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.

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.

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.