Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane 12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Finally, FINALLY, we get the story of Mary Whitsun! If you don’t know who Mary Whitsun is, either you’re not a true “Maiden Lane” fan or it’s time to go all the way back to the beginning and start rereading!

Once Upon a Maiden Lane cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: I honestly just don’t want to give too much away here. Mary Whitsun was one of the original children in the foundling home run by Temperance Dews, Winter Makepeace, and their family way back at the beginning of the series. You know, when the Ghost of St. Giles was  running around. Now grown, Mary has become a nursemaid to the children of Temperance, Lady Caire. In this novella, her true origins are revealed. (Or are they? Wait…yes, they are.) And her true identity may win her an unexpected true love…or will it? (Maybe.)

MY TWO CENTS: So I didn’t totally love the last full-length Maiden Lane book, Duke of Desire (reviewed here), but I DID love this novella! I was partially disappointed in Duke of Desire because we didn’t see many of the other characters. It didn’t make me want to go back to the beginning and read the whole series over. This story definitely does that! (Yes, you get to see the Duke of Montgomery from Duke of Sin, previously reviewed here). And on a related note, if you’re a Loki fan and haven’t seen Thor: Ranarok yet, do go.)

Readers have been asking for a long time for grown-up Mary to get her own story, and Hoyt delivers. It’s a darling story for a character who’s been with the series from the beginning. It’s also a reminder that the “Maiden Lane” series covered all classes. Sure, lots of characters were dukes or otherwise noble, but not everyone was. Some were servants. Some were illegitimate. We even had a pirate. So why not explore the story of a foundling girl who maybe goes from rags to riches? (And that’s all I’m going to say.)

If you want to know the timeline here, this story is chronologically the last in the Maiden Lane universe. Book 1, Wicked Intentions, starts in February 1737. Book 12, Duke of Desire, takes place in April 1742. Once Upon a Maiden Lane is set in September 1747, while the very last novella, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, jumps back to Christmas 1741. (Review coming soon!)

COVER NOTES: This is likely a gown that Mary wears in the course of the story. Also, that gown is just stunning. LOOK at the fabric in that skirt.

BOTTOM LINE: LOVED IT. Mary Whitsun’s long-awaited story doesn’t disappoint! It made me think it’s time to start over with Wicked Intentions and reread the entire series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 14, 2017, in eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The very last “Maiden Lane” entry will be Once Upon a Christmas Eve, available December 5, 2017. I’m going to be devastated when this series is over.

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

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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.

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.

Once a Rebel (Rogues Redeemed #2) by Mary Jo Putney

Once a Rebel is the second book in the “Rogues Redeemed” series, which is also directly connected to Putney’s previous series, “Lost Lords.” This series follows five men who together escaped certain death from Portugal in 1809 (described at the beginning of Once a Soldier, previously reviewed here). This book’s hero is Gordon, first introduced in Not Quite a Wife (previously reviewed here) as Lady Agnes’s only failure at Westerfield Academy. But his real name is Lord George Gordon Richard Audley, third son of the Marquess of Kingston.

Once a Rebel front cover (Zebra/Penguin Random House)

THE PLOT: Richard and Catherine Callista “Callie” Brooke were childhood best friends, a pair of innocent troublemakers completely hated by their horrible noble families. When Callie’s father plots to marry his troublesome daughter off to a West Indies plantation owner, the teenagers run away together to elope in Scotland. But they’re caught, and while Richard’s own father would have no trouble allowing his son to be put to death, Callie makes a deal with her father: she’ll peacefully marry the plantation owner if he allows Richard to live. Richard is therefore transported to Australia instead, but Callie believes he died on the voyage.

Years later, Richard, now calling himself Gordon, is hired to find and save a widow from Washington, DC in August 1814.  The city is about to be attacked by the British, and the family of “Mrs. Audley” wants her brought back to England. It’s not until he’s rescuing her from British soldiers that Richard realizes his charge is actually his childhood friend. But she’s not ready to return to London just yet; she’s sent her surrogate family of former slaves ahead to Baltimore, straight into another battle. Joining them means waiting out the attack of Fort McHenry, and Richard and Callie begin to reconnect and become more than friends. But a few more rounds of danger wait for them. Callie is actually on the run from her stepson, who wants his “stolen” slaves back; and Richard’s family is still hoping they’ve heard the last of him.

MY TWO CENTS: There’s a lot to say about this book. First, it’s mostly a love story about the American national anthem. Francis Scott Key appears as a character (Callie’s lawyer), and he shows Callie and Richard his new poem about the battle of Fort McHenry right after he’s written it. The author even incorporates some of the phrases into Callie and Richard’s own vigil at dawn as they wait for the outcome of the battle…whose flag is flying over the fort? If you’re American and have an iota of patriotism, especially regarding “The Star Spangled Banner,” you will really feel this part. I also enjoyed reading about a piece of history not usually included in historical romance (call me out if I’m wrong here, but I just don’t remember every reading any!)

I also like that Putney continues her trend from other books of discussing the horrors and repercussions of slavery. Callie’s family consists of two children her husband fathered with his slave mistress (now deceased), and the children’s grandparents. Callie’s husband wasn’t actually cruel and horrible (except for the whole owning slaves things, of course); he didn’t abuse them. (Other than, you know, his mistress not really having a true choice about having an affair because he owned her.) He “meant” to free his children before he died; he just didn’t get around to it. So Callie has taken the teenagers and their grandparents to America, but because they’re still technically the property of Callie’s aggressive stepson, they’re all in danger.

Any disappointment I feel toward the novel is focused on the very polite, mannerly love story between the two leads. We were previously introduced to Gordon as something of an anti-hero, and yet here, most of his wildness is behind him as he’s bought a house and all but given up adventuring; this rescue is kind of his last hurrah. He’s presented as pretty much just a victim of his family. Obviously we know he’s going to redeemed by the end of the book, hence “Rogues Redeemed,” but he was pretty redeemed already…and also was apparently never really much of a bad guy to begin with.  Callie, too, starts out as a bit of a free spirit, and yet she’s burdened with adult responsibilities when we meet her as an adult. I was expecting a love story a bit out of the ordinary for author Mary Jo Putney, but these characters are as sensible and mature as her other characters. They rationally discuss their attraction to each other, and reasonably decide marriage is the obvious choice. There’s really not much of the rebel about these two. Oh, Callie has to defend herself, and Richard eventually performs what basically amounts to an execution, but you can’t blame him too much.

Callie doesn’t even react much to finding out that her childhood friend, for whose death she blamed herself, is alive and well. To be fair, at first she’s overwhelmed by the moment as he rescues her in the nick of time from soldiers. But she falls easily enough into playacting that he’s her husband whom she thought dead. She never really loses her mind or shows a lot of stunned emotions later after the danger has passed. It’s almost…stereotypically British. “Oh, I say, what a jolly good time for you to turn up alive. Well done, you.” (I exaggerate, but…I really wanted her to freak out, faint, keep hugging him, something…and she just doesn’t.)

COVER NOTES: If you’ve read my other entries, you know I want series books to all have matching covers. So of course I love that this cover matches the cover of the first book, only Callie is holding a pistol, her own weapon of choice. I’m not sure the dress is entirely accurate to the period, but it’s pretty and covers most of her body parts, so yay. The detail of the fabric is gorgeous.

BOTTOM LINE: I really wanted this book to be wilder, and Gordon to be much edgier. But I very much enjoyed the historical aspect.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available August 29, 2017, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The preview for the next novel in the series, Once a Pirate, focused on the heroine; but I’m assuming this will be Captain Hawkins’s book since he played a role in Once a Rebel. No date yet, but I’d look for it in Fall 2018. EDIT: The author has announced that the name of the next book has been changed to Once a Scoundrel.

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

The Pleasures of Passion (Sinful Suitors, #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

I owe author Sabrina Jeffries and readers a huge apology…I started this review over a month ago, got sick, and never finished it. So without further ado…

The Pleasures of Passion front cover (Pocket Books/Simion & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Niall and Bree were young lovers separated when Niall killed a man in a duel and had to leave the country. He couldn’t share with Bree that the duel was fought over the sexual assault of his sister, so she was led to believe it might have been over another romantic partner. When Niall asked Bree to run away with him, she refused because her mother was dying. But Niall’s father managed to poison the young couple against each other by telling Niall that Bree wouldn’t go with him because he wouldn’t be a rich earl once he was in exile. He encouraged Bree to believe that the duel was fought over a woman shared by the men.

When they meet up years later, both are cynical toward the other. Niall believes Bree jumped into marriage immediately after his exile as an opportunist. She was really forced into it by her father’s gambling debts. Now, a spymaster is making them pretend to be engaged to find out if Bree’s father is involved in a counterfeiting ring. Bree agrees in order to protect her father and the reputation of her young son. Niall owes the spymaster for granting his pardon and allowing him to return to England. But of course, throwing this couple together will result in all kinds of romantic shenanigans, AND the opportunity to finally clear the air…if they’re brave enough to take it.

MY TWO CENTS: I can see where some readers might be annoyed by one thing: “If this couple would just TALK to each other honestly, none of the misunderstandings would happen.” But here’s the thing: they were very young when the first break took place. That situation continued to breed distrust. And even after all the secrets are finally out, it still takes some time to re-establish trust. So no, just talking to each other doesn’t solve ALL the problems. I also love romances that emphasize how sex doesn’t just solve everything.

One thing I love about Sabrina Jeffries: she’s great for pointing out all the reasons why a storyline is ludicrous and letting the characters argue them out right on the page. For example, when Bree and Niall are coerced into working together, they hash through all the “couldn’t we just do this instead…” and “no, we can’t do that because…” So Jeffries is well aware of how a plot line may seem stretched AND believable at the same time. I like it.

COVER NOTES: One thing I often note from my Goodreads list is how color schemes seem to go in cycles, especially for romance novels. This gray and red scheme is the same being used on Sarah MacLean’s The Day of the Duchess, also released in June. I honestly wish he wasn’t holding her bare leg, but otherwise, another fun “breaking the fourth wall” cover. Do you prefer it when series covers match? I really, really want them to match because I’m weird that way.

BOTTOM LINE: Another enjoyable entry in this series. I love “young lost love found again” stories.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  An e-novella, A Talent for Temptation, is coming October 2, 2017. The final book in the series, The Secrets of Flirting, will be available March 27, 2018.

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

The Most Dangerous Duke in London (Decadent Dukes Society #1) by Madeline Hunter

For the first time ever on this blog, I’m reviewing a book by one of my favorite authors, Madeline Hunter! This is the first book in her brand-new series, “The Decadent Dukes Society,” about heirs to dukedoms who became friends.

The Most Dangerous Duke in London front cover (Zebra/Kensington)

THE PLOT: Adam Penrose, Duke of Stratton, has returned to London after a long stay in France with his French mother. He exiled himself when his father killed himself in disgrace for reasons that aren’t entirely clear to Adam. He’s made a name for himself dueling over insults in France, and now he’s returned to London to find out the truth. But first, the family with whom his has a longstanding feud is eager to make peace.

The Cheswicks and Penroses had previously argued over ownership of some land, but there may also be some other skeletons in the family closets. To end the feud and avoid Adam’s challenging her grandson, the head of the Cheswick family, the Dowager Countess of Marwood, suggests that Adam marry her granddaughter. The girl offered to him is only 16 and therefore not of interest, but Adam is interested in the oldest Cheswick, 24-year-old Clara, whom her brother dubs a shrew.

Clara’s father allowed her to avoid marriage and granted her some degree of independence along with her inheritance. Adam pursues her, but Clara really isn’t interested in marriage. She’s too involved in publishing a lady’s journal and doesn’t need a man trying to control her. But her attraction to Adam leads to an affair, and then love. Will they ever really be happy if they don’t find out the truth about their families’ true history?

MY TWO CENTS: Madeline Hunter’s writing style has made her one of my favorite authors since I first read By Arrangement, still one of my very favorite romances of all time. (In fact, it may be time for another reread.) I slightly preferred her medievals to her regencies, but I’m very likely to enjoy anything she’s written.

Like the introductory novels in her other series, This one sets up characters we’ll be following in subsequent books. Three friends who are all dukes and have distinctly different personalities are introduced. This book’s hero, Adam, is all about revenge and learning the truth about what brought about his father’ death. Langford is the playboy, while Brentworth seems serious and reliable (but I’m betting still waters run deep there).

To be honest, I was much more interested in the truth of the mystery than the romance. The romance was fine, but will be familiar to Hunter’s regular readers; she’s done the “family history” thing before. But this one has a few unexpected twists that make it well worth the read.

COVER NOTES: Love the color scheme and the beautiful dress….which covers the model! Nice! Between this and the Mary Jo Putney books, Kensington is hitting it out of the park with their “heroine in a historically appropriate dress” covers.

BOTTOM LINE: I love Madeline Hunter’s writing, and the family drama and mystery provide an added component to the romance.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The next book in the series, A Devil of a Duke, will release next year and focus on Adam’s friend Langford.

Note: Review is based on ARCs provided by the publisher via Netgalley and Amazon Vine in exchange for an honest review.

Never Trust a Pirate (Playful Brides #7) by Valerie Bowman

This seventh entry in Valerie Bowman’s “Playful Brides” series is supposedly based on The Scarlet Pimpernel. The hero is Cade Cavendish, twin of Rafe Cavendish from Book 4, The Irresistible Rogue, previously reviewed here.

Never Trust a Pirate front cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

THE PLOT: Cade has always been the black sheep of the family. For a while, his twin believed he was dead. Now Cade is back in London, staying with Rafe and his wife, Daphne, and involved in some scheme. Rafe is afraid that his brother is up to no good, but is he really?

Danielle LaCrosse is half-English, half-French, and all out for revenge. As a spy, she’s perfectly placed as Daphne’s maid in the Cavendish household. She catches Cade’s attention, though, and sparks fly. There’s danger for everyone along with some twin mix-ups. And who really is the mysterious Black Fox?

TWO CENTS: I really enjoyed the first “Playful Brides” books, and I think my favorite entries in the series are the ones that play more heavily off their source material. I didn’t like Book 6 as much as much, and its connection to Pygmalion was really thin. I’m not terribly fond of this new book, either, and I feel like its basis in The Scarlet Pimpernel is limited to having a mysterious character with a color for a name. It doesn’t help that Pimpernel is one of my favorite stories, so I was really excited about this book, and feel pretty let down by its lack of similarity to Pimpernel. Not that I expect these books to be the same as their sources, but look at my favorite in the series, Book 3, The Unlikely Lady (previously reviewed here). There were just enough elements of Much Ado About Nothing to make the connection clear. If the ad copy hadn’t said Never Trust a Pirate was based on Pimpernel, I’d never know it.

For me, the biggest problem with this book isn’t necessarily with the couple, but with the very light treatment of them as spies. If you’re used to reading, say, Joanna Bourne’s “Spymaster” series, you’ll be a little underwhelmed by the technique and seriousness of these spies. If Joanna Bourne is too dark for you, and you’re more interested in lighter romance, you may really enjoy this book.

Despite its lightness, part of me felt that I never quite caught up with what was happening in this story, and I think it’s because the waters are deliberately muddied so the reader doesn’t really understand what’s going on. I get that there’s supposed to be a big surprise reveal, and you’re not really supposed to know who is sharking who until the last minute, but that part just didn’t build for me. Also, I feel like the huge reveal was built on a cheat, so at the end I was all like, “Wait a minute…but didn’t it say…” I get it, the author wanted the reader to be surprised. But I was just mostly confused. Maybe it’s just me?

COVER NOTES: The cover in and of itself is very attractive. Its look is similar to the new tone set by Book 6, The Legendary Lord. One color scheme, couple in an embrace. The deep blue is very pleasing. However, I AM going to call the publisher, St. Martin’s, out on one thing: this book essentially shares a cover with two other books! If you want to see what I mean, check out the covers for Amelia Grey’s Last Night with the Duke and Kerrigan Byrne’s forthcoming The Scot Beds His Wife. All three have the same blue shade, the same font for author name, the same font for book title, clinch couples, and even similar backgrounds on Pirate and Scot. Back in the day, I knew of people who didn’t necessarily recognize authors or book titles; they just picked up romances based on their covers. If these sort of customers still exist, I can see them passing over two of the other books after buying one, believing they’re all the same book. This would just seem to be a business mistake. Make these books stand out from one another!

BOTTOM LINE: Again, I would not recommend this as an intro to Valerie Bowman, or to the “Playful Brides” series. Yes, it can stand on its own as a story, but a lot of the earlier entries are much stronger, in my opinion. Read it if you’re already in the series, but otherwise, start with Book 1.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 2, 2017, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Book 8, The Right Kind of Rogue, will release October 31, 2017, and feature Hart and Meg, who we met in The Legendary Lord, and will be based (somewhat?) on Romeo and Juliet. It’s a romance, so I very much doubt the couple will die.

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

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