Book Review: A Lady’s Code of Misconduct

 

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Once a villain, always a villain, right? Or can a ruthless, conniving young man consumed with ambition and a lust for power suddenly change with a snap of the fingers, or in this case, with a blow to the head? In the new novel A Lady’s Code of Misconduct, by Meredith Duran, rising political star Crispin Burke’s life changes overnight when he is attacked in the dead of night and suffers an injury that leaves him with no memory of the past few months. He doesn’t even remember marrying his lovely young wife, Jane Mason, the niece of one of his former allies in Parliament. Despite his memory loss, he is determined to his best foot forward and become the great politician he had hoped to be before his unfortunate accident. And who better to help him than the woman he trusts most, his young bride, because after all behind every great man is a great woman, right?

Rewind, though, because not everything is as neat and tidy as it seems. Jane isn’t really Crispin’s wife…not technically, anyhow. Before Crispin’s little mishap, Jane, desperate to avoid marrying her cousin who wants nothing more than to inherit her substantial fortune, makes a deal with Crispin: he will obtain a false marriage license for her in exchange for whatever information she can glean from eavesdropping on her uncle’s conversations. She’s so close to freedom…if she can find a man willing to marry her and then part ways. But Jane isn’t so lucky, and upon hearing that Crispin will most likely not survive the attack, takes matters into her owns hands and signs his name to the marriage license. When Crispin wakes up with no memory of the past few months, Jane knows she eventually has to tell him the truth. But she never thought that she would start to have feelings for him…or that he would start to have feelings for her and rely upon her as his partner and helpmeet, despite the circumstances of their marriage.

As Jane and Crispin begin to grow accustomed to their new life together, Parliament still beckons. Crispin is shocked by the harsh prison reform bill he had supported before his attack, and with Jane’s help, he seeks to set things right and withdraw support from the bill. But as he and Jane investigate his past dealings, they begin to see that there are other forces at play behind the politics. And the more they uncover, the more danger they find themselves in. The only way they can get through this is together, and events threaten to test their blossoming love for one another.

Duran captures the domestic and political intrigues of mid-Victorian London perfectly, from the deals made in back offices over brandy and cigars to the show put on in glittering ballrooms in between dances. The best part of the book is the relationship between Crispin and Jane, and how they transition from young bride and groom to a supercouple determined to use their power and influence for the common good rather than for their own gain. A Lady’s COde o my Misconduct has not only the romance that so many love, but provides some reassurance that there are people who enter politics with the honest desire to make a difference and do some good for those who need it.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: Ready, Set, Rogue, by Manda Collins

Just how much trouble can a broken wagon axle lead to? Plenty, as the very handsome, slightly rakish Quill Beauchamp, Marquess of Kerr, discovers on his way to Kerr House, the home of his recently deceased aunt. And it just so happens that the beautiful, brilliant Greek poetry scholar Miss Ivy Wareham is headed in the same direction. After a chance encounter at an inn, they end up traveling to Kerr House together.

Ivy is excited about the opportunity that the late Lady Celeste Beauchamp, who had been quite the scholar herself, has offered her and three other young bluestocking ladies: to stay at the house for a year and pursue their studies, and, should they be successful, each inherit a portion of the fortune. Quill is shocked at this provision in his aunt’s will, and he would prefer to keep Kerr House in the family, as it was a favorite retreat for himself and his cousins. But Ivy’s discovery of a letter written to her by the dying Lady Celeste changes everything. Lady Celeste feared that someone was poisoning her, and she charges Ivy with the task of finding her killer. Quill and Ivy must put aside their differences and join forces to bring the dear old woman’s killer to justice…but neither one of them expected that they would fall in love while putting their heads together to solve the mystery.

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Ready, Set Rogue is the first book in Manda Collins’s new Studies in Scandal series. Collins blends a fast-paced mystery story together with witty characters and a very sweet romance. The first kiss that Ivy and Quill share is one of my favorite parts of their romance, as we see that they are both very clever, passionate people who are very well-suited for one another. The minor characters in the book are lovely too, especially the exquisite, plainspoken mathematician Lady Daphne Forsyth and the handsome, dashing Dalton Beauchamp, the Duke of Maitland, who reminded me a lot of Sir Percy Blakeney. The first book in the series is a wonderful read which I highly recommend, and I will definitely be reading the second book when it’s released, as Daphne and Maitland’s romance is the next one to be featured.

Disclaimer: I received a free advance review copy from Netgalley in exchange fo rmy honest review.

Book Review: Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black

Looking for a fun, light read that is part Beatrix Potter, part Twin Peaks, with just a little bit of Midsomer Murders thrown in? Then Shady Hollow, by Juneau Black, is right up your alley!

A murder investigation casts a dark shadow on the sleepy little town of Shady Hollow, and nearly everyone is a suspect. Otto Stumpf, the local curmudgeonly toad, has been found dead in the river. Vera Vixen, reporter for the town’s newspaper, is on the case. Vera is quick and cunning, and she is able to track down leads even more quickly than the local police force. Not to her surprise, the murder has brought some of the townspeople’s secrets to light – secrets that many of them would like to remain hidden. As Vera follows the clues on the killer’s trail and comes closer to discovering the culprit’s identity, things start becoming dangerous. Someone wants her dead, and she’s sure it’s connected to the murder. Undaunted, she presses on, eager to get tot he bottom of the story, no matter what it takes.

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Cover of Shady Hollow. Image via Amazon.

 

The novel is a light, cozy mystery with a bit of fantasy, even though things become darker as the tale progresses. The revelation of the murderer completely caught me off guard. The author did an excellent job of bringing other suspects to the reader’s attention, and the twists and turns of the plot led to a thrilling and satisfactory conclusion. I expect that there will be other books, as it is a very promising beginning to a fantastical cozy mystery series.

Shady Hollow is perfectly safe for younger readers, though adults will enjoy it as well, just as I did.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book Review: Hot Shade, by Tamara Lush

Just how much trouble can a crush lead to? We find out in Tamara Lush’s new adult romance Hot Shade. Young journalist Skylar Shaw is about to find out. While covering the story of a plane crash on a Florida beach, Skylar meets the handsome, mysterious young Italian man who rescued the survivors – and is hooked.

Luca Rossi has been hiding at his uncle’s house in Florida, trying to escape the ghosts of his past. Exposing the mafia’s secrets back in Italy ended his own career as a reporter, and he has been in fear for his life ever since. Romance was the last thing on his mind, until he met the attractive young reporter who seems just as interested in him as he is in her.

 

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Cover of Hot Shade. Image via Amazon.

Even though both Luca and Skylar know that it would probably be better if they stayed away from each other, they just can’t seem to. Soon they both grow attached to one another, and gradually each one reveals their secrets to the other: Skylar divulges her past abusive relationship with an older man, and Luca finally tells her why he has left Italy to hide in the United States. But Luca’s past comes back to haunt him, and it could not only endanger him, but the woman he has grown to love. And as the suspense builds, the two of them have to turn to each other. Skylar is no damsel in distress, and she is as protective of Luca as he is of her, even when things grow to be life-threatening.

Lush draws on much of her own personal experience as a journalist in Florida, and she uses the setting to her advantage. The characters’ romantic relationship progresses naturally; even though they intuitively know that it would be better for the both of the to stay away from one another, they decide to become involved anyhow, just for a little bit. And of course their attraction develops into deeper feelings, though both are a little hesitant to tell one another about them. As attracted as she is to Luca, Skylar is very reluctant to jump into a relationship or even a fling with him. Luca is very understanding of Skylar’s cautiousness, and he does what he can to make her feel comfortable with pursuing the relationship. And Luca is hot…and such a great guy (no alpha male/abusive boyfriend tropes in this!). And the sex scenes! Can we say hot, and full of enthusiastic consent? Which is a HUGE reason for anyone who is specifically looking for romances with hot, consensual sex scenes to check this book out!

Book Review: The King and the Courtesan, by Angela Walker

Angela Walker takes the trope of alpha male billionaire plucking a girl from the gutter and introducing her to a life of riches and turns it on its head in her debut novel The King and the Courtesan.

Melissa Thatcher is a drug-addicted prostitute living in the Metro slum of Zinya City. Her life looks pretty bleak, until Ezekiel, one of the city’s leading drug dealers, approaches her with a proposition: if she becomes his escort, he will change her life forever. That means living with hi I his posh apartment in a better part of the city, access to money, new clothes, trips to places she only dreamed of visiting, and an endless supply of the substance she abuses. Melissa figures that it can’t be as bad as the life she’s currently leading, so she accepts the proposition. Little does she know that things won’t all that Ezekiel has promised they will, not by a long shot.

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Cover of The King and the Courtesan. Image via Amazon.

Ezekiel is ruthless and extremely calculating, traits that have only helped him to keep a grip of iron over his drug empire. All of the people in his employ are somehow indebted to him, to the stylist who takes care of Melissa’s wardrobe to the upstanding bodyguard who is working for Ezekiel in exchange for money for his wife’s cancer treatments. Ezekiel soon has Melissa in his stranglehold, and she is careful not to cross him, until she finds out how dangerous he really is when she breaks one of the many “rules” of their business arrangement. She becomes desperate to escape him, but she knows that only one of them will make it out of the arrangement alive, and she fully intends to live.

Walker is brutally honest about the realities of sexual trauma, addiction, poverty, and what constitutes abuse, even though she avoids explicit depictions of sex. We are able to understand the effects of such things on not only Melissa, but on others around her. In other works, Melissa’s situation might be romanticized, and Ezekiel, who came from a horrible family life as well, would have been seen as a tortured hero who can somehow be redeemed by the heroine. Walker is careful to avoid glamorizing the situation; she shows Ezekiel to be exactly the sociopath that he is. There is no way he can be redeemed because he does not view himself as being in the wrong.

Melissa’s situation also allows herself an opportunity to think about what it is she wants out of her life and she finds out that she is a much stronger person than she ever believed she was. She is a survivor, and somehow we know that once she is out of all of this, she is going to be okay.

I received an advanced reader copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Book Review: Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh

Eva Leigh begins with a promising start to her new Wicked Quills of London series with its first installment, Forever Your Earl. Leigh takes us from the finest houses to the poorest slums of Regency London in this delectable treat of a book.

Cover of Forever Your Earl.

Forever Your Earl, by Eva Leigh. Cover image via Amazon.

Eleanor Hawke, editor of the Hawk’s Eye, one of the most popular scandal sheets in London, is shocked the day the her favorite subject, Daniel Balfour, the Earl of Ashford, walks into her office with a proposition. He and Eleanor come to an agreement: she will accompany him on his many exploits throughout London, identifying him only as Lord Rakehell in her articles. But Daniel’s reasons for this are twofold; he has been searching high and low for his old friend, Jonathan, who has disappeared into London’s slums, and he believes these articles may be just the thing to lure Jonathan out of hiding.

Daniel and Eleanor spend a delightful few weeks as she chronicles all of his scandalous pursuits, from phaeton races to gambling hells to masquerades to nights in Vauxhall Gardens. As she spends more time with Daniel, she begins to see that there is more to him than she thought. And Daniel finds Eleanor’s wit, independence, and humor to be exhilarating. Yet class differences and societal conventions doom their romance, and Daniel will do anything to persuade Eleanor that she is worthy of his love, even though he’s just a commoner and he’s an earl.

Leigh breathes life into Regency London in every word on the page, from simple everyday conversation to descriptions of such grand places as Vauxhall. The couple’s romance progresses as naturally as that between the hero and heroine of a Georgette Heyer novel and is very believable. Much like romantic leads in the other series Leigh has written under the name of Zoe Archer, Daniel and Eleanor come together for their own reasons and realize that they can help each other achieve their own goals. As their relationship progresses, they work together to find some resolution and to bring Daniel’s friend safely home. The couple emerges stronger than they were and you get a sense of how they help each other become better people. And that is how a romance should end – with some sense of a happily ever after.

I received an advance copy of this book in a giveaway hosted by the author.

Book Review: The Middle of Somewhere, by Sonja Yoerg

In Sonja Yoerg’s novel The Middle of Somewhere, Liz Kroft is about to turn thirty, but for someone so young, she has a lot of emotional baggage she needs to work through. The opportunity presents itself when she decides to take a solitary hike on the John Muir Trail in the Yosemite Valley. When her boyfriend Dante joins her, though, her plans change, and the secrets she carries become an unpleasant weight for. Throughout their journey, they encounter a host of different characters: an actor who is unwillingly making the hike for a movie role; a devoted older couple who found love the second time around; and a pair of sinister brothers, both professional outdoorsmen, who have their own secrets to hide as well.

As Liz and Dante hike deeper into the mountains, Liz begins to understand that she musr tell Dante all of the secrets she has been hiding. Dante, who prides himself on his strong Catholic morals, is shocked by each of her confessions. But soon one of the people they have been hiking with turns up dead, Liz and Dante discover that the brothers are playing a deadly game of cat and mouse with them. Even though Liz’s secrets have put a rift in her and Dante’s relationship, they must stay together so that they can make it off of the trail alive.

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Cover image via Amazon.com.

Throughout the novel, we catch glimpses of Liz’s life before the hike. We learn that she is the daughter of a single mother and an estranged father who grew up as an only child, and that her curiosity about technology leads her to a career in engineering. We see her meet her college sweetheart and marry him right after graduation, only for their marriage to slowly begin to unravel and abruptly end with her husbands untimely death in a car accident. And we discover the most painful secret that Liz is keeping from Dante: that she did not inform him of her unplanned pregnancy and her decision to undergo an abortion rather than to tell him.

Sonja Yoerg’s novel The Middle of Somewhere combines the past and present narratives of Liz’s life all so that the reader will eventually see how they might affect her future, whatever it may hold. As Liz and Dante face the uncertainty of what will happen to their relationship once they have finished with their hike, they also must make moment-by-moment decisions when it comes to how to evade their pursuers. I kept flipping the pages with my heart in my throat to see whether or not Liz and Dante would get off of that mountain before their pursuers got to them. Liz, so accustomed to being on her own, has pushed Dante and everyone else in her life away, and she and Dante and forced to depend upon each other to escape their situation. The action builds to a satisfying conclussion

I received a free advanced copy from First to Read in exchange for my fair and honest review.