Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh (Union of the Rakes #2)

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Summary from Goodreads:
When an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means, she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke…

Jessica McGale’s family business desperately needs investors, and she’s determined to succeed at any cost. But she knows London’s elite will never look twice at a humble farm girl like herself. Posing as “Lady Whitfield,” however, places her in the orbit of wealthy, powerful people—most notably the Duke of Rotherby. His influence and support could save her company, but Jess never expected the effect he’d have on her.

Society thinks Noel is a notorious, carefree duke who dabbles in investments, but there’s a side to him that only his closest friends see. When he crosses paths with Lady Whitfield at a business bazaar, his world tilts on its axis. She’s brilliant and compelling, and brings him to his knees like no woman has before. Trust is difficult for Noel, but Jess makes him believe anything is possible…

As time ticks down on her Cinderella scheme, the thought of achieving her goal at Noel’s expense breaks Jess’ heart. He doesn’t just want her now, he wants her forever. But will her secret end their future before it begins?

Two books into The Union of the Rakes series and Eva Leigh is two for two – solid, sexy Regencies with great eighties movie influences (The Union of the Rakes = The Breakfast Club, you’re welcome 😉 )

Would I Lie to the Duke is a Regency twist on Working Girl (LOVE): a working woman who on the spur of the moment pretends to be a Lady to access a gathering of investors to save her family’s luxury soap-making business and a Duke who is mesmerized by her whip-smart business acumen (and ability to see through all his ducal nonsense to the man underneath). Jess walks such a tightrope in her scenes. She has to pretend to be an investor but then also maybe talk up this fabulous soap that’s so hard to find in London without getting outed as a party crasher and/or an impostor. Rotherby, for all that he’s rich and suave and a rake (he gives the “rake lessons” in My Fake Rake), is kind of tired of the game. He needs a challenge. He gets one.

Rotherby and Jess are absolute fire together. When we start getting sexytimes we find out they’re also fantastic dirty talkers (whew!) and Rotherby is a bit of a submissive. Like, he’s more sub than a beta. Duke in the streets, sub in the sheets. I loved it.

Leigh has also seeded social media jokes into this book and it is delightful. The scenes at this investor session are also really interesting with many projects that you see are the beginnings of modern technology or products that we have now. I really hope Lady Farris have her own happy ending next. She had a good introduction in My Fake Rake and this book lets us see more of her character and how free she is now that she’s a widow. I’d also like to see the last two Rakes be the final couple in this series – I felt like there were heavy hints that perhaps they are attracted to each other and I’d be interested to see that play out.

Would I Lie to the Duke is out tomorrow, July 28! (Check out that beautiful cover!)

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby by Vanessa Riley (Rogues and Remarkable Women #1)

Summary from Goodreads: Created by a shrewd countess, The Widow’s Grace is a secret society with a mission: to help ill-treated widows regain their status, their families, and even find true love again—or perhaps for the very first time…

When headstrong West Indian heiress Patience Jordan questioned her English husband’s mysterious suicide, she lost everything: her newborn son, Lionel, her fortune—and her freedom. Falsely imprisoned, she risks her life to be near her child—until The Widow’s Grace gets her hired as her own son’s nanny. But working for his unsuspecting new guardian, Busick Strathmore, Duke of Repington, has perils of its own. Especially when Patience discovers his military strictness belies an ex-rake of unswerving honor—and unexpected passion…

A wounded military hero, Busick is determined to resolve his dead cousin’s dangerous financial dealings for Lionel’s sake. But his investigation is a minor skirmish compared to dealing with the forthright, courageous, and alluring Patience. Somehow, she’s breaking his rules, and sweeping past his defenses. Soon, between formidable enemies and obstacles, they form a fragile trust—but will it be enough to save the future they long to dare together?

Now, when I started A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby I was a bit nonplussed as to how Patience could get hired as her own child’s nanny/wet nurse without getting outed by the servants – unless the servants were in on it. But, fear not, the problem is easily solved in the first few chapters. Onward.

I’ll go with 3.5 stars out of 5. I liked the story of Patience and Busick and will she be able to get her baby back (plus bag a duke in the process, heyo, it’s a romance novel of course). There was a good mystery plot with excellent tension, although I’m still a little hazy about how the whole finance plot worked but that’s pretty minor. I really liked the historical detail Riley put into Patience’s backstory both as a woman color in pasty, imperial England and her plight as a widow who does not have guardianship of her own child and how this leaves her very, very little (extremely little) legal recourse to baby Lionel. Busick is also a character we rarely see in romance fiction – a hero who has lost a limb in wartime. It affects how he’s treated by others despite his rank as a duke. The romance plot itself is pretty low steam but it’s not chaste. There is definitely kissing and a small number of boob jokes (they’re kind of hilariously bad). I’m looking forward to future books in this series because this was fun.

What kept pulling me out was a structural thing. Patience’s perspective is in first-person while Busick’s perspective is in close third. Switching back and forth like that drives me batty. It just gets in the way of the story. Ymmv, of course.

A Duke, the Lady, and a Baby published in June 30!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley form the publisher via Netgally.

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.

audiobooks · Austenesque · stuff I read

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner – audiobook review and Austenprose blog tour!

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Just after the Second World War, in the small English village of Chawton, an unusual but like-minded group of people band together to attempt something remarkable.

One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England’s finest novelists. Now it’s home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen’s legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen’s home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, and a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from the recent war, others from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create the Jane Austen Society.

AUDIOBOOK NARRATED BY ACTOR RICHARD ARMITAGE:

The full unabridged text of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY was read by the distinguished English film, television, theatre and voice actor Richard Armitage for the audiobook recording. Best known by many period drama fans for his outstanding performance as John Thornton in the BBC television adaptation of North and South (2004), Armitage also portrayed Thorin Oakenshield in Peter Jackson’s film trilogy adaptation of The Hobbit (2012 – 2014).

Link to YouTube audiobook excerpt: https://youtu.be/OJ1ACJluRi8

AUTHOR BIO:

Natalie Jenner is the debut author of THE JANE AUSTEN SOCIETY, a fictional telling of the start of the society in the 1940s in the village of Chawton, where Austen wrote or revised her major works. Born in England and raised in Canada, Natalie graduated from the University of Toronto with degrees in English Literature and Law and has worked for decades in the legal industry. She recently founded the independent bookstore Archetype Books in Oakville, Ontario, where she lives with her family and two rescue dogs.
WEBSITE | TWITTER | FACEBOOK | INSTAGRAM | GOODREADS

So, if you hadn’t already noticed, I’m pretty down for all things Jane Austen. I definitely had The Jane Austen Society on my list of spring releases very early on after St. Martin’s Press catalogs came available on Edelweiss. Historical novel about the creation of the Jane Austen society? Sign me up. And then Laurel Ann of Austenprose invited me to not only be part of her incredible blog tour but also review the audiobook read by Richard (Freakin’) Armitage. Would I like to listen to Mr. Thornton read me a book? YES PLEASE. I already loved his narration of three of my favorite Georgette Heyer novels (Venetia, The Convenient Marriage, and Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle) so I was prepared to be delighted with this book.

Now, I haven’t finished it. I’m about 2-3 hours from the end of the audiobook. We can thank the coronavirus for disrupting my reading. I usually read audiobooks while commuting back and forth to work in the car/on the bus and, well, my commute right now is the distance from my French press in the kitchen to my desk in my home office, approximately 40 feet. What also makes this harder is that the app used for the audiobook galley doesn’t play through my car speakers as well as an inability to listen to fiction audiobooks while I’m working. So even though I planned some extra listening time with a review slot at the tail end of this blog tour, I’m a tad bit behind. But, oh, I do love this book.

The Jane Austen Society is a character-driven tale about the foundation of the real Jane Austen Society that saved Jane Austen’s Chawton cottage as a major landmark and site of literary pilgrimage. Each main character here – the town doctor, a laborer, a school teacher, a housemaid, a lawyer, a movie star, the last descendant of the Knight family – has their own tale of loss in this post-World War II setting. And underlying all that loss is an incredible love for the work of Jane Austen. This is the love of Austen that goes beyond admiration for the books. This is looking beyond the books to see themselves in the characters. And it’s a love that pushes them in an uphill battle to preserve a fast-disappearing legacy in a dying rural English town. (Note: I did check the Historical Note in a print copy of the book and all these characters and events are made up for this book. The Jane Austen Society is real, as are Jane Austen’s cottage and the Knight estate in Chawton, of course.)

Richard Armitage’s narration is perfect for this book. He is adept with accents, from the country accent of a farm laborer, to an upper class middle-aged woman, to a Scots auctioneer, to an American movie star. His reading speed is good – he doesn’t do that annoying thing where he pauses between sentences so the conversation between characters feels natural – and while he does feminize his voice a bit for the female characters it’s not a cloying falsetto. And when he has to provide the sexy voice of Mimi’s rich American boyfriend/fiancee/backer/whatever he thinks he is because he’s kind of a jerk…well, one of Armitage’s best voices in the Heyer books is whenever he gets to voice a rake. Yummy.

I will give a small content warning that grief is a major part of this book. Several characters lose spouses or family members. There is also a traumatic pregnancy loss and stillbirth, so if you are sensitive to that kind of event there are several chapters that deal with Adeline’s loss and grief at about the 25% mark (the birth itself is mostly kept off the page but it is described in medical terms).

For fun, Natalie Jenner put together a Spotify playlist! If you use Spotify, you can find it here: https://open.spotify.com/playlist/5Q1Vl17qyQQIvvPGeIPCkr?si=-iMhVz8uRk2v2mTdolrPdg. The playlist includes music from various film adaptions of Jane Austen’s books, as well as film scores by such incomparable artists as Hans Zimmer, Ennio Morricone, Rachel Portman, and Michael Nyman.

Now, I’m coming in at the end of the blog tour, but feel free to look back at all the different reviews and features (75 blogs!) linked at the bottom of the Austenprose review here.

Thanks so very, very much to Laurel Ann for inviting me to the blog tour and providing me with the opportunity to listen to and review this audiobook.

Dear FTC: I listened to a digital galley of the audiobook provided by the publisher.

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

Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #3)

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Summary from Goodreads:
Will Sedgwick can’t believe that after months of searching for his oldest friend, Martin Easterbrook is found hiding in an attic like a gothic nightmare. Intent on nursing Martin back to health, Will kindly kidnaps him and takes him to the countryside to recover, well away from the world.

Martin doesn’t much care where he is or even how he got there. He’s much more concerned that the man he’s loved his entire life is currently waiting on him hand and foot, feeding him soup and making him tea. Martin knows he’s a lost cause, one he doesn’t want Will to waste his life on.

As a lifetime of love transforms into a tender passion both men always desired but neither expected, can they envision a life free from the restrictions of the past, a life with each other?

I’d been wondering how this book would play out ever since Hartley found Martin hiding in his attic in A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, dragged him off to Will, and then realizing that Martin and Will have some “history.” (Also, Hartley being surprised about Will and Martin then wondering if the other two brothers – who are still school age – might also be attracted to men is kind of adorable, since he’s the only one who seems to think that might be unexpected. Oh, Hartley <3)

The plot of Two Rogues Make a Right? So sweet. A recovering ex-Navy opium addict with PTSD kidnaps his old friend, a consumptive, emotionally-straitjacketed baronet, and they hole up in a game keeper’s cottage to let the baronet recover from a bout of illness (in the absence of modern antibiotics what you need is fresh air, not the pollution of London). And maybe the two of them will rekindle not just their friendship, but also recognize it as something more.

If you love friends-to-lovers plots – plus some pining – this book is for you. Will and Martin have history as kids, then are separated when Will is sent to the Navy, plus what Martin has found out about his father, they tread very carefully with each other. Will, because Martin is chronically ill with tuberculosis and has been near death on occasion. Martin, because of what his father did to the Sedgwicks – and others – doesn’t quite know how to broach those subjects. In addition, Martin has been very, very closely guarded due to his illness all his life and has essentially has very little freedom to make his own choices. So they have “friendship feelings” and they also have “perhaps some romantic feelings” and “does it ruin the friendship to explore the romantic feelings feelings.” There is also “hurt/comfort” which is the gentlest part of this relationship – Will takes great care with Martin as he recovers from this exacerbation of his illness but then Martin gives care and comfort to Will when he faces his demons.

This romance feels especially poignant, to me, when I consider that Martin, suffering tuberculosis in a era well-before modern antibiotic treatment that could actually clear the infection, can only manage his symptoms. He has no cure. So when he and Will come together (that’s not a spoiler, this is a romance novel), they have no guarantee that they have decades together. But they are willing to love and take that risk. I was crying at the end. It reminded me of a Lorraine Heath from a few years back in this way.

This book is as sweet and gentle as A Gentleman Never Keeps Score is rough-edged and steamy. I loved it. Those Sedgwick males, gotta love ’em.

Two Rogues Make a Right is out tomorrow, June 23! [Note: I don’t think you necessarily have to have read the previous two books in the series, It Takes Two to Tumble and A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, but the backstory and family history of this book is very tied up in the revelations of the previous two. So the main plot can stand alone, but for the full picture pick up the first two. You won’t be disappointed.]

Dear FTC: I read a digital 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.