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.

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The Last Tudor (The Plantagenet and Tudor Novels #14) by Philippa Gregory

I loooooove Philippa Gregory novels! Let’s just get this out of the way: they’re not 100% historically accurate (because they’re historical FICTION, people; big difference between that and nonfiction) but they always suck you in and make you feel like you’re in the middle of the action. This one is called The Last Tudor, I think for two reasons: Gregory has finally run through every Tudor who ever existed. She therefore claims this will be her last Tudor novel. One of the working titles of this novel, announced years ago, was The Grey Girls, and that title would have been accurately descriptive.

The Last Tudor front cover (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: The book is presented in three parts, following each of the Grey sisters— granddaughters of Henry VIII’s sister, Mary, who was Queen of France and then scandalously secretly married to Henry’s friend Charles Brandon.

First, we get the story of Jane Grey, the most famous of the sisters, who ruled as queen for nine days after Edward VI’s death. Jane was the legitimate Protestant heir after Henry’s daughters Mary and Elizabeth had been deemed illegitimate. Poor Jane is the victim of her family’s machinations as well as those of other members of the nobility. Jane is married off to Guildford Dudley in an effort to bind the two families together.  Jane wants only to continue her religious studies and be left alone, but she’s forced to become queen, and then abandoned to a terrible fate once the country rises up for Catholic Mary Tudor.

The second and longest part of the book follows Jane’s middle sister, Katherine, who has none of Jane’s serious nature. While she’s eager to be named Mary Tudor’s heir to the throne over Elizabeth, all she really wants is love. Mary ends up naming Elizabeth next in line anyway. Mary dies, making Elizabeth queen, and perhaps Katherine is now the volatile Elizabeth’s heir. But vain, jealous Elizabeth doesn’t want any courtiers paying more attention to the next-in-line than they do to her. She also craves all male attention, not allowing her ladies-in-waiting to marry because it would mean a man chose someone over her. In her never-ending manipulative game-playing, Elizabeth refuses to make Katherine her heir. She’s focused on romancing Robert Dudley but refusing to marry and bear her own children, which would diminish Katherine’s claim to the throne. Katherine finally decides to marry her true love in secret and worry about punishment later. But circumstances conspire against her, and she ends up paying a steep price for defying Elizabeth.

The last part focuses on Mary Grey, the youngest of the sisters and a person of small stature (she was referred to as a dwarf in Elizabethan times). No one pays much attention to Mary; everyone assumes she won’t marry and provide a possible Tudor heir to the throne. Gambling on her unimportance, Mary secretly marries her true love as well. Unfortunately, her love story is no happier than her sister Katherine’s.

MY TWO CENTS: Strangely enough, I have never been as much of a fan of Elizabethan fiction as I am of stories of Henry VIII’s court. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because so much of the action relies on Elizabeth’s mercurial temperament. You might admire Elizabeth’s ability to keep everyone dancing on the edge of a knife—never actually making decisions; always keeping people guessing or changing her mind. That ability may have helped make her a great queen, but it does make for tiresome reading after a bit. Her paranoia, her jealousy of any man’s admiration of any other woman over her, is in complete opposition to her extreme intelligence and cunning. (Or was the paranoia just a manifestation of the cunning?)

To an extent, that colored my reading experience of this novel, but that is not to say I didn’t enjoy it. There is always a danger when reading historical fiction that you’re not going to stay engaged when you know what’s coming. That’s especially true when you know the outcome isn’t going to be a happy one. But that did not happen with this book. I couldn’t put it down, even though I knew it wasn’t going anywhere satisfying to the characters.

I have to admit, I found Jane as written a tiresome character. There was absolutely no fun to her at all, just extreme religious piety and a cold disregard for her sisters. So frankly, I was glad to get her story out of the way immediately, even though her shadow lingers over her sisters for the rest of the story. Somehow, I still managed to care what happened to her, and did feel bad when she realized, at the last minute, that she really didn’t want to die. In those last moments, she was finally more like a teenage girl than a robot.

I enjoyed Katherine’s story much more, inasmuch as anyone can enjoy the story of someone who lives most of her adult life locked away from her husband and children and then dies at age 27. Although Jane’s perspective of Katherine was of a silly girl, Katherine seems much more accessible to the reader. Yes, she can be silly, but she also shows many more human emotions than Jane. She loves her pets. She falls deeply in love and risks everything for it. In her naivete, she just honestly didn’t think Elizabeth would punish her for very long, much less forever. Katherine has absolutely no allies or parental figures after her mother dies, so you sympathize when she doesn’t even know for sure if she’s pregnant because no one has told her how to tell. A great part of the book is Katherine not giving up hope that Elizabeth will release her from captivity. Feeling that hope from Katherine’s point of view carries the reader along, even when her hopes are dashed time after time. It’s when Katherine finally realizes that she will never, ever be free that the story switches to Mary’s perspective.

I like Mary, the most practical of the Greys, except for one thing: having witnessed what happened to her sister, mostly because of Elizabeth’s jealousy, did she honestly think she would get away with a secret marriage herself? Did she really believe she wasn’t risking her freedom? But maybe that was the point. Maybe having lost her father and one sister to the executioner, and another sister to prison, she was willing to risk everything for even a short period of love.

This book overlaps somewhat with some of Gregory’s other novels: The Queen’s Fool, The Virgin’s Lover and The Other Queen. There was quite a bit about Robert Dudley and Mary Queen of Scots in this book.

AUDIO NOTE: If you enjoy audiobooks, I highly recommend listening to Gregory’s Plantagenet and Tudor novels in audio format. Bianca Amato has been the reader on many of Gregory’s books, and I enjoy her performances greatly. I’ve had this on pre-order on Audible for months and will enjoy listening to it even after reading it.

COVER NOTES: This cover is pretty bland; just some golden Tudor roses over a silhouette of the Tower of London. Probably better than trying to show all three protagonists. Plus, the typical historical fiction “headless” woman has already been done on Alison Weir’s novel of Katherine Grey, A Dangerous Inheritance.

BOTTOM LINE: Not my favorite Gregory book, but still a very good read. If you’re a fan of Gregory’s, you’ll gobble this up. If you’re not already a fan, I wouldn’t recommend starting with this one.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available in hardcover, eformats, and audio on August 8, 2017.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR: I think we’re finally, FINALLY, getting the fourth and final book in the “Order of Darkness” series! Just this week, the title Dark Tracks has shown up on Amazon, with a release date of March 6, 2018. I don’t know what Gregory has planned after that now that she’s finished writing about the Tudors, but I’ll be watching to find out.

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

 

Wendy Darling: Shadow (Wendy Darling #3) by Colleen Oakes

I have thoroughly enjoyed the “Wendy Darling” series, which also included Volume 1: Stars (previously reviewed here) and Volume 2: Seas (reviewed here). How did Shadow finish out the story?

Wendy Darling: Shadow front cover (SparkPress)

THE PLOT: Volume 3 picks up where Seas left off. Wendy has returned to the Lost Boys, trying to make Peter believe she loves him and gain his forgiveness for leaving. She needs to be there long enough to get information from Tink and steal Peter’s pipes, both needed to control the Shadow, the destructive force behind Peter’s power.

 Her task is complicated by the capture of Booth, her gentle true love from London, thanks to her combative brother John. With Booth under Peter’s control, Wendy has to fight for his release from Neverland along with the freedom of both her brothers.
Alone with Peter, without the aid of her friend Captain Hook or much assistance from a hostile Tink, Wendy will have to rely on herself to rescue her loved ones and free Neverland from Peter and the Shadow.

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that this book has a lot more action than Volume 2 did. Don’t get me wrong, I liked Seas, but it was a lot of setup and building toward the climax. Now that we’re here, stuff is happening. In contrast to Seas, Hook’s role here is fairly limited. We do get a big dose of Peter, who was mostly missing from Seas.

Of course, we knew all along that this is a more obvious Wendy coming-of-age story than the original Peter Pan. This Wendy is in her late teens and already had a love interest before Peter. Peter makes no secret of what he wants from Wendy.  We definitely see a more adult Wendy emerge in this volume; she’s grabbing adulthood, and the responsibilities that come with it, with both hands.

Wendy is mostly released from Peter’s thrall now, especially with the reality of a captured Booth staring her in the face. While she has a battle plan, there’s a part of her that will take whatever happiness she can just in case it doesn’t work out.

I also found that this book wasn’t very predictable. I had a pretty definite idea of how things would play out, and I was wrong quite a bit. I wonder if other readers would agree with me, or do you see this ending coming?

COVER NOTES: I’ve mentioned before how very much I love these covers. I was wrong in thinking that we might see Wendy’s face on this final cover, but I don’t have a problem with that. I much prefer “faceless” covers that leave the details to the reader’s imagination than a model who doesn’t match my idea of the character. We do, however, get Wendy standing strong for the first time, which is appropriate. I’m buying a set of these books to have the matched set in hard copy because I think they’re worthy of my precious limited shelf space.

BOTTOM LINE: I really liked this whole series, and found Shadow fairly unpredictable. I’m really gratified when the series finale doesn’t trip the finish line. I would recommend this series to fans of fairy tale retellings.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available in paperback and eformats on July 18, 2017.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR: The third book in the “Red Queen” series, War of the Cards, will be released November 7, 2017. I really need to start reading this series.

Note: Review is based on ARCs 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.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) by Alison Weir

Noted historian Alison Weir returns to her fiction series based on Henry VIII’s wives in Book 2–Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession. (Book 1 in the series, Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, was previously reviewed here.)

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession front cover (Ballantine Books/Random House)

THE PLOT: Obviously, this is a very light summary of a pretty big story! The novel starts with eleven-year-old Anne Boleyn preparing to go to the court at Burgundy where she will serve the Regent Margaret. Under Margaret’s tutelage, Anne learns that the world doesn’t only have to be ruled by men; women can be intelligent and hold power, too. Eventually, Anne travels to the court of France, serving the former English Princess Mary who is now Queen of France. After the king’s death, Anne’s sister Mary is violated by the new French king and leaves court. Anne believes she herself will never love any man.

In England, Anne falls in love with Henry Percy, but their betrothal is nixed by Cardinal Wolsey. Mary is once again assaulted, this time by the English king. She reluctantly becomes his mistress and bears him a child. Anne hates King Henry for his treatment of her sister, but then he becomes smitten with Anne. He pursues her despite Anne’s exasperated protests that she will never love him, especially since he is already married. Henry decides this means Anne will love him if he divorces his Queen, Katherine of Aragon. She hasn’t been able to bear him a living son anyway, so it makes sense to have the marriage annulled.

Anne realizes this gives her a real opportunity to be queen, and she grabs it, despite her newfound love for one of Henry’s men, Henry Norris. But the years drag by without the divorce taking place. Anne amuses herself by causing the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey at her family’s request. Finally, Henry breaks from the Catholic Church in order to marry Anne. But when she, too, fails to bear a prince, her days are numbered.

MY TWO CENTS: First thing: this is a work of historical FICTION. If you want facts, you’ll have to read some biographies. I can recommend three by Alison Weir: The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, and Mary Boleyn, the Mistress of Kings.

So what sets this novel apart from everything else you’ve already read about Anne Boleyn? First, I loved the setup of young Anne in the court of Burgundy. This gives some insight into Anne’s forward thinking ideas about women in power. Second, the idea that her sister Mary was raped, twice, is a different take on “the great whore.” It also feeds into Anne’s ideas that men cannot be trusted, and especially Henry.

What really sets this apart, though, is Anne’s love for Henry Norris! Historians will recognize the name as one of the king’s men who was executed with Anne, but history mostly calls his “love” of her courtly love…i.e., the kind of playful flirting that was common at this time, with no real meaning behind it. Weir recasts theirs as a great unfulfilled love, first because Norris is already betrothed and then married when Anne meets him, and then later because when given the opportunity, Anne deliberately chooses her pursuit of the crown over her love of Norris. It’s clear in this version that ambition leads to Anne’s ultimate downfall.

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a version of this story where Anne was plainly dismissive of Henry’s suit of her due to her disgust for him. This Anne never sees Henry as attractive, even when he is a young man. Later, after his violation of her sister, she has a loathing of him that he simply does not take seriously, no matter how much she tries to convince him that she’s not interested. It’s not until she realizes she could be queen that she begins to encourage him. This is a very interesting, different take on the Anne history paints as deliberately leading Henry on so that he would divorce Katherine.

Another twist is with Anne’s brother George. He was executed with Anne on a charge of incest, but this version gives an alternate view on the speech he gave before his execution, stating some degree of guilt.

Finally, do keep in mind that, like the first book, this novel is set entirely from Anne’s point of view. History buffs will probably fill in the gaps of what’s going on behind the scenes, but there are things the reader isn’t privy to because Anne isn’t.

COVER NOTES: I love this cover! The color is beautiful, but also a bit melancholy. Unlike Katherine’s cover, you don’t see Anne’s face full-on, which adds to her aura of mystery. (History says Anne was more captivating than physically beautiful, but it would be difficult to capture that on a cover.) I also love that the style matches the Katherine cover. Series books should all match! Always! Please, PLEASE don’t switch design midway through the series. I hate that. I want a matching set, please.

BOTTOM LINE: A good read, and offers a few twists on this well-known story. I’m eagerly awaiting the next book, which will cover one of Henry’s most overlooked queens, and yet the only one to give him a legitimate living son.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 16, 2017, in hardcover and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: According to the introductory video on Weir’s Six Tudor Queens website, the next novel will explore how “there’s some more to Jane Seymour than meets the eye.” Expect Weir’s fictional Jane to be a defender of Catholicism and Princess Mary. Check out this video and more at www.sixtudorqueens.co.uk.

Note: Review is based on an ARC 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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