mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Take the Lead by Alexis Daria (Dance Off #1)

35832867Summary from Goodreads:
Gina Morales wants to win. It’s her fifth season on The Dance Off, a top-rated network TV celebrity dance competition, and she’s never even made it to the finals. When she meets her latest partner, she sees her chance. He’s handsome, rippling with muscles, and he stars on the popular Alaskan wilderness reality show Living Wild. With his sexy physique and name recognition, she thinks he’s her ticket to the finals—until she realizes they’re being set up.

Stone Nielson hates Los Angeles, he hates reality TV, and he hates that fact that he had to join the cast of the The Dance Off because of family obligations. He can’t wait to get back to Alaska, but he also can’t deny his growing attraction to his bubbly Puerto Rican dance partner. Neither of them are looking for romantic entanglements, and Stone can’t risk revealing his secrets, but as they heat up the dance floor, it’s only a matter of time until he feels an overwhelming urge to take the lead.

When the tabloids catch on to their developing romance, the spotlight threatens to ruin not just their relationship, but their careers and their shot at the trophy. Gina and Stone will have to decide if their priorities lie with fame, fortune, or the chance at a future together.

In trying to read more contemporary romances, I was recommended Take the Lead since I was also a dancer.  I don’t watch a lot of reality TV competition shows (there’s a point where they all devolve into a popularity contest irregardless of competitors’ talent or ability and then I lose interest) but this did sound like a fun story.

I really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes romance set on a “Dancing with the Stars”-type reality show. I really loved Gina’s professionalism and dedication to being a dancer/performer and not just mugging for votes (the voting/showmance/b-roll stuff is why I really don’t watch reality competitions; just give me the dancing, please). The plot gets a little lost in the middle then picks back up. It’s probably due to a lot of “errrrrybody got drama” – Stone has secrets and Gina has been burned really bad before – but it got back on track once Stone and Gina finally has a good talk.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this on my Nook.

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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?

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2)

35564582Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

I downloaded the galley for A Duke by Default about the second it was available to reviewers and TORE through it.

I’ll be honest. Portia wasn’t exactly my favorite secondary character coming out of A Princess in Theory. She had a major blow-up with Ledi regarding being a bad friend so this book is a chance for Portia to redeem herself.  And Portia herself has plans – she’s going to work hard at this swordmaking internship in Scotland, swear off both alcohol and men, and figure out how to be an adult with a plan and a career.  Easy, right? Wrong. Especially when she arrives at the Armory, thinks she sees a woman being assaulted, and sprays the attacker with pepper spray – which means she just sprayed her boss who was sparring with his sister-in-law. And she was downwind when she pushed the button and, therefore, sprayed herself.

Oops.

Tavish really wasn’t into the idea of getting an intern, let alone one who appears to rich, brainless, and attractive as all get out. But on the plus side she rushed to a strangers’ aid, even if she bungled it. HOWEVER, Tav has no time for all this nonsense because the Armory business is doing poorly and he really wants to just focus on making good swords and helping kids in the neighborhood. Right? When Portia goes digging into the Armory history she changes Tav’s life forever.

Alyssa Cole is an evil, evil genius, y’all. I loved this second installment in her Reluctant Royals series. Like any good rom-com, the minute Portia swears off dudes for the foreseeable future, the hottest half-Chilean silver-fox with a delicious Scottish accent swordsmith turns out to be her boss (even if he is pretty pissed at her for a bit because she maced him) and it makes for really, really good tension and banter in the story. Portia herself goes on a journey of personal discovery in this book, working out some things about herself and reconciling with her sister. Fair warning, it does take a little bit to get to the “but he’s secretly a duke!” reveal but there’s a lot of #swordbae in the interim and a super-good villain to wrap up at the end. Only two things bugged me: 1) the novel concluded super fast without a lot of Tav and Portia together, maybe we could have had a wee Epilogue? (idk, I read a galley, so maybe it’s just not included here? I live in hope) and 2) Tav’s secret duchy is the duchy of EDINBURGH, which is currently Prince Philip’s title (yes, that Prince Philip, the old geezer married to Her Maj, QEII) and it dragged me out of the book every, damn, time it was mentioned (someone at Avon should have caught that; if an entire country could be created for Thabiso in A Princess in Theory, just pick a totally random Scottish city for Tav’s duchy).

But anyway, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which appears to have the scandalous Prince Johan and Nedi’s cousin as the couple, yes please. (Still waiting on Likotsi’s novella, kthanx.)

A Duke by Default is out on Tuesday, July 31.

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

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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too Wilde to Wed is out today!

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Sanctuary by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards and Bondage #2)

38883903Summary from Goodreads:
From multi award-winning author Rebekah Weatherspoon, comes book 2 in this sexy, suspenseful series…

When she needs a sanctuary…

Targeted by a sadistic former client, attorney Liz Lewis needs a place to lay low. When a friend offers her his family farm as a safe house, she eagerly accepts, unaware that she’ll have to share the farm with her friend’s brawny, beautiful brother, Silas McInroy.

…she invades his…

Weary of a world that doesn’t understand him, Silas just wants to be left alone to grow the best produce upstate New York has to offer. Still, he’s not going to toss a woman out when her safety is on the line. But the only way to explain her presence on his farm is to claim that they fell in love online…and the last thing he needs is a fake relationship that threatens to become more and more real every day.

With her world turned upside down and danger on her trail, Liz knows that this temporary refuge can’t last forever…but leaving the comfort and ease of Silas’s arms and farm to face the reality of her life may be the hardest thing she’s ever had to do.

*** WARNING: This book contains scenes of mild bondage and domination between a gorgeous lawyer and a sexy farmer who is terrible with women. And five farm dogs with varying degrees of loyalty to both the hero and heroine.***

Remember the “fake engagement” trope? It’s back but in a modern form. In the follow-up to Haven, Rebekah Weatherspoon has produced a modern romance between a smart woman hiding from what seems to be a contract on her life and a man who really likes his quiet, mostly-solitary life as a farmer. When they have to pretend to be in a relationship to explain why she’s all of a sudden at his house (because her friend is his brother), sparks fly.  And I mean fly. *whew, fans self*

Sanctuary is a less-intense or insular book than Haven, IMO. Not that there isn’t a lot going on in this book (because there is) but I felt a little less emotionally connected to Liz and Silas than I did to Claudia and Shep. And while I loved the HEA for Liz and Silas there are some dudes in this book that still need a good comeuppance and beat-down.

I’m definitely reading more Rebekah Weatherspoon, though. I like how she writes first person POV in romance.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my nook.