Wednesday, July 21, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: The Secret Wife

The Book: The Secret Wife by Carrie Weaver

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Book 1 in duet, Harlequin SuperRomance #1274, 2005, out of print, available digitally

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a SuperRomance (I loved that line before Harlequin killed it) and the back cover blurb intrigued.  Other than that, I got nothing. While I have autobuy authors in my Harlequin TBR it's also chock-full of impulse grabs from conferences, used bookstores etc.

The Review: So it turns out that I read the second book in this duet for the 2012 TBR Challenge, a little factoid I had completely forgotten about until GoodReads reminded me. How time flies...and the memory fades.  Both books were published in 2005 - so it's only taken me 16 years to complete the series. Go Team Wendy!

Maggie McGuire is desperate. Her religious family disowned her when she moved in with Eric and even though they're married, they put the cart before the horse when son David was born. Eric is a race car driver working the circuit and Maggie is pinching pennies to raise their son and stay in school (to become a mortician - she has ambition to be a funeral home director some day....).  Worse still, Eric has been incommunicado. So Maggie does something rash - she packs her close-to-death Toyota and drives from Arizona to Arkansas with little David in tow. She's going to confront (OK, reunite) with Eric at a planned family reunion.

This book is honestly worth reading for the moment when Maggie charges into the family reunion.  Of course Eric isn't there (he's at the race track).  Instead it's his grandmother Edna, his half-brother, J.D. and....wait for it....Eric's wife, Nancy.  Yeah.  Turns out Eric is a bigamist.

J.D. is a fixer. He's not a McGuire by blood. His father died young and his mother ended up marrying Edna's son.  Eric was a product of that union.  For complicated reasons J.D. has been cleaning up after Eric since the kid was old enough to cause trouble.  Maggie isn't the first Other Woman to show up.  But she's so not Eric's usual type and she seems so....honest.  All J.D. knows is he has to defuse the situation until they can bring Eric to heel and sort out the mess.  Too bad Eric is found murdered before he can be confronted with his crimes.  Naturally Maggie is a prime suspect.

While there is a suspense thread moving the story forward, I wouldn't necessarily categorize this as  romantic suspense.  The focus on the crime isn't as dominant as the focus on the internal character baggage and the fallout of Eric's bigamy.  While Maggie was definitely na├»ve, falling for a silver-tongued devil, you can understand how it happened given her upbringing and past.  Nancy kind of gets the shaft early on in the story, but eventually the author brings her on page a bit more during the second half to pave the way for her future romance.

This story features a lot of things that can annoy me in contemporary romance, but somehow Weaver makes it work.  It's definitely a Biology Above All story - with J.D. feeling "less than" because he's "not a true McGuire."  Edna helped raise him, but she never reassures him, nor does she allow him to forget that Eric is the golden boy - never mind he's a colossal screw-up.  Honestly where Weaver dropped the ball a bit for me was the lack of scorched Earth on the part of J.D., Nancy and Maggie when it comes to Eric.  I get that being murdered is pretty final and the ultimate punishment but they were still way too forgiving in my opinion.  I'd be digging up his body to murder him all over again - but that's me.

Also, David is, of course, a miracle baby.  The question of paternity comes into play because it was believed Eric could not, medically speaking, father a child. As the reader, of course, we know Eric is the Daddy. Like, it's never a question. Maggie doesn't have it in her to lie about something like that!  Certainly it's a different spin on the typical Miracle Baby nonsense (it doesn't involve the perceived inability of the hero or heroine) but it's still a frackin' Miracle Baby.

The suspense thread is pretty decent until Weaver makes the mistake of tipping her hand too early.  As the reader we know Maggie and J.D. are innocent - so that leaves the list of suspects to about 3 people, or a random jilted lover / irate husband/boyfriend to do the deed.  But once that hand is tipped?  It's all over.  It was up to the romance to keep me invested - which, for the most part, it does.  Maggie grows a lot during this story, having had the wool pulled from her eyes, and having to reluctantly accept charity from J.D. with her pride in tatters. She's hung-up on making everyone see she's a good mother stemming from a niece who landed in the social services system and a troubled older sister who committed suicide.  This aspect of her past definitely could have been fleshed out more and feels more like a prop to explain Maggie's reaction to drama that comes into play later in the story than anything else.  J.D. has a White Knight Complex, but he's a good guy at heart who wants to do the right thing, and is conflicted over his attraction to Maggie.

It's been a while since I've unearthed a SuperRomance from my stash and while this one wasn't great, it was a good, solid read that kept me entertained.  I'm even half-tempted to go back and reread Nancy's story....

Final Grade = B-

Monday, July 19, 2021

Beat the Heat: Unusual Historical Highlights for July 2021

Somehow it's mid-July and I'm recently back from a trip to my home state where I saw my parents for the first time in two years and my sisters since January 2020 (a trip to Napa to celebrate my older sister's 50th birthday was the last hurrah before COVID shut us all down). The universe told me I really needed this time off when my work laptop decided to brick itself (a Windows loading failure!) and on the day this post will go live I'll be extremely busy back at the office (June and July are the literal worst for me at The Day Job).  I foresee a lot of caffeine and collapsing in my bed every night in my very near future.  But let's not think about work now. Let's focus on some unusual historicals landing on shelves this month!  Here's what is catching my eye for July:
Devil in Disguise by Lisa Kleypas 

“The devil never tries to make people do the wrong thing by scaring them. He does it by tempting them.” 

Lady Merritt Sterling, a strong-willed young widow who’s running her late husband’s shipping company, knows London society is dying to catch her in a scandal. So far, she’s been too smart to provide them with one. But then she meets Keir MacRae, a rough-and-rugged Scottish whisky distiller, and all her sensible plans vanish like smoke. They couldn’t be more different, but their attraction is powerful, raw and irresistible. 

From the moment Keir MacRae arrives in London, he has two goals. One: don’t fall in love with the dazzling Lady Merritt Sterling. Two: avoid being killed. 

So far, neither of those is going well. 

Keir doesn’t know why someone wants him dead until fate reveals the secret of his mysterious past. His world is thrown into upheaval, and the only one he trusts is Merritt. 

Their passion blazes with an intensity Merritt has never known before, making her long for the one thing she can’t have from Keir MacRae: forever. As danger draws closer, she’ll do whatever it takes to save the man she loves . . . even knowing he might be the devil in disguise. 

I have not kept up with Kleypas' Ravenels series, but this blurb ticks a lot of boxes for me.  A heroine running a shipping company and a rough around the edges outsider hero who owns a distillery!  An inconvenient attraction and a hero that someone wants dead.  I notoriously will skip around when it comes to romance series - do I care that this is book 7 and I've only read book 1?  No. No I do not.

A seduction that could ruin everything... 

Hanna Zaydan has fought to become London’s finest bonesetter, but her darkly appealing new patient threatens to destroy everything she’s worked so hard for. The daughter of Arab merchants is slowly seduced by the former soldier — even though she’s smart enough to know Griff is after more than he’ll reveal. Whatever it is, the bonesetter’s growing desire for the man just might tempt her to give it to him. 

An attraction that cannot be denied... 

Rumors that he killed his own parents have followed Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, practically since he was a boy. More than a decade after the tragedy, Griff receives a tip about his parents’ killer… one that takes him straight to a captivating bonesetter. Griff is convinced Hanna is a fraud, but the dark-eyed beauty stirs deep feelings in him that he thought had perished along with his family. 

Hanna has a gift for fixing fractured people, but can she also mend a broken heart? More importantly, will Griff let her?

So here's the thing about unusual historicals: if you want to see more of them you need to take chances. They won't all be winners.  Among the corner of Romancelandia I follow I saw mixed reviews for the first book in this series, but Quincy (and Avon's editorial team) drop a lot of Wendy catnip in this back cover blurb.  The heroine is a bonesetter! Oh sure, the hero is a Viscount, but he's a former soldier determined to find his parents' killer.  This one is already locked and loaded on my Kindle.

Together they could help thousands of people, if only they can trust each other. 

Philanthropist Priya Howick isn’t the same person she was before WWI. Only one thing remains true—she has always been defined by her relationship with her brother. Ashwin is the heir to both Lord Dalhinge, and the Carlingford shipbuilding fortune, and that makes her a natural target for those who wish to have the family wealth for themselves. She’s been taught to be wary of outsiders and their motives, which means all her friends are from her family’s close circle. Once, before the war, she stepped outside those boundaries, and met Rosalie, a beautiful older woman. But what happened next only proved her family correct. Now the war is over and Priya has created a charity to build houses for war widows, but her brother sets it up as a joint venture with the bank, Sanderson and Sons. She has to work with Rosalie, and the same sparks fly. Priya must decide if she is brave enough to risk everything. Not just her money and therefore her independence, but also her heart. 

Assertive bank manager Rosalie Sanderson is the only damned serious person in her family. She’s forty-two, the manager of Sanderson and Sons bank, and tired of having to continually prove that she is capable of making a profit and running the family business successfully. Very few people accept her as she is, and it stings that young Priya Howick is one of them. They had one incredible evening together before the war, and then it went sour for no apparent reason, and Priya has been distant in their few business meetings. The rejection shouldn’t nag at her like this, like rubbing salt in a papercut. All the old wounds and passions need to be confronted when Priya arrives at the bank with an incredible work proposal. Rosalie must decide if the opportunity to help thousands of people is worth the heart ache of being close to Priya again. 

A heroine who can never trust that people like her for her (and not the fortune she's destined to inherit) is reunited with a one night stand (an older woman!) who turns out to be a bank manager.  Post WWI was an extremely interesting time for women, and Dahlia continues to mine that with this third book in her Great War series.

She must choose… 
…her queen—or love! 

As the queen’s new lady-in-waiting, Mathilde Gosselin tumbles straight into Parisian palace intrigue when she meets courtier Henry Wright, who she discovers is a spy! Mathilde’s loyalties are now divided—between this enigmatic, courageous man and her queen. And amid the turmoil, her falling for the unsuitable, illegitimate Henry means they’ve no choice but to hide their new love from the world… 

This new medieval from Fletcher appears to be a stand-alone and this back cover blurb hits on a lot of elements that draw me towards medievals.  Namely, the question of divided loyalties and courtly intrigue - both of which got a lot of people very dead back in the day. It adds tension and ups the stakes to any romance set among that kind of backdrop.  As an added bonus, this one is set in Paris!

From courtesan …to society wife? 

When Evander, Earl of Westix, returns from the continent to claim his bride, he is shocked that the innocent vicar’s daughter he once loved has become a notorious courtesan. But Lottie is so much more than the insult society hurls at her. She is resourceful and strong—after all, she’s had to be to survive. Her charms are undeniable, but her heart is beyond his grasp. To win it will mean taking her from bedroom to ballroom… 

Be still my heart! An Earl coming home to finally marry the girl next door discovers she's become a notorious courtesan. I've got a thing for strong heroines bent on survival and if they thumb their nose at society along the way?  All the better.

Her second chance 

With her lost love… 

To avoid a forced marriage, Lady Gwenllian plans to escape to a convent. She couldn’t possibly honor another when her heart still belongs to Ralph de Kinnerton, the man she had to betray to save his life—only to hear of his death shortly after. So how is it possible he’s here at this knight’s tournament? Now the pull of their unfinished past forces Gwen to question the choice she’d made for her future…

Another series I'm officially behind on. I enjoyed the first book in Oliver's Notorious Knights series and here we are already on Book #3. Another medieval (yeah!) featuring a heroine who betrayed the hero in order to save his life only to find out later he was killed.  Um, except apparently he wasn't.  A heroine who runs away from the convent and a mess of unfinished romantic business sounds delicious.

Whew!  Another solid month for unusual historicals this month. What are you looking forward to reading?

Friday, July 16, 2021

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is July 21

Hey, hey - it's that time again! Time for the monthly #TBRChallenge!  Whether you are participating or just following along, #TBRChallenge Day is Wednesday, July 21. This month's (always optional) theme is Secrets and Lies.

This is a new theme for the Challenge, suggested by someone when I ran a poll late last year.  On the surface this may seem like a difficult theme to unearth from the TBR - but honestly? How many romances are out there that feature a character either keeping a secret and/or lying - be it a huge whopper, a little white lie or by omission?

But remember, the themes are always optional.  If the thought of scrutinizing your TBR to find a book that fits this theme is more bandwidth than can currently be mustered - hey, no problem!  The goal of this challenge is always to pull something, any book!, out of your neglected TBR pile.

To learn more about the challenge and links to the participants blogs, check out the 2021 TBR Challenge Information Page.

Wednesday, July 7, 2021

Review: Runner

I discovered Tracy Clark's Cass Raines series as 2020 gave way to 2021 and was immediately hooked on the smart, savvy, competent as hell, former Chicago police officer turned private eye. I caught the series early, which means after plowing through the first three books I had to wait for book four, Runner, like a regular chump.  Well, it's finally here and it was a riveting read.

It's shortly after Thanksgiving and the Chicago weather has turned bitter cold. Winter is here and Cass is paying the price for most of this book. You can tell Clark knows Chicago. She nails the weather.  Anyway, Cass is seeking shelter in that most Chicago of places - a White Castle. Certainly the sliders are a draw but she's also there to meet a perspective client.  Leesa Evans is a recovering addict looking for her missing daughter, Ramona.  Ramona is 15-years-old and in the foster care system. By all accounts she was in a good situation, living with a former actress, Deloris Poole, who was giving the girl structure, and slowly getting her to open up.  And then one day, poof! Ramona runs away. No word, no warning, in the dead of winter.  The cops are on the case, but Leesa doesn't trust the cops. She wants someone working for her - which is where Cass comes in.  Cass hears the words "15-year-old girl" and knows she'll be taking on Leesa as a client.

What follows is Cass covering a lot of ground and backtracking through territory that the police have already covered (to start at any rate). But it's definitely odd. For one thing the lead detective on the case is downright cooperative and is fine with a PI sniffing around. Given the previous three books in this series, Cass finds that odd (she's used to rubbing Chicago's finest in all the wrong ways, never mind she used to be one of them).  Ramona has zero friends and didn't seem to confide in a single person, anywhere and she's not part of the city's social services system. Ramona is in foster care through a private organization. Cass talks to the obvious players, hits a lot of dead ends, but eventually hits pay dirt when she uncovers a lead through Ramona's part-time job.  Unfortunately that lead brings up more questions than answers.

Clark rounds out her story by populating it with the many "found family" secondary characters that have been introduced over the course of the series.  The police detective she's been dating wants her to finally meet his teenage daughter (it goes about as well as you'd expect), the childhood friends, a nun who helps her with the case by introducing her to some street kids, the ex-con turned short order cook who is hiding something (plot bunny for Book #5!) and the local diner where Cass regularly eats has a new waitress who has her out-of-sorts (Cass doesn't do well with change).  

The mystery is engaging and solid and Cass continues to be a dynamite character, smart and savvy. Series, at a certain point, can be tricky to write - needing to engage both newcomers and fans alike, but this book stands alone very well, and won't lose newcomers despite being book #4. Clark also avoids info-dumping that would cause an already-fan's eyes to glaze over.

Clark has won an award named after Sue Grafton, and for readers who loved the "feel" of the Kinsey Millhone series, you need to drop your life and try this series.  The recurring cast of secondary characters, the strong neighborhood feel of the setting, the competent as hell female PI - this series hits all those beats.  Clark is definitely my favorite author discovery in recent memory and I am ready for another book tomorrow.  Instead, like a chump, I patiently wait.

Final Grade = B+

Monday, July 5, 2021

Review: A Song of Secrets

Sometimes a book falls into my lap by happenstance, which was the case for A Song of Secrets by Robyn Chalmers. Billed as a "sweet Regency," this debut, self-published novel finalled in two categories for RWA's inaugural Vivian Award (Best First Novel and Best Historical Mid-Length).  It's not a perfect read but like any good debut novel there's quite a bit on the page that excited me. To the point where I immediately went looking to see what the author's publishing schedule was.

Sarah Hayworth is La Luminosa, a talented and shockingly beautiful opera singer who has captivated audiences in Italy and England.  Adding to her mystique is that she rarely takes lovers, and you're flat out of luck if you're betrothed or married.  La Liminosa does not dally with men in (supposed) committed relationships and word is she's looking to snag a husband.  The problem being that an opera singer seems to attract a very specific kind of man - those that have no interest in marrying an opera singer.  However, she thinks she's finally bagged herself a single, titled gentleman only to find out on the night of her latest performance that he's engaged to someone "proper." Phooey!

Drama unfolds early on in this book during the performance and riding to Sarah's rescue is Evander Ambrose, a vicar and widowed second son of a earl. He and his father are at the opera because Dear Old Dad (who has been ill and slowly dying) wants La Luminosa to appear at his annual holiday musicale at their country home. Sarah agrees to appear mostly because she needs the money. The season is concluding, and she's strapped for cash thanks to a bad investment and sending what funds she has left to the parents who disowned her. She's desperate for funds, but still wants to land a husband - so can't come off as desperate.  Further complicating things is that while Sarah can usually play men like a fiddle, Evander can see right through her. Even worse? He seems immune to her charms.  But he's the second son, and not the one Sarah is interested in.  She's hoping his older brother Marcus is a different story.

Sarah sounds positively mercenary if you're just going by the back cover blurb, but in reality she's a women at a crossroads. What nobody knows, other than her best friend, is that while in Italy Sarah had an ill-advised affair that resulted in a daughter, now 5-years-old. Her parents did disown her, but given that Sarah kept the pregnancy hushed up they agree to raise her child as their own - as their child. Sarah is neither treasured aunt, cousin nor older sister. No, Sarah's parents have declared her "dead" to their circle.  Sarah knows the only way to get her daughter back is to marry a respectable, titled gentleman.  Instead she finds herself sparring with a vicar.

There is great chemistry in this romance between the hero and heroine and every time they are on page together (which is a lot) it is a joy to read.  The adversarial sparring early on has a slight enemies-to-lovers tinge to it, although there's no shared past between then.  A better description would be it's what happens when two very smart people get together, there's an inconvenient spark of attraction, their motives are at cross purposes, and they rub each other slightly the wrong way.  It's positively delicious.

Evander is a vicar who is having a career crisis.  The death of his young wife has rocked his faith, he's frustrated, at times, with tending to his flock, and he's got three rambunctious (read: handful) young sons who are sweet, but spend most of the novel being the kinds of terrorists that young boys are experts at.  His attraction to Sarah is not terribly practical given what his life is.

Unfortunately there are some bumps in the road.  This is a debut, and while it's great in many ways, there's some sharp turns that could have been smoothed out, especially in the final third of the story. A good illustration of this is Evander's brother Marcus (the heir) who "doesn't want to get married" and finally drops the bomb of WHY towards the end.  It was a ham-fisted way to set up a sequel - except the future books in this series don't feature Marcus as a hero (!).  Instead it appears the author has turned Marcus's story into a short story for her newsletter subscribers. Like, why? He drops the bomb on dear old Dad and Evander and then it's completely dismissed.  

Finally, there's the issue of the sex.  This is a "sweet Regency" so while there's some steamy kisses, there is no sex. It's not even fade to black - it's chapter ends, next chapter starts the very next morning and we, as the reader, know they "did it" but that's it.  Obviously if you've listened to me beat (ha!) this dead horse to death you know I am a reader who firmly (ha!) believes that romance novels do not require sex scenes.  They don't.  But this one?  Kinda does.  It's the tone of the story, the baggage (especially Sarah's past and current lifestyle), I wanted a sex scene to seal their commitment to each other.  Because a vicar and an opera singer?  There's going to continue to be mountains to climb even after the happy-ever-after is declared.

Given the no sex thing and the vicar with a crisis of faith thing, some readers may want to put this in the inspirational romance box.  It certainly has cross-subgenre appeal, for more open-minded inspirational readers.  Honestly some of the kisses are pretty steamy and Sarah's illegitimate child was born out of love, at least from Sarah's perspective. The "father?" Not so much (typical).  For me the religious aspects fit very well within the confines of secular historical romance (honestly, it annoys me no end when historical romances set in towns/villages completely ignore regular church attendance which was often the only "social" activity people had back in the day) and this is written in such a way that it didn't have the "feel" of an inspirational romance. And yes, I'm well aware that sounds vague as hell, but it's what I've got.  Inspirational romance is like porn. I know it when I see it. This, technically speaking, isn't an inspirational romance (says Wendy).

While there are many great things about this book, chief among them being the interplay between Sarah and Evander, it wasn't a seamless read for me. But while it does have some rough edges that I attribute to being a debut novel, there's a lot of promise and "good" on the page. I was excited to keep reading this book, impressed with what the author had created and happy to find a new voice in what is, and likely always will be, my favorite romance subgenre.

Final Grade = B

Saturday, July 3, 2021

Review: The Soldier's Dark Secret

I have a pretty good handle on my print TBR. Even as mammoth as it is, I have a rough idea of what's languishing there.  My Kindle? Another matter entirely. I have an endless pile of eBooks and while they're roughly organized into collections - Lord knows what I'll find when I open up a random folder. I took it into my head that I wanted to read a Harlequin Historical so I opened that folder, scrolled way, way (way....) back and landed on The Soldier's Dark Secret by Marguerite Kaye. A book that's been hanging around for me since 2015 (sigh).

A second son, officer Jack Trestain is home after Waterloo, having resigned his commission as Wellington's top code breaker. As is the way with war, Jack comes home a changed man - haunted and not quite himself. He's staying in the country with his older brother, sister-in-law and a young, pestering nephew who wants to hear glorious war stories from his hero Uncle Jack. This goes over about as well as you'd expect from Jack, a man who came home "troubled" (and what we would now diagnose as PTSD).

Celeste Marimon is a lovely French artist hired by Jack's brother to immortalize the family estate's grounds and gardens before they do an extensive remodeling. Celeste is part English, in country for the first time ever after the tragic death of her mother (by suicide).  They had a strained relationship and were estranged for several years.  Her mother, having left behind a letter, leaves Celeste with more questions than answers. She takes the commission with the Trestains not only for the work, but also hoping to find some answers in her mother's home country.  Jack, with his various military connections, decides to help her out.

There's plenty of angst in the book, but I also found this to be a very quiet romance.  Jack and Celeste are immediately drawn to each other, both having been celibate, and not terribly interested in changing that status, for a while prior to locking eyes on each other.  Celeste, an artist stationed in Paris, has taken more than one lover in her time, but none of whom ignited a passionate fervor in her the way Jack seems to.  Even prior to the experiences that haunt him post-Waterloo, Jack was not sowing a mess of wild oats with French women and/or camp followers.  Feeling anything other than dead inside comes as quite a shock once that first passionate kiss ignites things between him and Celeste.

Moving the book forward is the slow revealing of the war experiences that are haunting Jack and the mystery of Celeste's background, the secrets her mother kept firmly locked away.  Celeste has a few clues to go on, some hazy childhood memories, a man's signet ring, and the letter her mother left behind, half written in riddles.  This mystery eventually takes our couple to a dinner party honoring Wellington, to London and to Paris.  I was engrossed in this part of the story and really loved the outcome of the mystery.

There's not a lot of flash and histrionics to this romance, which honestly is just fine and fits this particular story quite well.  There's a lot of baggage between Celeste and Jack, but Kaye keeps it quiet and doesn't fall into the trap of overblown drama (which I sometimes like, but in this story would have been a disaster).  A lovely Regency era romance with compelling conflict and the only Duke in sight being Wellington.

Final Grade = B

Saturday, June 19, 2021

Unusual Historical Picks June 2021: Crimes and Other Shenanigans

Where I live has lifted a number of COVID restrictions, I have an honest-to-goodness vacation planned to see my family in early July, and oh yeah - The Day Job is insanity right now. It's that time of year where Wendy is closing out one fiscal year, preparing for another, and under fire with very hard deadlines that I can't miss. That means trying to make time for happy things because without the happy - I'm no fun to live with.  So let's bring on some happy with this month's crop of Unusual Historicals which is just frickin' obscene y'all.  We also have a very definite theme running this month, so this post will be grouped into two sections.  Enjoy and happy browsing!


The Wisteria Society of Lady Scoundrels by India Holton

A prim and proper lady thief must save her aunt from a crazed pirate and his dangerously charming henchman in this fantastical historical romance. 

Cecilia Bassingwaite is the ideal Victorian lady. She's also a thief. Like the other members of the Wisteria Society crime sorority, she flies around England drinking tea, blackmailing friends, and acquiring treasure by interesting means. Sure, she has a dark and traumatic past and an overbearing aunt, but all things considered, it's a pleasant existence. Until the men show up. 

Ned Lightbourne is a sometimes assassin who is smitten with Cecilia from the moment they meet. Unfortunately, that happens to be while he's under direct orders to kill her. His employer, Captain Morvath, who possesses a gothic abbey bristling with cannons and an unbridled hate for the world, intends to rid England of all its presumptuous women, starting with the Wisteria Society. Ned has plans of his own. But both men have made one grave mistake. Never underestimate a woman. 

When Morvath imperils the Wisteria Society, Cecilia is forced to team up with her handsome would-be assassin to save the women who raised her--hopefully proving, once and for all, that she's as much of a scoundrel as the rest of them.

Holton's debut is being billed as a romcom that mixes fantasy elements with historical romance. There are flying houses, pirates, an assassin, a gothic abbey and "presumptuous women."  I'm no expert, but this sounds like a perfect summer vacation read. It's also the first in a series.

The Hellion's Waltz
by Olivia Waite

It’s not a crime to steal a heart... 

Sophie Roseingrave hates nothing more than a swindler. After her family lost their piano shop to a con man in London, they’re trying to start fresh in a new town. Her father is convinced Carrisford is an upright and honest place, but Sophie is not so sure. She has grave suspicions about silk-weaver Madeline Crewe, whose stunning beauty doesn’t hide the fact that she’s up to something. 

All Maddie Crewe needs is one big score, one grand heist to properly fund the weavers’ union forever. She has found her mark in Mr. Giles, a greedy draper, and the entire association of weavers and tailors and clothing merchants has agreed to help her. The very last thing she needs is a small but determined piano-teacher and composer sticking her nose in other people’s business. If Sophie won’t be put off, the only thing to do is to seduce her to the cause. 

Will Sophie’s scruples force her to confess the plot before Maddie gets her money? Or will Maddie lose her nerve along with her heart?

A heroine looking for one big score for noble purposes finds herself attracting the attention of a suspicious, and observant, newcomer who despises swindlers and cheats (with good reason!).  This sounds positively delicious!

The Queer Principles of Kit Webb
by Cat Sebastian 

Kit Webb has left his stand-and-deliver days behind him. But dreary days at his coffee shop have begun to make him pine for the heady rush of thievery. When a handsome yet arrogant aristocrat storms into his shop, Kit quickly realizes he may be unable to deny whatever this highborn man desires. 

In order to save himself and a beloved friend, Percy, Lord Holland must go against every gentlemanly behavior he holds dear to gain what he needs most: a book that once belonged to his mother, a book his father never lets out of his sight and could be Percy’s savior. More comfortable in silk-filled ballrooms than coffee shops frequented by criminals, his attempts to hire the roughly hewn highwayman, formerly known as Gladhand Jack, proves equal parts frustrating and electrifying. 

Kit refuses to participate in the robbery but agrees to teach Percy how to do the deed. Percy knows he has little choice but to submit and as the lessons in thievery begin, he discovers thievery isn’t the only crime he’s desperate to commit with Kit. 

But when their careful plan goes dangerously wrong and shocking revelations threaten to tear them apart, can these stolen hearts overcome the impediments in their path?

A former thief longs for the "good old days" when opportunity comes knocking on his coffee shop door.  Sebastian's latest is Georgian-set .

Subtle Blood
by KJ Charles 

Will Darling is all right. His business is doing well, and so is his illicit relationship with Kim Secretan--disgraced aristocrat, ex-spy, amateur book-dealer. It’s starting to feel like he’s got his life under control. 

And then a brutal murder in a gentleman’s club plunges them back into the shadow world of crime, deception, and the power of privilege. Worse, it brings them up against Kim’s noble, hostile family, and his upper-class life where Will can never belong. 

With old and new enemies against them, and secrets on every side, Will and Kim have to fight for each other harder than ever—or be torn apart for good.

The third, and apparently final, book in The Will Darling Adventures finds our heroes embroiled in a murder at a gentleman's club and dealing with Kim's less-than-welcoming elite family.  

Other Shenanigans

The Devil and the Heiress
by Harper St. George 

No one would guess that beneath Violet Crenshaw's ladylike demeanor lies the heart of a rebel. American heiresses looking to secure English lords must be on their best behavior, but Violet has other plans. She intends to flee London and the marriage her parents have arranged to become a published author--if only the wickedly handsome earl who inspired her most outrageously sinful character didn't insist on coming with her. 

Christian Halston, Earl of Leigh, has a scheme of his own: escort the surprisingly spirited dollar princess north and use every delicious moment in close quarters to convince Violet to marry him. Christian needs an heiress to rebuild his Scottish estate but the more time he spends with Violet, the more he realizes what he really needs is her--by his side, near his heart, in his bed. 

Though Christian's burning glances offer unholy temptation, Violet has no intention of surrendering herself or her newfound freedom in a permanent deal with the devil. It's going to take more than pretty words to prove this fortune hunter's love is true....

The second book in St. George's Gilded Age Heiresses series finds our heroine waiting for an opportunity to escape a marriage she's not interested in to pursue her dreams to become an author. Unfortunately her family's fortune is all too tempting for a financially strapped Earl (isn't it always?)

A Wager to Tempt the Runaway by Bronwyn Scott 

She’s a free spirit 

He’s a serious businessman 

Josefina Ricci has run away to fulfill her deathbed promise to her father to travel the world! During her stop in England, the free-spirited artist is embroiled in a wager—to paint an award-winning portrait of oyster businessman Owen Gann in exchange for room and board. Owen is her opposite in all ways, pragmatic and responsible, but as he reveals a wild, passionate side, might Josefina have found her greatest adventure…in him?

The third book in Scott's Rebellious Sisterhood series is an opposites attract romance that finds our artist heroine painting the portrait of a staid, upright businessman in order to win a one does.  

Her Royal Payne
by Shana Galen 

He’s a pain…literally. 
Rowden Payne, known as The Royal Payne, makes his living in the high stakes world of bareknuckle boxing. The disavowed son of a duke likes the focus boxing requires. It keeps his mind off the tragedies in his past. But just as he’s poised to knock out his biggest rival, he’s mesmerized by a pair of exotic hazel eyes in the crowd. He finds himself flat on his back and short fifty pounds. 

She’s a prude with a problem. 
Modesty Brown’s father has vanished. The strict minister has never disappeared before, and Modesty is left having to rely on elders of the church for help. But when she becomes a burden to them, she has to seek out her aunt, a woman of high rank. Modesty’s only way of finding her is by asking the only man she knows of that class—Rowden Payne. Unfortunately, she’s the one responsible for the Royal Payne losing his crucial fight. 

Sometimes the hardest hit is the one to the heart. 
Rowden doesn’t want to care for anyone or anything, but if he can just help Modesty find her father, he can be rid of her. Soon the revelation of her father’s secrets and lies puts Modesty, Rowden, and their friends in danger, and if Rowden can’t admit his feelings for Modesty, he’ll lose her forever.

Galen's Survivors series keeps chugging along with this 10th (!) book. An unacknowledged duke's son turned boxer falls for a sheltered heroine looking for her missing minister father. Opposites attract uniting to solve a mystery.

The Viking Chief's Marriage Alliance
by Lucy Morris 

A challenging wife

For a warrior Viking 

When Thorstein Bergson rescues a beautiful woman from a storm-tossed longship, he little expects to broker a powerful marriage alliance with her. This high-status ice queen is not the comfortable wife the warrior chief is seeking. But maybe the bittersweet pain in Gyda’s eyes hides another woman beneath? The one he tasted that first night when she’d kissed him with such pent-up longing…?

Another debut this month! Lucy Morris scored a two-book deal with Harlequin Historical after submitting this book as part of their Warriors Wanted submission blitz. 

Ruthless Heart
by Beth Williamson

He led her astray, and she never wanted to go back. 

Sheltered all her life, Eliza Hunter never imagined herself alone in the vast Utah plains, much less trailing a mysterious, rugged man hired to hunt down her beautiful younger sister. Unable to reveal the truth about her pursuit of him, Eliza plays student to the teacher, transforming herself in the process. And she when she finds herself sharing the warmth of Grady’s campfire, wrapped in his arms, hypnotized by his power, soon she is a naive spinster no more… 

Grady Wolfe is more than a loner, he’s a man forever on the run, an assassin with a dark past and an even darker future. With a body and soul finely honed from living off the land, Grady knows he should leave the irresistible woman alone, but she stirs something in him he hasn’t felt before. Now he’s lost in the woods for the first time in his life—with a dangerous job to do. And no one—not even the distracting Eliza—is going to stop him.

Originally published in 2010 by Kensington Brava under her Emma Lang name, Williamson will republish the next two books in this series later this year. It's a western set in Utah (not a terribly common locale...) and it was a Brava - so expect some sexytimes!

Whew! That's a whole lot of Unusual Historicals to choose from this month. What are you looking forward to reading?