December 2021
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Review: The Way to a Duke’s Heart, Caroline Linden

the way to a duke's heartSince young adulthood, Charles de Lacey has led a profligate life mostly full of care, isolated from his family and completely uninterested in the dealings of his estate. As the heir to a dukedom, he’s simply let his brother Edward take charge alongside his father, while his soldier brother Gerard served the purpose of bravery. But when Charlie’s father dies, haunted by a blackmailer who’s discovered a deadly secret, this devil-may-care nobleman must whip himself into shape in order to ensure he secures his inheritance. On the trail, Charlie meets Tessa Neville, a stubborn, intelligent woman whose presence around the suspected blackmailer raises Charlie’s curiosity. How is she connected with the case – and can she help him rescue his family?

The Way to a Duke’s Heart is the third in a trilogy of books about the de Lacey brothers. I’ve also reviewed the first two. You don’t have to read the first two to enjoy this book; as with most romance novels, the external plot is not really that tight and the focus is much more on the romance. All you really need to know is that Charlie is hunting for a blackmailer who could rob him of his inheritance, making him and his two brothers into virtual paupers overnight. Some clues were found by Edward and Gerard over the course of the first two books, but it is really down to Charlie to find the answers and save his own fortunes, as well it should be.

That’s because Charlie is most definitely the wastrel of the three; we learn very early on that he was driven away by his father holding him to too-high standards as his heir, while failing to allow him to marry the woman he thought he loved at a tender age. But now that Edward and Gerard have in some sense settled down with their wives, he’s left on his own to solve the mystery and prove himself worthy of his title. Tessa, on the other hand, is a businesswoman before they really existed. Running her brother’s estate, she’s left to make all the decisions for him and has made a huge success of herself. She’s in Bath to investigate a canal building project – and she does a cracking good job of it – where she and her elderly companion run into Charlie. Sparks fly, Tessa doubts, Charlie charms, and solves the mystery while he’s at it.

All in all, this was a really delightful ending to the trilogy. I liked that Charlie finally got his resolution in more ways than one; it’s obvious that it’s going to happen, but I was very pleased with the way it all turned out for him. I was completely satisfied with the finish of the mystery that has lasted over the course of the trilogy, too. Even though the blackmailer plot more or less served as a way to get these three brothers in contact with their three new wives, I did find that it intrigued me and I wanted to know what happened to their father in his younger years. And I loved Tessa, as you might expect; she’s so very intelligent with her businesslike mathematical mind, I could see why she would have had so little previous luck with men. I enjoyed Charlie’s charm and persistence with her greatly, and I very much cheered for their happy ending.

A very entertaining and highly recommended trilogy of romantic novels!

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.


Review: The Ugly Duchess, Eloisa James

the ugly duchessTheodora Saxby and James Ryburn, the future Duke of Ashbrook, have been friends for their entire lives. When James proposes to his “Daisy”, as he affectionately calls Theo, hardly anyone can believe it. After all, Theo is no beauty, and everyone has expected him to aim somewhat higher. But Theo and James discover happiness almost immediately, when they realize that the friendly affection they’ve always harbored for one another does in fact run deeper. That’s until Theo hears the real reason for their marriage; that James’s duchy is deeply in debt, and in reality he needed her money to stay afloat. Dismayed and heartbroken, the couple separate for years. After he nearly loses his life in battle as a pirate, James returns to London, determined to persuade his transformed duchess to give him her heart once again.

I loved the way that Eloisa James immediately drew me into this book with the incredibly sweet way that Theo and James immediately fall for each other. It’s the perfect friendship turned love story, until she tears it apart. What better way to make you truly care for these two characters before their story really even begins? Even though I knew what was going to happen, in that James was going to leave Theo at her own request, I really didn’t want it to happen. I wanted them to continue being happy. But if that had occurred, we wouldn’t have had much of a book.

Unfortunately, I didn’t really like the rest of the book as much as I liked the sweet beginning. Theo’s transformation from ugly duckling to graceful swan takes place while her husband is far, far away, learning how to be a pirate. Her marriage, though it turns into a sham, is the perfect catalyst to free her from the usually dominating parents and allows her to exercise her rather obviously excellent taste in clothing and style. What I didn’t like was the relationship with the press, although it was certainly very realistic; it’s Theo who has driven off her husband, Theo who is at fault for everything; it made my heart break more for her, but I didn’t like it regardless. The couple spend the middle section of the book apart, then reunite for the last third.

As usual, Eloisa James delivers a very enjoyable, thoughtful romance. Though I still don’t think this is a match for the amazing Desperate Duchesses series, it also didn’t bother me the way that her last did. Not entirely my favorite, but The Ugly Duchess is a good read for a historical romance reader.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.


Review: Scandal Wears Satin, Loretta Chase

scandal wears satinSophia Noirot has her hands full, between acting as saleswoman for the shop that she and her two sisters run by day and by night as a writer for the scandal sheets of London. She makes her sisters’ dresses sound incredible by burying their descriptions inside the salacious stories that London’s gossips spread around town each and every day. But Sophy’s mission to make her shop a success keeps getting interrupted by the Earl of Longmore, who can’t get her big blue eyes out of his mind. When Longmore’s sister, the shop’s biggest patron, makes a monumental mistake and creates a scandal of her own, though, Sophy can’t abandon either of them to their fate.

I have a strange relationship with Loretta Chase’s writing. I didn’t really fall in love with several of her earlier books, like Not Quite a Lady. I flat out disliked Don’t Tempt Me. I liked Captives of the Night, but still haven’t managed to read Lord of Scoundrels. But one of her books that I did read was Silk is for Seduction, and I enjoyed that far more than any of the others, to the extent that I still remember it fairly well. So when I was offered the opportunity to continue reading that series, I didn’t say no.

I unfortunately can’t say I absolutely loved the emotions in this book like I did with the last, but Scandal Wears Satin is still a very satisfying and heart-warming read at the core of it. In this case, I loved Sophy, and Chase’s way of speaking in all capitals to indicate her slightly melodramatic tendencies. I found it honestly very amusing, and I could really see why Longmore was completely enchanted with her. I didn’t find one of the world’s most compelling heroes, though, to be honest; I could understand his worries about his sister, but nothing about him has particularly landed in my mind as a notable feature.

As usual, some of the plot here was more or less ridiculous. I had to roll my eyes at Clara running away on her engagement and where she actually ended up; it just seemed a little bit overdone, a clever way of throwing the hero and the heroine together. I was also very disappointed in Clara herself; after actually throwing off a duke in the last book, saying that she deserved better, and coming into her own, I’d never have anticipating that she’d immediately end up in a compromising situation with a fortune hunter and ruin it all.

There are also the standard barriers to an earl marrying a simple commoner which have to be overcome at the same time; bad enough that the duke who was supposed to marry Clara married a commoner himself, but for Longmore to do it creates an even bigger obstacle in society’s minds. I had to remind myself that I’m not actually reading this for a realistic portrayal of society.

In spite of all that, I did genuinely enjoy reading this book. While I can see its faults fairly clearly, the romance between the main characters somehow works, and works well. I’m definitely looking forward to reading about the third of the Noirot sisters, and I’m certainly hoping that Clara gets her happy ending. Maybe she’ll rediscover that woman she found in Silk is for Seduction.

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.


Mini-Review: The Governess Affair, Courtney Milan

Miss Serena Barton demands justice. She demands it by standing outside the home of the Duke of Clermont in London through all the vagaries of English weather, attracting the attention of Hugo Marshall. As the duke’s secretary, Hugo plans to restore his riches and thus earn his own, fulfilling his ambition to make it in the world. But Serena’s plight attracts his attention and he quickly grows fond of this fierce, determined, protective woman.

Courtney Milan has fast become one of my very favourite romance authors. Her books are consistently beautifully written, with characters that truly tug at the heart and add in just that emotional intensity that sometimes lacks in other romances. This novella starts off another series of hers, and while it’s not as amazing as Unlocked was, it’s still a really wonderful read and a fantastic way to spend an hour or two. Also, it still only costs 99 cents, so it’s impossible to resist.

It is in part because this novella sets up a new series that it lacks a little bit. This is a bit more clearly a background story, and while Hugo and Serena are both wonderful characters as usual, there isn’t quite the same self-contained feel, particularly because of how the ending actually introduces the characters which will continue on the series. But this was still delightful; in particular, I loved the way the hero and heroine flirted with each other through little notes, as they started to get to know each other in their rather peculiar circumstances.

Even though this was a novella, and necessarily short, I again didn’t feel  the story was particularly rushed, but rather enjoyed the way it played out. Serena was a wonderful woman who did clearly have a few things to learn, but whose determination was admirable to behold, and who deserved a better lot in life than she starts out with. Hugo’s own justification for his behaviour made perfect sense. I still felt like I got to know these two characters, although the rest of them remain as necessary shadows, and to get behind their happy ending.

The Governess Affair is another great novella for romance readers and I for once can’t wait for the rest of this series to come out!


Review: A Night Like This, Julia Quinn

a night like thisAnne Wynter is a governess, eking out a living for herself after a somewhat disastrous separation from her family at a tender age. Daniel Smythe-Smith is a gentleman, recently returned from exile after one of his own badly planned younger mishaps sent him to the continent for 3 years. When Daniel spots Anne playing with his cousins at the annual Smythe-Smith musicale, he can’t take his eyes off her; who is this mysterious woman who draws him in so easily? As he seeks her out, Anne tries to hide the minefields of her own past, even as she finds herself falling hopelessly in love with a man clearly above her station.

Julia Quinn’s books are regularly delightful and fun reads, but I’ve felt recently that she’s been losing a bit of her touch – focusing more on the sweet, less on the actual emotional perils that make romance novels such compelling reads. To my surprise, A Night Like This still retained her sweet hallmarks, but added on a layer that felt like a refreshing blast from the past as far as her writing goes.

I think the main thrust behind this was the past of both of the characters. Daniel’s past is immediately apparent; he accidentally shot his friend Hugh, the son of the Marquess of Ramsgate, in a duel, and was driven from the country for three years while the fledgling lord’s father sought revenge. He only has returned to England because Hugh came to visit him and assure him in person that his father would no longer kill Daniel if he stepped foot on his native soil. Anne’s past, on the other hand, is revealed much more slowly, and is far more heart-breaking, adding a touch of emotional tension to an otherwise sweet and romantic read. It wasn’t the actual subplot that I liked, as romance novel mystery subplots tend to be silly or useless obstacles; it was the addition of depth to each of the characters.

I liked the scenes where we witnessed Anne as governess to the younger Smythe-Smith girls and their individual personalities, too; they add a further touch of humour to the book and help a reader understand just why Daniel and Anne fall in love with one another. Again, Quinn’s novels are very sweet and sparkly on the interactions, but tend to be lacking in the emotional intensity department, and while this is an improvement on the last one, I still don’t think she’s quite returned to the early Bridgerton days.

As a pleasurable way to pass an afternoon (or a transatlantic flight, which is where I read this), A Night Like This is a great choice, and definitely a sign that Julia Quinn is making strides towards regaining her golden touch. Not quite there yet, but a lot of fun, and recommended for romance readers.

And as a final note, this is a truly delightful cover, a refreshing change from the usual half-undressed couple!

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.


Review: Blame it on Bath, Caroline Linden

blame it on bathIn One Night in London, we learned that the three de Lacey brothers may lose their inheritance due to their father’s prior marriage – they could all be illegitimate. Gerard de Lacey, the youngest of the brothers, may be something of a war hero, but is in serious trouble if he does get disinherited, as he will have very little left for himself in the world. Determined to find the blackmailer, he heads to Bath, where the clues lead, but his path is interrupted by a young widow who proposes to him on the spot. Lady Katherine Howe is not beautiful, but she is wealthy, and she’s desperate to escape her mother and her impending marriage to a second man that repulses her.

Ah, the marriage of convenience. It’s a trope that appears in quite a lot of historical romance and, of course, because this is a romance novel, the characters do fall in love eventually. That said, a trope done well is still an enjoyable read, and I certainly found Blame it on Bath to be precisely that. Almost as fun as One Night in London, and actually happening in parallel, Gerard and Katherine – affectionately nicknamed Kate early on – are a couple that beg to fall in love from their very first, awkward meeting.

In this particular book, Kate blossoms from a girl hidden beneath her mother into a woman in her own right. Clothed in plain, simple, dark dresses throughout her life, so that her mother faces no competition, Kate’s marriage to Gerard allows her to shed that weight and figure out who she really is. She may not be one of the gorgeous heroines which feature on the pages of most novels, but as he falls in love with her, Gerard sees her personality shine through her face and realize that she is, in fact, beautiful to him; it’s very heart-warming to read.

I liked the setting, too; Bath is easy to visualize now that I’ve been there, and the city is very similar to the way it would have been in the book. It was a nice change from London, where most romances of this type take place.

Still, I didn’t enjoy this book quite as much as the first in the series; the couple fail to communicate at certain parts of the book, which never ceases to annoy me. It just creates problems – it certainly made the heroine have a moment of backsliding that frustrated me a lot.

So Blame it on Bath is not a flawless romance, but it was certainly worth reading, and I’ll happily pick up the third and final installment when it releases.

I received this book for free for review.


Review: A Week to be Wicked, Tessa Dare

a week to be wickedMinerva Highwood is determined that Colin, Lord Payne, not marry her sister. She’s firmly convinced that her sister deserves a love match, and she knows Payne won’t be that for her. In an effort to deter him, she suggests that they head to Scotland, where she will present at a geology conference and, potentially, win £500 to pay him off. However much he doesn’t really want to go, he ends up with her on a madcap journey to the conference, and the bespectacled bluestocking and handsome womanizer discover they have quite a lot more to attract them than they ever would have suspected.

I’ve enjoyed all of Tessa Dare’s romances and A Week to be Wicked was another pleasant read. I actually missed one of the books in the Spindle Cove series because I’m behind on reviews, although I have it on my Kindle, but I read the novella, Once Upon a Winter’s Eve, and I really enjoyed it so was eager to read more. When I ended up in a very stressful place over the last few weeks, I knew exactly what book to go for, and I was completely correct in my assessment.

In particular, I just loved Minerva’s character; I know it’s a bit of a stereotype to have a geeky, glasses-wearing woman attract the hottest guy in town, but as a geeky, glasses-wearing woman, I just can’t resist this kind of storyline, especially when the heroine is written well. Minerva definitely is and I loved spending time with her and her nerdy ways. The slow unveiling of her realization that Payne is actually attracted to her, after uncertainty and pain in the beginning, is very well done, particularly when he starts using her name.

I also thought that this book was structured delightfully – the core of the story is about Minerva and Colin on the run trying to get to Scotland, a trunk with a plaster cast of a dinosaur foot between them. The hilarious ways in which they spin their story and the people they deal with along the way make for enjoyable reading, and I loved how the awkward circumstances continued bringing them together over and over again. And while the book does have the classic tortured hero / unappreciated heroine combination, it is done so well that it doesn’t feel like a stereotype.

Tessa Dare definitely has my attention and I’m very much looking forward to reading more of her books in the future. Recommended!

All external book links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review.


Review: A Rogue by Any Other Name, Sarah MacLean

a rogue by any other nameMichael, the Marquess of Bourne, lost his ancestral lands at an ill-fated card game when he was just 21. Ten years later, he sees an opportunity to regain them – by marrying his childhood friend, Lady Penelope Marbury. Penelope has accepted her place on the spinster’s shelf; after the Duke of Leighton broke their engagement, her name has carried the faint whiff of scandal, until now, when her father endows her with Michael’s former ancestral homes. Bourne quickly sweeps her off her feet and weds her, but somehow it’s just not the marriage she expected it to be. But as Bourne grows to know her, he begins to realize that she deserves something better than a marriage of convenience – nothing less than her whole heart will do.

Sarah MacLean stole my heart (and everyone else’s) with Nine Rules to Break when Romancing a Rake and she hasn’t lost her touch. A Rogue by Any Other Name is an exceptionally sweet, well-written romance that will tug at your heartstrings and have you rooting for this star couple from the minute you start reading. Yes, it does make use of the stereotype of the harsh hero who just has to come around for the heroine – but in this case, we know that Bourne used to be a good guy.

The letters interspersed between the chapters of the book are so sweet and heartbreaking, from when Michael left Penelope the first time for school and the second time when he lost his lands. They’re a brilliant way of getting us close to the couple without actually shoving their past in our faces; we know what happened, but it makes that older relationship so much more real, and their present-day relationship that much more poignant.

I also loved that MacLean chose to write about Leighton’s jilted fiancee from Eleven Scandals – giving fans a perfect opening to the series, but at the same time giving us an opposite perspective. You see, in Eleven Scandals, I was 100% behind Leighton’s romance with Julia, which was fantastic. Now we’ve seen that life hasn’t been so fantastic for Penelope, but at least she has her happy ending. And it is a very, very good one.

Well worth the read for historical romance fans, Sarah MacLean’s latest is as wonderful as all her books are turning out to be.

I received this book for free from Netgalley. All external book links are affiliate links.


Review: Unraveled, Courtney Milan

unraveledI named Courtney Milan as one of my top discoveries of 2011 and books like this one are exactly why she ended up on that list.

Smite Turner isn’t a normal hero. Traumatised by his mentally ill mother throughout his childhood, in a time when treatment was more harmful than helpful, he’s grown into a conscientious magistrate fixated on justice who nevertheless sets people apart from him. He knows that they’re unlikely to understand just how he ticks, and as such he’d simply rather be alone – or with his dog. Miranda Darling, in contrast, does just about everything for someone else – under the protection of a figure of the underworld in which she lives, she puts on numerous fake identities to mislead the law. Until she encounters Smite, who never forgets a face, and somehow can’t get hers out of his head.

I feel as though every Courtney Milan book I read is better than the last, and Unraveled was no exception. Treading dangerous waters with a mentally damaged hero, a heroine turned into a mistress, and seedy crime, Milan never puts a foot – or a word – down wrong. Instead, she has created a fantastic, heart-wrenching love story that I simply couldn’t put down. (She even manages to stick a perfectly happy gay couple in there, who helped raise Miranda and gave her a ton of happy memories.)

What I loved most about this book, I think, was that Miranda didn’t “cure” Smite. He is still damaged by his past, and he’s always going to be uncomfortable with certain aspects of intimacy and behavior. That doesn’t change. What does change is that she loves him for who he is, and she understands which of his gestures mean “I love you” when he can’t say the words. In real life, we all know that if we go into a relationship looking to change someone, we’re virtually guaranteed to fail. Why should the world of romance novels be any different? That is why her characters are so appealing, so human, so easily able to sneak their way in and tug at your heartstrings.

At the end of the book, Milan explains the historical context behind the book and her inspiration for setting it in Bristol and amongst those who walk a careful line between breaking the law and staying alive. I loved this – so often romance novels in particular are simply modern day characters dressed up in fancy old-fashioned outfits who go to balls, and while I accept them for that and still enjoy them, I can’t help but love an author who goes out and tells me that she was inspired by actual history.

Just writing about this book has made me wish I could go and read it all over again. It’s such an addicting, romantic read, with characters so appealing that you genuinely won’t want to leave them until you’ve finished. Highly recommended for any romance readers.

I purchased this book. All book links are affiliate links.


Review: Trouble at the Wedding, Laura Lee Guhrke

trouble at the weddingAnnabel simply cannot wait to marry her fiance, even though she doesn’t really love him. Why? Because he’s an earl and he can finally confer upon her family the respectability she knows they deserve. Growing up in a Mississippi backwater and learning that love doesn’t lead to anything other than heartbreak has taught her that status and contentment matter above all else. But that’s not enough for Annabel’s family, none of whom likes her fiance, and in act of desperation, her uncle pays Christian du Quesne, the duke of Scarborough, to persuade her to call off the wedding.

Christian can’t turn down an offer like that, not with his estate in ruins and his refusal to marry an heiress himself. He needs the cash to start investing and making money back. So he agrees, but finds himself longing for more than the money once he meets Annabel and realizes that she really belongs with someone better than Rumsford – himself.

I can’t believe I only discovered Laura Lee Guhrke with this series. How could such an awesome author have been writing books for longer than I’ve been reading romance without me noticing? It doesn’t matter anyway; I’ve discovered her now, and I’m quickly learning that I am going to simply inhale anything she writes. As with the first two in this trilogy of books about being abandoned (or doing the abandoning) at the altar, I just loved the emotional journey of this book and I’m thrilled I had a chance to read it.

On a shallow note, just look how gorgeous that cover is. I’m so pleased that yellow seems to have taken over historical romance covers temporarily, as it’s my favorite color and it suits them well.

Anyway, this book ticked all the right boxes for a wonderful romance. Annabel is a heroine who has been hurt before, suffering from a man who took serious advantage of her and then left her to fend for herself. With a little sister to look after, Annabel’s mission ever since has been to ensure that nothing like that ever happens again. A fortunate endowment from her long-absent and now-dead father means that she can buy her way into the nobility, and so she settles for a man who will provide her with the firm position in society that all poor girls dream of.

Enter Christian, a man who is hell-bent against marrying after the disaster that happened to his first wife. He falls head over heels with Annabel almost at first glimpse; he’s then fixed on helping her avoid her no-good fiance at all costs. But Rumsford, the fiance, isn’t really a villain, just a fairly typical aristocrat with a bit on the side; he’s a foil to get Christian and Annabel together. Once he does so, the book simply sparkles, and had me riveted to the Kindle’s screen as these two come together with, in the end, everything they have.

Trouble at the Wedding is a wonderful, emotional, sometimes funny book that will win the heart of any romance reader. Highly recommended.

All external links are affiliate links. I received this book for free for review from the publisher through Netgalley.