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 27, 2024

Review: How to Please a Lady

I'm in a bit of a disagreeable reading mood at the moment - which is to say I have no idea what I'm in the mood to read. What this translates to is me throwing spaghetti at the wall.  I took a deep, deep dive into my Kindle for a historical romance and unearthed How to Please a Lady by Jane Goodger. This is the second book in a series that splits it's time between late Victorian England and New York, features that most bananapants of romance tropes (a virgin widow!), a cross-class romance, and stands alone reasonably well.

The book opens with the former Lady Rose Dunford, now Mrs. Cartright, widowed nearly two years and annoyed with her new neighbor. The man is a rake of the first order, entertaining all manner of "ladies" during the night and quite frankly, the sound carrying all too well. So imagine her shock when she discovers her new neighbor, a wealthy, handsome, self-made man is none other than Charlie Avery, her family's former stable groom.

Great set-up, right? Well brace yourselves because we then flashback to some years earlier to England where we spend the next 60% of this story. Rose, daughter of an Earl, is engaged to a Duke, and Charlie takes care of her beloved horse in her father's stable. They played together as children and while Charles carries a torch, he's smart enough to know that stable hands don't marry Earl's daughters and that there is zero opportunity for him in England.  In a fortnight he's leaving to join an uncle in America where he hopes to make something of himself. 

Rose isn't in love with the Duke but her mother is over the moon and frankly she knows what her role is. What she didn't bargain for is the Duke being an odious, vile villain and sexually assaulting her (spoiler: forced fellatio). Charlie deduces what has happened and tells Rose to inform her mother, but Rose knows how futile that is. No, instead, she hits upon the idea to go to America with Charlie and show up at Mr. Cartright's front door. He's an acquaintance of her oldest brother and she liked him when they met at a ball recently.  She also heard a rumor that Mr. Cartright likes boys more than girls and that these rumors are holding back his career in the US State Department. Frankly after her experience with the Duke being a beard for a gay man sounds more than ideal to Rose.

Just from the back cover blurb we know eventually Rose does marry Mr. Cartright and settles into a comfortable life. The real meat and potatoes of this romance is in the final 40% when Rose and Charlie, now a self-made man, reunite. Here's the thing about flashbacks, when they work they're great but they're very tricky to pull off, and this authorial choice in this story just didn't work for me. I get teased with a great opening chapter and then I spend the next 60% stuck in Flashback Land a little bored and anxious to get back to the New York storyline. Why the tease? Just start at the beginning and tell this thing in a linear timeline. It reeks of too many cooks in the kitchen trying to be clever.

What I did appreciate is that the author does not sweep the class differences, which are a lot, under the rug. Rose is a woman of privilege and naturally a little snobby. She's what I call thoughtlessly cruel. She's not evil, but has a tendency to say cruel things without realizing they're cruel until Charlie gets hurt or angry. These are people from two very different worlds.  Once reunited, Charlie may now be successful and wealthy, but he's ill-equipped to navigate high society waters, which is where Rose comes into play.  Also, I liked that not everything is magically right as rain in the end. Rose and Charlies, of course, get married but that doesn't mean her parents are ready to welcome him into the family fold.

I wasn't in love with this and the use of a very long seemingly never-ending flashback annoyed me, but I was engaged and read this in a day. I was also swept up enough in the world-building to pick up the next book in the trilogy (yes, of course it was in my TBR) about Rose's older brother who harries himself off to a life of isolation after his Good Time Girl Wife dies in another man's bed. Let's hope the flashbacks stay locked up in a closet somewhere.

Final Grade = B-

Friday, May 24, 2024

Mini-Reviews: Yet More Suspense

My project to clean out suspense ARCs from my Kindle continues, with a fairly new release in a long-running series and the first book of what has turned into a series that was published in 2019 😬.

Circle in the Water by Marcia Muller is the 35th book in her series about San Francisco PI Sharon McCone. Some people read fluffy Regency romances for comfort, I read female PI suspense novels, in large part because I discovered both Muller and Sue Grafton as a teenager. One thing that I thought Sharon always had over Grafton's Kinsey Millhone is that while Grafton kept Kinsey stuck in the late 1980s, Muller has moved Sharon through time, allowing her to change and grow. We've read about her as she's had a series of boyfriends, gotten married, left her job, started her own business etc.

This latest book feels like it might be the end with a rather telling "where are they now" style epilogue.  The premise here is rather interesting, San Francisco is apparently home to over 200 privately owned streets (who knew?) and Sharon is hired by a group of concerned homeowners as several of those streets have experienced a series of pranks and vandalism. However when a meth lab blows up and a dead body is discovered things take a sinister turn.

Being the 35th book in a long-running series, this reads like the latest episode of a TV series. There's zero character development here so if you're not clued into the characters already, do not start here.  Also while the premise is interesting the story felt very light in the pants. It feels a bit much ado about nothing and for such a slim book (221 pages!) there's various character asides that felt distracting and pointless (Did I need a scene with Sharon and Rae lamenting about current events in the city? Not really).  

But as a visit with old friends? To scratch a nostalgic itch? This worked. But while I will occasionally revisit random books in the series, this isn't likely to be one of them.  Strictly for fans.

Final Grade = C

Good Girl, Bad Girl by Michael Robotham is the first book in a now four book series featuring police psychologist Cyrus Haven. A young girl is discovered hiding in a secret room at the scene of a horrible crime, living with the rotting body of her dead captor, who was tortured to death. She's not listed in any missing persons files, can't or won't tell anyone her name, and her DNA can't be matched to an identity.  She could be 12, she could be 15 - nobody knows.  Now, some 6 years later, still unidentified, the courts have given her the name Evie Cormac and she's living in a secure children's home.  She's fighting in court to be released, claiming she's 18, which is where Cyrus Haven comes in.  He's brought in to talk to Evie, to determine if she should be released or, if like the staff at the children's home insist, she's too much a danger to herself and others.

Running parallel to this thread is a case Cyrus is working on with the police.  Jodie Sheehan, a pretty, popular local girl, a Olympic figure skating hopeful, is found murdered on a foot path near her home. 

The author has certainly laid interesting groundwork with this book and it's easy to see how these characters have sustained momentum into a 4 book (to date) series.  Besides her mysterious and tragic past, Evie is a bit of a human lie detector - knowing instinctively when someone is lying or telling the truth. Cyrus has his own tragic past, his older brother murdered their parents and younger sister while Cyrus was at football (soccer) practice and is now locked up in a psychiatric facility. If anyone is equipped to help Evie, it's Cyrus - but she's a girl with a lot of secrets.

I realize this makes me a terrible person, but Evie did have a tendency to get on my nerves at times. However things smooth out by the end and the author does a good job of throwing in some twists and turns. It's a book that's a bit lurid in parts (description of torture, drug use, sexual assault....) but the author doesn't wallow in the gory details (he doesn't have to - just mentioning brief descriptions is more than enough). Yet this ended up being a curious read for me. I should have liked it more than I did and as I sit here typing this up I'm trying to decide if I'm intrigued enough to continue on with the series.  Because while the Jodie Sheehan matter is put to bed, Evie's past most certainly is not and is fodder for later installments.  Perhaps once I'm through some of my backlog...

Final Grade = B-

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