delilah is a darling woman. Nothing about who she is has mattered to those around her. Instead, she has had to play a role built for her. Tossed from all the protection of her life that she expected, Delilah refuses to continue on that path and seek another husband or a protector as is expected. Instead, she cuts a new path for herself. Despite the sadness and disappointment in her life, Delilah is a kind and optimistic woman. Indeed, she is the heart of the new operation.

Tristan is a man dedicated to his work when he arrives at the Palace. Delilah immediately draws Tristan. I loved how sensitive Tristan is even though he claims to be cynical and without a heart. Everything about why he does things comes from a place of doing right and care. He doesn’t search from smugglers because he wants riches or advancement. Instead, he feels responsibility for those harmed by the smugglers and is dedicated to the responsibilities placed upon him by the King.

I love the quiet development of the relationship between Delilah and Tristan which depends upon talking and appreciating and knowing. At the same time, there is intense passion which flares between them. But there is something very powerful in Delilah’s demand that what lies between them must be centered in knowledge and relationship rather than mere bodily passion. She is always willing to demand that she be more than the easy expectation.

This is a beautifully written book. As always, Long has such a lyrical and emotional power to her books. This book ripped my heart out at times and made it bleed but then also made it beat harder and soar with a recognition of the universal joy and power of love. I immediately began to re-read passages not only for the intense emotional parts, but just the beautifully written parts. Long has written another winner.

WORTH MENTIONING: The boardinghouse sets up an intriguing variety of potential stories that can be explored in this series, but I’m breathlessly waiting for the next book in the series, ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS, which will be about Angelique (Derring’s former mistress) and which will, thankfully, be out in October this year.

CONNECTED BOOKS: LADY DERRING TAKES A LOVER is the first book in the Palace of Rogues series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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

 

four-half-stars