Wednesday, November 17, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: Signed Over To Santino

The Book: Signed Over to Santino by Maya Blake

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Presents #3439, book 2 in duet, 2016, out of print, available digitally.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: I have a signed copy, which means I scored this at an RWA Conference. If you're new here, Harlequins are nearly the only books I snag at conferences. It's my last bastion of impulse reading.

The Review: There are two types of readers in Romancelandia. Those who love Presents and those who think that those who love Presents have lost their damn minds. My affinity for the line, problematic elements and all, feeds the Feral Id part of my brain that gobbled up soap operas when I was younger.  This book by Blake is a prime example. The heroine gets figuratively run over (a lot) and the hero is a Grade A possessive jealous jackass.  Can I recommend it? No. Did I inhale every glorious minute of it in less than 24 hours?  You bet your sweet bippy I did!
 
Carla Nardozzi is the #1 ranked figure skater in the world and she's slowly having her soul crushed by her manager father.  Abandoned by her mother, training her entire life, she grasps for one small moment of freedom when she turns 21-years-old and has a sizzling one night stand with self-made bazillionaire Javier Santino.  Naturally she was a virgin (hello, Presents) and naturally Javier blows her doors off.  Of course in the cold light of the morning after she has a mini-freak-out and bungles things....badly.  How badly?  Using true Presents Hero Logic, our hero is a big man baby who gets his fee-fees hurt.  He's a notorious playboy who changes women like he changes socks, but when a woman turns around and practically runs away from his bed the morning after?  Yeah, the shoe being on the other foot enrages him.  Also, some other Spoiler Territory stuff happens and naturally our guy is now hell-bent on revenge.
 
The moment arrives 3 years later.  Carla's Evil Daddy has frittered away her entire fortune and to keep the family villa in Tuscany she has to sell her soul to an endorsement deal with Javier's company.  Surely this will be OK. Maybe?  I mean, he can't still be upset about three years ago, can he?  Oh you poor, dumb bunny.  This is a Presents.  Of course our guy is out for your blood, assumes the absolute worst about you, and for added fun is jealousy possessive at every turn, even as he tells you how much he loathes you.  Ah, Twu Wuv.
 
I think had I read this book back in 2016 (when a normal person would have) I probably would have loathed it. But in post-COVID, constant state of mental and emotional exhaustion world?  I really felt for Carla early on.  She's just over it.  She's over Javier looking at her like she murders infants in her spare time.  She's over her father controlling the air she breathes.  She sends out some verbal volleys early on, but mostly she's past done and just doesn't want to deal.  Our girl has a serious case of ennui.

Javier is just a jackass. He's Stereotypical Presents Hero right out of central casting. He's possessive. He's jealous. He's a flaming asshole.  And of course this is all explained away because his mother was his father's mistress, he's the unloved bastard, yada yada yada.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

But I fell into this book and didn't want to come up for air.  It's a hot mess, but it's an entertaining hot mess.  Then, big sigh, it all falls apart at the end.  Javier's confrontation with his asshole father, and Carla's confrontation with her asshole father, both take place OFF PAGE, sucking out 85% of the angst from the plot with no payoff.  The third act separation (typical with Presents) is basically Carla running away because she won't talk to Javier.  Granted he's such a flaming asshole you can't entirely blame her.  But these aren't the biggest issues.  It's the fact that this is a romance and Javier and Carla are the couple.

The author does soften Javier in the final chapter, when they reunite after Carla runs away for three weeks.  But it doesn't help.  Why? Because the previous 180 pages is jackass jealous and possessive Javier.  Carla has had her entire life controlled by figure skating and her father.  She trades Daddy's dominance for Javier's dominance.  OK sure, Javier's got the gilded cage and gives her incredible orgasms, but a cage is a cage.  What should our happy ending be?  Carla getting a damn life.  Carla breaking free.  Carla kicking Javier and her Evil Daddy in the giblets so hard they settle in their sinus cavities, then running away to a tropical beach somewhere to get serviced by hunky cabana boys.  The "romance" is super problematic, super uncomfortable and doesn't hold up (at all!) to even the slightest sliver of scrutiny.

So there you have it.  Problematic Presents with a heroine who needs therapy, a jackass hero with revenge in his heart (and loins), two Evil Daddys and two Absent Ineffectual Mothers.  I don't recommend it and yet I still read the hell out of it with gleeful abandon. So maybe that is a recommendation?  Albeit in a very backhanded sort of way...

Final Grade = D+

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Feast Your Eyes: Unusual Historical Picks for November 2021

 As I started working on this month's unusual historicals column I had to remind myself that November and December tend to be the dog days for publishing - and historical romance is no different.  I was beginning to wonder if I'd have more than two titles to feature, and then - just like manna from heaven - Amazon's algorithm (and authors who had rights revert back to them) gifted me, and you fair reader, with a robust list.  Here's what caught my eye landing in November 2021:


A Nun for the Viking Warrior by Lucy Morris

Forced to wed the warrior

Falling for the man… 

Noblewoman Amée Évreux had pledged her life to God, until her father promised her in marriage to thundering Norseman Jorund Jötunnson. After escaping her overbearing father, Amée vows never to fall under another man’s thumb, but her resistance to being Jorund’s wife turns to desire as she gets to know her intriguing new husband. For beneath his fierce exterior she’s glimpsed an unexpectedly pure heart. If only she can penetrate the fortress that surrounds it…

 

Am I a hypocrite? Yes I am. But hey, at least I own it.  There's a certain segment of Romancelandia that gets gross over Taboo Priest Heroes and while I will gamely admit I have enjoyed the VERY occasional Priest Hero Romance, they are the exception over the rule in my case. They're too problematic for me in a post-Catholic sex abuse cover-up world.  But a nun heroine? When was the last time we saw that? Also, nun heroines set in this time period (Vikings Ahoy!) is going to read differently in a historical context than, say, a 21st century nun.  So yes, I'm a hypocrite and I plan on reading the hell out of this.

 

His Lord's Soldier by Renee Dahlia (Novella)

Two best friends torn apart by war. Could the re-enactment of four Christmas dinners create a love worth fighting for? 

Lord Rafe Stanmore didn’t just lose his leg in the war; he lost his charming outlook and all his athletic prowess. His best friend, James St. George, brought him through the worst times with his cheerful letters. Rafe can’t bear to face James now he’s so altered, but to placate his sister he agrees to a quick visit. His secret longing for James and the nightly re-lived trauma of the war should be able to stay hidden for a few days. 

During the war, James tried to declare his love for Rafe with careful words and extravagant gifts, and never had any indication of his affection being reciprocated. How could gorgeous, athletic, and aristocratic Rafe be interested in polio scarred James? But when Rafe arrives at the farm unexpectedly, James can’t resist giving him all the Christmases he missed. It’s his last chance to show Rafe exactly how he feels. 

Four Christmases to reveal a passion that can’t be denied. One last chance to admit the love they’ve been hiding all along.
Dahlia continues her Great War series with this holiday themed novella. An unrequited war time love blossoms through a series of reenacted four Christmases that the heroes missed because of that terrible war.  One hero carrying the scars of Polio and the other carrying physical and emotional scars from the War.  This sounds fantastic and angst-y.

A Rogue in Winter by Grace Burrowes (Novella)

Vicar Pietr Sorenson is preparing to endure--enjoy, rather--another solitary, frigid holiday season at the edge of the Yorkshire moors, when Miss Joy Danforth's coach lurches to a halt across the village green. Joy and her brother have nowhere to wait out the impending bout of nasty weather, while the vicarage is even emptier than usual. 

The lady is on her way to charm a titled nitwit into offering her marriage, lest her family face financial ruin. Pietr has accepted a prestigious post closer to civilization, though he hasn't quite found a way to tell his congregation he's leaving early in the New Year. Will Pietr and Joy steal some holiday comfort beneath the mistletoe, or find the love of a lifetime on a bleak mid-winter night? 

This self-published holiday romance is tied to Burrowes' Grand Central published Rogues to Riches series and while the heroine's plight is fairly common in historical romance (marrying to save the family from financial ruin), vicar heroes are a favorite in Romancelandia and not terribly thick on the ground.  Added bonus of the bad weather / cabin romance trope and I'm all in.

 

Nothing in common 

Except an intoxicating attraction! 

Sharing a steamy kiss with Anne Peverett at a Christmas ball is utterly out of character for Dr. Lord Ferris Tresham. He’s far too busy treating London’s poor to court anyone. Until Anne is revealed as the herbalist who’s been treating his patients with her homemade remedies! If they unite forces, will Anne be a bigger threat to his practice…or his closed-off heart?

 

Oh sure, the hero is a Lord but he's also a doctor and our heroine (note the no Lady title...) is an herbalist.  What we have here ladies and gents is a medical romance set in Victorian London.  It's also the first book in Scott's Peveretts of Haberstock Hall series.


The Maiden Bride by Linda Needham (Reprint)

MARRIED BY PROXY 

With the world in chaos in the aftermath of the Black Death, the widowed Lady Eleanor arrives at her husband's tattered and deserted castle, determined to make a home for the trio of orphans she has adopted on her journey, as well as for any other straggler who needs to start their lives afresh. As she explores the battered keep, a huge shadow overtakes her in the darkness--a gargoyle made flesh, commanding her to leave or pay the consequences. Unaware that the beast is the ruthless, black-hearted war lord whom she married by proxy before the Great Pestilence, but had never met, Eleanor steels her courage, claims her legal dower rights to the castle as the widow of William Bayard, the late lord of Faulkhurst, and demands that he either stay and help her restore that castle, or leave immediately. 

WIDOWED IN HASTE 

Nicholas Bayard is stunned to discover the virginal bride he thought had perished in the plague is very much alive, and more beautiful than he could ever have imagined. Not that he could allow such a thought to matter. Believing himself cursed by God and damned for his life of war and infamy, he conceals his true identity from his wife and reluctantly agrees to help restore the castle–one final penance for his sins, and then he will leave the world for a solitary, monastic life. 

Yet Eleanor is a constant temptation, her hope and determination nearly impossible to resist. Her generous heart and joy in life is as intoxicating to Nicholas as her belief in miracles, and he soon finds himself burning for the woman he cannot have, for the love he doesn't deserve.

But when Eleanor follows the clues that lead to Nicholas's true identity, she falls in love with the remarkable and selfless man her husband has become, and proves to him that love is the greatest miracle of all.
I'm cranky, old and yell at clouds a lot - but by far the biggest boon in the self-publishing era has been romance authors republishing older works once rights revert back to them.  Such is the case with this book which was first published by Avon in 2000.  Yes, Avon used to publish a wider variety of historical settings (picture Wendy yelling at clouds here).  Rampant inflation, labor shortages, a plague - all set in 1351.  Nothing changes folks - it's the same playlist merely on shuffle. (Added note that Recorded Books did the audio edition of this back in the day and you might be able to score it in that format at your local library!)
 

Roselyn Harrington ran from her arranged wedding to Spencer Thornton and into the arms of a man she thought loved her. Years later, when a wounded Thornton washes ashore on her island, his presence threatens her in more ways than one. 

Spencer lies helpless, knowing that a Spanish spy plans to accuse him of treason—or kill him. He must return to London, but how can he leave, when his anger over Roselyn's betrayal is rapidly becoming passion?

 

Originally published as His Betrothed by Avon in 2001 what we have here is an honest-to-goodness Elizabethan set historical romance.  How Elizabethan? Well for starters our hero is a spy for Queen Elizabeth who washes ashore, injured, from the Spanish Armada.  The only thing that could make this more Elizabethan is if he was carousing with Will Shakespeare.  Anyway, this is the first of Callen's Brides trilogy and all three books were republished this month - so if you like this one? You can quickly score the next two.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to reading?

Friday, November 12, 2021

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is November 17!

Hey, hey - it's that time again! Time for the monthly #TBRChallenge!  Whether you are participating or just following along, #TBRChallenge Day is Wednesday, November 17. This month's (always optional) theme is Competition.

This was another suggestion from the poll I ran late last year. Competition is a fairly broad theme but there's definitely some tropes that are natural fits - Enemies to Lovers, Evil Other Woman, Sports Romances, or even any sort of adversarial friction between the characters.  Run with it!

But remember, the themes are always optional.  With the holidays fast approaching if digging through your TBR to find something that fits sounds like too much work -  it's fine! 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.  

Also, the poll asking for theme suggestions for the 2022 TBR Challenge is still open until the end of November.  Details on the 2022 Challenge will (likely) be announced in early December.

Saturday, October 30, 2021

Mini-Reviews: Bad Men and Resourceful Women

Why yes, I do have a bazillion neglected ARCs but why should that stop me from checking out books from the library or dipping into my TBR?  I've been on a bit of a suspense jag for the last month and with these two latest, mostly ho-hum reads, I think I might be ready to pull myself back into romance.  Time will tell.

One of the great tragedies of my romance reading life is when Harlequin killed the SuperRomance line. Janice Kay Johnson was one of my favorites and always worth reading for her skill in crafting dynamite conflict.  So the move to suspense intrigued (ha!) me - given that I always thought Harlequin would have been smart to repackage some of her Supers as "book club fiction" (but since when do publishers listen to Wendy?).  Anyway, true to JKJ form, the conflict in Dead in the Water is dynamite.  The rest of it?  Meh.

Claire Holland is on a kayaking trip in the Pacific Northwest when her BFF, Mike, is gunned down by drug runners. Claire's lagging behind, so the bad guys didn't see her and they shot Mike with zero provocation. Claire's terror increases when she spies the bad guys shooting another man on their boat, and dumping him overboard.  She can't just leave a man to die, even if he was with the men who murdered Mike, so when their boat takes off, she pulls Adam Taylor from the water - saving him from hypothermia.

Adam, naturally, is an undercover DEA agent.  He had the nerve to question the man who shot Mike and that's how he almost ended up dead. Now to figure out how to get back to civilization when all he has is a female civilian and a dead man's kayak at his disposal. Never mind his injuries and the small matter that he doesn't know how to kayak.  Oh, and that the bad guys are coming back around to ensure he's well and truly dead.

I love survival stories and that's pretty much what carried me through this book.  It sounds exciting, but the execution lacks urgency, which in the short, snappy Intrigue line is a problem.  There's a lot of kayak talk, Claire and Adam making camp and staying hidden - heck, even reading books to pass the time.  The romance also lacks punch.  I liked both Adam and Claire as people, but other than surviving the wilderness and escaping the clutches of the bad guys, there's not a ton of chemistry here.  I've certainly read worse, but JKJ has also certainly written better.

Final Grade = C

Save Me from Dangerous Men is S.A. Lelchuk's debut novel and features Nikki Griffin, bookseller, private eye, and avenging badass.  Nikki loves books, and collected so many over the years that opening a bookstore seemed natural.  So did the private eye thing - given a traumatic past that lands her in court-ordered therapy.  Which is where we find her in this book. Seeing a therapist, selling books, taking adultery cases (so many naughty married men out there....) and occasionally rescuing battered women by giving their abusers exactly what is coming to them.  The publisher's marketing team describes Nikki as a mix of Lisbeth Salander, Jack Reacher and Jessica Jones, and that's fairly apt. So let's go with that.

Anyway, Nikki is based in Oakland, California and makes the boneheaded move accepting a job from a start-up tech company's CEO.  He has an employee, Karen Li, who needs following.  He knows she's stealing company secrets and wants Nikki to find out who her buyers are.  But almost immediately Nikki smells something rotten in Denmark.  Karen Li doesn't act like a woman selling corporate secrets.  No, Karen Li looks like a woman who is terrified for her life.

There's a good story here, but it lacks something in the execution department.  Lelchuk flits the narrative between Nikki's bookstore gig, the corporate espionage job, a philandering husband job, beating the tar out of domestic abusers, enabling her junkie brother, a new guy she's dating, and her traumatic past.  It takes forever for the author to get around to character development and backstory and once he does it comes out info-dumpy.  Also, I'm a pretty basic suspense fan - I'm generally here for the, you know, suspense. The author faffs about too much when, for my money, more time should have been spent on the questionable surveillance job of Karen Li.

Now, that said - the Bay Area setting is well done and the corporate espionage story set against the backdrop of Silicon Valley grossness is extremely timely.  Nikki is part "too smart for her own good" mixed with "catch on quicker sweetheart," but I'm a sucker for a good avenging angel storyline and that's certainly Nikki.  I wasn't madly in love with this, but there was definitely enough on the page to get me to read book 2.

Final Grade = C+

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: House of Shadows

The Book: House of Shadows by Darcy Coates

The Particulars: Romantic Gothic Horror Suspense, Book 1 in series, Black Owl Books, 2015, In Print (Poison Pen Press 2020), Available digitally and for free with Amazon Prime (at time of this posting)

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Before the entire world shutdown thanks to The 'Rona, my last hurrah was attending the Public Library Association conference in Nashville in February 2020. An ARC of this was in the Sourcebooks booth and I was drawn to that creeptastic cover. 
 
Minor Spoilers

The Review: Buckle in kiddies, it's a damning with faint praise review. Words like "serviceable" and "workman-like" ran through my brain while reading this relatively short Gothic (my ARC copy clocks in at 259 pages). The kind of book that could have been really good if a bit more depth had been thrown into it.  Let me explain...

Sophie is attending the opera with her doting uncle when she meets Mr. Joseph Argenton, a wealthy, handsome stranger who slightly unnerves her even as he fascinates.  He has business dealings with her father and promises to call on their home the next day.  Which he does. Just after dear Papa learns that the ship-load of silks he invested in (all by himself) has been lost at sea, two of the crew members killed.  Papa breaks the news to Sophie just as Mr. Argenton arrives and bingo-bango, soon Sophie is accepting the man's proposal in order to save her family from financial ruin (there are three younger siblings).

They marry with great expediency and Joseph soon takes Sophie to his isolated family estate in the north (called, conveniently enough, Northwood). In residence are his Aunt Rose, Uncle Garrett, younger cousin Elise (around 12) and a host of silent, downcast servants.  If you've read even one Gothic you'll know that Aunt Rose is the evil one in this scenario, but cousin Elise has problems yo.  Anyway, Joseph is occasionally around but has to leave Sophie alone at times in a creepy house that she continually gets lost in, with Aunt Rose who hates her guts and strangeness starts happening right away.  And by strangeness I mean horror.  The walls have a tendency to drip blood, mysterious piano music plays in the night, and Elise is drawing a creepy shadow-like creature in a near trance.
 
If you've ever wondered what the term Wallpaper Historical means, well - this book.  When does it take place? Where does it take place?  Lord, who knows.  It's vaguely English and vaguely Victorian-y.  The back cover blurb for the second book specifically calls out Kensington - and that's all I've got.

Like all true Gothics this one has romance, horror and suspense, plus features a suitably creepy house - so it checks all the boxes.  The one box it doesn't necessarily check is with our hero.  While he's mysterious early on, that's dispatched right away and he takes on a "protector' role of the heroine. Well, sort of.  She's "known" the guy for a matter of days prior to the wedding but sets the land speed record for realizing she's in love with him. How? Why? When did this happen? Who knows! If you've ever wondered what the term Insta-Love means, well - this book.

And that's the problem - the heroine falling in love with a hero who essentially latches on to her in the beginning as a sacrificial lamb.  Then when he starts to feel all gooey about her - HE STILL LEAVES HER ALONE IN THE CREEPY HAUNTED HOUSE WITH HIS CREEPY AUNT EVEN AFTER SHE'S TRAPPED IN A ROOM AND BUCKETS OF BLOOD RAIN DOWN ON HER AND HE HAS TO BREAK DOWN THE DOOR TO RESCUE HER!  YES, HE LEAVES HER AFTER THAT EXPERIENCE TO GO INTO TOWN, LIKE WTF DUDE?!

And the heroine, bless her heart, never gets angry at him.  There's a brief glimmer of a moment when she gets angry that he seems to care about the house more than her but it's gone in a blink and we're back to her wanting to rescue him and he's the only one I trust and blah, blah, blah.

Which makes it sound like I hated this book. I didn't. Basically what this book was for me was Brain Candy. It was a book I could pick up, easily read, and not expend too much brain energy.  And after the last couple of weeks I've had at work? There's a lot to be said for Brain Candy. It was readable and undemanding. How's that for damning with faint praise?  
 
However, it also read fairly cinematic.  What it lacked in detail "on the page" I think would play very well as a screenplay and make a decent period horror piece.

Does it end happily? Sort of. The hero and heroine do ride off into the sunset. Does it end on a cliffhanger?  Sort of. There's an epilogue that definitely leads the reader to the next book in the duology, House of Secrets. Honestly it's series like this that tempt me to pony up for Kindle Unlimited. I might be curious enough to read it, but I'm not so sure I'm curious enough to buy my own copy. How's that for damning with faint praise?

Final Grade = C

Monday, October 18, 2021

No Tricks, All Treats: Unusual Historical Spotlight for October 2021

So you've probably noticed that this blog hasn't exactly been a hotbed of activity lately (even less so than usual - which is just super sad).  Can I blame work? I'm totally blaming work. Also after a particularly dreadful spat of reading I fell down the comfort reading rabbit hole - which for me means mystery/suspense. The upcoming Loren D. Estleman, relistening to a few Sue Grafton's (N, B and J), the next book in Marcia Muller's Sharon McCone series that I'm working my way (slowly) through. All series featuring tried-and-true characters and Wendy knows exactly what to expect.  One of these days though I'll try reading something new, which means it's time for my monthly browsing for the latest unusual historicals to catch my eye.  Here's what intrigues publishing in October 2021:
In the autumn of 1707, old enemies from the Highlands to the Borders are finding common ground as they join to protest the new Union with England. At the same time, the French are preparing to launch an invasion to bring the young exiled Jacobite king back to Scotland to reclaim his throne, and in Edinburgh the streets are filled with discontent and danger. 

Queen Anne's commissioners, seeking to calm the situation, have begun paying out money sent up from London to settle the losses and wages owed to those Scots who took part in the disastrous Darien expedition eight years earlier—an ill-fated venture that left Scotland all but bankrupt. 

When the young widow of a Darien sailor comes forward to collect her husband's wages, her claim is challenged. One of the men assigned to investigate has only days to decide if she's honest, or if his own feelings are blinding him to the truth.

This is the third book in a series that started with The Winter Sea - and has Wendy read any of them? Of course not.  Anyway, Kearsley writes the kind of meaty historicals I like to lose myself in and Miss Bates (who writes stellar reviews) just gave this book a great one.

The Earl Who Sees Her Beauty by Marguerite Kaye 

Unaware of her beauty… 

Until he awakens her. 

Prudence Carstairs knows her scars leave her with no romantic prospects—instead, she’s content revolutionizing her employer’s home with her technological marvels. Then he unexpectedly perishes and his mysterious younger brother, dashing Dominic Thorburn, reluctantly takes over. In the new earl, Prudence finally finds someone who meets her gaze without flinching. Might he see the beautiful, intelligent woman beyond her scars?


Kaye has taken her victory lap as co-author of Her Heart for a Compass with Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York and is back to give readers a brand new series, of which this is book one.  While we've got a typical titled hero (an earl) what caught my eye with this book is the heroine who is "revolutionizing her employer's home with her technological marvels." A smart, resourceful heroine?  Yes, please!

Of Trust and Heart
by Charlotte Anne Hamilton 

The Great War changed everything for Lady Harriet Cunningham. Instead of being presented at eighteen, she trained to be a nurse and shared forbidden kisses with her colleagues. 

But now in 1923, at the age of 24, Harriet is facing spinsterhood. 

It's not such a ghastly prospect to her, but as the daughter of the Earl of Creoch, there's a certain expectation that she must meet. So, in a last attempt to find a match for their daughter to see her safe and secure, they send her to her aunt and uncle in New York. 

Only when she gets there, she and her cousin, a man who, like her, suffers from the weight of expectation from his father, decide on one last hoorah as a memory to hold close to their heart in their later life. 

But when they arrive at the speakeasy hidden beneath a small bookstore, Harriet finds herself entranced by the singer. No matter how hard she wants to please her family and do her duty, she finds that there's something about the woman that she can't stay away from — that she can't ignore her heart. Which is loudly calling for Miss Rosalie Smith.

OK, I want both of these dresses in my wardrobe. Think they'd be too much for say the library or grocery shopping?  Surely not!  Look, I know World War I was a major downer, but the 1920s were a really interesting time for women and it's a big reason why I'm always drawn to that era for historical romance. You've got a modern heroine expected to do her familial duty by marrying well, except for the minor detail that she's a lesbian.  Also, a speakeasy hidden beneath a bookstore? As soon as I win the lottery I'm building myself one of those.

The Knight's Maiden in Disguise
by Ella Matthews 

Risking her life

To save a knight! 

Disguising herself as her late twin brother keeps Avva Carpenter, and her family, safe. Until Sir William Devereux arrives in her town. As the castle’s stable master, Avva can’t avoid the knight—or the desire he instantly stirs in her. He’s everything she never knew a nobleman could be: honest, kind, brave. When danger surrounds them, the only way to help William is to reveal her true identity, but can she trust him enough?


Turn up your nose all you want, but I know plenty of readers who can't get enough Chick In Pants stories. This medieval features a heroine (obviously in some sort of danger) disguising herself as her late twin brother.  Then the hero shows up and makes her all tingly in her girly bits.  Ain't that always the way?  This is the start of a new series for Matthews.

The Larks Still Bravely Singing by Aster Glenn Gray 
Kindle Unlimited at time of this posting

The Great War cost Robert his left leg and his first love. 

A shattering breakup leaves Robert convinced that he is a destructive force in romantic relationships. When he finds himself falling in love with David, an old friend from boarding school, he's sure that he shouldn’t confess his feelings. But as their meandering conversations drift from books and poetry to more intimate topics, Robert’s love deepens - and so do his fears of hurting David. 

Since he was wounded, David has been batted from hospital to hospital like a shuttlecock, leaving him adrift and anxious. His renewed friendship with Robert gives him a much-needed sense of peace and stability. Slowly, David opens up to Robert about the nervous fears that plague him, and when Robert responds with sympathy and support, David finds himself feeling much more than friendship. But he’s afraid that he’s already a burden on Robert, and that asking for more will only strain their developing bond. 

Can these two wounded soldiers heal each other? 

Content warning: period-typical homophobia and ableism (probably less than is strictly period typical, but this is a romance novel, not a historical essay), implied/referenced suicide

I knew nothing about this book until it crossed my timeline thanks to GoodReads friends and some bloggers. Post-World War I, former boarding school friends reconnect as wounded soldiers.  The author describes this book as "tenderness after a time of suffering," and I'm not gonna lie - I may have swooned.

The Brightest Star in Paris
by Diana Biller 

She never expected her first love to return, but is he here to stay? 

Amelie St. James is a fraud. After the Siege of Paris, she became “St. Amie,” the sweet, virtuous prima ballerina the Paris Opera Ballet needed to restore its scandalous reputation, all to protect the safe life she has struggled to build for her and her sister. But when her first love reappears looking as devastatingly handsome as ever, and the ghosts of her past quite literally come back to haunt her, her hard-fought safety is thrown into chaos. 

Dr. Benedict Moore has never forgotten the girl who helped him embrace life after he almost lost his. Now, years later, he’s back in Paris. His goals are to recruit promising new scientists, and maybe to see Amelie again. 

When he discovers she’s in trouble, he’s desperate to help her—and hold her in his arms. When she finally agrees to let him help, they disguise their time together with a fake courtship. Soon, with the help of an ill-advised but steamy kiss, old feelings reignite. Except, their lives are an ocean apart. Will they be able to make it out with their hearts intact?

OK, honesty time. I haven't read Biller's much lauded debut - mainly because it was published by Macmillan and landed at that moment the publisher decided to be a butt to libraries. On top of that, what I learned about the book at the time led me to believe that the marketing of it was a mess. Honestly though, the butt to libraries thing was enough to turn me off.  Of course now it's been hyped to the hills so who knows if I'll get to it - but maybe this second book is the place to start? The Franco-Prussian War isn't exactly well-trod territory in historical romance, plus we have a ballerina heroine and a doctor hero.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to?

Thursday, October 14, 2021

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is October 20!

Hey, hey - it's that time again! Time for the monthly #TBRChallenge!  Whether you are participating or just following along, #TBRChallenge Day is Wednesday, October 20. This month's (always optional) theme is Gothic.

This was another suggestion from the poll I ran late last year and, if memory serves, it was suggested by more than just one person. There's been a number of Gothics published in the past few years, and some of you may even have vintage titles lurking in your TBR. Honestly though, anything a little creepy or a little spooky would fit the bill.

But remember, the themes are always optional.  Maybe your TBR is nothing but sunshine and roses. Maybe you don't like to ready spooky Gothic-y creepiness.  Whatever, it's no matter! 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.  

Also, the poll asking for theme suggestions for the 2022 TBR Challenge is still open.