Publisher: Zebra Books

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The Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe

December 18, 2015 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★★★★★

The Harlot Countess by Joanna ShupeThe Harlot Countess by Joanna Shupe
Series: Wicked Deceptions #2
Published by Zebra Books on April 28, 2015
Genres: Historical Romance
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
five-stars
Maggie, Lady Hawkins, had a debut she'd rather forget--along with her first marriage. Today, the political cartoonist is a new woman. A thoroughly modern woman. So much so that her clamoring public believes she's a man...
 
FACT:  Drawing under a male pseudonym, Maggie is known as Lemarc. Her (his!) favorite object of ridicule: Simon Barrett, Earl of Winchester. He's a rising star in Parliament--and a former confidant and love interest of Maggie's who believed a rumor that vexes her to this day.

FICTION:  Maggie is the Half-Irish Harlot who seduced her best friend's husband on the eve of their wedding. She is to be feared and loathed as she will lift her skirts for anything in breeches.

Still crushed by Simon's betrayal, Maggie has no intention of letting the ton crush her as well. In fact, Lemarc's cartoons have made Simon a laughingstock...but now it appears that Maggie may have been wrong about what happened years ago, and that Simon has been secretly yearning for her since...forever. Could it be that the heart is mightier than the pen and the sword after all?

Maggie, now Lady Hawkins, had what was possibly the worst come out in all of London’s history – an unwanted attack in the gardens turned into a “lover’s tryst” by the scheming knave branded Maggie as “The Half-Irish Harlot.”  And when her beau Simon Barrett believed the knave’s lies and turned his back on Maggie, she flees into a loveless marriage with the first man who will marry her.  Ten years later, the nickname still burns on society’s tongue wherever Maggie goes.  But now she embraces the freedom the nickname – and her widowhood – provide her and little does society know, but she is behind the infamous political cartoonist, Lemarc, poking fun at both society’s hypocrisies and rising politicians like Simon.

Maggie is one of the strongest heroines I’ve read.  Despite years of cruel taunts, gossips, and not-so-subtle whispers, Maggie has held her head up high and presented the world with a brave face.  She turns a spiteful joke into an infamous persona.  Her intelligence, wit, and artistic talents earn her a very comfortable living at the expense of the very society who pretends to despise her.  She is the very definition of courage and strength.

Simon is the character with a true development arc in this novel.  His love for Maggie ten years ago was weak and he believed the lies about her.  But through actually talking to Maggie, learning her side of the story, and discovering the woman she has become, Simon’s love for her grows and develops into full maturity.  Simon is just as complicated a character as Maggie and shares her stubborn streak.

But this makes for a fantastic read!  Simon and Maggie’s chemistry sparks off the page and some of their love scenes actually made me blush!  And let me tell you, I read a lot of erotica and historical romance so that’s really hard to do.

I *loved* this book and immediately went out and bought the other two in the series, THE COURTESAN DUCHESS (book #1) and THE LADY HELLION (book #3).  Reviews for those novels will be up soon too!

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How to Marry a Royal Highlander by Vanessa Kelly

June 30, 2015 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★★★★½

I received this book for free from the Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

How to Marry a Royal Highlander by Vanessa KellyHow to Marry a Royal Highlander by Vanessa Kelly
Series: The Renegade Royals #4
Published by Zebra Books on June 30, 2015
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 352
Format: eARC
Source: the Publisher
Goodreads
four-half-stars
Illegitimate yet thoroughly irresistible, the Renegade Royals are leaving behind their careers as daring spies for the greatest adventure of all…

At sixteen, Alasdair Gilbride, heir to a Scottish earldom, fled the Highlands and an arranged betrothal. Ten years later, Alasdair must travel home to face his responsibilities. It’s a task that would be much easier without the distracting presence of the most enticing woman he’s ever met…

After one escapade too many, Eden Whitney has been snubbed by the ton. The solution: rusticating in the Scottish wilderness, miles from all temptation. Except, of course, for brawny, charming Alasdair. The man is so exasperating she’d likely kill him before they reach the border—if someone else weren’t trying to do just that. Now Eden and Alasdair are plunging into a scandalous affair with his life and her reputation at stake—and their hearts already irreparably lost…

Miss Eden Whitney is vivacious, confident, and able to charm even the sourest of elderly matrons.  She never lacks for a dance partner and can often be found in the midst of a circle of young men at parties, all of whom clamor for her attentions.  Until one scandal too many results in Edie forced to spend the rest of the season “rusticating” in Scotland with her brother-in-law’s friend, Alasdair Gilbride.  Alec is a charming rake who enjoys pushing all of Edie’s buttons and seeing her face light up with frustration and delight at their shared verbal banter.  The pair quickly realize they’ve been in love with each other for some time, but matters turn complicated when Alec reveals he’s technically been engaged for the past ten years!  To add fuel to the fire, when Edie and Alec reach the highlands, they must not only face Alec’s formidable family, but also the realization that someone is trying to kill them.

There are quite a few fantastic one-liners interspersed throughout and many parts had me quite literally laughing out loud as I read.  Edie and Alec match each other not only in passion and devotion, but also in their quick wit and repartee.  The plot was a little slow, but I really didn’t mind since this allowed the novel to focus more on Edie and Alec’s growing relationship and their individual emotions rather than a constant reaction to outside events.  However, with the exception of Edie’s mother, I thought some of the secondary characters were a little flat until right towards the end.  (I’m thinking specifically of Donatella, Fergus, and their mother.)  But putting that aside, I though the writing in this novel is absolutely superb!  Descriptions are vivid, the romantic plot engaging, and the emotions Ms. Kelly evokes are done so effortlessly.

This novel is part of a series.  While you don’t need to have read the other novels in the series to enjoy this one, I do think reading at least Eden’s sister’s novel, HOW TO PLAN A WEDDING FOR A ROYAL SPY, would be helpful as HOW TO MARRY A ROYAL HIGHLANDER makes several references to the previous book that might be more fully enjoyed and understood if you’ve read the prior novel.

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The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander

February 6, 2015 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★½

The Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding by Victoria AlexanderThe Shocking Secret of a Guest at the Wedding by Victoria Alexander
Published by Zebra Books on October 28, 2014
Genres: Historical Romance
Format: Audiobook
Goodreads
one-half-stars
The bride and groom cordially request your presence for a wedding at Millworth Manor. . .

Guests will include Jackson Quincy Graham Channing, New York City banker, and Lady Theodosia "Teddy" Winslow, wedding planner to the finest families in England.

Introductions shall be followed by light conversation, dancing, flirtation, arguing, reconciliation, and an impulsive kiss that both parties are quite certain they will never repeat.

Until they do.

A mutually beneficial fake engagement will be accompanied by all manner of very real complications, scandalous revelations, nefarious schemes, and one inescapable conclusion:

That true love--unlike the perfect wedding--is impossible to plan. . .

Poorly plotted, inconsistent characterization, and boring.  I did not like this book AT. ALL.

Is this a romance novel or a soap opera?  The dialogue sounds like it was ripped from a poor-man’s version of Downton Abbey, infused with a bit of British stereotyping, and then beat over the head with a rough attempt at humor.  It’s forced, stilted, and unnatural.  The first two chapters cover a single conversation that felt as if it lasted for 10 chapters. Characters are unnecessarily cryptic or coy, thoughts were inconsistent with what the character later said, and it seems as if every character in the scene has to thrown in their two cents, even when it is (frequently) rehashing what another characters has just said.  And there are lengthy conversations telling the reader information that both characters also know.  Don’t tell the reader what is happening – Show us!  Also, if I have to hear anymore variations of the phrase “adventurer,” “man of adventure,” or “you are an adventure,” I will scream.  There is an astonishing (read: annoying and completely unnecessary) amount of characters muttering, mumbling, or otherwise talking under their breath to inject their snarky comments into the scene.  Not only are these interjections not funny, the interruptions take focus away from whatever is going on and comes across as painfully modern and often childish.

Even as far into the book as chapter 11, there is no real conflict in the story – No, I’m not counting Jackson’s dilemma of “do I go back to New York and continue my life as a successful Bank Vice President or do I stay in England and take over the Earldom” as a legitimate and viable “conflict.”  Everyone is super positive and understanding of whatever issue the focal character is facing.  There’s no tension, no stakes.

Take, for example, the romance between Theodosia and Jackson.  They are immediately attracted to each other, Jackson’s family tries to set them up right from his first mention of her, and they even acknowledge their mutual attraction to one another in chapter 11.  And yet for no real reason whatsoever, Jackson and Theodosia resist that attraction and their fake engagement

It’s the inconsistent characterization that really gets to me.  The characters change to suit the “plot” of the moment.  In one breath, Theodosia is the refined daughter of a nobleman with all the beliefs and prejudices that go along with such an upbringing.  In the next breath, she is a shrewd, liberal businesswoman who eschews the ideals and entitlements of the aristocracy.  Likewise, Jackson can’t make up his mind from one scene to the next and also suffers from a terrible case of Purple Prose.  Think of the cheesiest, most flowery pick-up line you’ve ever heard, multiply that by three, and you’ll have a decent understanding of how Jackson talks to Theodosia. As for some of the other characters: Lucy was so damn unnecessary and annoying that I wanted to throw the book across the room.  I found myself saying “Oh my god, shut up!” frequently.  Cyril is one-dimensional and comes across as one of those cartoon villains from the 80s and Jackson’s mother is a nagging, whiny shrew playing the part of the victim.

Let’s take just a few examples of some of the above-mentioned problems from chapter 20:
— “Cyril is dangerous.”  Of really?  How so?  Because there is nothing in the narrative this far (chapter 20, mind you!) to support that statement aside from his nasty personality.  How is he a danger?  What are those resources and how could he put those to work?   — “Scandal will be enormous.”  Why?  What would the scandal do?  What IS the scandal?  The details of the situation and its consequences are scarce to none.
— “I’ve never seen this side of your mother.”   “No one has, dear.”  Yes, that’s exactly the problem.  Where is all this spunk and protectiveness coming from?  Theodosia’s mother’s words and actions are inconsistent with what the reader has already seen, so it is less believable that she would act this way and comes across more like a convenient change of heart simply to serve the current plot’s purpose.
— And while we’re speaking about convenient plot points, the book is riddled with them!  Convenient details brought up to serve the plot of the moment.  For example, in chapter 20 Theodosia needs evidence to counter Cyril’s threat of blackmail (which she accepts at face value and doesn’t even THINK about questioning!).  Well, lucky for her Theo’s father just so happens to be a collector of documents who refused to throw anything out.  It’s details like this that would be far more believable and less eye-roll-inducing if hints of those details had been mentioned in the earlier narrative in order to support this convenient plot point.

I could go on, but I think I will just leave it at this: SKIP IT.

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Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom by Vanessa Kelly

September 6, 2014 Historical Romance, Reviews 0 ★★★½

Confessions of a Royal Bridegroom by Vanessa KellyConfessions of a Royal Bridegroom by Vanessa Kelly
Series: Renegade Royal #2
Published by Zebra Books on April 1, 2014
Genres: Historical Romance
Pages: 480
Format: Paperback
Goodreads
three-half-stars
They are the Renegade Royals, illegitimate sons of the Royal Princes, each finding his rightful place in society--and the woman destined to be his perfect match. . .

Some men are born into scandal. Others pursue it with a passion. Griffin Steele, secret son of the Duke of Cumberland, is guilty on both counts. Yet somehow London's most notorious scoundrel has been saddled with an abandoned baby boy--and with the unflappable, intriguing spinster summoned to nurse him. . .

Justine Brightmore may be a viscount's niece, but she's also a spy's daughter, determined to safeguard the infant when his suspected royal parentage makes him a target. Yet how to protect herself from the rakish Griffin? Marriage might shield her reputation, but it can only imperil her heart, especially with a groom intent on delicious seduction. . .

A mysterious infant left on the steps of his brothel forces Griffin Steele, bastard nephew of the Prince Regent, to halt his plans to leave England and turn to his mentor and former guardian, Dominic Hunter, for help to figure out exactly who this child and why his life is in danger.  Dominic, spy and puppet-master extraordinaire, enlists the help of his goddaughter, Justine Brightmore, to safeguard the infant.  When Justine is discovered in the brothel, a quick marriage of convenience silences any wagging tongues.  But now Griffin has yet another tie to the English Isle and Justine has a husband who is everything she didn’t want.  As Griffin and Justine work together to keep the baby safe from the men searching for him, they grow much closer and begin to realize that perhaps their sham marriage shouldn’t be so sham after all.

Justine is a woman used to taking care of herself.  Her father was a spy for the British Crown, always craving the next adventure until he was sadly lost on an assignment.  As a result, Justine grew up very independent and longs for a quiet life in the countryside married to a quiet, unadventurous husband – or better yet, no husband at all!  She’s quite content playing the Lady’s companion.  Her motherly instinct to care for others is useful when she is thrust into Griffin Steele’s household and throughout all the ensuing turmoil, Justine remains calm and levelheaded.  She’s a realist with an aptitude for picking up on others’ nonverbal cues and an eye for detail.

Griffin Steele is everything Justine doesn’t want for her life.  He runs a gaming hall and a brothel, has ties to the British spy network, and have definitive plans to leave England for far away places such as Italy, Egypt, and the Asian continent.  He is anything but “a quiet life at home.”  His past and rough upbringing makes him gruff and defensive.  He values his independence – something he did not have growing up – and is near-violently evasive when it comes to discussion of his family or heritage.

This was certainly a complex novel, which I think was handled quite well, but was rushed at the end and wrapped up far too quickly.  The mystery surrounding the infant was intriguing and was the catalyst for bringing Justine and Griffin together, but the ultimate climax and reveal came in the last 20 pages.  Given the intricacy of the plot and all the character development earlier in the novel, I would have liked to see this major plot thread paced a little better.

Overall, a good read if you enjoy gruff, brooding heroes and introverted, independent heroines with a dash of mystery.

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