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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

From Alaska With Love by Ally James

A soldier has six weeks to convince the only woman he has ever longed for to take a chance on life with him in Alaska….

Sara’s letters were the only bright spot during Gabe’s devastating tour in Iraq. With each new correspondence he fell harder, needed her more, wanted to be with her. Now, after initially rejecting his offer to meet, she’s shown up at the door of his isolated cabin in Alaska looking for…what? Gabe’s not sure what made Sara change her mind, but he knows he never wants to let her go.

Major Gabe Randall is everything Sara Ryan wants but nothing she feels she deserves. A modern-day spinster, Sara hides behind family obligations and the safe, quiet life she’s resigned herself to living. But secretly, even though she may have stretched the truth about who she is in her letters to him, she wants Gabe. Will he still want her when he discovers the real woman behind the pen?

Once they meet, Gabe asks her for six weeks in Alaska. Six weeks to spend getting to know each other, and then she’ll have to decide whether they are better together or apart.

I’ve had the galley for From Alaska With Love kicking around in my iPad for a while so it caught my eye while I was scrolling around for something to read (I apologize to all September galleys, my brain is like a hamster with a squeaky wheel right now). Now, there’s going to be a spoiler in this review, so be forewarned.

This was a sweet but ultimately just OK contemporary romance. I loved the meet-cute – a random Letter to a Soldier, posted on a whim, sparks an email conversation, and eventually Facetiming sessions, between a career military man deployed in Iraq and a woman stuck in her life as the unappreciated nanny to her niece (who she loves, she doesn’t begrudge her little niece any of that, it’s the rest of the family that proves the problem). So after developing a lovely long-distance relationship where they get into the reality of Gabe’s deployment and Sara’s kind of garbage family, Gabe and Sara agree to meet – he buys her a plane ticket to meet him in Alaska where he’s stationed when not on deployment. But he decides to surprise her at her home in North Carolina first – and this is where I got real mad at a choice the author made in this book.

Here be a spoiler: Sara’s brother answers the door and when Gabe introduces himself, THE BROTHER SAYS HE’S SARA’S HUSBAND. And the scene devolves into something really uncomfortable from there. Gabe is hurt, very hurt, because Sara hasn’t told her family about him, and has also not told them she has agreed to visit Alaska in one week, and Sara can’t articulate why she thinks she owes her (omg, such garbage) family despite the way they treat her. AND NEITHER OF THEM IMMEDIATELY THROAT PUNCH HER BROTHER. Y’all, I have two younger brothers and there is no way on this Earth would either of them just say that as a joke or to protect me from some perceived rando dude because GROSS. They would just be like “I’m her brother, who the hell are you?” And done. You’d get the same fallout and revelations from the scene without the shitty panic and grossness of that statement.

So I had to pause a bit – did I want to finish the book after this scene? It happens about halfway through the book. I went ahead and finished, because the correspondence between Gabe and Sara was so nice and I was hoping the author would get that level of sweetness back.

It did get there, although Gabe was an ice-cold twerp for a week after Sara arrived in Alaska. He only thawed toward her after overhearing a phone conversation Sara has with her cousin where he realizes how her family treats her and why she kept him a secret. From there he has a one-eighty in his attitude and we’re back to that lovely relationship from the first half of the book. So the romance turns out in a satisfying way (the letters come back into play and allll the heart-eyes for that). There are some beautiful scenes in Alaska with the Northern Lights and a fancy Christmas party before we get to the HEA. But Gabe and Sara never really TALK about the elephant in the room, namely why she never told anyone about Gabe except for her cousin. The reader knows how poorly she was treated by her mother, her sister-in-law (who I wanted to push down a well), her brother, and various extended relatives (the opening page of the book is kind of infuriating with respect to which family member you dislike the most). But I felt that Gabe and Sara didn’t quite do the emotional labor for this part.

So there are a lot of sweet scenes around one big, honking stumble. Plus a cute dog.

Dear FTC: I read a galley I got 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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Legal Affair by Nisha Sharma (The Singh Family #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Rajneet Hothi built her empire with sweat, blood, and information. She knows everything there is to know about Ajay Singh, the future CEO of Bharat, Inc., as well as how crucial he is in securing her future. But she didn’t expect the passion that burst between them the first time they went head-to-head. She’d never felt anything like it before, especially during her marriage to her soon-to-be-ex-husband. When her company is blamed for her ex’s dirty dealings with Bharat, she’s forced to prove that Ajay is no match for her in the art of business or seduction.

Ajay shouldn’t trust Raj or her company. He’s on the verge of losing everything his family has worked to achieve, but he can’t stop thinking about the breathtaking way Raj opens her mind, body and heart to him. Throwing his infamous caution to the wind, he tempts the gorgeous CEO into his bedroom and boardroom. He soon realizes he wants Raj by his side and he’s willing to fight the people he’s always protected to be with her.

When Raj and Ajay discover the source behind Bharat’s leak, they must trust each other and work together to defy the odds and save the Singh legacy. 

I have been WAITING for the followup to Nisha Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. *eeeeeeeee*

Small spoiler: The opening chapter of The Legal Affair hangs on whether you remember what happened in the “foiling the hostile takeover of Bharat by this REAL trash company who got inside help from garbage family members” denouement of The Takeover Effect. So while you can read The Legal Affair without having read Takeover, however, go read Takeover because HAWT lawyers doing lawyer stuff and also having bananas-hot sex. You’re welcome.

Beginning aside, once I refreshed my memory Legal hits hot, fast, and hard. Raj’s company is in the information business; she was the one who provided the information about what was happening during the Bharat takeover. Ajay is set to take over Bharat as CEO from his father when the Board makes its formal vote to approve his appointment at their next meeting. However, a movement inside the Board, seemingly caused by an IP leak that traces back to Raj’s company and her garbage soon-to-be-ex-husband, calls into question Ajay’s ability to lead the company. Relationships within the Singh family start to fray under the stress while Raj faces the risk of her past coming to light if she fights her ex. What no one expected was for Ajay and Raj to have incredible chemistry in the boardroom as well as the bedroom…and for them to become an almost unstoppable force together.

Despite the heady Manhattan setting and feel that the characters are self-made business royalty, the books in the Singh Trilogy are also very much about the family relationships. The relationships that support us, but can also hurt us at the same time. Sharma expertly uses these webs to underpin the plot. If corporate espionage and arguments about intellectual property rights get you going plus incredible hot-but-tender sexual chemistry – and one very, very adorable tiny Chihuahua puppy who will melt your heart – get yourself a copy of The Legal Affair. (Did I mention it was hot? Ajay and Raj are serious dirty talkers. Also, I would totally watch a Netflix series adaptation of these books and we don’t even have book 3 yet!)

The Legal Affair is out August 18 from Avon Impulse!

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

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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

Summary from Goodreads:

In this thought-provoking, wise and emotionally rich novel, New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs explores the meaning of happiness, trust, and faith in oneself as she asks the question, “If you had to start over, what would you do and who would you be?”

There is a book for everything . . .. Somewhere in the vast Library of the Universe, as Natalie thought of it, there was a book that embodied exactly the things she was worrying about.

In the wake of a shocking tragedy, Natalie Harper inherits her mother’s charming but financially strapped bookshop in San Francisco. She also becomes caretaker for her ailing grandfather Andrew, her only living relative—not counting her scoundrel father.

But the gruff, deeply kind Andrew has begun displaying signs of decline. Natalie thinks it’s best to move him to an assisted living facility to ensure the care he needs. To pay for it, she plans to close the bookstore and sell the derelict but valuable building on historic Perdita Street, which is in need of constant fixing. There’s only one problem–Grandpa Andrew owns the building and refuses to sell. Natalie adores her grandfather; she’ll do whatever it takes to make his final years happy. Besides, she loves the store and its books provide welcome solace for her overwhelming grief.

After she moves into the small studio apartment above the shop, Natalie carries out her grandfather’s request and hires contractor Peach Gallagher to do the necessary and ongoing repairs. His young daughter, Dorothy, also becomes a regular at the store, and she and Natalie begin reading together while Peach works. To Natalie’s surprise, her sorrow begins to dissipate as her life becomes an unexpected journey of new connections, discoveries and revelations, from unearthing artifacts hidden in the bookshop’s walls, to discovering the truth about her family, her future, and her own heart.

I’d never read Susan Wiggs before but The Lost and Found Bookshop came across my radar in the HarperCollins catalog. Romance set in a bookstore? Sign me up! It was a fun read. I liked this book, but I didn’t LOVE it like I wanted to.

There’s a lot going on here. Natalie suffers the dual loss of her mom and her boyfriend in the same plane crash, but then also finds that her mom’s bookshop in San Fransisco is almost a complete financial loss and her grandfather is very slowly eroding away as dementia sets in. The handyman her mother hired to do the urgent repairs on the historic building (Peach) turns out to be a competent, (very) attractive, book-reading guy with a cute book-obsessed kid. Plus there’s a lot of family history to discover in the building since it dates back to before the 1906 earthquake. So there’s a lot to work with. The storyline of Natalie’s grandfather, Andrew, and his POV chapters are handled so well, with great sensitivity to both how he feels as his memory slips more and more and also the stress it places on Natalie to care for him as he “relives” her mother’s death every time he forgets and remembers.

But the book felt a little flat to me. There’s a secondary character, a middle-grade author, introduced to give Peach some competition in the “love interest” department. That guy has a secret that, when it was finally revealed, I found very hard to believe that it hadn’t been leaked already due to the Rick Riordan-level of fame the guy had. Consequently, so much time is spent with Guy B that the actual romance with Peach is crammed into the very end of the book. So it’s a very slow burn that could have used a lot more pining and spending time with each other alone, in my opinion (i.e. at no point did I want to yell “just kiss you dorks” at the book). I also felt that the author didn’t follow through on some details. It’s noted that Natalie has the kind of abs you only get from yoga class – but we never see her take a yoga class or any sort of physical activity of any kind (I don’t recall her ever thinking about it, even to lament being too exhausted to bother with exercise or missing space for a daily yoga practice or something). And then late in the book some weed is smoked without ever referencing this before (look, the weed is fine, they are in San Francisco, but it just felt out of left field particularly when it’s noted Natalie finished off her mom’s Ambien prescription earlier in the book). And so on. These are little nitpicky things because they feel tacked on as a way to try and flesh out character. They pulled me out of the scene like snagging my finger on a splinter.

So there were a lot of pieces of this book I really liked, but they didn’t all fit together in the most satisfying way for me.

The Lost and Found Bookshop is out July 7!

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book that we received at the store in our last galley box before COVID19 hit.
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.