Monday, May 30, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Unmasking the Thief by Mary Lancaster

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

Book Five in Mary Lancaster’s Pleasure Garden Series is now available: Unmasking the Thief. I’ve enjoyed this series all along and recommend starting with Book One: Unmasking the Hero.

The current hero is Francisco de Salgado y Goya de Valdecara, otherwise known as Mr. Francis. He’s a world-weary Spaniard who considers England his adopted country. For this country he has been a spy and other unsavory things. However, he is honorable at heart and so is tired of the man he has become. He wants to retire, but England needs him to do just one more thing.

The heroine is Mathilda (Matty) Mather, a country gentlewoman turned governess to the Dove family. (We’ve met the Doves in previous books.) Matty loves her work and adores her charges, even if they do get into scrapes. Her main problem is that her sister has inherited a fortune and is now being courted by Sir Anthony Thorne, a rising political star, an obvious fortune hunter, and Matty’s one-time fiancĂ©. She can see through him, but unfortunately, her sister cannot.

Francis and Matty meet, both incognito, at the Maida Pleasure Garden. Francis was there to intercept a message about an intended violent political uprising. But he made a rare mistake, stealing not the ring that was supposed to contain the hidden message, but a ring belonging to one of Matty’s charges. Matty is there to retrieve the ring. Sparks fly.

The ton is a rather small world and their paths keep crossing. Suspicious of one another at first, they quickly dispense with that and join forces, falling in love along the way.

The characters are admirable. The relationship is credible. The plotting is fast paced. It’s nice to see so many of the characters from the previous books returning. This series is highly recommended.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: Desperately Seeking a Duchess by Christi Caldwell

 I received this book for free from Netgalley. That did not influence this review.

I’m continuing with historical romance. I just finished Christi Caldwell’s Desperately Seeking a Duchess, book two in the series All the Duke’s Sins. (The first book, Along Came a Lady, was a lot of fun. You should read it first, but don’t have to.)

This novel continues to follow the fortunes of the Duke of Bentley’s illegitimate children, raised in a mining town by his mistress. He was unaware of them until very recently and is now trying to make amends.

For Cailin Audley, the youngest child and only daughter, this means a chance to experience London, the museums and bookshops in particular. Or so she thinks. Instead, it is an endless series of lessons on how to behave in Polite Society. She is miserable all the time, except for her encounters with Courtland Balfour, the seventh Duke of St. James.

Courtland is a reforming/reformed rake, who has inherited not only the title from his father but a ruinous mountain of debt and the care of three younger sisters. He also is responsible for his twin brother, Lord Keir, who is on the autism spectrum. Keir is employed by Bentley as a man of business, and it is that employment that is barely keeping the family afloat.

Cailin and Courtland have met once before, very briefly, when Courtland posed as his brother, sent by Bentley, to convince the family to come to London. That encounter went poorly or wonderfully, depending on the perspective.

At any rate, when the two meet again, they put that behind them and begin again. Courtland admires and understands Cailin, but he hides from her his family’s devastated fortunes. Cailin finds him charming and yet down-to-earth, unlike much of what she is seeing of Society. When she goes to his house, unchaperoned, to give him some news, her reputation is nearly ruined. Her family whisks her away to a country home for a house party, still bent on finding her a husband. She is even more miserable. Until she sees that Courtland and his siblings were also invited. There, they have more opportunity to grow their friendship and to recognize that they have fallen in love.

The characters are lovely people. Cailin is refreshingly anti-polite society. Courtland is an honorable man, devoted to his siblings, despite his reputation. Although I found the chemistry between them a bit unconvincing at first, they grow into a couple to root for.

There are siblings aplenty in Cailin’s family and in Courtland’s, so I eagerly await the next book in the series!

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

BOOK REVIEW: The Runaway Duchess by Joanna Lowell

I was long overdue for another historical romance. Fortunately, I picked up The Runaway Duchess by Joanna Lowell. What a delightful romp! Set in 1883, rather than the Regency Period, there are elements of a slightly more modern society, but women, on the whole, remain hemmed in by convention.

Lavinia Yardley is the unwilling duchess. After having been ruined by the love of her life, she tries to salvage what she can by marrying the Duke of Cranbrook, a textbook disgusting old villain. Before the marriage is consummated, she seizes a chance to run off, at a train station, with a man who mistakes her for someone else.

The man is Neal Traymayne, a botanist, an intrepid collector and categorizer of exotic and local plant-life, and the head of Varnham Nurseries (a very successful commercial endeavor.) Neal has come to the station looking for Mrs. Muriel Pendrake, a fellow botanist with whom he has been corresponding. She’s a widow, and he hopes they will hit it off in person as much as they have in writing. Because he is looking for a wife.

They do hit it off. Or rather, Neal and Lavinia-as-stand-in-for-Muriel hit it off, even though she is not at all what he was expecting and he is not the type of man she ever thought she would look at twice. Unfortunately, Lavinia has to keep pretending to be Muriel Pendrake.

The novel is chockful of clever humor. Some of it goes along with the mistaken-identity situation, but most is the result of witty banter and sly observation of human foibles. The book is steamy, more so than my usual preference, but the emotional relationship is well on its way before they start acting on their mutual desires, so the sex scenes don’t read as gratuitous.

There is really only one way for the HEA to be obtained, so there are no surprises. But it’s such a fun read, with unique plotting along the way, that it’s highly recommended!