Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Like Lovers Do by Tracy Livesay (Girls Trip #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Tracey Livesay continues her fun-filled Girls Trip series with this romance that will tug at your heartstrings.

Sometimes faking it can lead to the real thing…

Driven and focused, Dr. Nicole Allen is an accomplished surgeon. With a tough past, Nic’s gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations. But when she disciplines an intern—a powerful donor’s son—a prestigious fellowship she’s awaiting is placed in jeopardy. 

Coming from a successful family who runs a medical business empire, Benjamin Reed Van Mont is the black sheep, having chosen to start his own business instead. Though he’s not ready to settle down, he knows when the time comes it definitely won’t be with a workaholic doctor like his friend Nic—even if she’s had him re-examining his edict…more than once. 

When Ben’s status-climbing ex-girlfriend finds her way back into his orbit, Nic proposes a swap of services. She’ll spend the week with Ben on Martha’s Vineyard, pretending to be his girlfriend—but only if he’ll have his family intervene on her behalf so she won’t lose her fellowship. How hard can the charade be? 

But as they’re about to discover, they’ve sorely underestimated their true feelings for each other…

For my 140th read of 2020 (which completes my Goodreads reading goal in August, woo!) I present: mind-blowing hammock sex.

That’s it. That’s the review.

Jk. But the first time Nic and Ben have sexytimes they do it in a goddamn hammock and this is the “can you have sex while on horseback” question of 2020 contemporary romance. It’s amazing. Tracy Livesay is a queen.

Ok, for realz, Nic is a rockstar chief resident in orthopedic surgery headed to a prestigious sports medicine fellowship and Ben has been her landlord and best friend for three years. Nic is career-driven and avoids long-term relationships, preferring short hook-ups, and Ben is balls-deep in love with Nic but doesn’t want a career-driven partner because his parents were awful about putting him second to their careers. Near the end of Nic’s residency, she reprimands a new resident (intern?) – rightly – for blowing off a Black man with health problems and a septic joint to go watch a [sexy] spinal-fusion surgery. However, Racist Bro Surgeon goes whining off to his daddy, who is a major donor to the hospital, and Daddy threatens not only the end of Nic’s residency but also her fellowship placement. Nic doesn’t have a lot of ammunition at her disposal to fight back – she’s a woman, she comes from a less-advantaged background, she doesn’t have a prestigious family name, and she’s Black. She’s a tiny, tiny minority in a very dude-heavy, dick-swinging surgical specialty.

She does, however, have an ace up her sleeve. Ben’s family the Van Monts have generational clout in medicine from generations of doctors. When Nic tells Ben what happened, he offers to ask his parents to put in a good word for her. It’s what friends do, after all, despite the fact that he a) refused to go into the medical profession and b) walked away from working for the family foundation to start his own financial advising firm. When Nic hears that Ben’s ex Tinsley has invited herself to a friend vacation with plans to get Ben back in her clutches – which Ben definitely does not want – Nic offers to accompany Ben as his girlfriend. [Note: I want to make clear – as Ben does in the book – that this is not a quid pro quo situation and that Nic is not obligated to fake date Ben so he’ll call his mom for her.] But while they’re on Martha’s Vineyard, fake dating leads to realistic kissing to maybe something so much more.

I love it.

Nic is amazing and smart and strong – and a much more communicative orthopedic surgeon than I’ve ever encountered because we’re working with some of them on a couple of projects and they’re all allergic to checking their email – and Ben is such a cinnamon roll. The trope at play might be Friends to Lovers but there’s really no thunderblot “wow, Friendo is hot now!” moment. It’s this slow realization that the love between Ben and Nic has existed quietly for some time and they have to take the risk that being intimate and opening up is worth it.

Around the developing romance are two really good examinations about family and relationships. First, through the elitist and racist actions of Tinsley toward Nic, Ben starts to examine his own blind-spots and unintentional microaggressions about race. It leads to him developing a better relationship with Nic and also with a new client at his firm (I kinda hope, given the way Livesay wrote a few scenes with this character, that he’s being set up for a future book because we aren’t given many details about him and I’d really like to know more). Second, both Ben and Nic have built their lives and careers in reaction to perceived choices made by each of their parents. So they, separately, have to clear up some misconceptions with the older generation before they realize they can make a life together.

Did I mention that I love it?

Content warning: Ben’s obnoxious ex-fiance Tinsley is the Spoiled Racist Barbie among the cast of characters in Martha’s Vinyard but you definitely don’t sympathize with her and wish the rest of the characters would just murder her and put her body in the Sound. Also Spoiled Racist Bro Surgeon, but he’s on the page less. [Spoiler: the racists get their comeuppance.]

Like Lovers Do is out now! Even though it’s a book 2, you can definitely read it out of order, because I have book 1 but haven’t read it yet (SORRYYYY) but definitely need to go read it now! And look at that pretty cover.

Dear FTC: I read a digital copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

Deal with the Devil by Kit Rocha (Mercenary Librarians #1)

Deal with the Devil is Orphan Black meets the post-apocalyptic Avengers by USA Today and New York Times bestselling author duo Kit Rocha.

Nina is an information broker with a mission–she and her team of mercenary librarians use their knowledge to save the hopeless in a crumbling America.

Knox is the bitter, battle-weary captain of the Silver Devils. His squad of supersoldiers went AWOL to avoid slaughtering innocents, and now he’s fighting to survive.

They’re on a deadly collision course, and the passion that flares between them only makes it more dangerous. They could burn down the world, destroying each other in the process…

Or they could do the impossible: team up.

This is the first book in a near-future science fiction series with elements of romance.

I follow the two authors who write as Kit Rocha on Twitter so I was pretty intrigued by the premise and world of Deal with the Devil as they were promoting it.

Post-apocalyptic, near-future, super-soldier, found family road-trip romantic suspense novel? SURE. (Also the start of a series. Sweeeeet.)

When the novel opens, Nina is returning from an errand when she’s accosted by several….ne’er do wells, shall we say, in a dangerous section of Atlanta in this post-Flare near-future setting. Nina, a genetically enhanced super-soldier, wastes them with nary a hair out of place on her head. She is secretly observed by Knox, the leader of the Silver Devils TechCorps squad – technologically advanced super-soldiers – who a) have apparently recently gone rogue and b) are being blackmailed into kidnapping Nina and her crew. So Knox sets up a fake heist to tempt Nina into helping the Silver Devils raid a library vault (post-Flare, books are almost like currency and Nina has a printing operation) and get her out into the wilds of what used to be Tennessee (?) to make the trade for his biochem tech.

What no one counted on was that Knox and Nina would have buh-nanas sexual chemistry with each other and that the Silver Devils really start to like and respect Nina and her teammates Dani and Maya, who are also genetically enhanced, and their Robin Hood-like mission in their neighborhood. So the plan begins to go awry on the road and everyone’s secrets start coming out. There’s a Mad Max-like roadside ambush, a rural super-soldier cage match, the rescue of a rural town from gangsters in a chapter worthy of Kurosawa’s Yojimbo, and, if you were wondering, super steamy scenes between Knox and Nina. A little something for everyone.

Now, the promotion for Deal with the Devil puts this book more on the Sci-Fi genre side, but it REALLY punched a lot of solid Romance genre buttons for me. Nina and Knox are SUPER into each other from the jump and their romance arc is a major driver of the plot of the book (and it’s an actual HEA/HFN so definitely could fit into the romance genre). But there are also a lot of perspectives from other members of Nina’s and Knox’s teams as well as insertions about what the evil tech corporations did to each of the characters in the past to make them the super-soldiers they are so the world-building is also part of the plot and that weights it to that SF side. I’m not quite sure how the rest of the series is going to play out – will other members of the teams partner up or find partners or will some of the future books center more on bringing down the tech corps? The characters who make up the two strike teams are pretty diverse so it could go in all sorts of directions. Something to look forward to. Since this is the first book in the series, I felt like the world-building set-up did get in the way of plot on a few occasions and drag just a bit but it was such a fun read on the whole.

I could easily see the Mercenary Librarians series being adapted into a Netflix series – who wouldn’t want to watch sexy super-soldiers who also have a little bit of a Robin Hood penchant on the side take down an evil corporation? Look at how much traction The Old Guard got.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this novel from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

You Had Me at Hola by Alexis Daria

RITA® Award Winning author Alexis Daria brings readers an unforgettable, hilarious rom-com set in the drama-filled world of telenovelas—perfect for fans of Jane the Virgin and The Kiss Quotient.

Leading Ladies do not end up on tabloid covers.

After a messy public breakup, soap opera darling Jasmine Lin Rodriguez finds her face splashed across the tabloids. When she returns to her hometown of New York City to film the starring role in a bilingual romantic comedy for the number one streaming service in the country, Jasmine figures her new “Leading Lady Plan” should be easy enough to follow—until a casting shake-up pairs her with telenovela hunk Ashton Suárez. 

Leading Ladies don’t need a man to be happy

After his last telenovela character was killed off, Ashton is worried his career is dead as well. Joining this new cast as a last-minute addition will give him the chance to show off his acting chops to American audiences and ping the radar of Hollywood casting agents. To make it work, he’ll need to generate smoking-hot on-screen chemistry with Jasmine. Easier said than done, especially when a disastrous first impression smothers the embers of whatever sexual heat they might have had. 

Leading Ladies do not rebound with their new costars.

With their careers on the line, Jasmine and Ashton agree to rehearse in private. But rehearsal leads to kissing, and kissing leads to a behind-the-scenes romance worthy of a soap opera. While their on-screen performance improves, the media spotlight on Jasmine soon threatens to destroy her new image and expose Ashton’s most closely guarded secret.

You Had Me at Hola is Alexis Daria’s Avon debut (I love her Take the Lead, set behind the scenes of a “Dancing with the Stars”-type show). It is a fun, entertaining, and steamy romance set behind the scenes of a new telenovela filming for a “major streaming service” (and check out that awesome cover). In between chapters of Jasmine and Ashton “in real life” are fun insertions of scenes in the show as they are shot where Jasmine’s and Ashton’s characters overlap with their real-life selves. Daria hits it out of the park in creating the show Carmen in Charge – I would totally watch it and cheer on its amazing, diverse creative team if it were real! Daria really knows her way around the entertainment industry (look, if you haven’t read Take the Lead go do that). Jasmine and Ashton were such excellent characters, too. They each have some stuff to work through – Jasmine feels like she doesn’t get support from her family in both her career and her dating life (her two cousins are pretty awesome and that’s it) and Ashton has PTSD, and maybe a little paranoia, from a crazed fan’s break-in attempt years ago. I would have maybe had them grovel a teensy bit more to each other at the end since they said some really below-the-belt stuff during their big blow-up. And Ashton’s dad is a love 💖.

PS: Paparazzi are trash scum and wtf, people, don’t take sneaky pictures of famous people out minding their own business, that’s rude. It did make me feel a little sad when Jasmine is basically like “we sign up for some of this when we’re famous” – and yeah, I can see the press interviews and such, but the garbage invasions of privacy? Nah. No one deserves that.

You Had Me at Hola is out today!!

Dear FTC: I read a finished copy of this book that the publisher sent to me.

stuff I read

Daring and the Duke by Sarah MacLean (The Bareknuckle Bastards #3)

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Summary from Goodreads:
New York Times bestselling author Sarah MacLean returns with the much-anticipated final book in her Bareknuckle Bastards series, featuring a scoundrel duke and the powerful woman who brings him to his knees.

Grace Condry has spent a lifetime running from her past. Betrayed as a child by her only love and raised on the streets, she now hides in plain sight as queen of London’s darkest corners. Grace has a sharp mind and a powerful right hook and has never met an enemy she could not best…until the man she once loved returns.

Single-minded and ruthless, Ewan, Duke of Marwick, has spent a decade searching for the woman he never stopped loving. A long-ago gamble may have lost her forever, but Ewan will go to any lengths to win Grace back…and make her his duchess.

Reconciliation is the last thing Grace desires. Unable to forgive the past, she vows to take her revenge. But revenge requires keeping Ewan close, and soon her enemy seems to be something else altogether—something she can’t resist, even as he threatens the world she’s built, the life she’s claimed…and the heart she swore he’d never steal again.

Not gonna lie, I almost peed myself when the galley for Daring and the Duke went up on Edelweiss. (It took me a week or so to get to because work and other things like finishing up a shawl I’d been knitting for over six years, but I digress.)

Here’s the deal. You can certainly read Daring and the Duke without having read the two previous books, Wicked and the Wallflower and Brazen and the Beast, but I think this is a series that brings greater rewards if you read all the books in order. Each book brings another layer to the backstory of three brothers brought together to compete for a dukedom and the girl who loves them, one brother in particular. Over the course of Wicked and Brazen we are given Devil’s and Whit’s version of the night that Ewan won the dukedom and tried to kill them – and Grace – as children but Sarah withheld Grace’s perspective, as well as Ewan’s, until this book. And it is one that is a gamechanger.

At the end of Brazen, a grief-crazed Ewan blew up part of the London docks and seriously injured Hattie (he previously locked Devil in the ice hold in Wicked). Ewan, having been told that Grace is dead, has nothing left. And this is how Grace’s team catches him and secretes him in an upper floor of her women’s pleasure club. Grace, against her better judgement, isn’t done with Ewan.

This is where Daring and the Duke starts, during Dominion at Grace’s club with Ewan upstairs in the aftermath of Brazen. She’s been watching over him – secretly – while he sleeps but when Ewan wakes just as she’s leaving…he knows Grace is alive and tears through the door to try and find her. While he’s quickly subdued, Grace needs to mete out vengeance.

In the boxing ring.

Grace supported herself and her brothers on the streets of Covent Garden as a bare-knuckle boxer and she can still pack a mean punch. So she puts Ewan in the ring and proceeds to beat the hell out of him (and I got the feeling that a part of him lets her do it). And better Grace to do this than Whit who would prefer to carve Ewan up with his knives for harming Hattie. At the end of this beating, Grace sends Ewan away. Are they finished?

Not hardly. A year later – with Hattie healed and Devil and Felicity welcoming their first baby – Ewan returns a very different man. This man has hope. He has a future again. He wants Grace in it. And he’s prepared to do anything she asks and any amount of grovelling to make good on the promises he made as a child.

And I can’t say anything else without spoiling it! Daring and the Duke is far too good to spoil even a tiny bit. I tore through this book in one sitting. It’s sexy, so very sexy (one word: throne). Even among the lineup of Sarah’s incredibly strong and proactive heroines Grace stands out both with her strength and her vulnerability. To be a woman on those Covent Garden streets, even one as strong as Grace, risks being destroyed by showing any weak spots. I think it goes without saying that Ewan is Grace’s weak spot, as Ewan has already demonstrated that his weak link is Grace. Daring is a dark book, possibly darker than the first two, but lightness is added through Grace’s relationships with her employees – who enjoy calling her on her bullshit – and her brothers – who like all brothers everywhere tease their sister.

Now, I’ve mentioned grovelling. This is a Grovel Novel. Ewan has a lot to answer for, even with explanation of why he has been the villainous antagonist in the two previous book, and Grace putting him in the ring then in Cold Storage (that Sarah MacLean Special gets used on the page, loved it) is only the beginning. In my opinion as a reader, I think enough grovelling occurred for Ewan to deserve Grace (although, as with Sera’s and Haven’s book, he probably still needed punched more, maybe in the balls a couple times) so Sarah delivered on her Hero Rehab. But this is a very Your Mileage May Vary opinion. Some people don’t go in for rehabbing a villain, some really love it. If you were into Devil in Winter or Lothaire you’ll probably like Ewan and Grace. My opinion: PLEASE TO HAVE MORE, but only if Sarah writes it.

Daring and the Duke is out today, June 30! Your wait is over! Go buy it (safely) from your bookstore, order it, ask your library to stock on their shelves and their electronic lending system.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but you bet your sweet bippy I also have a copy preordered on my Nook.

Romantic Reads

The Devil of Downtown by Joanna Shupe (Uptown Girls #3)

Summary from Goodreads: The final novel in Joanna Shupe’s critically acclaimed Uptown Girl series about a beautiful do-gooder who must decide if she can team up with one of New York’s brashest criminals without losing something irreplaceable: her heart.

Manhattan kingpin.
Brilliant mastermind.
Gentleman gangster.

He’s built a wall around his heart…

Orphaned and abandoned on the Bowery’s mean streets, Jack Mulligan survived on strength, cunning, and ambition. Now he rules his territory better than any politician or copper ever could. He didn’t get here by being soft. But in uptown do-gooder Justine Greene―the very definition of an iron fist in a velvet glove―Jack may have met his match.

She wears hers on her sleeve…

Justine is devoted to tracking down deadbeat husbands and fighting for fair working conditions. When her mission brings her face-to-face with Jack, she’s shocked to find the man behind the criminal empire is considerably more charming and honorable than many “gentlemen” she knows.

Forming an unlikely alliance, they discover an unexpected desire. And when Justine’s past catches up with them, Jack may be her only hope of survival. Is she ready to make a deal with the devil…?

For some reason I hadn’t caught either of the two previous books in the Uptown Girls series, featuring the two older Greene sisters (I have them, I just only have one set of eyeballs and one brain), but I did manage to read my galley of The Devil of Downtown, featuring Justine, the sister who breaks the rules to help at soup kitchens, fight sweatshops and child labor, and track down deadbeat husbands and suchlike, since neither the police nor anyone else will do it. The deadbeat husband-finding brings her into Jack Mulligan’s orbit (he apparently appeared in the previous book, The Prince of Broadway) since he employs one of those deadbeats. Although Jack is considered a criminal because he deals in bootlegging and boxing and pool halls and police bribes and who knows what, he’s actually a criminal with principles. He doesn’t run brothels, he’s cleaned up the criminal gangs which caused so much bloodshed downtown, and he makes sure that no one bothers women in his territory. So he helps Justine – for a favor. Turns out this favor is an introduction to a major silent investor in a brewery who won’t actually meet with him (he’s Julius Hatcher, who you’ll remember from A Daring Arrangement).

And so this plot goes, with Jack and Justine trading favors back and forth. (Quid pro quo, Clarice, only considerably less creepy and much more attractive.) There’s bowling. Jack gets shot (partner in danger!). And the peek inside the corruption machine of the police department and Tammany Hall in this era was really interesting. But I did wish there were more scenes between Jack and Justine like the bowling scene. Where they just are together and hanging out and getting to know one another (and not shagging). These scenes feel implied but I would have liked a few more of those moments on the page so when the plot hits the crisis point you understand Jack’s reaction. It’s also very timely that a book about bribes and corruption and what the police should do and won’t do and the racism and sexism underlying these attitudes – even as the B-plot of a historical romance – resonates so strongly with current events.

The Devil of Downtown is out Tuesday, June 29!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sister’s #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Talia Hibbert returns with another charming romantic comedy about a young woman who agrees to fake date her friend after a video of him “rescuing” her from their office building goes viral…

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. Romantic partners, whatever their gender, are a distraction at best and a drain at worst. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Dani’s plan is simple: fake a relationship in public, seduce Zaf behind the scenes. The trouble is, grumpy Zaf’s secretly a hopeless romantic—and he’s determined to corrupt Dani’s stone-cold realism. Before long, he’s tackling her fears into the dirt. But the former sports star has issues of his own, and the walls around his heart are as thick as his… um, thighs.

Suddenly, the easy lay Dani dreamed of is more complex than her thesis. Has her wish backfired? Is her focus being tested? Or is the universe just waiting for her to take a hint?

We met Danika Brown a few times in her sister Chloe’s book last year, so I was prepared for a very smart academic. But what we got in Take a Hint, Dani Brown was an amazing kinda friends-to-lovers, maaaaaybe fake relationship story about a witchy, smart, nerdy, AMAZING Black doctoral student (evolution of misogynoir post-chattel slavery), who has impostor syndrome about allowing someone to love her, and Zafir, the romance novel reading, ex-pro rugby player who brings her protein bars and loves her.

Dani and Zaf know each other because he’s the security guard at her university building. Over the last several months they’ve started chatting in the mornings – now Dani brings Zaf a coffee when she picks up her green tea and he brings her a protein bar because he knows that sometimes she forgets to eat (nerdy academic, remember?). One day there’s an emergency drill in their building. When Dani doesn’t appear in the crowds during the evacuation, Zaf finds her stuck in the elevator, rescues her, and carries her to “safety.” The students, of course, get the rescue on video which goes viral (#DrRugBae) complete with myriad speculations about their relationship.

So Dani and Zaf decide to have a little fake relationship. For a month. What Zaf doesn’t know, is that Dani has asked the goddess Oshun to help her find a new fuck-buddy. Her last casual relationship ended when Josephine wanted to be an actual girlfriend and Dani does not do romantic relationships. They don’t turn out well. What Dani doesn’t know, is that this cinnamon-roll, gentle giant is head-over-heels in love with her. He’s in it to win it.

I had great big-ol’ heart-eyes the entire time I was reading. Dani is so awesome. I love her so much. And she’s been absolutely fried by a former romantic partner who just didn’t get her – her obsession with houseplants, how driven she is academically, how hard she works in the library (and loses track of time), how her personal hero is Inez Holly (a Black female theorist), how she just can’t seem to remember birthdays, etc. – and then used it against her. So now Dani has major impostor syndrome when it comes to relationships. In contrast, Zaf, while he’s a goner for Dani since before the book starts, has to learn to fully care for himself. He’s so good at caring for Dani, for his sister-in-law, his mother, his cousin – one of Dani’s students – but he’s doing the bare minimum for himself. He cut himself off from his former pro rugby community in the wake of his father’s and brother’s deaths when his depression became overwhelming. While romancing Dani he has to decide whether to seek help from his former teammates to grow an opportunity for his mental health outreach nonprofit. It flips the script a bit in this romance. So often it’s the hero who has to recognize that he’s the one pushing the heroine-who-loved-him-forever away because “bad at relationships” but in this instance it’s reversed. Dani is the one who has to realize that Zaf has loved her so long and that she is deserving of that love, rather than pushing it away as something she isn’t allowed to have. The mini-grovel at the end is so good. (Not to say this book is low steam – Dani and Zaf are very hawt together. I believe at one point Dani refers to Zaf as a “sex wizard.” *fans self* )

Take a Hint, Dani Brown is out today, June 23!

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

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.