Sunday, June 26, 2022

Review: The Welsh Lord's Convenient Bride

The Welsh Lord's Convenient Bride is Lissa Morgan's debut novel. Prior to signing with Harlequin Historical she had been working for years at contemporary romance and then an editor she met at a conference suggested she try writing a historical. This book is the result and it's very good. Like, so good I can't believe this was the author's first stab at writing a historical - let alone a book set in Wales during the Middle Ages.

Rhun ab Owain is his father's only son, having grown-up in the borderland between Wales and England. He also at the age of 12, witnessed one of Richard de Vraille's knights cut down his mother as she was returning from administering to the sick in the village. The attack left Rhun with a severe leg injury that causes him to limp to this day. It also left him haunted, with a fair amount of PTSD, and vowing revenge. The knight in question is little more than a mercenary, and the book opens with Rhun in Castile, finally receiving word many months after the fact that his father is dead. It's time to come home, claim his inheritance and seal peace by marrying de Vraille's daughter, Eleanor.

Eleanor has known disapproval her whole life. She was her father's last child, having committed the crime of being yet another girl (she has two older sisters) and being the last child her mother was able to conceive and deliver. Eleanor was not a boy and the last chance - unforgivable sins in her father's eyes.  She also has a hidden "disfigurement" (spoiler: a large birthmark) that in the not-terribly enlightened Middle Ages would be a source of concern. Now she's being bundled off to marry a Welsh Lord, a man she only laid eyes on once as a child.  And yet, Eleanor is somewhat hopeful. Yes, Castell y Lleuad and her groom are unknown, but it's not roses and bonbons in her father's household.  This could be better, right?  Well...

Rhun isn't cruel like her father but he's indifferent with a touch of resentfulness. It's a marriage being thrust upon both of them in the name of peace and building alliances, but both Rhun and Eleanor are a bit like lambs starring down at the end of eventual slaughter. She wants to be helpful and accepted, while Rhun still burns from the fact that Eleanor's father murdered his mother.  Baggage, these two crazy kids have it.

What I liked about this story is that while Rhun and Eleanor have a fair amount of internal baggage and do spend time all up in their feels, it's not the only driving conflict in this story. Hey, remember when romance novels had external conflict?  Yeah, I had forgotten that was a thing as well.  Anyway, we have it here - because the Welsh and the English? That's a relationship on very unsteady ground, and when rebellion breaks out again Rhun has to choose sides.  His people, or his English wife.  His English wife he hasn't bothered to consummate his marriage with yet.  Take a wild guess which side he falls on.

This uncertainty, war, a marriage alliance that doesn't do what it's supposed to do (at least in the eyes of the English) lead to both Eleanor and Rhun growing up to a certain extent.  They're married now. Her father is a raging a-hole, but in the eyes of the Crown, the Welsh people are traitors.  And Rhun is playing at a very dangerous game.

This is a slow-burn romance and once the author gets to the love scenes, she makes them count. A romance where the sex doesn't feel like word count padding? I forgot those could exist!  Also, the growth arc for both characters is quite good - but especially Eleanor, who is hiding a "disfigurement," yearning for approval, and falling in love with a husband who has every reason to hate her guts, if only by proxy.  But, and here's the distinction between this and say, a Harlequin Presents - Rhun never hates Eleanor. He's resentful. He's bitter. And while he comes off as indifferent to her, he's not outright cruel. We as the reader know he is not indifferent to Eleanor, it just takes time for both of them to work past their respective pasts to realize they 1) love each other and 2) make a great partnership.

The first part of this book is heavier on the internal angst, while the last several chapters carry us through using external conflict. It's really well done, because it saves readers from a manufactured third-act separation. It's also the first historical romance I've read in a while that felt like a historical. Like, I learned some stuff - which hasn't happened in a dog's age.  And even factoring in how little I know about the historical conflict between Wales and England, the author brings the reader up to speed without drowning us in minutia or a centuries-long historical treatise. 

I liked this story quite a bit. I liked Rhun and Eleanor separately and as a couple. I loved the historical backdrop and the external conflict. I also really appreciated how the author handled the resolution to the external conflict - it's believable and still allows for our couple to have a happy ending.  If you're looking for a historical romance palate cleanser between Regencies, this is a good one.

Final Grade = B

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Run Wendy Run: Incoming Unusual Historicals for June 2022

When I was a wee baby Super Librarian wannabe, June was always one of my favorite months on the calendar - namely because I was getting out of school for a couple of months and I could carry myself off to the local library to read whatever the heck I wanted (no assigned reading?! SIGN. ME. UP.)  So the irony isn't lost on me that June and July now signify the busiest, generally most dreaded months of my working life. Close out the out-going fiscal year, get everything ready for the incoming fiscal year. Every year I welcome in summertime slightly unhinged and hit early August completely drained. My respite? I mean, besides wine and chocolate? New Unusual Historical romances of course! Here's what's landing in June that caught my eye:
The Viking She Would Have Married by Lucy Morris
In close quarters… 

With the Viking she’d loved and lost 

AShieldmaiden Sisters story - with her family fallen on hard times, Valda’s forced to join the crew on Halfdan Ulfsson’s merchant ship as he sets sail on the treacherous silk route. But this handsome jarl’s son is the man she’d planned to wed, until his bitter betrayal. Knowing she can never trust him, she must focus on saving her sisters…and not the intense connection that still burns between them!

If this were the Billboard Top 100, this book would be my number one with a bullet for June. First, give me ALL the Sheldmaidens! Second, Valda was a secondary character in A Nun for the Viking Warrior which I read earlier this year. Valda was the hero's BFF in that book, the hero who saw her like a sister and naturally her feelings for him ran a little deeper. But instead of being a villainess, Valda was more practical about love - which is to say she saw the writing on the wall.  I'm really looking forward to this book and should have a copy in my hot little hands very soon.

Marian Hayes, the Duchess of Clare, just shot her husband. Of course, the evil, murderous man deserved what was coming to him, but now she must flee to the countryside. Unfortunately, the only person she can ask for help is the charismatic criminal who is blackmailing her—and who she may have left tied up a few hours before… 

A highwayman, con artist, and all-around cheerful villain, Rob Brooks is no stranger to the wrong side of the law or the right side of anybody’s bed. He never meant to fall for the woman whose secrets he promised to keep for the low price of five hundred pounds, but how could he resist someone who led him on a merry chase all over London, left him tied up in a seedy inn, and then arrived covered in her husband’s blood and in desperate need of his help? 

As they flee across the country—stopping to pick pockets, drink to excess, and rescue invalid cats—they discover more true joy and peace than either has felt in ages. But when the truth of Rob’s past catches up to him, they must decide if they are willing to reshape their lives in order to forge a future together.
We have Georgian London, a Duchess turned criminal and a highwayman, con artist who sounds too slick by half. I am here for the rogue with a heart of gold and this one sounds fun.

The Welsh Lord's Convenient Bride by Lissa Morgan 
A wedding between enemies

A marriage to heal their scars 

 Hiding a disfigurement, Eleanor de Vraille is already lacking confidence when she arrives at her future husband’s cheerless Welsh castle. And Rhun ab Owain’s open disapproval of her does nothing to make her feel at ease. Their union is to seal peace between their families, nothing more. But Eleanor’s heart rebels—is she a fool to hope for any affection from this strong-willed nobleman with the dark glittering eyes?

An enemies-to-lovers romance set in 13th century Wales featuring a scarred heroine.  This is Morgan's debut novel, the 12th manuscript she completed, and (wait for it...) the first historical.  Prior to getting the call for this book she had been consistently submitting contemporaries to Mills & Boon before a meeting with an editor suggested she try her hand at a historical.  This book was the result.

Guarding Jessica by Kate Bridges (Kindle Unlimited)
In this enemies to lovers romance, Jessica and a daunting Mountie are forced to travel together on a perilous secret mission. 

Jessica Haven desperately needs Mountie Travis Reid to escort her across the Rocky Mountains in secret search for the baby she’s lost. No one else believes her story, and the cold-hearted Mountie who doesn’t think much of her is her last hope. 

Travis knows Jessica as the mayor’s spoiled daughter. Travis is already on a deeply personal journey to deliver extraordinary horses to the other side of the Rockies. He doesn’t want to spend his days—and heated nights—on the trail with a woman he dislikes. Yet when Jessica discloses her tender story, it rings an emotional truth inside of him in a place he thought was long buried. She displays courage, grit and sensuality. While their risky path narrows and intimacy deepens, can Travis and Jessica lower their defenses to trust each other?

This is a reprint of The Proposition, which was originally published by Harlequin Historical in 2004. While it's the first book in what was the Reid Brothers trilogy back then - Bridges wrote several Canadian-set stories for Harlequin featuring Mountie heroes, and has been self-publishing them under a rebranded Mountie Brides umbrella.  This is one I haven't read, but I've enjoyed other books by Bridges and mama needs more historical westerns y'all.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to this month?

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

#TBRChallenge 2022: In the Arms of the Heiress

The Book: In the Arms of the Heiress by Maggie Robinson

The Particulars: Historical romance, 2013, Berkley, In Print, Book one in series

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I had an autographed print copy in my TBR and a post-it note still attached to the cover makes me think the author might have sent it to me? Maybe? Or else I picked it up at a conference.

The Review: This month's optional Challenge theme was "After the War" which certainly implies dark, angsty reads. Well, here's a story that is the exact opposite.  Ladies and gents, we have ourselves a romp!

Banking heiress Louisa Stratton ran away from home a year ago. Tired of being a prisoner under her aunt's flinty dragon-like gaze, the moment she came into her inheritance she grabbed her personal maid and started traveling around the Continent in an automobile she bought in France. But her family just won't stop pestering her - so she does what any sensible Edwardian-era heiress would do...

She invents a husband.  Maximillian Norwich is positively perfect and dashing in every way. But still, the family makes noise and worse yet - Aunt Grace's health has been poorly.  There's no avoiding it any longer - Louisa must return home to England and the dreadful Rosemont Manor.  Well, bugger. She's just going to have to find someone to play her husband for 30 days. I mean, it's really the only option!

Charles Cooper is a former captain having served during the Boer War. He's living in a squalid rooming house and pickling his liver with gin when Mrs. Evensong finds him.  Louisa hired her agency to find a fake husband and she thinks Charles is the man for the job.  Charles thinks both women are cracked.  Then he finds out how much Louisa is willing to pay him for a little 30-day farce and we're off to the races.

Of course it all starts to go spectacularly topsy-turvy once they land at Rosemont. A series of "accidents" start befalling Charles/Max and Louisa's family is a venerable nest of vipers.  They're essentially living off her largess and yet think she's a bubble-headed ninny who cannot control her scandalous impulses.  Charles takes one look at the lot of them and his White Knight Complex kicks into hyperdrive - not to mention his sex drive. He's been dead below the waist since returning from war and Louisa with her non-stop prattling, quick wit and hour-glass figure have his Mr. Happy standing up to salute once again.

I absolutely love the Edwardian period - the dawn of the 20th century, women pushing back on the confines of the dying Victorian era, yes we have World War I around the corner, but it's all grand stuff and Robinson handles the time period really well.  We need more romances in this era!

If you know anything about the Boer War at all, you know that it was horrific - and Charles waning time there found him ordered to a concentration camp as part of a damage control campaign. Finding women and children dead and near death hasn't done wonders for his peace of mind. This has naturally given Charles a fair bit of PTSD and hence the drinking. 

Yes, there's dark underpinnings but it's still a romp. A bit of a farce. It's very My Gal Friday in dialogue and sparring. Louisa and Charles rub each other in all the right and wrong ways and it makes for some sparkling, quick-witted reading.  There's even the light mystery bubbling along to keep the reader flipping the pages.  And yet...

It all feels way too long.  The sex scenes are fun and lively but there's frankly too many of them (they felt like word count padding after a while...).  My print copy clocks in at 316 pages and I feel like these mad-cap shenanigans would have been perfect at the length of a Traditional Regency or a Harlequin Historical.  It just seems to go on for a very long time.

Then there's the matter of Louisa's family who are toxic and yet at the end I'm supposed to buy some clap-trap about how they really do care about her it's just they're really, really bad at showing it.  Y'all Wendy did not just fall off the turnip truck. I would have lit Rosemont ablaze while they were all sleeping in their beds.  I mean, if the Boer War can't quell the bubbly tone why should a little mass murder by arson?

As a general rule I have a checkered history with light historicals but this one falls on the less annoying side of the street for me.  Yes, it's a romp but it avoids cutesy and twee (shudder).  I did appreciate several things about the story, but it didn't captivate me to the point where I want to gobble up the rest of the series.  However it has made me curious about Robinson's historical mystery series - of which I'm glad I have book one laying about somewhere...

Final Grade = B-

Sunday, June 12, 2022

RIP: Emma Holly


The above is an image from a Facebook post by author Kate Angell. Photo is of a younger author, Emma Holly. Text reads: A difficult post for me. USA Today Bestselling author and long-time friend Emma Holly has passed away, June 11th. My heart is saddened by her loss. She wrote over seventy erotic romance novels for Black Lace and the Penguin Group. Indie publications too. Both standalone and series titles from shapeshifters, genies, faeries to billionaires. She was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America 2004 RITA award for Best Paranormal Romance. On a personal note, Emma was smart and kind. She spoke her mind and always made me smile. She loved to write and to meet her readers. I admired her talent. She lived in Minneapolis. I don't have a lot of details on her passing. She was 61 years old. She will be missed. The photo is Emma in her late 30's. One of my favorites of her.

This was not the news I wanted to read on a Sunday morning. I gasped. I actually said, out loud, "Oh no!" which elicited an immediate response from My Man who wanted to know what was wrong. No, Emma Holly wasn't a member of my family or a close, personal friend, but my reading life was forever changed when I was randomly assigned to review Beyond Seduction way back in 2002 (eep!) and that was me being late to the party. Holly had written several books for Virgin Publishing's Black Lace line well before she crossed over into the mainstream writing books for Berkley Jove. 

If you're a newer reader to romance, it's hard to fathom this now, but there was a time when it was very hard, damn near impossible almost, to find non-virgin heroines who were confident in their sexuality. Who liked sex, who wanted sex, and weren't punished for it. And most of the time when you did find a non-virgin heroine there was some terrible past trauma that made her "a slut." Like Daddy didn't love her or some such nonsense.  Emma Holly was a frickin' revelation.  And by all accounts it's not like Beyond Seduction was rocking new ground. It's a Victorian-set historical about a woman who wants to ruin herself, decides to pose nude for an artist and ends up having a torrid affair with him. But it was so sexy and passionate it damn near stripped the paint off my walls and it was a romance, so I got a happy ending!  After that experience, an online friend told me I had to find her Black Lace books. So I went on the hunt...

Now, here's the thing. Virgin Publishing is based out of the UK.  Finding Black Lace was nearly impossible here in the States.  If a bookstore was carrying them they were usually in the "Sexuality" section next to How To Find Your G-Spot.  I finally gave up and went to that fledgling little company on the Internet....Amazon. True story.  You know why I started buying books from Amazon? Because I could order any Black Lace book I wanted, it would generally be in stock, and I didn't have to deal with some horn-rimmed glasses professor-wannabe hipster sneering at my purchases.  

I was off to the races at that point, snapping up whatever hadn't already gone out of print - which some of them had.  Then somewhere in the mid-aughts, Virgin started reprinting some Black Lace titles under the Cheek imprint, giving them cartoon covers (sigh) and I finally scored the remaining Holly books I was missing.  Folks, this is what you had to do before digital publishing. You kept a wishlist a mile long, scoured used bookstores, leaned on your online friends who also had your wishlist and scoured their used bookstores, and prayed to the Reprint Gods.

What made Holly's books special, I mean other than the non-virgin, unapologetic heroines and the steamy sex?  Holly got "it." She got what made erotic romance tick - which is to say that she wrote passion.  It wasn't just an endless string of anatomical sex scenes strung together. Her characters yearned. They felt like actual people with actual emotions dealing with all the messy (and pleasurable!) fallout that can come with sexual relationships.  She also wrote damn near everything - contemporary, historical, steampunk, paranormal, billionaires - everything

I met Holly just once, in Dallas at RWA 2007. This is what I blogged prior to my trip:
Emma Holly will be there. Yes, the Emma Holly. I'll be lucky if I can manage any words over two syllables. Those two college degrees I have will immediately go flying right out of my head and I'll start talking like some slack-jawed yokel whose family has been swimming in the same shallow gene pool for six generations. Actually what's more likely to happen is I'll stand there looking like a dumbass and will probably say two words to the poor woman.

I'm pleased to report that I did alright. I think I said "I love your books" just two times! I got a signed copy of All U Can Eat (which I had already read and loved) and picked up some promo/swap for my younger sister.  I wish I had the opportunity to meet her again, but alas, it never happened. I like to think I would have been more confident and self-assured and managed a more thoughtful conversation with her. But who am I kidding? I'm a fan. A blithering, starstruck fan. One who still has some books in my TBR in a break glass in case of emergency event.  Folks, life is short, the time is now, break the damn glass already Wendy!

I hope wherever Ms. Holly is she knew how loved she was by readers, fellow writers she greatly influenced, and that she was a true genre trailblazer. She was a very big deal and the loss feels immeasurable. 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is Wednesday June 15!

Hey, hey, hey it's that time of the month again - #TBRChallenge time! The next Challenge is set for Wednesday, June 15.  This month's (always) optional theme is After the War.

This was another suggestion that came out of the theme poll I ran last year and there's a lot of ways this one can be interpreted.  Path of least resistance would be a story that takes place after a literal war, perhaps with a military veteran protagonist. Or you could get a little more metaphorical about "war" - maybe a book featuring a heroine recovering from a messy break-up/divorce or a character with a traumatic past of some sort? Put your thinking caps on and get creative!

But remember, the themes are completely optional.  Maybe this all sounds too angsty to you or like too much work. Remember the goal of the challenge has been, and always will be, to read something (anything!) that's been languishing in your mountain range of unread books.

It's not too late to participate in this year's Challenge!  If you're interested or you just want to follow along with those participating, be sure to check out the TBR Challenge 2022 Information Page

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Library Loot Reviews: Two "It" Suspense Novels

While my eyeball reading has been floundering like a beached fish in 2022, my audiobook listening has largely been on point thanks to bingeing mystery/suspense.  I recently leveraged my library card to listen to two "it" books that everyone seems to be talking about right now.  One was successful and one was...well, read on MacDuff.

There was already a ground-swell of buzz that Like a Sister would be Kellye Garrett's "breakout book" but it was Veena's review that pushed me over the edge to pick it up, and I'm glad I did.  

Lena Scott hasn't spoken with her half-sister, former reality TV star, Desiree Pierce in two years. The narcissism, the drugs, the complete disregard for the people who truly love her - Lena had enough. She walked away. Well, sort of. She's still stalking her sister's social media accounts.  That's how she knows Desiree is back in New York.  The New York Daily News is the one to tell Lena that Desiree is dead, of a suspected drug overdose. But right from the jump the whole thing smells wrong to Lena. Desiree did booze and coke, not heroin - and sure as hell Desiree wouldn't have stuck no needle in her arm.  Unless more has changed in two years than even Lena knows about.

What follows is Lena chasing down leads into her sister's death and trying to reconcile with her messy family situation.  Dad is a notorious hip-hop mogul who left Lena's mom to marry her BFF, and Lena was essentially caught in the groundswell of antagonism between the two. Meanwhile Desiree was the pampered princess turned party girl always chasing influence and fame.  That can make a girl a lot of enemies, but enough to kill her?

I am a sucker for suspense novels that explore the seedy side of celebrity culture and this one has it in spades, taking on reality TV and social media influencer culture in all it's grossness.  But I also loved Lena, back in a New York to work on her master's degree at Columbia and slowly unpacking her messy familial relationships.  I was a little lukewarm on the final whodunit, but upon reflection it "fits" and Garrett threw in plenty of twists and turns to keep me guessing and entertained.  A solid, enjoyable listen on audiobook.

Final Grade = B+

Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Sigh. A Flicker in the Dark by Stacy Willingham has already been sold to actress Emma Stone's production company because apparently nothing was learned when they decided to make a film adaptation of The Girl on the Train. That's right kids! We have another book with a female protagonist who is gorked out on booze and pills with trouble distinguishing between reality and her own paranoia!  Oh. Joy.

When Chloe Davis was 12-years-old her Daddy was convicted of murdering six teenage girls.  Twenty years later, living in Baton Rogue and on the cusp of getting married, Chloe is a respected psychologist who has just set up her own practice. Of course she's popping Xanax like Tic-Tacs and throwing back plenty of red wine, but minor details.  Then the first teenage girl goes missing, and then another.  Chloe sees parallels with her father's crimes and soon becomes even more paranoid when she discovers the missing girls are all connected to her in some way or another.

Apparently we aren't past the paranoid heroine gorked out on substances running off half-cocked trope.  As is always the case with this trope, you spend the majority of the book trapped inside the heroine's gorked out brain, which is about as fun for me to read as nails on a chalk board. Probably too much Marcia Muller and Sue Grafton reading as a teenager - I want all the Competent Heroine Porn I can get in mystery/suspense and Gorked Out On Substances ain't it.

Anyway, the other problem with this trope is you know where it's going before it gets there.  Of course it's going to be someone "close" to the heroine and Willingham only provides so many options (OK, two. Two options).  If you've been down this road before you know right off what the whodunit is going to reveal, and sure enough I did.  However, it's not all Wendy being a Crabby McCrabby Pants. Willingham does throw in a couple little twists to at least make the obvious denouement interesting.

The only reason I got through this was because I listened to it on audio and frankly I need something to listen to on my walk breaks during the work week.  The first 60% was pretty much an eye-crossing slog for me (have I mentioned how much I hate this trope?)  but once I got past the point of no return I inhaled the final 40%.  But this is where I get off the train. Willingham's next book is about a heroine who is gorked out of her skull because she suffers from insomnia.  Blergh.

Final Grade = C-

Monday, May 23, 2022

Make It Rain: Unusual Historicals Landing May 2022

Every month I buckle in to ride the wave of Amazon's terrible algorithm (so much Daddy Kink, so much public domain literature with half-assed covers), cross my fingers and hope for the best as I go on the Great Hunt for Unusual Historicals. And then I get months like May 2022 where they seem to rain from the sky.  Seriously, enjoy this now Bat Cave Followers, because I guarantee that if we manage to survive our slog to December you're going to get maybe 3 titles that month.  So grab yourself something to drink, crack your knuckles, and get ready for a dive into the deep end of the Historical Romancelandia swimming pool.
Rose and Wicked by Rebel Carter (Kindle Unlimited)

Rose Wickes-Barnes has a plan to establish herself as an independent woman of good standing. 

Move away from Gold Sky. 

Join one of New York City’s most prestigious theater companies. 

Establish herself in society as an up-and-coming costumer with said theater company. 

Thusly, she aims to enjoy the fruits of her labor just as any woman should. What she never anticipates is the scandal, paparazzi storm, and subsequent whirlwind marriage she finds herself in. 

Rose and her new husband, the gentle, soft spoken and earnest Samuel Walker, who selflessly put himself in harm's way to keep her safe one fateful, rainy, day, are forced to flee the city and marry to keep their reputations in tact. All the while Rose suspects there is far more to her new husband than the man she’s coming dangerously close to falling in love with. 

People on the streets of New York give him a wide berth, and they call him ‘Wicked Walker’. Rose has never known him to be anything but a gentleman and her protector, but she can’t help but admit she is curious to see just what’s so wicked about ‘Wicked Walker.’

An independent heroine determined to establish herself a theater costume designer finds herself married in order to avoid scandal - which, isn't that always the way?  But what's this? There's more to her new husband than meets the eye? Do tell! This appears to be the last book in Carter's Gold Sky series.

The Iron Warrior Returns by Michelle Willingham 

A fight to save his people 

A kiss to save his heart… 

To regain his stolen lands and save his people from suffering, Robert of Penrith has returned to marry his enemy’s daughter. To Robert’s surprise, his dearest friend, Morwenna, helps him win the heiress’s hand—despite the danger to them both. The fierce, beautiful miller’s daughter has stood by him throughout his exile. But a single kiss ignites a passion that threatens to upend all Robert’s plans…

To reclaim his land and save his people our hero decides a match with his enemy's daughter is the way to go, but he needs help, and for that he turns to his best friend, our heroine. What we have here is a fairly rare unicorn - a friends-to-lovers trope in a medieval!  Willingham is one of my autobuys in Harlequin Historical and this is the start of a new series.

A Caribbean Heiress in Paris by Adriana Herrera

Paris, 1889 

The Exposition Universelle is underway, drawing merchants from every corner of the globe…including Luz Alana Heith-Benzan, heiress to the CaƱa Brava rum empire. 

Luz Alana set sail from Santo Domingo armed with three hundred casks of rum, her two best friends and one simple rule: under no circumstances is she to fall in love. In the City of Lights, she intends to expand the rum business her family built over three generations, but buyers and shippers alike can’t imagine doing business with a woman…never mind a woman of color. This, paired with being denied access to her inheritance unless she marries, leaves the heiress in a very precarious position. 

Enter James Evanston Sinclair, Earl of Darnick, who has spent a decade looking for purpose outside of his father’s dirty money and dirtier dealings. Ignoring his title, he’s built a whisky brand that’s his biggest—and only—passion. That is, until he’s confronted with a Spanish-speaking force of nature who turns his life upside down. 

From their first tempestuous meeting, Luz Alana is conflicted. Why is this titled—and infuriatingly charming—Scottish man so determined to help her? 

For Evan, every day with Luz Alana makes him yearn for more than her ardent kisses or the marriage of convenience that might save them both. But Luz Alana sailed for Paris prepared to build her business and her future; what she wasn’t prepared for was love finding her.

A Caribbean rum heiress takes to Paris hoping to expand her family's business, only to get doors slammed in her face because she's a female (sigh). Enter our hero, with plenty of Daddy Issues, and his own whisky empire, smitten from the jump.  Another Unusual Historical this month from our friends at Harelquin, this time with the HQN line, and also the start of a new series.

Miss Peverett's Secret Scandal by Bronwyn Scott

Working in close quarters…With an employer she can’t resist! 

Thomasia Peverett is dreading her return to society, but when she’s offered a secretarial role by Member of Parliament Shaw Rawdon, he tempts her to leave the safety of her home. Shaw’s unlike anyone she’s ever met, and their attraction is undeniable. Even the revelation of her scandalous secret draws him closer! Thomasia knows it’s foolish to trust the wrong man, but will Shaw prove he’s worth it?

If loving the boss/secretary romance is wrong (OK, yes - it's problematic as hell...) then I don't wanna be right. And this is, OMG wait for it, a boss/secretary romance in Victoria England!  Oh, and of course our heroine is hiding a Big Secret, because why wouldn't she be?!  This is the third book in Scott's The Peveretts of Haberstock Hall series.

Sebastian Moncrieff is a villain, a traitor, and a pirate, who has recently inherited an Earldom he never wanted. As a man who’s committed every sin imaginable, he knows his only chance at redemption is the one woman who ever reached through to his soul of ice. He’s kidnapped Veronica Latimer once before, and was enchanted by everything about her... This time, when he takes her, he’ll have to admit that she’s kept his heart captive since the moment they met. But can he convince her to forgive his past in order to claim a future?

Villain, traitor, pirate and a kidnapper? Wow, this hero sounds like a prince! But he also sounds like just the kind of Alpha throwback that I sometimes can't say no to.  This novella from Byrne ties into her Victorian Rebels series.

Her tempting enemy...

Is a chink in her armor! 

Viking shield maiden Svea Ivarsson would far rather face Saxon warriors than be on the run with the fiercely captivating Lord Ashford Stanton, protector to the Saxon king. Reaching Ash’s family castle, Svea must swap her chain mail for life as a lady. She can wield a sword like an expert, but no training has prepared her for craving the touch of her greatest enemy…

A shield maiden heroine who finds herself having to play the part of a lady and falling under the spell of our hero.  This seems to tie into the author's previous release and a content warning that reading in between the lines of the teaser description on the author's website, the heroine may be a rape survivor.

William Hartley’s wealth and social standing often make up for his short temper, but they can’t cure his claustrophobia. He’d lost hope of finding help for it, until meeting Josiah Balfour. In a moment of panic, Josiah’s presence is a balm to his senses, leaving Hartley calm for the first time in months. 

Josiah Balfour knows his place—and it’s not in the bed of a gentleman. As the administrator for the Society of Beasts, he’s responsible for the club’s well-being. When a threat to the Society emerges from an unexpected quarter, it falls to Josiah to deal with it. But Hartley is willing to help, even if it involves posing as a couple to infiltrate a rival club. 

Josiah needs Hartley’s prestige to help him save the Society, while Hartley simply needs Josiah. Their relationship might be a sham, but the desire between them is all too real. Stuck in close quarters with everything they love on the line, they discover that everything might just include each other.

The third book in Greene's Society of Beasts series features Unusual Historical catnip - a cross-class romance and a claustrophobic gentleman. OK, so maybe not the claustrophobia, but it certainly ADDS to the unusual!

Carys Davies is doing everything in her power to avoid marriage. Staying single is the only way to hide the secret that could ruin her―and her family―if it was revealed. For the past two seasons she’s scandalized the ton with her outrageous outfits and brazen ways in a futile bid to deter potential suitors. Outwardly confident and carefree, inside she’s disillusioned with both men and love. There’s only one person who’s never bought her act―the only man who makes her heart race: Tristan Montgomery, one of her family’s greatest rivals. 

Wickedly proper architect Tristan needs a respectable woman to wed, but he’s never stopped wanting bold, red-headed Carys. When she mockingly challenges him to show her what she’s missing by not getting married, Tristan shocks them both by accepting her indecent proposal: one week of clandestine meetings, after which they’ll go their separate ways. But kissing each other is almost as much fun as arguing, and their affair burns hotter than either of them expects. When they find themselves embroiled in a treasonous plot, can they trust each other with their hearts, their secrets…and their lives?

Well, bless their hearts. A heroine determined to make herself as "unmarriageable" as possible and an architect hero who needs to "marry up." Oh, and their families have been feuding for generations. I mean, what could possibly go wrong here?! This is the second book in Bateman's Ruthless Rivals series.

I don't know about you all, but I just feel like I ran a marathon!  What unusual historicals are you looking forward to?