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.

Advertisements
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

A Daring Arrangement and A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe (The Four Hundred #1 and #2)

33783452Summary from Goodreads:
Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, Joanna Shupe’s Avon debut introduces an English beauty with a wicked scheme to win the man she loves—and the American scoundrel who ruins her best laid plans…

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match—leaving her free to marry the artist she desires. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own—one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

35068754Summary from Goodreads:
Joanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” makes it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires A SCANDALOUS DEAL.

This will be a two-for-one review. I didn’t make it to A Daring Arrangement before the galley expired, so I let it slide for a little bit.  But now that the release date has come for book 2, A Scandalous Deal, I needed to catch up on everyone.

Joanna Shupe’s  Avon debut, The Four Hundred series, is a lovely entry in the historical genre, especially given that Gilded Age novels set in New York City and environs are not thick upon the ground. If you really like Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence  but maybe want more romance/a happier ending, definitely give them a try.

I liked A Daring Arrangement a lot, although it wasn’t a total slam dunk for me. There’s a later plot point that I guessed easily (which is kind of a spoiler) but I wasn’t quite sure that the story earned. This is a “get an outrageous fake fiancé to annoy daddy enough to let you wed the unsuitable artist fiancé” plot and we all know where that leads.  If the “fake engagement” trope is your kryptonite, this is for you. Hatcher is an interesting character, as the self-made man trying to out-do the Old Money crowd.

I liked A Scandalous Deal a bit more. Partly because of Eva, struggling to be recognized for her work in what was (and is still) a very male profession, but also because Shupe pushes a bit more into how women were treated at the time of the Gilded Age.  There is a secondary character who is at risk of being committed to an asylum because she doesn’t conform (I know we all laugh about that meme going around with reasons women got committed but that was a real thing). Phillip is interesting because he is very Alpha Male who then has to learn to be a Beta at times for Eva. (I also think he looks like Matthew Macfadyen so I’m down with it.)

Dear FTC: I read book 1 on my nook and book 2 as a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals, #1)

35271238Summary from Goodreads:
From acclaimed author Alyssa Cole comes the tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise . . .

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

About two chapters into my galley of Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory I started squealing. Ledi is a grad student in epidemiology! Specifically, infectious diseases!! *heart-eyes emoji* And she talks about the research and the writing like she knows what she’s doing!! *many more heart-eyes emojis* (Turns out Cole used to work as an editor for a science journal, yaaaaaas, girl.)

So here’s the deal: if you were looking for an update-ish of Coming to America with a stronger female main character, a prince who is concerned with doing right by his people, strong and intersectional secondary characters, science, social commentary, and excellent fashion descriptions, A Princess in Theory is for you.  If you weren’t looking for a story like this, you still want this book.  You’re welcome.

I lurved it. All of it. Ledi is a smart, streetwise heroine from the school of “no one wants a foster kid no matter how much she tries to be the Perfect Kid.” You just want to smack so many adults on her behalf, both from her childhood and from her current adult life (there’s a post-doc in her lab that deserves some Draino in his coffee). Thabiso is a literal Prince who gets his life turned upside down when he determines Ledi’s his long-lost fiancé – his plan to show her what she missed out on (chiefly, His Awesomeness as a Prince) when her parents fled Thesolo is just the most delightfully wrong-headed idea ever. Once Thabiso decides to get to know Ledi (although he does that as some dude named Jamal, so also not the best plan in the long-term), Cole brings in some great commentary about colonialism, big-government jacking around with global disease prevention funding, and the foster system. There are some steamy sexytimes, too. (What? This is still a romance novel.) My only criticism – and it’s a minor one – is that I could smell the villain coming from miles away, which is probably my own fault for having read so many Agatha Christie novels.

I know Cole probably didn’t intend the juxtaposition, but when she described Thabiso’s beard as being trimmed to accentuate his sharp jaw my brain went immediately to all the pictures of Chadwick Boseman dressed in his T’challa costumes. So if this ever gets made into a movie, they’ll have to cast Boseman. Sorry not sorry? (I mean, there are worse people you can resemble, I’m just saying. I was reading this in the two weeks prior to the release of Black Panther in theatres and Instagram just kept parking ads and trailers with Boseman’s gorgeous face all over my feed. Ledi was a little harder to headcast – Letitia Wright is obviously a good choice with her recent turn as awesome scientist-princess Shuri in Black Panther.)

I would like to ask the Romancelandia Fairy-godmother for a book for Likotsi – she quickly went from Thabiso’s enigmatic assistant to an awesomesauce lady frand and she needs a story of her own. (Also, I want all her suits, even though I do not have the body type for them, because they sounded so damn gorgeous.) But next up is a book for Ledi’s bestie Portia who goes off to Scotland for an internship in swordmaking (y’all, Portia is something else) and finds a duke along the way. PS: Avon, any time you want to park that galley on Edelweiss I’ll read the crap out of it.

A Princess in Theory is out today! Whoop whoop!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my nook. So hah.

Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

35259631Summary from Goodreads:
A groomsman and his last-minute guest are about to discover if a fake date can go the distance in a fun and flirty debut novel.

Agreeing to go to a wedding with a guy she gets stuck with in an elevator is something Alexa Monroe wouldn’t normally do. But there’s something about Drew Nichols that’s too hard to resist.

On the eve of his ex’s wedding festivities, Drew is minus a plus one. Until a power outage strands him with the perfect candidate for a fake girlfriend…

After Alexa and Drew have more fun than they ever thought possible, Drew has to fly back to Los Angeles and his job as a pediatric surgeon, and Alexa heads home to Berkeley, where she’s the mayor’s chief of staff. Too bad they can’t stop thinking about the other…

They’re just two high-powered professionals on a collision course toward the long distance dating disaster of the century–or closing the gap between what they think they need and what they truly want…

Everyone, and I mean everyone, has been talking about Jasmine Guillory’s debut romance novel. And when Roxane Gay starts tweeting about an excellent, smart, and sexy romance novel she’s reading you put it on your TBR. During the 24in48 Readathon this weekend a needed a much lighter book to balance some unexpected heaviness (Kent Haruf, I was not planning to read your book but I needed a short audiobook and whyyyyyyy did you do that to me?) so I pulled up my galley of The Wedding Date and dove right in.

Cue all the squealing. Guillory has provided us with a super-cute contemporary romance about a smart woman who gets stuck in an elevator with a hot guy who turns out to need a date for a wedding that weekend. Which turns into a one night stand. And then turns into something else entirely unlike what Alexa and Drew expected. I was hooked almost immediately by the meet-cute. Super-hot dude gets stuck in an elevator with you and makes jokes about needing snacks? Yes, please. And then he asks you to be his hot date for a wedding? I’d be willing to over-look the “oops I panicked and said you were my girlfriend” thing, too. The plot kept me turning pages until late into the night (good thing it was Saturday). 

I loved Alexa. Sharp, decisive, and with a love of doughnuts (yes, girl, always with the sprinkles). Guillory gave her a great job and purpose that just leap right off the page; Alexa doesn’t exist within the confines of this book, she could be a real person who is a mayor’s chief of staff trying to start a program for troubled kids. I liked Drew as a character, but I had trouble finding reasons for his commitment problems outside of being a busy doctor.  He didn’t come across as a Player player, no one accused him of cheating or two-timing or anything, so I couldn’t quite figure him out.

Holding up Alexa and Drew’s relationship was whip-smart multi-layered writing, infusing the book with discussions about body positivity, race, and privilege.  When Alexa arrives at the rehearsal dinner, she asks if she’s going to be the only Black person there, letting the reader know that not only will Alexa stick out as a new face attached to Drew (who has some history with the bridal party), she will be unable to blend in with the guests at any point; later, the discussions about which parts of Berkeley are supportive of her diversion program are similarly revealing. Alexa also has some thoughts about places she wished wouldn’t jiggle quite so much while having sex, which I’m sure most women have had, but Guillory makes it clear that Drew finds Alexa’s curves very sexy (every once in a while I’ll read a romance where there’s a “hero-loves-heroine-despite-her-chubbiness” vibe and that’s a definite “ew” but totally not a thing here). Ordering food and enjoying a meal are also big parts of this story, whether the main characters are alone, together, or in a group; there’s no food-shaming. Guillory also gets a Gold Star for condom usage EVERY time one was called for in addition to writing very consent-positive sex scenes.

The Wedding Date is on sale today! Pick it up at your favorite bookstore. (And apparently there’s going to be a sequel, with Drew’s buddy Carlos.)

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