Featured

How to Deceive a Duke

Will the world let them have their second chance?

How many times, and in how many different ways, can a heart be broken?

A duke in disguise broke Fiona’s heart one glorious summer. She thought they would have a forever -until she found out who he was, and that a future between them was impossible.

Fiona’s life since that cataclysmic summer has been a constant struggle to survive. She is finally ready to unveil an invention that will change the lives of people everywhere. But she cannot find a way to distribute her creation. She travels to London to find financial backing and becomes embroiled in a conspiracy against the Crown.

The Duke who crushed her girlhood dreams posts her bail when she is thrown in prison for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Years later they still hold each other’s hearts, and even though every obstacle on earth seems to launch into their path, he is determined to spend his life with her. Even though his arms are the safest place she has ever known, Fiona is determined to resist him because she knows that her ignominy and notorious family will ruin his reputation.

He broke her heart once. Her family has broken her heart countless times. The world breaks her heart and her spirit every single day.

Fiona has learned that she must go her own way. Everything she has worked for comes of her blood and tears, her desperation and perseverance. She can depend on no one but herself because her journey is full of peril and hardship no one has been willing to share or look beyond.

Until him.

Just some of the reasons I loved this book:

It is a second chance romance with a couple who mean everything to each other, and are separated by a chasm of expectations and doubt.

It features two strong personalities who complement and encourage one another. Theirs is a full partnership and all the hero wants to do is ensure the woman he loves and believes in gets all of the success she deserves. Even if that means he is only in a supporting role.

A fierce STEM heroine with the courage and fortitude to banish her past and seize her future.

Plot & Setting: 5 Stars

Characters: 5 Stars

Steam: 4

Some of my favorite quotes:

“She was stubborn, immovable, and impassioned, and if he let himself spend too much time with her, there was every chance he’d weaken and toss decades’ worth of reputation management to the wind.”

“That journey taught me an important lesson. That if I wanted security, I would have to create it for myself.”

“She was barely steady before he had both sides of her face cupped in his palms, and he bent his head to capture her mouth in a kiss. It was like a burning fire after a freezing walk, a good meal after too long without food. It nourished her body and soul in a way she hadn’t known she was lacking.”

“She could stay like this forever, with nothing between them. Not even clothes. Not even space. But she didn’t have forever, and the salt of his sweat mixed with the salt of her tears until she didn’t know where she ended and he began.”

Featured

After Dark With the Duke

“Miss Wylde in the sitting room feels like . . . when you open up a window on a spring day, and in comes a breeze and birds tra-la-la’ing their heads off. And the duke . . . I suppose he’s like the first frost, ain’t he? And the first frost ain’t a bad thing. It’s just a very different thing. So I don’t know what kind of weather we have in the sitting room at night.”

Five Hallelujah Stars. I have now read it 8 times cover to cover.

He’s an icon and a hero. He’s revered and feted and admired. He has the gratitude of the entire British Empire.

But he’s also a man. No one seems to remember that. He wants human connection and sincerity and to be seen for his heart – not just his duty and his accomplishments.

She has clawed her way to a place in the world with drive and ambition, she is self-made. But her world has just crumbled beneath her and she is now the object of society’s derision and gossip. Her career is at an end.

What happens when the iron control that dominates every aspect of your life is finally breached? What happens when all of the emotions you have buried beneath a mask of implacability finally clamor to the surface? What happens when all of the hopes you surrendered finally stir once more? James and Mariana are about to find out.

He is as immovable and impacable as the sun- all of his admiring minions bask in his orbit like flies. He bears the standard against which all other men are measured. He has built his life as a leader of men, and, if his countrymen are to be believed, his fortitude, cunning and honor singlehandedly won the war. He was bestowed land, wealth and a ducal title for his bravery.

She is a woman trying to survive in a world built on innuendo and gossip. She has ascended through the ranks of the entertainment world by virtue of her voice and her beauty. But they are not enough to save her from the malicious nature of the aristocracy. She has become the scapegoat for their ridiculous foibles and insecurities, and lands at the Palace of Rogues with nothing to show for her glittering success.

But the Grand Palace on the Thames works its own miracles. It burrowes beneath the skin of its residents. It makes them aware of their vulnerabilities and opens their eyes to truths long denied.

James is the one man who seems impervious to her. He treats her as if she is beneath his notice, something to be scraped from the bottom of his shoe and then ignored. But Mariana craves his acknowledgment. A sly parlor game sparks emnity between them, and he deliberately wounds her feelings – using her naïve bravery against her. His attack is beneath him- and unforgivable in the eyes of his hostesses. They demand he make amends.

Mariana has always wanted to learn the meaning behind the arias she has memorized. When the glacial duke offers to teach her Italian as an apology for his abominable behavior, she accepts. The daily lessons become a very different sort of battle.

He battles the urge to absorb the impact of her beauty every time she crosses his threshold. She battles the urge to steal glances at his rugged profile while he is focused on his correspondence. They tiptoe over coals with one another. Coals that are precariously suspended above a shimmering, simmering, treacherous pool of molten lava. Lava that will forever alter their essence and purpose if they dare to take the plunge.

When they finally kiss it renders their foundations into nothing but dust and rubble. When they finally begin to see each other clearly – beyond masks and cloaks and the judgment and opinions of others – there is no turning back.

This is a love story about second chances and conquering heartbreak. It is a love story about two people so contained in their aloneness, they cannot fail to recognize the stark heart of isolation in each other. It is a story about self-acceptance, self-forgiveness and finally laying down one’s guard enough to realize that contentment is not enough. It is ultimately about the realization that we are all entitled to, and deserving of, happiness.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“Then again, he was still a man. Wasn’t he? Even if he was orders of magnitude more potent in real life than other men? She had not yet met one she couldn’t ultimately decipher. They’d all thus far regrettably proved the same beneath the skin, even if this one’s skin was made of battered steel plate, granite, and meanness.”

“He liked having people about, even if he didn’t necessarily want to talk to them. Strangers were often too deferential or too fawning or too mutely rapt. His own tendency to abbreviation—some might call it abruptness—born of being accustomed to barking orders, and a sense that time and life were so precious one ought not spend them listening to nattering—didn’t help.”

“Knights, queen, king, bishops . . . why are no pieces named for dukes?” “It does seem an oversight,” Mariana mused. “I think because dukes would ruin the fun for all the other pieces. You see, dukes could only go in very straight, narrow lines, so they would disapprove greatly of the bishop for having the nerve to do anything so original as move diagonally.” Dot laughed. “What else?” “And then . . . the duke would be able to tell all the pieces on the board what to do, because only the duke would know, of course. And no one would ever win a game. Let alone enjoy one.”

“Miss Wylde in the sitting room feels like . . . when you open up a window on a spring day, and in comes a breeze and birds tra-la-la’ing their heads off. And the duke . . . I suppose he’s like the first frost, ain’t he? And the first frost ain’t a bad thing. It’s just a very different thing. So I don’t know what kind of weather we have in the sitting room at night.”

“Very well. We have established I am a castle and you are in a fortress surrounded by free-roaming sheep. We have a sense of each other now, I believe.”

“I should think life is operatic enough without introducing an additional element of absurd drama, let alone a drama one pays to see. I keep a box at the opera but I do not use it. My son does.” “Fair point, your Grace. It’s just that one person’s absurd drama, as you put it, might be another person’s matter of life or death. And not everyone prefers their waking lives to their dreams.”

“She wanted another one of those smiles the way she’d wanted another sip of champagne that fateful night. And what did that say about her? Both were potent. Neither was wise.”

“Every one of those smiles were like a swift peek through a crack into the earth at something molten.”

“Because this space began to fill with an awareness that felt anything but safe. She supposed that was all her own doing. He sank into her imagination the way the sun from the window warmed her skin. She memorized the interesting cragginess of his face. She estimated that his shoulders were about twice the width of her own. And when she thought about it, the entirety of her skin seemed to hum with restlessness, imagining how it might feel . . . be to covered with the entirety of him.”

“How difficult would it be to find and keep one’s bearings in life when the road wasn’t at all defined? When life came at you as though you were a moving target? When one was falling, the reflex was to flail out for any steadying handhold, he supposed.”

“If it helps at all . . . given that I’ve been so helpful thus far . . . life is cheap and fragile, but ultimately it’s all we’ve got, isn’t it, when we have nothing else? And that makes it such an outrageously precious thing that we’ll do anything to preserve it. It’s quite the paradox. It’s a wonder we’re entrusted with it at all, given how easy it is to lose. And fate can make ridiculous rag dolls of us at any time, even the wisest of us. Even kings and dukes. But when you realize no one is exempt from the caprices of fate, well, that’s the greatest gift of all, I think. A good humbling early on is marvelous for building character.”

“Losing men never became rote, for me, Miss Wylde. Every one of them, I think, is scored somewhere on my soul. Assuming I still possess one.” He tipped the corner of his mouth. It was yet another thing he’d never said aloud to anyone. Her face suffused with that ache again, which she quickly disguised. “Just as some women are made to hold an audience captive with their voices, some men are built to withstand war. The more you endure, the more you can endure. Until one can easily bear weights—troubles, responsibilities, grievances, deaths, triumphs—that look to someone on the outside inconceivable. It happens over time. I was the one able to do it.” He paused. And said, quietly, “So I did it.” He had not ended that sentence with, until all you’re doing is enduring.”

“He had never before felt so full of things that he could not form into words. And he supposed that was the point of operas and sex, so that you could feel and communicate things you could never say.”

“If they could only see the way Mariana looked at him at night. That welcoming, fiercely joyous, tender, almost too-open generosity. Take all you need, she seemed to say. He hadn’t known. He hadn’t known what he’d needed. Or that he’d needed so much.”

“There was a part of him that battled the pleasure, and she understood. To be so wholly owned by it, to abandon yourself to the mercy of desire, to another person’s mercy—it wasn’t in his nature to surrender. But the deep and molten seam of passion was in his nature. And the primal hunger was. And the gift he had for giving pleasure was. He understood pleasure the way he understood war.”

“He felt ferociously protective of this small, lush, velvety, feral, gentle, generous person. How dangerous, in some ways, it felt to just hold her.”

“As he lay there in that empty room, he had a much better understanding of loneliness, because with her he had, for perhaps the first time ever, been so blessedly, blissfully not alone.”

“Though, like a feature of a landscape, say, a mountain, she could always feel his presence even when he was nowhere within her line of vision. She had a terrible suspicion that he would be a feature of her landscape for the rest of her life.”

“The truth lay in the contrasts. If what approached at the thought of losing her was desolation, then whatever he felt for her was precisely the opposite of that. He had known more than one defeat in battle, but defeat was just a tool he’d used to learn to become victorious. He would never be accused of being an optimist, but he was indomitable. He’d experienced grievous losses and blows and struggled to his feet again. It was what a warrior did. But nothing in his experience was of use to him here. Desolation was not an enemy army. It was more like a looming shadow, or a creeping mist. He couldn’t grasp hold of it with logic. He couldn’t conquer it with strategy. His power and influence were as nothing in the face of its inexorable approach.”

“Some types of loneliness had only one cure. He was hers. She was his.”

“Funny isn’t it?” She sniffed. “You’re a bloody hero and you’re used to ordering legions what to do. And your reward for that is that you’re at the mercy of legions now. Brave, brave, stupid man who can’t make himself happy. And can’t you see that? Can’t you see you’re a man?”

“He wrapped his arms around her, because he didn’t know what else to do. Holding her was the only comfort he’d truly known. Possibly the only peace he’d truly known. Because peace was being known.”

SO……. if you need a book right now that will remind you why none of us are an island, why we all need the acceptance and welcome that comes when you feel comfortable laying your burdens on the shoulders of someone else, this book is for you. If you need a book right now about the bravery it takes to scale the walls of what looks like an impenetrable fortress when your standing on the periphery, but is actually a carefully constructed disguise to shelter a vulnerable heart, this book is for you.

And last but not least. If you need a book with a stern brunch daddy hero who is implacable, impermeable, irresistible and impossible, THIS BOOK IS FOR YOU.

My eternal gratitude to the publisher, the author and Netgalley for sending me an ARC of this extraordinary, unforgettable book in exchange for an honest review.

Seven Days in June

Their love story deserves a second chance…

Being a grown woman and a single mom, and competently handling your shit on a daily basis doesn’t leave much space in your life for finding love. Especially when the only love you ever really believed in gutted you during a tsunami like obsession that only lasted for seven days and happened fifteen years ago. Especially when you have to battle the demons of your debilitating illness.

When Shane walks into Eva’s life again, the doubts and struggles of her past come roaring back to life. He is the one shining joy and agonizing betrayal she cannot forget. He broke her and doesn’t deserve her forgiveness- much less a redo. But they are still drawn to each other as if they are magnetized. They still strike sparks off each other with a single loaded glance.

Shane has spent fifteen years trying to escape himself. He has spent fifteen years running from the one jubilant moment he had with Eva. He has spent fifteen years self-medicating with alcohol. His addiction is a crutch he is finally conquering, and he sees every decision he made leading to this rare love story.

Whether they are ready to lay down their burdens in each other’s arms, to treasure the acceptance and solace they find in each other, will be the ultimate test.

There are so many things I love about this book:

  1. The incisive, insightful summaries of personal struggle and redemption.
  2. The unflinching portrayal of rising like a phoenix from the debris of a destructive, soul-stealing childhood.
  3. The uncanny truths about mothering in the 21st century.

Here are some of my favorite quotes:

“Girls are given the weight of the world, but nowhere to put it down. The power and magic born in that struggle? It’s so terrifying to men that we invented reasons to burn y’all at the stake, just to keep our dicks hard.”

“Maybe they’d always be disasters- but couldn’t they support each other and grow together? No one was perfect! And maybe that was what real, adult love was. Being fearless enough to hold each other close no matter how catastrophic the world became. Loving each other with enough ferocity to quell the fears of the past. Just fucking being there.”

Talk Bookish to Me

Everyone grows up eventually…even college boyfriends.

Talk Bookish to Me was a perfect escape about second chances.

Kara and Ryan were inseparable in college- that couple nauseatingly wrapped up in each other and joined at the hip. The tied with a bow, rose colored glasses couple everyone else was envious of. But they were young, and life got in the way. They couldn’t keep doubt and mistrust from intruding on their relationship – and they are both still nursing the wounds from their mutual meltdown.

Kara still hates Ryan with the fire of a thousand suns. He broke her trust and shattered her heart. And now he’s standing on front of her – miraculously the groomsman in her best friend’s wedding. She wants to thrash him with the roundkick of all roundkicks. But she wants to lean into the crook of his neck and feel his arms around her too. And her competing desires make her grumpy and mean.

When a disaster named Duke strikes, Ryan and Kara become victims of forced proximity. Kara offers up her space because she is trying to help her best friend and keep the momentum and inspiration going so she can meet the deadline for her new romance book. The coincidence of Ryan’s sudden appearance and the banishment of her writer’s block is not something she wants to examine too closely.

The charge between them is inexorable and they can’t ignore it. If they choose each other again, there’s a very definite possibility that their secrets will drive them apart again. Is the heartache and surrender worth it?

I loved this sweet romantic comedy. A huge thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for the chance to read this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Locked In Love

He ruined her life and she despises him.

This wonderful love story unfolds in the middle of a quarantine.

He’s the man Kara used to share a cubicle with– or at least a workspace. But their budding romance cost her a job she loved and now she’s unemployed. It’s all his fault, and she lays the blame completely on his shoulders. He’s the reason she’s looking for a hook-up with an overgrown slob of a fratboy. He’s the reason she feels unhinged and untethered.

To make matters worse, the frat boy hookup that didn’t happen means she’s stuck in HIS apartment building for the foreseeable future.

Rory was saddened that the work fiasco wrecked his maybe with Kara. Though she seems to hate his guts, he had reasons for staying at the company that he felt too vulnerable to share. Those reasons will become evident if Kara takes him up on the offer to stay in his apartment until the quarantine ends.

Why this book was the perfect mini- escape from the quarantine that has become a stifling cocoon:

  1. The banter and sparks between Kara and Rory sizzle off the page.
  2. She has to wear his clothes— and they smell like him. You know we’ve all stolen that t-shirt just so we could get a surreptitious sniff whenever we needed it.
  3. There is a sweet, sassy side character who will steal your heart.
  4. Rory may have an 8 pack and seem like a tiger, but he’s actually a kitten.
  5. Forced proximity. And all of the uncomfortable, arousing, impossible to ignore feelings it forces out in the open.