ARC Review: Nobody’s Princess by Erica Ridley

Publication Date: July 26, 2022

Synopsis:

A fun and feminist Regency romp from a master of the genre hailed as “a delight” by Bridgerton author Julia Quinn.

Nothing happens in London without Graham Wynchester knowing. His massive collection of intelligence is invaluable to his family’s mission of aiding those most in need. So when he deciphers a series of coded messages in the scandal sheets, Graham’s convinced he must come to a royal’s rescue. But his quarry turns out not to be a princess at all… The captivating Kunigunde de Heusch is anything but a damsel in distress, and the last thing she wants is Graham’s help.

All her life, Kuni trained alongside the fiercest Royal Guardsmen in her family, secretly planning to become her country’s first Royal Guardswoman. This mission in London is a chance to prove herself worthy without help from a man, not even one as devilishly handsome as Graham. To her surprise, Graham believes in her dream as much as she does, which makes it harder to resist kissing him…and falling in love. But how can she risk her heart if her future lies an ocean away?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Now that I’ve finished the full book, I can say that it was everything I was hoping and more. I absolutely loved every second I spent with the Wynchesters, of course, and Kunigunde makes an excellent addition. I wish I could be a Wynchester, but reading about them is a close second. They are my favorite fictional family — the Bridgertons don’t even come close.

This book is fiercely feminist, with Kunigunde determined to be the first female Royal Guard of Balcovia, and equally determined to accept no help from anyone to get there. Over her time with the Wynchesters she learns the value of family, friendship, and that having people on your side to help isn’t a weakness at all.

I really like how Erica Ridley took two characters with ambitions and goals that are diametrically opposed and brings them around to the same side eventually with the realization that it’s ok to let go of long-held dreams in order to reach for something better. I also really appreciate that both parties here opted for new dreams over old ones. It felt very balanced.

I also really appreciate the many issues that are touched on here. They carry weight with the story and feel organic and not forced at all. Slavery, racial equality, feminism, the plight of factory workers, cruel factory owners, lazy aristocracy, the frustrating slowness of Parliament and legislative change, chronic illness, child labor, mistreated animals… I’m sure I missed some. The Wynchesters tackle all of these.

One of my favorite things about this book is how Kunigunde spends time with each of the Wynchester siblings and comes to appreciate them and care for them all. It’s not just a romance between her and Graham, it involves the whole family. She has secret painting projects with Marjorie and they teach one another sign language and Balcovian. She terrorizes the university bullies with Elizabeth. She trains with Graham. She steals an antbear with Jacob, she watches Parliament with Chloe, she attends the reading circle with Philippa, she talks costumes with Tommy… and she opts to put off her own reconnaissance mission to help the Wynchesters on their mission to save a town of impoverished factory workers from their cruel factory owner.

The involvement of the Wynchester siblings doesn’t diminish the romance between Kunigunde and Graham, which is terribly swoony. Even though they are both rather pig-headed about the whole thing, they do eventually end up on the same page and it was delightful going on that journey with them.

Elizabeth once again stole my heart in this book as my favorite secondary character, and I cannot wait to read her story because it is bound to be epic. And feature a LOT of swords.

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

Favorite Quotes:

Kuni did not want her day saved. She would do the saving of days, thank you very much. The entire point of this mission was to prove how capable she was on her own without help, especially from a man. An Englishman.

“Welcome to England,” Graham said. “Our natural condition is proud and offended.”

“Anything worth doing starts with falling,” he said cheerfully.

If anyone could learn to leap atop a narrow beam during the free moments of a four-week reconnaissance mission in a foreign country, that person would be Kunigunde.

A very low possibility. Very, very low. She absolutely, positively, probably would rebuff him if he tried. Maybe.

“It’s not murder if the villain deserves to have his blood spilled,” Elizabeth protested.

She shoved the cane away and turned to face Elizabeth Wynchester. “I am not going to sit around your house sewing decorative samplers”

Elizabeth stared at her. “Why would anyone pick up a needle when they could pick up a sword?”

“Shall we return to your home?”

“Must we?” Elizabeth lifted her cane. “I have good days and bad days. On bad days, I can’t move. On good days, ’tis the villains who had better step out of my way. This is a good day. I don’t want to waste a moment of it.”

…the presence of maids or footmen registered about as much as the individual mullions on the windows. Without them, the whole thing would fall apart, but no one ever exclaimed in wonder at well-functioning mullions. Royals looked right through the painstakingly crafted glass to the view on the other side.

“We can take our trained geldings!”

Kuni sent a suspicious glance toward Jacob. “Are they… messenger homing horses?”

The Wynchesters had taught her that family was more than blood. Family was anywhere you were treated like family. Anywhere you were welcomed, and cherished, and loved.

ARC Review: The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian (The Queer Principles of Kit Webb #2)

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Publishing Date: June 7, 2022

Synopsis:

Cat Sebastian returns to Georgian London with a stunning tale of a reluctant criminal and the thief who cannot help but love her.

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.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is EVERYTHING. I live and breathe books and I would be happy to never read another book and just live in this one. It’s that good. But more than that it’s the perfect book for me. Like Cat Sebastian knew it’s been rough lately and wrote it just for me. I’m predicting it makes it at least into my top 5 books this year.

It’s a cleverly disguised Robin Hood and Marian book. It’s the perfect Robin Hood and Marian book. I want to paper my walls in quotes from this book (and I probably highlighted enough to do just that – a full 11 single-spaced pages of them!!) and just live in this story from now on. Is this because I love Robin Hood stories? Yes, partly. But also I love queer love stories and Cat Sebastian’s writing in general, and the Queer Principles of Kit Webb in particular, so this was just the happy convergence of all of my favorite things.

This is an excellent queer love story. Both leads are bisexual and Marian is probably some flavor of asexual and the dynamic is very much a dominant/aggressive/in charge Marian and a submissive Rob who only wants to please her. That stable scene! She pins him against the wall! Flip the gender status quo of historical romance why don’t you? I LOVE it.

I love how Marian is the prickly and closed-off and responsible one in this relationship, and Rob is friendly and charming and is distracted by kittens. And, now that I think of it, this is yet another case of me falling completely for a grumpy / sunshine trope.

Another reviewer pointed out that this book in a nutshell is ‘disaster bisexuals’ and ‘be gay do crime’ with a side of ‘eat the rich’ and if that isn’t Marian and Rob I don’t know what is. I can’t top that as a description.

I see hints of future books of ‘be gay do crime’ and i just want to say YES PLEASE. And baby Eliza will be raised by four doting queer parents and immersed in planning of heists before she can talk. I desperately want more books in this world, with these people.

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

Favorite Quotes:

**Note: I highlighted literally 11 single-spaced pages of quotes so obviously I can’t include them all here. I have consolidated as much as possible but it will still be rather long. But trust me – you want to read these. They will absolutely make you want to read this book.

Although, if you don’t want to read them, that’s fine too. This is the last section of the review for a reason.

What a trick it was to be able to say I beg your pardon in a way that meant fuck off and die, and to look serene and saintly while saying it.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The memory made him feel both wistful and somehow homesick, in the way that happy memories too often did.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“I think we’re still in the cave, hitting one another with sticks,” Rob went on. “I know that I broke the law when I stole from those arseholes at the tavern this afternoon. But how is what I did any different from putting poor men into debtors’ prison? What I did is comparatively gentle. A targeted tax on rich men who behave badly. It’s very civilized, actually.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He was lost, and he had been from about the first time she sent him a scathing letter –what kind of person did that to a man who held her future in the palm of his hand? – and followed it up with trivia about that Italian fellow and his peculiarly organized version of hell.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“In the winter, you can imagine that the land could become anything. In the summer, all that’s left is for winter to come.”

Rob had never heard anyone express anything of the sort and didn’t know what to say, or even to think, beyond reflecting that if anyone were to enjoy an uninterrupted view of mud and dirt it would have to be Marian.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She moved so slowly and deliberately it was as if she were inventing the concept of kissing right there on the spot, as precisely as if she were counting change in the marketplace. He kissed her back with none of those qualities, with nothing but profligacy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore rainwater and mud the way other men wore silk coats, only better, and she wanted him.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And now he was looking at her as if she were a cake, if cakes were also religious icons, and she was possessed of a mortifying certainty that she was looking at him in precisely the same deranged manner.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Rob knew better than most that sometimes nothing could salve your conscience. You just had to live with the guilt and find other ways to be the kind of person you wanted to be.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

But when she looked at him, what she felt wasn’t attraction. Or it wasn’t only that. It was a bright spark, something warm and glowing that took up residency in her chest and refused to budge. It was something like contentment, only sharp and with teeth. It was the urge to wrap her hand around his arm and not let go. It was the knowledge that he would let her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

The idea that she was planning to go into mourning for a man she had killed with her own hands, while – regardless of what she said – robbing, extorting, or otherwise dealing feloniously with another man, made Rob feel faintly dizzy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Gentlemen typically don’t extort money from their tenants,” Marian retorted.

“That is precisely what gentlemen do,” he pointed out, exasperated. “It is practically the entire point of gentlemen.”

She opened her mouth as if to protest, then frowned. “Fair.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

It was a dark day indeed when he wanted to congratulate an aristocrat for simply remembering that servants were human beings.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

In his arms she felt as sharp as a knife and as sure as a promise and he never wanted to take his hands off her.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

And he didn’t try to hold it back, either. His friendship was like a creeping ivy – all one had to do was let it be, and it covered the whole barn.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

From where she lay, she could see at least half a dozen scars on his arms and back. He spoke of them as if he didn’t mind them, and she thought she understood – what were the pair of them, after all, but a collection of things gone wrong and then, slowly, made right again.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Well, she did leave me tied to a bed all night,” Rob offered as an explanation.

“It’s how I make all my friends,” said Betty.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“Running away?” Rob scoffed. “I’m not running away from anything. I’m refusing to participate in inherited wealth.”

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

“They’d suit you perfectly well if it were twenty years ago.” He sank into a chair by the fire. “And if you were a provincial spinster who drank tea without any sugar and terrified all the neighborhood children.”

Marian, momentarily impressed with this aesthetic success, preened a little before remembering why she needed to speak to Percy.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

He wore a blue suit of clothes so fine that Rob wanted to set things on fire.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

 It would not, however, accommodate Marian’s father and his household, and indeed the idea of cramming an elderly earl, a highwayman, a baby, the bigamous wife of a duke, and whatever on earth Percy considered himself these days under one roof was too farcical for Marian to take seriously.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

She was certain that most women felt something warmer for their children, something less sharp and jagged. Marian wasn’t much given to warmth, but whatever she felt now – a champagne lightness mixed with the usual knife-sharp protectiveness – felt like enough.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

Her laughter was rare and precious; it was the sound of church bells, the sound of coins dropping into a pocket, and he wanted to save it in a bottle and wear it close to his heart.

The Perfect Crimes of Marian Hayes by Cat Sebastian

ARC Review: The Servant and the Gentleman by Annabelle Greene

Publication Date: May 17, 2022

Summary:

A surly gentleman and his overworked clerk fake a relationship in this swoonworthy Regency romance from Annabelle Greene.

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. 

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this thoughtful and romantic story. The fake dating across class boundaries was fun, and Josiah helping Hartley fend off his PTSD was well done. There were so many sweet moments as the two of them fell for one another (while pretending they hadn’t because it was impossible), as well as the perfect amount of wry humor.

The writing was lovely and the heavier topics (class boundaries, protecting those accused of loving other men, money and power, PTSD from a traumatic event) deftly and thoughtfully handled. There were a few more sex scenes than I usually like, but I was enjoying the story so much I didn’t mind skimming them.

My favorite thing about it is the way Hartley and Josiah relate to one another and push one another to be better. Hartley is a bit of a Darcy – he doesn’t really see anyone he considers ‘lower’ than himself and Josiah pushes him to open his eyes to all that he’s been ignoring. Watching Hartley slowly work to change was very satisfying. Hartley in turn pushes Josiah to have more confidence in himself.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Press for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

…Josiah joined him, lying down beside him, his face so full of long-suppressed emotion that it could have been a poem.

ARC Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: May 24, 2022

Synopsis:

A lush, sweeping queer historical romance from the bestselling author of Boyfriend Material—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Manda Collins!

When Viola Caroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was Everything. I am aware that I say that… not infrequently, but when I love things, I really love them. And this… I had high hopes, because lets be honest, I love everything Alexis Hall writes, but this was so much more.

Regency romance? check. Loads of pining? check. Loads of queer and unconventional characters? check.

I’ve read books like that before, of course. Not many, not nearly as many as I would like, but there are some. But I’ve never read one with a trans main character, and I didn’t anticipate how deeply it would hit me, as a nonbinary person who, like Viola, has struggled with my identity and my body and my desire.

Viola Caroll is strong and determined and fierce and deeply, painfully relatable. She is unapologetically herself and I love her for that. Gracewood accepts her and loves her as she is and it’s possibly the most revolutionary idea in the whole book. Most dukes would not be so accepting, I think — although Gracewood has spent his life trying to break free of the idea of what a duke can be so maybe it’s not so surprising. Surprising or not, it makes for a beautiful love story.

This falls more on the angsty side than the humorous side, unlike many of Alexis Hall’s other works, though it is still funny in parts. It’s what I was in the mood for, though, so it worked out. The writing is, as I have come to expect, absolutely gorgeous. I highlighted so many passages, and I know I will be returning to it again. I just hope we get a sequel – Mira’s story would be an excellent candidate.

This book also touches on grief, child abuse, addiction, and chronic pain, and tackles these topics gracefully. The characters are flawed and human and real, even the side characters. And, more than anything, it shows the deep love and acceptance between the characters, despite their flaws. I loved every minute of it.

— update 5/28/22—

I have now listened to the audio arc and can say that the narrator performs the story beautifully, though I had my doubts in the first few minutes. The character voices are distinct and easy to understand and fit the characters’ personalities and the emotion and humor come through perfectly (which is good, because this story is all about a lot of emotion).

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

Favorite Quotes:

“What other options? Men and women are permitted to interact in three ways: marriage, ruination, and polite indifference.”

“She’s a seventeen-year-old girl. She should be in London, having love affairs with unsuitable young men in a controlled environment. Not stuck in a mouldering fortress miles from anywhere.”

It made Viola feel oddly safe, this reminder that everyone lived their own illusions, chose their own truths, performed their own quiet magic before indifferent crowds.

She turned slowly, in case she scattered into dried leaves and dust.

“Loubear,” whispered Badger. “You have to be quiet when you’re eavesdropping. Otherwise it’s just a logistically difficult conversation.”

Viola was not certain that be virtuous, because vice is too much bother was quite the lesson a young gentleman was meant to be learning in these days of reason and enlightenment, but she let it go.

But there was a larger loneliness, one that came from inhabiting a space she’d had no choice but to build for herself, only to find that nobody could inhabit it with her.

As though he had become a man in a fable: lain with the wild ocean and woken, salt-stricken, forever changed, upon an unfamiliar shore.

“Suffering isn’t something we earn, Gracewood. It’s something we bear.”

Because that was the truth of trust. It was neither weak nor fleeting. It was steel and fire. And would endure as long as you let it.

Besides, it would not have done to read his sister’s intimate correspondence when there were ladies to do it for him.

The night beyond the city was mild and clear, the landscape a silvered forever—mirror-smooth fields, the ribbon twist of an occasional stream, ash trees, in curly-headed silhouette, cast like images from a magic lantern against the sky.

The night had been long and fraught and could have ended badly in so many ways. Could, in fact, end badly regardless. But still. What a marvel it was. What freedom. To be a woman unabashedly in love beneath a multitude of stars.

ARC Review: A Daring Pursuit by Kate Bateman

Publication Date: May 24, 2022

Synopsis:

The Davies and Montgomery families have been locked in an ancient feud. But it’s a thin line between love and hate in Kate Bateman’s A Daring Pursuit.

TWO ENEMIES
Carys Davies is doing everything in her power to avoid marriage. Staying single is the only way to hide the secret that could ruin her—and her family—if it was revealed. For the past two seasons she’s scandalized the ton with her outrageous outfits and brazen ways in a futile bid to deter potential suitors. Outwardly confident and carefree, inside she’s disillusioned with both men and love. There’s only one person who’s never bought her act—the only man who makes her heart race: Tristan Montgomery, one of her family’s greatest rivals.

ONE SCANDALOUS BARGAIN
Wickedly proper architect Tristan needs a respectable woman to wed, but he’s never stopped wanting bold, red-headed Carys. When she mockingly challenges him to show her what she’s missing by not getting married, Tristan shocks them both by accepting her indecent proposal: one week of clandestine meetings, after which they’ll go their separate ways. But kissing each other is almost as much fun as arguing, and their affair burns hotter than either of them expects. When they find themselves embroiled in a treasonous plot, can they trust each other with their hearts, their secrets…and their lives?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this tension-filled enemies-to-lovers romance. Carys is fiery and passionate, Tristan is cool and collected – at least on the outside. Their families have been feuding for hundreds of years, and Maddie and Gryff’s marriage in the previous book haven’t completely mended things between their families.

I love the ‘forbidden love because of feuding families’ trope, and here it’s used excellently. Carys and Tristan are both loveable, endearing characters as well and their chemistry sizzles from the beginning. Gotta love a ‘we’re both secretly in love with each other and have been since we were kids but we pretend to hate each other and pine dramatically’ dynamic.

The one thing I didn’t love was the sheer number of sex scenes. Now, I will grant that these are included for Reasons and so in some ways they really do need to be there. But I still found myself skimming them. Which is not to say that they’re badly written – I just don’t particularly enjoy reading frequent or prolonged sex scenes. Really, the fact that I read as much of them as I did speaks to the fact that they’re actually quite well-written, and I think that people who do enjoy reading sex scenes will like them a lot.

This book also has possibly the best opening line of any romance, ever. “Lady Carys Davies dressed to meet her blackmailer in the same way she dressed for every other social occasion: scandalously.” Tell me that doesn’t make you want to read more about Lady Carys Davies.

I look forward to reading more Montgomery – Davies romances in the future and will definitely be continuing the series as soon as the next book is available.

*Thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Lady Carys Davies dressed to meet her blackmailer in the same way she dressed for every other social occasion: scandalously.

“You smile at other men, but with Tristan you glow. It’s like you come alive in his presence. You’re the fire to his ice.”

Looking at Tristan was like leaping into a frigid Welsh stream: One had to prepare.

“Then marry me. Live with me. Let me be your favorite enemy.”

ARC Review: To Marry and to Meddle by Martha Waters

Publishing Date: April 5, 2022

Synopsis:

The “sweet, sexy, and utterly fun” (Emily Henry, author of The People We Meet on Vacation) Regency Vows series continues with a witty, charming, and joyful novel following a seasoned debutante and a rakish theater owner as they navigate a complicated marriage of convenience.

Lady Emily Turner has been a debutante for six seasons now and should have long settled into a suitable marriage. However, due to her father’s large debts, her only suitor is the persistent and odious owner of her father’s favorite gambling house. Meanwhile, Lord Julian Belfry, the second son of a marquess, has scandalized society as an actor and owner of a theater—the kind of establishment where men take their mistresses, but not their wives. When their lives intersect at a house party, Lord Julian hatches a plan to benefit them both.

With a marriage of convenience, Emily will use her society connections to promote the theater to a more respectable clientele and Julian will take her out from under the shadows of her father’s unsavory associates. But they soon realize they have very different plans for their marriage—Julian wants Emily to remain a society wife, while Emily discovers an interest in the theater. But when a fleeing actress, murderous kitten, and meddlesome friends enter the fray, Emily and Julian will have to confront the fact that their marriage of convenience comes with rather inconvenient feelings.

With “an arch sense of humor and a marvelously witty voice that rivals the best of the Regency authors” (Entertainment Weekly), Martha Waters crafts another fresh romantic comedy that for fans of Julia Quinn and Evie Dunmore.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I really loved this. Emily’s journey from the perfect untouchable innocent to her true self – determined, fiery, with a quick wit – was so, so very satisfying to watch. Julian was also great. I loved the family dynamics and the message of acknowledging how your upbringing affected you and then growing and asserting your independence.

Emily’s friends were wonderful and I loved their gatherings. And her interactions with Julian, as they both fell in love, were perfection. And the grand gesture at the end? Swoon-worthy.

Really, I just loved it all. I spent the entirety of the book with this huge smile on my face. It was so sweet and swoony and romantic and funny. The perfect romantic comedy. I will be rereading this one for sure and Martha Waters is now a must-read for me.

Thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“Can I help you?” he asked her, somewhat grumpily.

“You getting married,” his sister said, quite decisively “is the best thing that has happened in years.”

…really, Frenchmen were very charming; it was a shame His Majesty’s Army had spent so much time trying to kill them over the past twenty years.

Here, a woman could take up space, speak loudly, draw the eyes of a crowd—or, alternately, could slip into a role behind the scenes, quietly doing her work just as well as the men who surrounded her—and Emily found both prospects not shocking but… exhilarating.

He loved her.

And what was truly galling was that it had taken a waistcoat that was an offense to God and man alike to make him realize it.

ARC Review: Love Letters by the Sea by Erica Ridley

Publication Date: April 12, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens when the proprietress of Siren’s Retreat discovers the charming romantic she’s been corresponding with is same villain turning her beloved property into a gaming hell?

When not responding to advice column letters, entrepreneurial widow Mrs. Deborah Cartwright runs bright, beautiful Siren’s Retreat, legendary for helping her lovelorn guests find their perfect match. Deborah experienced love years before, and lightning does not strike twice. Although there might be a light flirtation with a certain anonymous letter-writer she’s definitely not falling for, there’s no time for romance. Not whilst a heartless blackguard is in town to wrest her beloved inn out from under her!

Clever, career-minded Mr. Patrick Gretham is the trusted man-of-business for a powerful lord, who is eager to turn this perfectly situated property wasted on lovebirds into a gambling hell the likes of which no one leaves with their fortunes intact. Over Deborah’s dead body! The beautiful proprietress hates everything Patrick stands for and will fight him every step of the way. Except when they find themselves on opposite sides of a plume. Or falling into each other’s embrace…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was so, so delightful. I put off reading it because I’ve been on a fanfic kick, and it was exactly what I needed today.

Erica Ridley absolutely shines at creating characters that jump off the page and make you fall in love with them. The settings aren’t as important, and fade into the background just because the characters shine so bright.

I love that these aren’t your typical regency debutante and rake. Instead we have a widowed proprietress of an inn (and former opera singer) and a man of business with a soft heart, smile lines around his eyes, and silver at his temples. I love that they fall in love anonymously through letters and in person but are kept apart by being adversaries with seemingly nothing in common. I love the way we can’t help but fall with them.

This was short and sweet and brimming with romance and I smiled so much while reading (a feat, as I am coming down with a cold and feel little like smiling). I will definitely be pulling it out again when I need to be cheered up and reminded of how much I love watching people fall in love. This, right here, is why I read romance novels, and why Erica Ridley is always at the top of my list.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Erica Ridley, and WebMotion for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She waited, but he said nothing more. Just gripped her hands and stared at her beseechingly, belligerently, besottedly. As if he were confused and angry and half in love all at the same time and would rather not be any of it.

ARC Review: How to Be a Wallflower by Eloisa James

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestseller Eloisa James, a new Regency-set novel in which a heiress with the goal of being a wallflower engages a rugged American in a scorchingly sensual, witty wager that tests whether clothing does indeed make the man—or the wallflower!

Miss Cleopatra Lewis is about to be launched in society by her aristocratic grandfather. But since she has no intention of marrying, she visits a costume emporium specifically to order unflattering dresses guaranteed to put off any prospective suitors.

Powerful and charismatic Jacob Astor Addison is in London, acquiring businesses to add to his theatrical holdings in America—as well as buying an emerald for a young lady back in Boston. He’s furious when a she-devil masquerading as an English lady steals Quimby’s Costume Emporium from under his nose.

Jake strikes a devil’s bargain, offering to design her “wallflower wardrobe” and giving Cleo the chance to design his. Cleo can’t resist the fun of clothing the rough-hewn American in feathers and flowers. And somehow in the middle of their lively competition, Jake becomes her closest friend.

It isn’t until Cleo becomes the toast of all society that Jake realizes she’s stolen his fiercely guarded heart. But unlike the noblemen at her feet, he doesn’t belong in her refined and cultured world.

Caught between the demands of honor and desire, Jake would give up everything to be with the woman he loves—if she’ll have him!

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was my first book by Eloisa James and it shan’t be my last. It was an amusing and engaging romp and I enjoyed it a lot. The characters were relatable and sympathetic, the side characters quite amusing, and the premise just absurd enough to inject quite a lot of humor and shake up the typical regency romance plot.

I greatly enjoyed hearing about Cleo’s mother and seeing her work through her grief and mixed feelings. I also enjoyed the wardrobes Cleo and Jake created for one another — and especially Byng’s joyful and colorful takeover of the designs. Cleo and Jake’s closeness and respect for one another was also quite wonderful.

The plot at times felt a bit thin, and the ending a bit contrived. Also, Cleo got over her shame and humiliation just a little too fast to be believable. It felt a bit like the story had to hurry up and conclude within a certain page count.

Overall though, a highly enjoyable read and I recommend it. I also look forward to the sequel(s).

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

Favorite Quotes:

She loathed stubborn men: they were so often underqualified and overpresumptuous.

They were a wild and undisciplined people who wouldn’t agree to pay taxes, even for tea. They’d rather drink coffee, simply to avoid taxes.

Which said about everything that needed to be said, given that coffee was a vile drink that tasted like fusty beans.

ARC Review: The Marquess Makes His Move by Diana Quincy

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

Diana Quincy returns with the newest novel in the Clandestine Affairs series with a steamy romance about a half-Arab marquess seeking revenge on—and falling for—London’s most famous mapmaker.

The new footman doesn’t seem to know his place…

London’s most renowned mapmaker is a woman…but nobody knows it. If anyone discovers that Rose Fleming is the power and talent behind the family business, the scandal could ruin them. Rose’s secret is tested by the arrival of a handsome new footman who shows far too much interest in his new mistress. Rose battles an intense attraction to the enigmatic servant, but maintaining a proper distance isn’t easy when you and temptation live under the same roof.

She makes him forget he has a score to settle…

Few have met the reclusive half-Arab Marquess of Brandon, who is rumored to live with a harem of beauties among his mother’s people near Jerusalem. Brandon couldn’t care less what society thinks of him, or that his fellow peers are disdainful of his common blood, but he won’t stand for being robbed. That’s why he’s disguised himself as a footman in the home of a respected mapmaker who cheated Brandon out of his land. But the nobleman’s plans for retribution are complicated by his growing attraction for the secretive lady of the house.

When Brandon uncovers the shocking truth about Rose’s role in his stolen birthright, can a love born of deception really conquer all?

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Where this book really shone was its characters. Especially Alex, who took his job posing as a footman seriously enough to pay an urchin to teach him how to do his duties, as well as provide baskets of food for the other servants when he realized they were going hungry. His haughty demeanor (appropriate for a marquess, not so for a footman) sometimes made the masquerade quite amusing. But there was also an earnestness to him that I appreciated.

Rose, too, was an excellent character. Her life was less than pleasant, but her determination, resilience, and pride in her work made me root for her to find her happy ending.

I also really liked Alex’s Arabian extended family and the way he related to them.

The plot was at times predictable, and at others surprised me. The writing was average and, while not up to my usual standards, there were enough good things to make up for it.

All in all, an enjoyable afternoon’s read.

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

ARC Review: An Affair By the Sea by Erica Ridley

Publication Date: March 15, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens when a wallflower’s extremely make-believe fake suitor appears in the flesh just in time to ruin all her spinsterly plans?

Orphaned pianist Allegra Brown is a poor relation with nothing much to recommend her, save a minuscule dowry and a very big imagination. She has spent the past several years as governess to her younger cousins, who are now ready for their come out—and want Allegra to marry, too. Specifically, they eagerly await the return of Allegra’s dashing, handsome, swashbuckling, conveniently absent and secretly fictional fiancé, the dread pirate Captain L’Amour.

The only place Mr. John Sharp strikes fear is in the courtroom, where his neat, ordered mind is renowned for winning every case he presents. John loves predictability and longs to be a chef. Unfortunately, every time he puts on an apron, the entire kitchen catches fire. Much like passion burning between him and a certain wildly unpredictable spinster, who seems to have confused him for a dashing, exciting pirate. By fulfilling her fantasies, can his dreams come true…together?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This novella was, from the very beginning, absolutely ridiculous. Nothing that happened was really even remotely possible — and yet I found myself just enjoying the ride. It’s a testament to Erica Ridley’s writing skills that she can turn a farcical premise like this into something sweet where I was invested in the characters and their romance and holding out hope for a happy-ever-after.

We have John, a former solicitor who dreams of opening his own tea shop and whose previous attempt at being a chef went up in flames. Literally. His catchphrase could be a combination of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ and ‘be prepared. No, more prepared than that.’

We have Allegra, the poor ward of her uncle who works as an unpaid servant in his household taking care of her two cousins. She dreams of the day she turns 30 and can claim the money left to her should she remain a spinster. Her catchphrase could be ”But it could be true.’

Allegra has spent years spinning ever more ridiculous tales of her long-lost fiance Captain Hamish L’Amour. Her cousins are delighted (and Allegra horrified) when they run into the Captain on the street. John takes it all in stride, after accidentally confirming that indeed, it is he. He and Allegra then turn the case of mistaken identity into an elaborate fake courtship, while falling in love for real and challenging one another to step out of their comfort zones and seize their dreams.

It was feel-good and sweet and terribly funny. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs a good laugh and a dose of happily-ever-after.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Erica Ridley, and WebMotion for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Operatic…pirate…bards? Who sang vicarious love songs in iambic pentameter on command?

“It may surprise you to learn that ‘love at first sight’ is rather quick,” Portia said. “Instantaneous, even. By definition.”

From their perspective, Allegra had always looked this unfashionable. It was difficult to notice an injustice when the injustice was “just the way things are.”

Rude, to be so casually dashing at this hour of the morning.

Miss Portia clapped her hands. “Reprimanded in tandem! Has there ever been anything more lovely?” She gave a happy sigh. “This must be what it feels like to have two parents.”

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