The Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter

July 8, 2014 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★★★★

The Accidental Duchess by Madeline HunterThe Accidental Duchess by Madeline Hunter
Series: Fairbourne Quartet #4
Published by Jove on June 3, 2014
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 400
Format: Paperback
When Lady Lydia Alfreton is blackmailed over the shocking contents of a manuscript she once wrote, she must go to the most desperate of measures to raise the money to buy back the ill-considered prose: agreeing to an old wager posed by the arrogant, dangerous Duke of Penthurst. At least Penthurst is a man she wouldn’t mind fleecing—and she’s confident she’ll win.

Penthurst long ago concluded Lydia was a woman in search of ruinous adventure, but even he is surprised when she arrives at his house ready to bet her innocence against his ten thousand pounds—a wager he only proposed to warn her off gambling.

When she loses to a simple draw of the cards, Lydia is shocked. Now, her problems are twofold: a blackmailer determined to see her pay and a duke determined to tame her rebellious ways.

One misstep and Lydia could find herself ruined—or bound to the seductive man who would make her his duchess.

I really enjoyed reading this book.  When I picked it up, I had no idea it was part of a series (oops!), but after reading The Accidental Duchess I am going out to the bookstore at the next available opportunity to purchase the other three (followed by a re-read of this delightful story).

Lydia Alfreton is a slightly older heroine, headstrong, and independent, but also aware of the limitations society places on her – and how to get around those limitations!  Lydia has no problem circumventing her lackadaisical Aunts in order to make her way to Mrs. Burtons, a famous gaming establishment for the rich and powerful.  Known for her incredible luck at the gaming tables, it is precisely that trait coupled with her innocent naivete that lands her in deep water with villain Algernon Trilby and the book’s hero the Duke of Penthurst. The Duke is confident without being arrogant and must take charge when Lydia lands herself in scandalous trouble halfway to Scotland.  While he sees fit to tease Lydia, making her worry and wonder if he will collect on a reckless bet of her virtue, he does so without coming across as overly-aggressive or inconsiderate.  Indeed, his steps to save Lydia from certain ruin seem almost noble (and ironically funny when you know a little bit about what happened when he was made Duke at fifteen).

The dialogue is crisp and the banter between Lydia and Rosalyn had me laughing out loud at their antics.  I would certainly love to be a spectator to any of their arguments!  On that note, the secondary characters in this novel are neatly flushed out instead of remaining mere plot devices.  Penthurst’s circle of friends are the heroes of their own books in this series so it is understandable why they jump off the page, but characters like Rosalyn and Lydia’s maid Sarah are equally compelling.

The love story unfolded slowly, but not at a glacial pace and was believable and sweet.  I think one of my favorite parts of this book was towards the end when Lydia and Penthurst are sitting down and Lydia reveals she knows his secret (the one referenced above when Penthurst was fifteen).  Not only was this scene funny, but it showed just how much they transformed from the acerbic relationship of the book’s beginning to the relaxed, but feisty couple in love we see at the end.


Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran

July 5, 2014 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★★½

Fool Me Twice by Meredith DuranFool Me Twice by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #2
Published by Pocket Books on March 25, 2014
Genres: Historical Romance
Format: Audiobook
Running for her life, exhausted and out of options, Olivia Holladay wants nothing more than the chance to make a home for herself. So when she realizes that the infamous Duke of Marwick might hold the key to her freedom, she boldly disguises herself as the newest and bravest in a long line of the duke’s notoriously temperamental housekeepers. Little does she know that the wickedly handsome Alastair de Grey has very different plans for her. . . .

As his new employee, Olivia is a fearless upstart. As a woman, the daring redhead is just what Alastair needs to rouse him from darkness to the siren call of revenge. He has suffered a betrayal so deep that he will use whatever means necessary to destroy his enemies—even his brazen and beautiful domestic. But his vengeful plan fails to account for his single weakness: an irresistible and growing passion for the enigmatic Olivia.

This book was…different.  I enjoyed the premise – a young woman enters an estranged nobleman’s house posing as a housekeeper in order to steal certain papers of importance.  It’s been done before, but Olivia’s stubborn refusal to back down in the face of Alastair’s angry outbursts coupled with her quick wrangling of the house’s unruly servants made for a somewhat entertaining dynamic.

Olivia is a very matter-of-fact, tell-it-like-it-is kind of woman.  Smart, intelligent, and resilient, she has faced her share of painful obstacles and it has only served to make her a stronger person.  Alastair is lost in the bitter memories of a failed and duplicitous marriage.  He is perceptive, but battling a deep depression after the humiliation he suffered from his former, dead wife.  Alastair has withdrawn from society, but Olivia desperately needs some of the papers hidden deep within the recesses of Alastair’s bedchamber.  In order to get those papers, she must first convince Alastair to leave his rooms.

All of the elements to a good story are present – a hero and heroine with conflicting goals, a dash of mystery and suspense, sassy banter between the couple – but I just felt like something was missing.  While I grew to like Olivia’s character, I did not like Alastair.  I found him to be too brooding and that he was too possessive to Olivia as a person.  He spoke of “mastering” her at one point, which really turned me further away from his character.  Now, I enjoy good BDSM erotica novels, but this was being passed off as a straight romance book which meant that those characteristics of Alastair’s character came off as chauvinistic and unhealthy.  I also didn’t believe Olivia and Alastair were actually falling in love.  For me, it seemed to come from nowhere and just be an accepted part of the story.  Where was the romantic and sensual buildup?  Not in this book, that’s for sure.  And as for the main mystery part of the novel, I felt the solution was too obvious; I correctly guessed the solution by the halfway point of the book, so by the time the characters figured it out I was frustrated that it took them so long to understand what was happening.  Finally, the redemption of the villain felt flat and forced, as if only to serve as a means to wrap up the book.

Overall, a different sort of love story, but one I won’t be picking up again.  I did, however, love Ms. Duran’s use of imagery and language, so I will try another of her books from a different series.


Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge

July 2, 2014 Reviews, Young Adult 0 ★★★

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund HodgeCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge
Published by Balzer & Bray on January 28, 2014
Genres: Young Adult
Format: Audiobook
The romance of Beauty and the Beast meets the adventure of Graceling in a dazzling fantasy novel about our deepest desires and their power to change our destiny.

Betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom, Nyx has always known her fate was to marry him, kill him, and free her people from his tyranny.

But on her seventeenth birthday, when she moves into his castle high on the kingdom's mountaintop, nothing is as she expected—particularly her charming and beguiling new husband.

Nyx knows she must save her homeland at all costs, yet she can't resist the pull of her sworn enemy—who's gotten in her way by stealing her heart.

This was a book of mixed feelings.  I love the original Beauty and the Beast story as well as the Disney adaptation, so I was a little leery of picking up this retelling on Audible (audiobook format).  Right from the beginning, Hodge’s version is heavily steeped in Greek mythology which can be a little distracting when you’re paying more attention to figuring out the mythological reference than what’s happening in the story.  Much of the first half of the book is full of info-dumping without a whole lot of anything going on.  I picked the book up and put it down too many times to count and very nearly gave up on it completely.

That said, I’m actually glad I didn’t put the book aside permanently.  Where Beauty was kind and loving, Nyx is angry and resentful.  Where the Beast was selfish and petulant, Ignifex is perceptive and, at times, almost self-sacrificing.  It made for an interesting dynamic once things actually got started (about half way through the book).  The second half of the story almost made up for the dragging tediousness of the beginning.  Hodge’s use of imagery and language border on literary and I am completely in love with her style of prose.  I think it was this talent that kept me listening to the audio.  I am so glad too because the entire story is dark, twisted, and utterly satisfying.  As soon as the audiobook was complete, I wanted to pick it back up and start it all over again (and very likely will when I get a break in my to-read list).

All-in-all, a solid book.  Borderline gothic, phenomenal world-building, and refreshing characters.  I suggest picking up the audiobook version rather than a hardcopy.  The narrator does a great job and really helps draw you into the story.


Beautiful Distraction by Jess Michaels (The Pleasure Wars book 4)

June 30, 2014 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Beautiful Distraction by Jess Michaels (The Pleasure Wars book 4)Beautiful Distraction by Jess Michaels
Series: The Pleasure Wars #4
Published by Samhain Publishing on June 24, 2014
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 126
Format: eBook
It has been a particularly trying day for Olivia Cranfield. Despite her impeccable manners, stylish clothing and posh accent, another protector has detected her lowborn status and rejected her out of hand.When fellow courtesan Violet invites her to come to Bath to help with the wicked seduction of the scarred, reclusive Earl of Windbury, Olivia jumps at the offer, eager for some excitement and a change of scenery.The moment Malcolm Graham lays eyes on the delectable woman lurking in the bathhouse alley, he knows she’s a decoy to keep him busy while her friend seduces the earl inside. For a moment, he allows her to play her game…but one touch, and all he can think about is ending the two years of self-denial he’s endured in the name of friendship.Instant attraction quickly turns into a decidedly erotic affair that makes Olivia question all she’s ever known about passion. But when the truth behind Violet’s assignment comes to light, betrayal threatens to bring everything they’ve built crashing down around Olivia’s broken heart.

A fun, quick read, Beautiful Distraction is the fourth installment of the Pleasure Wars series by Jess Michaels.  Unlike the other books in this series, this installment is a short novella – only 126 pages.  It overlaps with the third book in the series, Beauty and the Earl, however you do not need to read that book to enjoy this one!  Though, of course, reading the whole series is recommended, if only to get a complete look at the full cast of characters.

I really enjoy a good series that showcases different characters in each book and Beautiful Distraction is no exception.  In this book, the hero (Malcolm) and heroine (Olivia) are the close friends of the previous book’s hero and heroine.  Malcolm and Olivia are both steadfastly loyal to their friends, Liam and Violet.  This loyalty informs the choices both Malcolm and Olivia make later in the novella and you can’t help but root for both of them at the same time – despite the characters having two different goals!  Malcolm and Olivia’s attraction to one another is instant and passionate, quickly turning lust into love.   The story draws you in quickly and keeps you wondering what will happen next.  As with almost all of Jess Michaels’ books, when I got to the end I said, “That’s it!?”  But in a good way!  I liked these characters and wanted to see more of them beyond what happened at “The End.”  I was not ready to let them go.

One of the trickiest things above writing a novella is that an author must introduce characters, build a story, and wrap it up in a satisfying conclusion, all without the reader feeling rushed or left with lingering questions.  This may sound easy, but I personally think the novella is one of the hardest writing forms, simply because an author must do all those things just as well as would be expected from a full-length novel.  That’s a tall order!  Jess Michaels comes very close to delivering that order in Beautiful Distraction, but ultimately falls just a little short.  I though the characters’ declarations of love and Malcolm’s forgiveness came too quickly and there was a lingering plot point that was never resolved.  But I think that is merely a limitation of the novella format, not a writing flaw.

I still recommend checking out this short piece.  It’s only 99 cents on Amazon (at the time of this post) and is a fun introduction to Jess Michaels’ characters and writing style.  For anyone who has read Beauty and the Earl, it’s also a great filler explaining what was happening between Malcolm and Olivia while Liam and Violet were busy elsewhere.