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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.”

ARC & Audiobook Review: Lord of Pleasure by Erica Ridley (Rogues to Riches #2)

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Publication Date: May 2, 2017

Synopsis:

Never fall in love at a masquerade…

Nondescript “good girl” Miss Camellia Grenville only ever opens her mouth when forced to sing at her family’s musicales. That is, until the night she infiltrates the ton’s most scandalous masquerade ball on behalf of her sister, and finds herself in the arms—and the bed—of the one man she’d sworn to hate.

Irresistibly arrogant and unapologetically sensuous, infamous rake Lord Wainwright always gets his way. When he accepts a wager to turn his rakish image respectable in just forty days, he never anticipates falling for an anonymous masked lover…or that discovering her identity would destroy them both.

In the Rogues to Riches historical romance series, Cinderella stories aren’t just for princesses… Sigh-worthy Regency rogues sweep strong-willed young ladies into whirlwind romance with rollicking adventure.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was delightful. I had to suspend disbelief a little at the idea that you could spend so much time with someone while masked and they’d have no idea who you were unmasked. But it did make for a lovely story so I forgave it.

I love how Camellia and Lord Wainwright are both playing roles for society. She’s a mouse and a wallflower, he’s ‘the lord of pleasure,’ while neither is really that. Really, one wonders how Lord Wainwright’s reputation got so out of hand. But in secret, they’re much more alike than it would seem. They make a wonderful couple, giving one another strength and courage to be on the outside who they are on the inside.

Camellia and her sisters were determined and outspoken and a joy to watch interact. I hope we get more of them in future novels in this series.

There were just the right amount of obstacles and drama to make it a delicious read and make the happy ending that much more enjoyable.

The audiobook narrator did an excellent job and a very pleasant listening experience. I’ll be continuing the rest of this series in audio and then seeking out more of her narrations.

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

Historical Romance ARC DNF Reviews

The Rake Gets Ravished by Sophie Jordan (The Duke Hunt #2)

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Publication Date: February 22, 2022

Synopsis:

New York Times bestselling author Sophie Jordan returns with an all new sizzling historical romance in her Duke Hunt series about a woman determined to reclaim her family home from the dangerously handsome owner of London’s most popular gaming hell.

The owner of London’s most popular gaming hell, wealthy and powerful Silas Masters is feared by men and desired by women—except Mercy Kittinger. When the blackguard wins her family home in a game of cards, Mercy steals into Silas’s rooms, intent on destroying the proof. But things don’t go to plan…

She would have her way with him…

Caught in the act, Mercy must be bold to save herself… even if it means seducing the dangerous rogue and then disappearing with the dawn, debt voucher in hand. Safe at home and determined to settle back into her quiet, uneventful life, Mercy burns at the memory of her night spent ravishing the most compelling man she’d ever met. Thank goodness she’ll never see him again!

He didn’t see her coming…

No one trifles with Silas Masters. Even if he could forget the dark-haired seductress who undid him, he can’t allow anyone to steal from him. He will hunt down the sultry woman who haunts his dreams and show her just how sweet payback can be.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This was disappointing. I love a good regency romance, but good is the operative word here. The premise looked interesting, but as it progressed I became more and more convinced that it was not for me. The idea that Mercy would have had no romantic relationships and yet have extensively studied her brother’s erotic literature collection and be ready and willing to put that study to use stretches plausibility. But I could have forgiven that if the writing style hadn’t grated so.

We have such phrases as “he husked” — which I take it means his voice was husky, not that he suddenly started husking corn. Even that I could have forgiven.

However. Then I encountered this sentence: “Those unfurling lips were like a forest on a moonless night, with all kinds of magic humming below the surface, out of sight, but real and present.” And that’s where I decided my time could better be spent elsewhere. Sails unfurl. Large pieces of cloth unfurl. While lips miiiiiiight be described as “furled” I have never seen them described as “unfurling.” Not to mention the rest of that ridiculous sentence.

Not for me. If you like overly flowery and slightly strange similes, or can forgive them more easily than I, then you might enjoy this book very much. I care about writing style too much to do so.

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


Say You’ll Be My Lady by Kate Pembrooke (The Unconventional Ladies of Mayfair #2)

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Publication Date February 22, 2022

Synopsis:

Opposites attract in this irresistible Regency romance, where a proper gentleman who lives by the ton‘s rules and a lady who lives to break them try to resist one another—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton series.

Lady Serena Wynter doesn’t mind flirting with a bit of scandal—she’s determined to ignore society’s strictures and live life on her own fiercely independent terms. These days, she chooses to pour her passions into charitable causes with the vibrant group of ladies in her Wednesday Afternoon Social Club. But there is one man who stirs Serena’s deepest emotions, one who’s irresistibly handsome, infuriatingly circumspect, and too honorable for his own good…

Charles Townshend, former boxer and consummate gentleman, worries Serena’s reckless nature will earn her the ton’s scorn…or put her in serious danger. Though Charles isn’t immune to the attraction between them, a shocking family secret prevents him from ever acting on his desires. But it seems Lady Serena doesn’t intend to let his penchant for propriety stand in the way of a mutually satisfying dalliance.

My Review:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

This book was disappointing. It started with a conversation between a group of ladies at an unconventional ladies’ club. Which… should have been interesting. But it was so. Boring. Mostly because we have no sense of who any of these ladies are? There’s a name and some insipid comments to another name and… They’re not really discussing anything of substance and it goes on. And on.

The same sort of thing keeps happening. We get the introduction of the Hero and … yet another boring conversation with a lot of words that say very little. I started to skim about there and nothing really changed — the book seems to rely very heavily on long-winded telling and absolutely no showing. Nothing about it snagged my interest.

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

ARC Review and Blog Blitz: A Perfect Equation by Elizabeth Everett

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Publishing Date: February 15, 2022

Synopsis:

How do you solve the Perfect Equation? Add one sharp-tongued mathematician to an aloof, handsome nobleman. Divide by conflicting loyalties and multiply by a daring group of women hell-bent on conducting their scientific experiments. The solution is a romance that will break every rule.

Six years ago, Miss Letitia Fenley made a mistake, and she’s lived with the consequences ever since. Readying herself to compete for the prestigious Rosewood Prize for Mathematics, she is suddenly asked to take on another responsibility—managing Athena’s Retreat, a secret haven for England’s women scientists. Having spent the last six years on her own, Letty doesn’t want the offers of friendship from other club members and certainly doesn’t need any help from the insufferably attractive Lord Greycliff.

Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff cannot afford to make any mistakes. His lifelong dream of becoming the director of a powerful clandestine agency is within his grasp. Tasked with helping Letty safeguard Athena’s Retreat, Grey is positive that he can control the antics of the various scientists as well as manage the tiny mathematician—despite their historic animosity and simmering tension.

As Grey and Letty are forced to work together, their mutual dislike turns to admiration and eventually to something… magnetic. When faced with the possibility that Athena’s Retreat will close forever, they must make a choice. Will Grey turn down a chance to change history, or can Letty get to the root of the problem and prove that love is the ultimate answer?

About the Author:

Elizabeth Everett lives in upstate New York with her family. She likes going for long walks or (very) short runs to nearby sites that figure prominently in the history of civil rights and women’s suffrage. Her series is inspired by her admiration for rule breakers and belief in the power of love to change the world.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I enjoyed this book. It has the classic enemes-to-lovers thing going for it as well as a hero and heroine who have put up some pretty strong walls around their hearts and have a lot of soul-searching to do before they can be together in a healthy way.

I loved the concept of Athena’s Retreat as a haven for female scientists, though I thought they really could have used more page time. A lot of them were glossed over so much that it was hard to keep track of them. There was a lot of opportunity for representation among them but it was all so minor it didn’t add up to much. However, it is possible they had more page time and development in the first book. Even so, more page time in this book would have balanced a very Letty and Grey heavy story.

I loved Letty’s family and that rather than toss her out for her mistake they simply retrench around her. I wish they’d had more page time. Sam and his ability to sell anything was a lot of fun.

I really loved Grey’s boyish moments when he lets his control slip enough to actually express emotion. Especially when Milly and Willy show him sodium’s exothermic reaction (explosion).

I loved Winthram and how they all accepted him as a man without question despite him being trans. I can’t speak to how it was handled in the first book as I haven’t read it yet, but I really liked his treatment in this one.

Grantham was amusing and could have used more page time. I’m definitely looking forward to his book next.

The villains were not as villainous as they first appeared and I appreciated that they weren’t cartoonishly evil. Nevin definitely did not make me like him very much until his decent act at the end. It was a good choice and definitely showed him as a character who could be redeemed.

There were some things that bothered me, however, in addition to the lack of page time of the members of Athena’s Retreat:

Letty and Grey had too much sexual attraction going. Like they couldn’t have a conversation without having sex somewhere improbable. As the story went on, the time between improbable sex scenes decreased and my enjoyment decreased with it.

For a book about a mathematician, there’s surprisingly little math. Mostly we get visions of Letty’s weird math world inside her head which felt strange. It’s just accepted that to do math you have to zone out and experience the inside of your head as a river with equations floating around in it and then come to and realize you’ve covered a blackboard in equations. It just… didn’t feel like an accurate portrayal, speaking as someone who went to school with a bunch of scientists and mathematicians.

The other scientists’ work was also glossed over and most of what we do see is played for comedic effect. Which is funny but… I feel like they could have shown some of the serious side of science? Not just the escaped tarantulas and bird hats side with some explosions thrown in for good measure?

Letty and Grey’s problems were relatable and made them easy to root for however, and their banter and eventual getting together were very romantic and made for excellent reading. So, despite my issues with it I did very much enjoy it.

I would recommend it for fans of Evie Dunsmore’s Bringing Down the Duke (League of Extraordinary Women) series.

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

Favorite Quotes:

Violet colored prettily, and Kneland gave an abrupt nod, in the way men use a gesture to express anything from undying love to polite disinterest.

Grey had seen him laugh on only two occasions — both times after he’d been hit on the head.

Excerpt:

Slipping through the crowd, Letty approached the building as a thin wail rose from the doorway. A beady-eyed man with a pinched mouth and spidery fingers had grabbed the shopgirl by the wrist, halting her escape.

“Don’t bother trying to go to work. We’re shutting this place down until they stop employing women in their factories and hire the men back,” the man said.

A tinkling of broken glass punctuated his threat as someone launched a sign at the ground-floor window of the shop. The atmosphere turned in an instant from hectoring to predatory. With a foreshadowing of violence, the group of individuals molded into a single organism-a dragon ready to pounce on whatever threatened. This monster’s hoard consisted of power rather than gold.

“Oh, no, you don’t,” Letty said through gritted teeth, clenching the straps of her heavy reticule in one hand.

“Letty!” Sam called after her. “Letty Fenley, you come back here this instant. I know you don’t listen to me, but for goodness’ sake, will you listen to me?”

Fear set her stomach to churning, but Letty allowed nothing to show on her face. Instead, she stuck her chin out and her shoulders back. Never again would she suffer a man intimidating her into submission, and she’d be damned if she watched this happen to any other woman. As Flavia Smythe-Harrows always said, sexual dimorphism does not excuse bad behavior.

What a pity Letty didn’t have that printed on a banner.

Without benefit of a rival sign, she used what was available in the moment. Swinging her reticule around twice to achieve maximal momentum, Letty brought it down, hard, on the wrist of Beady Eyes.

“You let go of that girl, right now, you weasel-faced, onion-breathed . . .” Letty’s stream of insults was drowned in the crowd’s protest at the sight of their fellow man being assaulted by what someone deemed “half a pint-sized shrew.”

“Half a pint indeed,” Letty shouted back. “I’m less than an inch shorter than the median height for a woman of my weight, based on-Oy, stop waving that sign in my face.”

Before Letty could take another swing at Beady Eyes, the sound of horses whinnying and men shouting from somewhere at the edge of the crowd broke the tension; a decrescendo from taunting voices to garbled protests heralded the arrival of authority. Jumping up for a better look, Letty spied two well-dressed men on horseback.

“On your way,” a clipped, aristocratic voice shouted to the crowd. “Disperse at once.”

The crowd buckled, its mood shifting from dangerous to frustrated. Letty protected the girl as best she could from the sudden shoving around them. Most of her attention, however, fixed on the familiarity of those crisp, clean syllables echoing in the air.

She would know that voice anywhere. Their rescue rode toward them in the form of Lord William Hughes, the Viscount Greycliff. A traitorous wave of relief that he would put an end to the danger was quickly followed by a cold dose of shame.

Six years ago, she’d believed him the epitome of nobility and elegance until that voice had delivered a verdict upon her head. The words he’d said and the pain they’d caused were etched into her memory forever.

“I don’t care if you’re Prince Albert himself. Move your arse, man!” A deeper baritone, the voice of Greycliff’s companion, now carried over the crowd. “Put down the signs, or I’ll put them down for you.”

“Are they here to rescue us?” the girl asked.

Visions of Greycliff riding up on a snow white steed flashed before Letty’s eyes. A handful of years before, such an image would have set her heart to racing and put roses on her cheeks. She would have caught her ruffled skirts in one hand, ready to be swept away by a hero, lit from behind by a shaft of golden sunlight.

Not anymore. The dirty grey-brown reality of working-class London remained solid and smelly before her eyes. These days, romantic scenes remained between the pages of a well-thumbed book.

“Never wait for someone else to rescue you,” Letty advised. “Especially a man. They’ll ride away on those fine horses afterward, and where will you be? Still here, cleaning the mess, having to work for an owner who couldn’t even be bothered to come out here after you. Rescue yourself, my dear.”

“Shall we run for it?”

“We could, but I’ve a better idea.” Letty turned to Beady Eyes and held up her reticule. The man flinched, but she had other plans.

“Want to get rid of two troublesome women?” she asked him. Pouring out a palmful of coins, Letty made an offer. “Here’s your chance.”

Blog Tour & ARC Review: Siren of Sussex by Mimi Matthews

Publishing Date: January 11, 2022

Welcome to the Siren of Sussex book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

USA Today bestselling historical romance writer Mimi Matthews makes her Berkley debut with a boldly feminist tale about a daring equestrienne in her quest for independence just as the birth of haute couture takes the echelons of Victorian society by storm.
 
Matthews’ novel is inspired by the real-life Pretty Horsebreakers, a scandalous group of equestriennes and infamous courtesans at the forefront of fashion trends in Victorian London who defied the rules of polite society, and Charles Worth, the father of haute couture. THE SIREN OF SUSSEX (Berkley Trade Paperback Original; January 11, 2022) introduces Evelyn Maltravers, an incurable bluestocking determined to make her first and only season in London a roaring success.
 
Evelyn Maltravers is not exactly the woman who comes to mind when picturing a distinguished lady of the ton. More suited to riding than dancing, and much more opinionated than a young lady ought to be, her chances of securing a successful match have always been slim. But after her eldest sister is embroiled in scandal, that is exactly what she must do. Freshly arrived in London, Evelyn has one season to secure a husband and ensure both her own future and that of her four younger sisters. While Evelyn knows she will never dazzle the ton in a ballroom, there is one place where she has the advantage over all the ladies of polite society—on horseback in Rotten Row. But if she is to rival the alluring beauty of the Pretty Horsebreakers, she will need a tailor unafraid to take risks to make her the most fashionable equestrienne of the ton.
 
Evelyn turns to half-Indian dressmaker Ahmad Malik, who has a unique talent for bringing out his clients’ best features. Despite the inherent barriers he faces to becoming part of high society, Ahmad is working toward owning his own shop by designing the eye-catching habits of the Pretty Horsebreakers. Evelyn is convinced that Ahmad is the only person who can make her debut at Rotten Row a success. Ahmad knows that Evelyn, a fierce and confident woman on horseback, is the perfect muse, and an alluring subject to display his designs to the ton, if only he can set aside the intense attraction he feels for her.
 
With both their futures at stake, Ahmad will have to turn the diamond in the rough into the diamond of the season—while they both strive not to lose their hearts in the process.
 
Mimi Matthews delivers an enthralling romance while exploring themes of race, class, and the lingering effects of British colonialism. Drawing from her own Indian heritage and experience as an avid horse rider, Matthews brings to life Ahmad and Evelyn, two outsiders who change the course of Victorian society.

Author Bio:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library Journal, Publishers Weekly, Booklist, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, and two Siamese cats. Learn more online at mimimatthews.com.

Author photo by Berkley Jove (TR)

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Characters: 4 stars
Writing Style: 4 stars
Plot: 3 stars
Cover: 5 stars
Representation: 5 stars
Romance: 5 stars
Enjoyment: 4 stars
Overall: 4 stars

I really, really enjoyed this story. There are moments that absolutely shine — especially when Ahmad is inspired to create a dress- and I really enjoy the characters of Evelyn and Ahmad, as well as their friends. If anything, we get more of Ahmad in this book than we do Evelyn, and he is a truly good character who was a joy to read about. He’s everything a romance hero should be. I loved that it was a “closed-door” romance, which is a term I hadn’t really encountered before but I’ll definitely be looking out for more. There was plenty of passion and emotion but it didn’t hinge on sex, which is a rare find in a romance novel. The discussion of class and privilege was welcome, as was Ahmad’s determination to see the worth in people, not their station in life.

While I quite enjoyed the romance as it developed, Evelyn and Ahmad’s instant attraction was rather too based on insta-lust, however, and for the first quarter of the book I kept thinking of putting it down because I was afraid it wouldn’t deepen into something more substantial. It did deepen, though, and became a romance I could definitely root for. Still, I wish we’d gotten a bit more of Evelyn. She loves her horse, she pretends she’s not a bluestocking, she’s trying to provide for her sisters, but there’s not much beyond that.

While I appreciated the beauty of the dresses and Ahmad’s passion for designing them, I didn’t need the action broken quite so often with a description of what every character was wearing.

Everything also seemed just a tad improbable, even though, again, I quite enjoyed the story. Evelyn is supposedly attempting to launch herself into society to find a wealthy husband… but spends most of the novel alone with Ahmad. We never get a deep sense of who her friends are or who their love interests are, because the focus is so very single-minded. Then, too, all the obstacles and problems are so easily surmounted. Even the villain of the piece seems quite villainous until she melts away to nothing.

…I realize all of that makes my review sound a bit nitpicky or negative but that’s not what I’m going for at all. It’s more like, highlighting areas of an already very good story where it could be developed or polished just a tad more in order to make it really shine. After a few weeks away from it, I can hardly remember Evelyn at all but Ahmad sticks in my mind. He’s an excellent character and needed Evelyn to be a bit more developed to balance him properly.

All in all, it was undoubtedly quite good and I absolutely recommend it, but it could have been something more. Yes, I enjoyed it, yes the romance was swoony, yes the main characters were lovely… but with just a hint more depth and struggle it would have been an instant favorite and would have catapulted the author onto my auto-buy list. I will still look forward to her future books, however.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“Love!” Lady Arundell scoffed. “How can that possibly be?”

“He sewed pockets in all of her skirts,” Anne said.

“Pockets.” Julia signed. “Imagine.”

“And she didn’t even have to ask him to do it,” Stella said.

Non-exclusive Excerpt:

A surge of disappointment dimmed Evelyn’s smile. It occurred to her, quite suddenly, how little she knew about him.

Of course, he must have a sweetheart. Heaven’s sake, he was probably married! Just because he didn’t wear a wedding band didn’t mean he didn’t have a wife—and probably several children besides. It was none of her affair.

She turned back to the shelves. “In that case . . . What about a romance?”

“No romances,” he said darkly.

“No?” Was he one of those stuffy men who disapproved of romance novels? Many did. Even so, she’d expected better of him. A man who designed clothing so beautifully shouldn’t be averse to sentiment. “What about this one, then? Silas Marner. It only came out last year.”

Mr. Malik drew it from the shelf. It was bound in brown cloth with gilt lettering on the spine. “What’s it about?”

“An individual and his place in society. The hero of the story is a weaver. A man with no family to speak of, who keeps himself apart from his community.”

“A bit too close to home.” He returned the book to the shelf. “She needs something bright. Something to boost her spirits.”

Evelyn wondered why. Was she ill? Melancholic? Had she had some sort of disappointment? “In that case”—she reached for a Jane Austen novel—“I recommend this one.”

He took it from her, giving the title a dubious glance. “Northanger Abbey.”

“It’s Miss Austen’s satire of a Gothic novel. A vastly entertaining read. It should take her mind off whatever it is that’s troubling her.”

Mr. Malik thumbed through the pages. His expression was doubtful.

“I confess,” she said “there is a romance in the story, but it’s witty rather than mawkish. I can’t imagine she won’t enjoy it.”

“It’s still a romance.”

A cough sounded nearby, along with the thump of books being shoved back on a shelf. It was a reminder that she and Mr. Malik weren’t alone. Far from it. The shop seemed to be growing busier.

Evelyn sunk her voice. “What does she have against romance?”

“Nothing,” he replied, his tone equally low. “I just don’t want her to get any ideas.”

“Ideas about what?”

“About happily-ever-afters.”

The wide swell of Evelyn’s skirts brushed his leg. She belatedly realized that she’d drawn closer to him. That their conversation had taken on an air of intimacy. “You object to them?”

“I don’t believe in fairy tales,” he said.

She gave him an amused look. “Is that what they are?”

“In my experience.”

“How illuminating.”

“Is it?” He turned another page.

“Indeed. You’re a cynic, Mr. Malik. I wouldn’t have thought it.”

“I’m a realist.”

“Happily-ever-afters are real. For some people, at least. And even if they weren’t . . . A little romance never hurt anyone.”

His eyes lifted to hers. There was an expression in them that was hard to read. “You think not?”

Butterflies unfurled their wings in her stomach. The same feeling she’d had when she’d first touched his hand. A fluttering, breathless sensation. As if her corset had been laced too tightly. “No,” she said. And then she thought of Fenny. “Not in a novel, anyway.”

His mouth curled into the barest hint of a smile.

Once again, she had the unsettling sensation that he could read her mind. She took a step back from him. “Forgive me, but I mustn’t linger. My maid is waiting for me.”

He closed the book, clutching it in his hand. “Thank you for your help.”

“It was my pleasure. I hope your . . .” Wife? Sweetheart? “I hope she enjoys the story.”

“My cousin.”

Evelyn nearly stumbled in the process of taking another step backward. “I beg your pardon?”

“The book is for my cousin.”

His words penetrated before she could school her features. She was certain an expression of relief passed over her face.

She was equally certain that he saw it.

Heaven only knew what he must think.

“Your cousin. Well, that’s . . . that’s splendid.” Splendid? Evelyn’s eyes closed against a swell of embarrassment. She was quite ready to disappear into a hole in the earth. She took another step back. “Please convey my regards.”

His smile broadened. “I shall.”

From THE SIREN OF SUSSEX published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2021 by Mimi Matthews.

ARC Review: Something Fabulous by Alexis Hall

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Publishing Date: January 25, 2022

Synopsis:

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured of the other.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was absolutely a delight and I LOVED it. I knew after reading Boyfriend Material that this was going to be good, especially since it’s a queer regency and I love queer regencies. But it surpassed my every expectation.

Was it over the top? Yes. Was it absolutely hilarious? Also yes. I highlighted no less than 58 passages as I was reading. Was it also surprisingly sweet? Also yes.

Valentine was exceedingly grumpy and tended toward the opposite of introspection, though he did eventually realize that he was demisexual and also gay. Bonny did not delude himself as to his sexuality but tended rather strongly toward the dramatic. Really he and his sister made quite the pair and were rather a trial for staid, determinedly practical Valentine.

Having nearly all the side characters be queer made this over-the-top story even more delightful, and made for plenty of comical ‘of course they are’ moments of realization for Valentine. I am here for unapologetically queer regency romance characters. Really there aren’t enough of them.

Do you like Regency romance? Do you like queer romance? If yes, then do yourself a favor and read this. You’ll thank me, once the hysterical laughter has subsided and you can breathe again. In case you need further enticement, Alexis Hall has described it as “Dude, Where’s My Curricle,” which is both hilarious and accurate.

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

Favorite Quotes:

“You need to go away this instant and put your head in a bucket of water.”

Tarleton did not, in fact, go away that instant and put his head in a bucket of water.


Thankfully, Valentine had slept where he had fallen and still in his clothes– thus sparing them both an intimacy they were not prepared for.


He positively pitied the poor woman who was going to have to spend her life with the lightning storm of wayward impulses given human form that was Bonaventure Tarleton.


“What is happening, please? I did not invite an assessment of my kneeling.”


Not to be outdone by physical expressions of dismay, Tarleton flung both his hands in the air, like a diminutive Prometheus defying the gods.


Having apparently taken his fill of the bitter draft that was Valentine, he cast himself upon a nearby chair and flung an arm across his face. “What is wrong with you?”

This felt unwarranted. And somewhat hypocritical, coming from a man who clearly had many, many things wrong with him.


There was a long silence. They Tarleton stood up, but only in order that he might further misuse the furniture by violently reoccupying it.


“I’m hoping a madcap chase across the country will bring you together.”

“It is doing literally the opposite.”


Growling with all the gravitas of a lapdog, Tarleton tugged again at Valentine’s coat. “I may be but little, but I am fierce.”


Oh God, what did that mean? And why was Valentine suddenly too warm and too… looked at? Even though Tarleton wasn’t actually looking at him.


“Well,” returned Tarleton, with a noticeable lack of gratitude, “thank you for destroying my dreams.”

“I was under the impression I was saving you from an unpleasant reading experience.”


Behind him came the chaotic rustling of a chaotic person getting dressed chaotically.


“A Stable? Anything? Tarleton, we could die.”

“This is England. If people died of rain, there’d be nobody left.”


“Of course it will hold me. I’m tied to a chair. You’ve tied a duke to a chair. I hope you’re pleased with yourselves.”


Valentine’s eyes were beginning to ache from the demands of expressing so much scepticism.


Silence descended like the guillotine.


Peggy shrugged. “Hero. Heroine. In an ideal world, one would be both.”


While Valentine was a duke and, therefore, did not whine, he was nevertheless aware that his tone was not as unwhineful as it could have been.


For someone with all the poise and patience of a sparkler, Bonny was moving with astonishing care.


“No,” said Valentine slowly, and with a vague sense of dread that perhaps he was going to be peculiar even by the standards of people who were peculiar. “I have never felt that sort of inclination towards anyone, man or woman.”


Bonny just sparkled enigmatically. “Follow me.”

“That’s not an explanation,” Valentine pointed out. “That’s a direction.”


And for a little while, he was nothing but horizon.


“It is now the nineteenth century, and we respect women and treat them as equals in areas not pertaining to politics, property, warfare, finances, or the law.”


Things had gone astray. That much had been obvious for quite some time. But Valentine was starting to realise that astray was not so much a binary state as a spectrum of disaster upon which they had not yet ceased progressing.


A huge yawn attacked Valentine out of nowhere.


“For someone who reads as much as you do, your sense of the heroic is oddly banal.”

“Sometimes the truest heroism is.”


Top 24 Reads of 2021 (not counting rereads; out of 214 total read AKA the books I loved the most)

Books 1-12

Books 13-24

Overall the books I read this year were excellent, and it was hard to narrow it down even to the overly generous 24 I chose. They were also overwhelmingly very queer which, quite frankly, was a delight.

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.