Wednesday, January 16, 2019

#TBRChallenge 2019: Wendy Goes On A Spice Briefs Bender

Work has been busy to start the new year which has resulted in lagging reading mojo.  How lagging?  Let's just say that sustaining my attention span for a category length romance for this month's challenge was too much for me.  No, I needed to go really short - and thanks to Harlequin for mucking up their ebook delivery system, I discovered a small pile of Spice Briefs languishing in my TBR.  This line no longer exists, in part because Harlequin's pricing on the shorts was terrible at the time (over $2 for stories that clocked in on the high end of 50 pages) and also because the line never was clearly defined.  In other words: sometimes you got erotica and sometimes you got erotic romance.  That's fine by me since I read both, but Harlequin largely caters to romance readers so...yeah.  No surprise Spice Briefs folded even though I did my best to single-handedly keep it going.  So it was on a lazy Saturday afternoon that I found myself inhaling four of them back-to-back-to-back-to-back and feeling more than slightly drunk from the fallout.

The Revolutionary Mistress by Leia Rice is all sorts of problematic, is definitely erotica, and I enjoyed every minute of it (don't judge).  With the French Revolution bubbling to full boil, Mariette is a tavern barmaid who has had to resort to prostituting herself to earn any sort of living. Then she meets Rene, and our girl falls hard and fast.  But danger lurks in the form a Sebastian, a regular customer who has her ensnared in his revolutionary activities.

For such a short story (around 50 pages), the author does an excellent job with developing her setting with all the tension you would expect for a story set during the French Revolution.  It ends happily in the respect that the heroine is safe and she's going to be on the receiving end of what will surely be months, if not years, of incredible sex - so while a stretch to consider this a romance, it's definitely what I would consider female-centered erotica.  My only real quibble is that Mariette is what I call a reactionary heroine.  Stuff happens, she reacts.  She never really takes matters into her own hands and for most of this story she's at the whims of men.  Could I understand that given the world she was living in?  Yes. But I can't help thinking what this story could have been had Mariette been a more wily sort of character.

Final Grade = B-

The Lady's Bargain by Leslie Dicken was less successful for me, largely because the heroine does something unbelievably stupid and because the hero is a cad.  Lady Christine Claybourne needs to stay unmarried until her next birthday, only one month away, in order to inherit the only home she's ever known. So when her uncle arranges her betrothal, she runs away and poses as a shy governess.  She's discovered by William Preston, Lord Kingston, her betrothed's younger brother.  Turns out she inadvertently accepted a governess post in her future father-in-law's home. She ran away from a guy she doesn't want to marry only to end up at his parents' house. Seriously.

Here's the thing, I get the girl doesn't want to marry - but she basically prostitutes herself to the "hero" to keep her secret and the brother she is engaged to?  Yes, he wants her dowry (because of course he does), but it's not like the guy is a horrible monster.  So you've got William cuckolding his brother, the heroine determined to go through with the marriage after one night of passion with William because she's in lurve and realizes either way she's destined to be alone forever so what does it all matter anyway, and the author tries to spin it all out as a great love match romance.  Nah, not buying.  On the bright side? The sex scenes are very well written.

Final Grade = D+

Tuscan Seduction by Amber Carlsbad was very well written but ultimately not very satisfying because of it's brevity.  Gina has come to the realization that she is wasting her youth, so she breaks up with her steady, older (read: boring) beau, quits her job that she won't miss, and takes off to Italy.  She meets Carlo on the train, sparks fly, and we get a hot sex with a hot stranger story.

This is very, very brief.  It's basically an interlude between two characters that morphs into them deciding to spend more time together once the train ride concludes.  It works as erotica, but not really as a separate stand-alone story.  Honestly?  This would have been right at home in a Cleis Press anthology, and was even written like it.  Not bad, not great, just sort of there.

Final Grade = C

I had originally planned to just read three shorts for this month's Challenge, but I was well and truly drunk at this point and just didn't know when to quit.  So that's how I came to read The Devilish Duke by Alice Gaines, which led me to sobering up quickly.

Miss Rosalind Weaver's father is a degenerate gambler who wants to sell his daughter into marriage to a man she cannot abide. So her answer is to arrive on the Duke of Fallon's doorstep (he had also asked for her hand, but was outbid by the odious guy) and propose they marry. She'll give him the heir he desperately wants (Fallon's got two dead wives under his belt...) and she doesn't have to marry the odious lecher.  He agrees, but wants to sample the goods first.

The author is shooting for romance here, but instead readers are regaled with Sex and Crazy.  The "Crazy" comes in the form Dead Wife #2's Evil Sister who the hero had a menage a trois with - and yes, of course the sisters were incestuous.  There's also the backhanded comment the hero makes about Dead Wife #1 being frigid, dying in childbirth, and the baby (a girl) dying a few days later.  He makes a snide comment about being happy "at the time" that the baby died so he could start over.  What. A. Prince.


And after that I'm supposed to believe he's a great guy and he's got this great love match, finally, with Rosalind and OF COURSE we get a childbirth epilogue where OF COURSE Rosalind squirts out a baby boy and WENDY MAD! WENDY SMASH!

Look, were girls devalued during historical times?  Heck, we're devalued now!  Doesn't mean I want to read about it and it doesn't mean I want the author to give the hero a free pass over it.

Final Grade = F

Not a good way to end my gorging at the Spice Briefs trough, but it did succeed in getting me to sober up.  Plus reading so many shorts in a row helped kick start the mojo.  Not a rousing success, but I'll take it.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day Is January 16!

Hey, hey, hey!  For those participating in the 2019 #TBRChallenge, a reminder that your commentary is "due"on Wednesday, January 16.  This month's theme is We Love Short Shorts! (examples: novellas, short stories, category-length romance).

A reminder that, as always, the themes are completely optional.  If you don't feel like reading short, that's OK!  The goal is to read something, anything, that has been languishing in your TBR.

If you're participating on social media, please remember to use the #TBRChallenge hashtag so people can follow along.

And it's not too late to sign up!  Simply leave a comment on this reminder post.

You can learn about the challenge and check out the full list of blogging participants on the information page.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Reading Year in Review 2018

I think we all can agree that 2018 was a dumpster fire of a year and yet, somehow, I managed to get through 95 books.  My reading goal is always 100, so while I did fall short, 95 is the most I've managed to get through since 2014 (when I read an incredible 119).  Here's how it all broke down (and yes, I count DNFs):

5 Stars (A Grade) = 7
4 Stars (B Grade) = 27
3 Stars (C Grades, includes some "low B-") = 38
2 Stars (D Grades) = 10
1 Star (F Grades) = 3
DNF (Did Not Finish) = 10
Audiobooks = 28

My A grades were up this year (although pretty consistent from previous years - I rarely assign 5-Stars in the double digits), my DNFs were up a smidge, my audiobook numbers were down (shorter work commute after I moved last year!), and my C grades outpaced my B grades (which is not great).  But, I'll take it.  This was the most productive reading year I've had in a dog's age.

Now, for what everybody cares about: the books!  A reminder that this is a recap of what I loved and read during 2018, but not necessarily books published in 2018.  I'm perpetually behind, so most of my Best Of list will be books that will, hopefully, be lurking in TBRs already or easy to score at your local library.

Note: Title links will take you to full reviews

The Romance:

Burn Down the Night (2016) and Wait For It (2017) by Molly O'Keefe - After not a single romance garnered an A grade from me in 2017, I vowed to start off 2018 on the right foot - with an author who consistently works for me.  The final two books in a quartet series, Burn Down the Night gives me the closest thing I've read to a true Bad Girl Heroine in the genre and Wait For It is an example of an Asshole Hero done right.  I didn't read these books so much as inhale them.

Breathe (2016) by L. Setterby - My contest judging this year was largely meh, but holy hell where has this book been all my life?!  A perfect example of starting a book, reading the first sentence, and just falling head over feet right into the world.  I'm so hooked that I downloaded the Wattpad app to read the next book in the series (still being released in weekly installments as I write up this post).

An Extraordinary Union (2017) by Alyssa Cole - A historical romance with legit high stakes conflict.  I loved this heroine so much I'm thinking of taking the Gone Fishin' sign off of my ovaries.

The Tycoon's Socialite Bride (2014) by Tracey Livesay - Here it is, the best category romance I read this year.  Livesay hit all her emotional beats, right on time.  I loved the heroine's family baggage and the hero bent on revenge but not needlessly cruel (although this one does rip your guts out in parts).  Don't think you like category romance?  Try this one.  It's damn near magical.

Indigo (1996) by Beverly Jenkins - Arguably the book that Jenkins is best known for, and it's easy to see why.  She puts so much into this story, addressing racism, colorism, and sexism, without preaching from the pulpit or losing sight of the romance.  Also, I've always felt that Jenkins' strength (well, besides her dynamite heroines) is her world-building.  The community she creates in this story, using the Underground Railroad as a backdrop, was so well done.

The Soldier Prince (2018) by Aarti V. Raman - This is my cracktastic read of the year, basically a category romance about a former Black Ops-style soldier, who is really a prince, who falls in love with a struggling college student waiting tables in a New York City deli.  This one is full of ALL THE TROPES and I couldn't get enough of it.  Raman needs to publish the next book in this series, like, yesterday.

Delicious Temptation (2015) by Sabrina Sol - Believable baggage (seriously, families can be the worst), and I loved the East LA family bakery backdrop.  Is it because I live in southern California and know the area?  Maybe.  Because Sol writes it so very well.  My runner up for best category read of the year.

Not Romance, Still Awesome:

The Broken Girls (2018) by Simone St. James - It's to the point now where I'm a squee'ing unreasonable fangirl for Simone St. James, but seriously, I loved this one.  A time slip novel with converging 1950 and 2014 plot treads and a nice "romantic elements" secondary thread involving the 2014 heroine and her cop boyfriend.  

Grant (2017) by Ron Chernow - A long book (47 hours on audio!), this one is worth the time investment.  Grant's life exemplifies the old "truth is stranger than fiction" adage.  That this man, basically a failure is every other aspect of his life, defeated the Confederacy, saved the Union, and became President is simply remarkable.  This is my new Read A Book Already book.  Plus, I learned stuff.  Which is always nice when reading non-fiction.

Jane Doe (2018) by Victoria Helen Stone - The revenge thriller I didn't know I needed.  A cool, methodical heroine who exacts her revenge against the worst sort of hypocritical DudeBro.  I loved every blessed minute of it.

Charlesgate Confidential (2018) by Scott Von Doviak - A crime novel set in Boston with three converging timelines. It did take a while for me to sink into this story and I did have to read about the damn Red Sox way too much for my liking, but this one is excellent.  Excellent world building.  Excellent mystery.  Interesting characters.  It kept me guessing all the way to the end.

Comfort Read/Author of 2018:

Marcia Muller - Every reader I know has what they call "comfort reading."  Either a favorite book or author, maybe a favorite genre.  For me, that's mystery.  I fell in love with reading via mysteries.  I devoured them as a teen, so there's a really high nostalgia factor at play here.  Given what a mess 2018 was, it's probably not surprising that I read 14 books in the Sharon McCone series this year.  I got through books 3 - 15 and one short story collection this year, in a mix of audio and print.  Technically these were all rereads for me, revisiting books I first read or listened to on audio as a teenager and in my early 20s.  Yes, some held up better than others, but the world building! The character arcs! I wanted to read more in the series this year, but other obligations have kept me from them.  I plan to pick up again with book 16 in 2019.

And that's my Year In Review for 2018.  I'm quite pleased with myself, but continue to hope for bigger and better in 2019.  The goal, once again, is 100 books.  Let's see if I make it.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Review: The Gunslinger's Vow

I can't help but feel like me ending 2018 with a "meh" read is some kind of metaphor.  Ask any reader what their definition of a "C" (or a meh) read is and the answers you get will vary.  For me, it's usually "I liked some stuff, thought other stuff wasn't so good, and it all came out in the wash."  That's how I felt about The Gunslinger's Vow by Amy Sandas, her first historical western with Sourcebooks and the first book in a new series.  What's good here is very good, but the rest of it? Meh.

Born and raised in Montana by a widower father, Alexandra Brighton has spent the last five years in Boston getting schooled on how to be a proper young lady by her Aunt Judith.  The hard work has just culminated in a marriage proposal from an eligible bachelor with political ambitions.  In a moment of panic, Alexandra agrees - quickly realizes what she's done and can only think to run.  She doesn't know who she is anymore.  Is she the girl she left behind in Montana?  Is she the girl her aunt has molded into a society princess?  One thing is for sure, she can't marry anyone until she finds out.  So she packs a bag, sneaks away, and heads home to Montana to reunite with her father - who, naturally, has no clue she's coming.

So we all know what happens next.  Alexandra survives the train ride west intact, but a broken down stagecoach and vagaries of travel means she's now stranded.  But never fear - she's gotten wind of a bounty hunter in town who just so happens to be heading towards Helena, Montana on business.  Surely he can be hired to take her the rest of the way. 

Malcolm Kincaid is hunting the man who murdered his brother, and his latest intel suggests The Belt-Buckle Kid (seriously?!) is holed up north of Helena.  This is vengeance a long time coming, so needless to say taking a pampered looking Bostonian princess along for the ride is not high on his list.  He turns Alexandra down flat.  However looks are deceiving and the Eastern lady is made of sterner stuff than Malcolm gives her credit for.  After a series of misadventures, they do end up traveling together.

I have to be honest - the pampered Eastern lady who finds herself out west is not a plot device I'm wild about, but the fact that Alexandra was born and raised in Montana, plus I'm always looking for new western writers, sold me on giving this one a whirl.  Unfortunately it never solidified for me, in large part because of Alexandra's uneven characterization and pacing issues.

Here's the thing: I'm supposed to believe that Alexandra is smart, resourceful, and prepared for the trials that an uncivilized western landscape can throw at her.  And, at times, she is.  But then she does boneheaded stupid stuff where I'm like, "Seriously, girl?!"  Oh, like not packing any practical clothing for the trip out west (this is explained away by her wanting to show her father what a "lady" she had become).  When Malcolm turns her down flat, and even though she has reservations, she hitches a ride with another party heading north who quickly rob her and leave her stranded in the wilderness (although to the girl's credit, she stays alive and doesn't panic).  And while her fiance' is no prize (typical guy with political ambitions who sees the heroine as a means to an end) - the fact is she accepted his proposal and immediately runs off - never mind she doesn't give her Aunt Judith a second thought.  We never meet Aunt Judith on page, and while she sounds like a positive snore, she also doesn't sound like a cruel witch.  In other words, the woman deserved some consideration.

To be frank, a lot of this nagging stuff smacked of convenient plot devices not terribly well executed. It didn't feel authentic or natural to the characters.

Alexandra's character isn't done much favors by the pacing of the story.  I was 30% through the book before the story started to go anywhere.  Then, after "stuff" happens and our couple has to spend a couple of weeks holed up in a cabin, the author sets about having the characters fall in love and succumb to their passions - which, great...but it drags on so long that by the time we get to the finish, the Big Moments of Alexandra reuniting with her father and the final showdown between Malcolm and The Big Bads isn't given nearly enough page count to spin out.  It feels terribly rushed.

Which makes it sound like there was nothing I liked about this book.  Au contraire!  As uneven as I found Alexandra's character at times, the author does a good job with her "self-discovery" arc and there were moments of insight that stopped me cold.
It was long past time that she stopped trying to please everyone else and finally accepted all of who she was. There would always be someone to find fault, but at least she would be real. She would be free.
He wanted to keep his distance today? Pretend he wasn't passionately involved in what had occurred between them?  Then fine. That was his choice.  She didn't want to doubt herself anymore.
When we talk about romance being a genre where women "win?"  I basically want to wallow in those above two passages for a couple of days.  So even if I found her an uneven character, by the time I rolled on to these moments in the story I was all about Queen Alexandra living her best damn life.

I'm not sure I'll read the next two books in this series (two more Eastern ladies heading west? Jury's still out), there's enough on the page here that I would read a Sandas western in the future.  Not a blazing success, but there were moments that carried me through.

Final Grade = C+

Friday, December 28, 2018

Review: Far From Home

Far From Home by Lorelie Brown is a book I meant to read ages ago.  When it was first published (a lifetime ago in 2016...), it garnered a number of positive reviews (including a couple of "starred reviews" in the professional journals) and finaled for Best Contemporary Romance: Short in the 2017 RITAs.  But, as I perpetually do with most of the books I want to read, I pushed it off until, finally, my hand was forced (Day Job related project...).  I had quibbles but Brown does so much right that it's easy to see that the praise was well earned.

Rachel is a Southern California girl, a recovering anorexic, and drowning in student loan debt.  She thinks she's straight, but given the state of her life (did I mention her relationship with her mother is eff'ed up bordering on neglect?) romantic entanglements aren't exactly high on her list to fret over.  So it's pretty outrageous when an flippant remark at a party leads to her accepting a marriage of convenience.

Pari is Indian and came to the States on a work visa sponsored by her employer.  However her ambition is to start her own consulting business which means bye-bye work visa, hello get a green card.  Cool, calm, put-together Pari is going to marry Rachel - at least for a couple of years until the green card goes through.  Pari gets to stay in the US, Rachel gets to live in Pari's very nice condo rent free and get some help paying off her oppressive student loans.  It's win-win really - well, except they both have emotional baggage.  Pari with her large, Indian family and past hurt over a relationship gone sour ; Rachel with her dissatisfaction in her career, her mountain of debts, her messed up relationship with her Mom and her anorexia recovery.

There was a lot I really liked about this story.  This is first person from Rachel's point-of view and Brown knocks her characterization out of the park.  She felt so real to me that I'm pretty sure I may have gone to college with this girl.  The romance is also of the slow burn variety, with Pari and Rachel working their way towards friendship that eventually combusts into full-blown passion.  The author sets her stage and it takes time for the characters to "get there" - which frankly in today's genre that seems to constantly be harping on "faster, sooner, yesterday..." was a welcome breath of fresh air.

The California setting is picture perfect (Rachel "thinks" like someone who lives in SoCal - for lack of a better description) and the added addition of Pari's Mom as a secondary character was inspired.  Mileage will vary here, but I also loved the way the author handled the interracial aspects of this romance and Rachel's complicated relationship with exercise and food.  I'm not sure how to describe it - it felt authentic and well-written without the author trying too hard to convince the reader that she's "woke."  There was a maturity and matter-of-factness to the story and relationships among the various characters that simply clicked into place, like puzzle pieces finally put in the correct order.

So, what didn't work as well?  Well, this is a short read - around category length - and some of the issues here are hard.  But I'm also a reader who likes characters to flail themselves on the rocks for a bit before settling into the happy ending.  Also, as richly drawn as Rachel is, it takes a bit longer to wrap your arms around Pari.  Part of this is her personality and part of it is because of the first person point-of-view.  For example, there's a past relationship that burned Pari badly but it's pretty well dashed off in a few short sentences and not given the same depth as Rachel's baggage.

There's also the small matter of Rachel being straight...well, she thinks.  There's references to past male sexual partners, but and here's the thing, prior to Pari there hasn't even been a whiff of a lesbian fling for Rachel.  Not even a "I kissed a girl and I liked it" moment. Not even a "Oh look at that woman across the room, she's hot and I'm physically attracted." Brown gets around to explaining this smacks dangerously close to Gay For You territory for me.  It's not Gay For You precisely...but...yeah.  No questioning.  No attraction to women before Pari.  The slow burn to the romance helps out considerably (and it was a smart move on the author's part) but...yeah.

Mileage of course will vary on this.  Again, it's not Gay For You precisely - but I'm a reader who has a HUGE issue with that particular "trope" so anything that flirts around the edges and my red flag comes up to at least half-mast.

But, happy sigh, the ending is so lovely that any quibbles I have are washed away in a pitch perfect epilogue.  It simply works and I read the last sentence with a song in my heart and waving a fond bon voyage to the characters, picturing in my mind's eye their incredibly happy future together.  Which, at the end of the day, is how I want a romance novel to make me feel.  Brown has created a lovely world, interesting characters, and a happy sigh on my lips.

Final Grade = B

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Review: An Extraordinary Union

Yes, I just now read An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole.  Yes, I know y'all told me it was amazing, but that was the problem.  Unless I'm in on the ground floor, hype has a way of making me dig in my heels.  I've been burned before by the ol' Everybody Loved It, I Didn't So It Must Be I'm Being Difficult (Again!).  So this sat.  And sat.  Until finally a Day Job related "thing" had me digging this up from the depths of my Kindle.  And seriously, I could just kick myself into next Tuesday.  This is easily the strongest historical romance I've read in a dog's age.

Elle Burns is a former slave living a fairly quiet life when the powder keg finally blows hurtling the country into Civil War.  Elle will do anything to ensure a Northern victory, and with her amazing talent (she has a photographic memory), she is recruited by The Loyal League, a network of spies aiding the Union cause.  Elle's current assignment is to pose as a slave in the household of a Confederate Senator in Richmond, Virginia.

That's where she meets up with a new contact, Scottish immigrant Malcolm McCall.  A detective for Pinkerton's Secret Service, Malcolm is posing as a Confederate soldier and plays the part so well that Elle, at first, fears for her safety around him.  He's immediately intrigued, not to mention smitten.  She's, quite naturally, wary as hell.  But they both have a common goal and that means working together - even if their mutual and undeniable attraction for each other puts a serious wrench in the works.

People read fiction for a variety of reasons - but let me tell you why I read it: I'm in it for the emotional response.  I want to be juiced in.  I want to be swept away by a story.  Regardless of genre, regardless of the writer, I want to FEEL something when I read a novel.  Which helps explain why I love romance so much.  All fiction plays on reader emotions in some form or another but romance lives and dies by it.  Romance is all about emotion.  It doesn't work otherwise.  The author has to make you feel for their fictional characters, otherwise what's the point?  And that's what makes this book so remarkable - Cole, simply put, nails the emotion.

The stakes in this book are so incredibly high for all the characters, but most especially Elle who has absolutely everything to lose (her freedom, her dignity, her right to exist!).  This is life or death conflict.  Failure is unthinkable and unfathomable.  Sure, are the stakes high for Malcolm?  Yes. But he's a man and he's white. Yes, he is playing a dangerous game but at the end of the day he has some measure of power.  Elle, while a more confident, self-assured heroine you'll ever meet, doesn't even have the illusion of power.  She's working undercover as a slave and, for all intents and purposes, is completely on her own - even after Malcolm shows up as a partner, of sorts.  She has to trust him, but that doesn't mean it comes easy - and really, you can't blame her.

Cole has a way of writing with such empathy, that you immediately feel everything these characters are feeling and why they're feeling it.  The author made me feel like I was there - witnessing what Ellen was witnessing, the indignities, the depression, the fear, the complete sense of helplessness that she cannot allow to take over because she MUST succeed.  The South winning is unthinkable and not an option.

Malcolm's a compelling hero, the spy plot is interesting, but this is Elle's book y'all.  It just is.  This story lives and dies at her feet.  The richness of her character, the depth of emotion that Cole wrings out through her character, it's remarkable.  Add to this a compelling romantic arc with high stakes, a well-drawn historical backdrop, it's easy to see why so many readers loved this book to the hills and back when it was published in 2017.  I'm late to the party, but as they say...better late than never.

Final Grade = A

Monday, December 24, 2018

Top 4 Unusual Historicals for December 2018

I’ve been a collection development librarian long enough to tell you that publishing in December is traditionally a dead zone. You’d think that would have changed somewhat with the mainstreaming of self-publishing, but not really. Things still seem to bunch up around the fall and spring months of the calendar. But I can always count on my old friend Harlequin Historical and there’s two westerns this month that are prodding me to take a closer look.

The Governess’s Convenient Marriage by Amanda McCabe
A lady turned governess…  
 A life-changing proposal!  
When Lady Alexandra Mannerly last saw Malcolm Gordston, he was a poor crofter’s son—someone a sheltered duke’s daughter would never be allowed to marry. But scandal has rocked her arrogant family, and Alex now leads a quiet life as a governess in Paris—where she meets Malcolm again! Now he’s a wealthy, powerful department store owner…and determined to make her his bride! 
Sometimes I legit wonder if authors have a window into my soul because OMG WHY AM I NOT READING THIS BOOK RIGHT THIS SECOND?! A heroine now living a life below the privilege she was born into, and a hero who is a department store owner. Oh, and it’s a marriage of convenience story! Happy holidays to me!!!! 

A Scandalous Winter Wedding by Marguerite Kaye 
From one snowy Christmas…  
…to a sizzling-hot reunion!  
 A Matches Made in Scandal story. Kirstin Blair has spent seven years trying to forget brooding Cameron Dunbar. Now self-made man Cameron needs her help to recover his missing niece, and Kirstin must face the truth—seeing him again sparks the same irresistible attraction that first brought them together! She must decide: resist, or give in to temptation and risk Cameron discovering everything she’s fought so hard to protect… 
This is the fourth and final book in Kaye’s Matches Made in Scandal series and it’s time for the mysterious Procurer (a Regency era “fixer”) to get her romance! This one features a reunited lovers theme, and a bit of a mystery, as the heroine is helping the hero track down his missing half-sister. I’m behind on this series, but I’ve found The Procurer so intriguing just from brief glimpses, I’m half tempted to jump ahead and read out of order. I’ve seen reviews indicting this stands alone, so I just might throw caution to the wind!

Bound for Temptation by Tess LeSue 
Having survived the Oregon Trail, Emma Palmer is ready for a fresh start, even if it costs her all the gold in California.  
Emma Palmer has had many jobs and has gone by even more names, but most recently she is known as Seline, madam of her own establishment. Her place is clean, her booze is cheap and her bedrooms are fancy. But when a would-be patron won’t take no for an answer, she is forced to don a new disguise and flee for her life. While the schemes she cooks up might seem outrageous to an outsider, they haven’t failed her yet.  
Tom Slater is a taciturn cattleman at the tail end of a long, hard season on the trail. He’s looking forward to a quiet winter at his old family homestead in Mexico. What he doesn’t plan on is escorting a group of women on the run to safety south of the border. Tom doesn’t need to be a trailsman to know that the woman with the sly, green eyes—the one he can’t keep out of his thoughts—will only lead to trouble. 
The third in a series, this book is prodding me to check out the first book currently languishing in my TBR. I love historical westerns but I’m not a “funny ha-ha” sort of reader by nature and reviews for book one indicated it was of the light, humorous variety (I like my historical westerns to run toward dark, angsty, are we going to survive winter?). But the heroine is described as a madam and frankly that means I at least need to download the sample to take a look.

The Valentine’s Curse by Jodi Thomas 
As a Yankee in Texas two years after the Civil War, cowboy Broderick Monroe is given the jobs no one else wants to do—including keeping company with the cursed Widow Allen at the annual Valentine’s Day dance thrown by his boss’s wife.  
After losing two husbands to the war, Valerie Allen has become a local pariah. Rumor has it that if a man touches her, he’ll be dead by morning. But Brody believes in curses about as much as he believes in love.  
One secret embrace in the moonlight leads Valerie to think she has found a kindred spirit, but fate—and the curse—aren’t done with her yet . . . 
This novella was originally published in the multi-author Be My Texas Valentine anthology in 2012 and is now available separately for the first time. It sounds positively delightful and nearly every review for the anthology singled out this Thomas story as the true gem in the collection. I nearly broke a nail one-clicking this.

What Unusual Historicals are looking forward to reading this month?