Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Rakess by Scarlett Peckham (Society of Sirens #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

Meet the SOCIETY OF SIRENS—three radical, libertine ladies determined to weaponize their scandalous reputations to fight for justice and the love they deserve…

She’s a Rakess on a quest for women’s rights…

Seraphina Arden’s passions include equality, amorous affairs, and wild, wine-soaked nights. To raise funds for her cause, she’s set to publish explosive memoirs exposing the powerful man who ruined her. Her ideals are her purpose, her friends are her family, and her paramours are forbidden to linger in the morning.

He’s not looking for a summer lover…

Adam Anderson is a wholesome, handsome, widowed Scottish architect, with two young children, a business to protect, and an aversion to scandal. He could never, ever afford to fall for Seraphina. But her indecent proposal—one month, no strings, no future—proves too tempting for a man who strains to keep his passions buried with the losses of his past.

But one night changes everything…

What began as a fling soon forces them to confront painful secrets—and yearnings they thought they’d never have again. But when Seraphina discovers Adam’s future depends on the man she’s about to destroy, she must decide what to protect…her desire for justice, or her heart.

When The Rakess was announced, I was so into it. Lady Rake, thumbing her nose at Society, makes this really upstanding guy an Indecent Proposal With No Strings Attached. Ok, I’m in it. Plus, look at that cover!

And then I got a galley and I just couldn’t get into it. I was really expecting a more of a romp given the cover copy. Seraphina isn’t a carefree Lady Rake (I was probably expecting someone like a considerably less-nasty Marquise de Merteuil). She’s very stressed about accidental pregnancy (birth control is not exactly reliable), her lovers are boring her, she’s actually fighting a drinking problem, she’s facing some scary harassment for returning to her family home, and one of her best friends is missing (likely in an asylum because guess what your husband can do to you for no reason at this time period with complete collusion from the “medical” establishment). So I had to set it aside for a bit until I could re-calibrate my expectations.

I eventually read this book a chapter at a time until I got about halfway through and I had a better handle on Sera and Adam and the darker tone of this book. And then I started to really like it. A lot of The Rakess is spent working through the awful shit that can happen to women at the hands of men. There are a lot of content warnings: slut shaming, loss of pregnancy, alcoholism/addiction, among others. Adam has to work through his own emotional trauma as well. His parents were never married and his father was an alcoholic, so he’s been carrying those two bulls-eyes around on his back while trying to build a career that at this time often depends on the reputation of your acquaintances and less on your talent. The title of a garbage aristocrat holds more weight than a principled “fallen” woman fighting for her right to live her life. Some of this comes through in their sex scenes together, which really do help to fill out their characters. How Sera and Adam have sex in this book is very important – from their first scene where Sera explicitly asks for it to be rougher to the big, culminating emotional scene which has a much more tender tone.

By the end of the book I quite liked Sera and Adam together and how they decide to live their life together. And the introduction of Sera’s friends – who will provide the backbone for the rest of the books in the series – was a slightly harrowing but delightful jailbreak and reunion scene in the middle of the narrative. Given the epilogue to The Rakess, I would assume that these books will run on the darker side as well.

So if you prefer your romances on the lighter side, this might not for you. But if you are looking for grittier realism, you might like it.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher.
Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Say Yes to the Duke by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #5)

42448315Summary from Goodreads:
A shy wallflower meets her dream man—or does she?—in the next book in New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James’ Wildes of Lindow series.

Miss Viola Astley is so painfully shy that she’s horrified by the mere idea of dancing with a stranger; her upcoming London debut feels like a nightmare.

So she’s overjoyed to meet handsome, quiet vicar with no interest in polite society — but just when she catches his attention, her reputation is compromised by a duke.

Devin Lucas Augustus Elstan, Duke of Wynter, will stop at nothing to marry Viola, including marrying a woman whom he believes to be in love with another man.

A vicar, no less.

Devin knows he’s no saint, but he’s used to conquest, and he’s determined to win Viola’s heart.

Viola has already said Yes to his proposal, but now he wants her unruly heart…and he won’t accept No for an answer.

Say Yes to the Duke has an almost completely internal plot. Viola, who has awful social anxiety (occasionally bad enough to involve vomiting so she has delayed her debut as much as possible), has fallen in puppy love with the new and very attractive vicar on the Lindow estate, probably because he’s the safest non-related male around. Never mind that he’s got a (terrible) fiancee and potentially equally awful mother-in-law in tow. She also – unfortunately, or fortunately – overhears the Duke of Wynter cold-bloodedly discussing how he would rather propose to her sister Joan (he has “reasons,” they aren’t great). Viola gets up the nerve to tell him off, which makes her immediately intriguing to him. So Wynter sets about trying to engage her interest in him and not the vicar – which is going fairly well until they are caught kissing behind a closed door (at the vicarage no less, because Wynter has decided to lure the vicar back to his own parish). Marriage by special license! But will Viola and Wynter fall in love?

This story is quiet and sweet and delicious. Sometimes, I just really need a book where nothing untoward happens – there’s no unhinged hanger-on, no greedy cousin, no addict mother, etc etc here for distraction – and the entire plot hangs on whether the main characters will fall in love. And if this is also what you’re looking for, Say Yes to the Duke is it. What I also like here are the musings on what makes one part of a family in this book – and by extension some of Betsy’s story in Say No to the Duke. Viola is “not a Wilde” since her father was her mother’s first husband but she’s been raised “as a Wilde” since she was a toddler when her mother married the Duke of Lindow. Betsy is “a Wilde” but out in Society she long felt that her mother’s reputation – having run off with another man, causing the Duke to divorce her and later marry Viola’s mother Ophelia – overshadowed her Wilde connection. By contrast Betsy’s younger sister Joan, the only Wilde who does not share the Duke’s coloring which marks her out as another man’s child, appears to let any worry about her parentage just roll off her back – she is “a Wilde” in all the ways that count (meaning: the Duke has said she’s a Wilde, so she’s a Wilde and woe to anyone who crosses him otherwise).

Some of my favorite Eloisa James novels are the ones where she brings in information from her other life as a literature professor (The Taming of the Duke is a particular favorite for this reason) because we get to see what people did in their communities or in their downtime. Say Yes to the Duke has a minor plot element that turns on one of  Viola’s suggestions to the vicar: putting on a Bible play in the parish – which is not exactly CofE, given that the plays are medieval or Elizabethan in origin and run somewhat closer to the dreaded papistry of Ye Olde Englande (my joke here, not Eloisa’s, but she uses the play to great effect late in the book). There’s also an extremely steamy closet-sex scene which might be the sexiest thing Eloisa has written since the blindfolded chess/sex scene in This Duchess of Mine.

Say Yes to the Duke is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I also have a copy on pre-order on my Nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #4)

40220892Summary from Goodreads:
One little wager will determine their fate—a daring escape or falling into temptation with a rakish lord.

Lady Betsy Wilde’s first season was triumphant by any measure, and a duke has proposed—but before marriage, she longs for one last adventure.

No gentleman would agree to her scandalous plan—but Lord Jeremy Roden is no gentleman. He offers a wager. If she wins a billiards game, he’ll provide the breeches.

If he wins…she is his, for one wild night.

But what happens when Jeremy realizes that one night will never be enough? In the most important battle of his life, he’ll have to convince Betsy to say no to the duke.

I started reading Say No to the Duke as a galley last year and just couldn’t get into it. So I put it aside. I’m glad I did because I think it was a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – for whatever reason, it just wasn’t grabbing me and since I don’t get paid to review, I hit pause.

Since Eloisa’s next Wilde installment Say Yes to the Duke is due out this month, I picked this back up. I really liked it. The plot is mostly internal, with both Betsy and Jeremy having to deal with some mental stuff before they can truly come together (Betsy, the internalized misogyny that sexual desire means she’s going to abandon her family like her mother did; Jeremy, his guilt over the deaths of his men in battle and his ongoing struggle with PTSD). They bicker delightfully, especially at the beginning. There is some external plot that feels shoehorned in to tie-up a plotbunny at the end but that’s minimal. The auction scene is a treat.

I would definitely like a book for Aunt Knowe (ok, so her first name is Louisa and the family last name is Wilde and she’s the duke’s twin sister….so if she hadn’t ever married (or married a commoner) she would be Lady Louisa or (at a stretch) Lady Wilde, not Aunt or Lady Knowe. Am I missing something??? She’s a fun character and there’s definitely a story there!!)

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley sent to my store by the publisher but I also had a copy I preordered on my Nook last year (so I could have read that, too, I guess).

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Not the Duke’s Darling by Elizabeth Hoyt (Greycourt #1)

38309947Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Hoyt brings us the first book in her sexy and sensual Greycourt Series!

Freya de Moray is many things: a member of the secret order of Wise Women, the daughter of disgraced nobility, and a chaperone living under an assumed name. What she is not is forgiving. So when the Duke of Harlowe, the man who destroyed her brother and led to the downfall of her family, appears at the country house party she’s attending, she does what any Wise Woman would do: she starts planning her revenge.

Christopher Renshaw, the Duke of Harlowe, is being blackmailed. Intent on keeping his secrets safe, he agrees to attend a house party where he will put an end to this coercion once and for all. Until he recognizes Freya, masquerading amongst the party revelers, and realizes his troubles have just begun. Freya knows all about his sins—sins he’d much rather forget. But she’s also fiery, bold, and sensuous—a temptation he can’t resist. When it becomes clear Freya is in grave danger, he’ll risk everything to keep her safe. But first, Harlowe will have to earn Freya’s trust-by whatever means necessary.

With the publication of the final book in her Maiden Lane series last year, I was wondering what Elizabeth Hoyt was going to do next. Maiden Lane started dark and got darker, ending with the destruction of a secret cult that prided itself on the degradation of women and children.

Not the Duke’s Darling is a solid, fast-moving start to Hoyt’s new series. This is an enemies-to-lovers-with-a-second-chance romance (one of my favorite tropes!) that also dabbles a bit in secret societies (although these two doesn’t go in for sex cults, thank goodness) that pits women and women’s knowledge against some wild-eyed witch-hunters. Hoyt starts off with a bang, almost literally, with an undercover Freya rescuing a small child from his nefarious uncle then off to a house-party to investigate the identity of a politician bent on restarting witchcraft trials. Along the way Freya comes across an old friend-now-nemesis the Duke of Harlow (Christopher), who is bent on stymieing a blackmailer and getting Freya to tell him what she’s up to (good luck with that). And then there’s a murder….

I quite liked Freya as a character but I also really liked how Hoyt dug into questions of how women were treated in marriage – legally – in the 18th century and how Christopher chooses to allow Freya to make up her own mind without getting overly possessive or seducing her into agreement. This not-quite-a-beta-male hero is a welcome relief to a sea of heroes who growl, stalk, and generally act overly possessive. I hope Hoyt gets a bit more into the Wise Women in future books of the series.

Plus there’s a cute dog, which is a bit of a requirement in a Hoyt novel anymore.

Not the Duke’s Darling is out today, wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Cadenza by Stella Riley (Rockliffe #6)

42394213Summary from Goodreads:
The performance finished in a flourish of technical brilliance and the young man rose from the harpsichord to a storm of applause.
Julian Langham was poised on the brink of a dazzling career when the lawyers lured him into making a catastrophic mistake. Now, instead of the concert platform, he has a title he doesn’t want, an estate verging on bankruptcy … and bewildering responsibilities for which he is totally unfitted.
And yet the wreckage of Julian’s life is not a completely ill wind. For Tom, Rob and Ellie it brings something that is almost a miracle … if they dare believe in it.
Meanwhile, first-cousins Arabella Brandon and Elizabeth Marsden embark on a daring escapade which will provide each of them with a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The adventure will last only a few weeks, after which everything will be the way it was before. Or so they think. What neither of them expects is for it to change a number of lives … most notably, their own.
And there is an additional complication of which they are wholly unaware.
The famed omniscience of the Duke of Rockliffe.

I heard the ad-read for Cadenza on Book Riot‘s When in Romance podcast and basically bought it immediately. There’s a first for everything. Georgian? Yes. There’s a professional-level musician? Yes. There’re two young women who trade places and romantic shenanigans ensue? Yes yes yes.

It’s really good. If you have run out of Georgette Heyer books to read (especially if you liked These Old Shades and others of her Georgian-set romances), Cadenza would be a good one to try. It has that same older, more dialogue-centered feel and no pre-marital hanky-panky. And, even though this is the last book in the series, you can totally read this one without worrying about reading in order or anything. If I hadn’t already known it was in a series I wouldn’t have guessed.

Plot-wise there are no surprises (womp womp), there is a plot reveal (someone has a SEKRIT) with a lot of build-up but is just dispensed in a single infodump conversation without much pay-off for the reader, and the ending is a bit over-long (I’d trim about 25 pages). But the music sections are lovely, Arabella and Julian’s interactions are delightful, and you really feel for Lizzie’s reticence and how much she has to lose with this scheme Arabella cooked up. I very much liked the character of Rockliffe as a deus ex machina so I’ll probably check out a few of the earlier books in the series.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy on my nook.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Born to be Wilde by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #3)

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The richest bachelor in England plays matchmaker…for an heiress he wants for himself!

For beautiful, witty Lavinia Gray, there’s only one thing worse than having to ask the appalling Parth Sterling to marry her: being turned down by him.

Now the richest bachelor in England, Parth is not about to marry a woman as reckless and fashion-obsessed as Lavinia; he’s chosen a far more suitable bride.

But when he learns of Lavinia’s desperate circumstances, he offers to find her a husband. Even better, he’ll find her a prince.

As usual, there’s no problem Parth can’t fix. But the more time he spends with the beguiling Lavinia, the more he finds himself wondering…

Why does the woman who’s completely wrong feel so right in his arms?

Surprise! If you thought you’d have to wait another year for the next Wilde installment, guess again – Eloisa has gifted us with Parth and Lavinia’s story.

At the end of Wilde in Love, we left Parth and Lavinia with a lot of mutual loathing. He thought she was just an empty-headed, society clotheshorse (although this is a bit rich from a guy who owns lace factories). She thought he was a Johnny-come-lately who made his money through child-labor (and the only man who didn’t fall at her feet). At the end of Too Wilde to Wed, most of those feelings haven’t changed except that Lavinia has discovered that her mother is a thief; Lady Gray used Willa’s inheritance to fund their lifestyle. And now, in Born to Be Wilde, if Lavinia doesn’t want to be destitute and shamed in Society, she’s going to have to go cap-in-hand to Parth and ask him to marry her.

This does not go particularly well. He turns her down. Parth is planning to marry an Italian countess (Elisa, who has other plans). Lavinia comes down with the stomach bug from hell, Lady Gray is revealed to also be a laudanum addict, and Parth offers to help Lavinia find a suitable husband. Embarassing. But when Lavinia and Parth actually start talking to each other, rather than sparring, and Lavinia stumbles into a career of her own, they just might fall in love.

I really liked this installment in the Wilde family series, but I didn’t LOVE IT like I did the two previous books. Something about Parth and Lavinia’s story just didn’t grab me. I think I had been expecting Beatrice and Benedick, a couple who have a serious history but work it out, but they didn’t quite get there. It may also have been the B-plot/potentially complicating plot threads, and there are a lot of them, which didn’t feel nearly as woven into the fabric of the story as I know they could be (Elisa, while a nice character, was extremely superfluous by the end of the book). I also felt that Parth and Lavinia’s story was so very spread out over time, we didn’t get to see them growing together. Then there is the crucial problem of people not actually talking to one another, which was a problem that didn’t exist in Wilde in Love. One thing that has kept getting better through the books so far, is the character of Lady Knowe, the duke’s sister, and the aunt of all the Wilde children. She gains dimensions in her character with each new book and I wonder if, when Eloisa is done writing a serial novella about the Duke of Lindow and Ophelia, if she will tackle Lady Knowe as well. She has to have a story to tell, too.

Born to be Wilde is out today.

Dear FTC: Do you not know me already?

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Too Wilde to Wed by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #2)

36341200Summary from Goodreads:
The handsome, rakish heir to a dukedom, Lord Roland Northbridge Wilde—known to his friends as North—left England two years ago, after being jilted by Miss Diana Belgrave. He returns from war to find that he’s notorious: polite society has ruled him “too wild to wed.”

Diana never meant to tarnish North’s reputation, or his heart, but in her rush to save a helpless child, there was no time to consider the consequences of working as a governess in Lindow Castle. Now everyone has drawn the worst conclusions about the child’s father, and Diana is left with bittersweet regret.

When North makes it clear that he still wants her for his own, scandal or no, Diana has to fight to keep from losing her heart to the man whom she still has no intention of marrying.

Yet North is returning a hardened warrior—and this is one battle he’s determined to win.

He wants Diana, and he’ll risk everything to call her his own.

I will always get a little weepy at a good Happily Ever After.

Because at the very end of Wilde in Love, Eloisa James gave us an Epilogue, wherein North visits his ex-fiance Diana to inform her that he is going to lead a regiment of the British Army against the rebel Colonists in America….and as he is leaving, a baby cries. And that’s the end of the book!! GAH!

Too Wilde to Wed picks up two years later, when North returns home to Lindow Castle – whole in body, but broken in spirit and mind – and finds Diana installed in the nursery as the nursemaid/governess to his little sister. And a strange little boy that is not a member of the family. And a gossip mill rumor that has tagged him as the little boy’s father.

Diana has her own reasons for hiding herself away in the Wilde family nursery – most of them personal and potentially extremely embarrassing, if not actually dangerous to a member of her family. North’s return presents an annoying problem – Diana didn’t jilt him because she didn’t love him or find him attractive, she just couldn’t handle the social pressure of becoming the duchess of North’s future dukedom (not that the current Duke of Lindow was going anywhere soon – he’s a pretty healthy guy in his fifties). Plus her mom was the actual worst and Diana decided that her sister came before a fiance.

love a good second-chance romance. Like, my favorite Austen is PersuasionToo Wilde to Wed has second chances galore – but also a lot of real-world baggage. North doesn’t come sauntering back home a war hero; he’s disillusioned, haunted, and suffering from PTSD. Diana, while she is still attracted to North, is extremely averse to the social whirl surrounding the Wildes, particularly since she cannot afford to please only herself. But Diana and North have a lot of late-night talks – and snacks – and very slowly begin to find a way forward that is their own path together. And they get a lot of pushes and shoves from the rest of the Wilde clan who are absolutely in their element trying to match-make North and Diana.  I loved it.

And that cover model is welcome to get crumbs in my sheets any time. Hummina hummina.

Too Wilde to Wed is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss – and I pre-ordered it because if you did, and sent Eloisa the proof, you get access to an exclusive novella about the Duke of Lindow and his third wife Ophelia.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wilde in Love by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #1)

34121896Summary from Goodreads:
Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

Eloisa James, who is basically the romance writer that got me back into reading romance with A Kiss at Midnight, has a new series!  Cue the confetti cannons!  She’s going back to the Georgian era of her Desperate Duchesses series and focusing on the romantic exploits of a single family: the Wildes, headed by the Duke of Lindow, who live in Lindow Castle on the edge of a bog.  The series doesn’t start with the Duke (more on him later).  It starts with the third son, Alaric.

Now, Alaric has become famous – infamous, really – as a globe-trotting explorer, sending back accounts of the people and places he’s seen.  There are books and broadsides and a play (which has all the worst parts of cheap Georgian melodrama) detailing his exploits. And maybe some of those exploits were embellished by someone other than Alaric?  And miniatures, that women buy and swoon over. When Alaric arrives back in England after an absence of five years he finds a horde of women ready and willing to be his next “wilde” adventure. (To use a “wilde”-ly anachronistic twenty-first century comparison, the ladies are into Alaric as if he were all the members of 1-D rolled into one.)

Except Willa. When Alaric meets Willa at his father’s castle – where a party has gathered to celebrate his older brother North’s engagement (North is something else, more on him a bit later, too) – he is immediately intrigued by the only woman in the room who isn’t trying to get into his breeches. Plus she’s a sharply intelligent women. And she has a love of good books and dirty jokes. When an emotionally disturbed young woman appears claiming to be Alaric’s long-lost would-have-been fiancée from a Christian mission in Africa, Willa agrees to be Alaric’s pretend fiancée to spike the girl’s guns. And we allllll know how long “pretend” engagements remain pretend….

It’s always so, so much fun to start a new romance series. This one has many of my favorite elements (Georgians, smart ladies, fashion, cute pets…although I feel bereft that my favorite fashionable Duke, Villiers from Desperate Duchesses, doesn’t even get a mention, le sigh, but I do agree with Eloisa that Villiers tends to just take over any narrative you allow him into). Willa and Alaric have a slow-burn romance, the kind that makes them friends first and lovers after. I love it. Eloisa James’s romances are high on my list of favorites, not just for the couples, but because they’re all so meta-textual. I enjoy the puzzles Eloisa leaves her readers with references to other books, whether within that time period or not. She also gives us excellent B-plots – North and his betrothed Diana present a unique problem of their own (and a cliff-hanger!).

I said that I would get back to the Duke of Lindow later. Actual warm, affectionate, live fathers in romance are rare (possibly rarer than mothers who aren’t terrible or dead) and the Duke is a wonderful addition to this book. There’s a scene late in the book between Alaric and his father that is just so warm and wonderful. You can also get the Duke’s romance with his third wife, Ophelia, in parts when you submit proof of your pre-order for books in the series (details are on Eloisa’s website).

(And check out the cutie on the cover!)

Wilde in Love is out Tuesday, October 31! (Just a few days!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I have a copy pre-ordered on my Nook.