Book Reviews

Multi-Review: Darcy Burke’s Love Is All Around Trilogy

Darcy Burke is one of the few Regency romance authors who I trust enough that I pick up every release, so I was really looking forward to her new Christmas trilogy! Here are mini-reviews of each of the three books – I thought they’d work best reviewed together, as the stories all intertwine and focus on the same time period from the perspective of three siblings.

Book: The Red Hot Earl by Darcy Burke

Read before: No

Ownership: E-ARC provided via NetGalley but I also preordered the ebook myself. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: ableism (both from secondary characters, and self-directed by the hero; it is condemned on page and all parties learn not to do it)

The first book in the series focuses on Bianca, the youngest Stafford sister, and Ash, the Earl of Buckleigh. It’s loosely based on Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, as Ash has always been an outcast, bullied by his peers, but the influence is not so strong as to be distracting from the story itself. I loved the interactions between Ash and Bianca – they were childhood friends, but haven’t seen each other in a while, and they quickly fall into their old easy friendship. It’s lovely and relaxing to read about two people who so thoroughly suit each other, with none of the drama in the story coming about from conflict between them personally. My favourite type of story is one where the relationship is comfortable and the obstacles are external.

It was really interesting to read about a hero with Tourette’s syndrome (though it isn’t named as such in the book, as it wasn’t called that until much later), and I thought that it was handled sensitively for the most part (though I haven’t seen any own voices reviews). Ash has physical and verbal tics, and has been horribly bullied by the local gentlemen of his set, which has given him very low self-esteem. It takes seeing that Bianca doesn’t care to help him realise that he is still worth something, and his journey is lovely to read about (though I think he was overly quick to forgive his bullies!). Bianca herself is a delight – feisty, intelligent and funny, which always makes for a good read.

We also meet Bianca’s lovely, quieter sister, Poppy, and her horrible, cold brother, Calder, who will be the focus of the other two books, and get one side of the plot that links all three books, Calder’s refusal to host the traditional Boxing Day party.

Book: The Gift of the Marquess by Darcy Burke

Read before: No

Ownership: E-ARC provided via NetGalley. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Much discussion of infertility; fear of pregnancy; fear of birth.

Book number two in this trilogy focuses on Poppy, the elder sister and middle child of the Stafford family, who is happily married already to the Marquess of Darlington, Gabriel. I say happily, but she is deeply upset by the fact that they don’t seem able to conceive a child, while Gabriel is rather glad about this as he was traumatised by his mother dying in childbirth when he was young, and fears Poppy would also die if she were to get pregnant. They devote themselves to the local home for poor women and children, and help a young woman who arrives one day, heavily pregnant and claiming she doesn’t want to keep her baby.

This was my least favourite book of the series, for the simple reason that I don’t enjoy romances that focus on pregnancy. I liked both Poppy and Gabriel and their interactions – it’s lovely to see an established marriage, and makes a change of pace to have the relationship be focused on facing life’s issues rather than just getting married. However, I wasn’t a fan of the main plot: as I say, I read romance for light-hearted fun, not to have heavier subjects like this front and centre, but I also had a particular problem with two elements.

Firstly, [SPOILERS AHEAD] I didn’t like that Poppy somehow magically got pregnant just to provide a happy ending, undoing all the emotional work she had put in to come to terms with her infertility, and secondly, I didn’t care for the way that the pregnant woman, Dinah, was treated. She does not want a baby, having been raped by her employer and then kicked out, and has no desire to be a mother as it will stop her achieving her dreams, so having Poppy nurse her back to health while spouting platitudes about how wonderful motherhood will be and how she will instantly love her baby felt in bad taste, and I thought it was extremely dismissive of Dinah’s character to have her realise, once the baby is born, that she did want the baby after all. Obviously this does happen to some women, but the story would have been stronger if it had presented the idea that some women don’t want to be mothers and that’s okay, rather than making motherhood out to be the be-all and end-all of a woman’s existence. It just left a bad taste in my mouth.

So this wasn’t one for me, but it was a perfectly sound read in terms of the romance between the main characters, and it offers another perspective on the over-arching series plot.

Book: Joy to the Duke by Darcy Burke

Read before: No

Ownership: E-ARC provided via NetGalley. All opinions my own.

Content warnings: Remembered verbal, physical and emotional abuse of a child.

The third book was the one I was most apprehensive about, as it focuses on the eldest Stafford sibling, Calder, who has recently become the Duke. He has been the main antagonist in the previous two books, refusing to host the annual St Stephen’s Day ball, withdrawing his support from the local home for women and children, and generally being a horrible, cold man. His sisters can’t understand why he has changed so much from when they were children, but Calder is struggling to overcome the years of abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, who doted upon the girls but physically and verbally abused his son.

This story is loosely based on A Christmas Carol, with Calder obviously taking the role of Scrooge, but as with the first book in this series, the connection is not so overt as to overpower the plot. What we do get is an insight into how Calder has become so uptight and mean, and a redemption arc as he manages to work through his trauma and remember how to love himself and have fun again. Felicity, the heroine, is instrumental here, as she is absolutely determined to break through his shell to find the man that she loved ten years ago; she is kind, but refuses to let Calder ruin his life and those of the people around him. It’s nice to see his icy exterior melt, and I thought that once he started to let his guard down, it was clear to see that the two of them were well-suited.

We finally get to see the resolution of the series plot surrounding the party, and the ending is satisfying both for this book and for the series as a whole. It’s lovely to see the family come back together after the troubles they’ve been through!

Overall, the Love Is All Around trilogy was hit and miss for me, but the first book is definitely my favourite and one I would recommend to anyone new to Darcy Burke, as it’s a great read!

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