Wednesday, March 15, 2023

#TBRChallenge 2023: A Night of Scandal

The Book: A Night of Scandal by Sarah Morgan

The Particulars: Contemporary romance, Harlequin Presents #3000, 2011, available digitally, first book in The Notorious Wolfes continuity series.

Why Was It In Wendy's TBR?: Once I discovered Sarah Morgan I glommed nearly, if not all, of her category romance backlist - which mainly reside in the Presents and Medical lines.

The Review: This month's optional TBR Challenge theme is Baggage, and you will never want for baggage in a Presents.  If anything you might be crushed under the weight of said baggage. Yes, sometimes less is more, but nobody ever says that about Presents.  More is usually more - with varying degrees of success.

Nathaniel Wolfe (of course his surname is Wolfe - that's how you know he's the hero in a Harlequin Presents novel...) is a big time, dreamboat, Hollywood movie star.  The kind of guy that men want to be and women want to be with. Devastatingly handsome, notorious playboy, but also (shockingly enough) a damn good actor. Unfortunately he's a book often judged by his cover, so he's back in England to star in a play, a contemporary retelling of Richard III.  It's the hottest ticket in town, it's opening night, and it all comes to a screeching halt when the curtain lifts and Nathaniel catches his past sitting right there in the front row.  He completely shuts down, tells the audience to get a refund at the box office on their way out, and takes off running - right smack dab into Katie Field.

Katie is the costume designer for the show and, quite frankly, she's counting on it to be her big break.  She needs the break, and the money that would come with potentially more costume design gigs.  When Dear Old Dad died, his mountain of gambling debts were uncovered. An addiction her mother was aware of, but that Katie and her sister were blindsided by.  Sis, a breathtakingly beautiful supermodel, got angry and essentially cut ties with her family.  Katie, ever the dutiful, "frumpier" sister works her fingers to the bone to keep Mom in the family home.  She cannot afford to get distracted, which means she's largely avoided Nathaniel as much as humanly possible outside of costume fittings.  Besides, he doesn't even know her name - he calls her "wardrobe."  So it's all a bit shocking to realize he 1) does know her name 2) convinces her to help him getaway from the theater and avoid the paparazzi and 3) convince her to let him hole up in her tiny, depressing apartment.  I mean, what could possibly go wrong?

I'm not immune to Hollywood stud falling for nobody stories (I'm not a monster!) but this is pretty flat. Sorry folks, what we have here for a long time is a dreaded Meh, It's OK book.  Both Nathaniel and Katie read pretty much like "types" for the first half of this story.  He's the hunky Hollywood star with a Big Secret! She's the pretty girl who thinks she's frumpy because she's living in her glamorous sister's shadow!  For a long time they never quite felt real to me - more like tropes on the page.

But they weren't unlikeable and certainly I was intrigued by Nathaniel's Big Secret. Who was sitting in the front row and why did it have him running scared?  So even though the characters read a bit flat to me, I kept me flipping the pages - which worked out because things get better at about 50%.  That's when pieces of the real Nathaniel start to peak though.  That's when Katie gets a little feisty and slings a few choice words his way.  And once the Big Secret comes out?  Whoa doggie - it's Grade A Soap Opera Drama Llama.  I immediately looked up the next seven titles in this series.

Also, as far as Presents go, this one avoids some of the nastier pitfalls - although some pitfalls still exist.  There is some vague "not like other girls" nonsense but it's nowhere near as egregious as any romance reader has read elsewhere.  Katie is, of course she is, a virgin - because of course.  But Nathaniel really isn't an Alphahole.  Oh make no mistake, he can lay on the lothario playboy shtick, but he's not in that class of Presents hero that you would happily dropkick into the sun if given the opportunity.  

Would I recommend it?  If you're a Morgan completist or wanting to get sucked into a continuity soap opera?  Sure.  For everyone else?  Morgan has written stronger Presents.  Might I recommend A Night of No Return and An Invitation to Sin?

Final Grade = C+

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Review: The Blackened Mirror

The Blackened Mirror by Jo Graham is a genre-bender, skirting through sub genres I read regularly, and some I do not.  My monthly Unusual Historicals posts focus specifically on historical romance, and the best way to describe this book is probably Unusual Historical Adjacent - because it truly is an amalgamation.  It's historical fiction set in Renaissance Italy, for sure. But there's also political intrigue, suspense, fantasy (specifically dark magic), and sex.  I mean, the book is centered around the Borgias - of course there is sex. 

Giulia Farnese is a teenager at the start of this book, certainly old enough to marry and certainly old enough to have experienced loss in her life - having nursed family members through the summer pestilence, only to have lost her father and a younger sibling.  Her older brother, whom she is closest too, is studying in Pisa and Giulia, while smart, clever and obsessed with learning, is stuck in a country estate they're barely hanging on to and keeping up appearances as noble travelers stop along the way.  The latest such traveler is Virginio Orsini, Lord Bracciano, Gonfaloniere of the Papal Armies.  He's kind of a big deal.

Bracciano isn't in their home for long, but it's still long enough to ferret out Giulia's secret.  She sees things. In mirrors - and no not just her reflection.  Soon a marriage is arranged between Giulia and Orsino Orsini, who happens to be close to Giulia's age and Bracciano's cousin.  Honestly, it's a better match than Giulia could have possibly hoped for with her limited prospects and paltry dowry.  Plus she gets to go to Rome!  She doesn't know Orsino, has never laid eyes on him in fact, but hopefully over time they'll come to care for each other and....Rome!  

Of course none of it goes the way Giulia hopes.  Oh, they get married - but her groom is a dunderheaded milquetoast with no curiosity or ambition.  And worse?  He refuses to bed her.  Why?  Because Lord Bracciano has stated quite clearly that Giulia is to remain a virgin.  Why?  Yeah, remember that seeing things in mirrors stuff?  Bracciano has ambitions and to aid in his quest for power he's summoning a demon and practicing dark magic.  He needs Giulia's abilities to communicate with the demon, and for her to do that effectively?  The Dove needs to remain untouched.  Complicating matters is that the man standing in the way of Bracciano's ambitions is none other than Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia, another relation of the Orsini family by marriage and whose precocious young daughter, Lucrezia, is living with Orsino, his mother and now....Giulia.

Giulia is young, intelligent, pretty and desperately unhappy in her new marriage - so really, it doesn't take long for her head to get turned by Cardinal Borgia.  She's drawn and attracted to him, but under the thumb of Bracciano who is using her powers to brings Borgia down - by any means necessary.  Nothing is off the table, including death.

What I liked the most about this story was watching Giulia grow over the course of it. She's a country girl with amazing abilities thrown into the vipers nest of Vatican and Roman politics. And our girl is a quick study. The moments in the story where her spine stiffens and she cuts someone (usually Orsino) to the quick with her words caused me to guffaw a few times.  The action scenes are also really well done - the demon summoning scenes, the scenes where Giulia or Cardinal Borgia are in danger, all good stuff and it kept me flipping the pages.

That said, the pacing did lag for me in stretches - especially when the dialogue turns philosophical, with Giulia and Borgia talking about ethics, language, mythology, yada yada yada.  It does certainly demonstrate that Giulia is a smart girl and that the pair are attracted to each other - but when compared to summoned demons and assassination attempts, well these sections lag by comparison.

There is sex (eventually) and Giulia and Borgia do end up "together" - but is it a romance?  Wendy says no.  For one thing, he's a Cardinal.  For another he's Rodrigo frickin' Borgia. But it is a historical fantasy with some PG-13 rated sex in it - not spicy enough to be erotica, but certainly you can consider sexual awakening as part of Giulia's growth arc.

This is historical fiction featuring characters who existed in real life, and if you're interested in Renaissance Italy and the Borgias' specifically, I highly recommend this.  Lucrezia in all her precocious 9-year-old glory is a true delight.  And since it is the Borgias, you're getting all the political intrigue, scandal and shenanigans one should (and did!) expect from that family.  No, it's not a romance, but it has all the trappings of a historical soap opera - and there's plenty of room for potential books to be added to create a series.

Final Grade = B

Thursday, March 9, 2023

Reminder: #TBRChallenge Day is March 15!

Hey, hey, hey the third #TBRChallenge of 2023 is fast approaching! The magic day is Wednesday, March 15 and this month's (always) optional theme is Baggage.

This theme came through the poll I opened late last year and y'all, it's a shooting fish in a barrel theme!  Even light and fluffy romances often feature protagonist(s) with some sort of baggage they're lugging around. Something in their pasts etc. that figures in somehow (to varying degrees) as part of the conflict. Some tropes are also ripe for this Baggage theme - see Enemies To Lovers, Second Chance, Marriage in Trouble etc.

So really, I think this one will be easy to stay on theme BUT remember that the themes are completely optional. Remember the goal of the challenge has been, and always will be, to read something (anything!) that's been languishing in your mountain range of unread books. 

It's never too late to join the Challenge! To learn more about it and to see a list of folks participating head on over to the information page

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Celebrating 20 Years

20 years ago I woke up and had the thought, "You know what Wendy? You're not nearly narcissistic enough.  You should totally start a blog!"  It was February 2003. I had just had my 4th anniversary of being a professional librarian. Coincidentally I had also been reviewing at The Romance Reader for 4 years. There was a respectable handful of romance novel web sites (All About Romance and Mrs. Giggles are still standing!) and no social media. Laurie Gold (founder of AAR) and Rosario (a reader living in Uruguay at the time) had blogs. Now I had one. Three of us. When I started this blog Blogger hadn't been bought out by Google yet, there was no commenting feature and what are these tags you speak of? It was very rudimentary but it's what we had.  

We soldiered on, throwing our words out into the Interwebs Wilderness and then...2005 happened. Suddenly it was a riotous explosion of blogs. Not a day goes by where I don't miss all those quirky, fun individual blogs that sprouted up during that time. Group blogs arrived and I wrote for many of them. By my count I've helped kill off at least three (Romancing the Blog, Reader's Gab, and Heroes & Heartbreakers).

I have seen things. I've lived the life cycle of romance reviewers being mean girls, then bloggers being mean girls, to somehow having the tide turn enough that I got a big shiny Librarian of the Year award from Romance Writers of America. This was during a period when my work life was not fantastic for various reasons. It's a marvel I never did put that plaque on a big ol' rope chain and rock it around the office. 

I've seen all the Drama Llama, some of it 3-4 times (there's very few new kerfuffles y'all).  I've watched self-publishing go from Crazy Guy printing his manifesto in his garage, to viable career option for writers. I remember when eBooks weren't "real books." I remember when I thought y'all would pry print out of my cold dead hands (I can't remember the last book I read that wasn't in a digital format...).  I remember listening to audiobooks on cassette and all y'all thinking I was completely insane because "why would you want to listen to a book?!"

So much has changed.  And yet, so much hasn't. 

For one thing, I'm still naïve enough to think that if more people read genre fiction the world would be a better place. For another, Romancelandia is still a pretty rad place even with the squabbles that sometimes have my eyes rolling back in my head. And while I sit in my rocking chair, cradling my adult beverage and non-illustrated clinch book covers, I marvel at these young whippersnappers with their BookTok and BookTube and Bookstagram and podcasts and what-not. I've seen the diversity of the genre and the voices supporting it grow. 

I've been ignoring the blogs are dead talk for at least a decade, mainly because I'm stubborn and the older I get the more I find social media problematic for a lot of reasons. I've seen this blog start with a readership of my Mom, to a whole bunch of people, to now a small group of loyalists who still regularly turn up and leave me comments now and then. 

I was a 20-something, still very green librarian when I started this blog. Now I'm living on the other side of the country and oversee a division of roughly 60 people. I feel like I've lived 10 lifetimes in just the past 3 years - and that's just on the work front. There have been many, many days where I've thought about putting this blog in mothballs. I'm older, I'm tired pretty much all the time, and my work is demanding. But, not to put too fine a point on it, I love this blog. I can't begin to tell you all the good it's brought to my life. A community. Friends. Yes, even accolades. 

I love this blog. I love reading. I love all of you. Thank you for reading this blog - whether it's been for a month or the past 20 years. 

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Box of Chocolates: Unusual Historicals for February 2023

Ever notice how nobody ever seems to say anything good about the month of February? In wide swaths of the US it's cold and dark, quite frankly it's depressing.  Yes, it's mercifully short and you get half-price candy on February 15th, but really that's about it. But at least in February 2023 we're also getting a fairly robust month of unusual historicals.  It's like authors and publishers knew none of us really want to leave our homes this month if we can help it.  Here's what is catching my eye:
Beguiling Her Enemy Warrior by Lucy Morris 
Kidnapped by the warrior 

Tempted by the man… 

Captured by the infamous Lord Rhys, a Welsh prince intent on revenge against her family, Viking healer Helga must keep her wits about her if she’s to be freed. Easier said than done when she desires him rather than fears him! Helga senses there’s good inside Rhys and feels compelled to reach his heart. But first, she must make him see there’s more to her than just his enemy…

Here's my #1 with a bullet this month, the third book in what has been the author's thus far enjoyable Viking Shieldmaiden Sisters trilogy. Last we saw Helga she was getting kidnapped because her brother-in-law arranged for the Welsh princess he was supposed to marry to mercifully escape with her one true love. The fly in the ointment? The princess's brother who kidnaps Helga in a fit of retribution.  Helga's kidnapping is featured prominently in the second book, so I'm more than ready to see how that all spins out and how the enemies-to-lovers (boy howdy!) romance is handled.

Nina Finch isn't suited for a life of crime. Raised by her art-forger brother, she can paint like Botticelli. But she'd so much rather be baking gooseberry tarts. She finally has the money she needs to open her own bakery. Unfortunately, her brother's carelessness lands her—and their forgeries—directly under the nose of London's most discerning art critic, Alan De'Ath. De'Ath knows the paintings are fake. He doesn't know that Nina had a hand in their creation. In fact, he offers her a job in his household. Accepting it is the most dangerous thing she has ever done.... 

Alan takes pride in seeing things other people miss. He plans to catch the forger and cement his reputation. There's only one problem: the closer he gets to the beguiling woman he hired, the less he trusts his perspective. Nina isn't what she seems. But despite their false start, she just might hold the real key to his heart. 

As Nina and Alan’s attraction grows, divided loyalties threaten to pull them apart and shatter their worlds. They’ll lose everything, or discover how powerful true love can be.... 

I'm old, cranky and have many thoughts and feelings about trade paperback historical romances with cartoon covers - but this one sounds fun.  First off, it's a Victorian (I love me some Victorians) with an art forger heroine trying to go straight and a hero determined to apprehend the forger to further his own reputation and garner prestige.  It sounds right up my alley, but a new-to-me author + higher price point = Wendy leveraging her library card to give this one a spin. 

A deal they both agreed to 

An attraction they never expected… 

Widowed Susanna isn’t looking to remarry, but her late husband’s debts mean she’s open to an old friend’s proposition… Last time she saw Quinton Langford, he was content being a physician, but after unexpectedly becoming an earl, he needs a wife to navigate Society. When Susanna agrees to his proposal of a marriage on paper, she never expects long buried feelings to resurface and threaten to derail their agreement! 
My love for Harlequin Historical is well documented, so it's a little surprising that I have yet to read anything by Tyner.  This one sounds like just my sort of a catnip - a physician hero who is out of his depth when he unexpectedly inherits a title and a widowed heroine left behind to clean up a dead husband's financial mess = friends-to-lovers meets marriage of convenience.

London is buzzing with the news that James Winters, the Duke of Wulverton—thought lost at sea a decade ago—survived in the harsh wilderness of the Yukon. Now he’s been returned to his family, his responsibilities, and a nightmarish world of artifice and noise. He has three weeks to become a refined, elegant duke for the Queen…or doom the entire family to ruin and scandal. 

Promising psychologist Jules Southby knows a lot about disguises. She’s secretly been living as a boy since birth, enjoying the freedoms of men and knowing little about how to behave like a woman. When she meets the alluring duke, she’s unprepared for his raw, masculine beauty and icy intelligence…or that he can see through her darkest secret. 

Jules has very little time to transform the duke into a true semblance of an English gentleman. Yet his very presence seems to unravel her in every way. Their attraction is stark and achingly real—and forbidden. But loving the lost duke would mean losing every sacrifice she’s made to earn her freedom…
I have a feeling that this is a book where there will be no half measures. I'm either going to fall on it like a chocolate cake or else it's going to be a hot mess.  But I saw "lost at sea a decade ago" and "Yukon" and I am but a mere mortal.  Reid has been quite prolific but I have yet to try any of her books, and this one sounds deliciously banana-pants. 
Her lessons in flirtation… 

Could work too well! 

When Lady Laura Pomeroy offers to give her friend lessons on surviving the Season, she doesn’t expect her friend’s brother to join! Banker Miles Rochdale is dubious of the aristocracy and clearly thinks Laura is shallow and silly. Frustratingly, mathematical genius Laura finds herself attracted to him and enjoys challenging his assumptions. But, as a marquess’s daughter, there’s no point impressing Miles because she’ll never be allowed to marry someone in the trade… 
A cross-class romance featuring a heroine whose intelligence is likely viewed as a detriment within the ton, and a banker hero who is distrustful of all things aristocracy.  What could possibly go wrong?  Justiss is a solid writer and this is the first book in her new Least Likely to Wed series.

The Witching Hour by Anna Bradley - Kindle Unlimited, Novella
A haunted soul, a broken heart, and an ancient castle that takes care of its own… 

In a mysterious castle in Oxfordshire, in a bedchamber above stairs lays Sylvie Bentham, the Countess of Trevelyan, deceased of a fever at the tender age of twenty-three. 

Or is she? 

Sylvie doesn’t feel dead. To be fair, she doesn’t feel alive either—not until James, the husband she thought lost to her forever appears at her bedside and begs her to come back to him. James makes the frozen blood rush through her veins and her lifeless heart beat wildly in her chest, but he’s made her promises before, promises he didn’t keep. How can she trust his promise of forever? 

James always thought he’d return to Sylvie someday, but he’s waited too long, and now she’s gone forever. 

Or is she? 

Dead countesses don’t wander the corridors of the castle, or play the pianoforte in the music room at midnight. Dead countesses don’t stroke his hair, or hold his hand, or drop tender kisses on his lips. A shadow of Sylvie’s soul yet lingers inside her body, but will his love be enough to lure her back from the brink of death? 

Yes, the blurb caught my eye.  Unfortunately I'm not finding a lot of detail beyond said blurb.  Is the heroine a ghost? Is she alive? Whatever is going on here it definitely sounds Gothic.  It's also short (Amazon lists this at 60 pages) so I think this might be my last KU read before I let my subscription lapse at the end of the month. 

Frustrated by his own failures at matrimony, King Henry VIII punishes an insolent nobleman by commanding him to marry the vagabond woman caught stealing his horse. Stephen de Lacey is a cold and bitter widower, long accustomed to the sovereign's capricious and malicious whims. He regards his new bride as utterly inconvenient…though undeniably fetching. 

But Juliana Romanov is no ordinary thief—she is a Russian princess forced into hiding by the traitorous cabal who slaughtered her family. One day she hopes to return to Muscovy to seek vengeance. 

What begins as a mockery of a marriage ultimately blossoms into deepest love.

This book under this title was first published in 2009, but even back then it was a reprint.  Prior to moving into contemporary women's fiction, Wiggs wrote a bunch of historical romances and this story first appeared as Circle in the Water back in 1994.  It's also the first book in the Tudor Rose trilogy and yes, I have all of the original editions buried in my print TBR (like really, you have to ask?).  Anyway, I've never been able to ferret out if the reprint was revised at all beyond the new title, but comparing the pagination between my print copy of Circle in the Water and what's listed on Amazon for At the King's Command they are within spitting distance - so I'm taking that as a good sign.  Will 2023 finally be the year I read through more of Wiggs' historical backlist?  Sigh. Hope springs eternal.

What Unusual Historicals are you looking forward to reading?

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Review: Pretty Little Wife

While Pretty Little Wife was Darby Kane's debut back in late 2020, it wasn't really. It was disclosed pretty early on that Darby Kane is HelenKay Dimon, author of numerous contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. Kane's a new pseudonym for her foray into the world of domestic suspense.  

I've enjoyed Dimon's work in the past, some of her early books with the Kensington Brava line and her Harlequin Intrigues.  The single title romantic suspense novels she's published the last handful of years? Well, those haven't worked as well for me - which I was chalking up to my love of "short" (seriously, Dimon handled herself well within the very tricky Intrigue line...). So I was curious to see how she would work for me dropping romance and going all-out suspense and you know what? I got sucked into this book like whoa!

From the outside looking in, Lila Ridgefield has the perfect life. A former lawyer turned real estate agent, she lives in picturesque Ithaca, New York with her respected high school teacher and field hockey coach husband, Aaron. But nothing is as it appears to be, and it all comes crashing down when Aaron goes missing. Poof! Without a trace. Car, cell phone, wallet, Aaron - all gone.  The town is in an uproar - everybody loved Aaron, but Lila? Cool, aloof, never ingratiating herself, always on the outside. Normally the cops would sit back and wait.  Aaron and Lila had a fight a few weeks ago. He stayed with his brother for a time, and while he was back home now they were sleeping in separate rooms. He could have just taken off as part of another cooling off period.  Except it doesn't play that way to the lead investigator on the case, Ginny Davis. She feels it in her bones that something is off with Lila. There's more to the story than what Lila is telling them and Ginny is tenacious enough (and smart enough) to have Lila very worried.  And Lila should be worried. Especially since she has no idea how Aaron could possibly be missing when she left his body in a spot where he'd be easily discovered.

I'm coming to this book two years after the fact (oh Wendy, way to stay on brand) and a number of reviews I've since read take swipes at "predictability."  Folks, I've read a lot of suspense in my day. I mean, a lot. And is it predictable?  Yes, in hindsight. I probably should have known where it was going from the jump but...I didn't.  Why?  Because Kane employs a ton of subterfuge. We pretty much learn from the jump that Aaron is not the golden boy everybody in town thinks he is, but the rest of the characters get the onion treatment, with layers slowly getting peeled back as facts and clues are uncovered. When done right this technique never fails to suck me into a story, and I didn't want to come up for air once Ginny starts uncovering Lila's secrets.

It's hard to write a review for this story without spoiling too much, but a few things I think readers should know before going in.  First, there's three missing college women, so yeah - there's violence against women. Also, there's grooming - as in Aaron and his female students.  As mentioned, I've been reading suspense for a lot of years, but what adds another upsetting layer to these plot elements is that it's a book where there's a dearth of decent male characters.  Seriously, there's like one guy who isn't a sack of garbage.  And no I'm not telling you which guy it is because that would be a spoiler.  Normally this kind of thing bothers me. Just as not all men are awful, not all women are down with the sisterhood. I will say though that this didn't bother me quite as much as it has in other books. Why?  No clue. Maybe because I was sucked in unraveling Lila's secrets? Of the mystery of the missing girls? I mean, how does Aaron go missing when he's dead?  And have I mentioned how awesome Ginny is?  I haven't?  Well, she's awesome.

In the end I really enjoyed this story.  Was it predictable in hindsight? Sure, I guess? But man oh man, what a hell of a ride getting there. Much like Nalini Singh's foray into suspense a couple years ago, I'm ready to follow Darby Kane off a cliff.

Final Grade = B+

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Mini-Reviews: Snow White and a Grumpy Duke

Towards the end of 2022 my romance book club decided to read a book that was available via Kindle Unlimited.  At the time there was a 99 cents for 3 months special going on.  I could buy the book for $4.99 or get 3 months of KU for a dollar.  An easy call.  Here's two mini-reviews for books I read thanks to KU and at the time of this blog post they're still available there. I suspect they could work better for readers who aren't nearly as curmudgeonly as I am...

The Duke Alone by Christi Caldwell was the book club read and it's a perfect example of All Trope, No Substance.  

First things first, it's a riff on Home Alone. With the London townhouse in need of repairs, Lady Myrtle McQuoid's family is on their way to the countryside.  Myrtle, newly returned from finishing school is feeling out of sorts because by golly they ALWAYS celebrate Christmas in London, and with the household in an uproar with packing and shenanigans, Myrtle is once again shuffled off without notice.  The neglected sister who nobody pays attention to blah, blah, blah. Her bruised feelings get even more bruised when she realizes the next morning that her family has left without her. She's all alone in the townhouse with only the grumpy Duke of Aragon, Val Bancroft, living next door.

This is a grumpy / sunshine book - which I can like those! I have liked those! Unfortunately it's also the bulk of the conflict.  The entire book is basically:

Heroine: Tee Hee, I'm so sunshiney and twee and let me sing Christmas carols incessantly. 

Hero: I'm wounded and grumpy and why won't this girl leave me alone ::grumble, grumble, growl, growl::

It's 300 pages of this and it just Goes. On. Forever.

Oh yes, and there's also some burglars snooping about (remember, Home Alone) but they're more an after thought than anything else and take up very little oxygen in the story. Myrtle is no Kevin McCallister I'm afraid. 

Then you get the requisite ending where Myrtle's family comes back for her and her mother is all like, "You silly goose we love you and the past 18 years you've been feeling neglected well where ever did you get that idea?" and it's all right as rain.

I think this would have worked better as a traditional Regency written in a bubbly farcical style. Tighter word count, less room for repetition, and the dearth of conflict beyond trope would have been way less noticeable. 

Final Grade = D+

The most enjoyable aspect of Bianca and the Huntsman by Erica Ridley for me was reading all the ways the author twisted the Snow White fairy tale to fit a story set in Regency England. The magic mirror is a talking parrot (warning: when he gives the wrong answer to who is the fairest of them all, Mr. Parrot meets his maker...), the seven dwarves are seven debutantes, and yes of course the poison apple makes an appearance.

The problem is that the rest of this story just doesn't work. Bianca is the by-blow of an earl who died in a carriage accident with Bianca's mother, his mistress.  This is how much a bubblehead Bianca is, she hopes that she and her father's wife (you know, the woman he was cheating on with her mother) can be "friends." The Countess is evil (of course) and is like, why yes darling come live with me, and naturally she puts her to work as a maid. Bianca is still amazingly OK with this, still hoping they can be "friends."

Anyway, the Countess gets all butthurt (see dead parrot / magic mirror) and decides that Bianca should be ruined.  She "hires" Lord Harry Lynsander (the Huntsman) for the job. Harry has been shopping around for an heiress to marry because Dead Old Dad has squandered the family fortune. He willingly accepts the job of ruining Bianca but gets cold feet after he meets her because so beautiful, so innocent, blah blah blah barf.  He helps her run away, she starts traipsing around London with the seven debutantes, and somehow her and Harry fall in love.

This is very heavy on fairy tale, which is fine - but unfortunately Bianca's characterization isn't.  She's naïve bordering on too-stupid-to-live (I mean, she IS Snow White) but then she's dropping sexy banter with Harry like a practiced courtesan. Yes, her mother was a courtesan, but Seductress Bianca really does not jibe with the toothache-inducing innocent Bianca that inhabits the bulk of this novella.

Then there's the ending. These two kids get their happy ending but they do ZERO work for it. The perfect solution (Bianca is a poor by-blow with no resources, Harry has a title but needs to marry an heiress because he's broke) just falls from the sky right into their clueless laps.  The very definition of a Regency historical romance dues ex machina. The fact that the couple didn't have to work for their happy ending just further annoyed me.  It was refreshing to read a fairy tale trope that wasn't Cinderella or Beauty and the Beast but other than that? Meh.

Final Grade = D