Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2)

35564594Summary from Goodreads:
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

The squealing that happened when I found the digital galley for A Gentleman Never Keeps Score on Edelweiss….I apologize to everyone in a three-county radius.  I was that excited.  Because I have wanted to read about Sam Fox ever since I read Cat Sebastian’s description of the book on her Twitter.

Sam is an ex-prize-fighter and publican, the owner of The Bell which Sam sees as an integral part of the Free Black community in London. It’s a place to get news, get a hot meal, get a decent drink, and socialize with other members of the small London community. When Sam’s friend (and future sister-in-law and community midwife) Kate asks him to recover a nude painting she posed for as a younger woman in need of money, he agrees. With some trepidation because a Black man caught house-breaking in Regency London would not come to a good ending.

In the course of planning out his house-breaking, Sam runs into Hartley. In the alley behind Hartley’s own Brook Street house – the target of Sam’s mission. Hartley was bequeathed the house from Sir Humphrey Easterbrook (more on this below) and after a series of comical misunderstandings Sam and Hartley get down to business.  The painting.  Which, unfortunately for Sam, is likely no longer in the house because the artwork had been removed from the walls before Hartley took possession.

But this doesn’t mean Sam’s mission is at an end because Hartley would also like to recover a painting from Sir Humphrey’s collection. Hartley allowed himself to be a sort of “kept” man by Sir Humphrey when a teen because it would ensure that his brothers would be able to attend school or university, and not be destitute. And now that Hartley has inherited the house, and a little money, and has the clothes, and the curricle this means his is a gentleman – he feels like what he gave up to Sir Humphrey has been worth it, even the fact that he can’t bear to be touched.  Except that someone has spread a rumor about Hartley’s sexual orientation and now he’s an outcast in Society. If this painting is ever made public, he could lose his life.

So the most unlikely pair begins to work together to find these paintings. They also begin very, very cautiously to work toward each other and find middle ground as a gay, cross-class, bi-racial couple in Regency London. Along the way they create a family of non-Society “outcasts,” from Kate and Nick (and other members of the Black community) to Hartley’s valet/man-of-work Alf, a young gay man, and Sadie, a young unwed mother abandoned by her “respectable” family due to her pregnancy who becomes Hartley’s cook. Hartley’s brothers Ben and Will also pop up (although I was slightly disappointed that Ben did not bring his “sea captain” and the kids).

I love this book. Sam Fox is the sweetest man ever invented, I swear. He’s such a cinnamon roll. Hartley is a wonderfully multi-layered character with the way he uses his privilege to mask his hurt and protect Sam. The way Sam and Hartley actually talk through their issues and misunderstandings is just A+.  Also, there is a scene late in the book that just filled my heart to bursting. (Incidentally, there is also a scene that is so hot that you will need to fan yourself. Holy cannoli. This book gets steamy, y’all, and it’s so well-written.)

Small trigger warning, as the author herself stated in the description, Hartley was abused/coerced as a young man, alluded to in the previous book, It Takes Two to Tumble, and clarified here, but Sebastian does not go into details on the page. Just FYI if you need to know ahead of time.

Now, I am intrigued at all the places Cat Sebastian is going these days.  Her next book, due in the fall, is A Duke in Disguise, about a guy who doesn’t want to be a duke (I think?) and a bookseller who just wants to get on with her publishing business.  And then we get a book the third Sedgwick brother, Will, who is apparently involved with Sir Humphrey’s son Martin and that was a twist I was not expecting (nor was Hartley, who then gave us a hilarious aside wondering about the probability of all the Sedgwick males being gay).

Dear FTC: I read this thing like yesterday once the galley was downloaded on my iPad and I’ve had this pre-ordered on my Nook since that was possible.

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian (Regency Impostors, #1)

35270780Summary from Goodreads:
The one you love…
Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.
May not be who you think…
Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.
But is who you need…
When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

Thus far in her writing career at Avon, Cat Sebastian has created four compelling, smart m/m romances. For her fifth book, she hit us with a surprise: her new couple was not comprised of two gay men.

Unmasked by the Marquess begins as the stodgy, grouchy, and very proper Marquess of Pembroke – whose father was rather notorious in his gambling and womanizing ways – is called upon by a complete stranger to grant a favor. The young Mr. Robert Selby has a very pretty younger sister in need of a good launch into Society and could Pembroke, as a very respectable member of the aristocracy, perhaps pay her some notice? Other gentlemen (i.e. of the titled, moneyed kind) would then notice Louisa and she would then be able to make a very good match. After a bit of back and forth – and a fortuitously loose bonnet ribbon – Pembroke agrees to the request and also becomes a bit interested in the bold young man who orchestrated the whole thing.

The rather interesting wrinkle in this relationship is that Mr. Selby is not a “mister” nor perhaps a “Selby” – he is Charity Church, an orphan raised as a maid, but who was sent off to Cambridge to receive a first-rate education under the guise of “Robert Selby” at the behest of her master, the real Robert Selby. The problem facing Charity now is that Robert Selby died unexpectedly of the influenza leaving behind Charity-as-Robert and a very (very) pretty sister Louisa and not very much money, since the estate will now pass to a cousin. So Charity and Lou concealed Selby’s death and have gone on as “Robert” and Louisa for the last two years while concocting this plan to get Louisa a husband to provide for her.

But Pembroke isn’t a fool, nor is he as straight-laced as he seems. When his aimless younger brother takes an interest in Louisa, and Pembroke becomes interested in Selby as more than just a friend, Pembroke begins to investigate a few cracks in Selby’s story. And he blows Charity’s secrets wide open.

img_9600Unmasked by the Marquess is an amazing, smart romance novel about an intelligent, genderfluid/nonbinary person and a bisexual aristocrat in the Regency period. The characters are funny and charming but so heartfelt and ready to walk right off the page. It is also a novel with a lot of consider about gender performance versus sexual preference. In Sebastian’s “Author Note” she provides more than enough historical context for anyone who needed proof that non-binary people could exist in the Regency (they’ve always existed, which is the point, and existed throughout history often at great risk to their lives). Charity, later renamed Robin in the book since she is neither a “Charity” nor a “Robert,” uses female pronouns, a choice Sebastian made and one that makes sense to me, but really creates a place for herself to exist in the world that is not “male” or “female” but rather in-between or both.

Pembroke really grows with Robin as he realizes that, first of all, he’s been a right bastard to his half-sisters because of his father issues, and second, if you have money and privilege the rest of Society will either get behind you or will stay out of your way. In this way, Pembroke is the polar opposite of Dain from Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Dain starts out as the most hedonistic, “wicked” aristocrat, able to do whatever he likes because of his immense wealth and rank, who becomes less of a prickly jackass once he finds a woman more than capable of dealing with his bullshit (spoiler: she shoots him). Pembroke is the stuffiest of Stuffy, Uptight, British Males until Robin comes along and makes him realize that he denies himself a lot of joy and happiness in the pursuit of “respectability.” (Richard Armitage is now Pembroke, I accept this headcanon. I’ve got three words for you: North and South.)

So, a smart genderfluid ex-maidservant + a bisexual stuffy marquess + Regency + secrets + hijinks = Cat Sebastian upping her game. I loved it so much. Y’all will want to read this immediately. It’s out now, by the way.

I do have to say, though, a petition is needed to have Avon get Cat Sebastian better covers. The general design is fine but they need to look less like student Photoshop projects. (Like, is Pembroke missing a thumb here?) And if you look up her next book on Goodreads, the cover shown there looks very much like two dudes pasted together from different stock photos. (Although, I need the text of that book in my eyeballs immediately because I do so want a cinnamon roll publican and bored socialite – whatever the male version of socialite is – heist m/m romance novel like yesterday.) Her books are selling, so spend a little more money on the actual art.

Dear FTC: I read the digital galley of this book and immediately pre-ordered it on my nook.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry (Regency Reimagined #1)

20418278Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on . . .

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with . . .

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet . . .

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

So Jenn on Get Booked recommended Bound to be a Groom in response to a listener who wanted to expand their romance sub-genre reading and I was like, “huh, well, I will check this out” (plus it’s only like $3 on ebook, so even if it was a dud it was fine). This is a pretty ok book, though I found the story a bit too thin in places for my taste and the characters flat outside of their bedroom activities. So it falls more on the erotica side (plot serves the sex scenes) verses romance (sex scenes serve the plot). I think ménage romances/erotica are not for me? There are too many moving parts (haha, #sorrynotsorry) to keep track of, especially once three expanded to four. Not ruling the whole sub-genre out completely, but probably not moving up the preference ladder. Mulry does write the sex scenes well, so that is a plus if this is your thing.

Dear FTC: I read the copy I bought for my nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1)

S35230501ummary from Goodreads:
“Sebastian proves she is a new force to be reckoned with in historical romances.”–Booklist

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
His ship
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Out today! Cat Sebastian kicks off her new Seducing the Sedgwicks series with It Takes Two to Tumble.

This is a charming m/m Regency loosely based off the Maria/Captain von Trapp relationship in The Sound of Music (no Nazis or whistles, thankfully). Ben is the cheerful, dedicated-to-the-parish vicar and Philip is a stern sea captain returning to his home after two years (his wife has died while he was away and his three children are running wild). Their story is sweet and loving (and I think Ben looks like James Norton from Grantchester). Sebastian sets up future books in the series well.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke by Maya Rodale (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #4)

33783879Summary from Goodreads:
In the fourth novel of Maya Rodale’s tantalizing series, a newly minted duke spends one night with his perfect woman…but can he win her for a lifetime

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms…and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

I liked the first book in this series, Lady Bridget’s Diary, because I loved the layering of the retellings of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary (it was like 16 walls of meta-fiction, I loved it).  I was also intrigued by the idea of the series in general: the four books will take place more-or-less simultaneously over the same time period. Now, I haven’t read the second and third books in the series – I just didn’t get to them – so I thought that I’d squash down my “but it’s out of series order” objections and read It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke because it’s a holiday weekend and new romance galley and blah blah blah.

However, even with the intervening time since reading book one, the structure of the book felt repetitive. I’d seen the same drawing room scenes already. I knew when Bridget fell on her butt, or Claire went to the boxing match, or Amelia ran away for the day or that James danced twice with Meredith. I don’t know if I would have even made it to book four had I read two or three as well – we don’t see enough plot outside what has appeared in previous books.  Which is a shame, because I really liked Meredith as a character. The prologue between Meredith and James was very good, and set up their relationship nicely but it pottered along until we got to the expected conclusion (which I’d guessed long before, because it is an expected historical plot twist) with no surprises in between. A good romance, but I wanted more spark.

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #1)

33296129

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

When a new Tessa Dare romance is in the offing there is an expectation that:

  1. There will be banter, lots of it
  2. There will be hilarious jokes and puns
  3. The meet-cute will be unusual (cf. being chosen as a future Duchess while covered in sugar when one is the barmaid, writing letters to a fake fiancé who turns out to be a real person, inheriting a castle with a grumpy Duke still living in it, proposing that the local rake accompany you on a road-trip to a scientific conference with a dinosaur fossil in tow (that one has the drrrrtiest math jokes), etc.)

The Duchess Deal delivers on all three. And turns the Beauty and the Beast story on its head.

The Duke of Ashbury (Ash), sporting horrific facial scars from Napoleonic battle wounds and freshly jilted by his fiancé, finds himself bearded in his den by a seamstress in a wedding dress. Despite his growling, and insistence that the garment in question is so awful it belongs on a bawdy-house chandelier (among other insults), Emma Gladstone stands her ground and demands to be paid for the work done on his ex-fiancé’s wedding dress. Ash, who was recently reminded that he’ll need a male heir to prevent something untoward happening to the dukedom, decides to kill two birds with one stone – he offers to marry Emma instead.

Emma, with infinite good sense, does not agree to this immediately. (Yes, I am here for a romance heroine to take at least a few days to consider whether getting yourself permanently hitched to a dude one does not know well, in an era where divorce was almost never granted and then never to the woman’s benefit, is a good idea.) But in the end Emma agrees, with a few conditions of her own.

I loved this book. So good, I read it through twice over before marking it as “read.” Emma is one of the best romance heroines, with a solid moral center that feels natural as opposed to contrived. Her gift is knowing how to make someone look and feel good in their own skin; she covers Ash in it and loves him even when he can’t figure out how to love himself as he is now. Ash is another in Tessa Dare’s lineup of heroes physically and mentally damaged by war. His psychological reaction to having burn wounds is so real and true (though, maybe not the “Menace” bit, but you have to love that, too). The secondary characters are all wonderful. Khan, Penny, Alex, and Nicola are the best and while Penny, Alex, and Nicola are all set up as the next heroines in the series, I do wish that Khan could have had a relationship of his own. (Maybe in a novella? Please?) Breeches’s introduction to the story was a hoot and the servants’ plotting to get Emma and Ash to fall in love so Ash won’t be an insufferable pain-in-the-ass forever was my favorite B-plot.

(Props to the cover designer who at least put the male model in profile so we don’t have the mismatch of a totally unscarred dude on the cover.)

The Duchess Deal is out today!  Go get it!  Happy reading!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, twice, and I have a copy pre-ordered, too.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian (The Turner Series #3)

Summary from Goodreads:
Rogue. Libertine. Rake. Lord Courtenay has been called many things and has never much cared. But after the publication of a salacious novel supposedly based on his exploits, he finds himself shunned from society. Unable to see his nephew, he is willing to do anything to improve his reputation, even if that means spending time with the most proper man in London.

Julian Medlock has spent years becoming the epitome of correct behavior. As far as he cares, if Courtenay finds himself in hot water, it’s his own fault for behaving so badly—and being so blasted irresistible. But when Julian’s sister asks him to rehabilitate Courtenay’s image, Julian is forced to spend time with the man he loathes—and lusts after—most.

As Courtenay begins to yearn for a love he fears he doesn’t deserve, Julian starts to understand how desire can drive a man to abandon all sense of propriety. But he has secrets he’s determined to keep, because if the truth came out, it would ruin everyone he loves. Together, they must decide what they’re willing to risk for love.

Since his introduction in the previous installment in this series (The Lawrence Browne Affair), Lord Courtenay has been desperately in need of a redemption arc.

He doesn’t really do all the things that scandalous novel purportedly based upon his life says he does. He’s a hedonist, not a rake. He’s happy with ladies, or gentlemen, and as long as everyone is happy and down for pleasuring the other party it’s all good. But since that wretched novel came out, he’s not been allowed to see his nephew, had trouble with his income, and largely spending time with (i.e. making sure she’s eating and the house hasn’t become overrun with cats) his friend Eleanor.

Now Eleanor’s brother, Julian, is the most correct of all correct gentlemen whoever tried to break into the upper echelons of the ton.  He’s also had a crush on Lord Courtenay forever (but he would never act on it, because correctness). When Eleanor asks Julian to rehab Courtnay’s reputation the plot takes off like a shot.

The Ruin of a Rake is an excellent conclusion to this series. It’s also very different because so much of the conflict between Courtenay and Julian is internal rather than external (no one’s sneaking about investigating blackmailers, no one’s hiding out from murderous criminals) and very rooted in How One Behaves in Society. Medlock and Courtnay make a compelling couple, the straight-laced social climber and the reckless hedonist. Plus cats. (Dear Author: I’d like to know what’s up with Lady Montbray and her companion, and Oliver and Georgie’s sister needs a HEA, too.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss then I bought a copy on my nook because of course.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Temptations of a Wallflower by Eva Leigh (Wicked Quills of London #3)

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Summary from Goodreads:
Eva Leigh’s deliciously sexy Wicked Quills of London series continues as a Lady’s secret career writing erotic fiction is jeopardized by real-life romance . . .

In society circles she’s known as the Watching Wallflower—shy, quiet, and certainly never scandalous. Yet beneath Lady Sarah Frampton’s demure façade hides the mind of The Lady of Dubious Quality, author of the most titillating erotic fiction the ton has ever seen. Sarah knows discovery would lead to her ruin, but marriage—to a vicar, no less—could help protect her from slander. An especially tempting option when the clergyman in question is the handsome, intriguing Jeremy Cleland.

Tasked with unmasking London’s most scandalous author by his powerful family, Jeremy has no idea that his beautiful, innocent bride is the very woman he seeks to destroy. His mission must remain a secret, even from the new wife who stirs his deepest longings. Yet when the truth comes to light, Sarah and Jeremy’s newfound love will be tested. Will Sarah’s secret identity tear them apart or will the temptations of his wallflower wife prove too wicked to resist?

I missed this final installment in the Wicked Quills of London series when it published so I decided to pick it up in a sale (turns out there’s a thread of connection to the new series, London Underground). Temptations of a Wallflower is less cross-class than the previous two books and much more “figuring out your life.” Jeremy has to come to terms with being his dad’s lackey and Sarah has to try and trust Jeremy with her secret – because vicar Jeremy has been tasked by his father with outing the author of popular erotica (BECAUSE MORALITY *cue handwringing and yelling by crappy old dudes*) who he has just married. Oops. In the middle Leigh wrote one of the best defenses of women’s work, women’s writing, and feeling that one is valued for one’s self that I’ve ever read in a novel. I loved it.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this ebook in a sale.