The Right Kind of Rogue (Playful Brides #8) by Valerie Bowman

If you’re not familiar with the “Playful Brides” series, all the books are based (loosely) on famous plays. Book #8 is based on Romeo and Juliet (although obviously not a tragedy, because…romance.) This one gives us the story of Hart and Meg, first introduced in Book #6, The Legendary Lord (previously reviewed here). I was really looking forward to this particular couple, but did it meet my expectations?

The Right Kind of Rogue front cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Macmillan)

THE PLOT: Poor Meg Timmons has been in love with her best friend’s brother, Hart, forever. Too bad their families are enemies for a mysterious reason (actually, there are enough clues to figure it out before the big reveal). Meg’s family is dirt poor, so Meg can’t afford the kind of wardrobe it would take to really capture Hart’s interest at balls…or anyone else’s interest, for that matter. Hart’s sister Sarah tells Meg that Hart has finally decided to find himself a wife, but Meg despairs of ever winning him. Enter meddler extraordinaire Lucy Hunt, Duchess of Claringdon (star of Book 1, The Unexpected Duchess).

Lucy takes Meg under her wing, dressing her in new gowns and jewels designed to capture Hart’s attention, and drags her to society balls and parties. Hart takes the bait, and a relationship begins to develop…just not quickly enough for circumstances. So when the meddling eventually goes too far, misunderstandings and mixed messages may tear the lovers apart.

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me get this out of my system: This book suffers from a surplus of Lucy Hunt. I know, she’s known for being kind of a lovable manipulator, but in this story she gets downright annoying. I’ve never been a fan of how she calls everyone “dear,” the way a diner waitress will refer to customers as “hun,” but it seems especially overdone in this title. Plus, she just couldn’t quit and wouldn’t butt out the two or three times Meg told her to.

Second, I was really enjoying this book right up until Hart became an ass. For the first half of the book, Hart defends Meg from her horrible family. He offers to dance with her at balls, thereby making her more visible to eligible gentlemen. He likes her. They develop a friendship. He confides to her the horrible thing that caused him to break up with the woman he almost married. This is all fun relationship building. So you would think the rapport Hart and Meg have developed before the “big misunderstanding” occurs would see them through…but it doesn’t. Hart takes the first opportunity to turn against Meg, and I never forgive him for that.

I really thought after a scene of our duo being safely rescued after “accidentally” being locked in the silver closet, and after Hart confessing how much he’s afraid of being trapped into marriage, that we would not get the “trapped into marriage” trope. And that even if we did, Hart would realize that gentle Meg, his friend, would not be the architect of that trap. Nope; we get Hart raging around like an animal for the second half the book while Meg doesn’t know what to do.

I have no patience with this. If I were Meg, the conversation on their wedding night would have gone something like this:

Hart: I refuse to consummate the marriage! Therefore, you will never have the happy marriage you want, or children, or a family!

Meg: But what I really wanted was to be rich, stay in London, be free of my parents, and never have a man touch me, so actually I have everything I want. Toodles.

Hart: Well…in that case, we WILL consummate the marriage!

Meg: So you’re so much like your father that you’ll do the exact opposite of whatever anyone tells you just to be contrary, even if it’s something you don’t want?

Hart: … (disappears in a puff of logic)

So yeah, first half, good (as a bonus, there’s lots of descriptions of gorgeous gowns…I was really loving the Cinderella aspect of the story!) but second half…I’m not a fan.

Is it like Romeo and Juliet? Well, the families are enemies. A surplus of interference almost does them in (metaphorically). And there’s plenty of verbal poison floating around. Romeo and Juliet is even mentioned a few times, which makes sense in the context of the time period.

COVER NOTES: Between this one and the one for the next book, it looks like the series theme was reinvented again, somewhat. Still a clinch couple, back to more of the headless man pose of the first five books, but with a lush landscape added instead of the one solid color. The colors and florals are pretty and romantic. I like the cover on its own; less so when I realize this is probably the pivotal scene that turns the tide of the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Good up until the hero was a jerk and a friend became downright annoying.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  A Duke Like No Other, focusing on Mark Grimaldi, will be available May 1, 2018.

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

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Her Every Wish (Worth Saga 1.5) by Courtney Milan

This novella is the second entry in the  new “Worth Saga” series, and its characters were first introduced in Once Upon a Marquess (reviewed here). Daisy is Judith’s friend in poverty, and Crash is her former lover.

her every wish

Her Every Wish Front Cover (Independently Published)

THE PLOT: When Daisy enters a contest that will be awarding startup capital to the person with the best business proposal, the crowd mocks and belittles her. Just because the rules didn’t specifically state the entries must be male doesn’t mean a woman should try to take a job from a man. But when people start throwing things at her, Crash steps in to stop the violence.

Daisy and Crash had a brief affair that ended abruptly. She’s not sure why he wants to help her win the contest, but having him around unnerves her. As for Crash, he’s still smarting from their breakup. But as Crash works to build up Daisy’s confidence, they forge an emotional connection that was missing the first time around.

MY TWO CENTS: I feel that no one gets to the heart of human emotions like Courtney Milan. For me, that makes her work more than romances. They’re like studies in human nature. The characters learn more about themselves, and that allows them to become romantically involved.

I’ve seen some reviews claim that Daisy and Crash had a “big misunderstanding.” I don’t agree with that. A lack of understanding, maybe; but I characterize a “big misunderstanding” as something like: “a couple were in love, but her father told the hero she wasn’t interested, and told the heroine that he only wanted her for her money.” This is more like, Daisy doesn’t understand how she insults Crash by insinuating that he should apologize for who he is…a multiracial former thief of uncertain parentage. In response, Crash lashes out at Daisy, hitting her in her weakest spot: her very worth as a human being. Yep, these two have a lot of work to do to mature, learn about themselves, and other people’s points of view.

Also, I love how Courtney is making a point of writing for all people, all kinds of romances. To a lot of people today, an interracial romance is probably no big deal, yet the vast, vast majority of romance is focused on white straight people. Courtney’s got some very interesting stories coming up in her contemporary “Cyclone” series, and I’ll definitely be checking them out.

BOTTOM LINE: This novella was just about the perfect length to tell a complete story without getting overly long or being too short. I love the way these characters grow to maturity before they can connect emotionally.

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

ON SALE DATE: The novella is now available in e-formats and paperback.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: After the Wedding, about Judith’s sister Camilla, should be out around the end of the year.

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

Talk Sweetly to Me (Brothers Sinister 4.5) by Courtney Milan

This novella is the final entry in the “Brothers Sinister” series, which makes me sad. It features…gasp…an interracial couple! Really! In 1882! Readers met Irishman Stephen Shaughnessy, also known as “An Actual Man,” in the previous book, The Suffragette Scandal (reviewed here). His romantic interest is Rose Sweetly, a brilliant mathematician who also happens to be of African descent.

Talk Sweetly to Me Front Cover

Talk Sweetly to Me Front Cover

THE PLOT: Rose is a lot more interested in Stephen, her neighbor, than she should be. First, she knows his reputation with women. Second, he’s always joking, and she’s got serious things on her mind, like the distance between planets and caring for her very-pregnant sister. Third, she believes her racial background pretty much prevents her from ever being more to him than a mistress. But Stephen will not be denied a chance with Rose. He manages to set up math lessons with her as his tutor. He buys her a telescope for a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event. And at every step, he’s unselfish as can be. But Rose just can’t take the chance until a life-or-death situation proves whom she can trust most in the world.

MY TWO CENTS: How can you not love Rose? She’s a geek! She’s a genius! And, unfortunately, she’s forced to face the barriers of racism. (As I was reading Rose, I was picturing Freema Agyeman, who played another smart, geeky Brit who also happened to have dark skin.) And while I enjoyed Stephen, Rose was really the star of this story. She wrestles with her own feelings and the dictates of society, all while just wanting to be alone with her slide rule. (That is not a euphemism.) The moments where Rose shines the most are those she shares with her sister, Patricia, whose complicated pregnancy is even more endangered by the racist doctor who’s supposed to be caring for her. The first time the doctor referred to Patricia as “women like her,” I physically flinched. I’m so glad Rose gets to…oh, but wait, that would be a spoiler.

For those interested, no other Brothers Sinister characters show up. There is a mention of Free, but that’s all.

BOTTOM LINE: A really good novella, but I wish this story could have been a full-length novel. I feel like the story itself is stronger than the romance, which, granted, is not necessarily a bad thing. Stephen and Rose’s relationship could have developed so much more, and more gradually, over a longer novel.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups. Definitely worth checking out, even if you haven’t read the rest of the series, especially if you appreciate diversity in your reading.

ON SALE DATE: The novella is now available in e-formats.

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

 

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