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Third Son’s a Charm (The Survivors, Book 1) by Shana Galen

Ewan Mostyn, the third son of the Earl of Pembroke, fought for the British in the Napoleonic Wars. His company, composed of other non-heirs, started out with thirty but only twelve survived the suicidal missions, now known as Dravens Dozen. Mostyn, referred to as The Protector, split his time as a bouncer at Langley’s Gaming Hell and hanging out at Draven’s Club with his wartime comrades. His reputation as a tough, no nonsense guy attracted the attention of the Duke of Ridlington who had need of Ewan’s services. The Duke’s daughter, Lady Lorraine Caldwell, had convinced herself she was in love and in her willful, head strong manner, had attempted to elope. Luckily her love interest refused the honor if it meant his “beloved” would be cut off without funds.

Moysten had no interest in being bodyguard to a spoiled heiress until he discovered her beau was none other than his despised cousin Francis. Francis, a favorite of his father, had been the bane of Ewan’s existence since his mother’s untimely death. Francis used his uncle’s favor to get away with hurtful bullying which always seemed to result in a punishment for Moysten instead of the perpetrator. The Earl’s disdain for his youngest son stemmed from his inability to read (most likely due to dyslexia) and his failure at schooling. Ewan’s stuttering and insecurities contrasted with the slick manner of Francis whose good looks and charm were assets his cousin lacked. The Protector knew that Francis was more attracted to Lorrie’s dowry than he was to her beauty and it would be his pleasure to thwart his nemesis plans.

Lorrie’s long winded babbling was in sharp contrast to the quiet reticent Mostyn who took his bodyguard duties seriously. Despite her youthful ways, Lady Lorraine had a kind heart and was simply looking for an outlet for her passionate nature. Opposites attract and soon Mostyn found it difficult to resist giving his “client” a taste of what she’d be missing if she ran off with Francis. While just a kiss, he was appalled for overstepping societal boundaries and attempted to keep his distance while still fulfilling his duties, but the young debutante was having none of it and the two found themselves in close proximity as they each helped the other work through their personal issues. An additional subplot involved the Duke rekindling a romance with his still lovely wife after years of growing apart.

While Third Son’s a Charm by Shana Galen had a lot of potential, it was just a bit too long for the content. The crush on Francis continued way past her inamorata with Ewan and the plot climax came a little too late to save the day. Galen does, however, know how to write a passionate sexual interlude which will keep the readers hot and bothered. I especially liked the repartee between the secondary characters who will be the subject of other Regency Romances in The Survivors series. Hopefully the plot line of these future books won’t drag in the middle like this one. Three stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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Too Sinful to Deny (Scoundrels and Sinners, Book 2) by Erica Ridley

Susan Stanton loves gossip, so much that when she overhears a juicy bit from a wife cuckolding her husband, she finds herself on the wrong side of The Ton, despite the truth to her words. Her mother’s attempt to marry her off to a morally questionable but well off gentlemen was destined to fail (see Too Wicked to Kiss) so she ends up confined to her room until further notice. Yet Susan was determined to attend The Frost Fair in celebration of the Thames freezing over, a rare occurrence. Who knew that despite her stealthy attempts to sneak out, she was discovered when she fell through the ice and drowned. Luckily she was rescued and brought back to life, but only to be banished from her beloved London – packed up and sent to the end of nowhere at Moonseed Manor in Bournemouth, to stay with her cousin Lady Beaune with the closest center of civilization the town of Bath.

The situation is even worse that Susan expected when there is no Lady Beaune to greet her and she is “welcomed” instead by her cousin’s creepy husband, Ollie. The town folks don’t cotton to her overtures of friendship, especially the owner of the dress shop who resents her popularity with the only decent men around including Gordon Forrester, the local magistrate. Susan’s only interest, though, is to find a way home again, if only she can discover a way to get to the closest town where her recognizable family name will provide the means of the necessary escape. Things are looking up when Forrester offers to accompany her to the upcoming Assembly in Bath, occurring in about two weeks, but Susan is not sure she can wait that long. It seems that there have been a series of recent deaths, and the lingering ghosts can’t rest until she does them each a favor. Seeing and hearing spirits seems to be a new but unwanted talent she has acquired after her near death experience and she’ll do anything to shut them up. Of course, these are ghosts of the recently departed, so who exactly is the murderer? There is a plethora of suspects which only a Bow Street Runner could untangle. Then there is the question of her missing cousin. Is she buried under that unmarked grave or is it that freshly dug mound of earth the resting place of some other hapless soul? Nobody’s talking.

Complicatiog her life is Ollie’s friend, Evan Bothwick, a devastatingly handsome rogue tinkering in the Pirate business and bent on making her his latest conquest. If only she could trust him, but she worries that he will not only keep her from escaping, but also steal her heart. Her focus is to keep her eye on the prize – someone from The Ton who loves London as much as she does, ready to marry a chaste and pure innocent, a dream threatened by Evan’s carefree ways.

Too Sinful to Deny, Book 2 in the Scoundrels and Sinners series, never seemed to end. While Erica Ridley tried to capture a sense of gothic all she exceeded in doing was to create a horrifying scenario filled with mean spiritedness and senseless violence which could not be compensated for by the rest of the trappings of a Regency Romance. The ghosts actually provided a bit of levity, if you can believe that. While the love interests had a somewhat decent sensibility, the townsfolk were a horrid unredeeming bunch who I’d just as soon not meet again. The only scene which brought a smile to my lips was when the heroine buys a seemingly endless round of drinks resulting in a packed bar with a tab she can never hope to pay unless her parents cough up her allowance.

If you are a fan of the Saw movies, this one is for you, but if you avoid fare such as chainsaw massacres, then find another book to read. Two and a half stars.

This ARC was provided by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Forbidden Duke (The Untouchable Series, Book 1) by Darcy Burke

There are good guys and bad guys in The Forbidden Duke by Darcy Burke. The bad guy is Lord Haywood, a Duke who takes advantage of a debutante thereby ruining her reputation, sentencing her to a life of ostracism out in the country while he merely gets a slap on the wrist, allowing him to continue in his rakish ways. Our heroine, Miss Eleanor Lockhart, after nine years of this seclusion, suddenly finds herself with no place to live when her father loses his funds in a risky scheme and is forced to sell their home and move in with his sister. The invite does not include her, nor can she stay with her sibling as her sister’s husband, a rector, refuses to house a proven “harlot”. Left to her own devices she applies for the role of companion and lands a position with Lady Satterfield, a Countess who doesn’t seem to mind Nora’s past, blaming it on the vagaries of The Ton. It doesn’t take long for Lady Satterfield to realize Miss Lockhart’s worth, deciding to give her a second chance by sponsoring her for another season with the express hope that Nora can find a husband who will provide comfort and security. Lady Satterfield, one of the good ones, has a stepson, Titus St John, Duke of Kendal, who she adores. Every year she features a Ball and his Lordship dances the first dance with one favored female partner. Her Ladyship appeals to Kendal to pay particular attention to her housemate to give Nora the opportunity to start out on the right foot. The Duke, always aiming to please his beloved stepmother, agrees despite his reticence to appear in public.

Titus has troubles of his own. A wild one in his youth, he has determined to change his ways, shunning most of society and keeping to himself, thus earning the title, The Forbidden Duke. Feelings of guilt for his part in Nora’s ruin (influencing others to run amok) as well as the anguish he caused his now dead father weigh heavily on his conscience. Yet he finds Miss Lockhart a bright light who attracts his attention despite his reticence to get involved with the opposite sex (beyond his carefully selected mistresses). Their lives become entangled as the season progresses and feelings of doubt cloud both their minds as Nora is courted by some likely future husbands. Lady Satterfield stands back and let’s events unfold, only wanting what is best for her sweet protégée but also hoping for a happily ever after for her cherished stepson.

There are some highlights of this Regency Romance, including the marvelous cast of secondary characters from the delightful, benevolent hosts, Lady Satterfield and her husband, to the supportive Lady Dunn who also gives a nod of approval to the heroine. I wouldn’t be surprised if these individuals turn up in future novels of the Untouchable Series. The major drawback of this particular book is the dry dialogue (although there are a few gems such as the interaction between Titus and his mistress) and the continued repetition of the main characters’ reflections including a tendency to repeat the same information in their conversations. This was a short one, only a little over 150 pages (more of a novella), negating any excuse for all the filler. Granted not much happens, but it should have been a sweet little romance. However, there was nothing candy-coated about the steamy sex scene between the two lovers designed to titillate the reader. I just wish the author hadn’t taken one of the seemingly nice suitors and turned him into such as cad. There had to be some other way to bring the two love birds together. Still, worth a quick read. Three stars.

A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Family Dynamics! The interpersonal relationships within a family create a complex pattern complicated by the cross purposes of each individual as they forge their own pathway towards the fguture. A mother, while she loves her children, has a slightly different connection to each based on their unique personalities. Sometimes there’s one who never seems to get things right and remains an irksome reminder of that illusive impeccable life we all daydream about in our youth. As my own offspring grew, I was amazed at the other parents whose unblemished children never caused them a moments anguish – always behaving appropriately, earning honors at school, scoring the winning run or goal on the sports team. My own children fell far short, although I loved them anyway and urged them to work hard and do their best in every endeavor. I concluded that either my children were subpar, or the other parents were liars (or at the very least in denial). In my experience there are ups and downs in each of our lives, joys and tragedies which pop up on occasion, and it’s the family unit who sticks together that helps us celebrate the highs and get through the low points of our existence. Such is life reflected in the theme of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng.

Elena Richardson is one of “those” mothers. She created the perfect life in the perfect community with the perfect husband and three perfect children. Unfortunately, she has four offspring. The youngest, Izzy, is a thorn in her side, resisting motherly (smothering) concern, choosing the contrary side of an argument, and just not quite jelling with her siblings. She’s not an evil child, just a soul who marches to the beat of her own drummer which drives a Type A personality like her mother to distraction.

Mrs. Richardson always planned to be a journalist but was not unhappy at her job as a reporter for the local paper which would never win her a Pulitzer but still gave her access to important information and people. Plus when she needed her credentials to do some sleuthing she was not afraid to call in those favors she had easily doled out over the years, assisting others yet keeping a tally for future reference. Things really start happening in her idyllic life once the nomadic Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl become tenants in their rental house. The photographic genius of Mia delights Elena who generously offers the super neat tenant a job as housekeeper/cook in exchange for enough salary to cover the lease agreement. Mia soon becomes a fixture in their home and Pearl develops into a sibling of sorts to the four teens, enjoying the luxuriously lifestyle which is the opposite of the normal hand to mouth existence of her daily world. Izzy latches on to the supportive, common sense manner of Mia, finding in her a comfort which is missing with her own mother. As the plot unfolds, the inner thoughts of each of the characters are revealed clarifying the life altering decisions which affect the outcome of all concerned.

The idea of motherhood is explored through various stories involving mother/child relationships. In a secondary subplot, Mr Bill Richardson, a lawyer, represents Elena’s friends the McCulloughs who are caring for and hopefully adopting an Asian child who was abandoned at the local fire station. The real mother, a coworker of Mia’s, now has a job, albeit for minimum wage, and wants her daughter back. The question remains – “Who will be the better parent?” – the struggling single parent birth mother or the well-to-do loving family who can provide for the baby’s every need? This issue divides the town, leaving even the presiding judge in a quandary about the best verdict.

I felt a connection to this story since Little Fires Everywhere takes place in the 1990s in a suburb outside of Cleveland during the some time period I was raising my own four children in an upscale community outside of Buffalo. Cultural references brought back memories of those days which compensates for the slow start of this novel. The author Celeste Ng has a talent for skillfully interweaving the lives of the secondary characters flawlessly into the narrative enriching the entire plot. However, while this well written book brings up some interesting questions, it also has some disturbing turn of events which leaves the reader in a wistful mood. There is more than enough finger pointing and blame which doesn’t distract from the pit-in-the-stomach feeling when things fall apart as secrets are revealed, tarnishing the golden glow of sublimeness and recognizing the reality that there is no such thing as smooth sailing. While there are promises of a positive outcome for some, the ambiguity of the future for others is disturbing and I’m not sure even the fire department can put out those flames.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

Lord of Night (Rogues to Riches, Book 3) by Erica Ridley

First of all, suspend all sense of reality, and forget that this book takes place during the Regency era since there’s a lot in this plot which would otherwise not make sense.

Lord of Night by Erica Ridley, Book 3 of the Rogues to Riches series, deals with Dahlia, the middle sister of the Grenville family. In Book 2, Lord of Pleasure, eldest sister Camellia, a prodigy known for her singing talent throughout the Dukes of War series, has wed the Earl of Wainwright and gone off to pursue her passion for opera, a fate which would ordinarily have caused social ruin for the entire family. If that weren’t enough of a scandal, Dahlia runs St Giles School for Girls, a boarding home for indigent girls teaching them skills which will keep them off the streets as beggars, thieves, or, even worse, prostitutes. Unfortunately, running a business costs money for things like rent, uniforms, supplies, food, etc. Dahlia, whose father is a Baron, needs to maintain her connections with The Ton to solicit the necessary funds to keep the doors open, and she isn’t above a little pilfering, playing a sort of Robin Hood, to protect her interests. Her mother and the rest of society don’t understand her fervent dedication and wonder aloud why she doesn’t devote her efforts to running a finishing school for the right type of patron instead of wasting time on those ruffians.

Enter Bow Street Runner Simon Spaulding, passing by while the Night Watchman is playing hooky, who rescues Dahlia’s latest recruit, a girl in danger of being robbed and raped by the dangerous element in the notorious St Giles neighborhood. Spaulding arrests the ruffian and promises to return to make sure they are all safe, a departure from his usual routine which becomes a habit of sorts. All of a sudden he finds himself actively involved in the life of the two dozen “refugees” and their matron, even giving up an hour of his time each week to assist in their dancing lessons. While he becomes fond of the students, it’s their teacher who has beguiled him, teaching him that his life should include something besides work. Yet if he wants that promotion he needs to capture the Thief of Mayfair, then perhaps he might even consider matrimony. Unfortunately, he doesn’t realize that Dahlia isn’t quite what she seems and that certain maiden also knows that she can’t marry an inspector, even if he is the bastard son of a Duke. If she wants her school to continue she needs someone with deep pockets willing to support her “little project”, (not to mention that marriage would transfer all the property she owns over to her husband’s domain). She can’t allow that to happen which is why she’s made special arrangements with her best friend and partner, Faith.

This is her dilemma, that and her growing attraction to the officer who would reject her if he knew the truth about her real identity and her thieving ways, especially since they have supposedly been confiding in one another.

This is one of Ridley’s better stories, full of charm as the young “ladies” find their voice, the detective discovers the joys of friendship, and Dahlia falls in love. There are a couple of twists before the two lovebirds find their happily ever after with appearances by some of the characters from previous books.

Four stars and a thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review. This review also appears on Goodreads.

It Started With A Kiss (The Worthingtons, Book 3) by Ella Quinn

Lady Louisa Vivers is excited to participate in her first season, if only she could get rid of the attentions of love sick puppy Boswell, who fancies her for a wife. Everyone knows she is too strong headed and his tendency to dither makes them ill suited. On top of that dilemma, she thinks she is falling in love with Gideon Rothwell, a newly titled duke. Even while wearing gloves there is an undeniable spark of electricity when he touches her hand. He feels it too, but there is no way he can marry. His recently departed father who suffered from dementia has left their finances in ruins, first with gambling debts and then with an expensive mistress who continues to line her coffers with a forged writ of purchase. Yet, Gideon can’t help himself and after exchanging some passionate kisses on a terrace at a ball, Louisa announces their betrothal. Not what Gideon had in mind, but what else would such an innocent infer from his improper advances. Anyway, marriage doesn’t seem like such a bad option. He’s in love and wants his sweetheart in his bed. If he had his way they’d be married right away, but waiting two weeks for Louisa’s mother to arrive from out of town seems doable. Yet the scheming man has several ideas of some lustful activities before the nuptials, if they can ever be left unchaperoned, a difficult feat with such a large family keeping watch. Then there’s his close friend Matt, the Earl of Worthington, whose eagle eye is on the outlook to protect the reputation of his younger sister. Luckily Gideon’s mom heartily approves and even provides them with the opportunity for some “alone time”.

However, not all is smooth sailing in It Started With a Kiss, Book Three of the Worthington Regency Romance Series by Ella Quinn. There are some people out there who don’t like the way Gideon is handing his father’s debt and vow revenge. Gideon, mistakenly tries to keep the sordid details a secret from his bride to be, but the forceful Louisa expects honestly and wants an equal marriage sharing the good with the bad. How she will react to these omissions is an issue that just might put a crimp in their relationship. Despite everyone’s advice, Gideon stubbornly sticks to his plan unwittingly putting everyone he loves in danger.

On the plus side is a continuation of the lives of the characters from both the Worthingtons and the Marriage Game series. Matt Worthington and Gideon are school chums along with Marcus Finley and Sebastian Rutherford who both were married about a year (to Phoebe and Anna) prior to the start of this tale. Even Kit Featherton, nicknamed Mr Perfect, makes an brief appearance, dancing with a neglected debutante at his mother’s ball. Via all the previous novels, the reader is familiar with numerous members of The Ton, including their past and future endeavors.

Unfortunately, this one just made me work too hard. It would have made a great novella, but there was so much repetition that it dragged as a full length book. While the ending picked up, there was a vast middle which seemed endless. After awhile Gideon’s stubbornness and Louisa’s obsessions were annoyingly over the top. Despite a couple of witty back and forth repartees, most of the conversation was mundane, and the sex scenes were kind of placid, not the passionate encounters found in most of the other narratives. There just was not enough plot to carry the day. Three stars is generous.

A thank you to Netgalley and Kensington Books for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

This review also appears on Goodreads.

Potent Charms by Peggy Waide

If Phoebe Rafferty wants to gain her inheritance and not be at the mercy of her bitter Aunt Hildegard, she has six weeks to find a husband. With the promise of a title and an estate, the lovely American born “heiress” should have her pick of suitors, but she wants love, not convenience. Luckily, while trying to avoid the dictates of British society, she slips away from yet another country dance finding herself in the same room as fellow slacker Stephen Lambert, Duke of Badrick, with their amusing repartee leading to a relationship which teases the reader with possibilities. Phoebe finds herself attracted to the rogue, but no matter how attractive he finds the damsel, he can only offer the role of mistress, not wife, due to a family curse. Five women have died over the past three generations of Badricks and two were his former wives. Determined to be the one to stop the curse, Stephen vows to be the heir who never weds and put an end to this nightmare in the book Potent Charms by Peggy Waide

All Phoebe knows is that as their passion grows her resistance weakens. His desires are also strong and he stubbornly sticks to a plan to seduce her into acquiescence while she’s convinced that her allures will lead to a more favorable sort of proposal. Their back and forth banter through numerous events brings them closer to fulfilling their need for one another so when Phoebe proclaims her love Stephen assumes that she has agreed to be his in all but name. Wrong. Despite her loss of innocence and the various scandals associated with her dalliances, there is a decent gentleman in London society who is more than willing to make her his wife. Now the question is: Can Phoebe settle for comfort over love? And will Stephen allow another man to bed her?

The dialogue is clever, the characters dynamic, the plot moves along with detours to a hidden room in a secret passage, a gypsy camp, a fox hunt, a house party, a museum tour, and numerous other social events, all with opportunities for the two lovebirds to hook up, each time moving their romance a little closer to consummation. Yet the plot is a little too busy, with too many unfulfilling sex scenes, and too much whining over a seemingly stagnant situation. In other words, those six weeks seem an eternity. The supporting characters have some bite, but their matchmaking motivations are also repetitive. My advice is to tighten up the plot, and save some of the extra drama for another novel. Stephen’s selfishness along with a quick temper and a tendency to use his fists to resolve his anger issues, does not help us root for a successful outcome. Phoebe could have done better. Luckily the story moves along quickly. Readers who want their Regency Romances to be accurate in details containing somewhat plausible actions and behaviors should definitely skip this one. Three and a half stars.