My Hellion, My Heart- Amalie Howard and Angie Morgan

This is the third book in Howard and Morgan’s “Lords of Essex” series. I read and reviewed the first book “My Rogue, My Ruin” and really enjoyed it, but I liked this one even better. Don’t worry: you don’t need to have read the previous books in the series to enjoy this one.

The Story-

Princess Irina is in her third season, and is expected to make a match, but none of her suitors can match up to the man who has always been lurking in the back of her mind, her former guardian Henry. Henry is a different man since the war; he sees himself as unfit for anyone, but he is continually drawn to the one woman he has always considered off limits.

My Thoughts-

I loved Irina in particular. This heroine can keep up with men in all areas, protects herself, and has the wit to match. She is a whisky-drinking, knife-toting, sassy gal, and I wanted to be her friend. Henry, while playing the part of handsome, brooding guy, was sexy and swoon-worthy, but I felt he was somewhat too closed up for too long. Not sure I’d have waited for him if I was Irina. The only other niggle I had was who turned out to be the bad guy. I won’t say more because it would be a spoiler, but I was disappointed. That being said, I loved the plot and characters, and found it cohesive and compelling.

The Bottom Line-

This is an improvement upon an already wonderful series with refreshingly different Regency characters, especially the heroine. I am looking forward to what comes next from Howard and Morgan, and will happily read whatever they write. 4 1/2 stars!

The Bad Luck Bride- Janna MacGregor

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The Bad Luck Bride is the debut book of author Janna MacGregor, but you certainly wouldn’t know it by reading it. As a fan of historicals (and beautiful covers), I was super excited to dive into this one. What surprised me most was the combination of emotional depth and gorgeous prose coming from Ms. MacGregor. This is not a light, fluffy story about some bride who keeps having trivial “bad luck”.

The Story-
Alexander has vowed revenge on his supposed friend who ruined the life of his sister, and part of that revenge includes taking his fiancee. Since he has the financial means to do so, and she happens to be somewhat desperate, this task isn’t a particularly hard feat to manage. But actually connecting with his new bride and building a life with her? That’s another matter entirely. Especially since the marriage was built on deception.
Claire believes she is cursed. Her previous fiances have all died or broken engagements. When Lord Hallworth saves her from yet another broken engagement embarrassment, she begins to hope that her luck has changed. But old demons don’t die, and marriage alone cannot save her.

My Thoughts-
From the very first page, I was struck at the vocabulary and gorgeous figurative language that the author uses. Disclaimer: yes, I am a high school AP English teacher. It reminded me of reading something closer to Jane Austen than many modern historical romances. Don’t get me wrong: it isn’t too difficult or flowery for the modern reader, but I appreciated that Ms. MacGregor respected the readers’ intelligence enough to put more thought into word choice and imagery. Okay, I’ll quit my English “critique” and move on to what most of you really care about: the characters and the story.
I felt for both of these characters: they both had such tough things to work through. I like that the author dealt with these issues realistically and didn’t just “heal” them with sex. Just like real life, real things take time and hard work to process.
The story was fast-paced in the beginning and slowed a bit in the middle, but by the end, I was racing again to see what would happen. I have to say: I was surprised by the outcome. Rather than relying on an obvious trope, the author changes course in the final chapters. There are some questions left unanswered which will lead into book 2 (which I cannot wait for), but I found the ending satisfying and more realistic than I expected.
I guess that is one of the more interesting things Ms. MacGregor brings to this book: people act more like real, flawed people than is normal in these types of books. Situations are more realistic. This is no fairy-tale, and I am not disappointed by that. After all, dashing Willoughby leaves Marianne, and Anna and Wentworth screwed up their lives for years, waiting to be together. Sometimes happy endings are hard to come by because we make it hard on ourselves.

The Bottom Line-
Janna MacGregor is poised to be included in the top echelon of historical romance authors. This is an outstanding debut novel, and fans of historical romance should definitely check this out. I cannot wait to see what else she has in store. 4 1/2 stars

Buy it Now: Amazon

The Duke’s Unexpected Bride- Lara Temple

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I am having some trouble putting my thoughts together about this book. I’ve never read Lara Temple before, but I love historical and Regency romance, so I couldn’t say no to this one. On one hand, this was cute and hilarious, on another, it was pretty dark and disturbing. Actually, that is a pretty good description of the two mains…. Let me try to break it down for you.

The Story-
Sophie is a country-girl, staying with her wealthy aunt (? can’t remember…a wealthy old lady that never shows up in the plot), and she has out-lasted other members of the family who came to stay due to her willingness to take care of the aunt’s dog, Marmaduke. The pug is hilarious and is really another character in the story. Duke something-or-other, Max, runs into her on a walk with the dog and is captured by her enthusiasm and spirit. (Although he won’t admit it for most of the book.) Max is dealing with some dark things that happened in his past, but is seemingly continually drawn to Sophie which leads to an engagement of convenience sort of thing.

My Thoughts-
The first half of the book is an enjoyable piece of fun and is a unique take on a Regency romance. The second half feels more like a book you’ve read, albeit with some twists and surprises, but it misses some of the joy in the beginning. The characters, especially Sophie, are masterfully developed, and the secondary characters make me want to look through this author’s backlist to see if their stories have been told. I guess the somewhat dark turn of the plot threw me a bit considering I had been laughing at the highjinks of a pug getting his portrait painted in an earlier chapter.

The Bottom Line-
If you like dogs or humor in your historical romance, this is a no-brainer. If you like historical Regency romance, this is much better than many that are out there. The characters are well-written, and the story clicks right along. I will be reading more by this author and am going to check out her backlist now. 4 stars

Any Duchess Will Do- Tessa Dare

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I’ll admit it: I judge books by their covers.  Something about seeing a big, beautiful dress on the cover of a book brings me back to my childhood when I went rifling through my aunt’s closet.  Perhaps this is the reason that I am stuck in a Regency rabbit-hole.  Each time I read a new book, I see another one that is just as pretty that I am dying to try.  Regency books are my Pringles.  So, after finishing a Lisa Kleypas and a Sarah MacLean, I just had to try out Tessa Dare.  Let me tell you, while the cover might be like the others, this is no ordinary Regency book.
The Story

Pauline is a farmer’s daughter and a barmaid/serving girl who has a head for numbers, tons of pride, and is fiercely protective of her disabled sister.  To me, she feels a little like Belle in the beginning of Beauty and the Beast: everyone in town thinks she’s weird, but she has big dreams. Enter Griff, a duke whose mother is desperate to marry him off to literally anyone.  She brings him to this town full of unmarried women and wants him to pick one for her to train into a duchess ala My Fair Lady.

My Thoughts 

Y’all, I can’t even. This book was so good and so funny. I laughed out loud at several parts, and I just LOVED Pauline. Griff initially selects her because she is so disheveled to spite his mother,  and his mother calls his bluff. Almost immediately, he starts backpedaling , making plans to leave for London saying that surely Pauline can’t drop everything and leave. Pauline replies,

“Certainly I can[…] I can leave my post anytime. […] I don’t need a post at all, do I? Not if I’m to be a duchess. […] Mr. Fosbury, […] I’ll be leaving now.  I don’t expect I’ll be coming back today. I’m taking the duke ‘round to the cottage so he can ask for my hand in marriage […] Shall we, your grace?”

See? No wimpy heroine here, just one who knows herself and knows her mind and refuses to be talked down to or underestimated.  Don’t get me wrong, she has a tough road, and pure pluck isn’t enough to overcome every obstacle in her way, but she is so real and original that I had a blast reading her story.  There’s even a nice little callback to Pretty Woman that, even though it’s been done before, makes me smile every time.  I think my only disappointment was the first sex scene because of the lack of foreplay, but that is corrected in later scenes. One scene in particular is like OMG: hot and fun.

The Good

There is so much good here.  Obviously, the heroine was my favorite, but the hero, his past and how it was handled is lovely.  Even the duchess is a sympathetic, full character rather than a broadly-drawn stereotype.  The story is compelling,  well-written and, even though it presents tropes we are comfortable with, the author does it in new and interesting ways that makes them feel new.

The Bottom Line

I feel like any romance reader, Regency fan or not, would enjoy this book.  It is universally enjoyable: both funny and heart-wrenching.  I cannot wait to read Ms. Dare again, and indeed, this book again as it will become one of those special books that I will return to when I need to smile.  5 stars

A Rogue By Any Other Name- Sarah MacLean

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Yes, I am on a bit of a Historical run lately, but that seems to be a rabbit hole I have difficulty climbing out of because I love them so much.  But that is another topic for another blog post! This one is all about Sarah MacLean’s “A Rogue By Any Other Name” which is the first book in the Rules of Scoundrels Series.  This is my first MacLean for reasons which I know not of, but it will not be my last.

The Story– Penelope (I have always loved that name) is practically an old maid because of a previous broken engagement and the scandal that followed.  In fact, she’s so hopeless that her father has attached a large parcel of land to her dowry to attract suitors. How crappy would that be? “Please! Marry my pathetic daughter for lots of money!” Bourne is her childhood friend who happened to lose the previously mentioned land in a card game to a dastardly villain (not Penelope’s father). He’s spent the past several years planning revenge, acquiring a fortune, and looking for an opportunity to get his land back. Wow! This should be easy, right? Penelope gets to marry her childhood friend, and Bourne gets his land. Not so fast… Of course, it isn’t that easy!

My Thoughts– Penelope certainly has reason to doubt herself and the character with her motivations was well-created, but I have rarely felt so badly for a romantic heroine. I felt her disappointment so acutely, I wanted to slap Bourne for his idiocity.  I guess there wouldn’t have been enough conflict without his moronic actions and attitude, but it left me wondering whether or not he deserved her love up to very close to the end.  She walked the line of desperation and letting him use her a little too long for my taste.

The Good– Since I’ve gone on and on about Penelope, obviously she is a compelling character. I loved the letters she had written Bourne over the years which opened each chapter.  The story clicks right along, never boring, or lagging.  The sex scenes are hot and sometimes unexpected, and a couple of the kissing scenes stand out.

The Bottom Line– I wanted to plop Penelope down in a Nora Roberts book with all the girlfriends and coffee just to give her someone to talk to and maybe knock some sense into her. That being said, I really enjoyed this book. It is a true “bodice-ripper” as two different outfits get destroyed, but the characters have real depth.  Any fan of historical romance would certainly enjoy this book. 4 stars

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Devil In Winter- Lisa Kleypas

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While I have been a romance fan for about 25 years, until recently I hadn’t actively sought out new authors.  I followed recommendations of friends and always bought the newest Nora Roberts.  Other than that, I skipped around between a wide variety of books whose covers and descriptions appealed to me.  I assume that most of my friends and the casual romance reader are like I was, so if you are a romance fan who follows every new release and knows all the names in the biz, I apologize if this review is rehashing what you already know.  But, I simply couldn’t NOT review this book in case someone who hasn’t found Lisa Kleypas yet happens to come across my humble website or review.  Yep, it’s that good, and if you enjoy historical romance, I almost suggest that you dispense with reading the rest of this review and just go get this book.
The Story– Evie has some seriously screwed up relatives who are keeping her from her dying father and like to beat her every now and then for fun.  She decides that the only escape from these horrible people is to elope so that her new husband can protect her.  Fortunately, she knows a desperate rake who will overlook her stutter and shyness in favor of marrying her for her fortune.  Sebastian is proud of how many notches he has compiled on his bedpost. In fact, I’m not sure how the bed would still be standing with that many notches, but he is willing to settle down, at least in name only, in order to set up a comfy future for himself.

My Thoughts – Yes, it’s a marriage of convenience story, but it is so well-done that you will likely hold it as a standard for like stories in the future.  A couple of times while I was reading in the car rider line at my daughter’s school, I actually felt disappointment when the line started moving because it meant I had to put the book down. Now that’s saying something. The characters are well-developed, and motivations are brilliantly set up so that there is no confusion.  I was unaccustomed to reading a historic romance (other than Outlander) which incorporates actual historic tidbits and info as well as extremely detailed setting.  Often the only hint that you are in the past is that people use titles, attend balls, and cannot be left alone.  Not so with Ms. Kleypas.  I usually talk about world-building in response to paranormal books, but even though this is a historical, the world-building rivals anything I’ve seen elsewhere.

The Good– Although difficult to choose, my favorite element of this book is the characters.  They are fully developed and complex, which makes it feel like you are witnessing friends fall in love rather than broadly-drawn archetypes. The plot never lags, and the set-up doesn’t feel contrived.  The sex scenes are some of the best I’ve read with the perfect amount of heat (for me) with no odd descriptions that took me out of the story.

The Bottom Line– This is one of the best historical romances I’ve ever read, and I am almost afraid to read more Lisa Kleypas in case they don’t measure up. But then I realized, an even-slightly worse version of this book would be better than 90% of the other books I’ve encountered.  So, I will be diving into the back catalog, and I, like other romance fanatics will be waiting with bated breath for February when “Devil in Spring” is released as it features the son of these characters and has one of the most beautiful covers I’ve ever seen.  This is one of those books that makes me grateful that I read romance.