Review of “A Most Unlikely Duke” (Diamonds in the Rough #) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. A Most Unlikely Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-256678-2. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

I would like to preface this review with an apology. In my ignorance of how Edelweiss works, I requested an ARC of this there, not realizing the site only offered digital copies. So, despite the fact that this is a bit late (reviews for ARCs were due for Sophie’s Ambassadors on the 26th), I am leaving an honest review.

I did not know what to expect going in. I adored Sophie’s Thorcliff Manor series, but as I am one of those people who is dismayed with the oversaturation of beefcake on romance covers, I was almost turned off by this. I was doubly dismayed by the fact the cover and some of the other poses they did in the cover shoot didn’t give us a real good look at the dress.

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But upon reviewing the synopsis of the book again, and getting into the story, I changed my mind on the cover, as it does represent the story, although I do think this one would have benefited from a stepback. On the cover, perhaps, he could have been dressed up, and have them in a similar  pose to the one you see, but inside there’s them together and him shirtless. Just a thought.

Now, on to the actual review on the content…

I adored this book. One of the things I love about the historical romance is looking at class and wealth, and all the complications of that. It is so common for a poor or otherwise unattractive girl to get swept off her feet by the powerful lordling, but here, we have a man who had a less-than-ideal upbringing in poverty who has been raised unexpectedly to the aristocracy, and has to learn all that that entails, and a woman who chafes at the expectations she has been raised with her entire life. And I love how Sophie gives these characters a sense of self-awareness at the hypocrisy of upper-class society: you can be as indiscreet as you like, as long as you don’t get caught in a scandal.

One of my favorite moments was when Raphe helps Victoria get her annulment and gives her a place to live with his old friend, Mr. Thompson. I thought of this as a sort of “reverse Pride and Prejudice Lydia” moment.

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Review of “Day of the Duchess” (Scandal & Scoundrel #3) by Sarah MacLean

MacLean, Sarah. The Day of the Duchess. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-237943-6. Print List Price: $7.99.

4.5 stars

In doing my recent reread of some of Sarah’s older titles, I began to notice some of the things I found lacking or just personally unappealing in her earlier work, and until recently, she was definitely more of a hit-or-miss with me.

But her charming Scandal & Scoundrel series led me to fall in love with her work again last year, and despite my misgivings regarding Haven’s behavior in The Rogue Not Taken, I picked it up on release day, and finished it within half a day.

And it is amazing.

In The Rogue Not Taken, the perception most readers likely got of Haven was that of a scoundrel without morals who didn’t care about his wife. But we see in this book that there’s a lot more that went on beneath the surface. His mother was a commoner who managed to snare a duke, and the circumstances that led to his own marriage to Sera were eerily similar. But he does truly love her, despite everything.

Another plus for this book is that we get to see more of Sera’s sisters, who were staples in the other books in the series. Sera’s relationship with her sisters is so wonderful, and it is also sweet to see how their relationship with Haven has evolved since the Incident in book one.

Fan favorite Sesily has a budding romance with American Caleb Calhoun that is a mini-subplot in this book, and possibly the setup for the upcoming Sesily novella? I found this quite funny because I used to watch the show Bates Motel, and there was a character on that show of the same name.

And for more in most likely unintentional pop culture references: Haven’s first name is Malcolm, but many times throughout the book, he is referred to as Mal, and I every time I saw that name on the page, an image of Dove Cameron in Disney’s Descendants popped in my head (the curse of having teenage sisters).

But while her craftsmanship of sympathetic characters has definitely improved,  I did notice a lapse into her old habit of over-using certain words, such as “ass,” and this time she uses for two different things, such as in reference to how Haven landed in the fishpond, as well as to his behavior, the former a bit too often for my liking. I understand that the Talbot sisters didn’t have a genteel upbringing, but surely Haven should have a bigger vocabulary than that? But this is not something that completely takes away from the story. and I would still recommend this to anyone who loves a good second-chance romance.

 

Review of “Crown of Crystal Flame” (Tairen Soul #5) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. Crown of Crystal Flame. New York: Avon Books: 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-201896-0. Print List Price: $7,99.

5 stars

It is rare that I go through a series and find almost nothing to disappoint me, but that was the case with this one. And this one is definitely a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series. While our heroes and their allies have been tested and tortured over the course of the series, with a few devastating losses, it’s satisfying to see the villains finally get their just deserts.

When starting the series, I did not expect to love, or even feel pity for Annoura, as she opposed the Fey at every turn. But my heart softened toward her a bit during the last book, when I saw how the thought of losing her husband would hurt her, and when it comes to pass, without him getting a chance to make peace with her, my heart ached. And the moment when she finally reads his letter to her might just be one of the sweetest moments of the entire series.

 

Review of “Queen of Song and Souls” (Tairen Soul #4) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. Queen of Song and Souls. 2009. New York: Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-202299-8. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

It’s very rare for me to close a book feeling shocked, mostly due to the fact that despite most the claim that romance isn’t formulaic, the promise of a happy ending for the main characters prevents disappointment.

But as this is the first romance series I have invested in where the HEA between the central couple is not won at the end of a single book, and carries over the entire series, along with dealing with a number of connected subplots, I found myself being taken off guard when this book ended by concluding the “Romeo and Juliet” subplot first set up back in Lady of Light and Shadows with a fittingly tragic ending that left me breathless as I finished reading. When Wilson said in an interview about these books that she “broke all the rules,” she was not kidding!

And as much as I adored spending more time in the Fading Lands and Eld in the previous book, I enjoyed returning to Celieria and seeing how the political situation is worsening there.  I find the story much more interesting when the focus is just as much on the dichotomy between the mortal world and the realms of magic, as it is on that between the Fey and Eld.

Review of “King of Sword and Sky” (Tairen Soul #3) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. King of Sword and Sky. 2008. New York: Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-202300-1. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

When I initially picked up the series from the library, I was perplexed to see they classified the series as fantasy, complete with the Fantasy genre tag, when the books are not only distributed by a romance publisher, they clearly note that they are paranormal romance. But while the romance was definitely a huge part of the first two books, and remains a strong component, the epic scale of both this book and the series overall had me questioning the author’s choices when selecting her publishers, especially with genre classification used as a form of marketing, and her books are cross-genre works which don’t entirely fit as one or the other. But I will save a further discussion into genre and marketing for another day, as we need to talk about this book.

Because this is yet another amazing installment in the series. Despite the shift in setting, with Ellysetta, Rain, and their party returning to the Fading Lands, there is just as much to keep them occupied and test them. I admired Ellie’s character development, particularly when she goes against the Fey law against weaving Azrahn to save the tairen kitlings, leaving her vulnerable to further exposure to the High Mage. And it was sweet that Rain joined her as well, and that we see how her birth parents were still connected with her and able to aid her, despite the long separation and their being in captivity under the High Mage.

Something else I thought was really cool was the inclusion of readers’ poetry at the beginning of some of the chapters. Short poems have been a staple of the series since the beginning, providing a greater sense of the mythos of this world, but it is wonderful to see that Wilson opened up her world to reader contributions, and allowed them to fulfill the dream of many to see their work in a published book.

Review of “Lady of Light and Shadows” (Tairen Soul #2) by C.L. Wilson

Wilson, C.L. Lady of Light and Shadows. 2007. New York: Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-202301-8. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

When Wilson first submitted the series for publication, this and the first book were one long book, which were split in two, and you can tell, as it the two books obviously take the form of one story, with Rain and Ellie falling in love and Ellie discovering the secrets about her past. But the split is done well, with the first book establishing the world and the romance as well as Rain’s character, and this one providing insight into Ellie’s past, something that was only alluded to a bit in the first book.

Wilson expands on the great cast of characters, showing some development in the returning characters as well as introducing some new ones. My favorite new addition is Gaelen, who was a dahl’reisen (“lost soul” previously banished from the Fading Lands), but was saved by Ellie’s magic. He is incredibly funny, but more importantly, he is proof that while many of the characters, both mortal and Fey, see the world as black and white, good or evil, and a certain type of magic has been deemed as “evil,” that it is about the way you use it that matters.

This book is much darker than the previous one, with the Mages coming to claim Ellie. One of the darkest moments was the “exorcism,” and this was a moment where I really wanted to hate the mother and Selianne, for being so gullible. But the mother’s reaction very much reflects the attitude toward magic toward magic throughout history, and I did feel at the end she did the right thing.

 

 

Review of “Lord of the Fading Lands” (Tairen Soul #1) by C.L. Wilson

Pause in the MacLean-a-thon! I will try to read the rest of her books by around next weeks when Day of the Duchess releases, but I got these from the library a few days ago and could not wait to read them.

Wilson, C.L. Lord of the Fading Lands. 2007. Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-202302-5. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

C.L. Wilson is an author I discovered a while back when I picked up her last release, 2014’s The Winter King out of curiosity, due to my interest in fantasy romances. Having loved that one, I decided to check out her previous series, and I adored this one just as much.

The basic premise is not an original one, as “ordinary girl falls for wealthy and/or powerful guy” is a trope that has been explored by the likes of Twilight, Fifty Shades, and many other romances across subgenres, but this one spices it up by giving the heroine, Ellie a secret past that she only begins to unravel by the end of this book, as well as powers of her own that make her a fitting equal to Rain Tairen Soul.

I have often complained about the over-saturation of alpha heroes in romance novels, but I feel like this novel has a situation in which this type of hero works. While the story is set in a purely fictional world, the lifestyle of the people of Celieria mimics traditions of people from actual history, and Rain has lived for over a thousand years, and dealt with war, which was the cause of the death of his previous mate, and there is a constant battle with his more animalistic tairen instincts, as that side of him yearns for his truemate.

I also love Wilson fleshes out the secondary characters, devoting portions of the story to them, keeping the story equally balanced between the fantasy and romance aspects. And she doesn’t shy away from depicting some pretty dark stuff, like rape and the use of drugs as a means to this end, as well as how the villains of the story are trying to influence the Celierian royals to side with them instead of the Fey.

 

Review of “One Good Earl Deserves a Lover” (Rules of Scoundrels #2) by Sarah MacLean- (Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover. New York: Avon Books, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-206853-8. Print List Price: $7.99.

3 stars

In binge-reading Sarah MacLean’s novels, I have found that she loves to heroes that either describe themselves at one point or another, or have someone else refer to them as, “an ass.” While I have no issue with plain speaking once in a while, when you use it to describe the behavior of every hero five books in a row, it gets repetitive.

Cross is kind of an ass, and despite her attempts to redeem him, I did not find him as attracted on a new reading as I did initially. He does have a few good qualities, like he did penance for his profligate behavior which led to tragedy within the family by remaining celibate for six years until he meets and falls for Pippa. But I found, as the book went on, that I really didn’t care that much about him. Some heroes with tragic pasts have a way of grabbing you and not letting go, and he sadly was not one of them.

Pippa is, in her own words, an “odd” heroine, and that is endearing at first, especially when she is moved by her curiosity about marital intimacy to seek out Cross, as she has heard he is a legendary rake. But after a while, it started to get tedious.

And is it bad that I actually felt bad for her fiance? Sure, he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, but if he had a bit more brains, he would have been the perfect man, especially given that when she breaks it off with him, I saw that he really is a nice guy. I don’t know if I’m missing something, or if it’s just my preference for heroes that aren’t all broody macho-men, but a part of me actually wished she had left Cross and married her fiance and been happy with him.

Review of “A Rogue by Any Other Name” by Sarah MacLean -(Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. A Rogue by Any Other Name. New York: Avon Books, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-206852-1. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

In an interview discussing this series, MacLean discussed how the tone of this series is much darker than that of her Love by Numbers series, in that this one focuses on four men with dark pasts who work at a gaming hell, while her previous series was very London- and society-focused. And while I am usually not a fan of the overly tortured heroes or very dark settings, I found I enjoyed the this book a lot more, although it may be nostalgia-based bias, as I think this was the first MacLean book I read. But sometimes it is nice to get out of the crowded London ballrooms and drawing-rooms and see a different side of the Regency world you never experienced before.

The hero and heroine are both compelling characters. Penelope is a character readers of the Love by Numbers series will have met before, as she was the Duke of Leighton’s perfect fiancee in Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, and we see that the fallout of the end of their betrothal in this book has led to her being all but umarriageable, with almost eight years having passed with her still unwed, and two of her four sisters forced to make undesirable matches. The hero, Bourne, is a childhood friend, who lost everything years ago in a card game, and now is determined to at least gain some of his property back by marrying her, and get revenge on the man who fleeced him. While marriage-of-convenience plots aren’t always my favorite trope, and I tend to be iffy about revenge plots,  I do like how this one plays out, because of the fact that the two have this history together. Very often, marriages of convenience in historical novels (and what we think of as the typical historical marriage) was between two near-strangers, so it is great to see a story where, even if the two of them have grown and changed in some negative ways since they have last been in contact, they do have some knowledge of one another to build off.

While you see the relationship between them develop in the present, there are also letters from the past interspersed throughout, at the beginning of some chapters and sections of chapters, which illustrate what their relationship was like, and what happened to cause their relationship to change and become the way it is at the beginning when they meet again at the beginning of the novel. And even after the relationship between them crumbles in the past, you see that Penelope has not given up on trying to reach out to him, writing to him even when he’s stopped responding, and even when she doesn’t bother sending the letters anymore.

And just as with her previous series, MacLean presents us with a fun extended cast of characters, including the Cross, Temple, and Chase. And I feel like this is one series that it can be fun to reread, just because one of the future major characters has a major reveal in one of the later books, so it is fun to look into that character’s quotes in this book, and see if there are any hints of that hidden within them.

 

 

Review of “Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart” (Love by Numbers #3) by Sarah MacLean-(Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart. New York: Avon Books, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-185207. Print List Price: #7.99.

4 stars

As I shared in the last review of a historical romance featuring a stuffy duke, I found it hard to get into, due to certain factors. But while this book also features a stuffy duke, I found him to be a much more sympathetic character.

This is a book where I truly felt I was reading a somewhat accurate historical romance, as Simon, the Duke of Leighton, has been conditioned to worry endlessly about reputation, to the point where some see him as an elitist, by his mother, but he is also tempted to follow his heart. While he does have some cringey moments, like constantly saying that he’s a duke when he feels like his status can get him something, he is at heart a great hero, who proves to be a great match for the feisty heroine, Juliana.

Juliana is a character I adored from the previous books, due to her funny turns of phrase (due to English being her second language) and literally being a walking scandal. And she does not disappoint in this book, punching scoundrels, colliding into ballroom decorations, and falling into the Serpentine. The only time I got upset with her was when she did not understand why Simon proposed to her after he compromised her.

Benedick is a character I quite liked, who was another suitor for Juliana’s hand in this one, but unfortunately has yet to get his own book. I do hope he gets one in the future.