Saturday, May 8, 2021

May Day: Unusual Historical Highlights for May 2021

It's a blue ribbon day here at The Bat Cave - COVID vaccine shot #2 was jabbed into my left arm this morning.  I'm using it as an excuse to lounge about, be lazy....and browse new Unusual Historicals.  Never mind that I seem to be in a wee bit of a reading slump at the moment.  Since when has that ever stopped me from ogling at books?  Here's what is catching my eye for May:
Investigative apprentice Lyra Brazier, the newest resident of Burning Cove, is unsettled when her boss suddenly disappears. Lyra knows something has happened to Raina Kirk, and tracks down her last known appearance at an exclusive hotel and health spa. The health spa is known for its luxurious offerings and prestigious clientele, and the wealthy, socialite background Lyra desperately wanted to leave behind is perfect for this undercover job. What Lyra lacks in investigative experience she makes up for in gut instinct, and her gut isn’t happy that she’s saddled with a partner by Luther Pell, Raina’s dangerous lover, who wants to bring in someone with more experience to help. 

Instead of the suave, pistol-packing private eye she expected, though, Simon Cage is a mild-mannered antiquarian book dealer with a quiet, academic air, and a cool, remote gaze. Lyra suspects that Simon is much more than what he seems, and her instincts are confirmed when they arrive at the spa and pose as a couple: Simon has a unique gift that allows him to detect secrets, a skill that is crucial in finding Raina. 

The unlikely duo falls down a rabbit hole of twisted rumors and missing socialites, discovering that the health spa is a façade for something far darker than they imagined. With a murderer in their midst, Raina isn't the only one in grave danger—Lyra is next.

This is the 5th book in Quick's Burning Cove series, set in 1930s southern California and each book follows a different couple.  This blurb carries a whiff of paranormal to it (the mention of the hero's "unique gift") and certainly there's a mystery afoot.  But really, I'm in it for the bookish hero partnered with female PI apprentice.  This is a hardcover release, hence the sticker price.

Stolen by the enemy… 

In thrall to his touch! 

Mercian princess Aelfwynn’s hard-earned escape from a tumultuous life at court to a nunnery is thwarted when she’s kidnapped by rugged Viking Thorbrand from a rival clan. She expects this dark-hearted warrior to have wicked intentions, but he’s not the savage beast she expects. There’s something about him that calls to her and soon it’s the shockingly addictive pleasure she finds with her captor that’s the biggest danger of all…

Well, well, well - isn't this interesting? Crews has written a mess of books (she's also Megan Crane) and Harlequin readers predominantly know her from her work with Harlequin Presents and Harlequin Dare.  This right here is her first Harlequin Historical (and I'm pretty sure her first historical period).  I've been reading romance a long time. I can't tell you the number of historical authors I've seen jump ship to contemporary.  It's pretty rare to see the reverse (not that I think Crews is jumping ship - more like just adding to the yacht club!).

Her Lady's Melody by Renee Dahlia

Two women, both widowed on the same day, find new love after loss. 

Dr. Luciana Stanmore wondered if this stoic fragility would haunt her forever. The Great War officially ended on 11 November last year, but the wounded weren’t magically healed by the signing of the armistice. Eventually, the hospital at Remy Siding near Ypres emptied enough for Luciana to head home to England, but a letter from her Oma in Amsterdam took her there instead. She should be taking the time to heal and grieve for her lover Maggie who died in the war. When the neighbour’s son breaks his arm falling out of a tree, Luciana must confront her war trauma to help him. It would be a lot easier if the boy’s mother wasn’t so beautiful and empathetic towards her shocked state. A plot to kidnap the boy gives Luciana a reason to emerge from the shell she’s built around her heart, and a reason to spend more time with Therese. 

Therese De Seletsky is a widow with a secret, or two. In hiding from the Bolsheviks, she lives quietly in Amsterdam with her seven year-old son, Count Pavel de Seletsky. Her husband, Alexandre, the previous Count, was killed during the Russian Revolution, with Therese watching on as she hid in the cupboard with Pavel wrapped in her arms. With Russia in turmoil, she needs to keep her son safe, so when Pavel is almost kidnapped, Therese panics. Her neighbour, the elusive gorgeous Dr Stanmore, helps her figure out the threat to Pavel, and together they must travel to England to find the final piece of the puzzle. It’d be easy, except Luciana reminds Therese of all the feelings she’s buried deep since she was pulled out of music college in scandalous circumstances and quickly married to the Count.

A doctor with trauma from World War I gets entangled with a beautiful widow hiding her son from the Bolsheviks. So much drama, so much Wendy Catnip. My wee little nerdy history-loving heart has just skipped a beat.  

An unlikely pair explores the darkest corners of London society in this thrilling historical mystery.  

 The year is 1748, and Lady Juliana Uppingham awakens in a pool of blood, with no memory of how her new husband ended up dead beside her. Her distaste for her betrothed was no secret, but even so, Juliana couldn’t possibly have killed him…could she? 

Juliana’s only hope is Sir Edmund Ashendon, a dashing baronet with a knack for solving seemingly unsolvable crimes—and a reputation for trouble. A man as comfortable in the rookeries of St. Giles as he is in the royal court, Ash believes Juliana is innocent, though all signs point to her as the killer. He doesn’t expect to develop a soft spot for the spirited widow, one that only grows when escalating threats against Juliana force Ash to shelter her in his home. 

When another body is found, it becomes clear that Juliana has been dragged into something much, much bigger than simply her husband’s murder. With a collection of deadly black-tipped feathers as their sole clue and a date at the end of a hangman’s noose looming, they’ll have to find the real killer—before it’s too late.

Carina Press seems to be marketing this one as a historical mystery and a second book featuring this same couple is on the horizon - but I'm featuring it here because it smells romantic suspense to me.  Also, it's a Georgian which is something different beyond the usual Regency or Victorian historical mystery crop.

Decadent chocolate inspires romance for two confectioners. 

After suffering indignities at the hands of her guardian, Candace Sweet sheds the shackles of an aristocratic upbringing to open a confectionery. There she delights in creating decadent chocolate truffles, but memories of her ordeal continue to embitter her new life. When an irresistible salesman enters her shop, he introduces a new element into the confusing recipe of emotions. Candace struggles to reconcile her growing feelings for Monsieur Moreau with the purely business agreement he proposes. 

With his family business failing, chocolatier Alain Moreau works to expand the venerable Moreau brand beyond Paris. While peddling chocolates to a new shop in London, he is struck by exquisitely decorated truffles… and their equally appetizing creator. Soon, he isn’t certain whether he’s more interested in selling to or wooing the proprietress, yet there are serious impediments in his life to any romantic entanglement. 

Figures from both of their pasts keep the sweet makers apart. When an old friend comes to Candace for support during her time of need, Candace begins to understand that some barriers should be broken and true happiness may require sacrifice. 

The finest chocolate is created by combining the bitter with the sweet.

I'm currently in low carb, low sugar Hell and last night I dreamt I was scooping up mountains of chocolates off the ground. I miss sugar y'all. Also, painful honesty time - I've never gotten the appeal of guardian/ward romances. Too much "ick" for me.  A heroine wronged by her guardian who opens up a confectionary and falls for a Frenchman looking to save the family business.  Yes, please! This is the third book in Dee's Providence Street Shops series.

The Knight's Runaway Maiden by Nicole Locke

She hates all Warstones. 

Can this one win her love? 

Balthus of Warstone secretly loved Séverine, even though she was unhappily married to his brute of a brother, then she fled six years ago. Now that her husband is dead, Balthus must find Séverine and reclaim her sons as his father’s heirs. Balthus’s desire is to claim her, too, and despite his battle-maimed arm and her distrust of his family, he’ll prove he’s a suitor worthy of such a courageous woman…

She ran away from an abusive marriage and now her smitten brother-in-law has to track her down because she's raising the heirs. I wish this guy the best of luck.  He's going to need it.

The Duke's Wife by Jess Michaels

After she found out her husband was a bigamist with three wives, Abigail Montgomery’s world fell apart. She was still reeling when she found out he was courting yet another woman, the sister of the Duke of Gilmore. She intervened anonymously and Gilmore’s reaction brought her world down around her. She has seen him as an enemy ever since. An arrogant, interesting, very handsome enemy.  

 No one can push Gilmore’s buttons more than the fascinating Abigail Montgomery. They constantly butt heads and yet he can’t get her off his mind. But now that her year of mourning for the husband who betrayed them all is over, she is showing up in his life a lot more. When a series of playful wagers leads to a passionate moment, everything changes. 

Now forced to marry after being caught together, the two must navigate a tangled past and a cloudy future. Could these enemies ever be more than lovers? Or will their stubborn hesitation to get closer keep them from being truly happy together?

The final chapter in Michaels' The Three Mrs series. Wife #3 saves Would-Be Wife #4 from her fate only to have the woman's brother be a thorn in her side ever since. Enemies to Lovers meets Michaels' reputation for writing sizzling and steamy.

Vanquished by Hope Tarr (Reprint)

A devil’s bargain… 
“The photograph must be damning, indisputably so. I mean to see Caledonia Rivers not only ruined but vanquished. Vanquished, St. Claire, I’ll settle for nothing less.” 

Known as The Maid of Mayfair for her unassailable virtue, unwavering resolve, and quiet dignity, suffragette leader, Caledonia – Callie – Rivers is the perfect counter for detractors’ portrayal of the women as rabblerousers, lunatics, even whores. But a high-ranking enemy within the government will stop at nothing to ensure that the Parliamentary bill to grant the vote to females dies in the Commons – including ruining the reputation of the Movement’s chief spokeswoman. 

After a streak of disastrous luck at the gaming tables threatens to land him at the bottom of the Thames, photographer Hadrian St. Claire reluctantly agrees to seduce the beautiful suffragist leader and then use his camera to capture her fall from grace. Posing as the photographer commissioned to make her portrait for the upcoming march on Parliament, Hadrian infiltrates Callie’s inner circle. But lovely, soft-spoken Callie hardly fits his mental image of a dowdy, man-hating spinster. And as the passion between them flares from spark to full-on flame, Hadrian is the one in danger of being vanquished.

Originally published by a small press in 2006, both Men of Roxbury House books are now available as self-published digital editions (in related news 2006 was 15 years ago...). A hero desperate for money takes a job from an odious government official to bring down a bothersome suffragette. I highly recommend checking out the 2006 review at All About Romance - because while none of us really did "content warnings" back in the day, Ellen wrote a detailed review that discloses the hero as a rape survivor and an anal sex scene, which would have been a rarity in historical romance back in 2006.

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

Monday, May 3, 2021

General Housekeeping: Subscribing By Email

For those of you who like to get new posts emailed to you - Google Feedburner will be discontinuing this service starting July 1.  Because, sure, why not? Sigh.

As an alternative, I have signed up for a new service called Follow.It. I'm testing it out with this post and let's all hope it's not completely terrible.  I'll also leave the registration button near the top of my sidebar for a while for less-scrolling-easier access.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Library Loot Mini-Reviews: Grifters, Tragedy and Second Chances

 I've hit a spat of decent reads lately, which is a good thing since so far 2021 is looking like my 3-Star reads are going to outpace my 4-Star reads (ugh, this always depresses me).  I'm still in the throes of "obligation reading" but in between I've been picking up books and audiobooks via The Day Job and that's where my recent hits have been.

Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion by Tori Telfer is an engrossing listen on audiobook and the kind of true crime book I'd recommend to folks who 1) like true crime but 2) don't want a bunch of serial killer gore.  Telfer breaks down her chapters by "types" of female grifters: The Glitterati, the Spirituals, the Drifters etc.  She delves somewhat into what fascinates us about con artists (especially female con artists...) but it's not a deep dive psychological treatise.  This is very much a book for the layperson. 

For Romancelandia I highly recommend this book because there's a chapter on the woman who grifted Jude Deveraux and whoa doggie - it is A. STORY!  I left that chapter feeling very sorry for Deveraux, who comes off as a very unhappy and lonely woman (during that time).  Even before the tragic death of her young son, her ex-husband comes off as a sack of human garbage.  I've had the pleasure of meeting Deveraux once, when I'm pretty sure I babbled like a moron.  After this book, if I met her again, I'd have to hold myself back from engulfing her in a hug.

Final Grade = B

Monday's Not Coming by Tiffany D. Jackson was another listen/read on audio that I picked up as it was billed as a YA suspense novel. Set in Washington D.C., Charlotte returns from a summer trip to Georgia ready to start her final year of middle school.  Her BFF, Monday Charles, didn't write all summer - which is weird because they promised to write each other.  Now it's the first day of the 8th grade and Monday isn't there.  She's also not there the next day, or the next day, or the next day.  Worse still?  Nobody seems overly concerned about Monday's vanishing act except for Charlotte.  She goes to every grown adult we tell kids to go to when they suspect there is trouble: she tells teachers, her parents, she even goes to Monday's house and is roundly dismissed by Monday's piece of crap mother.  As the year wears on and Monday is still "not here" - Charlotte finds herself struggling.

A truth universally acknowledged is that teen readers tend to love tragedies and this book is the very definition of a tragedy.  It's hard to write a review for a book where almost everything is a spoiler, but I think it's fairly safe to say that things don't end well for Monday.  There's some pretty disgusting bullying at school (the popular rumor is that Monday and Charlotte are lesbians, which is seen as gross and shocking to the student population because kids are the literal worst), and also abuse.  I ugly-cried my way through probably the last 25% of this book.  

The writings structure is interesting - Jackson time-hops between "The Before," "The After" and "A Year Before The Before" so you get real time and flashbacks.  So even though Monday is never on page in the present, you still feel as the reader that you're getting to know her - which makes the impact of the finale that much more powerful.

A final note that as difficult and tragic as this story is to read, I appreciated that the author crafted a stable family unit for Charlotte but didn't make it all sunshine and roses.  She has two parents who love her, but her mother also has a history of miscarriages which casts a long shadow.  I can't think of any of my Romancelandia friends going for this book (it's a tragedy), but it's dynamite - truly.  

Final Grade = A

Not Quite A Husband by Sherry Thomas was a book club pick for my monthly Zoom chat with my "book girlies."  Byrony Asquith is a female doctor in Victorian London - practical, pragmatic, and aloof.  So it's a shock when she proposes marriage to Leo Marsden, Golden Boy Renaissance man.  The sun rises and sets on Leo basically.  However their marriage barely lasts the honeymoon, an annulment is granted, and Byrony essentially runs away - hitting one distant locale after another until she finally lands in middle-of-nowhere India.  That's where Leo finds her, sent by Byrony's half-sister to bring her home to London because their father is ill.

First things first, I love late Victorian era and Thomas can write her face off.  Also, I'm a sucker for a great marriage-in-trouble / second chance romance plus Byrony is older than Leo (4 years, I think?).  So there's a lot here I'm inclined to love.  So what's the problem?

Well, there's a heaping ton of dubious consent in this book - most of it occurring in the flashback scenes with Leo creeping into his wife's bedroom to have sex with her while she sleeps (yes, really) - this being after she's made it known that she's not terribly welcoming of his "attentions."  Then there's the story behind why their marriage failed - it' The hero isn't much of a hero for that and quite frankly I wanted Byrony to leave behind scorched Earth. I also felt for the first half like I was missing half of this story.  OK, so I haven't read the first book (Delicious) but given the hero in that book is a former boss for Leo's brother - like, how much could I have possibly been missing by reading out of order? (My guess? Not much).

But, here's the thing - this gets better the further I got into it and Thomas writes so well.  There's a scene at the end between the heroine and her father that is pure gold.  We find out that Leo had a thing for Byrony since they were kids (they grew up on neighboring estates) and I'm typically on board for prickly, complicated heroines.  Byrony is a very interesting heroine.

This was good, but with problems - the dubious consent being the biggest issue for me.  I think it's worth reading, but I'm not sure I'd recommend anyone drop their life and read it Right. Now.

Final Grade = B-

Wednesday, April 21, 2021

#TBRChallenge 2021: A Place Called Home

The Book: A Place Called Home by Elizabeth Grayson

The Particulars: Historical western romance, Avon, 1995, out of print, available in self-published eBook edition (99 cents at time of this review posting!). Grayson's backlist is now being "marketed" as The Women's West Series - but trust me, this one is a stand-alone.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: It's a historical western so why wouldn't it be in Wendy's TBR?!  Seriously, no clue now - that's how long I've owned a print copy of this book.  I picked it up in a used bookstore (remember those?) over 15 years ago.  Fun fact: my used print copy has a handwritten notation from Beverly who wrote "11-95 Keep! Terrific!"  And yet I bought it in a used bookstore....

Major Spoilers Ahead! Content Warnings: lots of death (secondary characters), raiding Indian warriors, a dead dog (family pet).

The Review: They don't write 'em like this anymore. In fact, if this book were published today it would not be labelled romance.  It would be marketed as historical fiction. Or possibly as a historical saga.  Not a romance.  But more on that in a bit.

It's 1782 and as part of his service in the Colonial Army, Livi Talbot's husband David secures land in the wilds of Kentucky. Against her wishes, they leave behind Lynchburg, Virginia to chase her husband's dream of a better life for him, Livi and their two young children (12-year-old Tad and 4-year-old Cissy). Tragedy in the form of Indian raiders strike as they're leaving Virginia though and David ends up dead.  Livi is now alone in the wilderness with two children and a family she cannot go to for help.  She essentially eloped with David, marrying well-below her class.  She's on her own and she presses on to Kentucky.

Waiting for them in Kentucky is Reid Campbell, part Creek Indian (by way of his paternal grandmother), and David's best friend who never approved of Livi.  He pegged her as pampered, spoiled, and not the sort of wife his friend "needs."  There's a lot of animosity between these two - essentially boiling down to rivalry and jealousy. David was Reid's "found family," the only one who ever, purely, accepted him. Livi loved David and she saw Reid as a threat to that love, he was always filling David's heads with dreams and nonsense, always trying to undermine Livi.  And you know what?  Livi ain't wrong.  Now David is dead, both Livi and Reid feel guilt over that for various reasons, and they're in the untamed Kentucky frontier.  The British are still making trouble and Indian raiding parties are the norm.

This book would never be published as a romance today mainly because Reid and Livi aren't on page together until the 40% mark plus there's a couple of flashback chapters for David's and Livi's courtship and newlywed years. David dies in chapter one, and it takes 40% for Livi and the kids to get to the homestead in Kentucky. It's all vital set-up though because it kicks Livi's growth arc into high gear. Our heroine goes through A LOT on the trail and by the time she's face to face with Reid you can feel her anger radiating off her in waves. She breaks the news of David's death in a callous way, but damn, you totally get where she's coming from.

The mistrust and dislike for each other is, of course, hiding a simmering attraction and naturally given this animosity neither is forthcoming about, well, much of anything. Reid about his past. Livi about her journey and experiences just getting to Kentucky.

Original Cover 1995

I got sucked in. I love historical westerns that are essentially survival stories, plus I love westerns set in this era - when the "untamed frontier" was Kentucky.  I was up until 2AM reading this book.  Once started I could not put it down.  But it's not without problems and if you have a low tolerance for Old School, there are things in this book that will likely grate on you.  The Indians featured in this story (the Shawnee and Creek) are conflict for the story, raiding and killing settlers. Then there's the Black couple that arrives on the scene towards the end of Livi's journey to Kentucky.  Eustace and Violet are a couple, slaves whose master was killed by Indians.  They come into Livi's camp to scrounge for supplies because they've been lost in the woods for days.  She strikes a bargain with them - come with her to Kentucky, help her plant and bring in the first harvest, and she'll pay them with their own plot of land from David's claim - which they jump on.  Their dialogue has an unfortunate habit of being written in dialect (we get "Miz" and "Marse" for example) and Livi (who grew up on a plantation) is smacked with the reality while speaking with Eustace that the slaves her parents owned may not have been all that pleased with being property, stripped of free will (imagine that!).  This occurs after Livi saves them from slave catchers (only by sheer luck since the catchers are illiterate!) and she tells Eustace that in order to protect them she needs to forge ownership papers.  Eustace is, understandably, not keen on the idea.

It's not great, but I've also read much worse in romances from this era - although it's not the most problematic element of this storyline to say the least.  Violet ends up murdered by raiding Indians, as the result of Livi thinking danger had past and putting the group back into harm's way.  I haven't been this heartbroken over a character's death in a long while and then I got angry.  That decision to kill the one Black woman was, well it was something.  Eustace lives, but his love is gone and well, now I'm angry all over again just typing out this massive spoiler.

This leaves me with a very conflicted feeling over my final grade for this story.  Given that I'm a sucker for a big, sweeping saga, that Livi's growth arc is dynamite and I started and finished this book in one day (at 2AM no less!) I'm sticking with the highest grade I can give a book.  But oh man, it's got problems.  I will never forgive Grayson for Violet's end, oh and Indians killing Tad's dog.  For all those reasons, this book will be an automatic nope for some readers - but for those who like to dip their toes into Old School Frontier Romancelandia?  This was a riveting read.

Final Grade = A

Sunday, April 18, 2021

Spring Bouquet: Unusual Historical Picks for April 2021

After whining about my lack of eligibility for the COVID-19 vaccine last month, it's like the universe heard me. Or maybe the Pfizer Gods?  I had my first shot on Saturday and other than a sore arm, I've been fine. OK, so I was wiped out with fatigue Saturday afternoon, but honestly that's pretty much been my constant state for the past year so....maybe she's born with it, maybe it's the vaccine?  So in honor of being one step closer to being protected, I thought it was time to celebrate with some unusual historicals - and boy howdy, there's a bunch to choose from this month!
Caught in a Cornish Scandal by Eleanor Webster

Will saving a stranger 

Start a scandal? 

With her family facing ruin, and desperate to avoid an arranged marriage, Lady Millie Lansdowne must work with smugglers. Millie knows smuggling isn’t going to be plain sailing, but rescuing a mysterious gentleman in a storm embroils her in a thrilling family drama! Helping handsome stranger Sam recover is a risk to her plans—and her emotions. He makes her feel alive, but she will be gambling on her family’s future if she goes with her heart…

A heroine with her back against the wall turns to smuggling and inconveniently (well, isn't it always?) falls in love.  I loved Webster's A Debutante in Disguise (another unusual historical!) and am looking forward to this one. 

Captain Grayson Hunter knows the battle to complete the first worldwide telegraphic network will be fierce, and he intends to win it by any means necessary. When he hears about a reclusive genius who has figured out how to slash the cost of telegraphic transmissions, he vows to do whatever it takes to get the man in his employ. 

Except the reclusive genius is not a man, and she’s not looking for employment. 

Amelia Smith was taken in by English missionaries as a child. She’s not interested in Captain Hunter’s promises or his ambitions. But the harder he tries to convince her, the more she realizes that there is something she wants from him. She wants everything. And she’ll have to crack the frozen shell he’s made of his heart to get it.

Oh my, a hero upended by his assumptions finds out the "reclusive genius" he seeks is actually a woman.  And wouldn't you know it? The woman seems very not interested.  Milan is back with this third book in her Worth Saga

She’s trying to make ends meet. He’s out for a bit of fun. 

Cordelia Kelly is busy, focused, worried about the future of her fledgling bookbinding business. When a handsome man stops her on the street to pester her with questions, she gives him the consideration he deserves: none. That handsome man happens to be the Duke of Stroud, and he finds Cordelia’s hostility hilarious. He gives chase, if only for the pleasure of provoking her again. 

He thinks life is a game. She doesn’t play around. 

Within days of meeting Cordelia, Stroud sets a marching band on a matchmaking mama, defaces a local monument, and ropes Cordelia into a round of his favorite game. In that same time, Cordelia stitches together the complete works of Mary Wollstonecraft, enthusiastically devotes herself to a petition demanding expanded legal rights for married women, and beats Stroud at his own game. 

She defies all expectations. So does he. 

Most people dismiss Stroud as a fool—himself included. When Cordelia sees past his lighthearted facade, he’s terrified and also... in love? Stroud barges into Cordelia’s life, offering her all the material and sensual temptations she’s learned to do without. She usually has willpower to spare, but turning him down takes all of it, and then some. He’s oddly irresistible. 

Or maybe they’re just perfect for one another.

Oh Lord, this is one of those tropes I love that really isn't a trope per se.  The earnest heroine who finds herself entering the orbit of a hero who thinks life is one big party - or perhaps one big joke. Plus the heroine is a bookbinder - I mean, how can you not love that?  

Surviving a shipwreck en route to London from Jamaica was just the start of Jemina St. Maur's nightmare. Suffering from amnesia, she was separated from anyone who might know her, and imprisoned in Bedlam. She was freed only because barrister Daniel Thackery, Lord Ashbrook, was convinced to betray the one thing he holds dear: the law. Desperate to unearth her true identity, Jemina’s only chance is to purloin dangerous secrets with help from The Widow’s Grace—which means staying steps ahead of the formidable Daniel, no matter how strongly she is drawn to him . . . 

Married only by proxy, now widowed by shipwreck, Daniel is determined to protect his little stepdaughter, Hope, from his family’s scandalous reputation. That’s why he has dedicated himself not just to the law, but to remaining as proper, upstanding—and boring—as can be. But the closer he becomes to the mysterious, alluring Jemina, the more Daniel is tempted to break the very rule of law to which he's devoted his life. And as ruthless adversaries close in, will the truth require him, and Jemina, to sacrifice their one chance at happiness?

A heroine who survives a shipwreck (!) only to get amnesia and a stay at Bedlam for her troubles.  That's England for you - putting their best foot forward. I've a sucker for heroes trying to live down reputations (their own, their family's, whatever...) and reading between the lines of this blurb I'm detecting some Drama Llama.  Sign me up!

An impossible choice: 

His family or love 

Born into different worlds, formidable steward Erik Ward could only admire sheltered noblewoman Linota Leofric from afar. Now he must escort Linota on a dangerous journey—a route that could also enable Erik to finally find his missing sister. Only when Linota is kidnapped, Erik must stop at nothing to save her, and ultimately faces an impossible choice: his vulnerable sister—or the courageous beauty in his arms…

This third book in Matthews' House of Leofric series is a road romance featuring a couple of very different classes.  A Wendy Top Tip - if you love road romances you really need to be reading medieval settings.  The sub genre is ripe with them! 

A beholden man finds himself falling for the war hero he’s destined to double-cross. 

Three hundred pounds for one night of protection. It’s a job offer, but it’s also a ruse. Captain Benjamin Frakes, war hero and de facto head of the Society of Beasts—a club for gentlemen who prefer gentlemen—is tempted to turn it down. But August Weatherby, the sexy, brazen stranger making the offer, has captivated him completely. 

August is hardly the flush flirt he claims to be, however. An indebted man, desperate to save his infirm sister, August makes an ideal pawn for a lord eager to bring down the Society of Beasts once and for all. But August’s charge to find evidence against Frakes is at odds with his own virgin desire to entice the captain into showing him the true meaning of pleasure. 

As August’s infiltration pushes him deeper into the beguiling world of delights behind the Society’s closed doors, he and Frakes discover new ways to push the boundaries of their own cravings. But with mounting pressure to complete his devious mission, August finds himself torn between the man his heart yearns for and the sister whose life depends on his betrayal.

Greene continues her Society of Beasts series for Carina Press with a twist on the bodyguard trope - a war hero takes a job he's unsure of only to find out he's guarding a man who is essentially working with a villain to bring down his gentlemen's club.

Pippa Montgomery never thought her life would go like this. When she found out her late husband was a bigamist and had been murdered, she thought nothing could ever be the same. When she met his brother Rhys, the Earl of Leighton, she knew it. 

Now they must navigate a scandal that will tear them both apart. They must make decisions that will affect the illegitimate child Pippa’s late husband fathered behind her back. And ultimately they must fight, for as long as they can, the simmering desire between them that is bound to explode. 

Two people, broken by a desperate scandal. They can only turn to each other, but they know they can never be together. Will they overcome the obstacles in their way and find a way to love one another? Or will the last consequence of one man’s conduct be the loss of a love that could last all time?

The second book in Michaels' The Three Mrs series features Wife #2 who has found out her murdered husband was a bigamist and she's embroiled in an inconvenient (again, isn't it always?) attraction with her brother-in-law. 

Continue to stay safe and stay healthy Romancelandia. Get your vaccine if/when you can.  And may many amazing unusual historicals await you!  What are you looking forward to reading this month?

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is April 21!

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

This theme is always one of my favorites and when I polled for theme ideas late last year this one was included from those who responded - so it's not just me!  Old School can mean anything from bodice rippers to books that have been in your TBR for a long time to - well, however you can find ways to apply the theme.  And just to provide a sobering fun fact - here in the US if you were born during the first four months of 2000 you can now legally buy alcohol.  

Y'all, I'm so old.

But remember, the themes are always optional.  If bodice rippers make your skin crawl, if that book published 2 years ago is calling your name - hey, no problem!  The goal of this challenge is always to pull something, any book!, out of your neglected TBR pile.

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

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Library Loot Mini-Reviews: Two Recent (Good) Reads

 My reading time isn't my own at the moment "for reasons" and while it's been great for my reading output (deadlines!), I can't really say I've loved much of it.  It's mostly been tedium with a side dreadful. When I was a younger, baby blogger I used to blog about Every. Single. Book. I read.  No foolin'.  But now I'm too old and tired for such shenanigans.  That said, I do clock everything and write pithy reviews on GoodReads - so if you want to read all The Good, The Bad and The Ugly - be sure to follow me over there.

It's been weeks since I've blogged though, so I've decided I need to put something up here - which means y'all are getting two pithy, mini-reviews for books I actually have enjoyed in recent memory.  Neither of them romance.  OK, one of them is. Sorta, kinda.  Let's lead off with that one shall we?

The Switch
by Beth O'Leary was the March pick for my monthly book club / book girlies Zoom chat.  Not everybody was enthralled with it, and I'm pretty sure it was a DNF for one person - but I liked it!  And this being my blog, we all know I'm right 😜

Leena Cotton is an overachiever who has not dealt with her younger sister's untimely death from cancer some months earlier. This ends up manifesting itself into the mother of all panic attacks during a work prestation with a client (which she inevitably blows).  There's nothing for it. Her boss is ordering her on a two-month, paid sabbatical. Where do I find these bosses who offer up paid sabbaticals?  Oh yeah, I work in the public sector. Stupid Wendy - make better choices in your next life.

Anyway, Leena's grandmother Eileen is nearly 80 and her husband has left her for a dance instructor.  It wasn't a happy union, but it's still a blow - coupled with the loss of her granddaughter and her daughter (Leena's Mom) unraveling - it's a lot.  What follows is Leena and Eileen deciding to swap lives - Eileen will live in Leena's trendy London flat with her roommates, Leena will move into her grandmother's country cottage.  And when I say swap lives?  I mean everything. They both end up undertaking each others' various projects.

This is, quite firmly, in women's fiction.  Oh sure, you get two romances, and two happy endings (yes, Grandma gets a romance and HEA!!!!) but it's not the focus of the story. It's about grief, strained family dynamics, and in Leena's case, a romantic relationship that isn't as great as it appears.  That's actually my one solid quibble about this story - the pacing of the Leena's boyfriend plot drags out too long.  It's obvious she's not going to end up with this guy, but he hangs around for entirely too long.  That said, it was warm, cozy with just the right amount of angst to keep me interested. I liked it quite a bit.

Final Grade = B

I heard about Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson several months before it was published, and thinking "Hey, that's probably going to be interesting..." I recommended the audiobook edition to my library and when they ordered it I found myself on the holds list.  It came in for me right away, but the timing was off so I suspended the hold so others could enjoy. Well I finally checked it out and wrapped it up this weekend and OMG, this book is a triumph - I'm so glad Tyson finally decided to put her life on paper.

Tyson pretty much covers it all, from her childhood in New York City, her complicated relationship with both her parents, the birth of her daughter (her only child), her faith, her relationship with Miles Davis, her modelling and acting careers, and her multitude of friendships (oh man, the people she counted as friends!).

My only real quibble in this story was Bill Cosby. Tyson was friends with both Bill and Camille (his wife). I mean, she HAD to put them in the book - her and Miles got married at the Cosby home!  But she completely skips over Bill's fall from grace, arrest and conviction.  Her only reference to it is a mention of "he never laid a hand on me."  That's it.  Look, I get it - it's hard to talk about friends who turn out to be repugnant human beings, but the lack of talking about Cosby's crimes, juxtaposed against Tyson's opinions on feminism and civil rights is....something. It's not one elephant in the book, it's a whole herd. 

Also, while it didn't bother me, Tyson believed very firmly that she had a sixth sense and she had a very strong sense of faith. Many of the moments and milestones in her life she attributed to one, the other or both. Depending on what type of person you are Dear Reader, you'll either be like me (fine with it) or think it's pure hokum.  

Other than the Cosby thing, I loved this and was riveted by the audiobook.  Viola Davis' forward was poorly recorded (did they record it in an empty, cavernous warehouse?) and while it's a shame Tyson only reads the first chapter, primary narrator Robin Miles knocks this one out of the park.  If she's not nominated for an Audie next year we need to light everything on fire.

Final Grade = A