“The Duchess Deal” by Tessa Dare

★★★★☆

Back to historical romances! (Yippee!)

I am so happy I might cry… well, not really, because this book was amazingly entertaining! I don’t think I’ve laughed so much by reading a book in years! I’m positively chuffed and in a good mood after finishing this (which is a lot to say for someone as picky as me!) 😌

Today’s female MC is Emma, a seamstress on some dire times. She had been commissioned to make a wedding gown for a lady but, following the breakage of the engagement by said lady with her prospective groom, Emma was left with a wedding gown and several hours of unpaid work. And she needed the money pronto.

However! Letters to the lady went unanswered (most probably ignored 😒), so what to do? Well, obviously go and request the payment from the groom: a duke!

Ash (or Ashbury, or Duke, or whatever) is our male MC. Because of an accident whilst at war, he got some pretty bad burns on his body, he’s got scars, etc etc etc… I’ve read a myriad of books with a similar plot, so I was a bit skeptical, “ANOTHER tortured hero? Both inside AND outside?! Uh…” So you see, I wasn’t in the mood for a pity-party or a gloomy atmosphere throughout the novel. But it didn’t turn out to be like that, and I was awfully glad.

Ash just needs an heir for his dukedom, therefore he needs a wife, therefore Emma is chosen as she just happens to be there and catches his eye 👁

You know, the start of the book gave me some eye-rolls. I understand fiction is fiction, but at the same time, I do enjoy a bit of credibility in books, in how people behave, etc… So when Emma knocks at the duke’s house wearing a wedding gown, is admitted without issues, and the duke just takes a look at her and decides she’s mighty fine as a prospective wife, that made me bark an ‘I-don’t-believe-this!’ laugh.

But I continued reading! And I’m glad I did, because even if it wasn’t as realistic as I like them to be, it still was a shining beacon in the middle of all this darkness that my library has been afflicted with lately 😥

The banter between the two main characters is amazing! I bloody loved all their jokes and dry humour, because… well, I am a sarcastic bitch too, if you haven’t realised yet 🤫

In this first instance, Emma is meeting Ash for the first time whilst wearing that wedding dress she needs to get paid for. Ash is less than impressed:

“I can’t even take the whole thing in. It looks like unicorn vomit. Or the pelt of some snow beast rumored to menace the Himalayas.”

Or how his calendar is full of very productive activities:

“Well, I’m afraid my schedule is quite booked for the rest of the week.” He flipped through the pages of an agenda. “Brooding, drinking, indoor badminton tournament . . .”

He has a way of playing with words which I absolutely love:

“No.”

“No,” he echoed.

“Yes.”

“Yes, no. Make up your mind, Miss Gladstone.”

He’s just so bloody witty I want to strangle him in a hug:

“Has it not occurred to you that I might have pursued you out of some genuine concern for your well-being?”

She gave him a doubtful look.

“I’m not saying I did. Only that it should have occurred to you.”

And his dry humour, as mentioned before, only gets better:

“I’m offering you a title and fortune. All you have to do is lie back in the dark, then spend nine months swelling up like a tick. What could possibly deter any woman from accepting?”

What indeed 🙂

And in another scene, Emma wakes up before Ash does. She muses how men always look good, even after a full night’s sleep (I wholeheartedly concur – those lucky bastards!) and so she takes some hasty time to sort her hair out and make herself a bit more presentable. She’s feeling pretty good for herself, so when the Ash’s eyes flutter open in the stark morning light, she was truly expecting for a heartfelt compliment… But what are his first words, you might wonder?

His gaze roamed her face and body. He scratched behind his ear like a flea-bitten dog and yawned loudly before reaching for his boot. “I’m dying for a piss.”

Charming 😃

Their banter is just about the most mundane of things – things other books don’t bother to mention – but I looooooved them:

“You’re not eating your soup,” he finally said. “It’s putting me off mine.”

“I . . . Never mind.” With a dutiful grimness, she took a tiny spoonful of soup.

He rolled his eyes. “Spit it out then.”

She froze, spoon poised in midair.

“Not the soup. Whatever it is you mean to say.”

And I laughed and snorted my arse off at this next one:

“You are such a man. And I’m stupidly attracted to you despite it. Perhaps even for it. Yes, I am certain it’s infatuation. I’ve felt it before.”

Now Ash was the one who became a maelstrom of irrational emotion. That emotion being jealous anger. “Toward whom?”

“Why should it matter?”

“Because,” he said, “I like to know the names of the people I despise. I keep them in a little book and pore over it from time to time, whilst sipping brandy and indulging in throaty, ominous laughter.”

Emma was great too at making me giggle:

“Can you . . . I’m feeling a bit fragile right now. It would mean a great deal if you’d hold me. You know, with your arms.”

Brilliant, Emma. As if he might have tried to hold her with his knees or eyelids without those instructions.

But also their love and relationship really grew on me too, and it was visible how well matched they were from the beginning.

She lavished both sides of him with equal attention and sweet, sweet tenderness, until he felt his two halves knitting together in the center. Somewhere close to his heart.

By the end, I was a sappy and well satisfied reader that couldn’t stop smiling and chuckling from remembered jokes.

I’m even sighing as I’m writing this 😅 Can’t wait to find a book in the future that is just as good, if not better! Here’s to always hoping 🥂

See you all next week!

Peace and love to everyone 😊

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“Duchess by Deception” by Marie Force

★★★☆☆

Yes, another historical romance! The blurb looked really interesting (gotta love unconventional first meetings) so… why not? I was looking forward to some uniqueness.

And the book ended up being quite good, I cannot stop mentioning that I love when there’s good grammar, syntax and just good storyline in general. You would think because a book gets published those should be the minimum… but I’ve see cringe-worthy published books before that lacked all those essentials, so now I’m always grateful when I see a well-put book.

The story starts with Derek (the male MC) desperately trying to find a wife. Now, being a Duke, and handsome to boot, he certainly has a vast variety of eligible debutantes from which to pick and choose, but there’s a slight problem: he’s not happy with just choosing a random bride to then do his noble duty and make her pop out a couple of heirs. Nope, he actually wants someone he can stand – you know, someone he wants to have deep, meaningful conversations with. We’re not talking about full-on besotted love, but at least some semblance of care and interest between each other.

“I’ve talked to every one of them and haven’t found one who interests me enough to pursue anything further.”

“Same as last year,” Enderly said.

“And the year before, and the year before that,” Derek said, the despair creeping in once again.

Oh, did I forget to mention he needs to marry in less than a week? Yep, an old law put by his ancestors states that every Duke of his lineage needs to marry before 30, or the title and all the holdings are taken away.

Gotta love outdated requirements 🙂

Derek is just done with it all: the balls, the strict society, the superficial rules… he decides to cut his Season off and return to his country house early, absolutely not caring anymore if he loses his title. Feeling a bit depressed, my lord? 🧐

As luck has it (or, rather, as luck in fiction books has it) a total unexpected encounter on his way to his estate quite literally changes the course of his life. Derek sees, what he believes at first, a man digging in the ducal grounds. He approaches to investigate, intrigued on why that person was digging so earnestly.

Well, obviously it turned out to be a woman 😂

Catherine (our female MC) had run away from home to escape an arranged marriage to a complete SOB of a viscount. Apparently, her grandmother had been the mistress of Derek’s grandfather (kind of cringy, but ok, I’ll flow with it) and she had… quite some shiny and expensive trinkets hidden in a chest that she left ownership to Catherine for whenever she may need the additional money. The key, however, had been hidden, buried in the grounds. And that, ladies and gentlemen, was why Catherine was digging in the dirt as much as a mole trying to find worms.

As well as that, Catherine seems to hate (if not loathe) all aristocrats from a bad experience of hers. Ok Catherine, generalising much?

Derek senses it (ok, more like is hit repeatedly by it every-time Catherine runs her tongue on how bad all nobles are) so he decides to tell her that he’s not the duke, but rather Jack, the estate manager.

Catherine buys it, and here comes forth a drama play of Derek acting like a commoner and Catherine falling in love with aforementioned ‘commoner’. They have a hasty elopement to Gretna Green, and lo and behold, they see themselves married!

My first problem with the book (apart from Catherine’s complete and ignorant disdain of a whole social class) is how fast their relationship progresses. By the second day, they’re completely into each other, and if my memory doesn’t fail me, they marry scarcely four days later… a bit fast and sudden, I must say.

Also, we get the POV of Derek’s cousin, Simon, in the book too. I personally don’t like having multiple POVs (except the main characters’), because I just want to read and focus on one couple at a time in a book, so that reduced the enjoyment a bit.

Additionally, when Catherine finds the truth about Derek… well, this is completely subjective, but her anger and moping about him lying to her… I just found it so overdone. Derek gives, for me, a very good explanation and logic on why he played the part, but she just seems not to care, preferring to be all hurt instead. I understand being angry, I would have been too, but she drags that anger for too much… like, geez lady, he only lied about his name and that he’s not a duke. Can you even blame him? Your disgust towards people with titles probably scared his confession off too 🤦🏻‍♀️

As Catherine washed and dressed, she thought of the wall she’d built around her heart and was filled with foolish hope. Who was this man to whom she was married? Was he really so different from the boorish aristocrats she’d had the misfortune to know in the past?

Yep, just found her a bit overdramatic… even from the quote above, was she really comparing Derek to the viscount that attempted to rape her? I would be mortally offended!

I found Derek to be a great male MC, he really cared deeply for Catherine and acted like a devoted puppy towards her, bringing her breakfast in bed, giving her books and full reign of managing his library, helping her dig in the dirt to find that blasted key, promising to take her to Egypt and Rome and the Americas…. Basically her every word was gold for him.

Where can I find you Derek, she doesn’t deserve you 😭

Anyhow! The book was not bad in general, and it was a nice read (to be honest I kept reading just for Derek 😂). See you all for my next post! 👋🏻

***I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC of this book which was kindly provided through NetGalley by this book’s publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own.***

“The Earl and The Reluctant Lady” by Robyn DeHart

★★★☆☆

Hmmm, yes, a historical romance was just what the doctor ordered this fine, Halloween day. I have no idea what attracts me so much to the genre, but the old speech is fascinating (yes, I’m boring, whatever 😒) and the wit of them is simply so entertaining! Not many of my friends agree, they find them yawn-inducing, but I’m glad I’m not the only fan in the world 😂

This was a delightful read, of course, with a very good writing that carried well and was never stilted (at least to me 👀). There was just the right amount of description, narration and conversation, which made the storyline easy to follow and enjoy.

Agnes is our female main character, and we are first introduced to her as she’s attending a ball with her mother. Here we will learn how Agnes is always doomed to be shadowed by her own mother, which likes to flirt and is known to go with many men in society, as well as sometimes being associated with being like her. All that brings her embarrassment and shame, especially as she’s able to hear others’ comments about it.

“She’s really so disgraceful,” a woman whispered. “Who?” another responded. “Lady Darby. Did you see how she shunned her own daughter to steal that man’s attention?”

This ball is also the first time Lord Wakefield sees her and, shall I say, falls in love with her at first glance. Fletcher (our male MC) is at the ball on a mission, seeing as he’s part of ‘the Seven’, an elite spying organisation for the country, but instead of actually trying his hardest at the work at hand (come on, who even tries their hardest at work 💁🏻‍♀️) he ends up pulling the lovely Agnes in a dance.

Even though Agnes knows very well Fletcher’s reputation in society, and what an unabashed flirter he is, it still doesn’t stop him from affecting her 😉

“Miss Watkins, I must admit I am rather enchanted with you.” Lord Wakefield’s deep voice fluttered over her skin.

And his humour! Let’s say Fletcher made me LOL quite some times 😂

“Look there.” He pointed above them. “Do you know what that is hanging in the tree?”

“Some sort of parasite, I would imagine. Though it is difficult to make out the details in this poor lighting,” Agnes said.

“I do believe it is mistletoe,” he whispered.

“This is the wrong time of year, and I think it does not bloom in this part of Britain.”

“Miss Watkins.” She looked back at his face. “Do you know what they say about mistletoe?” He tilted her chin up and bent to kiss her.

Their attraction was sadly not to bear fruit though, as Agnes’s brother is Cristopher – Cristopher, who hates Fletcher. And the same Cristopher, who gives Fletcher his assignments in the organisation. Could there ever be worse luck?

Cristopher seems to only send him into missions where Fletcher has to seduce the secrets out of women with information. It was all good and fun in the beginning, but he’s getting sick of it now, how his only worth seems to be his body and how he uses it.

He was tired of that being the sole skill he brought to his position with the Seven. Need information from a woman? Send in Fletcher to seduce it out of her. He blew out a breath.

Well, he’s in a bit of a pickle ☹️ And Cristopher keeps on twisting the dagger in when he sees only a hint of Fletcher’s want for Agnes.

“I know it should go without saying, but I want to make certain you understand my sister is completely off-limits for you.”

And twist some more…

Fletcher eyed him. “And if I decide to court her?”

“I understand you recognized that Agnes is special. But she’s too damned good for the likes of you. She’s not like your revolving door of widows, there for you to seduce.”

Ouch.

With an already low self esteem from childhood, Fletcher internally agrees with Cristopher and distances himself. For three years. Yup. But after that amount of time, circumstances bring the two star crossed lovers (or shall I say, non-lovers since there hasn’t been any loving going on for quite some time in their parts 🤷🏻‍♀️😂) back together. Cristopher will need to learn how to fight for the woman he… loves (let’s be serious, however much those two denied it, they both fell in love with each other at first sight 🙄) and Agnes will also need to work on her no-marriage-for-me policy.

Yes, I did REALLY like it in general, but here comes the part you all love: critique time! Aww come on, don’t groan like that, it wouldn’t be a review of mine without at least a complaint! And let me remind you all, I’m a petty bitch, and many things irritate me for no reason… so no hard feelings everyone 💁🏻‍♀️

• First of all, the way Agnes got inside the Lady of Virtue group was quite sudden and poorly explained.

“I put together a group and have slowly been recruiting, carefully selecting my girls and then training them.”

A bit sudden…?

Lady Somersby just walks up to Agnes and tells her straightaway about the group (which is supposed to be a tad secretive(?)) and asks her to join point blank. They knew each other before, but it seemed only in passing… How did Lady Somersby know that Agnes was a perfect candidate? Have they ever had deep or meaningful conversations where Agnes’s spirit and intelligence shone? Didn’t get that feeling much…

• So apparently the Ladies of Virtue do many missions… some of them being stopping crime that is rampant in the streets such as pickpocketing (really?)… like, no, I just find that a bit stupid and senseless… like, ok, they train for such activities, and they carry knives to protect themselves (which makes it sooo much better) but, come on… dangerous much? No one ever heard of Jack the Ripper? Oh, sorry, that happened later in history, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them were to become the first victim in the future 😕

On top of that, they also try to ‘reform’ men from their bad vices… such as arrogance and spending too much money and whatnot… Agnes also gets it in her head that she needs to reform Fletcher from his sinful ‘lust’ in life. Ehmmm, yeah, that irritated me quite some. A bit of a petty cause… there’s no really need for them to do this… it’s like they’ve got nothing better to do. I mean, I understand stopping crime, but what has stopping men from having a night liaison got to do with making the world better???

It wasn’t precisely proper for her, as a lady, to discuss such matters at all, let alone with a gentleman. Still, it was time his lustful ways were reformed.

Who does she think she is? To be honest, all those Ladies of ‘Virtue’… who do they think they are? Those mens’ mothers? Wives? Like, they have no duty to them, yet they just stick their noses into complete strangers….

Nah, that was all such bullshit to be honest, coming from a lady with too much time on her hands and no intelligence to her in that aspect (even though people mention how smart she is all the time… where, my good sir? I cannot see a thing 🧐)

• The amount of times Fletcher kept on putting himself down… it was ok at the beginning, but he just kept on repeating it!

The men in his family hurt women, which was all they ever did.

Like, does he think his family has a curse where the male members are doomed to make their wives miserable or something? Because I can’t see how that will affect him controlling his own bloody actions… you are the only one that can make you act out Fletcher, if you want to make someone happy and be faithful to them, it’s quite simple, you know 🙄

But it did drag for some time (ok, a lot of time, until the near end of the book really) and the amount of times Agnes was lying to herself about not loving him or not wanting to marry him… meh.

• Agnes sometimes was irritating as a person, a bit of an uppity straight-laced lady, and with some bad decision-making skills. For example, one time she kisses a man (her friend to be exact, to ‘experiment’ if kissing others is as good as kissing Fletcher) and then subsequently gets really angry by seeing Fletcher talking to an ex-conquest…. Like, she was a bit rude there – just because he has already a reputation, it’s ok to judge him (when he didn’t even do anything wrong) but her kissing other men is alright, even when she knew Fletcher liked her, because she’s a GOOD lady 🙄 Just ugh.

Another time (towards the end of the book) she and Fletcher manage to finally get engaged, but she gets a letter from her ‘secret admirer’, threatening her to break the engagement or Fletcher will get hurt. Does she sensibly tell Fletcher and together work to solve that issue? Of course not!

Fletcher was in danger. Because of her. There was only one thing for her to do: she needed to break their engagement, then retire to the countryside.

I’ve seen this happen in so many other books, where the female MC chooses not to tell the male MC about the danger, ending in unnecessary dragging and additional drama between them that I find quite not needed in a book. Like, come on Agnes, grow the bloody hell up and tell him (he’s the one in danger anyways, he should know!)

And in yet another instance, she deliberately cuts herself on a knife to ruin her face. You read that right! She truly believes her beauty is more of a curse than anything, and she hates all the attention she gets from it.

“I wanted to ruin my face, to make him not want me anymore. Make all of them not want me anymore.”

A bit too dramatic, Agnes? But hey, I’m not in her situation, what do I know 🤷🏻‍♀️

But apart from (all) those irritating little things, it was still quite a good book, I enjoyed it a lot, and the ending was adorable!

*** I voluntarily read and reviewed an ARC of this book which was kindly provided through NetGalley by this book’s publisher. All thoughts and opinions are my own. ***