Monday, May 30, 2022

Review: Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes

Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes
Series: Rogues to Riches, Book 7
Publisher: Forever
Genre: Historical Romance 
Never a Duke cover
ISBN: 9781538706985
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Ned Wentworth will be forever grateful to the family that plucked him from the streets and gave him a home, even though polite society still whispers years later about his questionable past. Precisely because of Ned’s connections in low places, Lady Rosalind Kinwood approaches him to help her find a lady’s maid who has disappeared.

Rosalind is too opinionated—and too intelligent—and has frequently suffered judgment at the hands of polite society. Despite her family’s disdain for Ned, Rosalind finds he listens to her and respects her. Then too, his kisses are exquisite. As the investigation of the missing maids becomes more dangerous, both Ned and Rosalind will have to risk everything—including their hearts—if they are to share the happily ever after that Mayfair’s matchmakers have begrudged them both.

As a young boy, Ned helped save a duke in prison and was rescued by him in return. Now fully grown, Ned is a Wentworth and a successful banker, but society still gossips about his past. Lady Rosalind Kinwood requests Ned’s aid precisely because he can move between worlds. Her lady’s maid is missing and no one will take her concerns seriously. As the two look into the disappearance it becomes clear that there’s more to it than they expected. And the longer Ned and Rosalind are around each other, the harder it is for both to deny how very well they’re suited. But love isn’t enough to make a match between an earl’s daughter and a former pickpocket…is it?

Ned Wentworth finally gets a happily ever after of his own in Never a Duke. I’ve adored Ned since he was a brave young boy in the first Rogues to Riches book and was delighted that Grace Burrowes gave Ned his own story.

Ned loves the Wentworth family but he holds himself somewhat apart from them. There are bits of his past he won’t talk about and even parts of his life now he keeps separate. He’s successful as a banker but there’s something missing in his life. Rosalind is the catalyst for Ned coming into his own. From the first, he’s drawn to her. Rosalind is an outsider in her home as well, though unlike the Wentworth family, her father and brothers are cutting and cruel. Ned and Rosalind’s romance is soft and sweet. He sees, admires, values, and is attracted to Rosalind for all that she is. She, in turn, is someone he can lean on, can trust with the most vulnerable parts of himself. There are hidden sweet spots to Ned that just made me smile and sigh. He and Rosalind simply fit and I absolutely adored them together. It was easy to get lost in the pages of Never a Duke because I so enjoyed the romance.

To best enjoy this story, I recommend at the very least reading the first Rogues to Riches book, My One and Only Duke, in order to get a sense of the Wentworth family dynamics. As a fan of the series, I really enjoyed seeing Ned find his place in the Wentworth family. The Wentworths tend to shove their way into each other’s problems and for someone quieter and more reserved like Ned it can be a bit much. But he finds his way and I liked how his family grew to understand him better and was able to show their love and support for him in ways that matched Ned’s personality rather than their own.

The case of the missing lady’s maid is what first brings Rosalind and Ned together and it’s an intriguing one. I won’t spoil what happens, so suffice it to say that the mystery only grows and Burrowes takes readers on a journey from Mayfair to the docks and everywhere in between. The resolution was a bit rushed (along with a few other revelations) at the end. The story would have benefitted greatly from an extra couple of chapters to handle the fallout of the mystery and the information that comes to light during the search. I went back and forth on how to rate Never a Duke because I wanted more from the ending. However, since I adored Rosalind and Ned so much and because I found their love story so satisfying, I can safely say that even with the issues I had I still loved this book. I look forward to revisiting Ned and Rosalind in the near future.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian
Series: The Queer Principles of Kit Webb, Book 2
Publisher: Avon
Genre: Historical Romance 
The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes cover
ISBN: 9780063026254
Release Date: June 7, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before…

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help?

As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.

Cat Sebastian returns to her world of Georgian era Robin Hoods in The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes. Marian and Rob’s story begins almost where The Queer Principles of Kit Webb ended, with a planned heist gone wrong. Now Marian must flee to the countryside and the one person she can turn to for help also happens to be the man who has been blackmailing her.

It’s grumpy meets sunshine for Marian and Rob, and I loved that Marian was the prickly one. I adored her serious nature and how she shows her love for people by taking care of them and putting everything in order. Rob, in turn, wears his heart on his sleeve for all to see and has no shame about it. He’s a charming thief and though blackmail isn’t something he normally engages in, he did so with Marian. The two of them first connect through the blackmail letters which were wonderfully funny and instantly showed the personalities of both protagonists. When Marian needs help, Rob is there to lend a hand and the two take turns taking care of each other. They were equals in every way, which I loved. They also understood and respected each other’s likes, needs, and boundaries, in bed and out, and the result is an utterly satisfying romance.

Rob and Marian are both at crossroads in this book and I liked that each had to stop and figure out what they wanted from each other and out of life. They find a true sense of joy, companionship, and freedom together which added depth to the romance. Their story is just plain fun and I absolutely loved that they carved out a life that works for them rather than let society dictate what their lives should look like. All in all, The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes was a delight and I hope Cat Sebastian has more books planned that are set in this world.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Review: Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert

Wicked Beauty by Katee Robert
Series: Dark Olympus, Book 3
Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca
Genre: Erotic Contemporary Polyamorous Romance 
Wicked Beauty cover
ISBN: 9781728231792
Release Date: June 7, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

She was the face that launched a thousand ships, the fierce beauty at the heart of Olympus...and she was never ours to claim.

In Olympus, you either have the power to rule...or you are ruled. Achilles Kallis may have been born with nothing, but as a child he vowed he would claw his way into the poisonous city's inner circle. Now that a coveted role has opened to anyone with the strength to claim it, he and his partner, Patroclus Fotos, plan to compete and double their odds of winning.

Neither expect infamous beauty Helen Kasios to be part of the prize...or for the complicated fire that burns the moment she looks their way.

Zeus may have decided Helen is his to give to away, but she has her own plans. She enters into the competition as a middle finger to the meddling Thirteen rulers, effectively vying for her own hand in marriage. Unfortunately, there are those who would rather see her dead than lead the city. The only people she can trust are the ones she can't keep her hands off—Achilles and Patroclus. But can she really believe they have her best interests at heart when every stolen kiss is a battlefield?

Helen Kasios may be stunningly gorgeous and come from a powerful family, but that isn’t the shield many think it is. Her father was abusive, her siblings – the new Zeus and Aphrodite – are too wrapped up in the politics of Olympus to put family first, and she has also survived an abusive relationship. Helen is not content to be someone’s pawn; she wants to claim her own destiny, to be seen as an equal to the power around her. To do that, she needs to claim the title of Ares. But she’s not the only one vying for the title – and no one, not even those who know her best, believe she can take it. A host of competitors and three trials stand between her and the position she wants more than anything. Two of those competitors are Achilles Kallis and Patroclus Fotos, partners who are determined to see Achilles win the competition. Achilles is as frustrating as Patroclus is kind, but both tempt her in different ways…and she them. How can she fall for two men when they’re bound to be pitted against each other on the battlefield? Then again, how can she not when they are the first two to see the real her?

Wicked Beauty is ferociously hot, fast-paced polyamorous romance. It features two hotheads determined to grasp their destiny and one more cautious member of the triad to balance them out. Helen is smart, determined, and possesses hidden vulnerabilities. She’s trying to drown out the voices in her head telling her she’s not good enough and grasp the title she desperately wants. For her, being Ares is freedom and equality. For Achilles, an orphan who grew up powerless, the title is everything. It’s the only thing he’s ever wanted besides Patroclus. There’s hurt and vulnerability in Achilles that’s masked by strength and confidence. He can be boorish, but Katee Robert hints at more beneath the surface, though unfortunately we only get glimpses of it. He and Patroclus have been together in an open relationship for a decade but even though they love each other their relationship is on shaky ground. From the start it’s clear neither expects the other to stay forever and they’re both trying to savor every moment. Helen rocks their already shaky foundation by bringing jealousy into the mix. It takes a while for the three to find their footing, to realize they make a good team in bed and out. Unlike the other two, Patroclus grew up in a loving household. He’s good at strategizing, which is fortunate since both Achilles and Helen are reactionary – they need someone who will stop and think. In turn, they keep Patroclus from getting too in his head. Like Achilles, Patroclus is an interesting character, but I would have loved to dive deeper into him (for example, seeing why he’s so brilliant rather than constantly being told).

Lust comes easy to our three heroes but they have a rocky beginning. Still, once they settle in they are a seriously hot triad. I can see why they work, but I had some trouble with the romance. Robert develops Helen well and I can see how she suits both men. And I really did like Patroclus and Achilles together and with her. They see the real Helen and fall for her just as she is, respecting her strength, intelligence, and ambition. However, the aforementioned rocky foundation to Patroclus and Achilles’s relationship is not satisfyingly addressed. We start to get there at the end but I wish there had much more to make me feel like the entire throuple was solid.

The competition to determine the next Ares is the second most fraught battleground (after the bedroom) in Wicked Beauty. I liked the trials and would have enjoyed seeing even more of it and the interactions between our characters and their competition. Robert gives extra nods to Greek mythology in the trials which is entertaining. As for who becomes the newest member of the Thirteen, I won’t spoil what happens but I am torn. I can see why Robert wrote it the way she did but there’s something not quite satisfying about it. Perhaps had more attention been paid to the aftermath instead of rushing and wrapping up the ending it would have been more satisfactory. Another chapter or two would have made the ending as a whole feel more complete. I wanted just a bit more – even an epilogue – to feel satisfied with the story and the romance.

I have a hard time rating Wicked Beauty because Robert’s writing is addictive and the book is sexy as hell. It’s enjoyable but also frustrating at times because with more depth it could have been great. Helen is a well-crafted heroine and I enjoyed her journey, but I wanted some more from her men. Taking Wicked Beauty as it is, I did enjoy the ride and read almost all of it in one sitting. I’m very much looking forward to what Katee Robert has in store for future Dark Olympus books. There are characters here (Callisto, Atalanta, and Athena in particular) who I am desperate to read more about and Robert throws out some information at the end that has me curious what the future of Olympus will look like.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Review: The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton

The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton
Series: Dangerous Damsels, Book 2
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Fantasy Romance 
The League of Gentlewomen Witches cover
ISBN: 9780593200186
EBook Source: Publisher
Audiobook Source: Purchased by Reviewer
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the teahouse…

Miss Charlotte Pettifer belongs to a secret league of women skilled in the subtle arts. That is to say—although it must never be said—witchcraft. The League of Gentlewomen Witches strives to improve the world in small ways. Using magic, they tidy, correct, and manipulate according to their notions of what is proper, entirely unlike those reprobates in the Wisteria Society.

When the long lost amulet of Black Beryl is discovered, it is up to Charlotte, as the future leader of the League, to make sure the powerful talisman does not fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, it is most unfortunate when she crosses paths with Alex O’Riley, a pirate who is no Mr. Darcy. With all the world scrambling after the amulet, Alex and Charlotte join forces to steal it together. If only they could keep their pickpocketing hands to themselves! If Alex’s not careful, he might just steal something else—such as Charlotte’s heart.

As the prophesized heir of Black Beryl and the niece of the formidable head of the Wicken League, it is Charlotte Pettifer’s duty to retrieve Beryl’s long-lost amulet…even though she’d much more like to be strolling through Hertfordshire like Elizabeth Bennet. But duty calls and thus Charlotte must answer. Except all the witches and pirates in the area are also trying to steal it, which is rather irritating. And none of her competition is so maddening as pirate Alex O’Riley. The rogue is no Mr. Darcy but soon Charlotte decides she has no better option than to join forces with the man to retrieve her amulet. Their partnership is temporary as there is no way that a witch could ever fall in love with a pirate…is there?

The League of Gentlewomen Witches is a delightful romp filled with magic and – despite witches’ love for orderliness – mayhem. India Holton’s second Dangerous Damsels novel has all the wit and charm of the first but the story and romance feel like they have more depth.

Charlotte isn’t entirely likeable at the start of The League of Gentlewomen Witches and I quite liked that. For all that she references Elizabeth Bennet, Charlotte is somewhat of an Emma Woodhouse. Charlotte comes into her own over the course of the story, though definitely not like a Jane Austen heroine would. I enjoyed watching her rebel and become more of a free spirit (within witchy reason, of course). As for Alex, the Irish pirate is a dashing rogue with some hidden wounds caused by those who should have loved and protected him as a child. The two of them clash and spar at first, but there’s an attraction neither can deny for very long. They slide into love seamlessly and it was a delight to see.

Charlotte and Alex are not the only ones searching for the amulet – or for our adventurous heroes. Pirates and witches alike are on their tail which provides action and amusement. If you enjoyed The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels then you’ll like revisiting with Cecelia and Ned, along with some other familiar pirates. There are quite a few viewpoints and characters with their own agendas in this book and there’s definitely at least one that could have been eliminated to make the story feel tighter. Still, The League of Gentlewomen Witches is great fun and as a Janeite I was particularly charmed by all the Austen references. Holton has style in spades and the world she has created is vibrant and highly entertaining. I’m very much looking forward to seeing what she does next with the Dangerous Damsels book.

FTC Disclosure: I purchased the audiobook and received the EBook for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries

A Duke for Diana by Sabrina Jeffries
Series: Designing Debutantes, Book 1
Publisher: Zebra
Genre: Historical Romance 
A Duke for Diana cover
ISBN: 9781420153774
Release Date: May 24, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible
Sabrina Jeffries Reading Order

Self-made civil engineer Geoffrey Brookhouse has unexpectedly inherited the dukedom of Grenwood. But he has a secret that could ruin his family. Hoping to save his timid sister from that fate, he seeks to marry her off to a respectable, protective gentleman. With the London Season imminent, Geoffrey hires Elegant Occasions to orchestrate her debut. Yet Lady Diana Harper, spirited fashion expert, proves more than he bargained for. Suddenly, Geoffrey’s sister is emerging from her shell, and he is beleaguered with social invitations and gossip! Worse, Diana is attempting to transform him into a presentable duke—when all he really wants is to make her his own…

Diana doesn’t know what to make of the handsome, disheveled duke. The man bristles at the very idea that his fashion faux pas might spoil his sister’s chances. Yet Geoffrey’s stubbornness simply inspires Diana to ruffle his feathers—by setting him on a course of self-improvement. Although there’s something endearing, even irresistible about his flaws, can a man who hates the ton tolerate a woman who makes her living catering to them? Little does either know that they have more in common than they suspect—and that two can create a society all their own…

After Diana’s parents’ scandalous behavior ruins her and her sisters’ prospects, they make a choice: to become independent by using their talents to start Elegant Occasions, a party planning business. Diana is knowledgeable about all things fashion, and four years later Elegant Occasions is a successful, discerning business. When they agree to take on the new Duke of Grenwood as a client to help prepare and plan his sister’s debut, Diana decides it isn’t just the young lady who needs her help. The duke, a civil engineer who never expected to inherit, is brash and unrefined. However, it’s lust at first sight for both Diana and Geoffrey and the longer they’re around each other the harder it is to resist the pull between them.

Sabrina Jeffries kicks off her Designing Debutantes series with A Duke for Diana. Diana and Geoffrey’s romance is fast-paced and fun with protagonists who are equally matched. Both of them are talented and have put their skills and knowledge to use to become successful in their fields. I enjoyed learning about Elegant Occasions and could have happily read about that more because it was an engaging concept. I loved seeing Diana work with Rosy, Geoffrey’s sister, and help her come into her own.

As for the romance, at first Diana and Geoffrey rub each other the wrong way and their verbal sparring was fun. But between their mutual attraction and Diana helping Rosy, there’s no way “Lady Disdain” and the “Almighty Grenwood” could stay apart for long. But Geoffrey has a secret, one that drives him to see his sister safely wed and prevents him from taking a wife. The obstacles Jeffries sets out for her hero and heroine to overcome didn’t feel as big as they were presented to be and did feel a bit like they were thrust in there to cause some drama in an otherwise low-stakes romance. The ending of the book was satisfying and though I liked where everyone ended up it did feel a bit rushed. Even though I had a few quibbles with A Duke for Diana, I enjoyed the book overall and I’m looking forward to seeing what Jeffries has planned for Diana’s sisters.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Review: The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene

The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene
Series: Society of Beasts, Book 3
Publisher: Carina Press
Genre: Male/Male Historical Romance 
The Servant and the Gentleman cover
ISBN: 9780369717511
Release Date: May 17, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Carina Press

William Hartley’s wealth and social standing often make up for his short temper, but they can’t cure his claustrophobia. He’d lost hope of finding help for it, until meeting Josiah Balfour. In a moment of panic, Josiah’s presence is a balm to his senses, leaving Hartley calm for the first time in months.

Josiah Balfour knows his place—and it’s not in the bed of a gentleman. As the administrator for the Society of Beasts, he’s responsible for the club’s well-being. When a threat to the Society emerges from an unexpected quarter, it falls to Josiah to deal with it. But Hartley is willing to help, even if it involves posing as a couple to infiltrate a rival club.

Josiah needs Hartley’s prestige to help him save the Society, while Hartley simply needs Josiah. Their relationship might be a sham, but the desire between them is all too real. Stuck in close quarters with everything they love on the line, they discover that everything might just include each other.

A fake relationship quickly becomes something much more in The Servant and the Gentleman. Annabelle Greene’s third Society of Beasts novel shows that not everything about the beloved gentlemen’s club is as good as it seems and the book is the richer for it.

Josiah Balfour is the head administrator of the Society of Beasts. He’s used to cleaning up messes, even as members of the club snub him for it because he’s not a gentleman. Josiah is hardworking and kind but he sometimes gets frustrated with the elitist society members he works for. One of the snobbiest is William Hartley, one of the club’s founders. Despite this, Josiah can’t quite stop himself from thinking about the gorgeous man. And when Hartley has a panic attack, Josiah is the one to calm him, which forges the beginnings of a bond between the two. When a rival club threatens the Society of Beasts and Josiah and Hartley pretend to be a couple in order to uncover the leader behind this new club, things become real all too quickly.

I’ll say up front, Hartley isn’t easy to like at first and that’s on purpose. He’s a snob who is rude to servants and anyone he thinks is beneath him. He’s rich, beautiful, and connected and can’t see beyond his own privilege. I wasn’t sure how Greene would make me like him but she did. Josiah opens Hartley’s eyes to his attitude and Hartley isn’t too thrilled with what he sees in himself. I enjoyed watching the peacock become a person, albeit one who is still wholly himself. Josiah is a great hero from the start but he learns to assert himself over the course of the story. Mutual desire helps he and Hartley find common ground and there’s no imbalance of power in their romantic relationship. Greene treads a fine line with this and does so excellently. Josiah gives back as good as he gets and consent is at the forefront of every sensual encounter. The love story between Josiah and Hartley is surprisingly romantic given their beginnings and it was delightful to discover how sweet Hartley could be.

A rival club that is open to men of all classes threatens the Society of Beasts but opens our heroes’ eyes to the flaws of the club. I won’t spoil what happens but suffice it to say I really enjoyed that Greene didn’t sugarcoat that Hartley and his co-founders were elitist. They’re not bad men at heart but with Josiah’s help they come to see how to become better people.

The Servant and the Gentleman is an entertaining romance with well-crafted characters and a wonderfully satisfying ending. I hope Greene pens more books set in this world as there are definitely secondary characters I would love to see get their chance to shine.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Review: Set on You by Amy Lea

Set on You by Amy Lea
Series: The Influencer, Book 1
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Contemporary Romance 
Set on You cover
ISBN: 9780593336571
Release Date: May 10, 2022
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Curvy fitness influencer Crystal Chen built her career shattering gym stereotypes and mostly ignoring the trolls. After her recent breakup, she has little stamina left for men, instead finding solace in the gym – her place of power and positivity.

Enter firefighter Scott Ritchie, the smug new gym patron who routinely steals her favorite squat rack. Sparks fly as these ultra-competitive foes battle for gym domination. But after a series of escalating jabs, the last thing they expect is to run into each other at their grandparents' engagement party.

In the lead up to their grandparents' wedding, Crystal discovers there’s a soft heart under Scott’s muscled exterior. Bonding over family, fitness, and cheesy pick-up lines, they just might have found her swolemate. But when a photo of them goes viral, savage internet trolls put their budding relationship to the ultimate test of strength.

It’s a case of not-quite-enemies to lovers in Set on You. Amy Lea’s debut romance is fun, empowering, and refreshingly honest. I adored Crystal and her nemesis turned hero, Scott.

Crystal Chen is a fitness influencer who is determined to ignore the haters and spread the message of body positivity. I absolutely loved that she’s a curvy fitness buff whose love for the gym isn’t tied to losing weight. She’s a smart, strong, easy to love heroine who I would dearly love to have as a friend. Crystal tries to brush off the haters but it doesn’t always work because she’s only human and trolls can be cruel. I won’t spoil the journey Crystal goes on over the course of the story, but I will say that I really liked that she had to dig deep and examine her outlook toward fitness, social media, what she shares, how she feels and why, and the message she’s spreading to her followers.

Crystal doesn’t have the best luck in love and her ex left her with major trust issues. Enter Squat Rack Thief…err…Scott Ritchie. I must confess, I didn’t like Scott at first. Since this book is written in the first person, we only see him from Crystal’s point of view and at first glance, Squat Rack Thief is no fun at all. However, once Crystal gets to know Scott her view of him – and thus mine – changed. Scott is a sexy as sin fireman, but more importantly he’s sweet, funny, kind, caring, and a bit of a dork. He’s almost too perfect really, but he is such a fun hero that said perfection didn’t make him cardboard. He and Crystal move from bickering to friendship to more and it was delightful; I was rooting for them every step of the way.

Set on You is an utterly charming romantic comedy with a great message. Lea writes about all different kinds of love in this story from romantic to familial to self-love. I adored Crystal and Scott’s book and I’m very much looking to reading more of Amy Lea’s work!

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, May 15, 2022

Review: Rules for Engaging the Earl by Janna MacGregor

Rules for Engaging the Earl by Janna MacGregor
Series: The Widow Rules, Book 2
Publisher: St. Martin's Paperbacks
Genre: Historical Romance 
Rules for Engaging the Earl cover
ISBN: 9781250761613
Source: Publisher
Buy it here: Amazon | B&N | Kobo | Audible

Constance Lysander needs a husband. Or, so society says. She’s about to give birth to her late husband’s child—a man who left her with zero money, and two other wives she didn’t know about. Thankfully, she has her Aunt by her side, and the two other wives have become close friends. But still—with a baby on the way, her shipping business to run, and an enemy skulking about, she has no time to find the perfect match.

Enter Jonathan, Earl of Sykeston. Returned war hero and Constance’s childhood best friend, his reentry into society has been harsh. Maligned for an injury he received in the line of duty, Jonathan prefers to stay out of sight. It’s the only way to keep his heart from completely crumbling. But when a missive from Constance requests his presence—to their marriage ceremony—Jonathan is on board. His feelings for Constance run deep, and he’ll do anything to make her happy, though it means risking his already bruised heart.

With Constance, Jonathan, and the new baby all together, it’s clear the wounds—both on the surface and in their relationship—run deep. But when the nights come, their wounds begin to heal, and both come to realize that their marriage of convenience is so much more than just a bargain.

A marriage of convenience becomes a real partnership in Rules for Engaging the Earl. Janna MacGregor’s second Widow Rules book features Constance Lysander, one of the three women who discovered they were married to the same man, and her childhood best friend, the Earl of Sykeston.

Constance is a smart businesswoman who has had bad luck in love. When she asks Jonathan to marry her for the sake of her daughter, she’s hoping their marriage will turn into something true and real. Jonathan has other plans. He’ll do whatever it takes to protect Constance and her daughter, but to him that means staying far away. The ghosts of his past are nipping at his heels, and he’s wounded inside and out. He’s loved Constance for as long as he can remember but he does his best to push her away rather than let himself believe he can have the love and family he craves.

Constance is a likeable protagonist, though a bit too perfect for my personal taste – there’s simply nothing she can’t do. Jonathan is a wounded hero whose bark is worse than his bite, and though he eventually became a likeable hero he’s not particularly unique or memorable. It took a while for me to get into this book; the first half is a lot of push-pull between Constance and Jonathan and though it was fine it wasn’t particularly engaging. Halfway through the story picks up and I was along for the ride. I do wish MacGregor had shown more of the childhood friendship between our protagonists as that is the foundation their romance is built on. I enjoyed the love story but seeing their history would have given the romance a bit more depth. Jonathan and Constance have a lot of obstacles to overcome, and they (mostly Jonathan) did have to work a bit to open up, learn to lean on each other, and own up to the mistakes they made in order to get their happily ever after. There’s also a villain who threatens their happiness and more who must be defeated by our heroes.

Rules for Engaging the Earl is the second book in the Widow Rules series and if you don’t mind a small spoiler from A Duke in Time you can easily read this story on its own. If you like historical romances with brooding heroes, capable heroines, cooing babies, and/or loyal dogs (Regina did almost steal the show at times), then you’re sure to enjoy Rules for Engaging the Earl.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review: When She Dreams by Amanda Quick

When She Dreams by Amanda Quick
Series: Burning Cove, Book 6
Publisher: Berkley
Genre: Historical Romantic Suspense 
When She Dreams cover
ISBN: 9780593337783
Release Date: May 3, 2022
Source: Publisher
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Return to 1930s Burning Cove, California, the glamorous seaside playground for Hollywood stars, mobsters, spies, and a host of others who find more than they bargain for in this mysterious town.

Maggie Lodge, assistant to the reclusive advice columnist known only as Dear Aunt Cornelia to her readers, hires down-but-not-quite-out private eye Sam Sage to help track down the person who is blackmailing her employer. Maggie and Sam are a mismatched pair. As far as Sam is concerned, Maggie is reckless and in over her head. She is not what he had in mind for a client, but he can’t afford to be choosy. Maggie, on the other hand, is convinced that Sam is badly in need of guidance and good advice. She does not hesitate to give him both.

In spite of the verbal fireworks between them, they are fiercely attracted to each other, but each is convinced it would be a mistake to let passion take over. They are, after all, keeping secrets from each other. Sam is haunted by his past, which includes a marriage shattered by betrayal and violence. Maggie is troubled by intense and vivid dreams—dreams that she can sometimes control. There are those who want to run experiments on her and use her for their own purposes, while others think she should be committed to an asylum.

When the pair discovers someone is impersonating Aunt Cornelia at a conference on psychic dreaming and a woman dies at the conference, the door is opened to a dangerous web of blackmail and murder. Secrets from the past are revealed, leaving Maggie and Sam in the path of a ruthless killer who will stop at nothing to exact vengeance.

A powerful lucid dreamer meets her match in a cynical PI in When She Dreams. Amanda Quick takes readers back to the dazzling world of 1930s Burning Cove, where glamor once again masks more sinister intentions.

Maggie Lodge is a writer who works for the advice columnist Aunt Cornelia. When her employer is blackmailed, Maggie is on the case and hires former detective turned private eye Sam Sage. The two click from the start, even though Sam is skeptical about lucid dreaming and Maggie is wary of trusting anyone after someone she trusted nearly committed her to an asylum. A case of simple blackmail turns deadly when someone is murdered and Sam and Maggie are drawn into a web of lies, showmanship, drugs, and deceit. The longer they investigate, the higher the chance that someone will target them.

I always enjoy a trip to Burning Cove, but you don’t have to be familiar with the series in order to enjoy Maggie and Sam’s book. Quick brings the world alive and I love the contrast of glitter and grime, the shimmering theatricality that masks dark deeds. Maggie and Sam are easy to like; both have been hurt in the past but work past it to open up to each other. They slide into their love story seamlessly and though I do wish there was a bit more emphasis on the emotional connection between them, I still enjoyed their romance overall. The mysteries they have to solve are satisfying and Quick takes you on an entertaining journey there. For me, the backdrop of the world she has created is the star because it’s so dang fun. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading When She Dreams. The atmosphere, period obsession with dreams, psychic phenomena and the like, and the entertaining protagonists with solid chemistry and a satisfying romance that made me smile all come together perfectly.

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.