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review 2017-12-04 21:29
Once Upon a Christmas Eve by Elizabeth Hoyt
Once Upon a Christmas Eve - Elizabeth Hoyt
I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Disillusioned early on about rakes, Sarah St. John has always given Adam Rutledge, Viscount d'Arque, the cold shoulder. When he shows up unexpectedly at her home and is forced to spend Christmas, the complicated feelings she's always had, start to get even more complicated.
Adam would do anything for his grandmother; even spend a week celebrating Christmas at the St. John residency. Thinking to entertain himself challenging Sarah, he soon finds it backfiring on him, as he's the one left feeling outgunned. 
 
The last installment in the Maiden Lane series, you could easily pick this up as a standalone; you would miss an early glimpse of d'Arque in a previous book but there is really no connection to the series overall. 
 
Sarah St. John should have been utterly forgettable. 
 
This is a novella slightly under 100pgs and I'm here to tell you that you're going to end up feeling cheated. The weather is cold, there is a search for some holly and an ending Christmas Eve ball but I did think this lacked a solid holiday read feel. However, this doesn't matter because the reason for the season is d'Arque. Nothing else. The absolute caring way he treats his grandmother was shown brilliantly and provided some depth of character. His sheer sexiness though, steals the show. He's able to keep himself rather emotionally contained, except when he gets around Sarah and then we get to see cracks form in the façade; I live for the cracks. He's sexy, smooth, sparking, and a bit unraveling when he's with her and I loved every second of it. 
 
Sarah St. John loathed rakes. 
 
Sarah was the perfect combination of stiff and melting when she was around d'Arque. Her past hurt helps us understand why she tries to keep d'Arque at a distance but it also ends up feeling rushed and forced as the emotional pain isn't given enough room to develop with the small page count. I loved how she stepped up to d'Arque's challenging but also how she softened to his touch. Her family round out the secondary characters and I missed seeing more interactions with her sisters as I think this would have filled out her character even more. 
 
"Careful, sweetheart," he rasped in her ear, his breath brushing her neck, and it was strange because she could've sworn there was real concern in his voice. "you nearly fell at my feet just then." 
 
There's some mini trials and tribulations going on in this novella but the core of the story and why you're going to want to read it, is the interaction between Sarah and d'Arque. They are the couple who give you shivers up and down your spine. They snap, spark, crash, and melt together in a way that make you want to reread their story as soon as you finish. I will spend more time of my life than is healthy wishing the author had chosen to write a full length novel for them. There's a point where d'Arque says:
"I want you." He fought to keep his voice level. Civilized. "In every way."
The way this is dragged out of him had me thinking of Sebastian St. Vincent. In a full novel, I think d'Arque would have seriously challenged St. Vincent in the eyes of many romance readers for favorite rake. 
 
Hoyt is very good at small impactful emotions and outside the main couple's relationship, there is a scene where Sarah's sister starts to blame herself for a man's actions and after her family support, their mother says the line: "I shall have to warn my friends about him.”. This may be a case of what's in the news timing but this little scene hit me in the feels. The women's network; created out of necessity, caring, and bravery. In the past and present, sometimes we women have been the only recourse and this added scene is again one of the numerous reasons I read romance, it understands, tells, and celebrates us women.
 
Look, issues get brought up and moved on from quickly (d'Arque's parents' death) and the ending is so outrageously abrupt. Seriously, Hoyt gives us one of my favorite proposal lines ever and then slammed me into a "the end" wall. I loved what Hoyt gave me of d'Arque almost as much as I hated how little she gave me of d'Arque. At the end of the day though, if you're looking for a quick escape, d'Arque won't disappoint.
 
He broke their kiss and laid his forehead against hers. "Make me stop."
"I can't," she whispered.
"Then we're doomed," he said, his voice husky and low. "For I'm unable to stop myself. I want you. Day and night and all the time in between. I want you."
 

 

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review 2017-11-08 13:32
Once Upon a Maiden Lane by Elizabeth Hoyt
Once Upon a Maiden Lane - Elizabeth Hoyt

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

"I want to learn all of you. I want you to know me in return. When I next kiss you, I want you to welcome my lips like a lover instead of a stranger." 
 
A novella listed as #12.5 in the Maiden Lane series, you could still read this as a standalone. Mary grew up in the orphanage featured in the series and we've seen glimpses of her and a couple other characters before but the hero and their romance is a new introduction.
 
With some Cinderella inspiration, nursemaid Mary is identified in a bookstore by our hero Lord Henry Blackwell to be the missing Albright twin. Twin babies stolen by their nursemaid, while Johanna was recovered Cecilia was never found. Henry is taken aback by how much Mary looks like Johanna and immediately claims she is Cecilia. Now, this is a novella, so the tempo gets pushed up. Henry's immediate claim Mary is Cecilia and the family accepting it is a bit side-eyeing but the relationship Henry and Mary have, made up for it for me.
 
He looked at her, at her straight black brows and the big brown eyes regarding him so seriously, and yet with a spark of humor, and it was as if something turned over in his chest. She was playing with him, this woman. 
 
I instantly felt a spark between the two, Hoyt's skill with sexual tension was evident but the friendship and sheer compatibility between the two won the show for me. Mary's guardedness but also strength paired with Henry's charm provided a delightful give and take between them. 
 
"And you? Did you have a pet as a child?"
"Yes, several," he replied. "Dogs and cats. Now I've got two hounds---Mole and Timberline."
"Mole?"
"His ears are very soft," he said a tad defensively.
 

 
I also thought this story was laced with skillful writing moments that a top author like Hoyt can provide; showing, instead of being told, little nuances of a character make the reading so much richer. You'll also get a pretty good feel for the times (1700s) as Hoyt focuses on the clothing through Mary being dressed as a lady for the first time.
 
As I mentioned, the Cinderella story, and all it’s in and outs, has some forced and awkward moments and the ending was a tad rushed but there is an epilogue that works to soothe that (you'll see a lot of past characters show up here). This is a novella and if you're looking for a quick hit of romance warmth, Once Upon a Maiden Lane would provide that and a friendly return to the Maiden Lane world. 
 
It was like a fairy tale come true. 

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review 2017-11-01 01:54
Tangled webs
These Old Shades - Georgette Heyer

I think I'm too much a product of my time. Having a hero who was 40yrs and a heroine who was 19, combined with the hero constantly calling her infant and for 80% of the story portraying her as very young, innocent, and wide-eyed, I couldn't and didn't want to buy into their romance. 

 

If you liked Val from Hoyt's Maiden Lane series, you're going to love our hero Justin, definitely an inspiration for him. I was a big fan of Justin and his wit, he's constantly miles and moves ahead of everyone else. Leonie was kept so young, guileless, and precocious without much emotional maturity growth, I have to be that person and say I wasn't a big fan of the heroine. 

 

The father figure falling for the young girl who hero worships him but written very well with tangled weave drama. 

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review 2017-10-10 19:07
Duke of Desire by Elizabeth Hoyt
Duke of Desire - Elizabeth Hoyt

***Full Review***

I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Kidnapped and brought as an offering to the Lords of Chaos, Iris improbably finds herself rescued by the towering Wolf.
Now a man and ready to take on the insidious Lords of Chaos, Raphael, finds himself saving a woman he can't forget a shared waltz with. 
Raphael's scars run deeper than just the surface but Iris is determined to show him he's worthy of love. 
With the Lords of Chaos looming over them, Raphael and Iris will show that love is the greater strength.
 
The twelfth installment in the Maiden Lane series brings us to a resurgence of the Lords of Chaos. Previously thought snuffed out in the last book, a new Dionysius leader has emerged and stronger than ever. You actually wouldn't need to read any other books in the series, maybe just the previous one as you get an introduction to the Lords of Chaos. As this is placed in the Maiden Lane series, I was a little disappointed that we didn't get any previous characters to check up on; the Duke of Kyle from the previous book makes an appearance but that is all. 
 
"You need to marry me." 
 
If you read the previous book, you'll remember the Duke of Dyemore, Raphael, introduced as a hulking scarred beast who waltzes with Iris. Here he rescues her and in order to keep her safe from the Lords of Chaos, he marries her. Iris was a bit dull as heroine but with the focus so heavily on Raphael's past with the Lords of Chaos, she didn't get a fully rounded out story. We know she didn't have a loving marriage and she cares for Raphael, but I didn't feel why she cared for him so soon. Iris ended up being a ghost on the pages to me.
 
Raphael's childhood trauma dominated the story and was extremely heavy. Frankly, that's all it felt like his character was, I didn't learn anything else about him. His attraction to Iris seemed to be based on one waltz and because she seemed like a golden light to him. A lot of their relationship was Raphael wanting to keep Iris on some sort of pedestal, away from his defiling hands, but this also creates a blank spot of him never really knowing and connecting with her. 
 
After a darkly adventurous start, the story took a bit of a slow turn. The first half was basically Iris wandering around Raphael's gloomy Abbey, trying to learn his servants’ names, and disregarding Raphael's warnings of danger. Iris' lack of understanding or listening to Raphael about the danger ended up making her feel pretty vacuous at times, too. 
 
With the focus so much on childhood pain (childhood sexual abuse is discussed prominently here), it made it extremely hard to switch gears and follow along to a sex scene, no matter how it was handled. In fact, the whole heavier tone of this one had a very uneven feeling with the usual Hoyt naughty sexual scenes. 
 
The romance was lacking for me here with Iris not showing up completely and Raphael dealing with extremely traumatizing pain. Their lack of romantic connection kept me from feeling them and the Lords of Chaos brought such a heavy disturbing emotional toll, this ended up not being a very fun read. Hoyt's atmospheric writing can't be denied but after following along with the Maiden Lane series for so long, I guess I was personally looking for a more uplifting, sigh, and smile ending.

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review 2017-09-25 18:45
The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two- edited by James Jenkins & Ryan Cagle
The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two - Nevil Shute,Mary Elizabeth Braddon,Michael P. Kube-McDowell

 

Once again, the gentlemen over at Valancourt Books knocked their anthology out of the park-maybe even out of the state! Last year's Volume 1, (click to read my review), was outstanding and Volume 2 is as well. My favorites of this volume are as follows:

 

Stephen Gregory's never before published: "The Boys Who Wouldn't Wake Up" was poignant and, in a way, beautiful. It was also very much unlike any other Gregory story I've read. I'm a huge fan of this author and this tale did NOT disappoint. 

 

"The Nice Boys" by Isabel Colegate was a spectacularly eerie story, set in a relentlessly foggy Venice, Italy. A young woman heads there to vacation away a recent bad break up and meets two young men. As the tension grows the reader is drawn in, but the vivid and disturbing scene towards the end ensures this story will not soon be forgotten. 

 

"Herself" by M.E. Braddon involved two of my favorite tropes-haunted houses and haunted mirrors. I'm not sure which it was, exactly,  but I'm going with  a combination of the two. I love these types of stories-where people are called in to help but are rendered helpless by circumstance and can only witness as bystanders the evil that occurs.

 

"Halley's Passing" by Michael McDowell. It's no secret that I adore Michael McDowell. (You do too, if you love Beetlejuice or The Nightmare Before Christmas.) This tale, however, is shocking and extra bloody which is unusual for him, but at the same time: so much FUN.

 

"The Elemental" by R. Chetwynd-Hayes. Another FUN tale featuring a psychic that no one takes seriously. At first. 

 

"Samhain" by Bernard Taylor. Taylor is an author that I was unfamiliar with until Valancourt Books republished some of his work. I am now an unabashed fan and stories like this are exactly why. Everything is going along, you think you have a handle on things, and then BAM! He punches you right in the face. It's often a bloody punch too, and this is no exception. I laughed out loud at the ending because I was surprised, it was bloody and I loved it!

 

"The Bell" by Beverly Nichols. A beautifully told tale about a man who was completely dependent upon his valet/butler and what happens when that butler dies. Who will then come to the insistent ringing of the bell? 

 

Just like with Volume 1, I could list each and every story as a standout, because they were ALL just that good. Also like with Volume 1, is the fact that most of these stories have not been published over and over again. I'm not sure if it happens with all genres, but the same horror stories often appear ad nauseam in anthologies and it's irritating. With the cost of books these days, it's disappointing to buy an anthology only to discover you've read half the stories already in other anthologies. Rest easy, because that is not the case here. 

 

Each story in this volume is prefaced by a bit of background on the story and on the author, many of whom were not known for writing in the horror genre. I think that fact brings a certain freshness to this collection that is often lacking in others. The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two is simply EXCEPTIONAL and belongs in the collection of any serious fan of the genre. 

 

My highest recommendation!

 

You can pre-order your copy  here: The Valancourt Book of Horror Stories: Volume Two

 

*This book was provided by Valancourt Books in exchange for my honest review. This is it.*

 

 

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