Review: A Duke Like No Other

Review: A Duke Like No OtherA Duke Like No Other (Playful Brides, #9) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #9
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on May 1, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 352

“I need you to return to England with me for a few months and pretend to be my loving wife.”

FINAL DECISION: I loved this second chance at love story uses the heat and pride of the two main characters to weave a story about two people who loved one another but were too stubborn to fix things between them.

THE STORY: General Mark Grimaldi has devoted and sacrificed most of his life to protecting England as a spymaster. Now that the wars have ended, he’s about ready to achieve his greatest professional goal — to be named Home Secretary. There is only one problem for Mark. The job is basically his, but those making the decision prefer having a married man in the position and suggest that he find a wife. The problem is that Mark already has a wife, but one he has been estranged from for 10 years. Nicole has spent the last decade in France when he husband returns to ask her assistance in pretending to be a devoted wife. Nicole, however, has a demand of her own that threatens the emotional distance that the two have kept between them.

OPINION: I loved this book because Mark and Nicole are such a compelling couple. They are both too stubborn and prideful to admit to one another that they are in love. Instead, they have allowed the distance between them to fester and keep them apart for years. Yet, each yearns to be with the other.

The story is written such that the past is interwoven with the present and this allows readers to understand what divided these two. As with most real life relationships, mistakes, keeping secrets, pride and stubborness dooms these two. These two want to be together and Mark’s promotion gives them the opportunity to breach the gulf between them.

Mark is a man who’s love for his parents and being placed in their dramas with their own families has led him to stubbornly cling to the promises he made to his father. This despite the problems it created in his marriage. His job has also kept him apart and made it difficult to connect to other people who might have questioned his choices. The solitary nature has allowed him to cling to pride rather than recognizing it as his fault.

Nicole was young when she married and her uncertainty allowed her to accept her husband’s anger rather than fight for her marriage. She is capable and unconventional, but she is waiting for Mark to show that he values her above everything else.

Just when I thought that the book was going to have to go deeply in a dark emotional journey, a mystery arises which allows Mark and Nicole to work together. The two do respect one another and just need to make themselves vulnerable to one another.

I really liked this couple and enjoyed their journey.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is another possible couple introduced and I hope we get their story before the series ends.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A DUKE LIKE NO OTHER is the ninth book in the Playful Brides series. This book can certainly be read as a standalone with the caveat that there are some small appearances by characters from other books. This romance is self-contained.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

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


Review: The Right Kind of Rogue

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 Right Kind of RogueThe Right Kind of Rogue (Playful Brides, #8) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #8
Published by St. Martin's Press on October 31st 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 320

“He’s a rogue, an unrepentant charmer.”

FINAL DECISION: A Romeo and Juliet type romance between two warring families (with humor and less death). A wallflower finally being noticed by the man she has loved for years, this is a story where I liked the characters quite a bit.

THE STORY: Viscount Hart Highgate is searching for a wife who is well-connected socially and brings her own funds with her. Meg Timmons has loved the raking Hart for years but as a wallflower not only doesn’t she fit the requirements that Hart has set down, but she comes from a family that is involved in a feud with Hart’s family. Meg is taken under the wing of a matchmaker who transforms her into the belle of the ball who knows she desperately needs to marry someone to save her family from ruin — even as she only wants the one man she knows she cannot have.

OPINION: I like the combination of humor and drama that is part of this book. There is also a fairy tale aspect (Cinderella) combined with a bit of Romeo and Juliet (without the teenage death).

There is a sweetness to this story as Hart and Meg get to know one another as he is supposed to be helping her find a husband. After first noticing that she is a beautiful woman, he actually gets to know her as a person. At the same time, Meg had a crush on Hart that becomes love as the two dance and laugh and get to know one another.

I really liked Meg who is a genuinely nice person who cares about those around her. But she also makes mistakes as the story demonstrates. Hart is described as a rogue and a rake, but we actually don’t get to see much of that but rather he shows a very nice and gentle side for most of the story.

In other hands this might have been a light and fluffy romance, but the darkness and dysfunctional parents of the hero and heroine and Hart’s own history brings some hard moments into this story, but things stay on the lighter side. This story is not dark so those that prefer their historical romance a bit lighter will enjoy this one. There were scenes where I laughed out loud at the interactions.

My only complaint about the book is that I thought that the resolution of the story demanded a little more than what we got. The conflict was so acute at that point that I expected a more dramatic resolution — or perhaps the break seemed to demand something more. Despite this, I enjoyed this book and I especially liked seeing characters from the series.


CONNECTED BOOKS: THE RIGHT KIND OF ROGUE is the eighth book in the Playful Brides series. This book can be read on its own, but there are a number of cross-over characters (especially from THE LEGENDARY LORD) so I think the book is more enjoyable read as part of 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 review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.


Review: Never Trust a Pirate

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: Never Trust a PirateNever Trust a Pirate (Playful Brides, #7) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #7
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on May 2nd 2017
Genres: Historical
Pages: 288

“The Black Fox Strikes Again”

FINAL DECISION:  Twisty with lots of secrets and strong independent characters but not too dark, I loved this one!  The story didn’t go where I expected it to from the title.  The characters were slowly revealed both to the reader and to one another.  The story was so fun but with some depth and purpose.

THE STORY:  Danielle LaCross seeking work as a lady’s maid for a viscountess.  She mistakes Cade Cavendish for his twin brother the viscount.  Cade is a known rogue and the black sheep of the family.  Rumored to be a rake and perhaps a pirate, Cade has a lot of secrets that he is keeping.  Danielle has secrets as well.  Once she realizes that Cade is not who she thought he was, she still cannot seem to resist the intriguing man.  Soon they realize that they have a common purpose and join forces to resolve the shadows that still haunt them.

OPINION:  This one hit all the right notes with me.  The book jumps immediately into the action and a lot is happening here.  The characters have secrets and these was plenty to keep me intellectually interested in the plot even as I emotionally fell for these characters.

A great part of this story is the twists along the way, so I recommend staying away from spoilers to maintain the suspense in the story.

Cade’s role as the black sheep of the family is important to him.  A twin, he has made a role for himself as the irresponsible rake…but there is much more going on with him.  I loved his personality which keeps a lightness even as the drama is ratcheted up in the story.  Because although readers might not know what Cade is doing, there is never any question that he is on the right side.

Danielle is strong and independent (and perhaps a little too assertive for a true lady’s maid). Normally the lack of class distinctions between them would seem false in the story, but Cade did not grow up part of the aristocracy and (along with some secrets to be revealed) thus the ultimate reason for how these two interact with one another works.

Fans of witty banter between the characters will like this one.  Cade and Danielle circle around one another as each is trying to figure out the other without giving away their own secrets.

One of my favorite parts of this book is that I actually was surprised by the resolution of the mystery and yet it made perfect sense.  The mystery has a real purpose here and is well integrated into the romance. The suspense and mystery of the story worked really well here and felt totally natural for the times. Yet the story never veers into angst and darkness.  There is a brightness to the story that I really enjoyed (even though I’m generally a bigger fan of the dark romances).

WORTH MENTIONING:  Fans of the series will get some glimpses of favorite characters.

CONNECTED BOOKS:  NEVER TRUST A PIRATE is the seventh book in the Playful Brides series.  While it is certainly possible to read this book as a standalone, it is so much better having the backstory of the characters.

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.


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: 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.


Review: The Unforgettable Hero: A Playful Brides Story

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 Unforgettable Hero: A Playful Brides StoryThe Unforgettable Hero (Playful Brides, #4.5) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #4.5
Published by Swerve on February 2nd 2016
Genres: Historical
Pages: 100

Amusing Little Story But Honestly Little Romance

“She’d called him a hero. No one had ever done that before. No one would ever do that again. In that moment, that one unforgettable moment, she’d made him feel like a hero. Her hero. Jesus, was it wrong to wish that she’d never remember who she truly was?”

FINAL DECISION: The story was amusing but there were too many things going on and the romance suffered. This story is enjoyable but don’t expect a deep romantic connection.

THE STORY: Cecelia Harcourt is an aspiring romance writer trying to sell her book to avoid a forced marriage to her cousin. When an accident results in amnesia, Cecelia believes that she is the heroine in her novel with the man who rescued her as her betrothed. Lieutenant Adam Hunt is the youngest brother of a duke. He is at a crossroads of his life when he sees a young woman being run down by a carriage. When she awakens, she believes that he is Peter, her betrothed. While he goes along with her belief at the request of the doctor, he begins to find he likes the intelligent young woman.

OPINION: This novella has an amusing premise. Cecelia, after an accident, believes that she is heroine in her novel and that her novel is her life. Her situation is humorous. At the same time, her actual story is somewhat like her own romance novel with a different plot. She has a sister who needs medicine. An evil uncle trying to force her marriage to her greedy cousin. For me, I enjoyed the story but the romance was superficial. Adam and Cecelia don’t really get to know one another at all. This is a book where everything is the plot and the dramatic situation. A nice read, but not a compelling romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: How many of us would like to be the heroine of a romance novel?

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE UNFORGETTABLE HERO is book 4.5 in the Playful Brides series. Although there are characters from the novels, this novella can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 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.



Review: The Unexpected Duchess

Review: The Unexpected DuchessThe Unexpected Duchess (Playful Brides, #1) by Valerie Bowman
Series: Playful Brides #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on April 29th 2014
Genres: Historical
Pages: 336

Light and Fluffy Comedy of Errors Historical Romance

“A twig in her eye and a mouthful of foliage were the unfortunate by-products of having her head lodged in a hedgerow.”

FINAL DECISION: A light romance with numerous misunderstandings and confusions, THE UNEXPECTED DUCHESS does it genre well. Readers looking for realism and serious story should look elsewhere, but those enjoying a sweet, fun romance with comedy and humor will enjoy this book.

THE STORY: Lady Lucy Upton is known to have a “rapier for a tongue”. She is determined to help her shy best friend Cassandra rebuff the courtship of Derek Hunt, Duke of Claringdon. Soon Lucy and Derek are deeply engaged in battling one another which ends up overshadowing the Duke’s courtship even as he is determined to marry Cassandra since he made a promise to do so. But what is Lucy to do when she realizes that she is falling for the Duke even as her best friend is now considering allowing the Duke to court her after all?

OPINION: A mapcap romance with humor and light drama, this book gives the readers a smile. There are many misunderstandings, mix-ups and mismatched couples along the way to the happy ending. The book itself refers to Much Ado About Nothing and like many of Shakespeare’s comedies there are farcical elements. There are also allusions to Cyrano in reverse where Lucy tells Cass what to say to discourage the Duke while she hides in a bush.

These light historicals are not my favorites, but I really enjoyed the characters who — despite their sometimes illogical behavior — are likeable and funny. By the end of the book, I really wanted to see how the romances between the other two couples in the book will turn out in future books in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book sets up the couples for the next couple of books in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE UNEXPECTED DUCHESS is the first book in the Playful Brides series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.