Sunday, May 29, 2016

Duke of Sin- Elizabeth Hoyt

Duke of Sin (Maiden Lane Series #10)- Elizabeth Hoyt
Grand Central Publishing, Hachette
Release Date: May 31, 2016

SynopsisDevastatingly handsome. Vain. Unscrupulous. Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is the man London whispers about in boudoirs and back alleys. A notorious rake and blackmailer, Montgomery has returned from exile, intent on seeking revenge on those who have wronged him. But what he finds in his own bedroom may lay waste to all his plans. Born a bastard, housekeeper Bridget Crumb is clever, bold, and fiercely loyal. When her aristocratic mother becomes the target of extortion, Bridget joins the Duke of Montgomery's household to search for the incriminating evidence-and uncovers something far more dangerous. Astonished by the deceptively prim-and surprisingly witty-domestic spy in his chambers, Montgomery is intrigued. And try as she might, Bridget can't resist the slyly charming duke. Now as the two begin their treacherous game of cat and mouse, they soon realize that they both have secrets-and neither may be as nefarious-or as innocent-as they appear . . .

Duke of Sin has been the book I've been waiting for for ages. How was Elizabeth Hoyt going to turn villain Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, into a hero?  Followers of her Maiden Lane series have been trying to figure out Montgomery for several books, especially after November's Sweetest Scoundrel, when we got to know Val better through his sister Eve.  We've seen him through others as vain, unscrupulous, seductive, with no morals and questionable sanity.  How would we see the 'real' Val, through his own eyes?

The 'real' Val is vain, unscrupulous, seductive, has no morals, and questionable sanity.  Like The Avenger's Loki, Once Upon a Time's Rumplestiltskin, and Nalini Singh's Kaleb Krycheck- Valentine Napier was written for those of us who love the villain.

But Bridget Crumb, Val's housekeeper and the woman who falls in love with him, brings out the more human aspects of Val, even if he wouldn't think of it that way.  Val may be the most emotionally damaged of Hoyt's heroes- so damaged even he refuses to acknowledge the problems.  Being a duke, he generally gets away with anything so his feeling is: why worry?.  But through Eve, and now Bridget, even Val realizes there are a few people who he will do anything to make happy, who are essential to him.  

Bridget is a strong woman with a bone deep sense of right and wrong and the backbone to stand up to even a duke (and her employer) when she sees the line being crossed.  She doesn't resent the fact that she's a bastard, she enjoys her work and takes pride in it. One of the things I liked best about Bridget was that she doesn't try to change Val.  She may try to convince him to modify some of his actions (there are times when kittens work just as well as blackmail and murder after all) but she accepts him as he is, as the man she fell in love with- flaws and all. 

Like all of Hoyt's books, Duke of Sin is beautifully written, bringing the reader into another world through gorgeous descriptions of both opulence and squalor.  Her characters are complex and three dimensional, and those who give cameo appearances from other books are drawn for new readers in simple, elegant pen strokes.  You become immersed in her world from the first page and come up reluctantly only after the last page.

New readers and those who are already Hoyt devotees will fall in love with the Duke of Sin.  It's a thrilling, fast paced, sexy, and deeply moving read.  But be warned: once you start this book you won't be able to put it down! Do not start reading Duke of Sin at night if you have to be up early the next morning!

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The Wicked Duke- Madeline Hunter

The Wicked Duke (Wicked Trilogy #3)- Madeline Hunter
Berkley Publishing Group
Release Date: May 31, 2016

Synopsis: Suspected of his brother’s murder, Lancelot Hemingford, Duke of Aylesbury, was forced to give up his hell-raising habits in London for the anonymity of quiet country living. So, when an opportunity arises to clear his name in exchange for proposing to the niece of a neighbor, he sees no choice but to accept. Plus, seducing the reluctant maiden will be a most intriguing challenge... As Marianne Radley is dependent on her uncle, she must accept the Duke's marriage proposal at her family’s request, despite her belief he is irredeemably wicked. But along with marrying him, she intends to sniff out the duke’s unsavory secrets and expose them to the world: a plan that would be flawless were it not for one minor detail—even she, with all her determination, is not immune to the charms of a rakish duke...

The conclusion to Hunter's Wicked Trilogy focuses on Lancelot Hemingway, Duke of Aylesbury. We've seen Lance in the earlier books and the series has been leading up to this: not only solving the mystery of Percival's death but also Lance meeting his match.  She comes in the form of Marianne Radley, a spirited young woman frustrated by her dependence on her social-climbing uncle.  

The mystery behind older brother Percival's unlamented death continues to loom over Lance. Almost a year after his death Percy is still proving to be a problem.  His death is still an open case, the coroner can't decide between natural causes and murder. Lance has been laying low and hoping that Society's suspicion that he murdered Percy to inherit the dukedom will pass. Sadly, Lance's wicked reputation among the ladies of the Ton hasn't endeared him to their husbands, many of whom would be happy to convict him of murder.  

As we have come to expect from a Madeline Hunter book the pages sparkle with wit and humor, and smoke with the heat between Lance and Marianne.  A fun and fast read, Wicked brings back characters from the rest of the series in the Hemingford brothers and their wives.  Much of the humor in scenes between the brothers comes as Lance teases his brothers on their "domestication" and Gareth and Ives share their newfound wisdom on handling wives- all of which Lance, unfortunately, ignores. 
Woven alongside the romance are deeper issues of justice and revenge. Does justice mean the same thing to all people and all classes? Are revenge and justice the same thing? Murder, blackmail, and other schemes abound in The Wicked Duke as Hunter proves that sometimes it's really good to be wicked . . . 

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Smoke- Dan Vyleta

Smoke- Dan Vyleta
DoubleDay Books
Release Date: May 24, 2016

Synopsis: An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.
An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government.  Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie—knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.

Smoke takes place in an alternative Victorian England, where thoughts and emotions are marked by the Smoke that comes out of your body.  Smoke is considered a sign of sin and the goal of the aristocrats is to Smoke as little as possible, to prove their purity and right to rule England.  The main characters of the book, Thomas and Charlie, are students at an aristocratic boarding school.  Unlikely friends, Charlie is gentle and kind to everyone while Thomas is generally avoided because of his dark family past.  Thomas believes he is diseased, destined to be a murderer like his father, and wants to discover if there is any chance for him to be 'cured' from this darkness.  The two boys end up on a quest, searching for the true meaning of Smoke beneath the secrets and lies of the government, the aristocracy, and revolutionaries trying to change England forever.

The idea behind Smoke is a fascinating one- a dystopian England where your emotions are visible and judged, where dirt and Smoke is equated with sin and the class struggle is considered a forgone conclusion because the rich are "pure"and will go to heaven while the poor are covered in sin and have no chance at heaven.  Some of the characters become obsessed with becoming as holy and sinless as possible, others are trying to struggle against what their own darkness.  Some give in to the darkness and madness.  Others search for the true meaning of Smoke, where it came from, and how it can be manipulated by the aristocracy into serving their needs.  Our main characters struggle to discover the truth amid the lies and to learn to think for themselves to judge not only the truth but also what that "truth" can mean to humanity.

However, the book falls short of what it could have been.  The story is slow; the characters largely one dimensional, and generally unsympathetic.  The writing alternates between the first person views of various characters we never connect with and a third person present tense that seems to hold the reader at arms length from the story.  When we learn "the truth" of Smoke it is anticlimactic and while it could be world changing to the characters we never really seem to see their thoughts or reactions. What should be the most tense, revolutionary parts of the book fall flat and leave the reader unsatisfied.  The potential for world change seems to be more important than actual change itself.

By the end, the book is like the plot itself: full of potential but never reaching the emotions that could have made it great.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Valiant Ambition- Nathaniel Philbrick

Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution- Nathaniel Philbrick
Penguin Group: Viking
Release Date: May 10, 2016

Synopsis: In September 1776, the vulnerable Continental Army under an unsure George Washington (who had never commanded a large force in battle) evacuates New York after a devastating defeat by the British Army. Three weeks later, near the Canadian border, one of his favorite generals, Benedict Arnold, miraculously succeeds in postponing the British naval advance down Lake Champlain that might have ended the war. Four years later, as the book ends, Washington has vanquished his demons and Arnold has fled to the enemy after a foiled attempt to surrender the American fortress at West Point to the British. After four years of war, America is forced to realize that the real threat to its liberties might not come from without but from within.

Valiant Ambition looks at not only the battles and armies that comprised the American Revolution, but individual characters and personalities.  Written for the general audience, Philbrick splits Ambition between following General George Washington- who he believes to be a somewhat ineffectual general, inexperienced, and a slow learner who eventually learns from his mistakes and pushes down his personal feelings for the greater good- and Benedict Arnold. Philbrick portrays Arnold as a brilliant general with the kind of personality who either drew loyal supporters or made deadly enemies.   

The contrast created between the two leaders is often striking, with Washington and his armies suffering defeats, retreats, and harsh conditions while Arnold is a key player in the defeat of British General Burgoyne at Saratoga.  While Washington encourages the Continental Congress to support his troops: to move from militia to a standing army, to provide money, food, and supplies for men literally starving to death over the winter; Arnold is constantly sending letters to Congress to complain that they are not supporting him enough: he is overlooked for a promotion, he is not recompensed the money he claims to have used to support his early militia in Quebec, other generals are taking credit for his glorious actions.

Arnold comes across as something of a sociopath, completely unable to use tact or subtley to get what he wants from others, and completely disregarding all others as nothing more than steps to further his personal ambition.  His obsession over what he perceives as Congress's slights against him explodes when he is made military governor of Philadelphia after the British evacuate the city.  Living beyond his means, making backroom deals to profit from the chaos of rebuilding the city, and socially slighting Americans while supporting British loyalists make him the target of military and civilian backlashes.  The great irony is that Arnold defends himself against all charges, then goes on to do even worse.  With the support of his new, young wife Arnold begins to believe that, since America is going to lose the war anyway, it is his duty to bring about the end of the war and the reconciliation with Britain as quickly as possible. And make money and rise in the ranks while doing it.  His complete disregard for others and his  belief that what he is doing is not treason but is for his own good (and anything for his own good is therefore good for the country) is amazing to read.

Through much of the book the reader finds themselves wondering how America won the war at all given the poor training and military defeats they experienced.  The personality clashes of individual generals and Congressmen as they sought to gain personal glory and profit with America coming in second to their ambition, seems like it should have destroyed the country before the first year of war was out.  In the end Philbrick believes that it was Arnold's treachery that in fact brought America together.  It is not enough to have a great hero like Washington. The country also needed a villain to unite them.

While I wish the epilogue ended with a brief summary of Washington and Arnold's later military careers (I was especially curious to find out how Arnold faired as a general in the British army facing his former soldiers and what happened to him after the war), instead of the "to be continued" feel that the book ends on, Valiant Ambition is an enjoyable read with great attention to detail and fascinating looks into the psyches of some of the Revolutionary War's greatest men, and how the individual is pivotal in shaping both military and national outcomes.  

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

I Thee Wed- Celeste Bradley

I Thee Wed (Wicked Worthingtons #4)- Celeste Bradley
Berkley Publishing Group
Release Date: May 3, 2016

Synopsis: Intelligent and driven, Orion Worthington aspired to be like his mentor, the acclaimed scientist Sir Geoffrey Blayne. Logically, Sir Geoffrey’s daughter would be Orion’s perfect match. So why can’t he keep his mind off the unruly girl who works in Sir Geoffrey’s lab?  Orphaned fire-cracker Francesca Penrose hopes that London is modern enough to accept her brilliant mind despite her womanhood. But she can’t help noticing Orion’s mind...or his body.  So they decide to run an experiment: if they give in to their passions, their attraction will simply fizzle out, with no impact on their hearts...right?

Although the 4th book in a series, this was the first Celeste Bradley book that I've read. While many of the supporting characters would have been enhanced by having read their stories first, I Thee Wed stood on its own as a fun book full of excellent characters.

Scientist Orion Worthington comes from a large and rather chaotic family.  All he dreams about is a quiet, orderly life where he can pursue his scientific investigations without interruption.  He plans things out in detail, rarely understands the people around him, and never acts spontaneously. He's a little like Temperance Brennan in Bones- great with scientific facts, not so much with understanding emotions- his or anyone else's.  Orion can't wait to get away from his family and work as assistant to the famous scientist Sir Geoffrey Blayne.  The path he and Blayne set out includes great scientific discoveries, Orion marrying Blayne's daughter Judith, being accepted into the top scientific communities, and eventually inheriting Blayne's house, labs, and work.  Sounds almost too good to be true . . . 

Real life hits Orion in the guise of an Italian whirlwind named Francesca.  Suddenly he has trouble focusing on anything but how much he wants her, and dealing with emotions he's never experienced before.  Francesca works hard to show him life can be a beautiful mix of emotion, science, and the senses.  In short- she's very much his opposite, very much like the rest of his family, and everything he's been trying to get away from!

Orion and Francesca are great characters: well written, three-dimensional people who's struggles and emotions come alive to the reader.  The Worthington clan reminds me of Candace Camp's Moreland family- full of vibrant, loving, and unconventional people who accept their own uniqueness without bowing to Society.  I loved how Orion went from being embarrassed by his "mad" relations to appreciating them and the familial love he's always taken for granted. Especially at the end, when he admits that in order to help plot a chaotic and wicked revenge one must go to the experts- his family. 

Full of humor, mad scientists, and rabbits, I Thee Wed is a great book, sure to be enjoyed by fans of Candace Camp and Julia Quinn.

I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley for an honest review.