Monday, November 11, 2019

Retro Review: Deadly Double

This review of Deadly Double by Adrianne Byrd was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2005.  Back then I rated it 4-Hearts (B Grade) with a sensuality rating of PG-13

+++++

Dr. William Hayes hasn’t been working at the Keystone Mental Institution very long, but he knows one thing for sure – the patient everyone is calling “Michelle Andrews” isn’t Michelle Andrews. She’s the girl he loved and lost one summer while vacationing in Paris – Josephine Ferrell. It’s a mystery he can barely wrap his mind around, and “Michelle” is so doped up that she is unable to give him any answers. Worse still, “Michelle” is a long time patient of a doctor on staff, and that doctor assures Will he is mistaken.

Through a sense of loyalty, and the fact that he’s still in love with her, Will ends up putting his career on the line and kidnaps a patient.

“Michelle Andrews” is indeed Josephine Ferrell. A crazy woman is trying to steal her life, and has nearly succeeded. Josie’s pleas for help with hospital staff only lands her on the wrong side of a hypodermic needle. She is soon swimming in a sea of drugs, so William not only has to figure out what is going on, he also has to help Josie detox. With dead bodies piling up, time is running short. Will Josie and Will be able to clear her name before they end up in the morgue?

Author of several contemporary romances, this is only Byrd’s second foray into romantic suspense and it is quite accomplished. The author literally drops the reader right in the middle of the action and slowly unfolds the nuances of all her characters. While this technique can often prove confusing and frustrating, Byrd makes it work by setting a frantic and exciting pace that kicks off with Will spiriting Josie away from Keystone. The suspense is then revealed through real time and flashbacks.

Will and Josie share a poignant and heartbreaking past. When they met in Paris, Josie was an aspiring jazz musician and Will was a first year medical student. They fell in love, but Josie had made promises to another. They went their separate ways; both of them still half in love with each other. Josie’s current predicament throws them together, but they still have some leftover baggage from their affair 16 years earlier. Josie in particular has a haunting vulnerability about her, which makes it easy to understand how she fell prey to the villain.

Byrd keeps the action humming with several secondary characters – most notable being the female, Asian-American police detective assigned to the case. Her story is equally as compelling as Josie’s thanks to the inclusion of at-home moments between her and her husband. These added another dimension to her character, making Ming Delaney a full flesh and blood character as opposed to a mere bit player.

Original Cover
The conclusion of the story is particularly well done, as while Josie starts out vulnerable, she’s soon out for revenge. Will may be her knight in shining armor, the man who rescued her from Keystone, but Josie isn’t about to sit idly by while someone tries to steal her life. The minute she makes the decision to fight, even with the lingering effects of detox, she becomes a true heroine - a woman no longer willing to sit back and take it any longer.

The only missteps occur in the love scenes. Byrd can write credible sex, but has a tendency to use silly euphemisms. Otherwise sexy and romantic moments are ruined with the inclusion of phrases like “moist cave” and “vortex of euphoria.” These scenes stick out like a sore thumb in a novel that is otherwise finely written.

However overlooking the unfortunate tendency towards purple prose, Byrd has written an exciting story. I could very easily have finished it in one sitting had I not had to go to work. Readers who like women in peril stories where the woman fights back will find a lot to like here. Fans of tender reunion stories shouldn’t be disappointed either. Here’s hoping Byrd continues her foray into romantic suspense, this is certainly the most memorable one I’ve read in ages.

+++++

Originally published by HarperTorch, rights have reverted back to Byrd so there's a reasonably priced self-published edition available.  Byrd is still writing and self-publishing, her most book, Milk and Honey, released in August 2019.

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

Retro Review: The Courting of Widow Shaw

This review of The Courting of Widow Shaw by Charlene Sands was first posted at The Romance Reader in 2004.  At that time, I rated it 4-Hearts (B grade) with a sensuality rating of PG-13.

+++++

After a shaky start, Sands’ latest effort for Harlequin propels itself into four-heart territory with a sweet romance and charming Beta hero.

Steven Harding has always admired Gloria Mae “Glory” Shaw from afar, and due to circumstances feels indebted to her as well. So when he spies her home engulfed in flames, her no-good husband stabbed to death, and a physically battered and unconscious Glory holding a bloodied knife, he spirits the young woman away. While it appears he had it coming to him, Steven knows that Glory will surely be arrested for the murder of her husband – which he cannot let happen. The problem is there is only one suitable place to hide her – a place no one would think of looking for her.

That place is Rainbow House – the brothel that his mother owns and that Glory has been trying to shut down. The town preacher, Glory’s father, was shot and killed during an altercation outside his church between a dissatisfied customer and Steven’s mother, Lorene. Glory naturally blames the existence of the whorehouse on her beloved father’s death, and while her efforts have proved fruitless thus far, she hasn’t given up her crusade.

Glory awakens having no memory of that fateful night, and more than a little disconcerted that Lorene Harding’s son is her rescuer. She’s also not terribly pleased to be convalescing at Rainbow House, and “the girls” that are employed there don’t exactly give her a warm welcome. With a crisis of faith looming, the long arm of the law lurking, and her brother-in-law telling anyone who will listen that she’s a murderer – Glory has no choice but to trust Steven Harding, even if she does see Lorene as her enemy.

Things get off to a shaky start entirely due to Glory. I could understand how a preacher’s daughter would be horrified to discover she was recouping in a whorehouse. I could also understand Glory’s strong opposition to prostitution. What I couldn’t understand was her reaction to her circumstances. Our girl immediately likens her room at the whorehouse to a “prison” and begins lamenting on how bored and useless she feels. Call me crazy, but I found it a little bizarre that our heroine felt “bored” when she should have been worried, scared out of her mind, frustrated by her memory loss, or all of the above.

However, things do get better – including Glory. What is interesting is how the author handles her transformation. While the hookers here all have the requisite hearts of gold, Glory is fairly unyielding in distaining their profession – that is until she gets to know the girls. As she begins to see them as real people who made choices, she too looks at the choices she’s made in her own life – including marrying a man who was entirely unworthy.

Steven is my favorite kind of hero – a sweet Beta guy who has always admired Glory but felt as a madam’s son he was unworthy of her. He rescues her, protects her, and with his caring nature ultimately woos her. While he does feel indebted to her for her father saving his mother’s life, he’s also not about to make excuses for his mother’s profession. Lorene made her choices, just as he made his by rescuing Glory.

While Glory’s behavior didn’t instill much hope in the beginning, by the end of the novel she really is a changed person. She’s better for her stay at Rainbow House, and even makes peace with events of the past. Steven endears himself with his what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude, his steadfast vow to protect Glory, and his gentle wooing of her, even if he doesn’t think he’s wooing her at all. While the love scenes have some punch to them, they are sweet all the same – making The Courting of Widow Shaw one of the more tender romances I’ve read this year.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: This obviously worked for me back in 2004, but I'm curious if it would hold up for me on a reread.  That may take a while though.  Even though it was published by Harlequin Historical, it's currently not available in digital or listed on the author's web site.  My guess?  Rights reverted back and the author just hasn't done anything with them yet.  Sands is one of those authors who sometimes works for me and sometimes doesn't.  She's been concentrating on contemporaries in recent years - publishing with both Harlequin Desire and Tule.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Retro Review: Hot Pink

This review of Hot Pink by Susan Johnson was originally posted at The Romance Reader in 2003. Back then I rated this 1-Heart (F Grade) with an MPAA sensuality rating of NC-17.

+++++

I started Hot Pink on a Sunday afternoon and read about 50 pages. For the next 4 days I picked it up long enough to stuff it in my purse. I couldn’t read anymore. I thought that maybe if I ignored it, it would go away. Or as my boyfriend so eloquently put it, “cease to exist.” But damn if I wasn’t assigned to review it – which meant my scruples made me finish it.

Chloe Chisolm has met her dream man in an elevator. He’s tall, dark, handsome and great in bed. In fact it’s the best sex Chloe has ever had, and if we’re to believe the narrative, Chloe has had more sexual partners than a horny seaman on leave. There’s just one little catch – he’s engaged to a beautiful, psycho ice princess.

Rocco Vinelli (no I didn’t make that up) isn’t really engaged to psycho Amy. He’s starting a business with his siblings, and Amy’s Daddy is an investor. Not wanting to ruin the deal and piss off Daddy – Rocco has been humoring the girl. However, now he’s met Chloe and he’s over the moon! What to do?

The biggest stumbling block with Hot Pink is the completely unlikable characters. I’ve never bought into the theory that the reader must “relate” to the characters to enjoy a story – but liking them, or finding them marginally interesting doesn’t hurt. Every character in this book is shallow and vacuous. If they aren’t having sex or thinking about it – they’re acting trendy and hip.

In a 295-page book, Chloe and Rocco somehow manage to not have one meaningful conversation. They are either boinking or doing the “he said, she said” routine. Amy says she and Rocco are engaged; Chloe doesn’t know what to believe, but she keeps sleeping with Rocco anyway. Ah yes, it must be true love! So when Rocco and Chloe both internally muse that what they feel for each other is “different” you can imagine my surprise.

The writing here, while decent, is lazy. In fact, I have a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that the author known for her historicals laden with footnotes wrote Hot Pink. Characters aren’t created – they are compared. For instance, the only things we are told about Rocco are that he’s hot, incredible in bed and looks like Goran Visnjic. Another hottie that Chloe bangs is a young bartender who looks like Colin Farrell. Chloe gets a little more attention, but she’s given the “hip” short shift as well. She has pink hair, wears Jimmy Choos, and is a web designer. My benchmark for a good book is when I begin to believe the characters are real. These characters could never exist out of a CGI program or the Hollywood spin factory.

The whole thing is just tedious, right down to the conflict – which is solely Amy. This is a woman who is so one-dimensional that I half expected her to start cackling like a Disney villain. She’s a stalker, plain and simple. The fact that Rocco won’t tell her to take a long walk off a short pier only illustrates how unhero-like he is. I like Alphas and I like Betas, but a man who won’t stand up for himself is no hero.

The whole thing just makes my head hurt. So much so that I had to take a break from reading to vacuum my spare bedroom – yes you read that right, I resorted to housework! If you go for shallow characters and a story laden with “hip” name dropping, go right ahead. Feel free. Run, run, run to the nearest bookstore. I couldn’t take it. Unlikable, uncaring, unfeeling, and totally lacking in substance I couldn’t wait to be done with it. Or in less eloquent terms, I guess you could say Hot Pink left me cold.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: I had to look up Goran Visnjic - that's apparently how memorable I found that guy.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Retro Review: Outlaw's Bride

This review of Outlaw's Bride by Maureen McKade was originally posted at The Romance Reader in 2001. Back then I rated this 4-Hearts (B Grade) with an MPAA sensuality rating of PG-13.

+++++

Clint Beaudry made a pit stop in Green Valley, Colorado only to have the owner of the local boardinghouse refuse to give him a room. Mattie St. Clair knew a hired gunman when she saw one and Clint was too tall, dark and dangerous looking to be anything but. Giving up, Clint camps out for the night in the woods behind Mattie’s house, only to be shot by the man he was tracking down. 

Mattie’s 10 year son, Andy, and her hired man, Herman, discover Clint back shot and take him home. The town doctor has to go to a neighboring settlement because of flu epidemic, so he leaves Clint with Mattie.

Clint is not happy to be laid up. The man who shot him was also the one who raped and murdered his wife, Emily. A U.S. Marshal at the time, Clint has been racked with guilt ever since, because he wasn’t home at the time to protect her. He made a promise to find the man responsible, but now is in too much pain to get out of bed, much less on his horse. Besides that, Mattie is as stubborn as a mule and watches him like a hawk.

Mattie was married to the town’s sheriff when his inexperience and short fuse got him killed. Widowed for 10 years, she makes ends meet by taking in laundry and boarders. She vehemently hates guns, and is more than a little overprotective of her son, the only person she has left in this world. She despises everything she thinks Clint stands for, and even though the two soon find themselves attracted to each other, they find that promises stand in their way. Clint is unable to break the promise he made to find his wife’s killer and Mattie is unwilling to fall in love with a man who lives by the gun.

Outlaw’s Bride is standard western fare that is sure to be a real crowd-pleaser. Mattie and Clint sizzle on the page, both of them exuding some heavy sexual tension. They both are lonely and drawn to each other, but their pride and mutual stubbornness keeps them from acknowledging how much they need one another.

Mattie’s first husband was killed before they could even finish the honeymoon. In her youth, she believed herself in love with Jason, but she was more in love with the idea of being needed. By the time she was eight, both of her parents were dead, and Mattie found herself in an orphanage. When Jason came along with all of his sweet talk, she quickly tumbled into bed with him and was just as quickly rushed to the altar.

Clint was more in love with his job than his first wife, and he believes his reluctance to quit led to her death. Guilt ridden, he doesn’t care whether or not he lives through the manhunt. While he’s immediately drawn to Mattie, he is unwilling to give up his search, believing that it is the only way he can do right by Emily now that she is gone.

McKade includes some nicely drawn secondary characters in Andy, Herman and Amelia, a local woman with a past. Children in romance have always been hit or miss characters for me, and the author’s depiction of a 10 year old desperate to be seen as a grown-up, but smothered by his overprotective mother, rings true.

My only minor complaint with this otherwise enjoyable western, was the fact that Mattie later suspects Clint of having an affair with Amelia, which just boggled my mind. The man is recovering from a gun shot wound, and doesn’t leave the house until page 150, how the heck could he carry on an affair?

Aside from that, Outlaw’s Bride is a tried and true story sure to please western buffs. McKade’s ability to write likable and wounded characters will undoubtedly win her more fans and a loyal following. I know I’ll be picking up her books in the future.

+++++

Wendy Looks Back: I was as good as my word with that last sentence - this was my first read by McKade and I've gone on to read a number of her westerns over the years.  While rights have reverted back to a number of her books and she's gone on to self-publish them, I believe she's retired these days.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Unusual Historical Best Bets for October 2019

Here we are, in October. When I’m dodging all sorts of tasty, sugary temptations (it’s a good thing I don’t have kids - I’d steal all their candy spoils from trick-or-treating and likely drive them into therapy that much sooner…) and I look to distract myself with just about any healthy alternative - like, say, books! Here are some of the October unusual historicals catching my eye this month:

A Midsummer Knight’s Kiss by Elisabeth Hobbes
A stolen moment…  
…to reunite them!  
Since her mischief-making childhood with Robbie Danby, Rowenna has curbed her impetuous nature and become a lady. When she meets Robbie again in York, he’s close to claiming his knighthood. Their newly awakened affection inspires in Rowenna a new—decidedly adult—impulsiveness! Yet Robbie’s heart appears to belong to another—unless a midsummer kiss could change everything…? 
I enjoyed the two books in Hobbes’ duet about the Danby brothers, so it’s a welcome surprise to discover she’s back mining that world for a third book. Robbie, the heroine’s bastard son from Redeeming the Rogue Knight, is on the verge of knighthood when his head is turned by the daughter (his not-blood related cousin) of the couple from The Blacksmith’s Wife. Considering the history between their respective parents (Robbie’s adoptive father is a reformed cad who Rowenna’s mother once fancied herself in love with…) this could make holiday gatherings quite interesting.

The Lady’s Deception by Susanna Craig
Can a runaway English bride find love with a haunted Irish rebel?  
Paris Burke, Dublin’s most charismatic barrister, has enough on his mind without the worries of looking after his two youngest sisters. The aftermath of a failed rebellion weighs on his conscience, so when the young English gentlewoman with an unwavering gaze arrives, he asks far too few questions before hiring her on as governess. But her quick wit and mysterious past prove an unexpected temptation.  
Rosamund Gorse knows she should not have let Mr. Burke think her the candidate from the employment bureau. But after her midnight escape from a brother bent on marrying her off to a scoundrel, honesty is a luxury she can no longer afford. With his clever mind and persuasive skill, Paris could soon have her spilling her secrets freely just to lift the sorrow from his face. And if words won’t work, perhaps kisses would be better?  
Hiding under her brother’s nose, Rosamund knows she shouldn’t take risks. If Paris learns the truth, she might lose her freedom for good. But if she can learn to trust him with her heart, she might discover just the champion she desires . . . 
I have never understood why there aren’t more historical romances set in Ireland (yes, the country’s history is fraught but darn near every country’s history is fraught…) and this one has the added bonus of a runaway bride and a barrister hero. Craig is a new-to-me-author, but I’m going to give this one a whirl.

Invitation to a Cornish Christmas by Marguerite Kaye and Bronwyn Scott
Welcome to a Regency Christmas…  
…in these two festive short stories!  
Captain Treeve Penhaligon must return to Cornwall when he inherits his family’s grand estate. But could his meeting with Emily Faulkner on the wild beaches be even more life changing? Find out in Marguerite Kaye’s The Captain’s Christmas Proposal. Then, discover what happens when Treeve invites composer Cador Kitto to complete the celebrations, and Cade clashes with local girl Rosenwyn Treleven in Unwrapping His Festive Temptation by Bronwyn Scott… 
It’s that time of year when Harlequin starts churning out the Christmas books and my wallet begins to quietly weep for mercy. Having read, and enjoyed, books by both authors, I’m a sucker for a Regency military man and the premise of Scott’s story features all the Wendy catnip (“local girl” and “composer” - I can’t say no to either).

Reckless in Red by Rachael Miles
Lena Frost is a force to be reckoned with. A woman who has made her way in society without family or fortune, she’s about to realize her first big success as an artist. . . . Until her business partner makes off with her money, leaving her with little more than her hopes—and a dead body in her studio. Now Lena is at the mercy of a strikingly handsome stranger demanding answers she dare not reveal . . .  
Is it her seductive eyes, or his suspicion that she’s up to no good that have Clive Somerville shadowing Lena’s every move? Either way, his secret investigation for the Home Office has him determined to uncover Lena’s hidden agenda. But the closer he gets to her, the more he longs to be her protector. Is she a victim of circumstance? Or a dark force in a conspiracy that could destroy everything Clive holds dear? Discovering the truth could have dire consequences, not only for Lena, but for his heart . . . 
Kirkus says this fourth book in the Muses’ Salon series has “A unique storyline, a dose of suspense, and a circle of intelligent female friends enhance a successful romance.” I cannot say no to any of that, and add in a self-made heroine who “has made her way in society without family or fortune,” and I’m sunk. I’ve never read Miles before, and I’m going to start here.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Stone Cold Undercover Agent

http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/B01N5EKERL/themisaofsupe-20 The Book: Stone Cold Undercover Agent by Nicole Helm

The Particulars: Romantic Suspense, Harlequin Intrigue, 2017, Book #2 in trilogy, out of print, available in digital

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I picked this up at an RWA conference (2017 most likely) and at that time I think Helm was fairly new to Harlequin Intrigue.  I have enjoyed some of her SuperRomances, and neither here nor there she's a baseball fan.  So we chat on occasion.

The Review: Let me preface this by saying that I've enjoyed Helm's books in the past and she has the kind of style that I sink into.  And when you couple that style with the Intrigue line?  If the author is hitting her beats it's pretty much a guarantee that I won't come up for air until I finish the last page.  Which is what happened here.  Even though this book is a hot mess that defies logic.  Seriously.  Some of that can probably be chalked up to being book 2 in a trilogy, when I haven't read book 1, but there are elements in play with this book that don't make a whole lot of sense.

Gabriella Torres was kidnapped 8 years ago by a madman whose motives are never made clear.  For one thing, we never find out why he's kidnapping women (because there are others besides Gabby).  "The Stallion" seems to be looking for "the perfect woman" - even resorting to taking measurements.  He has a collection of creepy dolls he coos over.  Oh, and he doesn't rape his captives nor does he allow his henchmen too.  Look, on one hand it's refreshing to read a romantic suspense novel where the heroine isn't an abuse survivor - but rape is about power, not sex.  So Gabby being untouched in 8 long years of captivity, when "The Stallion" seems to want to "break" her - um, how does this make any sense?  I know this is an insane thing to quibble about but with so many high publicized cases, all the true crime TV shows and podcasts out there...This. Doesn't. Make. Sense.

Anyway, The Stallion is some kind of evil crime lord.  But we never get any details about his "business" other than "drugs."  He has the kidnapped girls doing some work (sewing drugs into pillows, stuffed animals and the like) and he's got hired goons running around doing hired goon stuff but other than that?  Yeah, we got nothing.  And he's not raping any of the women nor prostituting them (Gabby isn't special) - which begs the question of WHY IS HE KIDNAPPING THEM?!?!  I don't know much about the drug business but I'm thinking he could probably get plenty of willing workers without resorting to kidnapping.  But, who knows?  It's not a business model I've explored for myself so what do I really know?

Jaime Alessandro has been undercover in The Stallion's organization for two years, and is starting to crack up.  But he's finally worked his way up the ladder and has been "gifted" Gabby by his boss.  Why The Stallion finally thinks it's OK for Jaime to do the dirty with Gabby when he's protected her from Every. Single. Other. Henchman. and has never prostituted her out via human trafficking in the previous eight years?  Also not explained.  At all.  Apparently readers just need to roll with it.

Gabby has paid attention, noticed patterns to The Stallion's movements and Jaime needs her help to ferret out his various hideouts and uncover evidence.  The information she shares with him isn't exactly earth shattering, nor does it lead to some crazy stash of cash or a mass grave of dead bodies - but whatever.  Just roll with it.  Anyway...Gabby thinks Jaime is there to rape her, but eventually pieces together that he's an undercover cop.  But when they're around other henchmen or The Stallion - they need to act like she's scared and he's roughing her up.  So the power dynamic here is all sorts of squirky.

These two don't need a love story - they need years of therapy.  The human spirit is an amazing and resilient wonder, but Gabby has been in captivity for eight years.  It's great that she's feisty but dude - she's too feisty.  And Jaime has been deep undercover for two years.  Doing bad things.  Witnessing bad things.  I don't care who you are Mr. Macho Romance Hero - nobody walks away from that clean.  So to have these two hot for each, burning up the sheets (yes, there are sex scenes), and declaring they love for each other after less than one week of knowing each other AND factoring in their respective baggage?  I cannot suspend that much disbelief.

And yet?  I read this book straight through.  As in picked it up, didn't put it down, went to bed late on a school night.  Why?  Lord, I don't know!  And while I have no interest in reading the first book in the series (about Gabby's sister), I'm going to track down book #3 which is about another kidnapped woman who becomes slightly unhinged over the course of this story.  I mean, I need more Alyssa is my life apparently.

Helm can obviously write because I tore through this during a time when I've been reading books slower than usual (which, for me, is extra slow since I've never been a fast reader).  It's hard to explain if you're not a category reader, but an author can write a mess of a book and if the beats are hit at just the right moments?  It's darn near impossible for me to stop.  There's a reason Intrigues are my go-to reading when I'm traveling and stuck on airplanes. 

So for that reason, it feels wrong to slap this with the grade I'm going to, but seriously - this plot is a dang mess.  Helm's written better.

Final Grade = D

Monday, October 14, 2019

Review: The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Historical romance is my first love in the genre, but over the years the sub genre has evolved, my tastes have changed, and I just need something "more."  What that "more" is isn't so easily defined and when I try to explain it I end up sounding like a ninny.  So I haven't really tried.  Well, after (finally) reading The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite - I think I've finally figured it out.  I'm here for feminist historical romance, a social justice warrior sort of romance pushing back on the patriarchy - but I also still want something that reads fairly true-to-live.  It was a hard life for women who openly defied male-dominated society at large.  Oh sure, women did it - but it was never easy nor did it always end happily.  That's what made Waite's debut with Avon stand out for me.  These are two very unconventional women who are more than aware of the men standing in their way, and while there's uncertainty, and even doubt at times, they forge on.  They hit road blocks, they are dismissed and belittled, but they forge on.  And the whole thing reads like a bloody historical and never once feels anachronistic or silly.  Oh, and it's a romance so I get a happy ending.

I. Want. More.

Lucy Muchelney is sitting in her small country church watching the love of her life, Priscilla, get married to a man.  Worse yet, Lucy grew up with and likes the guy.  She's devastated, heartbroken, the worst of it being that Pris felt so little regard for her and their love that Lucy found out about the engagement when the banns were read in the bloody church!  Upon return home to the house she shares with her artist brother, Lucy discovers a letter from the Countess of Moth, who is looking for someone to translate a revolutionary French astronomy text.  Having aided her dead father's work for years, Lucy knows she's the gal for the job - and heads off to London posthaste.  She figures the Countess will have a harder time saying no if Lucy is literally standing on her doorstep.

Her not-dearly departed husband no longer holding her hostage with his mercurial moods, Catherine St. Day is looking forward to a life of quiet solitude - just as soon as she can aid the Polite Science Society in getting this French text translated.  When Lucy shows up on her doorstep Catherine braces herself, seeing the same determined tilt of her chin and the gleam in her eyes that reminds her of her dead husband - a comparison that is anything but good.  But Catherine admires the girl's moxie, takes one look at her outdated country wardrobe and thinks, "sure, why not."  Having corresponded with Lucy and her father for years, Catherine thinks she's surely as capable as anyone else.  But when Catherine presents her to the Society, and Lucy is callously dismissed out of hand in an appalling manner, Catherine decides to pull her money on their project and back Lucy all on her own. 

What I loved about this book, besides the fact that it's a historical that feels like a historical while still giving the reader "unconventional" heroines, is the romance is a slow burn.  Lucy very comfortably identifies as a lesbian, but she's also aware of the society she lives and has to operate in.  She simply cannot just walk up to Catherine and say, "I think you're hot - how would you feel about a torrid love affair?"  Catherine, for her part, is a widow and took a male lover after her husband's death (which did not end well), and it's only after spending time with Lucy, getting to know her, and the slow burn chemistry begins to smolder, then ignite, that the characters land in bed together.  Waite didn't put the cart before the horse, which I cannot tell you how refreshing that was to read.

I also loved how both women are smart, logical, have dreams - but also are realists.  They are well aware the obstacles that are in their path, acknowledge them even, and then like all resourceful women that have come before and since, look for ways to maneuver around them.  This is, quite possibly, the most startlingly feminist romance I've read in a long time that didn't feel like overblown wish fulfillment.  Like, seriously - I felt like this could have happened (heck, it probably did and I just don't realize it - that's how true it all felt).

There is a lot of science talk in this book, and coming from someone who took four years of college to get past three measly science requirements (obviously not a subject I'm keen on, nor terribly good at...), none of it flew over my head or made my eyes glaze over.  My only real quibble with this book is that the pacing of the conflict ebbed and flowed.  While I appreciated the slow burn of the romance, there are portions of the story that sag a bit.  I carried on through them because I was very invested in the characters, but the second half of the story is back-loaded with most of the conflict.

But, quibbles.  It's a lovely romance, featuring lovely characters, and a great sense of time, place and history.  It's also the kind of book where I wanted a romance for darn near every secondary character - that's how much I enjoyed this world Waite has, obviously, lovingly created and brought to life.

Final Grade = B+