Wednesday, September 19, 2018

#TBRChallenge 2018: Private Places Anthology

The Book: Private Places by Robin Schone, Claudia Dain, Allyson James and Shiloh Walker

The Particulars: Historical erotic romance anthology, Berkley, 2008, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I'm fairly certain I got this at a SoCal Bloggers Lunch / Book Swap (back when we used to read print we'd have these epic book swaps - I gotta say I kinda miss them!)  Anyway, I like anthologies because it's a good way to try new-to-me authors without investing a lot of time and energy and this was historical erotic romance so I snagged it.

Review: The anthology kicks off with The Decidedly Devilish Duke by Allyson James and it didn't go well.  Amelia Lockwood is a widow who is at the mercy of her dead husband's heir for her care and well-being.  Naturally he's been stingy with her allowance and naturally it's because he wants to debauch her.  She goes to his estate to confront him, he challenges her to a game of cards (you win you get your allowance, I win you do every debauched thing I can think of...) and she accepts because she knows she can trounce him.  Of course it doesn't enter her bubble head that a guy like this would cheat.  Anyway, Michael Beaulieu (a Duke, because of course he is) witnesses the exchange and manipulates Amelia's late husband's cousin (or whatever he is) to let him play the game in his stead.  Michael and Amelia once had "a thing" before she threw him over for her late husband and he took off to more exotic locales.

Yes, exotic.  It's rumored that Michael spent time in the Middle East (Turkey is specifically mentioned), that he had his own harem, and naturally he's spent an inordinate amount of time outdoors so he's all bronzed and "exotic" looking.  Yes, the word "exotic" is used a few times over the course of the story.  So yeah, none of this is good.  But making it worse is that Michael is the kind of hero who literally says to the heroine, "It doesn’t work that way. I might not be able to stop until too late. A wise woman would leave now.”  Does the heroine pick up the slack?  No, she does not.  Because even though she's a dang widow, the sex with her husband was of the "lay back and think of England" variety.  Because of course she should still be "innocent" so Michael, he of the harem rumors, can "teach" her.  Shoot. Me. Now.

No.  No, no, nopity, no, no.  I really disliked this story.

Grade = D-

On to the next story which is A Night at the Theater by Claudia Dain, a clever idea for a story that suffered mightily on execution.  Two courtesans go to the theater.  Sophia is beautiful, experienced, and knows how to protect herself.  Zoe is young, desperate and looking for a protector.  But as the evening unfolds, the drama happening in the audience is more riveting than the play happening on the stage.

Ugh. So basically the author tries to sell readers on the fact that Zoe and the man she ensnares is this great love match even though he's married and she becomes his mistress.  But it's OK because his wife ends up dying and they live happily ever after in the end.  Sophia seeks revenge on a guy she thinks is a jerk (he is) and uses that revenge as a means to finally bag herself a husband.  None of this is helped by the fact that every blessedly character talks in circles to the point where I wanted to stab my eyes out.  Clever plot idea populated with characters I wanted to run over with a team of stallions.

Grade = D-

So yeah, this is not going well.  Next up is Hunter's Mercy by Shiloh Walker and Praise Jeebus!  Write this down, the paranormal story is the one that saves this anthology from being a complete waste of my energy.

Jack Callahan is coming home after fighting in the Revolutionary War to keep a promise to his BFF, who died in battle.  The promise is, of course, to look after his BFF's little sister, Mercy.  Mercy was a tomboy and tag-along, and unlike her brother, has no idea Jack is a shapeshifter.  Jack is also a Hunter, which means he basically disposes of feral shapeshifters.  He happens across a pair of red coats who fit that bill accosting a slight young man.  Except it turns out the young man is Mercy in disguise.  Ever since her husband was brutally murdered by "monsters" she taken to becoming an amateur hunter - being able to shoot and track thanks to all those years tagging along with her brother and Jack.  And she's gotten good - because she manages to wing Jack with a silver bullet.

The conflict in this story is good.  There's a past between Mercy and Jack, Mercy LOVED her husband, has this amazing amount of guilt over his death because of a Big Secret, and she has NO CLUE that Jack is "a monster."  Walker isn't a historical writer by trade, but she does an OK job with the colonial setting and she populates the story with likable secondary characters.  This didn't wow me (the ending is rather abrupt), but I'm also not a big paranormal reader, so the fact that I liked it says quite a bit (in my opinion).

Grade = B

As incredible as this is going to sound, I've never actually read Robin Schone before.  Her story, The Men and Women's Club, was eye-opening.  It's also part of a series, which made it kind of a mixed bag because I do feel like I "missed" some stuff being completely unfamiliar with the previous book in the series.

Joseph Manning is a professor and Ardelle Dennison the first female publicist for the London Museum.  They are also members of The Men and Women's Club, which Joseph founded for inquiring adults to discuss their desires and intimate secrets.  Something happens in the previous book and there's a trial coming up, leading Joseph and Ardelle to a confrontation.  Ardelle is complicated, a bit standoffish, some say cold, and two years previously she divested Joseph of his virginity.  It's been two years, he's been celibate since, and practically burning for her.

This whole story is basically one giant trigger warning, so I'm going to include spoilers.  Ardelle is career-driven and ambitious, and she's the first female publicist in the history of the London Museum.  To get this plum job?  Yeah, sexual harassment.  It's also later revealed that her father sexually abused her (no penetration and clothes stayed on, but yes it was abuse) and her mother basically made Ardelle feel dirty for her husband's vile behavior.  So yeah, Ardelle has issues.

But Schone doesn't spare Joseph who also has his own dark secrets involving boarding school (because of course he does).  Basically Joseph likes a bit of pain with his pleasure.  There's also some mild humiliation going on between Ardelle and Joseph that they both get off on.

Look, I'm making this sound really unsavory - and it is.  But Schone writes with a maturity that's hard to ignore.  She also writes the most challenging story in this anthology and part of the reason I've always been drawn to erotic writing in general is because I like to be challenged.  I like it when authors explore societal mores and norms, challenge those mores and norms, and in turn challenge the reader.  Is this story one I would recommend?  Lord, I don't know.  But there's a captivating quality to it that I cannot deny.  I'm going to ding this one mostly because it doesn't stand-alone (at all) - but it had that deer in the headlights effect on me, so that's a win.

Grade = C+

This was a completely mixed bag for me, most of it falling on the not-good end of the spectrum.  Howver, the Walker story was engaging and the Schone story reminded me that, more often than that, when erotic romance works for me it's written by someone with that Old School joie de vivre.

Overall Grade = C

Friday, September 14, 2018

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day Is September 19!

Hey, hey, hey!  For those of you participating in the 2018 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due" on Wednesday, September 19.  The theme this month is Historical.

Ah, my first love when it comes to romance sub genres - although admittedly this theme seemed like a better idea 8 months ago before I hit a historical slump.  So what to do if you either 1) don't feel like reading a historical or 2) just don't care for historicals?  Hey, no problem!  Remember that the themes are optional and really, you can read whatever you want.  The whole point of the TBR Challenge is to read something that has been languishing in your TBR.


1) If you're participating via social media, remember to use the #TBRChallenge hashtag


2) You can get further details and links to all the blogs participating on the 2018 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: A Dark and Stormy Murder
When most romance readers were cutting their reading teeth on Woodiwiss, Rogers, Roberts, Deveraux and Garwood - I was reading mysteries and Gothics (for the suspense, not for the hints of romance).  I read my fair share of gore (hello, Patricia Cornwell), but I tended to naturally gravitate towards "less graphic" authors like Mary Higgins Clark, Sue Grafton and Marcia Muller - and cozies.  I used to love cozy mysteries.  But over time either cozies changed or I did and I basically stopped reading them (outside of one or two authors).  But nostalgia, it gets the better of me and in a bid to find new cozy writers I might enjoy I downloaded a few from NetGalley - only to leave them languishing.  My romance reading being lackluster of late, and mysteries being the one thing keeping my attention at the moment, I decided to unearth A Dark and Stormy Murder by Julia Buckley, the first book in her Writer's Apprentice series.

Lena London is an out-of-work 20-something who has just broken up with her boyfriend. So you can't really blame the woman for rereading her favorite Camilla Graham Gothic with her cat, Lestrade, by her side.  That's when she gets a phone call from her BFF Allison, who is now married and living in idyllic Blue Lake, Indiana.  Turns out Allison is in the same knitting group as Camilla Graham and after reading Lena's dissertation on her work, Camilla offers her a trial job as her brand new assistant!  Say no more!  Lena packs her bags, and her cat, and heads to Blue Lake.

It doesn't take long for Lena to set the local gossip mill into overdrive.  First, she befriends the local police chief, the most eligible bachelor in town.  Then she's seen chatting up the local recluse, a man whose wife "disappeared" and everyone suspects he murdered her.  As if that weren't enough?  The dead body of a directionless local man is found on Camilla's property and Lena had seen him arguing with another man in the local hardware store that very morning.  Oh the shenanigans!

Let's start with the good.  I really liked the premise of this series.  Lena has her own ambitions to write, and Camilla needs someone to do all the regular "personal assistant" stuff along with some collaboration work.  Lena knows her work so intimately, it's really the perfect arrangement.  It would be like Teenage Wendy getting to live and work with Barbara Michaels.

While the book is easy reading, and I plowed through it in a day, I realized that cozy mysteries haven't changed all that much, rather, I have.  I also had the epiphany that cozy mysteries are to the mystery genre as small town contemporaries are to romance.  They occupy an idealized (and white bread) world view that doesn't exist.  Reading this book was a bit like reading about an alternate universe.  Lena just instinctively KNOWS that her reclusive new neighbor didn't kill his wife and leaps to his defense faster than you can say Pollyanna.  Everything is very cutesy and quaint to the point where the only thing missing from the town of Blue Lake is a cupcake shop or a yarn store.  I can take this sort of thing in small doses but in single titles it gets on my nerves.  Even the idea that a secondary character is rumored to have experimented with pot smoking is written in a wide-eyed gasping sort of way (I went to college, I've lived in California for over a decade, pot stopped being scandalous to me over 20 years ago).

But, look, I get it.  There are some who judge readers harshly for reading books of this ilk, but I'm not one of them.  Hey, when the world is literally on fire all around us, with fresh new horrors served up daily (heck, in some cases hourly!) - there's something oddly comforting about escaping to Mayberry RFD.  Putting their head in the sand?  Maybe.  But if it brings readers some small measure of escape and enjoyment, by all means - have at it.  Don't mind me, I'll be over here reading a Tropetastic Harlequin Presents.

So while this doesn't seem to be "my thing" anymore, I can appreciate that it's a good idea for a series premise and if you like cozy mysteries (in other words, you're not excessively grumpy like me), then you might like this one.

Final Grade = C

Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: From Governess to Countess

From Governess to Countess by Marguerite Kaye is the first book her Matches Made in Scandal series and, on paper, it's loaded with Wendy Catnip.  There's a heroine hiding away, licking her wounds following a scandal; a hero bowing under the weight of obligation he thought he had dodged; the political shenanigan-laden backdrop that is Russian politics (seriously, it doesn't matter the time period - although this book is set post Napoleonic Wars); and what should have been a compelling mystery.  And yet somehow, after a really intriguing set-up, it all falls strangely flat.

Allison Galbraith was raised by her grandmother and is a skilled herbalist.  She had a thriving practice - until the death of a child and a doctor determined to protect his reputation and standing threw her under the proverbial bus.  Being a woman, making her own way in the world, has meant Allison has had to scrap and fight for her livelihood and now the scandal rags are painting her as a Jezebel harlot of loose morals.  So yes, she's hiding.  Then a mysterious woman, only known as "The Procurer," knocks on her door with a business proposition.  Her client has need of a skilled herbalist who can also pose as a governess to his brother's three orphaned children.  Allison, hearing the voice of her chastising Scottish grandmother in her ear, takes the opportunity presented and runs with it.

She arrives in St. Petersburg to meet her new employer Count Aleksei Derevenko.  Up until recently Aleksei was fighting Napolean, a military career something he could indulge given he's "the spare."  Then he gets word that his older brother has died and a few short days later is followed in death by his wife.  His two nieces and nephew are now orphans, and against all logic his brother has named him the children's guardian - a task Aleksei is completely unsuited for.  Adding to his troubles, Aleksei is convinced his brother's death was no accident and he's not sure who he can trust in the gossipy hot-bed that is St. Petersburg society.  He suspects his brother may have been poisoned and he needs an outsider with a good cover story to help him investigate.  So he turns to The Procurer who in turn offers up Allison.

I loved the set-up of this story.  The Procurer is so mysterious we never learn her name (she will get her own romance down the road!) and she's this intriguing cross between Regency-era concierge and "fixer."  She doesn't get her hands dirty in this story - she's the one who makes the introductions, pairing up two people who can mutually benefit each other.  It's really a clever idea for a series.

However after the intriguing set-up things start to bog down.  Kaye falls a bit in love with her setting, which is understandable, but it all tends to slow down the pacing of the story.  The simplest way to put it would be it lacks urgency.  As romance readers we're well versed in gossipy London drawing rooms and snide comments at balls - trust me when I saw it's child's play to the intrigue that surrounded the Russian Czarist court.  And there's very little of that here.  Outside of Allison and Aleksei attending a ball at the Winter Palace, most of this story takes place at Aleksei's palace with him taking off to talk to people and investigate while Allison reins in the kidlets and tackles the mystery of the possible poisoning.  For a book set in St. Petersburg, it's a rather insular story with very little courtly shenanigans to spice up the proceedings.

And that's probably where my disappointment lies.  Because while the mystery itself is fairly straight-forward I think the promise of St. Petersburg as a setting had me expecting something "more."  More cloak and dagger.  More "who can you trust?"  More subterfuge.  And, in the end, while the author writes the more realistic denouement, my desire to see high treason and political shenanigans is thwarted.

The romance itself is nice but never really elevates itself to high passion, but I did appreciate how the author paired up two people bowing under the weight of expectations and societal norms.  I liked that the hero understood the heroine's drive and "calling" in her chosen profession and I liked how the heroine helps the hero find a little bit of himself.  It isn't the most compelling romance Kaye's written, but it's...nice.  Though I realize that sounds damning with faint praise.

In the end this was a pleasant if not entirely memorable read for me.  The premise of the series is dynamite however, and the concept that a woman in the Regency era could fill the role that The Procurer does hits all of my sweet spots.  This wasn't love at first sight, but I'll be reading the next book in the series.

Final Grade = C+

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Mini-Reviews: Rebekah Roberts Series

I have two sisters and I would classify them both as binge-readers.  I always have a book going. They go months without reading one and then whamo! They read like 12 in a month.  Lil' Sis (Lemon Drop's Mom for longtime blog followers...) joined the Summer Reading Program at her local library when she signed my niece up and proceeded to burn through the books (figuratively, not literally).  Invisible City is one of those books she tore through and recommended that I read.  And here we are.  I'm now caught up on the series to date.
Invisible City by Julia Dahl is the first book in the series and introduces the reader to Rebekah Roberts, a young (early 20s) reporter for the New York Tribune (think New York Post). Rebekah is a stringer - which means she goes where the paper sends her, she digs up details on a breaking story and phones it in to the desk for someone else to write.  She's sent to a scrap yard where the body of a young woman has been found, discarded like trash.  Turns out the woman is from the insulated Hasidic Jewish community, which is already closing ranks.  The whole story is challenging enough but then Rebekah meets Saul Katz, a cop, who tells her she "looks just like her mother."  Shocking since Rebekah's mother, also a Hasidic Jew, left the community to be with Rebekah's father, only to abandon her lover and newborn baby without a word.  As in, they have no idea if she's alive, dead, what the heck happened to her, abandoned.

As Rebekah works the story she finds herself learning more about her mother, a woman who has cast a long shadow and shaped her life by her very disappearance.  Dahl has taken a very women's fiction idea (a heroine coming to peace with her mother) and woven it into a mystery novel.  The world-building is very good, although Rebekah is a green reporter who makes some seriously bone-headed decisions in this book (my biggest gripe here).  But she's young and green and it's totally believable that she would make wrong moves as she's emotionally being battered by the ghost of Mommy Dearest.  Grade = B-
Run You Down picks up immediately where Invisible City left off and people, this book!  It's one of those incredibly shocking with the benefit of hindsight books.  It takes place during the Obama administration and white supremacists end up playing a hefty roll in the plot.  Given current affairs (see: Charlottesville...) Dahl comes off looking like a genius or someone who can see into the future (this was published in 2015).

A Hasidic man comes to see Rebekah.  He lives in upstate New York and his wife was found dead in their bathtub.  Everyone said it's a suicide because *gasp* she was on anti-depressants (a HUGE stigma in the community).  But he cannot believe it.  His wife would never abandon their infant son.  So he begs Rebekah to look into it, which she does.  And once again, the ghost of her mother is lurking in the shadows.

The author moves between alternating points of view in this story - giving us present day Rebekah as she works the story and her mother, Aviva, who tells the story of her past, how she came to abandon her daughter, and what her life has become.  Eventually both narratives collide, chickens come home to roost, and daughter finally meets her mother.

The dual narrative took some time for me to sink into, mostly because I was more interested in the mystery than in Aviva's point of view.  But once the author begins weaving the threads together, the suspense ratchets up and the ending is explosive, shocking, and upsetting.  White supremacists are involved, so that should give you the clue that things get very ugly, and no one is going to walk away unscathed.  Final Grade = B
As challenging and thought-provoking as Run You Down was, Conviction was at times an uglier read.  Rebekah is at loose ends, dissatisfied with work at The Trib following the events of the previous book.  She meets a woman who runs a crime blog who tells her she gets hundreds of letters from prisoners begging her to write about their cases. Rebekah is looking for a story that isn't tabloid trash and reads some of those letters. That's when she finds one sent by DeShawn Perkins, who as a teenager was convicted of the savage murders of his foster parents and toddler foster sister while they slept in bed in the summer of 1992.  DeShawn says he didn't do it, but what he claims was a coerced confession and an eye witness sealed his fate.  What catches Rebekah's eye about this letter?  One of the original officers on the case was none other than Saul Katz.

We have dual timelines with this story: 1992 when Saul and his partner catch the case and present day as Rebekah starts to dig.  What's coloring the edges of this story is the fact that in DeShawn's Crown Heights neighborhood in 1991 there was a riot ignited by tensions between the Hasidic Jewish community and Black residents.  The murder of DeShawn's family just one year after those riots changes everything for him with the consequences reverberating 20 years later.

Again, I wasn't as enamored with the dual narrative structure here but it's important because it unfolds DeShawn's story and sets the stage for Rebekah's digging into it in 2017.  What soon becomes evident is that there's plenty of blame to go around and it will unearth secrets that many people would love to see stay buried.  I'm not going to lie, this is an upsetting read.  In part because it shows us that gray area where "good people" make horrible choices based on the idea that "well, so what about that guy, he's not my problem."  There's an inhumanity here that is upsetting in it's subtlety and Dahl unearths all the ugly racism and prejudices that can lurk below the surface, undetected, until they either boil over or someone takes the lid off the pot to send it into the atmosphere.  It's not an easy read but it's compelling and remarkable.  Grade = B+

Genre fiction (of all stripes) tends to get labelled as fluffy, brain candy more often than not.  This trilogy is a perfect example of how something as "entertaining" as genre fiction can also be thought-provoking.  These are the sorts of mysteries that you could recommend to someone who says, "I only read serious fiction!" or to a book club group who sniffs disdainfully at your leisure reading.  There's a lot to unpack in all three of these stories, and read as a set of three, it's a fine achievement.

The last book came out in 2017 and I hope the author isn't finished with Rebekah. She sets things up in the final book that could take her heroine off into some interesting directions and it seems a shame to waste such a lovely series idea.  But, Dahl is also a journalist so - who knows?

I know this blog is mostly read by romance readers, and I will say that while Rebekah does date, there's really no romantic story arcs to be found in these books.  That said, there's a lovely friendship between Rebekah and her roommate, along with all that baggage to unpack with Mommy Dearest.  While the books are challenging reads, justice and the truth do come out in the end - but not without collateral damage.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Review: Come Back to the Ballpark, Maisy Gray

Anyone who has followed this blog for even a short period of time will know that Wendy, she has a complicated history with sports romance.  Girls like sports. And when I read a sports romance that blatantly gets sports wrong - the kind of wrong that basic research would have prevented - I get cranky.  Irrationally cranky.  Because then I picture the author and/or editor sitting at the desk going "Meh, romance readers won't care. As long as the hero is sexy and the sex is smokin' hot it's all good!" 

No.  No, it is not.

Come Back to the Ballpark, Maisy Gray by Cynthia Tennent is the first in a series set in fictional Comeback, Indiana and it's got a baseball plot.  Baseball being Wendy's first love.  For the most part?  Sometimes the baseball "stuff" in this story feels "major league" and sometimes it feels "minor league."  And since it's a romantic comedy?  Minor league probably would have been a better fit.  Still, while the Inside Baseball stuff isn't perfect, it's also not egregiously terrible - and believe you me, I've read some laughably bad baseball romances in my day.  But yeah, baseball - who cares right?  What about the romance?  Well, that's also kind of a mixed bag.

Maisy Gray and Kevin Halderman were childhood sweethearts - to the point where Maisy found herself head cheerleader for "Team Kevin," shared his love of baseball, was his scout, part-time coach and champion.  Kevin went on to become a big-league pitcher for his hometown (expansion) team, Indianapolis Turbos.  Maisy was always at the ballpark, cheering on Kevin and the team. Even though her mother is living with a chronic illness and she's got her own career as a teacher.  Maisy is always there with her little rituals and her Dubble Bubble, supporting her man.

And then her man dumps her for a supermodel because OF COURSE HE DOES!

It's been three years and ever since Kevin dumped her his career has been in a spiral and she's avoided baseball.  That is, until she takes her students on an end-of-the-year field trip to the game.  Oh, and it just happens to be Kevin's turn in the rotation.  Great.  But Maisy sucks it up, after all nobody will see her sitting in the bleachers, and the kids will love it.  Then her section wins one of the in-between-innings door prizes (hello jumbotron!), Kevin pitches a no-hitter and everyone finds out that Maisy was back in the stadium.  Baseball fans and players are nothing if not superstitious.  Now it's pandemonium to get Maisey back to the ballpark.

Sam Hunter is the youngest General Manager in the major leagues and had big plans to trade Kevin and his albatross contract.  Then the guy pitches a no-hitter sending his plans up in smoke.

Aside: this is one of the things that makes no sense. Kevin actually pitching a no-hitter would make him easier to trade and Sam would probably get better prospects in return.  The only reasons he couldn't trade him would be because the fans would hate it (um, so what?) or the owner would be cranky enough to fire Sam.  But the author never really comes out and says, "Sam can't trade Kevin because the owner will fire him."  None of this felt right.  Back to our regularly schedule program:

And now there's all this talk about Maisy and her being a good luck charm and Sam is pressed into duty to get the girl to come back.  The fly in the ointment?  The girl would rather be boiled in oil.  So it's up to Sam to pull out all the stops to get Maisy back in the ballgame.

I slogged on and off through this book, mostly because I'm a baseball nerd who nitpicks everything to death and also because Sam manipulates Maisy to get what he wants.  Well, maybe not what HE wants, but to get sports talk radio and the owner off his back.  And it doesn't always leave behind the best taste in my mouth.  Where this book sings is with Maisy.  You feel for this girl from the very first page.  Here's a woman who supported her man, stroked his ego, helped him get to where he is and he dumps her for a supermodel.  I mean, how can I hate on a book that features moments like this one:
Once more, she could be the cute little sidekick. The lucky charm. What a wonderful example she was to little girls everywhere. You can't play the game, but you can smile in the stands and be the cheerleader with the magic touch. Ugh.
There's a self-awareness in this story, especially with the female characters (Maisy's Mom and her married-with-two-kids BFF, Heather are fantastic - heck, even the supermodel is pretty great!) that helped elevate this book for me.  Yes, I nit-picked the baseball stuff but the female characters are so, so good.

The writing is solid and the author has a good ear for romantic comedy.  I did feel like the pacing was off, especially at the end when I felt this book had, like, 3 natural "end points" but kept going past the first two.  "My Kindle says 75% - is this the end of the story and the rest is stuffed back matter?  No, no it is not.  There are more chapters here...."  So yeah, it felt like it kept going and going there at the end.

But still - a sports romance that I didn't want to completely set on fire, bury and then dance on the grave?  Probably not a win, but not a loss either.  There's no ties in baseball but I'm calling this one a draw.  Because I'd read this author again and I'll probably read the next book in this series.

Final Grade = C+

Footnote: If there's any justice in the world, the supermodel will get her own romance.  That needs to happen.

Edited to Add 8/31/18: Please note that at the time this review was posted the digital edition was only available via Amazon.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Top 4 Unusual Historicals for August 2018

Normally my “sweet spot” for these posts are to find four or five books, preferably published during the month of the blog post, that feature “unusual elements.” “Unusual” typically takes the form of non-UK settings, “nobody” main characters that aren’t titled, unique professions etc. But when I started looking for titles to feature for August? Yeah, pickings were slim. So I did what any good librarian does - I whined on Twitter, got some suggestions, did some more investigating and now we have an August Unusual Historicals list! Huzzah!
Forbidden Night with the Prince by Michelle Willingham
A lifetime of being good…

One night of sin!

A Warriors of the Night story: virtuous Joan de Laurent is fated never to marry. Three betrothals, each ending in the groom’s death, have convinced her she’s cursed! But only her hand in marriage can help darkly brooding Irish prince Ronan win back his fortress. To break the curse, Joan must risk all to spend one forbidden night with the royal warrior…
Willingham does write in the Regency era (mostly for Amazon Montlake these days) but her medievals for Harlequin Historical are personal favorites. She’s got a great handle on the time period, has written stories all over the island (check out her Ireland-set MacEgan series!), and there’s usually plenty of angst-o-rama-jama to make my heart sing.
Joy to the Earl by Nicola Davidson
Shunned for his mismatched eyes and awkward limp, Yorkshire carpenter Jack Reynolds lives a lonely and impoverished existence. Then comes a shocking discovery: he’s the discarded heir of a wealthy noble family, and if he travels to London by Christmas, he’ll not only gain an earldom, a home, and position like he’s never dreamed, but maybe—just maybe—he can finally lose his damned virginity.

Scandalous widow Rosalind Nelson’s life centers around four things—her young daughter, helping couples suffering sexual discord, avoiding all peers, and definitely not falling in love. That is, until the day she rescues a mysterious stranger from a carriage accident. Kind, brave, and achingly seductive, Jack is everything she’s ever wanted. Nothing can destroy their growing bond…except the demons of his past...

This book was previously published in the anthology A Very Wicked Christmas.
This previously published novella popped up on my radar thanks to a Twitter friend. Thank you Twitter friend! For those of you looking for steam, Davidson writes the sexy times and what could be sexier than a carpenter virgin hero? I may have broken a nail one-clicking this...
The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo by Kerrigan Byrne
The bravest of heroes. The brashest of rebels. The boldest of lovers. These are the men who risk their hearts and their souls―for the passionate women who dare to love them…

He is known only as The Rook. A man with no name, no past, no memories. He awakens in a mass grave, a magnificent dragon tattoo on his muscled forearm the sole clue to his mysterious origins. His only hope for survival―and salvation―lies in the deep, fiery eyes of the beautiful stranger who finds him. Who nurses him back to health. And who calms the restless demons in his soul…


Lorelai will never forget the night she rescued the broken dark angel in the woods, a devilishly handsome man who haunts her dreams to this day. Crippled as a child, she devoted herself to healing the poor tortured man. And when he left, he took a piece of her heart with him. Now, after all these years, The Rook has returned. Like a phantom, he sweeps back into her life and avenges those who wronged her. But can she trust a man who’s been branded a rebel, a thief, and a killer? And can she trust herself to resist him when he takes her in his arms?
Brutal honesty time: I completely skipped over this book when I saw “Duke” in a title that plays up another famous book title (I seriously hate that). I get it. Most readers see “Duke” and can’t grab the book fast enough. Me? Not so much. Then I stumbled across reviews at The Day Job. The hero has to be nursed back to health after crawling out a mass grave (!) and when he’s reunited with the heroine he’s now a “lethal pirate captain.” There’s also a treasure hunt and what Library Journal describes as “the darker side of the Victorian Age.” So, of course, I put myself on a waitlist for this at the office. Because, of course! Mysterious Lord Millcroft by Virginia Heath
Life as a duchess…

Or something much more dangerous?

Part of The King’s Elite: constantly told her beauty and charm are all she has to offer, Lady Clarissa is intent on marrying a duke. And intriguing spy Sebastian Leatham will help her! Only, first she’ll assist him with his new assignment—playing the part of confident aristocrat Lord Millcroft. Sebastian awakens a burning desire within Clarissa that leaves her questioning whether becoming a duchess is what she truly longs for…
Again, another title I skipped over (at first) because the back cover blurb makes it sound like your run-of-the-mill Regency spy story. But when I whined on Twitter about this blog post with, “I need historicals that aren’t another Girl Falls In Love With Duke story….” the author responded with, “I've got a girl who thinks she wants a Duke but actually falls for a shy nobody story.” O.M.G. Ladies and gents, that’s an elevator pitch right there! Print is out in August, but y’all need to wait for September 1 for the ebook.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to this month?