Amazon has discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom will break all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs use this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images starting in 2024 until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Thursday, February 29, 2024

Review: Temporary Wife Temptation

Sexy, romantic cover
Note: Temporary Wife Temptation by Jayci Lee was published by Harlequin Desire in 2020.  In 2022, Harlequin repackaged the story, slapped it with a cartoon cover I want to set on fire and retitled it The "I Do" Dilemma. You can still purchase the digital version, but only under the new cover and title, hence the link in this review directing to that edition. I'm posting the original cover to this review because it's a million times prettier and more fitting to what's inside the tin but I'll post the new cover below so we can all be outraged together.  Thanks for coming to my TED talk

+++++

One of my local libraries recently had a romance author program of which Lee took part.  Wanting to support the program, and the library staff who put it together, I attended and ended up purchasing one of Lee's single titles while there. I knew I had several of her Desires languishing in my TBR, and decided this first book in her Heirs of Hansol series was the place to start. 

This book features the kind of preposterous plot that I tend to gobble up in category romance - the modern day marriage of convenience.  Garrett Song is very close to being named the new CEO of his family's fashion empire, that is until his very traditional (and domineering) grandmother lowers the boom on him - she's arranged a marriage for him. To a woman he's never met. The selling point for Granny being that the family is the equivalent of "old money" in Korean society and her grandson needs a wife. Garrett has been bristling against tradition and family expectations his entire life and is not about to go quietly. He immediately tells Granny he can't marry her chosen bride because, well, he's already engaged to the love his life.  One minor problem with that - Garrett isn't engaged, let alone believes in love or wants to get married. He needs a temporary wife and fast - but where will he find a woman desperate (and crazy) enough to accept this proposal?

Turns out he doesn't have to look far. Natalie Sobol works in Hansol's HR department. She worked with Garrett briefly on an interim basis while he was stationed in New York and she's been in Los Angeles - but now Garrett is in LA and she gets an up close and personal view of how desperately good-looking he is. But she's determined to swallow her hormones as she's gunning for a promotion that would take her to the New York office. She needs the bump in salary and the New York home base to secure the adoption of her orphaned niece. The child's grandparents live in New York and Natalie thinks if she's also in New York they'll stop contesting the adoption. Besides the fact she has to be offered that promotion is that a husband would help her cause tremendously - showing the courts she could provide her niece with a loving, stable, two-parent home. 

We all know where this is going. Garrett proposes a temporary marriage to solve both of their problems. Of course it doesn't take long for the feelings to become all too real given the scorching chemistry pinging off both of them from the jump. These two are desperately attracted to each other, and as they pretend their way through a fake engagement, walk down the aisle, and create a happy home, they both fall hard and fast. Of course getting Garrett to admit his feelings, out loud, when he's emotionally adverse is ultimately what propels the reader to the Black Moment. 

Ugh, I hate it
A few things I really liked about this story was the setting (the author writes about Southern California well in a compact word count) and the portrayal of both sides of the coin of the Korean American experience.  Garrett's family is very traditional. Natalie is the product of a biracial marriage (her mother now gone, her father always aloof, her sister killed in a car accident) and knows little about Korean traditions. Garrett is a prototypical romance hero - the one who was done wrong by a former fiancé and therefore doesn't believe in "love," and Natalie is the soft-hearted romance heroine who recognizes her growing feelings well before he does.  I also really enjoyed that the author included the relationships the couple was building with Garrett's family and the niece's grandparents. It really rounds out the romance and helped me buy-in that these two crazy kids would make it.

That said, the hero being closed off emotionally is what leads us to the Black Moment and Third Act Break-Up.  He's one of those guys that instead of just saying "I love you, let's stay married" buys the heroine a pair of earrings and thinks she'll infer what he means 🙄.  That said, it does make for a decent grovel and declaration of twu wuv at the end.  I also felt the pacing was a little off at times - like the author didn't fully stick the landing on some of the story's beats.  Desires are short (around 200 pages) and sometimes that necessitates shortcuts, like a jump in the timeline. These weren't horribly executed here, but they could have been better blended at times.

All that said, this was an enjoyable read that I started and finished before my bedtime. Desire as a line is dead (RIP) but I'll read more Lee.

Final Grade = B-

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Mini-Review: The Dead Girls Club

In a continuing (futile) bid to clean out neglected ARCs from my Kindle, I recently looked at the mystery and suspense titles I had languishing that I could, in turn, score audiobook copies of via work. First up in this project is The Dead Girls Club by Damien Angelica Walters, a suspense horror title from late 2019. 

In 1991, Heather Cole is a pretty typical pre-teen girl. She's got a best friend, Becca, and with two other girls, they form The Dead Girls Club. Like a lot of kids, they're a bit obsessed with the macabre - ghost stories, serial killers, Stephen King novels, things that go bump in the night. While there are four of them, Becca is the undisputed leader of the group, and has a love of ghost stories - which is how she starts telling the girls stories about The Red Lady, the spirit of a witch who was murdered centuries before. Heather knows these are just stories, until Becca starts acting weird, insisting The Red Lady is real.  And then, Becca ends up dead.

Thirty years later, Heather is a child psychologist, happily married, and has done everything to put that summer, Becca, and The Red Lady behind her. It's a secret she has buried deep, until one day a necklace arrives in the office mail. The other half of a Best Friends Forever necklace. The half that belonged to Becca. The half that Heather knows Becca was wearing the night she died because Heather was there.  Someone knows Heather's secret and is toying with her - but who?

Let's get this out of the way right up front - this sounds like a supernatural thriller with an unreliable narrator but...it's not. There's non-woo-woo explanations for everything, so just roll with it. Also, while Heather most definitely runs around halfcocked, calling her an unreliable narrator strains. Oh, don't get me wrong, she's Annoying AF - but she's mainly sloppy and stupid - not gorked out on pain meds and booze.

The first half of this book is really slow. The story goes back and forth in time - Annoying AF Heather in Present Day and Annoying AF Becca in 1991.  And by the end I felt bad for thinking either of them was Annoying AF, but there you have it.  It's a lot of Heather freaking out in present day and Becca telling scary stories in 1991. That's it.  I basically kept listening because I had to know what Heather's secret was and what really happened to Becca - especially once I figured out the whole "supernatural" thing was a bit of a red herring. 

However by around the 50-60% mark things really start to cook and I couldn't tear myself away.  I raced to the finish and then met my final quandary.  Yes, bad people are punished.  Just not all the bad people. The reader finds out what happened to Becca, but secrets get kept, the world keeps on turning, but justice for Becca?  At the end of the day? Only partly.

Final Grade = C+

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Like a Box of Chocolates: Unusual Historicals for February 2024

February always seems to be a bit of a "slump month" for me and this year that manifested in both reading and blogging. I've had a terrible case of the blahs.  Which is why this month's Unusual Historicals post is a little later than usual - I couldn't find the spoons to draft it up last weekend because I knew it was going to be long. Hey, it's a good problem to have but long blog post means Wendy has to find words, and words have been hard.  Luckily I seem to have adopted Azteclady to my unusual historical payroll, who has been doing a bang-up job on sending me suggestions as she comes across them - it's why these posts have been so robust of late. So if you've been enjoying these posts lately, raise a glass to AL who has been a tremendous help!

The Temple of Persephone by Isabella Kamal

Persephone Honeyfield is witty, intelligent, and very aware that the only way to escape the monotony of the life she shares with her father and sister in the English countryside—and the wagging, ever-critical tongues of the people around her—is through marriage. She also knows the likelihood of it being a love match is nearly zero.

Aidon Barrington has carried on the legacy of his family’s funeral furnishing business, losing himself in the process. A shell of his former charming self, he’s traded his reputation as a rake for that of a recluse and regularly appears in the scandal sheets as London’s mysterious Lord of the Dead.

When Persephone finds herself at Gallowsgate—the old Barrington estate—on a seemingly simple errand, an unexpected run-in with the Lord of the Dead himself leaves her on the brink of ruination. With no other way to silence the village rumor mill, or save her sister’s reputation, Persephone agrees to marry Aidon, becoming the wife of a man she hardly knows.

Persephone finds herself increasingly fascinated by her new husband, whose kind, patient nature stands in stark contrast to the ever-swirling rumors about him. But when the gossip begins to sound more like reality than fiction, she attempts to uncover the truth behind the Lord of the Dead while discovering she may have already lost her most guarded possession: her heart.

OMG, the hero is essentially a funeral director y'all! Go ahead, try to think of the last time you read that in a romance novel, let along a historical romance novel. Essentially the Persephone myth dropped in Regency England, this also happens to be the author's debut.


A Gentleman Never Tells by Jodi Ellen Malpas

Frank Melrose is on the cusp of taking his father's printing business global—the last thing he needs is the distraction of any woman, let alone the dazzling Taya Winters.

He's under pressure from the newspaper to unmask the mysterious highwayman causing havoc in Belmore Square, but his infuriating clashes with Taya keep slowing him down.

What's more, he's sure that the highwayman is right under their noses—and that exposing their identity will end not only his story, but ruin his family, too...


The second book in the author's Belmore Square series features a hero running the family's printing business whose work gets tangled up with the heroine. How much you want to bet she knows more about the mysterious highwayman than she's letting on?


Knight of Darkness by Sherry Ewing

Sometimes finding love can become our biggest weakness…

Wymar Norwood understands responsibility. His two brothers have been in his care since his parent’s death. With his title and lands stripped from him by the usurper Stephen, he aligns himself with the Empress Matilda, the rightful Queen of England. If he can win her favor and become her champion knight, he prays all will be returned to him.

Lady Ceridwen Ward of Norwich is out to prove not only to herself but the Empress that she is more than capable of protecting those she loves. She hides herself in the guise of a knight and follows along with her men to Lincoln to raise her sword for the Empress’s cause. But life can become complicated, especially after your identity is revealed.

::Kermit flailing:: ENGLAND DURING THE ANARCHY OMG! I'm hard-pressed to think of another medieval that mines this period in English history. A hero who lost everything and a heroine (a chick in pants story!) with something to prove. This also appears to be the first book in a series (I mean, the hero does have two brothers so...


In Want of a Viscount by Lorraine Heath

American Leonora Garrison has come to England in desperate search of investors to keep her family business afloat but instead finds surprising pleasure when she visits an exclusive ladies’ club and dares to kiss a stranger, who leaves her yearning for more.

With a libertine for a father, Viscount Wyeth, more commonly known as Rook, vowed to live his life above reproach, with nary a hint of disgrace. Until one night, he takes a mysterious beauty into his arms, a lady who tempts him to cast his sterling reputation aside in favor of more wicked pursuits.

When fate reunites the couple, they are torn between desire and duty. Leonora may want the viscount, but she needs a stakeholder not a lover. When caught in a compromising situation that places everything they hold dear at risk, they must determine how best to win. However, in this scandalous game, nothing except love takes all.

The third book in Heath's Chessmen series has a nice twist on the American heroine traveling to England - she's not looking for a titled husband, she's looking for a investor to save the family business. Adding a hero who is overcompensating to live down the sins of his father and I'm intrigued...


Margins of Love by Sara Adrien

When Feivel “Fave” Pearler, is the golden boy of the Ton, but the haute-couture jeweler has a secret. Rachel Newman, a debutante who dares to defy societal expectations for a chance at true love. Their spicy romance is a perilous journey of love against all odds, challenging the confines of their world. When a gossiping blackmailer puts their impossible hope for a future together in jeopardy, they both navigate the greed and scorn of the aristocracy. Read their story and find out how they find a way to sidestep fate and gain a chance at forever in this historical romance that captures your heart?


If all illustrated covers looked this one I wouldn't hate them so much. Someone make a note of that, will you?  Anyway, this is the first in Adrien's Infiltrating the Ton trilogy, and while I firmly believe that people are "neither genre nor trope" I want to point out the series features Jewish characters; although what makes this first book unusual is that the hero is a jeweler who, naturally, has a secret. Because what's a romance without some secrets?


The Return of His Caribbean Heiress by Lydia San Andres

An unforgettable first kiss 

An unexpected second chance… 

It’s been five years since the night Leandro Díaz kissed heiress Lucía Troncoso before she left for Europe. He’d known they were from different worlds and would have to part, yet losing her still hurt… Now she’s returned but Leo isn’t the man he once was. Hardened by life, he holds Lucía at a distance and refuses to give in to their reignited attraction. Until danger hits and they’re forced closer than ever before…  


Every month I look at the new Harlequin Historical offerings and every month I resolve to go on a binge of them through my TBR. Set in the early 20th century, San Andres' latest Caribbean-set historical features a reunion, cross-class romance.


The Husband Heist by Alyxandra Harvey

As a duke’s twin sister, Lady Summer is used to being both noticed and ignored---and she finally means to use it to her advantage.

First, she steals art from The Mayfair Art Collectors Society with none the wiser. Well, except for Eliot Howard, the Earl of Blackpool, a rakehell and the bane of her existence. But as the art she steals with her madcap friends rightfully belongs to Eliot’s aunt, Summer is certain he will not get in the way.

The trouble is, she has also accidentally stolen a list of women spies working for the Crown. Someone is using the art exhibit to pass messages about an auction to sell off the code that will reveal the names and put them all in danger. Summer is determined to protect them.

A heist gone wrong when the heroine steals from the wrong person and unwittingly stumbles across espionage. This is the third book in Harvey's Dainty Devils series featuring unconventional heroines. 


To Steal a Marquess by Maeve Greyson

Alec Douglas, Duke of Lionwraith, a war hero betrayed on the home front while he was away at battle, trusts no one and prefers his solitude. But when his sister begs for help because she is ruined, he vows to make the man responsible pay. When the vile rakehell proves impossible to find, Alec isn’t swayed. He can just as easily destroy his enemy with a subtler attack. The Marquess of Ardsmere’s business provides the best wines and rarest imports to the finest houses in all the realm—but by the time Alec is finished, West Belgium International will cease to exist.

But the despicable marquess can’t be the ruination of Alec’s sister, because the man does not exist. However, Lady Francis, better known as Frannie and sometimes as the Marchioness of Ardsmere, is quite real. Born in Belgium after a terrible accident killed her father, Frannie was introduced to the world as the family’s ward rather than an Ardsmere daughter, and a fake Ardsmere son was fabricated for her to marry to keep the wealth, lands, and privileges of the title away from a heartless cousin. The ruse has served quite well, but now some quarrelsome duke threatens everything because his lightskirt sister tossed her reputation to the wind and ridiculously named the pretend marquess responsible.

Frannie is not about to lose her lucrative empire or expose herself as a fraud. There’s naught to be done but assume her usual role as the imaginary marquess’s wife and put the deplorable duke in his place. However, when she meets Alec’s sweet, trusting sister, she can’t bring herself to finish the poor girl off or take down her handsome brother. Cursing her soft-heartedness, Frannie agrees to help Alec. Not just because he’s a tempting challenge she can’t resist, but also because his sister is kindness itself.

While tracking down the real foe responsible, Alec and Frannie come together in a complicated dance that not only risks riches and reputations but also their hearts. Frannie’s life of lies has always provided everything she needs—except love. What’s she to do when the man who steals her heart despises anything that isn’t true?

OK, I'll be honest - back cover blurbs that are long enough to be the novel tend to annoy me - but I'm still intrigued. This is the second book in Greyson's Sisterhood of Independent Ladies series and features a hero bent on avenging his sister's honor except for the minor detail that the man who did her dirty doesn't actually exist. He's a fabrication created so the heroine wouldn't lose everything after her father's death. Now the heroine is a quandary, her delicate house of cards about to topple.


Convenient Vows with a Viking by Lucy Morris and Sarah Rodi

Two Viking short stories

Two alliances at the altar!

In Her Bought Viking Husband by Lucy Morris, Orla strikes a deal with enslaved Jarl Hakon to protect her land. She’ll buy his freedom if the handsome warrior marries her! In Chosen as the Warrior's Wife by Sarah Rodi, at the emperor’s bride show, Viking Fiske must choose noblewoman Kassia to save her from an unhappy fate. But his new bride holds a secret that threatens their newfound desire…


What's better than one Viking? Well two Vikings of course! Every Morris book I've read so far I've enjoyed and Rodi is an author I still need to try.  Both of these stories sound great, so in the pile it goes!


The Lady of a Lyon by Linda Rae Sande

She's a former courtesan. He was once her favorite client. Will a conniving earl thwart a matchmaker's efforts to see them reunited?

Newly widowed viscountess and mother to a young boy, Annabelle reluctantly returns to London in the hopes of securing invitations to Society events. Although she’s more than able to run the Burwick viscountcy on behalf of her son, Benton is in need of a titled father to help him along in life. Worried someone will recognize her—she was one of the ladies of The Elegant Courtesan before Burwick made her his viscountess and took her off to his country estate—Annabelle soon realizes she can’t hide her identity when one of her former clients confronts her. Embarrassed and angered by his overtures, Annabelle decides to leave her fate in the hands of matchmaker Bessie Dove-Lyon.

As a lieutenant colonel in the British Army and the second son of an earl, Jeffrey never expected to inherit an earldom and have to marry. Now he's in a quandary. He’s in desperate need of funds, for the Year of No Summer has left the earldom’s coffers empty. When he spies his favorite flame-haired courtesan in a tailor’s shop with a young boy, Jeffrey doesn’t realize she’s become a respectable lady. His comment about her son is mistaken as an insult, and he fears he may have missed his opportunity with the woman he still finds irresistible.

Learning he can win a wealthy woman in a game of chance at The Lyon’s Den, Jeffrey agrees to the Black Widow of Whitehall’s matchmaking method.

When he discovers Annabelle is the prize, the stakes may be more than he can afford, for if she ends up in the arms of a man he trusts, his heart—and a friendship—will surely be broken.

A former courtesan who married well, now widowed, in need of a new titled husband to aid in her young son's development and a second son who suddenly finds himself inheriting the keys to the kingdom. Oh, and it just so happens that he was once her favorite client.  This is another entry in the larger "Lyon's Den" world and I am nothing but trash for heroines who have "reputations." 


The Hawk Laird by Susan King (Reprint)

When a haunting prophecy leads to revenge - will the truth lead to love?

From the moment Isobel of Aberlady sees the stranger emerge from the shadows to spirit her away from a besieged Scottish castle, she knows it is at the cost of her freedom—and his. Renowned for her visions, the lovely, isolated Isobel has been protected until the Scottish rebel takes her hostage for his own ends. Outlawed and unjustly accused of betraying his leader, falconer Sir James Lindsay needs his good name restored—and Lady Isobel, whose prophecy caused his undoing, is his only weapon.

Intending to exchange the valuable lady for another hostage, James takes Isobel deep into his forest lair. He does not count on finding an abandoned goshawk who needs his help—nor does he expect to fall in love with the beautiful prophetess. Amid treachery and hope, passion and betrayal, their love becomes the one shining light, a source of retribution, renewal, and finally destiny foretold—and forever ....

For us old farts who still read blogs (😂), King is one of the authors part of the long-running Word Wenches blog. This medieval is a reprint of her 1998 book Laird of the Wind that was published by  Penguin's long-running Topaz line. A heroine who has a vision of her own abduction and a falconer (!) hero desperate to clear his name. This sounds like my favorite kind of a medieval - one you can really sink your teeth into, swooning along the way.

Whew! Another robust month.  What Unusual Historicals are landing in your TBR this month?

Friday, February 23, 2024

Review: When Grumpy Met Sunshine

I have loved some of Charlotte Stein's erotic romance work. I would go so far as say she is one of the very few erotic romance writers out there that I will even bother to read anymore. Why? She writes passion. Not an endless series of kinks supposedly there to titillate - actual passion. The kind of soul-searing passion that has the reader gripping their Kindle and screaming "OMG WHEN ARE THEY GOING TO KISS ALREADY I CAN'T TAKE MUCH MORE OF THIS!!!!!!!"

Ahem

Which would make one think that I'd be super anxious to read her new contemporary romance, When Grumpy Met Sunshine the minute I scored an ARC many (many) months ago. Oh gentle blog reader, let me give you a peak inside Wendy's warped reader brain:

1) Apparently the hero of this book was inspired by the Roy Kent character on Ted Lasso. I refuse to get Apple TV (I realize I've sold my soul to Google but I have an deep-seated dislike for Apple), have never seen Ted Lasso, and have no idea if the hero in this book is remotely like Roy Kent. What I do know is I loathe when authors let "inspirational" tidbits like this slip. My mind immediately goes to fan-fiction and stays there.

2) It cannot be overstated how much I hate the illustrated cover trend on EVERY. SINGLE. CONTEMPORARY. ROMANCE. being published. Stein writes sexy. I KNOW she writes sexy.  This cover is about as sexy as my elderly grandmother's cotton dressing gown.

3) While I'm at it - I kind of hate the "grumpy sunshine" thing. Hey remember when we didn't have cute names for everything in the genre?  We just called this shit Opposites Attract.

Thanks, now get off my lawn.

Anyway, the book. Reviews for this one are all over the place. Readers seem to really be loving it or really not loving it. I was firmly set on dragging my feet and probably unearthing this ARC from my Kindle three years from now (as you do), but Azteclady told me to read it, so I moved it up the queue. 

And here I am - word vomiting all over my blog. You're welcome.

Alfie Harding is a grumpy ex-footballer (soccer for us Americans...) who is getting harassed into writing his memoirs.  For that he needs a ghostwriter, of which he's scared off a good many already with his surly, uncooperative attitude.  Finally, in a last ditch effort to get this thing done, the publisher brings in Mabel Willicker, cute as cotton candy fluff, There's bickering, there's a lot of romcom-style banter, and the partnership ends up sticking. She's needling him, getting him (ever so slowly) to open up, and some progress is being made - until this business relationship gets mistaken for a new romance and is splashed all over social media and the British tabloids. There's nothing for it, to extricate themselves from the misunderstanding, and to get the book done, they have to fake it.  That is until they make it - which boy howdy...

Stein has a very particular writing style that takes some getting used to. As much as I have loved some her work, I recognize this as a hurdle not everyone will clear - so I always tell readers to try a sample first. It'll save you time. 

This one kicks off with a lot of banter and a lot of romcom style shenanigans. Unfortunately, after a while, the banter doesn't seem to go anywhere. They're talking in circles. In fact they're talking without really saying a whole lot or worse still - not saying enough.  Stein teases the reader with some really interesting character backstory (both Alfie and Mabel had alcoholic fathers and grew up in working class neighborhoods) but none of it is explored with much depth.  Alfie carries the baggage of his reputation (a brawling, bruising footballer) while Mabel carries the sting of a thousand cuts of living in a fatphobic world.  Girls that look like Mabel do not date guys like Alfie.  This is all good stuff, stuff I could sink my teeth into and yet? Endless, endless banter. Just streams of it.  And for all the talking that these two do they decide to stop talking at the end to necessitate a third act break-up (that lasts a year!) and then we get THE WORLD'S LONGEST EPILOGUE where all the heartfelt emotion comes pouring out and we get the happy ending.

Look, I'm not a monster - this one managed to hit me in the feels in a few places. Even during the THE WORLD'S LONGEST EPILOGUE. But in the end it's the lack of emotional depth (I needed more of the backstory to really root for these two as a couple) and the pacing that held this back for me. The trademark Stein tension seemed muted here (probably because I needed more character backstory...) and the sex is all backloaded in the final third of the story. I wasn't anxious for them to "do it" because the tension was so thick, I was anxious for them to "do it" because I was hoping that maybe more emotional bits would rise to the surface.  They do - in THE WORLD'S LONGEST EPILOGUE but by that point I was ready to move on. Some good parts but I never got the whole.

Final Grade = C+

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

#TBRChallenge 2024: The Raven Prince

The Book: The Raven Prince by Elizabeth Hoyt

The Particulars: Historical romance (Georgian!), 2006, first in The Princes Trilogy, In Print

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Because everybody and their dead grandmother has read this book - except for, apparently, me. In fact, it's my first read by Hoyt ever. Look, I know. I can hear y'all screeching across cyberspace as I type this...

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Review: I have not been reading. And when I do try to pick up a book for some good ol' fashioned eyeball reading? I've been left feeling very meh about the whole experience. Part of it is me and part of it is the books.  That is until I dug The Raven Prince out of my TBR.  I didn't read this so much as inhale it in a matter of hours.

Anna Wren is a respectable young widow who lives in a respectable country cottage with her mother-in-law and an inept maid they hired to save her from the poorhouse. They've been muddling along alright since Peter's death, but the nest egg wasn't all that robust when he succumbed to a fever and now finances are getting tight.  Anna needs a job - the problem being that jobs are scarce for respectable young widows living in the country.

Edward de Raaf, the Earl of Swartingham, is the last of his line - scarred from a small pox epidemic that claimed his entire family as a child.  His first wife died in childbirth (the babe also perished) and it's past time for him to do his duty. He needs to remarry. He needs children. Certainly for the title, but also because deep down, Edward wants a family.  It's why he's back at Ravenhill Abbey, desperately hoping to recapture the sense of home he felt there as a child.  Instead all he's done is cement his reputation for having a bad temper and scaring off secretaries.  He's gone through two already, and he's ordered his estate manager to find him another in an obscenely short amount of time.

We all know where this is going. The estate manager is in a bind. Anna needs a job. Yes, it's highly unusual, borderline scandalous, to employ a mere female as a secretary, but she's a widow (no innocent miss) and frankly the estate manager has no desire to tell Edward he's failed in his mission.  After some minor spluttering and sparring, the arrangement is made. It also doesn't hurt that Anna is intelligent and the best damn secretary Edward has ever had.

I fell right into this story. Grumpy, growly Edward who has lost so much. A widowed Anna who spent her whole life doing the right thing only to end up with a husband who did-her-dirty prior to his death.  Working for Edward is just the first step in a series of choices she makes in this story that upends her perfectly respectable and boring life. What did doing "the right thing," "the expected thing," ever get her? She's done with that. She's going with her gut, and eventually her gut tells her she wants Edward.

One thing I've always heard about Hoyt is that she has a penchant for the Bananapants - and boy howdy, she does.  I loved the set-up but will admit my eyes crossed once we got to the brothel.  Yep, you guessed it! We get the heroine who hides her identity at an upscale London brothel so she can bang it out with the hero. They meet twice (!) and in Classic Dunderheaded Hero fashion, he has no clue who he is boning.  He went there to stop thinking about Anna, had the best damn sex of his life, and failed in his mission. Yep, still getting pants-feelings around Anna.  Then, of course, he figures it out some time later when they're back in the country.  And of course this all leads to a blackmail plot thread that leads to a duel (yes, a duel) in a brothel (yes, a brothel) at the end of the story 🤨

Oh, and did I mention the heroine believes she is barren because she was married for something like four years and never got pregnant?  But of course our hero has a Magic Wang - so just roll with it. 

(I'm actually more forgiving of this nonsense in historical romances because lack of modern medical understanding and all that).

Which makes it sound like I didn't like this book.  I did!  Did I mention I inhaled this in a matter of hours?  Also, there's even a delightful dog in this story - hence me finally reading it during Furry Friends theme month.  An agreeably affable (and giant!) wolfhound / mastiff mix that doesn't have a name until nearly halfway through when the heroine finally goads the hero into accepting one of her suggestions.

In the end, I rather enjoyed it. Some of the bananapants stuff was a bit out there, but I liked these characters, I liked them together, and the love scenes were suitably steamy.  I've already decided that I really need to do my best to plow through the rest of this series at some point this year.

Final Grade = B

Friday, February 16, 2024

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is February 21!

TBR Challenge 2024


Hey, so is it just me or does 2024 feel like it's been 6 months long already? Y'all I'm tired and Not. Reading. So here's hoping that the #TBRChallenge on Wednesday, February 21 will kick my butt into gear. This month's (always) optional theme is Furry Friends.

Another suggestion from the annual theme poll, this one is all about animals and/or pets who worm their way into our hearts as our couple are falling in love.  Not gonna lie, I had to leverage looking at some GoodReads lists to see what I could dig out of my dormant print TBR.

That being said, remember that the themes are completely optional. 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 is certainly not too late to join the Challenge (to be honest it's never too late).  You can get more details and get links to the current list of participants on the #TBRChallenge 2024 Information Page

Saturday, February 3, 2024

Library Loot Review: Only Say Good Things

I don't watch reality TV. Just the concepts of easily 99% of it I find off-putting and gross. So it's not terribly shocking that I never watched The Girls Next Door, a reality series about Playboy founder Hugh Hefner and his bevy of blonde girlfriends who lived at his mansion.  Why anyone would want to watch a show about an old man parading around with blonde models who could have been his grand-daughters - sorry y'all, didn't get the appeal. 

Which probably begs the question - why was I drawn to reading Only Say Good Things: Surviving Playboy and Finding Myself by Crystal Hefner? She joined the series towards the end of it's run and was married to Hefner the last five years of his life. I'm never entirely sure what draws me to some celebrity biographies over others, but in this case I think I was hoping for some honesty - and boy howdy, that's what I got.

Crystal Harris was a lost 21-year-old woman when, on the urging of a friend, she submitted a photo to Playboy. This photo scored her an invite to the annual Halloween party at the Playboy mansion. It was at that party that Hugh Hefner spotted her in the crowd of beautiful young women and beckoned her to join him behind the velvet rope with him and his harem of girlfriends.  She spent the weekend at the mansion and a couple weeks later when Hefner called - she moved in permanently.

If you want to be flippant about it, this is a book about a young woman, adrift, who thinks she's found her Golden Ticket, only to get more and more lost once she's inside the mansion.  And what's inside that mansion wasn't shocking to me, Harris simply confirms it.  Hefner is a narcissistic misogynist trying to keep up the appearance that he's "The Man." He's a lonely, sad man obsessed with his legacy with no idea what love really is, although Harris suspects he secretly wants it. The mansion itself is frozen in time, largely unchanged from the 1970s, almost like Hefner is trying to stop time from moving forward.  And in what is surely the world's most perfect metaphor? It's discovered after Harris falls desperately ill that the mansion is riddled with black mold.

If 2023 was the year of Britney Spears' memoir, 2024 should be the year of Crystal Hefner's.  In one important way these two women are very much alike - they're people pleasers. Even as Crystal was feeling trapped, the idea that she should could open her mouth, say no, pack up and leave - these thoughts didn't occur to her. She eventually does leave, becoming Hefner's highly publicized "runaway bride" - only to gaslight herself into going back and eventually marrying him.  And this is where the book gets interesting because Harris, bless her heart, cares for Hefner in a way that a young person would care for an aging relative. She becomes protective of him and his legacy. She's outraged to realize that instead of storing various gifts and memorabilia per Hefner's instructions - the storage units were empty. Trusted employees had been ripping him off.  This man was not good for Crystal, honestly I can't imagine he was good to any woman ever, but towards the end she was loyal, she took care of him, and upon his death she kept the party line to "only say good things."  She fell into protecting and preserving his legacy. She was lost when she met him and she was just as lost (if not more so) after he died.  Hence this book appearing seven years after his death.  Honestly I think it took her that long to even start unpacking all her baggage and the impression I get after finishing this book? She's still unpacking.

Crystal Hefner has lived a life that will mean she has her fair share of detractors. Those who can't believe she allowed herself to traipse into the situations that she did. Those who think she's a gold-digger. And certainly those who think she's on a money grab now, seven years after his death, overturning the various ugly rocks littering the garden that is Hugh Hefner's legacy.  I don't see any of that. I finished this book believing that Crystal wrote it because she needed to. Not only for herself, but for all the young women out there just as lost as she was. That finally, with some time and perspective, she was ready to fling the doors off the literal hinges. That this was her story, her legacy, and she was going to scatter it out into the open to let the winds carry it away.  I think Crystal Hefner is on her way to finding out who Crystal Harris truly is, and I wish her nothing but the best.

Final Grade = A