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

Monday, May 20, 2024

Carb Loading: Unusual Historicals for May 2024

I'm going to keep this introduction short and sweet. Have you carb loaded? Hydrated? Limbered up? Well if not I suggest you do because this month's Unusual Historicals post features 15 titles. No, I did not stutter. 1-5.  See you at the finish line Romancelandia!

Unladylike Rules of Attraction by Amita Murray

Anya Marleigh is a singer and sitar player in Queen Charlotte’s court. She is left a fortune by Dowager Countess Budleigh, one of her elderly clients who used to hire her for musical evenings. But there is a condition attached. Anya must marry before her next birthday if she wants to see any of the fortune. The executor of the will is an insufferably conceited man who must consent to her marriage—if he doesn’t give his consent, the fortune reverts to him.

But Damian Ashton is only part of the problem. The Budleigh family see Anya as a usurper. They believe the fortune is rightfully theirs, and they will do all in their power—including accusing Anya of murder and Damian of some dubious and criminal dealings—to get their hands on the fortune. Now Anya must do everything she can to thwart their efforts, save herself from the gallows, and at the same time, resist the powerful attraction she feels towards Damian—who surely is only interested in keeping the Budleigh money.

Can Anya sort out the tangle—or must she lose her heart to find her fortune?   

The second book in The Marleigh Sisters series features a musician heroine in Queen Charlotte's court being left a windfall in an elderly client's will - and since this is Regency England y'all know there's a catch - namely a hero who has to approve of any marriage she makes and her benefactor's back-biting vile family. Mo' money, mo' problems AMIRITE?!

You Should Be So Lucky by Cat Sebastian

The 1960 baseball season is shaping up to be the worst year of Eddie O’Leary’s life. He can’t manage to hit the ball, his new teammates hate him, he’s living out of a suitcase, and he’s homesick. When the team’s owner orders him to give a bunch of interviews to some snobby reporter, he’s ready to call it quits. He can barely manage to behave himself for the length of a game, let alone an entire season. But he’s already on thin ice, so he has no choice but to agree.

Mark Bailey is not a sports reporter. He writes for the arts page, and these days he’s barely even managing to do that much. He’s had a rough year and just wants to be left alone in his too-empty apartment, mourning a partner he’d never been able to be public about. The last thing he needs is to spend a season writing about New York’s obnoxious new shortstop in a stunt to get the struggling newspaper more readers.

Isolated together within the crush of an anonymous city, these two lonely souls orbit each other as they slowly give in to the inevitable gravity of their attraction. But Mark has vowed that he’ll never be someone’s secret ever again, and Eddie can’t be out as a professional athlete. It’s just them against the world, and they’ll both have to decide if that’s enough.

1960s era baseball and make it queer. This is the kind of high stakes conflict I feel is lacking in a good many romances these days and here's hoping the author gets the baseball stuff right or else my head is going to explode.

The Prince's Bride by Charis Michaels

Lady Marianne “Ryan” Daventry was betrothed to an obscure French prince when she was just a baby. Years later, the young prince entered exile and was never heard from again. Lady Ryan considers the betrothal off; she can hardly marry a dead man. Now another French royal has inherited the princedom and he claims the old betrothal still stands—with himself as the bridegroom. Rather than fight the cruel new prince, Lady Ryan sets out to reveal him as an imposter. She needs only to locate the original lost prince and prove he’s still alive.

Prince Gabriel d’Orleans is still living, but he’s very difficult to find. He goes by the name of Gabriel Reign and lives in the forest, working as a horse trainer for wealthy clients. He’s hardly a pauper, but he’s also not a prince. His life in the woods conceals his true identity and keeps him safe—but also alone.

Using an old childhood letter as her only guide, Lady Ryan sets out for Savernake Forest to find the missing prince. When danger thrusts them together unexpectedly, Lady Ryan is shocked at his rustic life and his commitment to his new identity. More shocking is her fierce attraction to the rugged horseman. Meanwhile, Gabriel never planned to be discovered and he certainly never planned on falling in love. But passion has a way of upending the most careful of plans, and even the strictest boundaries are no match for a love story that is meant to be.

A heroine betrothed to an exiled French prince nearly at birth has to find the man or else she's doomed to walk down the aisle with his odious usurper. One small problem, the exiled prince isn't all that keen to be found nor step into his old life.

The Marquess's Year to Wed by Paulia Belgado

A convenient marriage…

an inconvenient passion

Notorious rake the Marquess of Ashbrooke has a deadline. One year to marry and sire an heir or lose his title and wealth. But luck is on Ash’s side! The vexing and alluring mathematician Violet Avery must also wed to save her family from ruin. The disintegration of his parents’ marriage means Ash believes only a convenient marriage is practical. Until passion ignites, and he’s left to decide if he should risk his heart or his fortune…

A rake hero being forced to wed or lose it all strikes a bargain with our heroine, a mathematician!, who also finds herself under the "you must marry or your family will be ruined" gun.  He's determined to keep the marriage strictly convenient - which means he's obviously never read a single romance in his entire life 🤣

A Gamble at Sunset by Vanessa Riley

Georgina Wilcox, a wallflower with hidden musical talents, is furious when her reclusive older sister—the recently widowed Viscountess—refuses sorely needed help from the Duke of Torrance, the only gentleman who has shown kindness to the bereft Wilcox sisters. Georgina decides to get back at her sister and shock the Viscountess by kissing the first willing stranger she meets in the enchanting gardens of Anya House. Unfortunately, her sister is not the sole witness. A group of reporters and the ton’s leading gossips catch Georgina in a passionate embrace with a reticent composer, Lord Mark Sebastian.

The third son of an influential marquis, the tongue-tied Mark is determined to keep the scandal from ruining Georgina’s reputation and his own prospects of winning the celebrated Harlbert’s Prize for music. Under the guise of private voice lessons, the two embark on a daring gamble to fool the ton into believing that their feigned courtship is honorable while bolstering Georgina’s singing genius to captivate potential suitors. Sexist cartoons, family rivalries, and an upcoming ball test the fake couple’s resolve. Will their sudden fiery collaboration—and growing attraction—prove there’s nothing false about a first kiss and scandalously irresistible temptation?

The premise of Riley's new Betting Against the Duke series is certainly different. A Duke discovers the love of his life was tricked into marrying someone else. She's now widowed and in an attempt to win her back he promises to secure husbands for her two sisters. Our musically talented heroine has definite feelings about this and ends up hitching her wagon to the composer hero to limit the collateral damage to their plans and reputations.

A Viscount for the Egyptian Princess by Heba Helmy

An unforgettable meeting in Paris

An unexpected reunion in Egypt

Viscount Louis Wesley is captivated by the beautiful woman he meets at the Louvre. He never expects to see her again, but then he arrives in Egypt for his royal best friend’s wedding and discovers she’s the bride, Princess Mervat! Learning it’s a convenient match that both intend to avoid, Louis vows to help. The stakes may be high, but Louis’s biggest challenge will be resisting falling for the princess himself!

Helmy's second stand-alone romance for Harlequin Historical features a hero captivated by a woman he meets at the Louvre, only to discover she's his BFF's intended bride! It's a marriage neither bride nor groom are keen for and naturally our hero is happy to help.

His Fiery Angel by Cynthia Wright

Proudly going her own way

Camille St. Briac cares nothing for her own natural beauty, nor is she interested in the London ton. Instead, she bravely fights to save innocent birds from feather thieves who would kill them to decorate fashionable women’s hats.

Escaping from his past

Brooding, rakish ornithologist Benedict Hawke travels the world in search of new species of birds... and the farther that takes him from England and his unforgivable father, the better.

But Pa’s sudden illness forces Benedict to abandon a dream expedition and return to Cornwall. When feather hunters invade the cliffs near his cottage, Benedict clashes with Camille, a fiery crusader for the beleaguered gulls called kittiwakes. Although she mistakenly believes he is one of the villains, neither can deny their combustible, mutual attraction... and the harder they struggle against it, the hotter it flares!

A heroine wanting to save birds from extinction thanks to a silly fashion fad spars with an ornithologist hero forced back to Cornwall by an unforgiving father who has fallen to a sudden illness. Sparks, naturally, fly.

From her rescuer…

…To her husband?

When a braying mob attacks her home in the night, heiress Annis Flemming seeks shelter with her enigmatic neighbor Sir Bennet Thorne. With her life at risk, Ben escorts her to safety at Henry VIII’s Hatfield House. Though they grow closer on the journey, Annis’s distrust of men makes her wary, and Ben still grieves for his late wife. But when they realize the threat has followed them, there’s only one means of true protection—marriage!
Marriage of convenience in Tudor England!  A heroine in danger finds protection from her closest neighbor, a man still mourning the death of his late wife.

The newly titled Earl of Castlebury, Crawford is under a lot of stress. New title responsibilities, pressure from his mother to find a suitable wife, his late father’s shipping empire to run. The last thing he needs is a feisty female pretending to be a deal porter down at his shipyard. She’s obviously in hiding for a reason, and try as he might, he cannot refuse his attraction for the spirited brunette. Soon he can’t keep his hands off her, either, even knowing he can never offer the common born beauty a future. He can offer her his body, his passion, and his patronage . . . but never his title or his heart.

Heiress to an ancient dukedom, Sadie Crisp is in hiding from her awful Cousin Archibald, who wants her dead rather than married, so that he can keep her fortune for himself. Disguised as a young male deal porter at the docklands, all is smooth sailing until the new owner of the Castlebury’s shipyard appears. Everything she’s ever wanted, Crawford ignites her passion and sets new hope aflame. Yet she cannot dare tell him of her deepest secret for risk of discovery. And she dare not love him for risk of her heart.

A newly titled hero who must marry a respectable wife falls for a woman masquerading as a man and working as a deal porter in his shipyard. Naturally she's an heiress hiding from a vile relation. There's a neighborhood in Romancelandia devoted to Chick in Pants stories and this one sounds just bananapants enough to intrigue me.

He’s her protector

She’s his forbidden temptation!

Sir Leopold’s first mission is supposed to be a chance to prove his valor. But tasked with safely escorting Lady Arianwen to her husband-to-be, Leo finds he is little but a glorified bodyguard. Only, the seemingly simple mission goes awry when Ari proves that she’s willing to do anything to get away from her impending nuptials. As attraction sparks between them, can Leo choose knightly duty over love and deliver Ari to her wedding?
The first book in a new trilogy by Matthews featuring "the King's trusted knights." Our hero, determined to prove himself on his first mission is basically tasked with glorified bodyguard duty to our heroine who he's taking to her pending nuptials. Slight problem with that - she's willing to do just about anything to escape the impending marriage. 

After two years of widowhood, Felicia Maitland, nee Vale, is ready to take on the world at cards and to indulge in a discreet romantic liaison. In short, she attends the Blackhaven Assembly Ball looking for fun – and she finds it.

When the dazzling and gifted Felicia offers Bernard Muir partnership in her scheme to fleece the man who beggared her late husband, he is swept into her adventures and falls wildly in love. Determinedly, he sets out to win her heart.

But Felicia will not play for keeps. Never again will she submit to the authority of a husband – not even Bernard, who intrigues her, laughs with her, and excites her as no one else ever has.

They make a rare and dangerous team. But can they stay together long enough to defeat the cheat who robbed her husband and now threatens Bernard’s family?

The fourth book in the One Night in Blackhaven series features a heroine looking for revenge taking on our hero as a partner, and like a dope he falls head over heels. Naturally our card-sharp heroine isn't all that anxious to rush down the altar for a second time. 

Sir Theobald Norwood finds himself embroiled in a mission of loyalty and love as he stands by Empress Matilda in her pursuit of the throne. As he and her army head to Winchester, he stumbles upon a mysterious woman named Mistress Ingrid Seymour, hiding in the woods with her own quest in mind. What starts as a test of her worthiness quickly transforms into a profound connection.

As they join forces on the battlefield, Theobald and Ingrid face not only the challenges of war but also the enemies lurking in the shadows. Ingrid's identity is called into question, shaking the very foundation of her existence, while Theobald grapples with his own emotions. Amidst confusion, they must find a way to let love blossom and unite their hearts.

But with forces working against them, will Theobald and Ingrid be torn apart by the unpredictable tides of fate? Can they overcome their differences and trust one another, or will the mounting chaos consume their chances at happiness?

This second book in a medieval series set in England during The Anarchy and features a hero fighting in Empress Matilda's army who has his life upended when he meets a mysterious woman, the heroine, hiding in a forest. 

Adam Seymour, Duke of Gilroyd, make a vow and he’s not going to break it. Probably.

After all, when he made that vow never to marry, it was in the depths of grief. Losing his wife so suddenly had never been the plan—and so throwing himself into serving the Crown was the obvious choice to forget the pain.

Which was easy, until Mr. Smee forced a new partner on him: Yates.

And not a Mr. Yates, either. No, the woman with the striking blonde hair and mischievous way with knives couldn’t be described as a Mr. Yates…

Dottie Yates isn’t wholly enamoured with Adam either, but she needs a man to pretend to be her husband. Preferably one with good connections. A duke will do.

Thrust into a fake marriage, spying in Brighton, and misunderstandings that threaten to reveal secrets of their past, neither Adam nor Dottie are ready to give up hunting down the Glasshand Gang—or the traitor who is apparently in their midst.

But as tensions heat and passions rise, it’s easy to forget spies, traitors, and vows when faced with growing love. A love that could end their growing friendship—and their mission.

Part of the long-running Dukes in Danger series features a spymaster hero taking on a new partner, a mere female, who needs a man to pretend to be her husband, preferably one with good connections. I mean, a guess a Duke will do? 

As a powerful Highland chief, Alex MacKinloch bears the responsibility of his clan—but he doesn’t know how to heal the invisible wounds of his marriage. He loves his wife, but over the years, they have drifted apart.

After a heart-wrenching loss, Laren finds solace in making stained glass, a secret she has kept from everyone. Her painful shyness makes it difficult for her to be lady of the clan, and she struggles to find her own strength.

But Alex is determined to bridge the distance between them and rekindle the love they once shared . . . even if it means seducing her back into his bed!

Another self-published reprint from Willingham that was first published by Harlequin Historical in 2011, this second book in the author's MacKinloch Clan series is a Marriage in Trouble romance featuring a heroine who is a stained glass artist.

He is London's most notorious rogue.

Richard Grey is renowned for his escapades in the bedchamber. But he's hidden the truth for years: that wicked reputation is a public front to hide his political machinations.

She is a politician's daughter.

Anne Sheffield's life is dictated at the whims of her domineering father. Considered an asset for her remarkable memory, Anne is privy to top-secret intelligence – so he's determined to keep her close. Desperate to escape, she presents Richard with a trade: help her seduce a husband of her choosing in exchange for political secrets.

Love and scandal are a dangerous combination.

As Anne learns Richard's scandalous ways, she finds herself on the verge of losing her heart. And as it turns out, sharing secrets can lead to dangerous consequences…
The listing on this series is kind of a mess, but, in short, originally self-published in 2018-ish, they've been picked up by Bloomsbury who has repackaged all four titles, of which this is number four.  He's a rogue up to political shenanigans and she's a politician's daughter under the thumb of her domineering father. I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

Whew! Rehydrate, stretch, maybe take a cool shower. You just ran the Unusual Historicals 5K! What books are you looking forward to reading?

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

#TBRChallenge 2024: Runabout

The Book: Runabout by Pamela Morsi

The Particulars: Early 20th Century Historical Romance, 1994, Berkley Jove, Book 2 in series, Self-published reprint 2019

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I've got 3 books by Morsi in my keeper stash (Simple Jess, Courting Miss Hattie and Wild Oats) so needless to say I have others by her peppered throughout my TBR.

Spoilers Ahoy!

The Review:  This book was originally published in 1994 and I started to consistently read romance in 1999.  This is another fine example of a book I would have LOVED (all the heart-eye emojis) had I read it as a Baby Neophyte Romance Reader.  The problem is that I'm now in my Jaded Sea Hag Romance Reader era and folks, there's just too much problematic 1990s BS in this story that I could not overlook, even with Morsi slathering on her consistently charming world-building.

This is a sequel to an earlier book, Wild Oats (which I loved!) and takes place a decade later. Our hero, Luther Briggs, is the son of Cora Briggs' (the heroine of Wild Oats) ex-husband and some of the characters in the earlier book put in an appearance here.  I do think this story stands alone fairly well, but I also think I got a bit more out of it being familiar with the first book.

Dead Dog, Oklahoma is now Prattville and the latest hot topic of gossip is the preacher's daughter, Tulsa May Bruder who has been jilted by Dr. Odie Foote. An old maid of 24, this was seen as Tulsy's last hope for her dream of marriage and children given her carrot-colored hair and slight gap in her front teeth. She's not hideous or anything, but pretty? No. Tulsy's pride is hurt and being the subject of gossip breaks her heart, much like her currently broken Buick Model G Runabout that she got from her BFF, Luther Briggs.  In fact she's on her way to church, her first Sunday service since "the jilting" when she babies the Runabout into Luther's bicycle and automotive repair shop. Childhood friends since his odious grandmother turned him and his brother away after their parents' deaths, Luther wants to help Tulsy and hits upon an idea. What if they pretend to be courting? That will direct talk away from her being jilted by Moldy Odie and once the town gossips find something else to talk about, they can quietly "break up" with Tulsa May doing the "breaking."

This is a pretty straight forward friends-to-lovers set-up and follows the well-worn path that romance readers have come to know and love about this trope.  Two friends who have already "caught feelings" beyond friendship but just don't know it yet.  Add in Morsi's homespun charm, the dynamite country small town world building, and this should have been a surefire success for me.  So what went wrong?

The problem is this book features three romances, Luther and Tulsa May, Doc Odie and Emma Dix (local fallen woman), Arthel (Luther's brother) and Maybelle Penny (the prettiest girl in town and daughter of the town's head gossip), and each romance features a trash human being.

When the book opens Luther is in bed with Emma, who he has been "seeing" for a while. But then his BFF Tulsy shows up, he proposes his plan (while Emma is WAITING IN HIS BED mind you), we're off to the races and....he never sees or says another word to Emma ever again. He just ghosts her. Emma got into a spot of trouble when she was younger, running off with a married man (who she didn't know was married). She only came back to Prattville to care for her sickly father, whom adores her (and she him). Luther is the handsomest man in town, owns his own business, and she had hopes that their "good times" would lead to more.  Much hay is made that Luther never made her any promises, that he told her he wasn't ready to marry yada yada yada.  But you know what?

I DON'T CARE!  I know it takes two to tango but I still think Luther is trash in this scenario.

Eventually Emma enters into Doc Odie's orbit, since he's the town doctor and her father is sick.  Odie takes a shine to Emma (because she's so good to her father, I guess?), confronts Luther about his shabby treatment of her, and gets his shabby treatment of Tulsy thrown back in his face. I mean, Luther has a point. Two trash men, two romances, same book.

Finally, there's Maybelle who used to have a powerful crush on Arthel. He crushed her feelings for him when they were younger, and now both at 18, they have a very adversarial relationship.  Part of the back-story in this duology, and the reason that Luther and Arthel were never received by their grandmother after their parents' death is because they are part-Cherokee. Their father (the ex-husband from Wild Oats) fell in love with their Cherokee mother, creating quite the scandal. Luther strongly resembles his father but Arthel has prominent Cherokee features.  Since their falling out years before, pretty spoiled Maybelle now calls Arthel names like "Geronimo" and "Chochise."  Instead of finding this problematic or, I don't know, racist as hell, Arthel isn't bothered by it and instead seeks out ways to ruffle Maybelle's feathers as a schoolboy would with his first crush. 

My print copy clocks in at 295 pages, which means none of these romances gets a ton of room to breath and grow, but the Emma/Odie and Maybelle/Arthel romances are very lightly sketched. I can't see either marriage working because all I know about Emma and Odie is that he admires her for taking care of her sick father and that Maybelle's idea of an endearment is racism.  Then there's Luther, who I'm supposed to think is some great guy and he'll do right by Tulsy, but we never see him owning up to his past mistakes and behavior with Emma, nor do he and Tulsy have any kind of conversation about his past dalliances. (There's a scene later in the book where Tulsy hears innuendos about Luther and Emma but she's so sunny and naïve that it's not entirely clear if she puts two and two together, which means no confrontation scene other than Emma getting a "suitor" who nearly rapes her afterward to beat the tar out of Luther. Sorry not sorry, I couldn't help thinking he deserved the beating). 

When I picked this book for the With a Little Help from My Friends TBR prompt I had high hopes.  I tend to love Morsi's brand of homespun Americana, but the fact that Arthel nearly gets lynched towards the end (the only thing that saves the menfolk from tracking him down is Tulsy deflecting the drama away from Arthel to her and Luther) kills a lot of the charm. Historically accurate? Absolutely. What I want to necessarily read in a book where the tone is shooting for charming homespun Americana? Yeah, no. 

I'm torn on the final grade. The mob mentality that uncomfortably felt like a brewing lynching at the end meant I could no longer justify a B- grade even if I softened my opinion on the three trash characters. However, this also wasn't as bad as a D grade for me. There's still some Morsi charm here but I'm sorry, fair or not, I just expect more. For all those reasons...

Final Grade = C-

Friday, May 10, 2024

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is May 15

TBR Challenge 2024

Broken record time. I was out of town with family when April's reminder post went up, and the same thing is happening in May. By the time this post goes live hopefully I'll have actually managed to pick out my read and oh, maybe read it while traveling. Hope springs eternal because I seem to be a slump right now. Sigh.  Here's hoping I land on something great to read while I'm trapped on an airplane because our next #TBRChallenge Day is set for Wednesday, May 15. This month's optional theme is With a Little Help From My Friends.

This is another suggestion that came out of my Annual Theme Poll, so put your thinking caps on to decide how you're going to spin this one.  A few options that came to my mind include a book that features friendships, a book that's part of a series featuring a group of friends, the Friends To Lovers trope, or maybe a book recommended to you by a friend.

However if you feel like this month's theme is too much like work 😂, 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

Sunday, May 5, 2024

Review: Crazy About Her Impossible Boss

I picked out Crazy About Her Impossible Boss by Ally Blake as my next "eyeball reading" book over a month ago and after that? It sat. This isn't the fault of the book, the same thing would have happened regardless of the title I unearthed from the depths of my Kindle.  Most of my reading slumps post-dumpster fire 2020 take the form of not wanting to all. I just won't have the spoons.  And the only way I can ever get out of these slumps is either by 1) listening to something amazing on audiobook (which hasn't been happening lately) or 2) biting the bullet and just forcing myself to read. Category romance is great for this "forced reading" slump breaking method because when good, they're quick, snappy reads that hit the beats and carry me through. For the most part that's what this book did, because I did finish it in a day.

I don't refer to my romance reading, in general, as my "guilty pleasure" for "reasons" (I've never really cared for the term because it implies we should feel "guilty" about reading romance, like it's some dirty secret to keep hidden...).  However, if I did have a "guilty pleasure" in romance it would definitely be the Boss/Secretary Trope. In real life it's an HR disaster with very messy power dynamics, but what can I say? There's something about it that flips the escapist switch in my brain. I blame all the soap operas I watched as a kid.

Lucinda Starling is a single mom with a problem: she's caught feelings for her boss. Truth be told though, she loves working for Angus Wolfe, a marketing whiz who specializes in branding (and rebranding for businesses in need of a makeover). However, he's firmly commitment-phobic - having been raised by a single mom who chased after a series of boyfriends in a desperate bid to escape poverty and find some stability. Lucinda realizes though that pining for her boss, putting herself on the shelf, is robbing her of any hope of finding some genuine happiness.  She's currently dating a very successful doctor (a surgeon!) and this weekend they have plans to get away.  Just the two of them. If the weekend goes well, if the spark is truly there, Lucinda is ready to take the next big step, introducing the doctor to her son.

Angus also has feelings for Lucinda but he's not admitting that to himself, despite an "almost kiss" at last year's office Christmas party, because....well, he's a romance hero.  Then he finds out that Lucinda is planning a weekend away with some guy that he didn't know she was seeing and he subconsciously turns devious.  They're working on a big campaign at the moment to rebrand and revitalize a legendary cosmetics firm. And wouldn't you know it? There's a cosmetics/beauty convention going on at the resort Lucinda and Dr. What's-His-Name will be at that very weekend.  Angus lowers the boom, tells Lucinda he needs her for work, and Dr. What's-His-Name easily tells her "no problem, we'll do it some other time."  

At this point Lucinda's pride is smarting. Her son's father all too easily just up and left her (and their kid!) and now the guy she was thinking could be someone to build a life with is all too happy to hand wave away their weekend getaway. She knows there's no future with Angus, even if he adores her kid and makes her go all gooey inside. She needs to move on, wants to move on, and here's our "hero" standing in her way.

That's ultimately my issue with this story. Angus is too much of a coward to admit he has feelings for his assistant and instead sabotages her life. There's also this really uncomfortable undercurrent of him wanting to "protect" Lucinda's kid - when, in fact, Lucinda is nothing (at all!) like his mother. It's presumptuous in the extreme. 

There's a fair amount of emotional backstory info-dumping in the early chapters, but there's plenty of tension and banter to keep the story humming along. However, after a while, I was exhausted by the couple's inability to man up and just admit their feelings for each other. Even after they do the fade-to-black mattress mambo, both of them just keep assuming with neither of them being brave enough to just lay their cards out on the table. Eventually, of course, they get there and cue the requisite syrupy epilogue of once commitment-phobe Angus coaching his stepson's soccer team.

In the end this was a sometimes pleasant, sometimes frustrating read. However it did move quickly and I inhaled it in 24 hours after a solid month of not eyeball-reading anything. So on that score? A success.

Final Grade = C+

Saturday, April 27, 2024

Review: One Day You'll Burn

I know. I promise one day I'll get back to blogging about romance, but the problem right now seems to be having no spoons for eyeball-reading. This means my continued Clean Out Old Suspense ARCs via Library Audiobook Loans is what's keeping this blog afloat in new content. Latest on the hit parade is One Day You'll Burn by Joseph Schneider, a debut back in 2020 and the first in a series featuring former history doctoral candidate turned LAPD homicide detective, Tully Jarsdel. 

Tully made detective in record time thanks to his book smarts, something that rankles some of his fellow officers in the small, elite Hollywood Homicide division.  He's still finding his way when he and his seasoned partner, Morales, catch a weird one.  A burned corpse found at the base of a sacred statue in Thai Town. Turns out though the corpse wasn't burned - he was baked.  And their only witness is an Oxy addict who isn't eager to share what paltry details he does know. With politicians and departmental brass breathing down their necks, the case soon takes them to the seedy tourist trap that is Hollywood Boulevard.

I'm glad I decided to listen to this one because had I tried to eyeball read the buried ARC I had I either would have 1) skimmed large chunks or 2) given up.  You've got Tully's Pretentious AF parents who had their child's life mapped out for him before he was even born, so when he breaks off his basically arranged engagement and leaves behind academia to become a cop, they're both kind of assholes about it.  And because his two dads (yes, they're gay) are academics and Tully is a recovering academic, the author takes the reader down more than a few lecturing, pontificating rabbit holes that bog down the pacing and frankly are only there to beef up the word count.  I know this because the author beefs up the word count further by having not just one, but two cases for our hero to work on.  The second one is a serial cold case of someone poisoning couples' dogs on their wedding days.

The poisoned dogs case gives Tully a love interest, who is just as pretentious as he is (she's some sort of professional organizer because this is Los Angeles and of course she is) and hand to God readers get regaled with a "it's OK I'm on the pill and clean" first sex scene.  At least we're spared a surprise pregnancy - although I can't speak to Book 2.  Further proof that this nonsense can happen anywhere, not just in the romance genre.

What does work about this book is the world-building. It's quintessential LA right down to all the pretentiousness and seedy edges you'd expect. I also liked Tully's partner, Morales - a fairly stereotypical cop character who at first resents (that might be too strong a word though?) his new partner for jumping ahead so quickly up the promotional ladder, but who eventually warms up to him.

For all the pontificating and pseudo-intellectualism (have I mentioned I found most of the characters pretentious?), the ending careens into straight-up schlocky horror movie territory.  Honestly it's a little jarring and doesn't entirely fit the story that preceded it, but in a strange way it kind of works and kept me glued to my earbuds.  I'm not entirely sure if I'll read the next two books in the series but I'm a little tempted since Book 3 takes place on Catalina Island. Maybe once I wrap up this current listening project.

Oh, and they catch the dog murderer.

Final Grade = C

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Ranty McRanty Review: That Dangerous Energy

I picked up That Dangerous Energy by Aya de Leon based on my enjoyment of one of her previous books, A Spy in the Struggle. Like that previous reading experience, this more recent release is a genre bender, blending social commentary in a romantic thriller format. Unfortunately unlike the previous book I found this one extremely heavy-handed with all the subtlety of a chainsaw.

Morgan Faraday is grabbing every opportunity she can to pull herself up out of a family legacy of abusive partners, young single motherhood, and poverty. If that means figuring out ways to keep her Oil Tycoon Billionaire Boyfriend happy (OK, his name is Sebastian Reid), by God she'll do it. She's been getting good advice from her BFF who is working her way towards early retirement by being a Sugar Baby, and Sebastian seems hooked.  Then she meets Kevin Templeton, who from here on out I will call Crunchy Granola Climate Change Activist.

Crunchy Granola Climate Change Activist and Morgan spark right away, but she dismisses the attraction because she's hoping to keep her hooks into Oil Tycoon Billionaire Boyfriend. Then Crunchy Granola finds out that Morgan is dating Oil Tycoon, gets all butthurt and tells her her hoped-to-be-future hubby is EEEEEEEVVVVVIIIIIIIILLLLLLL!

So what makes Oil Tycoon Billionaire Boyfriend evil exactly? Well...

  1. He inherited and is running his father's oil company
  2. Greenwashing (I guess? His investments in wind and solar are legit so....)
  3. Lobbying

Wow. So evil. Also, not illegal. 

Eventually some slapdash racketeering charges are thrown in to give readers some ultra-cheesy and laughably bad courtroom drama at the end, but up until the 90% mark I just wasn't seeing it. As far as thriller villains go this guy doesn't even make the Time 100.

Because a hot man has come into her life, and at his urging (so gross), the heroine decides to spy on Oil Tycoon Billionaire Boyfriend because golly, she believes in the cause! Power to the people y'all! That is until she has a fight with Oil Tycoon Billionaire Boyfriend, he leaks out some tears and she inexplicably has a change of heart and thinks she can "change him." Like, WUT?!  He holds all the power in your relationship and you can change him? Sure Jan.

Look, I knew what I was getting when I picked up this book. The author infuses her books with current social commentary (Climate Change, Black Lives Matter, etc. etc.) but a feminist manifesto this most certainly is not. What we have here is a heroine whose sole identity is wrapped up around men - whether it's bagging the Oil Tycoon Billionaire Boyfriend to escape the poverty cycle or Crunchy Granola Climate Change Activist because he sure is dreamy and she hits the land speed record for believing in his cause. On top of this? The social commentary is akin to an Acme anvil falling from the sky and drilling Wile E. Coyote into the desert sand. It's a bunch of buzzwords and slogans with no real meat behind them. It's all Fossil Fuels Bad, Climate Change Bad. There's no depth. There's no nuance. It's like getting beat upside the head with a baseball bat for nearly 300 pages.

Then, predictably, the author comes for the romance genre and I officially lost the last of my f*cks. Hand to God, as we're barreling towards the conclusion Crunchy Granola Climate Change Activist's lawyer takes a jab at romance novels for romanticizing billionaires and whitewashing how terrible real-life billionaires are. Look, does the romance genre romanticize billionaires? Yes. Do I know a single romance reader who confuses Bezos, Musk or Facebook Boy for romance novel heroes? Absolutely not. Maybe give women a little credit for having the ability to separate fantasy from reality.  Although I've already established how decidedly unfeminist this book is so....

(Seriously, I'll read a billionaire romance hero all day long but am just as likely to punch one in the face if the opportunity ever presents itself.  I contain multitudes.)

Other than chuckling a couple of times at some truth bombs there was nothing here that worked for me. I walked into this book knowing I was going to get political commentary and that said commentary would lean fairly far to the left. That's not my problem (at all) with this book. It's the lack of nuance. It's the lack of depth. It's a heroine who I frankly don't like all that much because she lacks an identity outside of the men in her life. The author tries to combat this by including flashbacks to her family's history and including the heroine's artistic passion for textile art (quilting). Spoiler Alert: It's nowhere near enough. 

Final Grade = D-

Monday, April 22, 2024

Spring Has Sprung: Unusual Historicals for April 2024

Looking at this month's crop of unusual historical offerings it's safe to say spring has sprung in Romancelandia!  This bumper crop of 12 books is actually whittled down, if you can believe it. I know the rage the last few years has been contemporary romance, all of them slapped with interchangeable cartoon covers (don't at me, y'all know I'm right) but these unusual historical posts always give me a bit of hope every month that maybe the dearth of interest in historical romance in this moment is greatly exaggerated. Now sit back, relax and feast your eyes...

The Lady He Lost by Faye Delacour

Her only interest is in making her own way in the world. Luckily, he can help.

Lieutenant Eli Williams was supposed to be dead. In the two years since his shipwreck, his friends and family mourned him, his brother spent his savings, and his fiancée married someone else. So, when he turns up in the middle of the London social season, he quickly becomes the talk of the town. All Eli wants is to set his life back in order and reconnect with Jane Bishop, a friend who has always meant so much more to him, before returning to sea.

Jane refuses to waste any more of her life pining over Eli, who chose her cousin instead of her. She needs to focus on gaining her financial independence by establishing a ladies' gambling club. Never mind that Eli keeps trying to atone for his past mistake by bringing in new members. He's obviously keeping secrets about his disappearance, which means that she can't trust him with her heart even if she did kiss him in a moment of weakness. Or three.

As Eli works to regain her trust, Jane's defensive walls begin to crumble. But when Eli faces a court of inquiry on suspicion of desertion, Jane must decide if she can let go of the past to build a future with Eli, or risk losing him for good.

A debut and the first in The Lucky Ladies of London series features a presumed dead hero who returns in the middle of the whirl of the London Season to discover everyone has moved on - including the woman he always considered a friend. That friend is our heroine, who is working to establish a ladies' gambling club and she apparently has no interest is getting stuck back in the hero's Friend Zone.

Wake Me Most Wickedly by Felicia Grossman

Solomon Weiss has little interest in power, but to repay the half-brother who raised him, he pursues money, influence, and now—a respectable wife. That is, until outcast Hannah Moses saves his life, and Sol finds himself helplessly drawn to the beautiful pawnshop owner.  

Forever tainted by her parents' crimes, Hannah sees only a villain when she looks in the mirror—no one a prince would choose. To survive, she must care for herself, even if that means illegally hunting down whatever her clients wish. So, no matter how fair or charming she finds Sol, he belongs to a world far too distant from her own.   

Only neither can resist their desires, and each meeting weakens Hannah’s resolve to stay away. But when Hannah discovers a shocking betrayal in Sol’s inner circle, can she convince him to trust her? Or will fear and doubt poison their love for good? 

The second book in Grossman's Once Upon the East End series features a pawnshop owner heroine and a riff on the Snow White fairy tale. I found the first book in this series a little uneven, but I was so taken in by the worldbuilding I knew I'd pick up this one (which, hello, already have...)

Alliance with the Notorious Lord by Bronwyn Scott

Mixing business…

…with rakish pleasure!

Recently widowed Antonia Lytton-Popplewell is determined to carve her place in a man’s world. Yet turning a ramshackle property in London into a world-class department store isn’t easy. Especially when her inheritance comes with strings in the form of her late husband’s business partner, infuriatingly attractive Lord Cullen Allardyce. To ensure success, Antonia needs Cullen’s guidance. But her alliance with society’s most notorious rebel becomes even more complicated when begrudging respect turns into mutual desire…   

The second book Scott's Enterprising Widows series features another widowed heroine who lost her husband in the 1852 Homfirth Flood.  Determined to open her own department store in London, she finds herself saddled with her late husband's business partner, our hero, who is not only attractive (naturally) but also a bit of a maverick.

The Orchids of Ashthorne Hall by Rebecca Anderson

For years, rumors have flown through the village of Suttonsbury about Ashthorne Hall—that its occupants hoard pirate treasure, that a ghost walks its halls—but botanist Hyacinth Bell only cares about the estate's extensive, one-of-a-kind orchid collection. As an independent woman, she is eager to focus on her career, even if it means waiting to pursue a romantic relationship. After all, love—like an orchid—must be nurtured and tended before it can bloom.

What she doesn't expect is to be swept away by Lucas Harding, the manor's caretaker, upon their first meeting. He is handsome and charming, and the connection between the two is nearly instantaneous. Hyacinth is certain this autumn will be the season that everything good in her life takes root

But then strange things start happening in the seemingly empty halls of the estate: unexplainable noises, items appearing then disappearing from her room, threatening messages, and glimpses of a woman in white who vanishes into the dark. Lucas dismisses Hyacinth's worries, insisting that there is no ghost at Ashthorne Hall, but she suspects he is withholding information and decides to investigate the mystery herself.

Armed with little more than her instincts and her courage, Hyacinth must venture deep into the shadows of Ashthorne Hall to uncover the truth Lucas is keeping secret before she herself falls victim to the dangers hidden in the estate.

A botanist heroine, a caretaker hero, an estate in Cornwall shrouded in rumors and mystery - folks, it's textbook Gothic and I am HERE for it. 

The Lady Plays with Fire by Susanna Craig

As the daughter of a clergyman, Julia Addison knows she’ll never be able to fulfill her lifelong dream of acting on the stage. But writing forthright reviews of the Season’s most popular plays for Mrs. Goode’s Magazine for Misses, popularly known as Goode’s Guide to Misconduct is surely the next best thing. Even better, she’s got a ticket to Ransom Blackadder’s latest irritating satire about English society. Best of all, she’s sharing a theater box with the gruff but handsome Lord Dunstane, which is enough to make Julia call for an encore . . .

Graham McKay, the Earl of Dunstane, rarely leaves his home in the Scottish Highlands. Why would he? Nothing about London has ever held his interest—until he meets Julia. But when Graham realizes she is the critic who panned his last play—and she discovers he is in fact the man behind Blackadder’s wicked pen—will it bring down the curtain on their romance—not to mention the magazine that published the humiliating review? Or can an unexpected collaboration set the stage for a scandalous love affair?

The second book in Craig's Goode's Guide to Misconduct has our daughter of a clergyman penning theater reviews for a ladies' magazine and running afoul of an Earl whose last play she panned. Unfortunately for both of them feelings are caught before true identities are revealed - who said love isn't complicated?

A Perfect Match by Margaux Thorne

Marriage and babies are the farthest things from Miss Myfanwy Wright’s mind. Cricket is her one and only love, which is why she created the Single Ladies’ Cricket Club. A club where like-minded single women can bond together over sport; it is a sanctuary for those who don’t wish to spend endless hours gossiping over tea and needlepoint or compromise their interest with a husband’s.

But after three straight years of losing to the Matron’s Club, Myfanwy’s team is showing signs of collapse. And the fact that her best friend might be next in line to get married—and desert the club—is too much to bear.

If Myfanwy’s going to beat the Matrons and save her team, she will have to find a coach who can lead the Single Ladies to victory. Luckily, she doesn’t have to search far. Her guardian is one of the best cricketers to ever play the game. Unfortunately, he can only see out of one eye, walks with a limp, is drunk half the day, and is the most disagreeable—and handsome—man she’s ever met …

Ex-cricketer, Samuel Everett is resting on his laurels. Injury might have taken him out of the game he loved, but he is a rich man now who can retire into a quiet life of mini-celebrity. He is done with the crowds, done with the constant traveling and living on the road. Cricket might have been his life; however, that life is now over.

But when Myfanwy nags him into coaching her little club, Samuel finds that old habits die hard. And the more time he spends with the talented team—and Myfanwy—the more he realizes that there is still some fight left in him. With Myfanwy’s help, Samuel rehabilitates his mind and body, gaining a fresh perspective on what he still has to offer the sport—and his opinionated, obstinate, gorgeous ward.

Banding together Myfanwy and Samuel butt heads and hearts as they prepare the club for victory. But as the match with the Matrons draws near and their love grows, Myfanwy faces the ultimate conundrum. As team captain of the Single Ladies’ Cricket Club, she made the rules, and she knows them better than anyone—there’s no room for married women.

Lord help me A LADIES' CRICKET CLUB?!?!??!  I once had a college professor try to explain cricket to me and I was so hopelessly lost that I'm half convinced that's why the sport isn't seen more in romances - but hot damn, I'm willing to learn. A LADIES' CRICKET CLUB Y'ALL!!!!!

A Lyon to Die For by E.L. Johnson

Crossed in love and sent to London for almost ruining her reputation, Emmeline is the only female proprietor in an exclusive row of London shops whose owners aren’t the most welcoming. But with a sharp tongue and fiery temper, Emmeline can deal with her unfriendly neighbors, even Mr. Horatio Whittaker, an arrogant, reserved, opinionated young man with fixed opinions and cold manners.

Horatio Whittaker has given up on happiness. Abandoned at the altar for his scheming best friend, he never expected to find love again. He hardly notices women until he crosses paths with Miss Emmeline Harcourt.

Emmeline hopes to never encounter Mr. Whittaker again, but when she accepts an invitation to the Lyon’s Den, they find themselves at the heart of a mystery, entangled with Horatio’s former fiancée and deceitful best friend.

From false accusations, rumored affairs, and even a deadly party game, Emmeline and Horatio must work together to prove their innocence and find the culprit. Pretending they are courting should make investigating easier, so long as they don’t fall in love.

Part of the extended Lyon's Den universe, a betrayed hero who has sworn off women and a shop owner heroine with a "reputation" get swept up in a mystery.  I am nothing but a sucker for heroines with a reputation and grumpy heroes with valid reasons for being grumpy.  Bring it on.

The Sailor Without a Sweetheart by Katherine Grant

Six years ago, Amy Lamplugh decided not to elope with Nate Preston. Ever since, she has been working hard to convince herself she was right to choose her family over Nate.

Now, Nate is back. After an illustrious career as a naval captain, he faces a court martial for disobeying orders while fighting the slave trade. He accepts an invitation to await the trial at a country estate outside of Portsmouth - and discovers he is suddenly neighbors with Amy.

Nate is shocked to find that Amy didn’t end up marrying someone rich and titled. Instead, she is a glorified companion to her younger sister - and is clearly battling some unnamed illness.

Thrown together by circumstances outside their control, Nate and Amy try to be friends. Soon, it becomes clear that their feelings for each other never died.

This fourth book in The Prestons series features a naval captain hero on trial for following his conscience and defying orders being reunited with the heroine who refused to elope with him years earlier. A reunion romance against a compelling backdrop of uncertainty (will the hero hang or will they live happily ever after?) 

The Wrath of the Marquess by Barbara Russell

An earthquake brings Cora and Ethan close. Literally.

They find themselves trapped together under an altar in a half-collapsed church. With nothing better to do but wait for the rescue party to free them, they form a bond of friendship and shared secrets.

She endures a loveless marriage with her abusive husband, Lord Roxbury, who mistreats and neglects her and their son, David. Ethan, a soldier and the next Marquess of Hertford, is about to be deployed to a Pacific island to fight against pirates.

Cora and Ethan meet again a few years later after he returns to London to keep open the centre for veterans his father founded. Not an easy task since he needs Lord Roxbury’s support for legal reasons.

When Cora tries to leave her husband to start a new life and protect her son, he shoots her. Desperate to help his mama and scared, David takes Cora to Ethan’s house and begs him to save her.

Ethan hides them in his house and takes care of Cora’s injury. Helping Cora leave England and hiding her from Lord Roxbury proves to be a challenge for Ethan. The future of dozens of soldiers, who suffer from permanent physical and mental problems, depends on his good relationship with Lord Roxbury.

On top of that, he didn’t expect to develop strong feelings for both Cora and David. As they carve their places into his heart, he has to decide which path is the worst. If he helps Cora and David move somewhere Lord Roxbury won’t find them, he won’t see them again. But if Cora gets a divorce, Lord Roxbury will take his revenge on Ethan, destroying everything important to him. Including Cora.

This third book in the author's Victorian Outcasts series features a heroine trapped in an abusive marriage being reunited with a hero who needs her odious husband's support to help the country's veterans. Things get complicated when the heroine tries to leave said husband...

A Duke a Day Keeps the Doctor Away by Emily EK Murdoch

Moses Warwick, Duke of Chetnole, is not going to allow a literal stab in the back to slow him down. Getting robbed and left for dead? That might do it.

Thankfully, someone finds him, drags him to their cottage, and tends to his wounds. When Moses comes round, he wants to thank the doctor who so expertly cared for him. That was when the woman he knew as Jenny Powell revealed that she was a doctor.

Unable to call her such a ridiculous title, and trapped by his lost memory in her cottage until it returns, Moses struggles against his growing admiration for the woman who surprises time and again. But Jenny can’t have this stranger in her home forever. She’s hiding a secret no one has been told for three years—a secret that will change the way Moses looks at her.

Good thing she gave him a good slap the first time he stole a kiss…right?

With traitors in France on one hand, mistrust of a woman doctor on the other, and fierce attraction growing between the two unlikely friends, will a duke each day manage to keep away from this delightful doctor?

Part of the author's long-running Dukes in Danger series, a Duke left for dead is saved by our doctor heroine, and if we can read between the lines of the back cover blurb, unsurprisingly behaves like a jackass that a mere woman saved his life 🙄.  That said, I have this sick fascination for reading about heroes like this having their notions about "womanhood" challenged and of course I'm now intrigued by the heroine's "secret." Oh, and traitors in France you say?

The Swan Laird by Susan King (Reprint)

Scottish-born Sir Gawain Avenel, raised in England and pledged to the English king, keeps his Highland origins secret when sent north to rout Scottish rebels. Saving a Highland girl from drowning, he recognizes her years later as a Scottish captive in the English court. In a cruel jest, the king orders Gawain to marry her and command her Highland castle as a warning to rebels.

Juliana Lindsay risks her life each time she disguises as a legendary swan maiden to lead the English enemy away from rebels. Captured and forced to marry a mysterious English knight and relinquish her castle, she recognizes her rescuer–who now poses danger. Drawn back to the rebellion, Juliana begins to trust Gawain–yet as love grows passionately between them, he must guard his secrets or lose all.

The hero is reunited with the Scottish heroine when the King orders him to marry the rebel and take over her Highland castle. Originally published under Penguin's Signet imprint in 2001 with the title, The Swan Maiden, this reprint features newly added content.

The Madness of Miss Grey by Julia Bennet (Reprint)

Everyone thinks Helen Grey is mad but, despite ten years imprisoned in a crumbling Yorkshire asylum, she’s managed to cling to sanity. When a new doctor arrives, she sees an opportunity. William Carter may seem like an honorable man but she's sure he'll prove easy to seduce…and trick into helping her escape.

Will would never bed a patient, no matter how tempting she might be. But once he realises Helen's been imprisoned for no good reason, he's determined to save her. They need to work together but freeing her won’t be easy, not when her mysterious benefactor is determined to keep her locked up and hidden from society forever.

When Helen is entangled in her own trap and begins to fall for Will too, she must fight not only for her liberty but for her right to love.

Originally published in 2019 by Entangled (with a clinch cover), this Gothic romance features a presumed "mad" heroine (whose only illness is probably having a mind of her own 🙄) finding in an ally in the hero who she was planning to seduce in her bid for freedom. I somehow missed this one back in 2019 and bland illustrated cover aside (come for the unusual historicals, stay for Wendy hating on illustrated covers....) this sounds great.  

Whew! That was a lot. Here's hoping we all find something delicious to read among this bountiful crop of unusual historicals.  What are you looking forward to reading?