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Review: The Duke is Mine, Eloisa James

the duke is mineCarrying on with her series inspired by fairy tales, The Duke Is Mine puts a twist on the tale of the Princess and the Pea with this historical romance. Tarquin, the Duke of Sconce, is seeking the perfect bride – or at least his mother is on his behalf. Miss Olivia Lytton – not even a lady – is hardly the perfect choice, particularly as she’s been betrothed to another duke since her birth. While Olivia’s sister Georgiana fits the bill, Tarquin can’t take his eyes from curvy, funny Olivia – but how can they surmount her betrothal and his mother’s expectations in order to be together?

I liked the concept behind this book a lot, but it was one of those where too many obstacles fell away from the couple’s feet almost effortlessly so they could be together. In fact, I think it may be the first romance by Eloisa James I’ve had problems with, because I ordinarily love her books.

Let me explain; it’s not that I didn’t have a good time with this book. In fact, I flat out loved the first two thirds. It’s impossible not to feel for Olivia, a girl who describes herself as fat and loud and who tries to suck in her stomach so she doesn’t offend anyone, simply because she doesn’t fit the willow-thin, mouth-shut society-dictated stereotype. To make things worse, she’s not particularly fond of her future husband, but she considers herself resigned to her fate. In Tarquin’s eyes, she is curvy, hilarious, and immediately attractive. She’s a breath of fresh air amidst a crowd of stick-thin debutantes, one of the only romance heroines I’ve read about who does actually have a healthy amount on her bones and is decidedly not a wallflower.

After the couple do fall in love and all secrets are revealed, though, I really started to get frustrated with it. I felt as though all the romantic layers had fallen away so the couple could be together with an incredibly contrived situation to remove any problems. Obviously, many romance novels do this, but good ones shouldn’t make it so obvious. It’s the case of a perfectly good romance spoiled by the addition of a subplot that does incorporate the fairy tale but otherwise seems far, far too convenient. I wanted the couple to face what they’d done and come out stronger, not just escape without anyone ever actually realizing what had happened.

Anyway, if that’s what you go in expecting, I know you’ll enjoy this book; and for what it’s worth, it may have been my mood that made this so irritating to me at the time. But for a book that started out so well, I ended up disappointed. I’d recommend the other two fairy tale books instead, or at least to start, before you venture into reading The Duke Is Mine. Eloisa James really is a fantastic author, and it would be a shame to miss out on the rest of her work.

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

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Even More Mini Reviews: Urban Fantasy, YA, and Memoir

the name of the starI’m atrocious at keeping up with reviews these days, so I thought more mini reviews could only be a good idea! For this purpose, I am completely skipping plot summaries and just sharing with you my own thoughts on the books below. Some of the reason I blog is to keep books straight in my mind later on, after all, so I wanted to share at least a few thoughts.

The Name of the Star, Maureen Johnson

I had no idea that this was about Jack the Ripper, which led to an eerie night as I discovered that while reading in bed! This is my first read by Maureen Johnson and I definitely enjoyed it, though; I loved the edge of creepiness the whole book had, the boarding school rivalries, the London atmosphere, and the engaging plot. Really looking forward to more of these.

A Moveable Feast, Ernest Hemingway

This book deserves way more than it’s going to get in these few sentences, but suffice it to say that I found it an insightful glimpse into Hemingway’s early life as a writer. Excellent paired with The Paris Wife, which is why I read it in the first place. Anyone struggling with Hemingway will be pleasantly surprised by how easy this is to read, as well.

storm frontStorm Front, Jim Butcher

Ah, urban fantasy. I perpetually love it and find myself going back to it, so I’m always finding new series to read. This was my latest choice, and the first installment was enough to keep me reading.  Harry Dresden is your average urban fantasy main character, always kicking butt and getting severely injured for good. If you like the genre, give this a go.

Fool Moon, Jim Butcher

In the same vein as the last, but just that extra touch deeper with the backstory from the first book. Things get more exciting and more dangerous, a villainous character reveals another side, and Harry gets himself nearly killed. All good. I have books 3 and 4 of this series and will probably be reading them very soon – hopefully at least for one of those I’ll manage a full review.

Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord, Sarah MacLean

I myself adored MacLean’s first book in this series, Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, so it was kind of inevitable that I’d be disappointed by this one. I actually liked both main characters, but the spark struggled to appear and I couldn’t really get into their relationship. I am definitely going to continue reading MacLean, though, as I already have her next book lined up on my TBR shelf!

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Review: Flawless, Carrie Lofty

Lady Vivienne Bancroft and her husband Miles have been estranged ever since he embarrassed her and left her alone while he went off with a prostitute after a party. She fled to New York to be with her adopted family, while he continued to languish in London. The series is set around Vivienne and her three siblings, each of whom is sent to a different part of the world to take over one aspect of their father’s business after his death. Vivienne is left with part of his business to develop in South Africa – not exactly the safest place for a woman alone at this point in history. Miles meanwhile has been in despair without his wife, and vows to go to South Africa to prepare the way for her and persuade her to give him half of the million dollars her father has promised her. Once together, though, they both realize that perhaps they should be working together as a team instead of standing at cross ends.

This was a book that I had trouble buying into at the start, but wound up feeling won over by the end. Primarily, I had a lot of trouble liking Miles, or believing that Vivienne would ever really fall for him again. Vivienne very obviously thinks of him as a frustrating wastrel, and the  fact that he at first attempts to win her over because he wants the payout from her success at her father’s business meant I didn’t like him on my own, either.

But what I discovered as I went along is that while Miles tried to appear like he didn’t care and only wanted the money, he actually did care for Vivienne. He’d missed her. And he hid it from her, and to some extent from himself, mainly because he felt guilty. He’s a classic example of a person who needs genuine work to keep him out of trouble; once he’s given an actual purpose, he transforms. It’s not Vivienne who does it; she already tried. It’s simply the concept of a life outside the ordinary interactions of Victorian London.

I also liked the fact that, as the book developed, Vivienne and Miles became a team. It wasn’t that one of them could rescue the other. They both had their strengths and they learned to use them together rather than against one another as they had previously. Working towards a common goal instead of cross-purposes draws them together and helps them see how their relationship could be different. This focus was an excellent choice for me; instead of an indolent life with a multitude of servants and a lack of real effort, the characters realize that they can do and be more in the world. It was an inspiring turn and added something more to the book beyond the romance.

Not that there was anything at all wrong with the romance, which I enjoyed. But it was nice to have two powerful facets to the book, and Flawless is certainly one I would recommend to others who appreciate a good historical romance set outside the tired world of the ton.

All external links are affiliate links and I received this book for free for review from the author.

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Review: Unclaimed, Courtney Milan

unclaimedSir Mark Turner is the nineteenth century’s version of a rock star; he’s written a book about chastity that has spawned not only his own fan club but also has inspired legions of women to decide to take his virginity. It doesn’t hurt that he’s stunning, of course. Jessica Fairleigh is a courtesan who wants nothing more than to retire, and she sees seducing Mark as her way out. Securing his virginity will earn her the money she needs to get away from London and live quietly in the country for the rest of her life, even if she has to set aside her remaining morals to do it.

What a fabulous book this was. I read the entire book on a train to London, and I can tell you it was more than a little embarrassing when tears came to my eyes as I was standing in a crowded coach with a bunch of businessmen. I’m still hoping they didn’t notice, but that should give you an indication of how wonderful this book really was. My heart broke again and again for Jessica, who truly has been unfairly treated by life and the people in her life.

And Mark’s stance on chastity may have been slightly anachronistic, but I adored it. Mainly this is because he turns the question of chastity back on the men, just as we still need to today. Mark is well aware of the sexual double standard and, rather than deciding that women should be treated the same as men, he decides that men should be treated the same as women. In other words, chaste until marriage, which I think actually makes more sense for this time period. Lust itself isn’t wrong; it’s what you do with it that counts, and often that means restraining it. This is what Mark tries to espouse, and what his followers misunderstand completely. The story of how Mark came to believe this is also a good one.

Though Mark is that rare example of a romance novel virgin (although not the first I’ve come across), he’s not willing to let his virginity define himself. He just wants to make sure he’s doing it with the right woman, a woman he respects and loves and who feels the same way towards him. He knows he isn’t a saint, in short. Watching Jessica slowly recover her sense of romance and ownership of her sexual identity – sex is about her too, not just about the man – while Mark discovers everything for the first time is a surprisingly incredible experience, and for once uses the more promiscuous scenes to develop the characters amazingly well.

The only flaw in the novel was towards the end, where some irritating obstacles get in the way of the characters’ getting together. There is one particular instance which truly feels unnecessary. I also felt like Mark’s family was a wee bit too happy with a courtesan for a sister-in-law, especially given Jessica’s previous experience. A little too much fairy tale.

In short, though, Unclaimed is a stunning book that, for the most part, really blew me away. Courtney Milan is a romance author to watch, and definitely an addition to my auto-buy list.

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I downloaded this book for free from Netgalley.

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Review: Unveiled, Courtney Milan

unveiledThe world has not been kind to Ash Turner, but he has resolutely made the most of it. Born to a mother intent on giving away her family’s last morsels of food, dyslexic in a world which doesn’t understand his condition, and fiercely protective of two brothers he struggles to understand, Ash’s moment of triumph, after years of hard-working success, has finally arrived when he gets in line to inherit the dukedom from the distant relative who would not help him and his brothers in their time of need.

But he hadn’t accounted for Margaret, the daughter of that duke, who is not only watching her father die but herself and her brothers being disinherited. She’s determined to hate Ash, and pretends to be a nurse so she can spy on him for her brothers. As time goes on, though, she realizes that she can’t hate him; he cherishes his family in ways she’s never known, and treats her like a somebody even though she’s now a bastard and dressed as a servant. Torn between loyalty to her family and a growing love for Ash, Margaret has to weigh her values carefully to avoid making what could be the biggest mistake of her life.

I knew I had to read more by Courtney Milan as soon as I’d finished Unlocked earlier this year, and I am so thankful she hasn’t let me down with this book. As with most romances, this story is really about the characters, and I loved them both, especially Ash. It’s hard not to fall for someone who is genuinely charming to all levels of society; he knows what it’s like to be poor as well as he knows what it’s like to be rich, and he’s not going to put down the people he knew and loved from either phase of his life.

Margaret is his target almost as soon as he sees her; he really has no idea who she is. She has, obviously, her own problems to face, not only her growing attraction and feelings for Ash, but her loyalty to her father. As the book progresses and she tends to him, she starts to realize that he may not care much for her at all. And when she thinks about her brothers, and compares her family life to that of Ash’s, who loves his brothers and isn’t afraid to show it, she finally starts to wonder about what’s been lacking and just how she can fix it. More, she sees what Ash is doing for the dukedom – for her mother’s home – and her opinion gradually starts to shift. (It’s a romance, we all know the ending).

In short, Unveiled is a really lovely book that will grab you by the heartstrings and force you to keep reading. And the book certainly left me keen to read Mark’s story in Unclaimed, the next book in the series – who doesn’t love the prospect of a hero who writes a book about chastity?

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I purchased this book.

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Review: The Dragon and the Pearl, Jeannie Lin

the dragon and the pearlLing Suyin was the Emperor’s favorite concubine, renowned across China for her seductive ways. But now the Emperor has passed on, and Suyin hopes for a quiet life of retirement. Suyin isn’t destined for peace, though, as her life is in danger from assassins. She’s rescued by the warlord Li Tao, a harsh man who knows he’s trapped in a world of relentless politics and fighting but isn’t sure how to get out of it. The empire is starting to fracture. The threats to Suyin make him a pawn and put him at risk, but he’s still compelled to protect her, especially as they start to fall in love.

Jeannie Lin’s historical romance novels are so refreshing. I love Regency England as much as the next romance reader, but it is so nice to escape and focus on somewhere else for a change. Tang dynasty China is certainly a drastic change, and Lin’s ability to weave historical detail in with a genuinely romantic love story makes me incredibly hopeful that other readers seek them out and appreciate them as much as I do. I am not personally well acquainted with the period, but these books give a very different feel that I find refreshing and enjoyable – they certainly make me curious to learn more.

It was difficult to imagine, going into this particular book, how Lin was going to redeem Li Tao, who was actually the villain of her previous book, Butterfly Swords. Amazingly, she manages it, and quite well too, as we get a peek inside his head and start to process the many motivations that drive him. Suyin and Tao don’t start out trusting each other; in fact, Suyin mostly wants to be free, and views herself as a prisoner. She really does want that peace and quiet, and even as she starts to fall for Tao, she isn’t sure she’s actually going to get it. The last thing she wants is to remain in the political spotlight as she has for most of her life.

In fact, as I approached the end of the book, I started really wondering how on earth these two were actually going to end up happily together. I knew they had to, but the number of obstacles stacked up against them becomes truly forbidding. The ending, however, wraps up neatly – if a little bit too much – but left this reader satisfied with the romance and looking forward to much more from a talented author who is still relatively new. I’d recommend The Dragon and the Pearl to any historical romance reader – but start with Butterfly Swords to better understand the backstory.

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

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Review: One Night in London, Caroline Linden

one night in londonEdward de Lacey’s father reveals, on his deathbed, that he and his two brothers may be without an inheritance after all. That’s because, unknown to everyone, the duke was married – and not divorced – before he married their mother. The heir, Charles, is a wastrel and may now be without any money to waste; Gerard, the youngest, solves his problems with force. That leaves Edward, the middle son and always the one in charge of the estate, to hire a solicitor and get the de Lacey family back to its rightful position. Unfortunately, he snatches London’s top solicitor out from under the nose of Lady Francesca Gordon, who wants to win custody of her niece from the girl’s stepmother, who won’t allow Francesca to even see the girl. As recompense, Francesca demands he help her find another solicitor, in exchange for silencing the tabloid rumors about the brothers’ illegitimacy.

As Francesca and Edward’s partnership develops and their cases progress, they grow closer, but at what cost to both of them?

This was a sweet, endearing romance; I really liked both of the main characters, particularly Edward. I think most women are fond of the strong, silent type; Edward certainly has emotions, but he’s good at hiding them behind a more reserved exterior. When the scandal breaks out, his fiance leaves him, and it’s his own fault for telling her. What makes it even sadder was that he was convinced he loved her, at least until he meets fiery Francesca.

It’s pretty obvious from the start that these characters actually work quite well together, as they become invested in one another’s problems and truly develop a partnership as well as a romance. One Night in London is a sweet story that many romance lovers will enjoy – although I’m really not sure about that cover. Don’t let it stop you from enjoying this one!

All book links to external sites are affiliate links. I received this book for review from Netgalley.

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Review: The Taming of the Rake, Kasey Michaels

the taming of the rakeWearing his very best, Oliver le Beau Blackthorn sets off to propose marriage to his beloved, Madelyn. Since his amorous advances were received favorably, he’s reasonably certain that he has a chance at her hand in marriage, even though he is a bastard. Reasonably certain, anyway, until her brother kicks him out and delivers him the beating of his life, right in front of Madelyn’s little sister Chelsea. Beau begins a lifelong campaign to get revenge on Thomas; what he doesn’t count on is Chelsea dropping right into his lap. Nearly forced to marry the odious and insincere reverand who rules Thomas’s life, Chelsea is determined to get the ultimate revenge by eloping with Beau. The pair soon discover that they’re united in a lot more than dislike for Thomas.

This was a sweet, very readable historical romance that at times even had me laughing. The main couple have that all-important chemistry; in fact, they’re more often found teasing each other than anything else, which made me really feel that they had a particular connection. They are truly adorable together, and their discovery of that makes for a very enchanting read. This is the basis of the appeal of the entire book, and it’s one thing Michaels does very very well.

The plot itself is very simple; the couple set out for Gretna Green and mainly focus on evading Thomas. He is not evil, just misguided, with little affection for either of his sisters; so there isn’t really a villain at all in the story, though it could have very easily slipped into that trope. I personally had envisioned quite a few different scenarios towards the end in the way of the HEA – I didn’t actually expect it to end the way it did. But it was a good ending, and no one really reads romances for the exterior plots anyway.

I suppose my only problem with the book is the title. Beau is not a rake. They make occasional references to his “extensive experience” with women but he’s ridiculously far from the classic image of a rake. Not once does he take advantage of Chelsea – he never even tries. He’s rather the perfect gentleman. I wonder if the book was given that title just to attract attention and trade on the well-known romance stereotype – it’s not at all descriptive of the contents of the book.

The Taming of the Rake is a sweet, funny, and enchanting romance, a great choice for other historical romance fans, and definitely recommended by me.

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

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Review: Catch Me, Lorelie Brown

Maggie Bullock would do just about anything to save her father’s life, so when she has to rob a bank to pay for his medical treatments, she goes and does it. She has no regret; the bank is run by a man she thought was her father’s friend, but who failed to loan him the money for his treatments. Immediately, Maggie flees the small town she grew up in, but hot on her heels is bounty hunter Dean Collier. He’s been offered a chance to make good if he catches her, and he truly longs to be a sheriff again, but he hadn’t counted on Maggie’s bewitching ways. Over the three weeks it takes him to return her for ransom, their resilience will be tested over and over again.

I downloaded this book because of the many rave reviews it was receiving on Twitter. While I don’t think they were entirely undeserved, on first impression this book and I didn’t get along particularly well. In part I think it was because Dean’s attraction was described a little too coarsely – I have no idea what men think but personally, this was a bit more than I had bargained for. It’s hard to describe what exactly put me off him, but his thoughts towards her are far from honorable, probably fairly accurately along the lines of what a man with a captured woman actually thinks. He never takes advantage of her – but the start of the book had me worried.

Regardless, I perservered, and it’s once the couple get to know each other that the book comes into its own and becomes an enjoyable read. Rooting along with Maggie and Dean against the bad guys when the final showdown occurs is as satisfying as you’d expect it to be. Dean is a fairly stereotypical romance novel hero – a guilt complex because he blames himself for deaths he couldn’t have helped – but Maggie is a feisty Western heroine and I couldn’t help but like her. She does her best to see things as they truly are and seize the moment. She had me from the first few virtual pages – that bank robbing scene is very well written and perfectly done to grab the eager reader. She has some hard facts to face over the course of the novel, but she always accepts and follows what she believes in. It’s just a shame Dean isn’t as appealing!

Overall, I’m not sure I’ll be singing Catch Me‘s praises to every romance reader I know. But if you’re looking for a satisfying Western romance and prepared to overlook a hero in favor of a strong heroine, this one could be the book you’re looking for.

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

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Review: Silk is for Seduction, Loretta Chase

silk is for seductionMarcelline Noirot is a London dressmaker trying to make it big. Her innovative, French-inspired designs are unlike anything seen in staid English ballrooms and Marcelline is convinced that all she has to do is score one big client to ensure her family’s success – and freedom from poverty – for the rest of her life. So she sets her sights on the future Duchess of Clevedon, by way of the Duke, who has yet to propose. Marcelline gambles that the best way to convince Clevedon is to show him just how incredible her creations are in person, in Paris; what she stands to lose is no less than her reputation and her heart to a man she can never have.

Loretta Chase is a rising star on my romance radar. After a few fairly disappointing reads by her, I seem to suddenly be falling in love with her books. Silk is for Seduction is not an exception, as I virtually inhaled it on a couple of train journeys and struggled to keep the tears from my eyes in public. I did catch a few anachronistic notes, as I don’t really think this HEA would have occurred in real life, but the emotions were all genuine and the story was fabulous.

Marcelline herself was one of the high points of the book for me. A woman who has clearly been through it all, a widow with a small child who has pulled her entire family out of poverty and established them as dressmakers, she still manages to dream big. She’s obviously clever and positions herself as the dressmaker who will single-handedly inspire English fashion, but she knows it won’t be easy, putting in far more effort than she ever lets any of the other characters know.

Meanwhile Clevedon, the hero of our story, needs to learn a few of those tough lessons and stop taking everything in his life for granted. He’s returning from a three year wastrel’s tour of Europe having finally decided to propose to the woman who has been waiting for him for years, even though he truly believes he loves her. Marcelline shows up and, without meaning to, throws his life completely off track by introducing something he needs to work for and a purpose he can devote himself to. It’s easy to fall in love with him.

What I also loved about this book was the atmosphere. The sensation that Marcelline causes whenever she walks into a ballroom in one of her creations has still left a lingering memory imprinted on my brain – I can almost see her dresses in my mind. She’s present in glittering ballrooms across Paris and London, making an imprint on fashion that none of the characters ever manages to forget. To me, this added a real dimension to the book.

And, finally, the shadow heroine, Clevedon’s intended Clara. She too comes into her own in this book, and I sincerely hope she will be the focus of her own soon.

There were a few picky things I didn’t like about it; as I said earlier, I wouldn’t put this HEA in the context of real life because it isn’t particularly realistic. Neither was Marcelline’s daughter, who was an adorable character but for some reason I couldn’t imagine her as a real child. There was a side plot involving theft of Marcelline’s designs which did contribute to the story but was very much on the side of the main romance as well.

All in all, however, I loved reading this book and it’s stuck vividly in my mind for weeks now. I would highly recommend it to any romance reader.

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

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