Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Duke of Dark Desires (The Wild Quartet #4) by Miranda Neville

Summary from Goodreads:
Wanted: Governess able to keep all hours . . .
Rebellious Julian Fortescue never expected to inherit a dukedom, nor to find himself guardian to three young half-sisters. Now in the market for a governess, he lays eyes on Jane Grey and knows immediately she is qualified—to become his mistress. Yet the alluring woman appears impervious to him. Somehow Julian must find a way to make her succumb to temptation . . . without losing his heart and revealing the haunting mistakes of his past.

Desired: Duke skilled in the seductive art of conversation . . .
Lady Jeanne de Falleron didn’t seek a position as a governess simply to fall into bed with the Duke of Denford. Under the alias of Jane Grey, she must learn which of the duke’s relatives is responsible for the death of her family—and take her revenge. She certainly can’t afford the distraction of her darkly irresistible employer, or the smoldering desire he ignites within her.

But as Jane discovers more clues about the villain she seeks, she’s faced with a possibility more disturbing than her growing feelings for Julian: What will she do if the man she loves is also the man she’s sworn to kill?

(I’ve tried four times to summarize this novel without spoiling details, but I can’t do any better than the summary from the Goodreads page.)

I haven’t read the previous Wild Quartet books (I have at least one kicking around somewhere) but since I previously read one Miranda Neville series backward (the Burgundy Club) I figured it wouldn’t hurt to start with the fourth book in this series, either.  And it went very well – there were a few times where Julian would go to one of the previous books’ heroes or heroines (in this series, the tie is a group of art collectors rather than antiquarian book collectors) but just enough information was dropped in conversation to clue the reader as to backstory without an info-dump.

That was a good decision on Neville’s part because The Duke of Dark Desires is heavy on exposition for both hero and heroine.  These are not happy character histories – they never are when French aristocrats and the French Revolution are in play.  Jane is such a strong character and her story is both a very old one and a very modern one.  The stigma Jane fears is one that many women face when forced to make choices to simply survive.  Julian, too, has demons but they are less physically menacing – he’s haunted by guilt and inadequacy, made larger by the fact that his mother dumps her three unwanted-though-that-is-never-made-explicit daughters in Julian’s lap so that she might go gallivanting off with her new husband.  Together, though, Julian and Jane can burn up the page – both in sexual chemistry and in character.  Incidentally, Julian’s middle half-sister, Fenella, is a delight.

I am definitely going to check out the earlier three books in the series, they seem like good romances (I am miffed, though only by a very tiny bit, that my suggestion for the title – “The Duke of Denford’s Crime,” to match her Oscar Wilde theme in the series – wasn’t used. Oh well).

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Say Yes to the Marquess (Castles Ever After #2) by Tessa Dare

Summary from Goodreads:
Your presence is requested at romantic Twill Castle for the wedding of Miss Clio Whitmore and . . . and . . . ?

After eight years of waiting for Piers Brandon, the wandering Marquess of Granville, to set a wedding date, Clio Whitmore has had enough. She’s inherited a castle, scraped together some pride, and made plans to break her engagement.

Not if Rafe Brandon can help it. A ruthless prizefighter and notorious rake, Rafe is determined that Clio will marry his brother—even if he has to plan the dratted wedding himself.

So how does a hardened fighter cure a reluctant bride’s cold feet?

● He starts with flowers. A wedding can’t have too many flowers. Or harps. Or cakes.

● He lets her know she’ll make a beautiful, desirable bride—and tries not to picture her as his.

● He doesn’t kiss her.

● If he kisses her, he definitely doesn’t kiss her again.

● When all else fails, he puts her in a stunning gown. And vows not to be nearby when the gown comes off.

● And no matter what—he doesn’t fall in disastrous, hopeless love with the one woman he can never call his own.

Clio Whitmore, fully in possession of Twill Castle (none of the that sketchy lawyer-selling-Ransom’s-castle-from-under-him nonsense in this book), intends to escape from her very, very long engagement and set up her own household.  To do that, she needs control over her dowry and to do that, she needs her intended to sign the papers releasing her from obligation to their engagement without financial penalty.  Since her intended is not even in England (and hasn’t been for years) she needs his younger brother – scandalous, sensual Rafe Brandon – to sign them as proxy.

Rafe, for his part, is intent on preserving Granville’s respectability – the marquess is, after all, a respected diplomat.  Rafe is haunted by his father’s disappointment in him, in that he wasn’t his older brother and that he rejected his haute ton roots to support himself in the bare-knuckle boxing ring (polite gentlemen box at Gentleman Jackson’s saloon).  He will not allow scandal through a broken engagement fall on his family again, not on his watch.  But Clio is undeterred.  She will not marry Granville so Rafe sets out to prove just how nice it would be to have a lovely wedding – by showing Clio how he thinks Granville would treat her if her were Granville which, let’s just come out and say it, is exactly how Rafe would treasure Clio every day of her life.  And that is a very big problem for Rafe.

Say Yes to the Marquess is a lovely novel. The opening is a bit rocky.  I couldn’t quite see where Dare was going with her hero and heroine – there was a lot of impasse having to do with the papers Clio wants Rafe to sign so she can break her engagement and Clio’s mostly-horrible sister and brother-in-law getting in the way – until one very pivotal scene.  Now, I have a historical-accuracy quibble with this scene (the wedding preparations are on a modern preparation scale with food, and flowers, and cake, and dresses, and so on that just weren’t a thing in the Regency period) but it is such a good scene.  I don’t want to spoil it but we are given such a beautiful, heart-breaking backstory for Clio.  It had me in tears (in a good way!) and then I got all teary again at the end (of course) so a lovely romance to ring in the new year.  And Rafe is simply yummy – any time you give a hero the surname Brandon, he has some big shoes to fill (Colonel Brandon from Sense and Sensibility looms large in my mind).

Now I wonder who our other two heroines-who-inherit-castles-from-Uncle-Humphrey are and whether all four couples will meet up.  That was one thing I missed greatly in comparison to the previous Spindle Cove series – I didn’t see any connection beyond the castle set-up to connect Rafe and Clio to Ransom and Izzy from Romancing the Duke (review).  I hope everyone will come together later – When A Scot Ties the Knot is due out August 2015.

Dear FTC: I received a DRC of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller

Summary from Goodreads:

A working father whose life no longer feels like his own discovers the transforming powers of great (and downright terrible) literature in this laugh-out-loud memoir.

Andy Miller had a job he quite liked, a family he loved, and no time at all for reading. Or so he kept telling himself. But, no matter how busy or tired he was, something kept niggling at him. Books. Books he’d always wanted to read. Books he’d said he’d read that he actually hadn’t. Books that whispered the promise of escape from the daily grind. And so, with the turn of a page, Andy began a year of reading that was to transform his life completely.

This book is Andy’s inspirational and very funny account of his expedition through literature: classic, cult, and everything in between. Beginning with a copy of Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita that he happens to find one day in a bookstore, he embarks on a literary odyssey. From Middlemarch to Anna Karenina to A Confederacy of Dunces, this is a heartfelt, humorous, and honest examination of what it means to be a reader, and a witty and insightful journey of discovery and soul-searching that celebrates the abiding miracle of the book and the power of reading.

If you want to know one of my “reading kryptonites”, it’s books about someone’s reading life.  Was it a project? So many books in one year? A particular genre? Books they read as a child?  Sold.  So I jumped all over an email from HarperPerennial offering an advance copy of Andy Miller’s The Year of Reading Dangerously.

Miller, at the time in his life depicted in The Year of Reading Dangerously, was in his mid-to-late thirties, a father, husband, editor, and writer.  He was busy, but he wished he could read books.  To clarify, read books for pleasure, since he read plenty for work.  He even had a work commute by train that would be long enough to allow him to read but he didn’t take advantage of the opportunity.  So Miller decided that he would create a “List of Betterment” – 50 “great books” (and possibly not great) books that he ought to read or re-read.  He blogged under the pseudonym Leonard Bast, which was kind of hilarious, and even though he didn’t turn into a prolific blogger he did keep reading book from his List, starting with Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, which I’ve read (in fact, I’ve read most of the books Miller put on his list).

This was a very fun book to read.  We all read – or don’t read – for very different reasons.  What Miller did was take that perennial complaint of “I wish I read more books” and do something about it.  He read on his commute instead of dinking around or doing a crossword or working.  He read with his wife.  He even read a few things I would not have put on anyone’s “reading betterment” list.  Like A Confederacy of Dunces, which I read cover to cover and honestly cannot determine why people love it (Ignacious T. Reilly is gross and when he takes his girlfriend’s braid in his “paw” and smells it….ugggggghhhhhhhhh). 

Although The Year of Reading Dangerously is not a prescriptive for the reader’s reading life (even though my store inexplicably chooses to shelve this in “Self Improvement” – I’m giving the buyer a side-eye on that one), Miller makes some changes based on what he realized about himself over the course of his reading project. There’s some light-hearted fun and excellent footnotes.

Dear FTC: I received a finished copy of this book from the publisher.

giveaway · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James (Holiday Blog Tour and Giveaway)




BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the summer of 1791, fifteen-year-old Miss Jane Austen is determined to accomplish three things: to do something useful, write something worthy, and fall madly in love. While visiting at Goodnestone Park in Kent for a month of festivities in honor of her brother’s engagement to Miss Elizabeth Bridges, Jane meets the boy-next-door—the wealthy, worldly, and devilishly handsome Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons Park, and hopefully her heart! Like many of Jane’s future heroes and heroines, she soon realizes that there are obstacles—social, financial, and otherwise—blocking her path to love and marriage, one of them personified by her beautiful and sweet tempered rival, Charlotte Payler.

Unsure of her own budding romance, but confident in her powers of observation, Jane distracts herself by attempting to maneuver the affections of three other young couples. But when her well-intentioned matchmaking efforts turn into blundering misalliance, Jane must choose between following her own happily-ever-after, or repairing those relationships which, based on erroneous first impressions, she has misaligned.

In September 1796, Jane Austen wrote in a letter that she has passed by the estate of Bifrons, “the abode of him, on whom I once fondly doated.”  “Him” is Edward Taylor and Syrie James has taken this mysterious nugget and spun a tale of fifteen-year-old Jane Austen and her first crush in 1791.

Seventeen-year-old Edward Taylor, heir to Bifrons, makes a favorable impression on the young Jane when he and his friend Tom Payler stop to rescue Jane, Cassandra, and their brother Charles when their carriage becomes stuck in the mud.  Edward is cosmopolitan, cultured, educated, good-natured, and handsome, all qualities perfectly designed to entrance an intelligent, ambitious, and sheltered young woman.  Their paths cross frequently with all the fêtes, balls, and visits held in honor of Jane’s brother and his fiancée (and her sister and that sister’s fiancée, who got unexpectedly engaged….).  Jane also sharpens her powers of observation (and her tongue) by observing the self-aggrandizing, unimaginative Lady Bridges and her daughters, the gregarious Sir Brook, various other neighbors, and, frustratingly, Miss Charlotte Payler – Tom Payler’s younger sister and Jane’s rival for Edward Taylor’s affections.

Syrie James effortlessly captures the sweetness of teenage crushes – the uncertainty, the wish to impress, jealously, and the sudden certainty that, yes, this person above all others is destined to be your one-and-only.  But readers know, simply by the introduction to the novel, that this teenage love is destined to be bittersweet.  Jane herself tells us that she “once” was fond of Edward Taylor and James does a remarkable job giving the reader an engaging romantic plot while staying true to the biographical history of her very famous protagonist.

In addition to the marriage plot(s) Janeites and sharp readers will delight in picking out lines, scenes, and characters that James has borrowed from Austen’s novels.  Sir Brook is an analogue to Sir John Middleton, from Sense and Sensibility.  Lady Bridges is a bit like a more-aware version of Lady Bertram from Mansfield Park.  Jane horses around by climbing a high wall to impress Edward Taylor, much like Louisa does to impress Captain Wentworth in Persuasion (don’t worry, Jane is quite all right).  She even suffers from a combination of Elizabeth Bennet’s prejudicial first impressions and Emma’s blind but well-meant match-making.  These are lovely distractions from the separation we know comes at the end of the novel.

Jane Austen’s First Love by Syrie James is available now, wherever books are sold (Penguin and BN).

AUTHOR BIO:

Syrie James, hailed as “the queen of nineteenth century re-imaginings” by Los Angeles Magazine, is the bestselling author of nine critically acclaimed novels that have been translated into 18 languages. Her books have been awarded the Audio Book Association Audie, designated as Editor’s Picks by Library Journal, named a Discover Great New Writer’s Selection by Barnes and Noble, a Great Group Read by the Women’s National Book Association, and Best Book of the Year by The Romance Reviews and Suspense Magazine. Syrie is a member of the WGA and lives in Los Angeles. Please visit her at syriejames.com, Facebook or say hello on Twitter @SyrieJames.

GIVEAWAY DETAILS:

Grand Giveaway Contest

Win One of Five Fabulous Jane Austen-inspired Prize Packages

To celebrate the holidays and the release of Jane Austen’s First Love, Syrie is giving away five prize packages filled with an amazing selection of Jane Austen-inspired gifts and books!

To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any of the blog stops on the Jane Austen’s First Love Holiday Blog Tour.

Increase your chances of winning by visiting multiple stops along the tour! Syrie’s unique guest posts will be featured on a variety of subjects, along with fun interviews, spotlights, excerpts, and reviews of the novel. Contest closes at 11:59pm PT, December 21, 2014. Five lucky winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments on the tour, and announced on Syrie’s website on December 22, 2014. The giveaway contest is open to everyone, including international residents. Good luck to all!