Axel by Grace Burrowes

A Note

The order in which I’m reading this universe comes directly from the FAQ section of Grace Burrowes’ website, which puts all four of the Jaded Gentlemen entries directly after the events of David. However, it appears as though the events in The Heir and The Soldier have taken place during the time period in which Matthew and Axel take place. So I’m actually going to step back from her official order and read the first two books in the Duke’s Obsession series next.

Overall

I liked this book but I think I liked it a little less than the two previous books in the series. The murder mystery is interesting until it’s not. The characters of Axel and Abigail are sweet, but not particularly interesting. The romance is well done, but since I’m not really all that interested in the characters, it has a little less resonance. This is largely a personal objection, and I’m sure other readers are going to like this book better than I did. Everything one loves about Grace Burrowes is here — the writing style, the characterization, etc. — it’s just not all that interesting to me.

The supporting characters are here, obviously ones we’ve already met in their own books or those that are going to be leads later. Nick Haddonfield shows up again, and while I still like him, I’m less convinced by his presence and friendship with Axel and Abigail than I was with David Worthington showing up in the first five books. I wonder if I would be more annoyed if I hadn’t read his book already and I know exactly why he’s stalling returning to London. He finally does so after this, but it’s still ten more books before I get to his entry. We’re not at Ian and Daniel Mackenzie levels of intrusion, but I’m glad I know for a fact that Nick disappears for a while.

We also get a heavy dose of Matthew, enjoying his marital bliss with Theresa, but other than that, there aren’t a lot of returning characters which makes this a unique book in a lot of ways. This is probably the first book since Gareth kicked off this strand of the timeline in which there aren’t three or more returning characters or future major leads.

The things I didn’t like about this book are a bit spoilery, so I’ll get into the details later, but they made the book drag a bit for me personally. Otherwise, it’s a well-written and constructed book that will probably work for like 80% of the world.

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Matthew by Grace Burrowes

Overall

I was very much looking forward to how Theresa Jennings’ story would play out once it became clear in Thomas just how ruptured her relationship with her brother was, particularly after Thomas ended with a little note that Theresa had a daughter, Priscilla, clearly born out of wedlock.

Children in romance novels often fall into two categories for me: they’re either useful to the narrative and necessary, or there just to be cute and push the couple together. (Governess romances are exempt from them since the entire premise predicates that there must be children). In my opinion, there are far too many books that fall into the latter category and I worried for a bit that Matthew would.

We met Matthew Belmont in Thomas, though he may or may not have been mentioned/shown up in Douglas. He’s a squire that serves as a magistrate near Linden, where Theresa Jennings has come to visit her brother after his wedding and a long estrangement. He has three nearly grown boys away at school whom he loves and misses a great deal. Theresa is very keen on repairing her relationship with Thomas so that he might look out for Priscilla and offer her more advantages as a baron’s niece rather than just her bastard daughter.

Matthew and Theresa bond almost immediately, and to his credit, Matthew never sees a reason Theresa can’t just stay in Linden with him as his wife or how Thomas could be such an unmitigated asshole to his only sister. Also, someone wants Matthew dead.

I really liked this book, but I have a few quibbles. I worried that Matthew was just too good and too understanding. He has a bit of a sad history that informs his kind and fair treatment of Theresa, but he’s just…taken in a lot of disappointment in his lifetime and I can’t decide if I want him to be more angry about it because I would be or if I think he’s just too nice.

Or maybe he became inured to his own injustices and seeing Theresa and learning her history helps him to come to some peace about what happened to him. I’m not sure, honestly, where I fall on this.

The supporting cast is good, if at sometimes overdone. I’m not really a fan of some of the cutaways to Oxford, Axel Belmont, and Matthew’s sons. Burrowes has a habit of splitting sex scenes to do that and it always breaks the momentum for me. Beckman and Nick are back, giving us a bit more history for them. We also meet Alice Portmaine, whose family we’ll end up getting to know a great deal in the Windham stories and later entries in the Lonely Lords.

This is a good book with a sweet romance, but at times, the character wavers a bit. I was mostly happy with the resolution of Theresa’s relationship with her brother, particularly since I mentioned in Thomas that was something I wanted to see happen.

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Project Duchess by Sabrina Jeffries

Overall

I always feel bad when I try to think of my favorite books by Sabrina Jeffries, and I literally can’t remember the title of any of them. Nor do any of her books really sit with me for long after I finish them. I actually really like Jeffries’ books, and she’s always been on pre-order status with me, but looking over her backlist, there’s really nothing that pops out of me.

That being said, I never regret buying her books and Project Duchess is no exception. It suffers a little from the heavy lifting any first book in a series does — it has to not only tell the current story but create the universe. Some books avoid this by simply not introducing all of the characters or elements right away, but as this series is about a family, it would be odd if we didn’t meet the majority of the family.

It’s a relatively rote, by-the-numbers romance. Two leads with trust issues and difficult memories of their childhood. A titled lord who is charmed by the heroine who is more hoyden than lady and doesn’t simper over him. Rambunctious siblings. There’s a murder mystery that looks as though it’s going to stretch across at least two or three of the books.

Fletcher Pryde, Duke of Greycourt, and more commonly known as Grey is the eldest son of a woman who managed to marry three times, all to men who either were dukes at the time or inherited a title. Her last husband was ambassador to Prussia, causing Grey to be separated from his family at the age of ten since his paternal uncle had guardianship over him because, you know, the patriarchy. He grows up, resenting his mother and stepfather for giving him up and there’s a rift in the family.

Beatrice Wolfe is the poor cousin of Grey’s youngest brother, the new Duke of Armitage, Sheridan. Sheridan suspects that his father and the previous duke were murdered and suspects Bea’s brother, Joshua, of the deed. Joshua returned from the war, injured and more worse for the wear. He enlists Grey’s help in getting to the bottom of it. Grey and Bea are thrown together because his mother is trying to distract herself by preparing her daughter, Gwyn, for her debut and wants to launch Bea at the same time.

It’s a solid book, and I’m not mad at any of it. The plot escalates well. There are misunderstandings and stolen kisses. The characters are interesting, but they feel like a hundred other characters I’ve read in a romance novel, as does the plot. You won’t regret spending a few hours with the book, but you probably won’t remember it in a week either.

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Thomas by Grace Burrowes

Overall

The more I reread this universe in chronological, the more respect I have for Grace Burrowes and her ability to create characters that may or may not play a larger role in their own books later. We leave the Lonely Lord series behind for a while for a series that Grace Burrowes entitled the Jaded Gentlemen.

In Thomas, we pick up the story of David’s man of business, Thomas Jennings, who apparently became Baron Sutcliffe when David wasn’t looking. Thomas leaves David’s service and takes up the mantle of baron at some point after David and Letty marry, then purchases the estate that Andrew, Lord Greymoor, was thinking of selling to Douglas, Lord Amery.

We’ve also already met Loris Tanner, the heroine, in Douglas, as the daughter of Linden’s steward who ran off without a word two years previous, worried of being accused of forcing himself on a woman. In his absence, Loris has been trying to unofficially carry on her father’s duties, preserving her father’s place in hopes he might return. In Douglas, he advised Andrew of Loris’s situation, and she became the steward in truth.

Thomas purchases the estate, comes to Linden and meets Loris. They fall in love even as she worries over her father’s continued absence, her lack of security in the world, and her problems exerting her authority over the stables. Thomas relies on Loris to get the estate back into order and offers to show her how to get along better as a lady so that she might have a few more options if her father never returns and a future owner turns her away.

There’s also someone making trouble on the Linden estate, so there’s a small mystery that doesn’t drive the plot, merely gives our leads something to do while Thomas tries to convince Loris to take a chance on him. The supporting cast is also a good one and, like Douglas, does a lot to set Grace Burrowes up for at least six or seven more books.

David, Lord Fairly, returns for his fifth straight appearance as the hero’s confidante and friend. I remember reading Jennifer Ashley’s Mackenzie & McBride series and being supremely annoyed every time a Mackenzie brother showed because they never felt like they narratively served the plot. They were there because the author loved them, not because the characters did.

That’s a big difference in Burrowes’ regency universe where what holds these characters together is not merely their family connections but their genuine affection. David grew up without a large family, so it makes sense when he frets about his sisters, Felicity and Astrid, and their husbands, Gareth and Andrew, or Douglas and Thomas. When Letty suggests David visit Thomas to see how he’s going on at Linden, it feels earned and right.

We also meet the Haddonfield brothers, Nick and Beckman, who will also head their own books in the Lonely Lords series. Nick refers later to his sisters, most of whom will be heroines in subsequent series. Nick gets more to do here than Beckman, but I find myself liking both brothers and looking forward to reading their books soon. We’re also introduced to Matthew Belmont whose brother shows up in The Virtuoso.

Sometimes you can see that Burrowes is playing around with the extra characters in her books, just to see if something might tug enough to inspire her to write their story. The extraneous scenes might annoy me (and if I recall correctly, they eventually do) but here, early on, the characters feel useful and interesting. I want to read more about Matthew, Nick, and Beckman, based on their presence here.

This is honestly the best book in the universe thus far, with the best characterization and plot development as well as my favorite romance.

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David: Lord of Honor by Grace Burrowes

Overall

After three books of David Worthington weaving in and out of the lives of our heroes and heroines, it’s time for his story though, to be honest, we don’t really learn anything more about him than we’ve already learned in Gareth, Andrew, and Douglas. He grew up with modest means with an aunt, not with his mother. He was the legitimate heir to his father’s title and estate, but kept mum to protect his father’s second marriage and the daughters of that union, Felicity and Astrid. We also already knew he’d had medical training and had been married before.

In David, we learn his marriage was unhappy (nearly all first marriages in a romance novel are) and that he loved his daughter, who died shortly after birth. He took over the brothel that Felicity inherited in Gareth and has been running it since. His man of business, Thomas Jennings, tells him that his brother-in-law’s former mistress, Letty Banks, seems to be unwell, and encourages David to check in on her. He discovers that, despite money left to her by Herbert Allen, she’s living in a nearly impoverished state. He asks her to come work at the brothel as a madam.

I quite like Letty, but I’m not entirely sure about David. He carries himself as someone who respects women but he’s one of those guys who just carries around his male privilege without being aware with it. Letty has to call him out on being a dick several times and I’m not sure that David ever really gets it. But he’s not perfect, and there’s something to be said for that.

There’s the usual cast of supporting characters, including a lot of Douglas from the previous book. One of my pet peeves in reading series that, occasionally, an author shoves in previous characters without much narrative purpose (see: Jennifer Ashley & the Mackenzie series) but Burrowes does a really good job of showing us the friendship between these characters. David has built a family that he relies on heavily and having read Douglas, I buy the deep affection he and Douglas have for one another.

There’s also a lot of the Windhams here — Valentine plays a large supporting role that I’m not entirely sure is earned. He and Letty appear to be friendly (to the point Valentine seems a bit in love with her) but a lot of it happens off page so it makes some of the confidences Letty and David share with Val later seem a bit unrealistic. We’re also introduced to Daniel, Letty’s brother, and to Ellen FitzEngle, who will be appearing later. I’d quite forgotten that Val’s book had a back story that began here, so it’s going to be a lot of fun to revisit Little Weldon in The Virtuoso.

It’s a good book but I think it suffers just a bit from being overstuffed with extra characters and little plot. David and Letty only have one obstacle — she refuses to marry him and honestly, we’re kept out of her reasoning for far too long. But it’s not a bad read.

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Douglas: Lord of Heartache by Grace Burrowes

Overall

When I read this book back in 2014, I was relieved because finally, here was the backstory heavily alluded to in The Heir. The Heir is one of my favorite Burrowes books, and I’m really excited to get to it in this reread because I’m finally reading everything in chronological order which means the Douglas and Gwen scenes as well as Westhaven’s relationship with his family, particularly his father, is going to be that much more rich and nuanced.

Getting that out of the way, I can’t decide if I like this book. It’s a really good read right up until the end where things get…weird. We met Gwen and Douglas in the previous entry, Andrew. Gwen is the unmarried cousin of Andrew and Gareth Alexander who was apparently able to hide her illegitimate daughter, Rose, from the rest of her family for four years. Douglas is the survivor of the Allen family in Andrew, middle son sandwiched between shitty Herbert and crazy murderer Henry. Douglas is trying to get himself back together after the events of that book and asks Gwen for assistance with an estate purchase since she has made her own estate relatively profitable.

Douglas is a beta hero—with the exception of one scene that I’m not really all that fond of at the end—who doesn’t really take over the story or push Gwen (even when maybe he should). He’s also in the midst of a low-grade depression, thinking that he doesn’t deserve Gwen or really anything nice. Normally this kind of wallowing drives me nuts, but it’s been maybe a year or so since he learned that his youngest brother murdered their elder brother and father, and the elder brother was a giant asshole who stole from his wife’s widow’s portion and beggared the family. He doesn’t feel that awesome about his DNA and it’s hard to blame him.

Gwen is a bit more difficult to pin down — in the previous book as well as for a lot of this book, the men in her family (Andrew, Gareth and their brother-in-law and future hero, David) assume that her reticence to bring Rose or herself into the world means she must have been raped. No one asks her because it’s just not the thing to do at this point. Even Douglas assumes this. I think it’s important to remind myself that Gwen literally never says this to any of them at any point because it helps me kind of understand some of the things that happen later. She never tells any of them outright exactly what happened or tells them it was rape.

For the most part, my feelings about this book is that it's a lot like the last two books — it has a relatively sweet and believable romance, but the other part of the plot is less great. I mean, it’s serviceable and does what it needs to do. In many ways, this book is doing a lot of heavy lifting. Not only are we preparing for David to get his own book (after appearing in all three books thus far), but it also introduces Loris Tanner, who will come back as a heroine in another series entirely, and introduces the Windham family with whom we will spend about eight or nine books with. Considering everything this book does for the universe, it’s actually pretty good.

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Andrew: Lord of Despair by Grace Burrowes

A Note

According to her website, by the time Grace Burrowes was first published, she’d written a lot of books already. Apparently, her agent/publisher sorted through her manuscripts and picked out the Windham trilogy beginning with The Heir as a starting place. Those books are good and they show off her talent, but man, does it mess with the chronology of the series which we’ll talk about when I get to The Heir.

It also makes it difficult to get through the Lonely Lords series of which many were written prior to her Windham novels (the trilogy about the brothers followed by the quintet of sisters). These books are just not as good as the Windhams. Her writing style and everything I love about her is present, but the plotting and character work just isn’t as well done. Reading Gareth and Andrew halfway through the Lonely Lords, nearly fifteen books into her publishing career, doesn’t work.

It also doesn’t work because there are things in The Heir that are soooo much better once you’ve read this book and its follow-up, Douglas. I think we’ve finally exhausted material Grace Burrowes hadn’t published already which is a relief. Her universe is intricately connected which is lovely, but because they were written chronologically and published wildly out of order, it makes it more difficult to appreciate the way they build upon each other. If they had been written out of order, there wouldn’t be nearly as much interplay between the characters and callbacks.

Anyway, that’s just mostly to say that I liked Andrew more with the realization that this is Grace Burrowes at the beginning of career, not several years in and this is a theme we’re going to come to for most of this reread. I understand the decision not to publish them in order, but I definitely don’t agree with it in a lot of respects.

Back to the Book - Overall Impressions

Because Andrew and Gareth’s characters are both motivated by the same backstory, it’s not surprising they both follow the same basic linear plot. Tortured by a drowning incident that destroyed most of the male members of the succession, the Alexander brothers have both decided they are not worthy of love and the Worthington sisters tempt them into forgiving themselves.

That’s it. That’s the romantic throughline in both books. There are subplots that differentiate them both, but not wildly. So all that matters here is asking ourselves is Andrew a better book than Gareth, and if so, why?

So it is a better book and that’s because Andrew’s role in the backstory (he was on the boat, rescued his mother, but no one else) is a bit more understandable than Gareth’s overwrought survivor’s guilt. There are still oddities we’ll get into during the spoilers, but I found Andrew to be a more convincing martyr-hero than Gareth.

Astrid is fine. She doesn’t really do much, to be honest, and I find her a little less interesting than Felicity, but not in a bad way. Their romance is also fine as is the subplot about her first husband’s family maybe trying to kill her and/or the unborn child she’s carrying.

This book is important to the next few in the series — it plants the seeds for both David and Douglas, who both appear here. It also even sets up the Windham brothers trilogy. It’s also a decent romance with an interesting hero and mystery. It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty good.

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Gareth: Lord of Rakes by Grace Burrowes

Overall

I started this book a week ago and found myself remembering exactly why I’ve only read this book all the way through exactly once. I was never all that fond of the premise, and the beginning of the book is excruciatingly slow. But I decided to persevere to get into the rest of the series and get this universe reread off the ground.

Felicity Worthington is the daughter of a viscount who died and didn’t make any arrangements for either Felicity or her younger sister, Astrid. A cousin leaves Felicity her brothel with specific instructions as to how she’ll inherit the business and property—allowing Gareth Alexander, the notorious Marquess of Alexander, to tutor her in the ways of the business which will include a written and possible physical examination to ensure the loss of her virginity.

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird premise and according to her official site, this book is Grace Burrowes’ first foray in romance writing. This makes sense. There’s not much of a plot for the first fifty pages which does make this book excruciating to get into, and I nearly abandoned it myself despite having already finished it once.

But then it gets going, and the romance is a bit sweet even if Gareth’s tragic backstory doesn’t quite measure up to what we think it will. There’s a nice cast of supporting characters, particularly Andrew and Astrid, whom we’ll see in the next book.

What makes this book enjoyable is the emotional vulnerability and honesty these characters possess by about 75% of the way through the book. I like a conflict where the thing that prevents the characters from being together is something internal to them—something they believe to be true about themselves or their situation that is incompatible for the Happily Ever After.

It’s a slow, and at times, painful read, but the seeds of what I love about Grace Burrowes are present by the end of the book and they show up full force in the second one. It’s worth reading and not giving up after the beginning.

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Marry in Haste (Anne Gracie)

Overall
I am somewhat conflicted as to my opinion about this book. On one hand, I adore Anne Gracie. She publishes only once a year and I’m always biting my nails, waiting for more. Her Merridew series (with the exception of the final book) features some of my favorite romance novels of all time and I really liked her Chance series. I love her writing. But I’m not sure I loved this book.

Marry in Haste kicks off a new series and, to be honest, it spends a lot more time setting up the universe and the lead heroines of the rest of the books than it does with Emmaline and Cal. I guess that makes sense in some ways.

Cal is a soldier, fighting the loose ends of the Napoleonic Wars, and inherits the earldom unexpectedly. He’s tracking down an assassin who is responsible for the death of a close friend, and for most of the book, this occupies most of his attention. But now he has to take on his younger half-sisters and a secret niece his brother abandoned. He decides he needs someone to take care of those things so he can find his assassin and return to the Continent to continue in the army. That’s where Emmaline comes in. Emm is a teacher at the girls’ former school with her own tragic backstory and agrees to a marriage for Cal’s convenience.

Marriage of convenience stories are some of my favorite, so that plays into what I like about this book. Emm and Cal don’t have a traditional conflict, not one that drives the story. This is basically the story of a lonely soldier who didn’t grow up around family and has no idea what to do about all the women in his life. Emm helps him figure out how to be, well, human.

This does a good job of setting of the universe — I’m very interested in stories for Rose, Lily, and George, the younger sisters and niece. I really like Emm (we’ll talk about Cal in the spoilers) and I’m glad where the story ends up. The big problem I have is that the romance, such as it is, pretty much doesn’t start until they’re married and that’s about page 146 in my book. Halfway. The first half of the book spends more time with Cal more than Emm — she’s in the prologue, and then basically disappears for fifty pages.

It’s a sweet book that’s light on plot and romance, but does a really good job with character development. Most Anne Gracie fans won’t be disappointed.

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The Duke and His Duchess – Grace Burrowes

Overall

One of my absolutely favorite tropes to read is a couple who is already married and working towards their happily ever after. I know there are some readers and reviewers out there who think a marriage before the end of the book somehow ruins the tension of the book, but I’ve never seen it that way. We’re in the historical romance genre, and if your characters are heterosexual, there’s like a 99.88% chance they’ll get married, so why does it matter when it happens?

I mentioned in the review for The Courtship that the biggest aspect of the Percy/Esther relationship I was eager to read more about was the manner in which Percy’s illegitimate children came to live with the household and was raised as one of the Windham children. The Duke and His Duchess purports to tell that story.

I like this novella a lot less than the first one mostly because I feel like this is the wrong space to tell the story Grace Burrowes had in mind. She not only wants to address the presence of Devon and Maggie, but also a larger problem within the Windham marriage as Percy and Esther await the inevitable death of not only his father, but his perpetually ill elder brother. There’s a dark cloud over everyone in this book, but Burrowes wasn’t interested in this part of the story or doing anything with the world she set up back at Morelands.

I found myself frustrated with Percy and Esther for a few reasons I’ll get into in the spoilers section, but there was just too much plot for so little space and none of the stories were told with the capability I expect from Grace Burrowes. But this novella does what it sets out to do and explains why Devon and Maggie have been raised as part of the legitimate household. It’s fine, but honestly, you probably don’t need to read it more than once.

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