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 Art of Sinning (Sinful Suitors #1) by Sabrina Jeffries

This cover CRACKS. ME. UP. The male model breaking the fourth wall, as if to say, “Look how naughty I am, heh heh heh!” Makes me giggle every time I see it. In actuality, the hero is not NEARLY as naughty as he’s led everyone to believe.

The Art of Sinning Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

The Art of Sinning Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

THE PLOT: Readers met both halves of this couple during the previous “Duke’s Men” series. Artist Jeremy Keane was introduced as Zoe’s cousin in How the Scoundrel Seduces (reviewed here), and Lady Yvette Barlow was Jane’s almost-sister-in-law in If the Viscount Falls (reviewed here.) Both are attending Dominick and Jane’s wedding breakfast when Jeremy spots Yvette and falls instantly in…well, artist-lust with her. He’s been looking for a model for his new painting, and Yvette is absolutely perfect. But she’s a lady, and Jeremy is used to using prostitutes as his subjects (although he lets everyone believe he’s visiting brothels for an altogether different reason, which has led to his horrible reputation).

To get in the household and gt around Yvette’s stodgy brother, Edwin, Jeremy agrees to paint a portrait of Yvette that will actually help her find a husband, since the unconventional lady has yet to find the right man, and her brother is concerned. But while they work on the portrait during the day, at night, Yvette poses for “Art Sacrificed to Commerce.” What’s in it for Yvette? Jeremy has promised to take her hunting in the London brothels for the illegitimate child her other brother, the villain Samuel, left behind when he was transported.

MY TWO CENTS: It’s no surprise that the posing sessions lead to romance. What IS surprising is that it’s a bit more complicated than you might think. At first, Jeremy is almost completely wrapped up in the art. While he’s attracted to Yvette, it’s much more about her “character” than her as a person. Jeremy also has a bit of a dark past. He was married before, and there’s some trauma having to do with his wife and parents that are keeping him from being able to move forward emotionally.

At the same time, Yvette has her own dark secrets. She’s trying to find her nephew, all the while thinking of the past indiscretion that her brother Samuel helped save her from. Maybe Samuel wasn’t always a villain…or wait, WAS he?

Finally, I love stuffy Edwin forming a club for exasperated men trying to save their sisters from rogues. All the while eyeing up his friend’s sister.

BOTTOM LINE: Slightly deeper than the usual fun Sabrina Jeffries romp. I enjoyed it and am looking forward to Edwin and Clarissa’s book.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available Juy 21, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

Married to a Perfect Stranger by Jane Ashford

I’d never read a Jane Ashford book, and the premise sounded interesting…two “normal” people readjusting to marriage after a prolonged separation. But I think I wanted it to be more interesting than it actually turned out to be.

Married to a Perfect Stranger Front Cover (Sourcebooks)

Married to a Perfect Stranger Front Cover (Sourcebooks)

THE PLOT: John and Mary were more or less bullied into an “acceptable” marriage by their overwhelming, managing families. Then John goes on a business voyage to China and is gone for 180months. Mary settles into managing her own life and becomes self-sufficient. John comes home, expecting a meek, submissive wife, and is surprised with someone who reminds him unpleasantly of their mothers. They have to come to terms with their marriage and possibly find happiness while overcoming obstacles such as John’s work nemesis. Although Mary is a talented portrait artist, putting her on the spot at a ball results in her insulting her hostess, who just happens to be Lady Castlereagh. This causes more problems for John at work, just when he is hoping to move up to greater importance.

MY TWO CENTS: First let me say that this is almost a clean romance. It’s not QUITE as clean as a Christian romance, but there are no detailed descriptions of intimacy. If that’s something you’re looking for in a romance, then check out this book. If you prefer romance that borders on erotica, this probably isn’t the pick for you.

Second, while I really liked the idea of two “normal” people solidifying their relationship, I felt like something was missing. Their romance was cute, but I didn’t feel a connection really building between them. It seemed like I couldn’t get involved with the characters; they were too standoffish to me, the reader, as well as each other.

BOTTOM LINE: I wanted to like this book much more than I did. It was a pleasant read, but I don’t know that I’m running to pick up more Jane Ashford.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and eformats on March 3, 2015.

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

If the Viscount Falls (Duke’s Men #4) by Sabrina Jeffries

First of all, thank you to all my readers for your support in 2014! I’m looking forward to all the new books already on my “to read” list for 2015!

What makes this final entry in the Duke’s Men series rock? The heroine, Jane. Thank you, Sabrina Jeffries, for writing an intelligent, non-dishrag of a heroine for modern readers to enjoy.

If the Viscount Falls Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

If the Viscount Falls Front Cover (Pocket Books/Simon & Schuster)

SPOILER WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the other “Duke’s Men” novels, previously reviewed at the following links: What the Duke Desires, When the Rogue Returns, and How the Scoundrel Seduces.

THE PLOT: When Dominick Manton was disinherited by his evil brother, George, for siding with his illegitimate siblings,  he lost everything except his young fiance. Dom didn’t want Jane to marry him anyway and live in poverty and uncertainly, but Jane, firmly in love with Dom, refused to break the engagement. That’s when Dom decided to do what was best for Jane (in his high-and-mighty male opinion) and set up Jane to find him mauling her own cousin, Nancy, at a party. The trick worked, except he DIDN’T plan for George to marry Nancy.

Now, George is dead, and Dom is finally restored as the viscount, but Jane is engaged to someone else. However, she asks for Dom’s help as a private detective in finding the widowed Nancy, who has disappeared. The reader knows that these shenanigans are a setup to a reunion, but the mystery of what’s happening with Nancy is deeper than one would think.

MY TWO CENTS: There are a few things I loved about this book. As previously, mentioned, topping that list is Jane’s character. She’s known for years that Dom set up the trick with Nancy to get Jane to end their engagement. This isn’t a case of, “If she knew the truth, everything would be fixed.” It’s more that she’s angry at him for being high-handed enough to choose her future for her…but she doesn’t let on at first. She lets him twist in the wind to see how long it will take him to admit the truth to her. She even refers to him as “Dom the Almighty,” but Dom is so clueless that he doesn’t get it at first. He’s a guy who’s smart about everything except women.

The storyline seems obvious, but it really isn’t. It doesn’t take the reader long to figure out Nancy is pregnant, which could effectively disinherit Dom and put him back to square one. But there are other factors here. What is really going on? If Nancy IS pregnant, is the baby George’s? Who would even want to disinherit Dom,and how far would that person go?

BOTTOM LINE: Feminists who enjoy a good romance with sizzling love scenes and a twisty mystery will eat this book up. Also, I’m always glad that Sabrina Jeffries connects all her series. Even the the “Duke’s Men” series is ended, it will transition to the new series, the “Sinful Suitors” series, using characters we’ve already met…namely, Jeremy Keane from How the Scoundrel Seduces and Yvette Barlow, who we meet in this book.

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

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and eformats on January 27, 2015.

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

A Sinful Deception (Breconridge Brothers #2) by Isabella Bradford

I keep saying that I’m not reading any more new-to-me romance writers, and then I keep doing it anyway. This one pulled me in with its tagline  of “For fans of Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Sabrina Jeffries.” Since those are three writers on my auto-buy-as-bound-books shelf, I had to check this out. I’m happy I did.

A Sinful Deception Front Cover (Random House Publishing)

A Sinful Deception Front Cover (Ballantine/Random House Publishing)

THE PLOT: Serena Carew would seem to be a perfect catch in Georgian London. She’s a beautiful, exotic heiress. She is also keeping a huge secret from everyone and believes that this secret will prevent her from marrying. She immediately captivates Lord Geoffrey Fitzroy, but he thinks he only wants an affair with her. Serena naively believes that she can have an affair since she doesn’t plan to marry…but her family isn’t going to allow her to be disgraced.

Geoffrey and Serena find that they have a true love match, but the devastating events of Serena’s past haunts her. One person will benefit most from revealing her secret, and he has absolutely no fondness for Serena.

MY TWO CENTS: I’m so glad that Serena’s secret was out of the ordinary. I won’t say what it is, but thankfully it’s not that she had been ruined or borne a secret child. I do wish the evil uncle had been introduced a little earlier in the book.He seemed almost added in to first get Serena to accept the protection of marriage, and then to cause trouble in the marriage. At first, Serena is surrounded by loving family, and then, suddenly, there’s the uncle.

As far as the “Fans of Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Sabrina Jeffries” tagline…I would say that’s a pretty good assessment, with one exception. Those three usually provide a fair amount of humor in their novels (especially Julia Quinn), and there is really no humor in this book. Perhaps there was in the first book, A Wicked Pursuit…I haven’t read it yet, but I could see Gus inspiring a few humorous situations.

I also have to admit, I love Georgian novels. This one is set in 1771. There’s something slightly more decadent about this period than the very polite Regency.

BOTTOM LINE: An unusual heroine; a couple in love throughout the book; a heartbreaking past; a loyal family; a few steamy love scenes. What’s not to love?

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups. I’ll be checking out the other Breconridge Brothers novels.

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in paperback and eformats on February 24, 2015.

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

The Secret of Pembrooke Park by Julie Klassen

The first Julie Klassen novel I read was The Dancing Master, reviewed here. I liked it well enough to want to read more Klassen, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park was a great follow-up.

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

Secret of Pembrooke Park Front Cover (Baker Publishing Group)

THE PLOT: When the Foster family loses almost all their money, Mr. Foster blames his oldest daughter, Abigail. Abigail had recommended that her father invest in her uncle’s banking firm, which has failed. To make up for it, Abigail has her family use her dowry to fund a season for her younger sister, Louisa…even though Louisa seems to have stolen the affections of Abigail’s childhood friend and crush, Gilbert. In the meantime, the Fosters are offered a temporary home at abandoned Pembrooke Park on the condition that they fix the place up. While Louisa and her mother stay in London, Abigail and her father travel to Pembrooke.

Abigail finds that intrigue abounds at Pembrooke. Why was it so hastily abandoned? What happened to the former owners? Who is leasing it to the Fosters? Is there really a secret treasure room? Who is sending Abigail anonymous diary passages? What does the local parson William Chapman and his family know about the secrets? Why does William’s sister choose to be almost a recluse? And does Abigail really want Gilbert back once he grows disenchanted with her sister, or has she developed real love for William?

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me say that this author gets the very best covers. Love the appropriate clothes, and the colors are striking. LOVE IT.

Second, even though Julie Klassen is a Christian writer, I feel like the reader isn’t overwhelmed with Christian messages; there is an appropriate amount of religion for the time period. While there is more religion in this book than there was in The Dancing Master, that’s kind of a given since William is a parson. Non-Christians who are looking for a clean regency mystery/romance will still enjoy it. Klassen books might even appeal to a broader audience than traditional romances do. I think a lot of people still enjoy a simple romance that doesn’t border on erotica, and this fits the bill.

Finally, there is definitely a gothic element to this book, between the midnight creakings that disturb Abigail, the mysterious cloaked figure, and more than one fire. I would say this is more of a mystery than a romance, as evidenced by the book’s title.

BOTTOM LINE: A bit of gothic mystery, a bit of romance, and not too preachy for a Christian writer. If you’re a fan of Jane Austen, you’ll probably like this book regardless of your religious beliefs.

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

ON SALE DATE: The book will be on sale in eformats on November 25, 2014, and in paperback on December 2, 2014.

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

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