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?

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