Thanks to @readforeverpub & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided my own.
@romance.in.the.wild 's glowing review of Emily Sullivan’s A Rogue to Remember made me request it right away & let me tell you that I did not regret it. This stunning debut is so emotionally rich, the setting is sumptuous, the way it kept me on a knife’s edge until it finally tumbled into a HEA was divine.
Set largely in 1897 Italy, ARTR tells the second chance story of Lottie Carlisle & Alec Gresham, who both grew up with Lottie’s political mastermind uncle as guardian. Very close as children, they had one magical night where it seemed their relationship would become romantic & then Alec left abruptly without word.
Five years later, Alec, an agent of the crown, has come to Italy to bring the wealthy Lottie back to England before she succeeds in deliberately ruining herself. On their journey home they must wrestle with the weight of their past, shared & not, &, among other things, Alec must decide if he’s willing to take what Lottie would offer.
I’m so excited about Emily Sullivan’s talent, about these characters she’s written & how beautifully she writes their journey. On top of the aforementioned emotional mastery on display here, this book offers stellar sex scenes including one in front of a mirror 🥵 & I think that’s all I need to say about that.
I did think that one aspect of the plot could have been a little tighter but wow, what a book!
5 ⭐️. A Rogue to Remember is available on 03/09/21.
📚 Q: what’s one of your top 10 (or so) reads of the year?
I really wanted to write a top ten list but of course it was difficult. Like so many others have said this year has felt so segmented; time has felt taffy-like, & there are some books I *remember* loving like Beach Read, even if it feels like I read them months ago WHEN I WAS A DIFFERENT PERSON.
I love how these lists send me into an existential crisis 😆.
So this is my list of 11 most memorable, top reads of 2020, with the caveat that I actually read so many amazing books that aren’t included here. A big hurray to all the authors who made our year better!
Cara Bastone’s Just a Heartbeat Away
Adrienne Young’s Fable
Emily Henry’s Beach Read
Charlie Adhara’s Big Bad Wolf series
Scarlett Peckham’s The Rakess
Ilona Andrews’s Sapphire Flames
Joanna Shupe’s The Devil of Downtown
Alexandria Bellefleur’s Written in the Stars
Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material
Talia Hibbert’s Take a Hint, Dani Brown
Roan Parrish’s In the Middle of Somewhere
Within the first chapter of When a Rogue Meets His Match I knew Elizabeth Hoyt had my number.
A lean, fighting machine of a hero who’s frequently described as having glittering black eyes & who is a so-called bully man for a Duke; said hero can’t help but watch & appreciate our heroine Messalina & want her even though she loathes him...I didn’t stand a chance, okay?
Gideon Hawthorne uses violence to do the Duke of Windmere’s dirty work & to collect debts. Raised in St. Giles he’s since made a fortune & plans on using Messalina to help win over aristocratic investors in his business ventures. It only helps that he’s long wanted her, the Duke’s niece.
Messalina has always believed the worst of her Gideon. It doesn’t help matters when her uncle threatens her into marrying him. But she begins to see Gideon in a new light now & again, which confuses her & makes her question her decision to leave him after securing enough funds to provide for herself & her sister.
In case I didn’t make it clear, this hero really does things for me. From his physical description to his mannerisms to his big feelings for Messalina which he doesn’t immediately recognize as love. Of course you love her, you adorable deadly fool.
But the “mysterious task” the Duke has given him in exchange for “giving”Messalina to him in marriage & Gideon’s own so-called manipulative nature could ruin everything.
I love how Hoyt explores class differences w/ a working-class hero trying to force his way into an unreceptive aristocratic class & how Messalina tries to help him. How he and their marriage make her realize things about life for those in each class. How she & their marriage make him realize how to show & express love.
Like in the other Hoyt books I’ve read, the characters (esp the males) are often gray & willing to contemplate stepping over the line into black. There’s quite a lot of violence in this book.
But the violent antihero with a secret mushy heart really worked for me 🤣.
[cw: memories of a child who was hanged for theft.]
4.5 ⭐️. When a Rogue Meets His Match is out on 12/01. Thanks to Forever Pub, Grand Central Pub, & Netgalley for the complimentary copies of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
If you love dark, tortured, emotionally starved heroes who eventually recognize that they’ve fallen HARD for the heroine then may I rec Kerrigan Byrne.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from her latest release, All Scot & Bothered, but I really enjoyed it, barring a couple of reservations. More on that later.
Cecelia Teague is a mathematician, spinster, & Red Rogue. She unexpectedly inherits a school from her aunt & learns that it’s funded by gambling.
Chief Justice Cassius Ramsay, an unforgiving Judgy McJudgerson, believes that the school is actually a front for kidnapping & human trafficking. In his raid of the school Cecelia adopts the disguise of The Scarlet Lady.
Our hero has very reluctant pants feelings for both women, Cecelia & The Scarlet Lady, not realizing that they are one & the same. He’s also been celibate for 7+ years & has no plans of changing that, especially because women are the worst yada yada yada & The Scarlet Lady is the worst of them all.
This book has a few things you might love-
She’s soft; he’s hard (lots of jokes we could make there).
A misogynist hero who comes to some big realizations, though I wanted them to go even further since they’re so tied up to how amazing Cecelia specifically is. What about other women, pal?
A spectacles-wearing, plump heroine who doesn’t like confrontation but stands up for herself w/ him.
The # of times said heroine stares at how his muscles move under his clothes.
But I do think there’s a convo romance could have about how the Italian Count is described, & race & ethnicity in general in this book, my overall reading of which was indirectly informed by a series of Tweets by a romance reader who had issues with a lot of the book, including how it handles the topics of misogyny & race. If you’re thinking about picking this one up I definitely rec that you read reviews written by POC.
With that being said overall for me this is mostly another transporting book written by a master at pulling heartstrings. But is anyone else hoping for a KB book w/ a heroine who goes scorched Earth on the hero for a sec?
4 ⭐️. All Scot & Bothered is out now. Thanks to St. Martin's Press & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC & finished copy. All opinions provided are my own.
I’m a huge fan of Beauty & the Beast re-tellings & I was so excited to get my hands on Lenora Bell’s spin. Love is a Rogue is a delightful version with a heroine as the beast & the sweetest softest hero—a cinnamon rogue as I think I saw Lenora call him.
Lady Beatrice Bentley is an etymologist working on compiling her own dictionary in Cornwall. Dubbed Beastly Beatrice, she wants to be a spinster but her mother, a Duchess, has other plans.
Stamford “Ford” Wright is a naval carpenter on temporary leave who can’t help but be drawn to Beatrice.
He’s a rogue. She’s a duke’s sister with an awful nickname who was isolated from others in her childhood & is now preoccupied with her work.
Both resolve to stay away from the other but that’s hard to do when Ford must inform the Duke of some employee malfeasance & Beatrice inherits a London bookstore that just so happens to need a renovation.
What did I love about this historical? The rep—Beatrice wears spectacles & has palsy. How Lenora explores the societal constraints Beatrice & Ford face. The emotionality of the hero & how soft he is when it comes to Beatrice. The bold women we see here, members of a Knitting League that doesn’t knit.
Overall this is an enjoyable read & a cool Beauty & the Beast re-telling with a stand-out hero.
3.5 ⭐️. Love is a Rogue is out now. Thanks to Avon & Goodreads for my complimentary copy, which I won in a giveaway. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: who’s an underrated historical romance author you rec?
I’m a big fan of Grace Burrowes:
Unconventional, sex-positive characters.
An understated Downtown Abbey-esque style—gentle tones used to convey some tough love, insults, & drama!
Secrets! & some familial discord but the characters also possess an unbending sense of integrity & loyalty.
The Truth about Dukes focuses on Robert, a duke living with epilepsy who has decided to return to his rightful societal place.
As a child, after experiencing epileptic episodes, Robert was sent to live in a mental asylum by his father & the assumption was that he was dead. After his brother rescued him Robert spent years in his home, anxious of many things related to his terrible asylum experience.
Now, forced to act like a Duke, Robert finds an old ally, Lady Constance Wentworth, who once left her family for reasons unknown so she could be a maid at the aforementioned asylum. They had a friendship, an allyship, then but haven’t spoken since.
Like with her other books I’ve read, the love story here is touching & tender & gives me those awww feelings. Because Burrowes writes imperfect characters, her romances often feel real & approachable.
Robert & Constance are two ships on storm-wrecked seas & I love how they latch onto each other. They’re able to reveal their vulnerabilities with one another & it’s truly beautiful to me.
I did feel like there are some execution issues with this romance though, particularly some aspects of the plot & characterization that feel rushed.
Be aware too that this book is tackling the subject of how people in the 19th century might have viewed someone with epilepsy, & the reactions to Robert & his episodes are often callous, insensitive, &/or cruel, both outside of the leads’ families & within.
With TTaD Burrowes offers another beautiful tale of two characters falling in love—it’s just that some aspects of how the tale unfold don’t quite hold up for me.
the heroine felt like she had to give up her illegitimate daughter for adoption years earlier. Veiled references to the heroine’s background, including things her violent father did & forced his children to do.]
3.5 ⭐️. The Truth about Dukes releases on 11/10. Thanks to Netgalley, Forever Pub, & Grand Central Pub for the complimentary ARC (and the latter two for the finished copy, too.) All opinions provided are my own.
Q: are you a true crime fan?
Manda Collins’s A Lady’s Guide to Mischief & Mayhem has been on my radar for months because I AM TRASH for romances where the leads try to solve a crime together. Add in some enemies to lovers & a working-class hero—which I’ve waxed rhapsodically about before—& this book was a pretty scrumptious affair.
A serial killer known as the Commandments Killer is targeting people in London. Newspaper owner & widow Lady Katherine Bascomb and her plucky friend Caro think they can investigate the crimes & share their thoughts in a column written with a female audience in mind.
Their column, A Lady’s Guide to Mischief & Mayhem, reveals new info about one of the crimes, indirectly leading to the firing of honorable & capable Scotland Yard Inspector Andrew Eversham off the case & the arrest of an innocent man.
Inspector Andrew is not happy with Katherine. He wants to find the real killer. He’s especially not happy with Katherine after she attends a house party & another body turns up—is it a victim of the same serial killer?
Against his wishes Andrew & Katherine will work together to find the killer. (But only if Andrew can’t manage to sneak out for his investigations without her.)
A sage, whip-smart, & engaging romance, The Lady’s Guide has a lot to offer. Katherine is a fantastic character—she doesn’t hesitate to school Andrew repeatedly on womanhood & its restrictions, she isn’t willing to accept any less than she’s due. She *definitely* doesn’t want to be with someone (maybe kiss someone?) who only wants to coddle her.
Their disagreements are frequent & I love it because differences in thinking—like those regarding women’s place—wouldn’t be easily overcome IRL. Sometimes you have to see/hear something again & again before it finally hits you. & Andrew does eventually get it.
The mystery is intriguing, there’s some steam (though I could always use more ), & I lived over & over again for the irrepressible heroine.
4⭐️. A Lady’s Guide is out on 11/10. Thanks to Netgalley & Forever Pub & Grand Central Pub for the complimentary ARC and finished copy, respectively. All opinions provided are my own.
💫 Q: what’s your fave fairy tale?
I’ll be honest: I didn’t put together all of the references to Snow White in Charis Michaels’s A Duchess a Day until after the book was over 😆. But I’m blaming that all on me/maybe a little 2020, & whether some of the references sailed over my head or not I enjoyed the heck out of this book by a new-to-me-author.
Declan Shaw, aka the Hunstman, is a mercenary who’s been falsely imprisoned. A dastardly man, the uncle of a duke, says he’ll pay Declan & have him released from Newgate...if he agrees to serve as a bodyguard of sorts ensuring that the duke’s intended, the very reluctant Lady Helena Lark, not escape before the nuptials. As she’s tried before.
While in his guise as a groom, Declan is introduced to Helena, who’s beautiful, determined, smart, & devoted to her orchard & people back home. (She literally has traveled to London with some of her 🍎.)
Readers, though he doesn’t come out & say it, Declan is pretty much immediately gone for her *double fist pumps.
But of course there are lots of obstacles standing in the way of true love 💕, including the fact that the duke needs a duchess & Helena refuses to volunteer or accept the position.
For me, the premise almost seems to share some of the things I love from what I consider my “classic” romance novel loves. Like maybe a Garwood? (Please don’t come for me if you don’t agree 🤣).
✅ A brawny hero torn by obligation & desire.
✅ A beautiful heroine who’s also eccentric in some ways, resourceful, & caring
✅ Some humor
But with a fresh, entertaining spin on it.
There are some narrative intrusions that feel a little strange to me, a joke that feels somewhat insensitive, & one of the characters seems to change his/her mind about something in a way that feels kinda sudden, but I’ll be honest: I don’t know how critically I read this one; I just enjoyed it 🤷🏻♀️ . Low angst, 🔥, sweetness, working-class hero: yes, yes, yes, & YES.
4 ⭐️. A Duchess a Day releases on 11/10. Thanks to Avon & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Bethany Bennett’s Any Rogue Will Do has so much catnip:
A fantastic opening scene where the heroine gets to live out many of our fantasies by lobbing insults at the man (the hero) who wronged her years earlier. Who’s the Paper Doll Princess now, hero?!!! It 👏🏻 is 👏🏻 so 👏🏻 good 👏🏻.
Unforgettable 🔥 scenes. I’ll just leave this here: balcony 🤭🥵.
A “managing” heroine with a strong IDGAF energy tempered by recognition that she has to play the game some to get what she wants.
A huge, brawny hero who was supposed to be a shepherd but unexpectedly became lord. He made bad decisions when he first became titled—see first point—but now he works hard for his people & is prepared to help the heroine out however he can 😉.
In short, this is such a great debut & I was impressed time & time again.
If I haven’t convinced you yet, I’ll say: it’s Tessa Dare-ish; the conflict is thoroughly built up & I love love love how the book explores standards for “ladyhood” & how women are judged for not acting like a Lady & in this heroine’s case—as the hero reveals—for acting like a Lady 🙄. There’s a fake dating situation & frank, open discussions between characters, including about sex. Oh, and a curvy heroine who has such confidence in how the hero responds to her body.
Pick this one up!
Any Rogue Will Do is available on 10/13. I think this is a tiny bit below 5⭐️ for me but I’m rounding up to 5! Thanks to Forever Pub, Grand Central Pub, & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
(Image note re: the paper doll: I printed the “A Regency Lady of Quality Dolls by Helen Page” & then watercolor painted over one bc my color printer ink is gone 🥴.)
I was really excited to talk about Stacy Reid’s When the Earl Met His Match because my response to it’s so complicated. My initial impression was that I didn’t gel well with the writing style or the plot itself & then, before I knew it, I was fascinated by the story & couldn’t wait to see what happened next.
I’ll be honest: on the technical front this one falls kinda flat for me. But also, this romance ended up being a fun reading experience for me (🤷🏻♀️ at myself).
Lady Phoebe Maitland finds herself with quite the dilemma when the “unsuitable” man she’s fallen for takes her parents up on their bribe & walks away from their relationship. Unbeknownst to anyone, Phoebe is pregnant.
Determined to do the best she can for her baby, she proposes to a cynical man she had been secretly corresponding with, Viscount Hugh Winthrop. Hugh accepts her offer for reasons of his own but he vows to never develop feelings for Phoebe because loving women = bad, something he saw in his childhood.
When the Earl Met His Match is emotional & dramatic (sometimes overly so for my taste), steamy, & heartwarming. The way that Hugh warms to Phoebe’s pregnancy gave me some good feelings. I love how bold Phoebe is & how she learns to communicate with Hugh, who is mute. Despite their conflict, they take such care of each other.
But speaking of the conflict, that’s one aspect of the book that doesn’t seem executed as well as it ought. At around 30% I noted that I couldn’t find a sense of it, though it does become apparent again soon after. Overall, though, it seems that why Hugh agrees to the marriage & their conflict could have been foregrounded more strongly & precisely.
In terms of the writing style, it’s still not one that I “click with” wholeheartedly. But Reid knows how to tell a really sweet story & I really wanted Hugh to wise up so they could get their HEA.
3⭐️. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Give me that HEA, please.
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