Saturday, December 19, 2015

Review: Sweetest Scoundrel by Elizabeth Hoyt

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Click here to buy the paperback at The Book Depository

I was saving to read this book for the holiday break, but an online conversation with one of my book buddies made me curious about this book, so I decided to start reading it. What was most intriguing for me was the idea of the anti-hero -- Hoyt's Maiden Lane series has featured a group of very unique male protagonists. None of them fit the "hero" mold -- some are titled, some aren't. Some are inherently good, and one was engaged in very illegal doings. One actually escaped from prison. And all of them have a dark side.

Asa Makepeace is the latest anti-hero in a long (and distinguished) line of Hoyt's anti-heroes. Unlike his brothers, Winter and Concord, Asa knew there was more to his life than his father's piety or their beer business. Sir Stanley Gilpin took him under his wing, and Asa has lived and breathed theater since he was 15 years old. His father disowned him for pursuing something so worldly, and he has been estranged from his siblings ever since.

The story in Sweetest Scoundrel actually began several novels back, when Harte's Folly burned down, and Asa Makepeace has been trying to rebuild it ever since. Harte's Folly is a testament of Asa's tenacity and resilience -- many would have looked at the ashes of Harte's Folly, proclaim it too expensive and nearly impossible to rebuild, and give up. Harte's Folly was once Sir Stanley's dream, and is now Asa's, so it's not surprising that he is determined to build it up again.

Whether it is fortunate or unfortunate that Asa has received the patronage and support of the Duke of Montgomery remains to be seen, but the Duke has actually given control of his finances to his half-sister, Eve Dinwoody. And Eve is not happy with the money pit that is Harte's Folly.

The mystery that is Eve began when she was 15 years old, when an incident happened that prompted her immediate removal from the former Duke of Montgomery's household. She has had Jean-Marie as her companion ever since, and she has an aversion to dogs, and to men. Eve is content to live the reclusive life she has lived for so long now, but she could not, in good conscience, allow Mr. Harte to continue spending her brother's money in such a cavalier manner, so, despite her better judgment, she decides to pay him a visit.

It isn't the best first meeting -- with Asa assessing Eve to be too plain, and Eve thinking Asa to be too crude. It is a curious pairing: Eve is very self-contained, and very cold. Asa is very passionate and expressive. I kept seeing him push at Eve's boundaries, and kept wondering how far back she would bend before breaking.

He glared at Miss Dinwoody through his throbbing eyes. She was tall for a woman, thin with a mannish chest, and had a face dominated by a large, long nose. She was as plain as a shovel -- and he was glad of it, because the witch was trying to steal away his sweat, his dreams, and his blood. Long nights lying awake, making bargains with the Devil and devising desperate plans. Hope and glory and everything that he breathed for, God blast his miserable soul. All he'd lusted for, all he'd despaired over, all he'd lost and then fought with bloodied fists to regain.

She was trying to steal his goddamned garden.
- Chapter 1

Eve's trauma is at the heart of her story. In a sense, Eve is frozen in time, still her 15-year-old self, afraid of the same shadows and sounds. She's alive, but not living -- content in her miniatures, and her small circle of trusted servants, and her brother, Valentine -- and it takes Asa's outrageous character to chip away at the icy wall that Eve has built up around herself. She's a bit like the princess in the ivory tower, except that she willingly hides in her tower when it is convenient for her -- but there's also a part of Eve that has always been curious --

Perhaps, in a sense, it isn't that odd a pairing, because Asa is more than ready (and willing) to satisfy Eve's curiosities. Elizabeth Hoyt is best known for the fairy-tale element in her stories -- but I think readers very rarely recognize that Hoyt has an amazing talent for writing a steamy sex scene. The encounters between Asa and Eve are very intimate, and there's a voyeuristic feeling to reading about their *cough* sexual explorations. (Read Chapter 10. I dare you not to blush. =^_^=)

It isn't a secret that Harte's Folly represents Asa Makepeace. It is his life, his dreams, his past, his present, and his future -- and he is determined to build it up again. He refused to be crushed by his father, and he refuses to be defeated by the forces around him. But it has been an uphill struggle for Asa whose reconstruction has been plagued with setbacks. What is surprising is how Harte's Folly comes to represent Eve's hope -- as Harte's Folly is slowly rebuilding, Eve slowly grows into herself as well. Her personal space grows to include Asa's office, and her circle grows to include the actors, singers, and dancers in Asa's employ. Harte's Folly becomes less a business transaction for Eve, and more a passion project.

Eve hummed as Asa escorted her back to the office, her senses still alight from Le Veneziana's magnificent performance. If they could rebuild the stage in time, finish the theater roof, complete the garden plantings -- oh, and all the other myriad things that needed to be done before they opened ... if they could do all that, then Harte's Folly would be a guaranteed success, she knew it, for she'd never heard such wonderful music, such sublime singing, in all her life.
- Chapter 12

The enigmatic Valentine Napier, the Duke of Montgomery, is absent in this novel, but his presence is strongly felt -- and I love how Hoyt was able to develop his character through his sister's eyes -- this is the person who is closest to him, and we see a very different side to Valentine. He is humanized, yes, but I appreciate that his nefarious actions aren't easily justified or explained. He is still amoral, manipulative, and Machiavellian. (I am so, so excited to read his story next.)

With each Maiden Lane instalment, we go further and further away from The Ghost, and I have to say that I miss his presence. I miss the darkness and the grit and St. Giles. With Asa's close connection to Sir Stanley Gilpin, I had wondered if there would be a return to The Ghost arc, but, apparently, Asa was privy to a very different side of Sir Stanley. (I wonder if there will ever be a prequel regarding Sir Stanley.) However, I also like how the author has expanded on the stories and the characters she has introduced.

Sweetest Scoundrel is Book 9 in Elizabeth Hoyt's Maiden Lane series. To find out more about Elizabeth Hoyt and her books, click below:

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

ARC Review: In Search of Scandal by Susanne Lord (Release date: December 1, 2015)

Click here to buy the book on Amazon
Click here to buy the paperback at The Book Depository

Will Repton is a well-known plant hunter, who has recently returned home from Tibet. All of England has proclaimed him a hero, for being the lone survivor of a massacre -- the accolade has allowed Will entry into society, but all he wants to do is return to Tibet, to confront his nightmares. Will is a seasoned traveler and planner, and he has already:
1. mapped out his trip back to Tibet
2. and planned for all contingencies.

He is determined to make things right by the people he had left behind. But Will does not count on meeting Charlotte Baker, the most beautiful and most intriguing woman Will has ever met in his entire life. While Will is determined to keep his attraction (and lust) under control, Charlotte is intent in her pursuit of Will -- if not for love, then for friendship.

The book begins a bit slowly, with the author establishing the characters and backstories -- it's very interesting to note that, it is Will, with his demons and nightmares, who has the simpler and less complicated past. Charlotte Baker has led quite an interesting life, for someone who has never left England. When she was 8 years old, her sister married an earl, and Charlotte's circumstances were instantly elevated. She has a substantial dowry and a lady's education -- but her brother's very public trial has speckled her reputation. Despite this, she is still very highly-sought after -- but she is in a curious position: not a lady, but not a plain miss either. She has a number of suitors, and it is to Charlotte's credit that she isn't dazzled by their titles or their flattery. In fact, Charlotte has a series of tests that she secretly administers to her suitors, and it has allowed her to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Charlotte's heart sank further as her brother strode into the room. Wally was a secret husband test all her own. And the most important.


... This cool treatment was hardly unusual. Wally was inured to the unease of men and their insults.

But she was not. In the silence, her heart hardened in an all too familiar way. No gentlemen passed this test.
- loc 373

So far, only one suitor has passed most of the tests: Viscount Spencer, but, despite being the perfect suitor, Charlotte couldn't quite convince herself to accept the Viscount's proposal. It all finally made sense to Charlotte when Will Repton entered the picture. Will isn't really husband material -- and Will knows this. And he tries to convince Charlotte of this. But there's a connection between the two of them that is undeniable.

There is a hyper-awareness of societal hierarchy in this story -- Will doesn't think he is worthy of Charlotte, whom he considers a lady.

"I don't know Lord Spencer. Is he deserving of you, then?"

"Deserving of me?" Charlotte leaned on her arm to speak close, granting him a breathtaking view of her breasts. "He is far above me in rank and consequence. You mustn't say such things aloud this evening, Mr. Repton, and presume upon the good graces of our betters."
- loc 868 - 879

This is one of two obstacles that Will needs to overcome. He continues to be haunted by what happened to him in Tibet, and feels he could not move forward unless he returns to Tibet and find Aimee. And Charlotte knows she must make a good marriage if she is to maintain her reputation and protect her family's standing in society. With her brother's very open secret, Charlotte knows that she has a responsibility to abide by society's rules. She knows she must do this for the sake of her sister's family. But there's a part of her that is drawn to Will -- drawn to the danger that Will represents. Drawn to the adventure that Will represents. Will and Charlotte have an unusual courtship -- with Charlotte expressing her love very honestly and openly to Will. It's a bit disconcerting to have Charlotte offer her love, and to have Will reject it several times.

I was initially annoyed with how badly Will was behaving towards Charlotte, but I realized that it was partly an act (to what extent was it pretend is subject to further reflection) to get Charlotte to stop with her infatuation of him. He was trying to show the extreme negative aspect of him because he didn't think he deserved her hero worship. He didn't think he deserved her. For the longest time, I couldn't understand what was holding Will back -- the author didn't really delve too deeply into Will's nightmares -- but, when it was all eventually fleshed out, I understood Will's motivations better.

What I wish was developed more was Will's interest in flowers -- and how that interest transferred to Charlotte, who is, based on the descriptions about her, a very rare lady. I loved the part where Will gave Charlotte flowers, and when he talked about flowers in relation to Charlotte. ^_^

"Why hasn't he?" Mr. Repton set his glass down hard on the mantel.

"I beg your pardon?"

"Spencer. Why hasn't he learned your favorite flowers?"

"Well ..."

"He brings you tulips and roses and carnations. Never snowdrops or narcissus or lily of the valley, not that those are your favorites. Neither is jasmine, but I thought you'd like how the perfume changes at night. Never once have I seen him bring you peonies."

She could only stare back.

"White peonies, right?" He considered her, his voice gentling. "No -- cream. With a pink blush at its heart, marked by stripes of raspberry and a tangle of gold stamens within, revealed only in bloom." He blinked and diverted his stare. "That is your favorite, I think."
- loc 803-814

The story is slow to build an emotional momentum, but the author hits her groove in the middle part -- and that's when I started to really feel my heart tugging for the characters and their private torments. Susanne Lord does a good job of hinting at the other "London Explorers" that, I hope, she features in the next books in this series. George Mayhew is particularly intriguing. ^_^

Overall, this was a solid start for a new series, and a great debut book from a new author. Looking forward to reading more from Susanne Lord. ^_^

In Search of Scandal is Susanne Lord's debut novel and the first book in her London Explorers series. It was released on December 1, 2015. To find out more about Susanne Lord and her books, click below:

Disclosure: I received this ARC via Netgalley. Thank you to Sourcebooks Casablanca and Susanne Lord for the opportunity. Yes, this is an honest review.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Blog Tour: In Search of Scandal by Susanne Lord (My Top 10 Favorite Songs for the Holiday Season + Giveaway)

Love Saves the World welcomes Susanne Lord and her debut novel, In Search of Scandal. For this stop in her tour, I've asked Susanna for her Top 10 Favorite Songs for the Holiday Season, and here's what she listed:

Ooh! There are so many holiday songs to sift through and play again and LOVE!

1. Judy Garland singing ‘Merry Christmas’ in the film, ‘In the Good Old Summertime’ (when I want to feel a little sad over a cup of cocoa)

2. Obviously, ‘All I Want for Christmas’ sung by Mariah Carey. Obviously.

3. Darlene Love belting out ‘Christmas: Baby Please Come Home’ (played loud enough to drown out my atrocious singing)

4. Because I was discovering music in the 80’s, and because it’s awesome, Band Aid’s 1984 ‘Do They Know it’s Christmas Time?’

5. ‘The Little Drummer Boy.’ (I guess I’ve always loved the honorable, underdog-hero!)

6. ‘Baby, It’s Cold Outside’ sung by Dean Martin. (I don’t care that he’s putting on the moves too aggressively. I love that song.)

7. Oh! One just came to me! ‘When You Believe’ from ‘The Prince of Egypt.’ Perhaps not a true holiday song, but feels like one to me.

8. The incomparable Ella Fitzgerald singing ‘What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?’

9. ‘I’ll Be Home for Christmas’ by Bing Crosby (which is actually fairly sad)

10. ‘Someday at Christmas’ by Stevie Wonder, because Stevie Wonder.

One lucky commenter will receive a paperback copy of In Search of Scandal, just share your favorite holiday song. (US Only please. Enter via Rafflecopter below.) ^_^

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About the book:

Title: In Search of Scandal
Author: Susanne Lord
Series: London Explorers, #1
Pubdate: December 1st, 2015
ISBN: 9781492623502

All of London is abuzz with the tale of Will Repton. The lone survivor of a massacre in Tibet has returned to England a hero, but the traumatized explorer has no time for glory. Another dangerous expedition awaits. Nothing will deter him from his quest, and no one will unearth his secret -- until Will meets Charlotte Baker.

Vivacious Charlotte Baker also has a mission -- to find a man whose bold spirit matches her own. When she meets Will Repton, she immediately recognizes him as her soul mate, and she’s naively willing to turn her back on the rules of propriety to ensnare him. Will is torn between his fascination with Charlotte and his vow to finish his quest. He knows what it is to risk life and limb -- but what if his most perilous adventure doesn’t lie across an ocean, but within his own lost heart?

Buy Links:

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About the author:

Susanne Lord is a writer of Victorian-era romance and author of the London Explorer series published by Sourcebooks. Originally from Okinawa, off-base and on, she now makes her home in Chicago where she is an active member of Chicago North RWA. When not writing, attending theater or reading, she enjoys hiking the English countryside and visiting historic homes and gardens.

Connect with Susanne:

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One lucky commenter will receive a paperback copy of In Search of Scandal, just share your favorite holiday song. (US Only please) ^_^

a Rafflecopter giveaway


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