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.

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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.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe (The Four Hundred #3)

37821671Summary from Goodreads:
Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease—and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade

With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help.

Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage . . . with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work—the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own.

Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.

I didn’t manage to get to the third book in Joanna Shupe’s Four Hundred series, A Notorious Vow, before the galley expired – but my excellent public library had a copy and I was able to get to it sooner rather than later.

A flat-out one sitting read. I picked up my hold at the library and soon found myself eating a sandwich one-handed and trying to pour a glass of milk with only half an eye. The care and work Shupe has taken with her Deaf hero is outstanding. Oliver’s experiences were based on historical sources and personal experiences of people close to Shupe and she is very up-front in stating in her Note that she had input from members of the Deaf community. You really do understand why Oliver kind-of gives up on dealing with society and their garbage assumptions about Deaf people and shuts himself up in his house to use his intelligence and fortune to make a device to help others with diminished hearing. Christina, also, is more than just a young English lady cowed by her parents but has backbone and intelligence. The novel’s plot is first-rate (fake-marriage trope, yes!) and the secondary characters are excellent: Christina’s parents are the actual WORST, Oliver’s cousin is appropriately greedy and nefarious, and Oliver’s little sister is endearingly spunky. The best of The Four Hundred Series thus far.

Dear FTC: I started with a digital galley then borrowed a copy from the library.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Duchess by Design by Maya Rodale (The Guilded Age Girls Club #1)

38388578Summary from Goodreads:
In the first novel of Maya Rodale’s enthralling new series, an English duke vows to make an American seamstress his duchess…

In Gilded Age Manhattan, anything can happen…

Seeking a wealthy American bride who can save his family’s estate, Brandon Fiennes, the duke of Kingston, is a rogue determined to do the right thing. But his search for an heiress goes deliciously awry when an enchanting seamstress tumbles into his arms instead.

…and true love is always in fashion

Miss Adeline Black aspires to be a fashionable dressmaker—not a duchess—and not even an impossibly seductive duke will distract her. But Kingston makes an offer she can’t refuse: join him at society events to display her gowns and advise him on which heiresses are duchess material. It’s the perfect plan—as long as they resist temptation, avoid a scandal, and above all do not lose their hearts.

I have agonized over my thoughts on Maya Rodale’s new book, Duchess by Design. Because it isn’t BAD, this was a fun read. I loved all the amazing historical details and lady-positive plot points (and consent-positive sexytimes). But I just didn’t believe that, beyond the Instalust, Kingston and Adeline deserved their HEA. They didn’t spend very much time together aside from a walk in the park and a meeting or two and a few nights out on the town; their social statuses were so different they didn’t spend much time together except for strategic points in the plot. We don’t really get to know them as a couple. So while this is a really great start to a new series I know Maya can do better. (As my friend Karena pointed out to me – this is really a love story between a woman and her awesome dresses with pockets.)

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Governess Game by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #2)

36111620Summary from Goodreads:
He’s been a bad, bad rake—and it takes a governess to teach him a lesson

The accidental governess.

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.

The infamous rake.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

To do a complete romance-180 from queer 21st century rock gods, I retreated to Regency England and let Tessa Dare kill me with laughter. We met Alexandra Mountbatten in The Duchess Deal as part of a trio of unconventional young ladies befriended by Emma. Alex’s father was a ship captain, her mother a Filipina, and Alex has found it hard to fit in as an intelligent, biracial orphan in England. But she has carved out an unusual career for herself: she has a roster of clients for whom she goes around to set all their clocks to the correct time.

The Governess Game opens as Alex arrives at Chase Reynaud’s door, to ostensibly pitch her services to a newly-found duke’s heir, she finds herself at the oddest funeral service she’s ever seen: for a doll. Reynaud has mistaken her for the newest in a string of governesses for his two impossible wards.

Alex, predictably, bolts. But she loses her chronograph in an accident on the Thames and so must return (soaking wet) to Reynaud’s house to swallow her pride and take the job – it’s either figure out how to be a governess or starve.

Chase, for his part, is really at a loss. He’s just been informed he’s the heir to the title (in circumstances that make him feel responsible and guilty), he’s inherited two forlorn little girls as his wards (who are more likely cousins or even possibly his half-sisters if he can determine who their father was), and now he, most notorious rake in London, has got himself a firecracker of a governess who isn’t really a governess but turns out to be rather good at the job. (And he’s unfortunately attracted to her, particularly her mind, which is going to put a damper on that whole rake business.)

From a little girl with a Wednesday Addams-level morbid outlook to a guilt-ridden Duke’s heir (Chase) and Alexandra herself (who is brilliant), I laughed and chuckled through the whole thing. Alex’s governessing style is less Fraulein Maria and more Dread Pirate Roberts and I loved it. Chase, for all his baggage, is much more a rake in the style of Colin from A Week to be Wicked (but no dirty math jokes in this one, which seems to be a Colin special) – “He ate the sham” might be a new catchphrase for a dude who really wants to impress his lady. In addition, it is very clear that consent is important to Chase – the first time he and Alex have sex, he is adamant that she give her active consent, not just let him plow ahead.  Whoever says that “consent positive” sexytimes isn’t sexy is very wrong.

And then Ash showed back up with the most creative “you hurt my wife’s friend and I’ll [harm you permanently]” and I almost laughed myself out of my chair. I’m so looking forward to Nicola and Penny’s books.

(But where’s my 4th Castles Ever After book and when will we figure out what is up with the old dude who set up the whole castle-as-inheritance scheme?)

The Governess Game is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book from the publisher and I had it pre-ordered 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?

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Highlander’s Promise by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #6)

35564556Summary from Goodreads:
In a spellbinding new Highlands story from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands, the laird of the Buchanans finds the one woman who is his equal in passion and courage…

Aulay Buchanan has retreated to his clan’s hunting lodge for a few days of relaxation. But the raven-haired beauty he pulls from the ocean puts an end to any chance of rest. Though he christens her Jetta, she knows nothing of her real identity, save that someone is trying to kill her. As she recovers, it will not be easy for Aulay to protect her and keep her honor intact when she mistakenly believes they are man and wife.

Jetta sees beyond Aulay’s scars to the brave, loyal warrior she’s proud to call her own. But as the attempts on her life grow more brazen, Jetta realizes that not all is as she believes. And if Aulay is not her husband, can she trust the desire flaring in his eyes, or his promise to defend her with his life?

File under: I cannot quit Lynsay Sands’s Scottish romances. I can’t. They’re like crack.

God almighty, but I absolutely loathe amnesia tropes. They are #1 on my Shitty Romance Tropes list. Consent issues run rampant in them (the only romance I’ve ever read where this was handled well was Mary Balogh’s Slightly Sinful). The interactions between Jetta and Aulay weren’t bad as most. There is at least some discussion of consent and there is no deception (they do allow Jetta to think she’s married to Aulay for a bit when she starts waking up, but it doesn’t go on forever). At least they don’t do the nasty before Aulay breaks it to her they aren’t married – they do get RUL handsy, though, so there are some really fine lines.

The Highlander’s Promise is not the book I wanted for Aulay, poor guy. But it is a very readable, bananapants Sands Scottish historical. They even make a joke about how the Buchanans seem uniquely able to attract women with murderers after them (the murder bits are entirely predictable if you’ve read any Sands historicals). I’m actually interested in which brother is the next hero, since Rory (the one with the exceptional healing skills) has expressed that maybe he’d like to settle down and fall in love.

The Highlander’s Promise published yesterday.

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean (The Bareknuckle Bastards #1)

35695972Summary from Goodreads:
When Wicked Comes Calling…

When a mysterious stranger finds his way into her bedchamber and offers his help in landing a duke, Lady Felicity Faircloth agrees—on one condition. She’s seen enough of the world to believe in passion, and won’t accept a marriage without it.

The Wallflower Makes a Dangerous Bargain…

Bastard son of a duke and king of London’s dark streets, Devil has spent a lifetime wielding power and seizing opportunity, and the spinster wallflower is everything he needs to exact a revenge years in the making. All he must do is turn the plain little mouse into an irresistible temptress, set his trap, and destroy his enemy.

For the Promise of Passion…

But there’s nothing plain about Felicity Faircloth, who quickly decides she’d rather have Devil than another. Soon, Devil’s carefully laid plans are in chaos, and he must choose between everything he’s ever wanted…and the only thing he’s ever desired.

Sarah MacLean has a new series! While I’ve been hoping for a book for the last, unmatched Soiled S sister Sesily (who is AMAZING in The Day of the Duchess and I love her), I will take a new trilogy about a set of illegitimate siblings who are basically made to “Hunger Games” each other to become the “legitimate” heir to a really, really awful duke. Brothers Devil and Whit, with their sister Grace, escaped with their lives to begin a secret life on the streets of Covent Garden. They are now the reigning family in that area of London, rich and untouchable, except the third brother, Euan, has come to London as the current duke to look for a bride and break the vow the brothers swore to each other: that the duchy will never have an heir.

We last saw Felicity Faircloth departing from the sham marriage mart party in The Day of the Duchess where she acquitted herself well when she found herself in a really awkward situation. In the interim, she’s been cast-off by her former frenemies and made to watch the glitter of Society from the sidelines. When she accidentally-but-was-maybe-wishing-aloud announces that she’s Euan’s fiance – which is a surprise to Euan – Felicity becomes drawn into the dangerous game Devil is laying for his treacherous brother. Devil promises he can teach Felicity to ensnare Euan while plotting to use her to bring Euan down. (This sounds really convoluted but it’s not – it makes sense when you read it, I’m just rubbish at summarizing the whole thing.)

4.5 stars. Sarah really goes in a different direction with this series. It’s still a MacLean novel, but her writing from Devil’s point-of-view is very different from her other heroes. The writing itself feels different, more stark or terse. This made me pause and re-read her Rules of Scoundrels series, which has three of her darker heroes, just for comparison. I took one for the team, y’all. jk, they’re some of my favorites, not a hardship at all. I do wish we had got more of Felicity and Devil together in Covent Garden earlier in the book for a longer amount of time. Their HEA feels a tad rushed. But I LOVED, loved, loved the climax of the story.

I’m looking forward to Whit’s book next. But I really want to know more about Nik. She’s really interesting. (Actually, I think I’d take a novel with Nik and Ses as a couple – free idea, Sarah, you may have it.)

Wicked and the Wallflower is out today!! Go get a copy!

Dear FTC: Yeah, yeah, I read a digital galley via Edelweiss, and then we got a paper galley and I re-read it, and I had a pre-order on my nook.