Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’m so sad that we’re at the last full-length novel in the “Maiden Lane” series! In my opinion, though, this one plays out very much instead like the end to the miniseries focusing on the Lords of Chaos instead of the full series finale. Maybe it’s because of the two novellas still to come in the next months.

Duke of Desire front cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: The Lords of Chaos (an extreme, sexually violent kind of Hellfire Club) have kidnapped Iris, Lady Jordon, mistakenly believing that she is the new bride of the Duke of Kyle. Raphael, the new Duke of Dyemore, is attending the revel to save the woman he believes is the Duchess of Kyle, but also to find out the identity of the group’s new leader. Raphael’s father had been the previous “Dionysus” of the Lord of Chaos (you may remember him from Book 7, Duke of Sin, previously reviewed here.) Raphael plans to destroy the group once and for all, even if he dies in the process.

Raphael claims Iris as “his” plaything for the night in order to rescue her. Iris doesn’t get his intentions right away, though. She doesn’t take to the “lady in distress” role, and ends up shooting her would-be rescuer. The two of them escape to his estate, but Raphael is in a weakened condition. He’s afraid the Lords of Chaos will pounce on them both if they realize he’s in a vulnerable state. Iris is doing her best to nurse him back to health, but of course she’s drawn to the enigma that is Raphael. But Raphael has been so damaged by his father that he has no intention of entering into any kind of relationship with anyone, ever. He insists on marrying Iris immediately to make sure she’s protected, but he doesn’t want her getting close, emotionally or physically.

MY TWO CENTS: If it weren’t for the Lords of Chaos connection, this would almost read like a standalone book and not part of a series…let alone the series finale. I was a little disappointed that more series characters weren’t involved (for example, we do get Kyle at some point, but not Alf).

Let me make this clear: this book is absolutely about sexual violence. Raphael has been very, very damaged by his father. He also has a massive scar on his face (although you’d never know it from the cover), and it’s a bit of a mystery about how the scar was inflicted. But everything is tied to the Lords of Chaos, which is clearly why Raphael wants to end them.

His relationship with Iris is more of a breakthrough on his part, a march back to humanity. He really has no urge to become a person again, but feeling responsible for Iris is the first step. That is one thing that doesn’t thrill me about this book: Iris doesn’t really grow as a character on her own. Her character is pretty much just a catalyst to Raphael’s growth.

This is not a “fun” romance. It’s dark. In fact, Raphael thinks of himself as the darkness and identifies Iris with light. If this weren’t a romance novel, you would sincerely wonder if both characters will survive the book. It’s a good story and a fitting ending to the Lords of Chaos arc. I just don’t love it as the end to the “Maiden Lane” saga, which is why I’m thrilled that two more novellas are coming. We better get a “and here they all are together” wrap-up. I know we had something like that with the last Christmas story, but the series wasn’t over yet, so…yes, please.

COVER NOTES: The model is attractive enough and I like the coloring, but…WHERE IS THE SCAR??? If they didn’t want to show on the scar on the cover, use a profile shot! I think about the cover for Kerrigan Byrne’s The Duke, cleverly shot to hide the missing hand. I also dislike that the publisher is reissuing all the previous books with the “single man” cover. I’m very “eh” about that. I like consistency in a series, and I guess they’re going back to make it consistent with the way the series has evolved over the years…it’s fine. I liked the old covers.

BOTTOM LINE: A good finale to the Lords of Chaos arc, but not a fitting finale to the series. It’s full of darkness, violence, and a romance that helps heal the damaged main character.

TEACUP RATING: I’m wavering between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR:  I will shortly be reviewing the penultimate novella in the series, Once Upon a Maiden Lane, which is at long last Mary Whitsun’s story and releases November 14. Then I’m assuming we’ll get the real series wrap-up in the final novella, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, which releases December 5.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5) by Kerrigan Byrne

I can’t believe we’re already at the fifth installment of the “Victorian Rebels” series. This one is the first to go in a completely different direction with the title (more on that later). I’ve blogged about all the other previous books in the series, but this one links most directly to Book 3, The Highlander, previously reviewed here.

The Scot Beds His Wife front cover (St. Martin’s Paperback/Macmillan)

THE PLOT: Gavin St. James was horribly abused by his father, just as his brother Liam was. But his reaction was to divorce himself from the Mackenzie clan while trying to become self-sufficient by acquiring the property next to his. It belongs to Alison Ross, a young woman who moved to America as a child.

In the American wild west, Samantha Masters has just saved Alison Ross’s life by killing her own husband who, with his brothers, were robbing the train on which Alison was traveling. To repay and help Sam, Alison sends her to Scotland, as Alison Ross, to save Alison’s property from being taken by the horrible Mackenzies. Since Alison left as a child and has no intention of returning, no one will ever know that Sam isn’t Alison. She can use Alison’s identity to safely hide from her husband’s vengeful brothers, and the law, while holding on to Alison’s property.

Gavin assumes he’ll be able to smooth talk, or seduce, Alison into selling him her property. He is stunned by the crass, sharp-shooting, pants-wearing girl who immediately becomes his enemy. But as they clash they’re  fighting their intense attraction. Sam knows she can’t keep her true identity from Gavin forever. And another secret Sam is keeping will surely tear their fragile new love apart.

MY TWO CENTS: If you’ve never read a “Victorian Rebels” book, know this going in: they are not gentle, well-mannered romances. They are gritty and grimy and harsh.They use what some would consider foul language, and there are very little boundaries in the sex scenes, which are quite graphic.

Sam is a very different heroine for Byrne’s “Victorian Rebels” series. Often the heroine is more ladylike to offset the brutality of the hero. But in this instance, the heroine stuns the hero with her swearing, shooting, pants wearing, and other shocking bad-assery. I really liked Sam. Her backstory made her a sympathetic character, and her bravery, quick thinking, and capability made her someone to admire. All of these were more important than the lies about her identity, which she sees as a necessary evil to staying alive.

In contrast to other previous Rebels heroes, Gavin is a little more bad-boy, a little less violently dangerous and damaged. Yes, he definitely still has issues. But butting heads with Sam turns his world upside down, and he starts rethinking all the barriers he’s set around his life.

You get to visit a bit with the characters from The Highlander, and also get to witness what may be the funniest wedding ceremony in romance history. (Someone can disagree…I’d be very interested in comments on hilarious weddings.)

If you’ve been reading the series (and The Highlander in particular), then you’ve already made your peace as a reader with Liam. But Gavin has not, so that adds some interesting tension to the storyline. We also see the setup for the Rook’s story as sort of a framing device here. It’s not really necessary to read the other books before reading this, but if you’re not already hooked into the series, you’ll probably want to check out Liam’s story and go on to the Rook’s, which we don’t see wrapped up within the course of this story.

A note on the title: This is the first title that is longer than two words, the previous books being The Highwayman, The Hunter, The Highlander, and The Duke. Byrne had announced previously that her next books were going to have titles like The Rogue and The Sinner, and then The Rook’s book would be The Savage. I’m not sure why changes were made; maybe because too many romance books already have those exact titles? I don’t mind breaking the pattern so much within the series; see Elizabeth Hoyt’s “Maiden Lane” series…each set of three books within the twelve of the complete series go together. And that’s where I figured we were going when this was announced along with Inspector Morely’s book, The Rogue Takes a Wife.  But it doesn’t look like Morley’s book is up next, again. And I really, really despise this book’s title. First, I hate “beds” as a verb. It’s crass without being as crass as the language used in the book, which I find much more honest. It’s like they couldn’t put **** on the cover, so they used this mamby-pamby synonym instead. Second, I hate that the title is like, “LOOK! This book is about SEX!” It’s really about a lot more than that. I won’t deny that the sex is hot and very earthy, but both characters have had plenty of sex before they ever meet each other. That’s not what this is about. But I guess “The Scot Realizes He Can Open Himself Up to Emotional Connections” isn’t going to grab as many readers.

Further title notes: Byrne had previously announced in an interview on Fresh Fiction (link here) that The Rook’s book would be called The Devil Steals a Bride, and then Morley’s book would be The Thief Takes a Lady. But it looks like those plans have been changed again (see below in Next Up).

COVER NOTES: I had complained previously about this cover being far too much like two other St. Martin’s releases this year. It’s the first one in the series that shows the couple from farther away, showing their full bodies. I think the blue is lovely, and the swatch of Mackenzie plaid at the bottom is a nice touch. I wish we’d seen Sam in something a little less girly…her riding clothes, maybe? Complete with guns?

BOTTOM LINE: A good read with an interesting heroine who is very different from the other Victorian Rebels heroines so far. I was actually more interested in her solo story arc than the hero’s.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR:  The book advertised in the back of The Scot Beds His Wife is The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo. Is this the next “Victorian Rebels” book? The heroine is named Lorelai, who I can’t find in any of the other books. Is it about the Rook (and we all know his real identity, right?) And THEN maybe we’ll get Morley’s book? And then I’m crossing my fingers for a book about Callum and the real Alison. There’s definitely a story there.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

A Talent for Temptation (Sinful Suitors #4.5) by Sabrina Jeffries

Baron Fulkham has been lurking around for most of the “Sinful Suitors” series, but we just met his sister-in-law/spy assistant in Book 4, The Pleasures of Passion, previously reviewed here. This 82-page novella fleshes out the bits of story we got about Meriel Vyse and Quinn Raines in that book.

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A Talent for Temptation front cover (Pocket Star, Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Meriel was married to Baron Fulkham’s brother, but it was mostly a marriage of convenience as part of the spy network. But Meriel felt indebted to her brother-in-law even after her husband was killed in the line of duty, so she’s kept on working for him. She’s now in love with banker Quinn Raines but can’t tell him she’s a spy.

For his part, Quinn is terrified that Meriel won’t commit to him because he’s a boring banker. He sets up a stupid scheme for her to be “kidnapped” so he can rescue her and see her as a dashing hero. But Meriel believes she’s brought this on herself as some part of her current assignment, and she accidentally shoots Quinn.

Now they’re both feeling guilty and trapped by lies. Is there any way to a happily ever after for this couple?

MY TWO CENTS: This is a quick little read that is pleasant and steamy, but doesn’t add a lot to the overall series. If you were intrigued by the snippets about Meriel and Quinn in the previous book, then you’ll definitely want to snag this.

This novella may also offer us a little more insight into the character of Gregory Fulkham. It also serves as a teaser for his book, which will wrap up the series. So essentially it’s a bridge between books that serves up an independent love story.

As far as the series titles go, I like this one much better than “The Secrets of Flirting.” Between the alliteration and the meaning, it fits in better with the other titles. I almost wish they’d saved it for Book 5 and used “The Secrets of Flirting” for the novella.

COVER NOTES: Although I like this dress, it’s apparently held up by magic, so the extreme low cut doesn’t appeal to me. I’m also sorry it doesn’t follow the pattern of the other titles in the series of the hero saucily breaking the fourth wall.

BOTTOM LINE: A fun, quick read clocking in at 82 pages. May add a tiny bit of personality to Baron Fulkham, who will be the next book’s hero.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The final book in the “Sinful Suitors” series, The Secret of Flirting,  will release on March 27, 2018.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Ramses the Damned: The Passion of Cleopatra (The Mummy #2) by Anne Rice and Christopher Rice

It’s been almost 30 years (YIKES) since I first read The Mummy, or Ramses the Damned by Anne Rice. All that time, the story has cried out for a continuation…and here, at long last, it is! Also, I believe this is the first fiction collaboration by Anne Rice and her son, Christopher Rice, an established novelist in his own right. (I could be wrong about that though.)

SPOILER WARNING: Spoilers for The Mummy, so if you haven’t read it, proceed at your own risk!

The Passion of Cleopatra front cover (Anchor/Random House)

THE PLOT: In 1914, immortal Ramses, former Pharaoh of Egypt, believes the monstrous version of Cleopatra he resurrected to have died in a fiery crash. He has made his beloved Julie, a modern Edwardian woman, immortal, and they’re traveling together around Europe until Julie and Ramses go home to England for their engagement party, being thrown by Julie’s friend Alex. Alex is struggling to get over Cleopatra, whom he truly loved and also believes dead.

Meanwhile, Cleopatra is really on the run with the doctor who treated her after the crash (not that she needed treatment…the Elixir healed her). But Cleopatra still isn’t whole, and now she’s sharing visions of her past with an American author named Sibyl.

The true creator of the Elixir, an ancient immortal queen named Bektaten, is searching for her former prime minister who betrayed her by trying to create his own army of immortals. Now both are on a collision course with Ramses, made famous as “Reginald Ramsey,” and his friends.

MY TWO CENTS: Overall, I enjoyed this book. It had a good narrative flow, unlike some of Anne Rice’s weirder mid-late vampire books which had that strange flow-of-consciousness quality to them. There was a defined story here. I’m not familiar enough with Christopher Rice’s work to really identify how much is his influence (I’ve read and reviewed one of his books here, and remember quite liking it). I felt that the collaboration clearly worked, except for one thing…it was too short at 400 pages and not quite enough story for me.

My biggest problem with that story comes from not enough focus on Ramses and Julie. I certainly don’t mind the continuation and enrichment of Cleopatra’s story, or the introduction of new characters that move it along, such as Sibyl. In fact, the Bektaten/Saqnos story has a certain Queen of the Damned origin story quality to it, and I enjoyed that greatly. That may have been my favorite part. But Ramses and Julie don’t get to do a whole lot other than play a spectator role, or (sometimes inadvertently) get people in the right place at the right time.

So in many ways, I felt like this was clearly the second installment in what is now intended to be a series, with Ramses getting a larger part to play with Bektaten in future volumes. I could be wrong, but that’s definitely the feel I took away.

And I enjoyed this enough to be interested in any future installments. Do I suggest reading it without reading the original The Mummy first? Nope, absolutely not. Does it stand on its own? Not exactly, because it just seems so much like a middle story to me. Read The Mummy, and if you love it (or have loved it for 30 years), pick this one up.

BOTTOM LINE: A long-awaited sequel that read like the second book in a trilogy…but I’m definitely in for the next volume.

TEACUP RATING: Three-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 21, 2017, in trade paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM AUTHORS:  I’m not sure if Anne Rice’s 2018 book has been announced yet, but Christopher Rice has book one in a new series, Bone Music, releasing on March 1, 2018. This one sound pretty interesting to me; I’ll put it on my Goodreads list.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Random House’s First to Read program and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

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