REVIEW: DANCING IN THE DUKE’S ARMS

I used to have two very silly, spoiled, and yes, adorable Pomeranian pups that enjoyed the occasional romp in our local dog park. One strange day we set them loose at the grounds only to discover that there were 5 other Pomeranians at the park at that moment (with one very sad Chihuahua in the mix). Another dog owner (ok, me) exclaimed with the crazy-eyed joy of a ridiculous-pet-parent, “Oh my god, it’s like Pomerania! Pomeranians in the wild! Pomeranians everywhere!”

So apparently there is this magical place in 19th century England that is the equivalent of that moment, only with DUKES. That place is The Dukeries, a concentration of ducal estates in one area of Nottinghamshire. It’s the setting for Dancing in the Duke’s Arms, the latest novella compilation by romance lovelies Grace Burrowes, Carolyn Jewel, Miranda Neville and Shana Galen. Dancing is basically the matrimonial equivalent of Oprah’s Favorite Things. YOU GET A DUKE! AND YOU GET A DUKE! EVERYBODY GET’S A DUKE! So yeah, I would have purchased this collection immediately had I not been given a free copy in exchange for an honest review. Who doesn’t love a good duke story (or four)?

This collection gathers the men of The Dukeries for a house party accompanying The Dukeries Cup, an annual rowing competition…because the only thing hotter than the height of aristocracy is a nobleman who rows. Hard. Here’s a quick rundown of the novellas:

  • May I Have This Duke? (Grace Burrowes)
    Gerard Hammersley, Duke of Hardcastle, ropes his son’s governess, Miss Ellen MacHugh, into pretending to be his sweetheart for the duration of the houseparty. Of course their relationship is laden with attraction and the stress of Ellen’s impending departure. In just two weeks she returns home to her family, but Hardcastle isn’t about to let her go easily. He’s pretty good at sex, folks.
  • Duchess of Scandal (Miranda Neville)
    The Duke of Linton and his estranged wife Althea find themselves together for a week thanks to a most inconvenient scheduling error. Can they overcome years of bad blood and conflict to unleash the passion they still feel for one another? Spoiler alert: Yes.
  • Waiting for a Duke Like You (Shana Galen)
    Princess Vivienne, from that one kingdom that you know, totally exists, is on the run from the assassins who murdered her entire family. Her escape brings her to England, where, while in hiding, she encounters the angelically handsome Nathan Cauley, Duke of Wyndover. Hijinks ensue.
  • An Unsuitable Duchess (Carolyn Jewel)
    Recently widowed Georgiana Lark is ALL ABOUT the Duke of Stoke Teversault. Despite his cold, distant demeanor, he makes her pulse race and her hands itch to touch him. Wouldn’t you know it, he feels the same way about her, and has long before she was ever married.

This collection was FANTASTIC, y’all. Of course I had my favorites, which I’ll get to in a bit, but overall it’s a solid set of well-written, emotional romances filled with second-chance love stories, adventure, redemption, and yes, heat. If any of these authors are new to you, or ones you’ve heard about but never read, I highly recommend picking up Dancing for a sample of their wonderful writing.

I’m just going to say, straight up, that Carolyn Jewel is my fave, so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed her story most. This odd-couple pairing was dramatic and dark, just like the delicious Stoke Teversault. I was pulled in by his long-suffering love and lust for Georgiana and was overjoyed that this sunny, joy-filled woman was so inexplicably drawn to such a seemingly cold aristocrat. It was everything that I love about Jewel’s writing–drama! lust! angst!–in one perfect little package.

I was pleasantly surprised to feel the same kind of affinity for Grace Burrowes’ story. I’m not normally a fan of “doing the governess” tales–I find the power-differential too awkward and sometimes troubling–but May I Have This Duke? suffered from none of those shortcomings. Ellen is tough, confident, and has Hardcastle wrapped around her little finger, but she’s also a supremely loving governess, daughter, and sister. I adored their lovestory and may have shed a little happy tear or two at its wonderfully sweet conclusion. I’m eager to read more from this relatively new to me author.

Miranda Neville’s tale was a classic second-chance romance, which is normally my favorite cup of tea. Although well-written and characterized, I just couldn’t fall in love with Linton and wish he’d suffered just a little bit more. I was Team Althea ALL THE WAY, and secretly hoped she’d realize she deserved better. The tone was much lighter than the Jewel and Burrowes stories and was a good chance of pace. Again, I’ve not read any of Neville’s writing until this point but am sold on adding her novels to my TBR pile.

Shana Galen’s romance of royalty in hiding was a well-written gem, but just not my favorite historical romance sub-genre. I’m not a superfan of princess-on-the-run stories, but I will concede that Wyndover was beyond dreamy. If you like more than a little adventure in your romance you will love this story. Vivienne is not without her faults, but when you see her through Wyndover’s eyes, it all makes sense.

Rating: A, for solid story-telling and a wide variety of well-written historical romance tales.

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