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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The Legendary Lord (Playful Brides #6) by Valerie Bowman

This is the sixth entry in Valerie Bowman’s “Playful Brides” series, in which each book is based on a famous play. This one is very loosely based on Pygmalion, and features everyone’s best friend, Christian, Viscount Berkley. (Check out other entries on the “Playful Brides” books throughout my blog.)

The Legendary Lord Front Cover (St. Martin's Paperback)

The Legendary Lord front cover (St. Martin’s Paperback)

THE PLOT: Christian is tired of playing the part of “helpful friend” to all his female acquaintances, who have gone on to their happily-ever-afters with other men. He retreats to his estate in Scotland, hoping for some solitude, only to find a runaway lady hiding in his house.

Lady Sarah freaked out at the idea of marrying a marquess who is mostly in love with himself. She’s run away to Scotland to what she thought was her father’s hunting lodge, but she picked the wrong house, her chaperone has been injured, and now she’s stuck in a snowstorm alone with a man she doesn’t know and on the verge of ruination. After bonding over some stew and biscuits, Christian opens up to Lady Sarah about his women problems and makes her a deal: he’ll help hide the fact that she ran away and save her reputation if she helps mold him into society’s most eligible bachelor.

There’s an obvious solution to both their problems —marry each other. But immediate chemistry aside, Sarah is obedient to her parents, who want this match with the marquess; Christian may have more holding him back from marriage than just the wrong tailor. It will take all their combined friends beating these two over the head to get them together.

MY TWO CENTS: I have pretty much loved all the “Playful Brides” books, but this one was not my favorite. The first problem for me was that Christian and Sarah are just both too darn nice. Their trapped-in-the-snowstorm-getting-to-know-you scenes went on too long for my taste and were just too bland. Christian has been getting friend-zoned for five books now, and I feel like he needed someone more his opposite to pull him out of the rut. Like a female pirate, or a partially reformed prostitute, or something. Not an equally nice but independence-challenged young lady who knits and cooks.

The pace picks up once Lucy, Cass, Jane, and other characters from previous books get in on the act. Everyone can see that these two are perfect for each other, so they’re going to do everything they can to make the match happen. They all owe Christian and want to see him happy. Too bad his soul mate has the backbone of a dishrag.

Okay, I’m being unfair. By the end of the book, Sarah has figured out that she needs to start standing up for herself…but it’s the last 20 pages of the book. I’d rather see a heroine who learns at least halfway through the book that she has decision-making power. Telling the reader that from now on she’s going to put herself first is nice, but I would have liked to have seen that growth.

There are some exceptionally fiery love scenes when they finally do get together (I guess it’s the quiet ones you have to watch), but it also feels slightly out of character for Sarah. She won’t say no to her parents, but she’ll indulge in sexual exploration? Hmmm.

COVER NOTES: This cover is a slight transition from the first five books, which were often headless/more closeup on the couple. The execution is similar, with one dominant color (in this case, white), but we see more of the couple. From the newly released cover for the next book, I’d say this is the new direction for the series. Bonus points for showing Sarah wearing a dress described in the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Readers of the series will want to read this one, too, but I wouldn’t recommend it as the book to read to get someone hooked on the series. The story picks up in the second half, but I find Sarah’s best friend more interesting than her. I just feel like Christian deserved better.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 1, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Never Trust a Pirate, book 7 in the series, will be published in May 2017. It will feature Cade Cavendish, twin of Rafe Cavendish from book 4, The Irresistible Rogue. I’m always up for a good pirate story. Afterward, I’d bet we’re heading toward the story of Sarah’s brother and best friend.

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

 

The Untamed Earl (Playful Brides, #5) by Valerie Bowman

This series, which is based on classic plays, just gets better and better. This entry is based on “The Taming of the Shrew.”

The Untamed Earl Front Cover (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

The Untamed Earl Front Cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

THE PLOT: Alexandra Hobbs has loved Owen Monroe since, as a 15-year-old girl, she saw him rescue her little brother from bullies. Now 18, Alexandra learns that her and Owen’s parents plan to arrange a marriage between him and Alex’s unpleasant older sister, Lavinia. Owen’s father is forcing him to marry Lavinia if he doesn’t want to be cut off. The catch is, Alex’s parents want Lavinia to want to marry Owen, so he’s got to convince her. No easy feat since Lavinia was deathly ill as a child, so her parents have spoiled her into becoming a self-centered, unpleasant shrew.

To sabotage the intended union and spend some time with Owen herself, Alex offers to give Owen lessons on winning the difficult Lavinia over. As a trade, Owen has to help Alex overcome her wallflower status and grab the attention of the man she loves (of course, he has no idea that he himself is the man). The two become good friends as Owen gives Alex lessons in waltzing and flirting, and Alex happily misleads Owen on any fact that might help him build a relationship with Lavinia. Eventually Owen realizes he’d be more than happy to marry Alex instead, but her parents insist that Lavinia, the older sister, must marry first. Owen’s father insists that he man up, stop drinking and gambling, and settle down with Lavinia. And Alex doesn’t want Owen to settle for her; she wants him to love her.

MY TWO CENTS: Up until now, my favorite “Playful Brides” book was The Unlikely Lady (reviewed here), but The Untamed Earl may overtake that spot. I LOVED this book; it was just darling. Alex is an adorable heroine who knows what she wants and tries like crazy to get it. Owen’s been dismissed as a loser by his own father, so it’s up to Alex to convince him that he’s really the hero she fell in love with, the one who rescues young boys from bullies. I really rooted for Alex, and for Owen to become the man she wants him to be.

Lavinia is another matter entirely. I wondered if, like Katherine the shrew, she would turn out to be a sympathetic character with her own love story. I’m still not sure that she shouldn’t get her own book someday. I wondered for a bit if she was destined to be courted by Christian, Lord Berkley, who might be her “perfect knight.” But it looks like Christian will have a different heroine in the next book.

And this wouldn’t be a “Playful Brides” book without some interference from Lucy, Cass, and Jane. Owen is Cass’s brother, so of course she gets involved; and Lucy comes up with a typical convoluted plan that only makes sense to her; and Jane sits around reading, eating tea cakes, and telling everyone else the plan is ridiculous. (I LOVE Jane.)

BOTTOM LINE: I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Such a cute story with likable characters; it’s competing with The Unlikely Lady for my favorite in the series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 3, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Christian’s book, The Legendary Lord, will be available November 1, 2016.

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

The Unforgettable Hero (Playful Brides 4.5) by Valerie Bowman

If you’ve the other books in the “Playful Brides” series (Book 3, The Unlikely Lady, was reviewed here, and Book 4, The Irresistible Rogue, was reviewed here), you’ll want to read this novella.

The Unforgettable Hero Front Cover (St. Martin's Press)

The Unforgettable Hero Front Cover (St. Martin’s Press)

THE PLOT: Cecilia Harcourt is in a tight spot. After her parents’ deaths, she and her sickly little sister Mary are under the guardianship of her tight-fisted aunt and uncle. They want Cece to marry their nasty son Percy so they get Cece’s dowry. Cece has written a romantic novel that she’s hoping to get published, thereby paying for Mary’s much-needed medicine and saving Cece from a horrible marriage. After being rejected by a publisher, a distraught Cece is on her way home when she’s hit by a carriage. But when Cece wakes up, she thinks she’s the main character from her book…and her rescuer is the character’s betrothed.

Adam Hunt, younger brother of the Duke of Claringdon, takes the unconscious young woman back to his brother’s home. When she wakes up, she proclaims that she is Lady Magnolia and Adam is her fiancé, the Duke of Loveridge, but she has no other real memories. The doctor recommends that Adam, his brother Derek, and sister-in-law Lucy play along with “Lady Magnolia’s” delusion until they can figure out who she is, or until the she regains her memory on her own. But Adam doesn’t count on developing feelings for their guest.

MY TWO CENTS: The setup of this is absolutely adorable. The amnesia plot gets a twist with Cece believing she’s her own fictitious character, and that Adam is the perfect duke she’s dreamed up. Adding Lucy (of Book 1, The Unexpected Duchess) to meddle is a perfect touch. The reader has to overlook the whole ludicrous “taking an amnesiac to a ball” part and just go with the story.

I’m just sorry Adam tripped the finish line. After being kind and caring for most of the story, he suddenly freaks out three-quarters of the way through and decides Cece has just been putting on an act. I guess that’s partially the author’s way of dealing with “they can’t possibly be in love after three days,” but I would have liked it better if he’d stayed her support system throughout. The story just didn’t need that added conflict.

BOTTOM LINE: Cute novella; a definite read if you’ve read all the other “Playful Brides.” But it would have been better if the hero hadn’t suddenly acted like a jerk.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available February 2, 2016, in eformats.

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

The Irresistible Rogue (Playful Brides #4) by Valerie Bowman

If you’ve followed Valerie Bowman’s “Playful Brides” series, you know each book is based on a famous play (that more than likely has also been made into a movie). This entry, The Irresistible Rogue, is based on The Philadelphia Story. Most of the previous books have been more inspired by the play than based on it entirely. How does this one measure up?

NOTE: This review contains spoilers for previous books in the series, especially The Accidental Countess and The Unlikely Lady.

Irresistable Rogue Front Cover (St. Martin's Paperbacks)

The Irresistible Rogue Front Cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks)

THE PLOT: If you read the previous book in the series, The Unlikely Lady (reviewed here), you may remember Daphne Swift’s announcement at the very end…that she was, in fact, married to Captain Rafe Cavendish. As it turns out, Daphne, who speaks Russian, was asked/allowed by her brother Donald to go on a spy mission with Rafe so she could eavesdrop on some Russian-speaking French agents. The only catch: Donald demanded that Rafe marry Daphne (in name only) before they left in case they were discovered, so Daphne’s reputation would be secure. So Daphne, disguised as cabin boy Grey, sails off with Rafe on the True Love. She fell head over heels for her husband, but he told her he thought of her as a sister.

Now, Daphne plans to get an annulment so she can marry an appropriate man. At the engagement party, Rafe shows up asking for Daphne’s help on a mission to find Donald’s killer. If she goes with him, he’ll give her the annulment. Daphne’s other brother, Julian, allows her to go to help get justice for their brother. This time, though, Rafe’s not sure he wants to give up his wife to someone else.

MY TWO CENTS: Let me clear one thing up right away: if you read lots of regency-era romance and think this setup is convoluted and preposterous…it totally is. As the author says in her afterword, she’s an entertainer, not a historian. So if you think no nobleman in his right mind would let his high-born little sister dress as a boy to go on missions with spies, you’re absolutely right. But just put that out of your mind and enjoy the story for what it is.

And the first half of the book is almost all of The Philadelphia Story. There are differences, of course. Instead of little sister Dinah, there’s younger cousin Delilah, but just as charming and manipulative. (Oh, I hope, hope, HOPE that Delilah gets her own book eventually. Her future husband won’t know what hit him.) Rafe calls Daphne “Grey,” which of course echos C.K. Dexter’s “Red” for Tracy. Instead of Uncle Willie, there’s Aunt Willie, who is also rooting for Rafe over the social-climbing potential fiance. Rafe sends Daphne an engagement present…a miniature of the True Love. And when Daphne gets too tired of being called perfect…well, either you know the story or you need to. Hee hee!

Of course, if you’re thinking movie version, I’ll admit that Daphne is no Hepburn (but who is?) and Rafe is not Cary Grant. It could just be the timing—I was watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” around the time I was reading—but I imagined Rafe as Armie Hammer: tall and blond and spy-ish. (Spy-like? Spy-y?) The second half of the book is all adventure and romance. This time, Daphne will make Rafe let her go or admit he loves her as much as she loves him.

A quick note about the series: Yes, this can be read as a standalone book, but you’ll probably get more out of it if you’ve at least read Julian and Cass’s story in The Accidental Countess. And if you’re going to do that, you HAVE to read The Unlikely Lady. And if you’re going to do that, then you might as well start at the beginning with The Unexpected Duchess. 

BOTTOM LINE: A fun read even if you don’t know The Philadelphia Story. Sit back, suspend disbelief, and enjoy the ride.

TEACUP RATING: I give The Irresistible Rogue four teacups out of five.

ON SALE DATE: The Irresistible Rogue will release in paperback and eformats on November 3, 2015.

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

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