Monday, February 1, 2016

Review: The Dangerous Duke of Dinnisfree by Julie Johnstone

From the Back Cover:

Justin Holleman, the Duke of Dinnisfree, is used to being wanted—in bed, for missions, and even dead. He’s protected his country more times than he can remember, gaining enemies along the way, but he failed to defend himself from the past that hardened his heart. Instead, he became an expert at shutting people out. Yet now, in order to save the king, Justin needs to let go of his old ways and let someone closer to him than ever before. He approaches the mission with his classic cold calculation, but his fiery new ally upends his ordered world and entices him at every turn. Suddenly he’s in danger of compromising his assignment and losing his heart, two things the rogue swore never to do.

Desperate to protect her parents from poverty, among other things, Miss Arabella Carthright unwittingly becomes a pawn in a dangerous political battle when she agrees to aid an enigmatic stranger. Having learned long ago to count only on herself, she’s surprised when time and again the duke actually aids her. But when his true assignment becomes clear, Arabella realizes the man she’s come to care for poses the greatest threat to those she loves.

As Justin and Arabella face their feelings and their web of deception falls away, they must decide how high a price they are willing to pay for love and loyalty.

My Thoughts:

I'd long been wanting to read a Julie Johnstone book since she has such a strong following, and the plot description of this one drew me in. I'm always up for a good spy story. In the very beginning, the author includes a historical note regarding King George IV's attempt to divorce his wife, Caroline, for adultery and the emergence of some damning letters that sank his case. The story that follows is an imagining of what could have happened, and after a setup like that, I couldn't wait to read it.

Arabella Carthright is a seamstress with a lot on her shoulders. Her mother is in a sanitarium, and her father is disabled after suffering a stroke, so Arabella is the family's sole source of income. When one of her wealthy customers throws a hissy fit and refuses to pay for the dresses Arabella made for her, Arabella is in dire straits. She was counting on that money and has to find another way to pay for her mother's care before she is transferred to Bedlam. Arabella finds herself with two distasteful choices before her: theft or prostitution. With the help of a handsome and mysterious stranger, she commits to both. She takes a discarded but highly valuable trinket box from the woman who jilted her and agrees to sell her virtue. But all is not as it seems. Turns out the woman she just stole from is the king's mistress, and the man Arabella has been hired to seduce is a dangerous man indeed.

Justin Holleman, Duke of Dinnisfree, is one of the king's most trusted men. He's gotten his wayward monarch (formerly known as Prinny), out of more jams than he can count. But this latest mess leaves a bad taste in his mouth. The king seeks to divorce his wife for adultery, even though she is extremely popular with the people and he is notoriously unfaithful himself. He has foolishly penned incriminating letters to his latest mistress, who is now angry with him and threatening to make the letters public. But before she can do so, the letters disappear. The king needs Justin to find the letters and destroy them, and the first place his search leads him is to a high-end brothel, where he thinks he's meeting with a prostitute who can help him find them. But he quickly realizes the beautiful woman attempting to seduce him is an innocent. After finagling her real name and her story out of her, Justin realizes Arabella could still be of help to him, and he can solve all of her financial woes in return, so the pair team up to track down the missing letters. But they are not the only ones looking for them, and Justin has yet to reveal his relationship to the king. Can they find the letters before the king's enemies do? And can Justin convince Arabella that a man with a dark past and closely held secrets is worth taking a chance on?

While I went into this book hoping to love it, there were some things that keep me from rating it among my favorites. Arabella was a bit too immature and lacking in common sense for my taste, and while I love a brooding and emotionally damaged hero, Justin's about-face happened in the blink of an eye. This quote from the hero himself sums up my biggest issue: "In the three short days since meeting Arabella, he'd done the two things he'd always sworn he'd never do: compromise his mission and give his heart to a woman." And therein lies the problem. It's just not plausible for him to reverse how he's lived his entire life in such a short time. I wish the author had written this story to occur over a few weeks rather than a few days, allowing time for the couple to get to know each other so the development of the romance felt more realistic. With so much focus on an action-heavy plot, the characters and their relationship felt superficial to me. I also thought the revelations that came at the end of the book seemed to come out of nowhere and thus came across as being rather over-the-top.

All in all, The Dangerous Duke of Dinnisfree is not a bad book, and my quibbles aside, it certainly has plenty of drama and excitement. It should appeal to those who like a little more action and history in their romances.

My Rating:  3 Stars out of 5

*This review was originally posted to Romantic Historical Reviews.

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