iwantitthatway Shamefully huge TBR pile? Oh check. And yes, I am waay behind on my non-review reading and so finding an author with more than one book on the stack for this month’s challenge was no problem. I’m not a huge NA reader, but I do like Ann Aguirre’s writing and so I had picked up I Want It That Way last fall. My Kindle got stolen while I was still about a chapter and a half shy of finishing the book, so I hesitate to give this book at proper grade. However, unless things go seriously off the rails at the ending, so far we’ve got a solid B. I’ll no longer be e-readerless after tomorrow, so this book is the first thing I’ll be finishing and I’ll do a final grade/review on my Goodreads page.

This book is first in a trilogy about college housemates in Michigan. Nadia, the heroine of this book, works hard in school and also works hard at a local daycare. As the book opens, she and her friends are moving into their apartment and Nadia has a chance meeting with their downstairs neighbor. These chance meetings start morphing into something deeper as Nadia and Ty start having evening chats on their respective outdoor decks.

Nadia learns that Ty works and also attends college, all while raising a four-year-old son as a single father. The connection deepens and starts to move beyond balcony chats when Ty enrolls his son at the daycare where Nadia works. Their love story is at once adorable and also a bit gritty. Each has difficulties to work through, and we see Nadia and Ty both learning how committed they will have to be to make a relationship work. Their story is often romantic, but not always pretty. It’s good stuff, though.

Ty has had to grow up earlier than the average college student so that he can be a good father to his son. And he is. Seeing how Ty sacrifices and cares for his little boy makes him a very endearing hero. Nadia has to help put herself through school, so she’s certainly not spoiled, but she’s still somewhat idealistic. In her interactions with her roommates and others, she’s refreshingly transparent much of the time and even if she wasn’t the most mature of heroines, there’s a sweetness about her that I found likable.

The side characters in this book are a treat, too. I know they will have books of their own, but in the meantime, I enjoyed meeting Nadia’s roommates. At times the author has a tendency to overexplain things and all that narrative dedicated to things I could largely have figured out in context drew me out of the story. However, aside from that quirk, I enjoyed the writing and liked how Aguirre created a world that reminded me somewhat of the emotions and issues of my own college years while also feeling thoroughly modern.

– Lynn Spencer
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wakingupwiththeduke Having very much enjoyed Lorraine Heath’s recent Scandalous Gentlemen of St. James trilogy, I have purchased several of her other books, and chose Waking Up With the Duke for the June prompt, hoping for another sensual, emotionally charged read.

Emotionally charged it certainly was – and then some – and even though I got choked up on several occasions, this was thoroughly enjoyable; a superbly wrought story in which the author brilliantly manages to steer-clear of the traps which can so often lie in wait when pursuing this particular storyline.

Ransom Seymour, the Duke of Ainsley has it all. He’s young, drop-dead gorgeous, charming, wealthy, titled – in short he’s almost sickeningly too good to be true. He also happens to have a bit of a tendre for Jayne, the wife of his cousin and best friend the Marquess of Walfort, which is something he normally doesn’t think about or acknowledge to himself until, right at the start of the book, Walfort practically demands that Ainsley sleeps with her in order to get her pregnant. Due to a serious accident some years previously, the marquess is no longer able to perform his husbandly duties, and, knowing of his wife’s longing for a child, wants to give her something in return for her unfailing love and loyalty, and to make her happy.

Ainsley is horrified and immediately says no, but Walfort is insistent. Ainsley owes him, he says, because he was driving their carriage when it overturned, maiming him and indirectly causing Jayne to lose the child she was carrying due to the shock and stress of almost losing her husband. But no amount of guilt will persuade Ainsley that the scheme is a sensible one. For one thing, Jayne despises him, blaming him for the accident and for the loss of the life she had looked forward to leading, that of a wife and mother. And for another, Ainsley is convinced that betraying her marriage vows – even in such a cause and with her husband’s permission – would destroy Jayne, even if she would consider the idea. He is also aware that he could not remain dispassionate, either, knowing how easy it would be for him to fall in love with her completely, and how gut-wrenching it would be to have her and then have to give up both Jayne and any child of their union.

The more Ainsley thinks about it, the more terrible an idea it becomes, but Walfort is persistent and not above manipulating his cousin, suggesting that if Ainsley is unwilling, he will find someone else – even though that someone might not be as careful of Jayne as he knows Ainsley will be. Walfort also says that it’s only fair that Jayne should at least enjoy the experience – and Ainsley is not known as one of London’s Greatest Lovers for nothing.

Jayne is just as aghast when her husband suggests the plan to her, although she agrees to think about it. She does long for a child, but the thought of being with Ainsley terrifies her – and not just because she dislikes him. She’s still a young woman and she’s not blind to his personal attractions, but when she said “for better or worse”, she meant it and the thought of betraying her vows sickens her. Eventually, however, Walfort wears them down, manipulating Jayne by insisting that giving her her heart’s desire will make him happy in much the same way uses Ainsley’s guilt to ensure his assistance. They agree to spend a month together at a discreet location, and hopefully at the end of that time, Jayne will have conceived. After that, she will return to her husband. Ainsley knows it will be impossible for him to maintain his close friendship with his cousin because it will be too painful to watch Jayne grow large with child and then be unable to acknowledge his offspring or hold a place in its life.

All three principals – Jayne, Ainsley and Walfort – are three-dimensional, multi-layered characters, particularly Walfort, who is complex, mixed-up and all-too human. His motives for acting as he does are complicated, and while he undoubtedly does some despicable things, he’s not an out-and-out villain, because there is another side to his story, one in which he is doing what he perceives to be the right thing by his heart and his conscience.

Jayne, a beautiful, strong and vital young woman has become little more than a nurse to an invalid, struggling every day not to “grieve for all that had been irrevocably lost.” She loves Walfort dearly, but she is dreadfully lonely, starved for companionship, affection and physical comfort. She and her husband do not share a bed, and he rarely touches, kisses or holds her; it’s not that he doesn’t love her, he just fails to realise that she has needs, too, and that even if he can’t make love to her, she still needs to feel loved and appreciated as a woman.

Ainsley is the perfect romantic hero – kind, sensitive, sexy, compassionate, honourable, protective, rich and gorgeous – and yes, perhaps he’s a little too perfect. But he needs to be something exceptional within the context of this story, because it’s as much about his emotional journey and needs as it is about Jayne’s, and in making him such an attractive, sensitive and empathetic character, Ms Heath makes his situation all the more believable. I’ve read other books with similar storylines, but in none of them have the implications of such an arrangement been so thoroughly explored, and the emotional consequences so gut-wrenchingly played out.

Jayne “wakes up” on several levels during the course of the book; sexually, of course, as she learns what it is to truly “make love” , but it’s also a gradually dawning awareness of the truth of Ainsley the man, and how she comes to abandon her enmity towards him and to see him as he really is. Most importantly, their time together enables Jayne to come the realisation that, even before the accident, there had been something missing in her marriage, not just in bed, but that it lacked true companionship and mutual understanding.

I was also impressed with the way the author effects the resolution to her story. I observed in my review of Grace Burrowes’ Darius, which employs a similar plotline, that the only way the hero and heroine can finally be together is for the sick husband to shuffle off this mortal coil, and the difficulty is in arranging that without it seeming too contrived. In Waking Up With the Duke, Ms Heath presents herself with quite the challenge, as Walfort is only three years older than Ainsley, and thus a relatively young man. Yet her solution is simple and completely plausible – as explained in her author’s note.

Waking Up With the Duke is a wonderfully angsty but emotionally satisfying read which, incidentally, includes a touching secondary romance between Ainsley’s widowed mother, Tess, and her lover, Leo, who is fifteen years her junior. It’s great to see an older woman in a loving, sexual relationship, even though that isn’t the main storyline. I haven’t read the previous books in this series, but I believe Tess and Leo’s story is woven throughout and its ending here is just as satisfying as the conclusion to Ainsley and Jayne’s romance.

I do think the ending is a teeny bit overly dramatic, but the rest of the story is so well put-together and so beautifully written, that it didn’t affect my enjoyment or my overall opinion of the book. I loved Waking Up With the Duke and am eagerly looking forward to reading more by Ms Heath.

– Caz Owens