Work has been busy, which means Wendy has been tired, which means Wendy is still limping along with her reading and not blogging a whole lot. Plus I had to watch my Detroit Tigers not make the post-season. Well, hey. No more baseball to watch, so maybe I'll start reading again? One can hope. That said, I do have a few recent reads where I don't have a ton to say, so it's time for another round of mini-reviews!
The Widow and the Sheikh by Marguerite Kaye is the start of a new series and was a garden variety "It's OK" read for me. It was a pleasant way to pass the time, but it didn't light a fire in me the way some of Kaye's other work has.
Julia Trevelyan is a botanist and widow now traveling in the middle of the Arabian desert fulfilling her husband's dying wish. Complete his magnum opus on exotic plant species, see it published, and get him all the accolades he so richly deserves. Julia is a skilled illustrator and while not a love match, she did share her husband's passion for the work. But now she's stranded in the middle of an oasis after her feckless guides drug and rob her. She's rescued by Azhar, a wealthy merchant passing through on his way home. Turns out Azhar is a Prince, and with his estranged father's death is now the sheikh - a position he's conflicted about considering his father's last words to him involved disowning him.
Azhar wrestles with his past, family baggage, and expectation. Julia wrestles with memories of an unhappy marriage (no abuse, more like disinterest) and completing the book. They spend time together, fall in love, yada yada yada.
There was nothing overtly wrong with this story, I just wasn't entranced by it. I generally like Kaye's work (the Armstrong Sisters series is especially strong), so I'll read the next book in the series. I've seen other positive reviews so this is likely a "It's me, not you" sort of thing. Final Grade = C+
Never Seduce a Sheikh by Jackie Ashenden was a Kindle freebie that I downloaded based on author name recognition. Many moons ago I was asking the Twitter hive for recent sheikh books, and Molly O'Keefe suggested another title in this series, but since I already had this one in the TBR I started here.
Lily Harkness is the newly minted CEO of Harkness Oil and has a lot to prove. 1) She's taking over for her father and 2) She's a girl. She's visiting Sheikh Isma'il al Zahar's country in the hopes of securing their oil rights. Isma'il has inherited the kingdom from his tyrannical father and has a lot to prove. He needs to work out the best possible deal for his country and he's not convinced Lily Harkness is the woman for the job.
In a nutshell - ball-busting businesswoman trying to make everyone get over the fact she's a woman and a hero who felt like a bit of a throwback to me. Very Alpha. Very challenging. A heroine who is supposedly tough (and a former Olympic swimmer to boot) but is vulnerable and still struggling with past event that haunts her (spoiler: not rape, but a sexual assault by a trusted adult). I found this to be a very challenging read mostly because of the skewed power dynamics. There were elements at play here that felt Old School Harlequin Presents in some ways. Also I can totally see some readers being displeased by yet another portrayal of a "tough businesswoman" who really isn't all that much. Then there's the ending. While I appreciated that the author addressed ethical issues, the final resolution will likely displease some.
All that being said, this is the first book I've read in a while that really stuck with me in the respect that I thought about it afterward. It had me puzzling over issues addressed, the authorial choices made, and I spun it around in my head for a couple days after. This is, quite frankly, a minor miracle given the way my reading mood has been of late. Certainly not for everybody, and my recommendation is really reserved, but I'm not sorry I read this. Final Grade = B-
Magnate by Joanna Shupe is a book that was tailor made for me. Gilded Age New York! Robber barons! A hero raised in Five Points! This should have been Wendy Catnip. And it was...until it wasn't. Minor spoilers ahead.
Elizabeth Sloane is a blue-blooded miss with a head for stock trading. The problem being that she's a woman, women can't trade on the exchange, and her brother would never hear of it. She wants to open her own brokerage firm and goes to see Emmett Cavanaugh, steel magnate, and a man she thinks is her brother's friend (ha ha ha ha ha! Uh, no.) to propose a partnership. A self-made man, Cavanaugh has a massive chip on his shoulder and Lizzy's proposal has him suspecting that maybe her brother's railroad isn't as healthy as it seems. He sees this as an opportunity to take William Sloane down a few pegs.
So this sounds great, right? A heroine bristling against society conventions, who wants to work, meeting her match in a ruthless self-made man who has an ax to grind with her brother. The world-building is wonderful, Shupe paints the opulent excess of the Gilded Age marvelously and doesn't shy away from portraying her robber baron characters as ruthless and skirting the boundaries of fair business practices. Basically, they're jerks of the first order. Hey, Carnegie did build a ton of libraries but he wasn't a nice guy either.
And then it all goes to heck in a hand-basket. Lizzy and Emmett get caught in a compromising position and William basically blackmails Emmett into "doing right" by his sister. Lizzy is shocked, SHOCKED I TELL YOU, that her brother thinks she needs to now marry Emmett (why should anyone care?) and is horrified when she finds out that blackmail was involved and that Emmett was "forced" to marry her and doesn't love her.
OH COME ON NOW!!!!!
Given how great I found the world-building to have this devolve into yet another historical romance featuring a heroine who has nary a care in the world when it comes to societal mores and who is determined to marry for twu wuv drove me batty. The Sloane parents are dead - but Lizzy gets out in society. She has a best girlfriend. How could she think for one second that she couldn't NOT get married after being caught in a compromising situation? Of course her brother would force the issue to protect her reputation. As a woman YOUR REPUTATION IS ALL YOU HAD!!! A passionate kiss in a private dining room? Lizzy girl, you're basically a whore now. She's never heard gossip about other society chits who "got into trouble?" She never saw a "whore" get shunned by her former social circle? Really?!?!?! REALLY NOW!?!?!?!?!
I cannot express how much this irritated me. It irritated me so much that even though I'm halfway through the book the thought of finishing it just irritates me even more. For some this will seem like a silly thing to nit-pick over, but ugh - Wendy irritated! Wendy smash! There's a lot glowing reviews out there, so obviously I'm in the minority here - and Lord help me I'll likely try another book in this series to see how it goes because after all...Gilded Age New York. I am nothing, if not predictable. But seriously, what could have been. Final Grade = DNF