ARC Review: Girls Before Earls by Anna Bennett

A sweet romance with found family. Definitely recommend.

Whimsical Dragonette

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Publishing Date: December 28, 2021

Synopsis:

WHAT A GIRL WANTS

To survive her difficult childhood, Miss Hazel Lively relied on two things:a tough outer shell and a love of books. Now, at the age of twenty-eight, she’s finally realized her life-long dream of opening a school for girls. She’s hoping that the wealthy families who flock to the shore for the summer will entrust their daughters to Bellehaven Academy―and help pay the way for less fortunate students. All Hazel must do is maintain a flawless reputation and raise a good deal of money. It’s a foolproof plan…till a sinfully handsome earl strides into her office.

WHAT AN EARL NEEDS

Gabriel Beckett, Earl of Bladenton, has had a monstrous headache since the day his teenaged niece became his ward. She’s been expelled from two London boarding schools and is doing her damnedest to scare off his potential…

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ARC Review: Better off Wed (Love and Let Spy #3) by Susanna Craig

Lovely romance between two clever people with secret identities who actually appreciate each others cleverness. Definitely recommend – this series is great fun.

Whimsical Dragonette

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Publishing Date: December 28, 2021

Synopsis:

She’s an avenging angel…who tempts him like the devil…

If Miss Laura Hopkins desired a husband, her beauty, brains, and fortune would make it easy to acquire one. Instead, Laura prefers to put her charms to another purpose entirely. Using the alias, Lady Sterling, Laura helps young women who have been mistreated or compromised by their employers. Some might see it as theft and blackmail. For Laura, it is a small measure of justice. But while in pursuit of her latest target, Laura is unexpectedly aided by a gentleman who announces that he is Lord Sterling.

As a spy for the Crown, Captain Jeremy Addison, Viscount Sterling, has been assigned all manner of dangerous missions, though none as complicated as investigating the beguiling Lady Sterling. Forced to pose as newlyweds at the home of a disreputable earl, Laura and Jeremy…

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ARC Review: Proper Scoundrels by Allie Therin

“Oh, Christ. Wesley was not equipped to experience feelings, this was completely unacceptable.”

I fell absolutely in love with ‘danger marshmallow’ Sebastian and Wesley, Lord Fine, the cynical curmudgeon with a deeply buried heart of gold gone soft for Sebastian alone.

Highly highly recommend Proper Scoundrels by Allie Therin, out now!

Whimsical Dragonette

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Publishing Date: December 28, 2021

Synopsis:

Don’t miss this standalone spin-off in Allie Therin’s acclaimed Magic in Manhattan universe!

Their scandalous pasts have left them wounded and unworthy—and hopelessly perfect together.

London, 1925

Sebastian de Leon is adjusting to life after three years spent enthralled by blood magic. The atrocities he committed under its control still weigh heavily on his conscience, but when he’s asked to investigate a series of mysterious murders, it feels like an opportunity to make amends. Until he realizes the killer’s next likely target is a man who witnessed Sebastian at his worst—the Viscount Fine.

Lord Fine—known as Wesley to his friends, if he had any—is haunted by ghosts of his own after serving as a British army captain during the Great War. Jaded and untrusting, he’s tempted to turn Sebastian in, but there’s something undeniably captivating about the reformed paranormal, and…

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ARC Review: Beautiful Little Fools by Jillian Cantor

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Publishing Date: February 1, 2022

Synopsis:

USA Today bestselling author Jillian Cantor reimagines and expands on the literary classic The Great Gatsby in this atmospheric historical novel with echoes of Big Little Lies, told in three women’s alternating voices.

On a sultry August day in 1922, Jay Gatsby is shot dead in his West Egg swimming pool. To the police, it appears to be an open-and-shut case of murder/suicide when the body of George Wilson, a local mechanic, is found in the woods nearby.

Then a diamond hairpin is discovered in the bushes by the pool, and three women fall under suspicion. Each holds a key that can unlock the truth to the mysterious life and death of this enigmatic millionaire.

Daisy Buchanan once thought she might marry Gatsby—before her family was torn apart by an unspeakable tragedy that sent her into the arms of the philandering Tom Buchanan.

Jordan Baker, Daisy’s best friend, guards a secret that derailed her promising golf career and threatens to ruin her friendship with Daisy as well.

Catherine McCoy, a suffragette, fights for women’s freedom and independence, and especially for her sister, Myrtle Wilson, who’s trapped in a terrible marriage.

Their stories unfold in the years leading up to that fateful summer of 1922, when all three of their lives are on the brink of unraveling. Each woman is pulled deeper into Jay Gatsby’s romantic obsession, with devastating consequences for all of them.

Jillian Cantor revisits the glittering Jazz Age world of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, retelling this timeless American classic from the women’s perspective. Beautiful Little Fools is a quintessential tale of money and power, marriage and friendship, love and desire, and ultimately the murder of a man tormented by the past and driven by a destructive longing that can never be fulfilled.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was hauntingly beautiful. It was so sad and desperate and hopeless, watching Daisy and Jordan and Catherine’s lives crashing down around them. I couldn’t look away.

The structure was brilliant, getting each of the women’s perspective as their lives slowly intertwined and tangled around one another. Adding brief interjections from the detective trying to solve the case of Gatsby’s murder was brilliant as well, heightening the tension as the lies mounted up.

I’ve always thought the Great Gatsby was a beautiful and tragic story, but getting Jay’s story through Nick wasn’t nearly so tragic as this. Nick’s perspective was that of an outsider looking in at a gin-soaked world of parties. Daisy and Jordan and Catherine had so much more depth to them, because women, even rich women, had so much less power than the men.

I was riveted the entire time I read, drawn in to the darkly glittering world, but drawn in the most because of Daisy and Jordan and Catherine’s humanity. They felt so real, so alive, so timeless.

I was bracing myself the entire time, waiting for the final crash at the end, but Jillian Cantor managed to infuse it with just a touch of hope and made me love it all the more for how unexpected it was.

This is a story I will be reading again and recommending to all my friends.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Harper Perennial for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Daisy sounded petulant, but oddly, it was the first time it had ever occurred to me that there might be a difference between the two, that it might be impossible to be both good and happy.

Jordan

That was life, wasn’t it? Everything you could never believe happening to you, happening just like that, right before your very eyes.

Jordan

I’d been feeling this way for a few weeks now, since we’d moved here from France. Weary and restless at the same time. It was hard to breathe and even harder to remember to smile.

Daisy

It made me soften toward him a little, as I felt the way inside that his face looked: angry and disappointed and a little bit sad.

Jordan

Myrtle? It felt funny to know she had a name, that she was a real, living breathing woman who desired something unattainable too. Just like the rest of us. Golf. Daisy. Tom and the west.

Jordan

Of course, Nick agreed. Nick agreed to everything that summer. If you looked up agreeable in Merriam-Webster’s I was pretty sure you’d see Nick’s photograph.

Daisy

And the way her face turned in that moment, it hit me that she would someday grow to be a woman. I wanted more for her than to be a fool. I never wanted men to treat Pammy the way they treated me. I wanted her to be brave and bold, and fearless and independent.

Daisy

“She’s a little you, isn’t she Daisy?” he said.

His words burned my face, my heart. Pammy had to be better. I wanted so much better for her. I had to make sure she was better.

Daisy

They were all the same, weren’t they? They all wanted nothing more than to ruin me. It was utterly exhausting to be a woman.

Jordan

“I don’t want a safe life,” I told him, much to his chagrin. “I want a good life. I want a meaningful life.”

Catherine

And maybe that was the last and biggest lie of all. That what I would do next with my life would be good enough to make up for what I had done.

Catherine

ARC Review: Never a Duke by Grace Burrowes

Publishing Date: April 22, 2022

Synopsis:

Despite having humble origins and a criminal past, Ned Wentworth has learned to dress, waltz, and express himself as elegantly as any lordling. When Lady Rosalind Kinwood’s maid goes missing, her ladyship turns to Ned, precisely because he still has friends in low places and skills no titled dandy would ever acquire, much less admit he possesses.

Rosalind is too opinionated and too intelligent, and has frequently suffered judgment at polite society’s hands. In the quietly observant Ned Wentworth, she finds a man who actually listens to her and who respects her for her outspokenness. As the search for the missing maids grow more perilous, Rosalind and Ned 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.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this novel, more than the previous novels in the series (though admittedly I’ve only previously read books 5 and 6). A large part of that is that Ned and Rosaline are both genuinely good and likeable people, despite their past and Rosaline’s despicable family. I loved how, as they interacted, they genuinely came to care for one another and do their best to lift each other up. I also loved that it was easy to read and painted a vivid picture of a believable world that sucked me in from the very beginning.

I loved Ned and Rosaline’s determination to save the abducted women and their eventual frank discussion of Ned’s past. I especially loved all the little details, my favorite being Ned’s embroidery. It’s unusual and a seemingly trivial thing but it really showed how much he missed his family and the life that was ripped from him. It also showed his sensitivity and disdain for propriety, as well as how much of himself he’d kept from the Wentworths but was willing to show Rosaline. Oh and the proposal scene was delightful. As was Ned’s tiger Artie, and I greatly hope to see more of him in the future.

I spent portions of the novel feeling as if I had read it before which was very strange as it is an arc and I am quite sure I haven’t. Maybe that was a combination of familiarity with the secondary characters and some backstory from previous novels and a somewhat predictable plot in general? Or perhaps it’s not so much a predictable plot as one that shares themes with other novels I have read in the past. Nevertheless, whatever the reason for the feeling, I still very much enjoyed the journey and was reluctant to close it and leave the world so vividly pressed between the pages.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.

Book Review: Lord of Chance (Rogues to Riches #1)

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Publishing Date: April 11, 2017

Synopsis:

Don’t wager more than you’re willing to lose…

Disguised as a country miss, Charlotte Devon flees London, desperate to leave her tattered reputation behind. In Scotland, her estranged father’s noble blood will finally make her a respectable debutante. Except she finds herself accidentally wed to a devil-may-care rogue with a sinful smile. He’s the last thing she needs…and everything her traitorous heart desires.

Charming rake Anthony Fairfax is on holiday to seek his fortune…and escape his creditors. When an irresistible Lady Luck wins him in a game of chance—and a slight mishap has them leg-shackled by dawn—the tables have finally turned in his favor. But when past demons catch up to them, holding on to new love will mean destroying their dreams forever.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoyed this very much, though not quite as much as her latest books. It was a sweet story and even though things got resolved a little too easily I’m glad I read it.

The audiobook narrator did an excellent job making it clear who was speaking. She also had a very pleasant voice to listen to.

I appreciated that gambling addiction was touched on, as well as a contrast between a childhood full of love and physical security but ostracized by society and a childhood that alternated between wealthy and poor with no security but societal approbation. These issues weren’t discussed in depth, but they were treated with care and the book wasn’t long enough or serious enough for them to be any more in depth than they were.

The relationship was a little too easy, with Charlotte and Anthony going from not knowing one another to married by accident to in love without any real emotional stepping stones, but I did appreciate that they liked one another and cared for one another pretty much from the beginning. They also were able to use their determination to care for one another to make changes in their lives which, with some convenient coincidences, set they up for comfort and security in the future.

Despite my issues with the story, I enjoyed reading it, and I enjoyed watching the events unfold. And, of course, I really do like Erica Ridley’s writing style, which is a make or break issues for me. Everything just flows so effortlessly in her writing, without the stiltedness or tangled prose one finds in certain other authors of the genre.

*Thanks to Erica Ridley for providing a copy for review.

ARC DNF Review: A Duke Worth Fighting For by Christina Britton

A Duke Worth Fighting For by Christina Britton

Publishing Date: August 24, 2021

Synopsis:

A fake relationship becomes the real thing in this Regency romance from the bestselling author Publishers Weekly calls “irresistible.”

To protect the dukedom from an incompetent and greedy cousin, Daniel Hayle, Duke of Carlisle, has promised to find a bride in London this season. But the idea of facing ballrooms and card parties is as intimidating as any battlefield in France, including the fight at Waterloo that left him terribly scarred. Perhaps a month on the Isle of Synne can provide him with the practice necessary to find a wife who can tolerate him enough to give him an heir.

Margery Kitteridge has been mourning her husband for four years, and while she’s not ready to consider marriage again, she does miss intimacy with a partner. When Daniel asks for help navigating Synne’s social scene, and they accidentally kiss, she realizes he’s the perfect person with whom to have an affair. As they begin to confide in one another, Daniel discovers that he’s unexpectedly connected to Margery’s late husband, and she will have to decide if she can let her old love go for the promise of a new one.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I was hopeful that the issues I had with this book would smooth out as the story progressed but alas, they did not. The very first thing that caught my attention was the map at the beginning. The Isle of Synne is…. rectangular. It looks like someone plopped the state of Oregon into the sea. I had some misgivings at that point but decided to press on.

The prose is… overwritten and very much telling (at length) rather than showing. There’s nothing obviously wrong with it but I just found it off-putting and felt like I was hacking my way through a thicket trying to find the story. The characters also didn’t have a lot of depth to them and seemed very superficial, as did the instant physical attraction between Margery and Daniel. All of their conversations were painfully awkward and seemed to take twice as long as necessary with all the apologies and repetition.

Eventually I couldn’t force myself through any more of the awkwardness and decided to move on to something more enjoyable. It’s possible that those who aren’t such sticklers as I for writing style will still enjoy this.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: How to Deceive a Duke by Samara Parish

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Publishing Date: January 25, 2022

Synopsis:

Fiona McTavish is an engineer, a chemist, a rebel—and no one’s idea of a proper lady. She prefers breeches to ballrooms, but her new invention—matches—will surely turn as many heads. There’s just a little matter of her being arrested for a crime she didn’t commit. And the only person she can turn to for help is the man who broke her heart years ago.

Edward Stirling, Duke of Wildeforde, will do anything to restore his family’s name and put his father’s scandalous death behind them. But when Fiona needs his help getting released from prison, he can’t deny her—even though it means she must live with him as a condition of her freedom. With the desire between them rekindling as fast as the gossip about their arrangement is spreading among the ton, Edward will have to choose what matters most to him—his reputation or his heart.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was a thoroughly delightful romance with some of my very favorite tropes. Edward feels forced to live his life with strict propriety. Fiona is as unconventional, stubborn, and self-reliant as they come. She’s also the love of his life.

Fiona regularly dresses in breeches, dons the disguise of a fictional brother while trying to sell her invention, charms Edward’s family in both guises, and is a wonderful heroine.

Seeing Edward gradually dropping all his rules and strict propriety for Fiona as he falls even deeper in love with her was wonderful. I absolutely adored the ‘grand gesture’ — definitely my favorite I’ve ever read.

I enjoyed every moment of reading it — sweet, swoony, and altogether charming.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever (Grand Central Publishing) for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“Pish. You were in control of every event that put you in that room. What you experienced was not powerlessness; it was consequences.”

ARC DNF Review: The Marquess of Mischief by Anna St. Claire

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Publishing Date: December 21, 2021

Synopsis:

A chance at love could cost them their lives.

Welcome to book 2, Marquess of Mischief by
USA Today Bestselling author Anna St. Claire.

As a second son, Christopher Anglesey never planned to become the Marquess of Banbury. However, his brother’s death forced him to assume the title and its responsibilities. Still, he refuses to relinquish his dangerous job with the Crown or marry. His job requires he maintains a presence at most ton events. However, Christopher avoids the marriage-minded mommas and their vapid daughters.

On the heels of a successful first Season, a carriage accident on the way home from London leaves Lady Diana Lawrence blind. She resigns herself to a life without love or marriage and still attends ton gatherings only to please her mother—who still believes love will find her daughter. While attending a museum tour with her best friend, Diana overhears plans to kill the Prince Regent, placing her in the crosshairs of a killer.

Christopher’s assignment brings him to the museum, where he discovers a beautiful young woman desperate to escape and recognizes her as his sister’s best friend. She may be the one person who can help save the Prince Regent’s life. Sparks fly as he tries to protect her and find a killer.

Can they survive the danger that pursues them and gain a chance at love neither thought could happen?

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

I requested this because the premise sounded like something I would enjoy — I adore historical romance, especially when spies are involved — but unfortunately the writing style made it unenjoyable. For many people that wouldn’t be a problem, I know, but writing style is one of the most important characteristics of a story to me, and I cannot enjoy a story where I find the writing style to be grating.

In this case, the writing is a bit stilted and comes off sort of monotone, as all the sentences are roughly the same length. The story moves quickly, but at a remove as everything is told rather than shown. Too little time is also spent on any event, giving situations such as a lady being nearly ravished the same import as a quick conversation with a servant.

Also the characters are always guffawing and bellowing and hardly ever simply say anything, and Christopher’s driver is also named “Goforth” which strikes me as excessively silly.

My only real problems were with the writing style and not the plot, and while I found them insurmountable I’m sure plenty of readers would be able to look past them and enjoy the story.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Dragonblade Publishing for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Serendipity by Marissa Meyer, various (short story collection

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Publishing Date: January 4, 2022

Synopsis:

Love is in the air in this is a collection of stories inspired by romantic tropes and edited by #1 New York Times-bestselling author Marissa Meyer.

The secret admirer.
The fake relationship.
The matchmaker.


From stories of first love, unrequited love, love that surprises, love that’s been there all along, ten of the brightest and award-winning authors writing YA have taken on some of your favorite romantic tropes, embracing them and turning them on their heads. Readers will swoon for this collection of stories that celebrate love at its most humorous, inclusive, heart-expanding, and serendipitous.

Contributors include Elise Bryant, Elizabeth Eulberg, Leah Johnson, Anna-Marie McLemore, Marissa Meyer, Sandhya Menon, Julie Murphy, Caleb Roehrig, Sarah Winifred Searle, and Abigail Hing Wen.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was delightful. The first story was cute and funny but followed the plot of the movie Drive Me Crazy rather too closely. Other than that the stories were wonderful and I loved all of them. The romances were cute, often surprising (hence the twists on classic tropes), and delivered swoonworthy romances which is hard to do in a short story. It’s hard to pick favorites, though I did love Anna Marie McLemore’s and Marissa Meyer’s the best. The twist on stuck in a small space was also quite lovely.
If you love YA romance, romcoms, classic tropes, or twists on classic tropes, definitely give this one a shot.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Feiwel and Friends for providing an e-arc for review.

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