Amazon discontinued the ability to create images using their SiteStripe feature and in their infinite wisdom broke all previously created images on 12/31/23. Many blogs used this feature, including this one. Expect my archives to be a hot mess of broken book cover images until I can slowly comb through 20 years of archives to make corrections.

Monday, June 17, 2024

Summer Reading: Unusual Historicals for June 2024

A lot of people look forward to June. Here in the States we're kind of programmed at an early age to look forward to summer. I used to be one of those people, until I took a job overseeing a major library system's book budget. June 30 is the end of the fiscal year. July 1 is the start of a new fiscal year. Which means for two months out of the year I am more frazzled and stressed than usual because Dear Lord what made me take a job with so much math?! The only books I want to balance is the tall stack I want next to me under the beach umbrella. Oh well, doesn't mean a girl still can't look and it's another bumper crop of Unusual Historicals this month!  Happy browsing!

A Daughter of Fair Verona by Christina Dodd

Once upon a time a young couple met and fell in love. You probably know that story, and how it ended (hint: badly). Only here’s the thing: That’s not how it ended at all.

Romeo and Juliet are alive and well and the parents of seven kids. I’m the oldest, with the emphasis on ‘old’—a certified spinster at twenty, and happy to stay that way. It’s not easy to keep your taste for romance with parents like mine. Picture it—constant monologues, passionate declarations, fighting, making up, making out . . . it’s exhausting.

Each time they’ve presented me with a betrothal, I’ve set out to find the groom-to-be a more suitable bride. After all, someone sensible needs to stay home and manage this household. But their latest match, Duke Stephano, isn’t so easy to palm off on anyone else. The debaucher has had three previous wives—all of whom met unfortunate ends. Conscience forbids me from consigning another woman to that fate. As it turns out, I don’t have to . . .

At our betrothal ball—where, quite by accident, I meet a beautiful young man who makes me wonder if perhaps there is something to love at first sight—I stumble upon Duke Stephano with a dagger in his chest. But who killed him? His late wives’ families, his relatives, his mistress, his servants—half of Verona had motive. And when everyone around the Duke begins dying, disappearing, or descending into madness, I know I must uncover the killer . . . before death lies on me like an untimely frost.

Dodd's been writing for a lot of years, having gotten her start in historical romance in the 1990s before moving on to paranormals and these days, mainly suspense. So it's a nice surprise to see her to return to her roots with a high concept historical. Romeo and Juliet's oldest daughter (no, they did not die as teenagers) finds her luck has run out when she's betrothed to a man who has buried three wives already.  When the Duke ends up with a dagger in his chest, she must find the villain with the help of our hero. All signs point to this being the first in a new series.

Zhi Hao has one goal: to pass the imperial exam, and eventually become a magistrate. That will get him the salary to support his parents and sisters. Eventually, he wants a wife and children, but not now. So, he is completely unprepared when a mystical fox spirit, in the shape of a beautiful woman, comes to seduce him. One night’s weakness might end his bright future, and yet he is unable to resist.

Ling Xin is no vixen. She’s a woman competing to become Empress of China. She knows everything a young woman is supposed to learn, but then, so do all the other women in the running. What she doesn’t know is how to seduce a man. And she’s heard that the emperor isn’t impressed with purity. What she needs is a crash course in temptation, and the only possible tutor is the sexy scholar next door.

It’s a dangerous game they’re playing, one they can’t win. If they’re caught, they’ll both die. If they’re not…she’ll still be in the Forbidden City, lost to him.

But passion has its own demands…and love, its wondrous possibilities…
A hero who wants to become a magistrate and a heroine competing to become the next Empress of China. One small problem, the Emperor isn't hung up on "purity" and her seduction skills are the pits. She needs a tutor and naturally thinks our hero next door is the perfect man for the job. I've seen this one called a novella but Amazon has it listed at Harlequin Presents length (180-ish pages).

Former painter and unreformed rake Kit Griffith is forging a new life in Cornwall, choosing freedom over an identity that didn't fit. He knew that leaving his Sisterhood of women artists might mean forfeiting artistic community forever. He didn’t realize he would lose his ability to paint altogether. Luckily, he has other talents. Why not devote himself to selling bicycles and trysting with the holidaymakers?

Enter Muriel Pendrake, the feisty New-York-bound botanist who has come to St. Ives to commission Kit for illustrations of British seaweeds. Kit shouldn’t accept Muriel’s offer, but he must enlist her help to prove to an all-male cycling club that women can ride as well as men. And she won't agree unless he gives her what she wants. Maybe that's exactly the challenge he needs.

As Kit and Muriel spend their days cycling together, their desire begins to burn with the heat of the summer sun. But are they pedaling toward something impossible? The past is bound to catch up to them, and at the season’s end, their paths will diverge. With only their hearts as guides, Kit and Muriel must decide if they’re willing to race into the unknown for the adventure of a lifetime.
Late 19th century Cornwall, an artist trans hero, a botanist heroine, the beach and bicycles.  This sounds freaking delightful, the perfect sunny summertime read.  

Delia Stratham is an unconventional woman. While other ladies learned proper decorum at finishing school, she composed naughty limericks and admired the gardener’s muscular legs. So naturally when she’s widowed for the third time, she does the unthinkable: she gets a job. Planning events for the Savoy Hotel is perfect for someone with her skills. But her dream career turns into a nightmare when she’s forced to work with the most annoying—and gorgeous—man she’s ever met.

Hotel magnate Simon Hayden knows something fishy is going on at the Savoy: the hotel is constantly busy, yet the books say it’s in the red. He’s determined to root out the fraud and its perpetrators, and that means spending time with one of the most likely suspects: the delectable, infuriating Lady Stratham. She’s definitely getting in his way and under his skin and he can’t decide whether to fire her or kiss her until she stops arguing. But when the sparks between them flare into flame, Simon must choose between his love for Delia and his duty to the hotel. Will his choice bring them together or tear them apart?
After a widow buries Husband #3 she decides to do something truly scandalous - she gets a job. Planning events at the Savoy Hotel in London is a dream, until she has to work with our hero, who is at the Savoy to root out suspected fraud. Naturally the heroine is on a short list of suspects. I'll be honest here, I DNF'ed the first book in this series because while it wasn't "bad" it just felt so flat. I'm hoping for a bounce back with this book because Guhrke has been a very reliable author for me in the past.  

She’s the most infamous harlot in London…and she’s up for auction.

Thaïs Magadalene is a legend. The nation’s most notorious courtesan, she sells herself once a week, for one night only, and never to the same patron twice. Until now. To raise money for the cause of women’s rights, she has auctioned herself off for one month as mistress to the highest bidder.

But the winner is not who he seems.

Lord Alastair Eden is an earl, a radical politician, and a perfectionist in all things—except one. His confidence belies an unexpected secret: he doesn’t know how to please a woman in bed. He’s determined to change that before he marries. And who could be better than the most skilled lover in the country to teach him?

And love is never for sale.

Thaïs dreams of finding a man who will love her unconditionally, never mind her past and reputation. Eden dreams of finding a perfectly bred young lady to be his wife and helpmeet. But when a steamy month in the countryside breeds a connection both in and out of the bedchamber, the two of them must decide how much can be sacrificed for love—one’s dreams, or one’s reputation.
Peckham has made a name for herself with steamy historicals but this is the first one that really made my eyeballs perk up. A heroine with quite the reputation breaks her normal protocol to auction her services for an entire month and a hero desperate to marry but recognizing he needs serious help in the lovemaking department. Naturally they're going to catch feelings and complications are going to ensue.

The warrior’s fiercest battle?

His duty versus his desire…

Seven years ago, Llywelyn was ready to renounce everything to become a monk. But on the eve of his departure, he shared a forbidden night with his childhood sweetheart, Cristin. Then his world was turned upside down by the death of his brother…which left Llywelyn as his family’s sole heir, duty bound to fight on the battlefield. Now a hardened warrior, he’s reunited with Cristin. But will he return to his vocation…or remain with his love?

Another Wales-set medieval from Morgan, this one featuring a hero who changes his mind on becoming a monk after a night with his childhood sweetheart, our heroine. They're reunited years later after he returns from the battlefield. 

London, 1885

A lesbian in a lavender marriage, Jo Smith cuts a dashing figure in pin-striped trousers, working in her bookshop and keeping impolite company. But her hard-earned stability is about to be upended thanks to her husband’s pregnant paramour, who needs medical attention that no reputable doctor will provide.

Enter Dr. Emily Clarke, a tantalizing bluestocking working at a quaint village hospital outside the city. Emily has reservations about getting mixed up in Jo’s scandalous arrangement, but her flustered, heart-racing response to Jo has her agreeing to help despite herself.

There’s a world of difference between Jo’s community of underground clubs and sapphic societies and Emily’s respectable suburbs. Perhaps it’s a gap that even fervent desire can’t bridge.

But for those bold enough to take the risk, who knows what delicious adventures might be in store…
Another Victorian this month, and the third in the author's Lucky Lovers of London series. A bookshop owner heroine in a lavender marriage falls for our country doctor heroine. They come from different worlds, but naturally that doesn't stop them from catching feelings.

Isabel Luna Valdés has long since resigned herself to being the “forgotten” Luna sister. But thanks to familial connections to the Mexican ambassador in London, wallflower Isabel is poised to unearth any British intelligence hidden by the ton that might aid Mexico during the French Occupation. Though she slips easily from crowded ballrooms into libraries and private studies, Isabel’s search is hampered by trysting couples and prowling rogues—including the rakish Captain Sirius Dawson.

As a covert agent for the British Home Office, Sirius makes a game of earning the aristocracy’s confidence. He spends his days befriending foolish politicians and seducing well-born ladies in order to learn their secrets. But after he spies a certain sharp-tongued Luna sister lurking in the shadows where no proper debutante should venture, it’s clear Sirius is outmatched, outwitted, and soon to be outmaneuvered by the one woman he can’t resist.

Their mutual attraction is undeniable, but when Isabel discovers private correspondence that could turn the tide of political turmoil in Mexico, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to protect her country—even if this means ignoring her heart and courting danger...
The second in the author's Luna Sisters series features a heroine turned spy whose mission is complicated by a dashing British Captain hero. I'm expecting some sexy spy vs. spy shenanigans here and mid-Victorian era to boot. A historical romance featuring spies and Napoleon is nowhere to be found? I didn't realize these existed 😂

A love story onstage

And one waiting in the wings?

Ruth Connell’s beloved theater is under threat! In desperation, she approaches reclusive playwright Artemis Goode. If Artemis can write a hit, Ruth can save her troupe from financial ruin. Yet it’s not just Ruth’s livelihood in need of saving, but Artemis’s shattered heart, too. As quickly as their personalities clash, their passion ignites! But while that leads their play toward success, it also leads Ruth closer to the end of her partnership with Artemis…

Desperate to keep her theater operational and in the black, our heroine turns to a reclusive playwright to pen a hit and save her from financial ruin. Naturally sparks fly.

England, 1882
Keith, a servant in a rich house, feels nothing but gratitude for the Sharpe family. They rescue him from a miserable life and welcome him into their home, and Miss Violante Sharpe teaches him how to read. She’s so kind and pretty that he can’t help but fall for her.

But when Keith learns that Mr. Sharpe is part of an anarchist organization planning to blow up a politician’s house and kill people, he doesn’t hesitate to warn the police, ready to pay the consequences.

Violante’s life goes from riches to rags after the police kill her father and storm Sharpe Manor. Discovering her beloved papa was an anarchist breaks her heart. If only Keith had talked to her instead of going to the police. Good thing she doesn’t want to see him again.

She has lived on the streets for years, stealing wallets and watches. Keith instead made a fortune and was even granted a title. Not recognizing him, she steals his pocket watch in the street. He catches her, but instead of calling the police, he offers her a marriage proposal. He needs a wife to secure a deal with a strict Italian count who won’t do business with bachelors.

She has nothing to lose, but does she want to pretend to be the wife of the man who ruined her family?
A hero who is grateful and beholden to the family who saved him still follows his conscience when he realizes the patriarch is an anarchist plotting a terrorist attack. A heroine whose life goes from riches straight to rags when her father is convicted of an unspeakable crime and naturally vows to never speak to the hero again. So that makes things a tinch awkward when they reunite years later when she, not recognizing him, picks his pocket and instead of turning her into the police, he proposes a marriage of convenience. Y'all this sounds bananapants and just crazy enough to work.

When this duke wins a wife, all bets are off.

When nouveau-rich Clara Woodvine attends her first high society ball, she’s expecting it to be the most wonderful night of her life. Unfortunately, it turns out to be the worst. When Clara overhears her would-be fiancé has bet her and her dowry away in a card game to the Duke of Combe, aka the Divorced Duke, all hopes for a happily ever after seem lost.

Silas Winters, the Duke of Combe, has spent over a year brooding in misery after the end of his toxic marriage. Saddled with crippling anxiety and the reasonability of recovering Clara’s reputation, Silas proposes a marriage based on friendship and nothing more. Clara accepts, but only on the condition that she understands this is a marriage of convenience because Silas is determined never to love again

But when the past comes back to haunt them, will Silas realize that love is something he can choose? And will Clara be able to stand up for those she loves, even if she must do it alone?
New money heroine expecting the fairy tale gets a rude surprise with her erstwhile fiancé bets her AND her dowry in a card game. The nerve! Even with crippling anxiety, our hero, A DIVORCED DUKE!, rides to her rescue and proposes a marriage of convenience. AztecLady has a pretty thorough review of this one over at her blog, which includes the information that our hero is also kinky. 

A widowed duchess yearning to find love. An orphan who became a sea captain. A powerful, forbidden love which ignites between the pair . . .

Dinah Strong, the Dowager Duchess of Seaton, was forced to wed a man much older than herself. Much to his dismay, she gifts him with four daughters, who, along with the two nieces she raises, became the lights in an otherwise dismal life.
Now widowed, Dinah decides to participate in the Season, hoping she might be fortunate enough to finally find love. None of the gentlemen appeal to her--because of one man she cannot forgot.

Drake Andrews is a man who is everything her late husband was not. The sea captain is bold, daring, and unafraid of taking risks, not to mention his sinfully delicious good looks. Dinah met him briefly before he sailed off on a lengthy voyage, and she finds her thoughts turning to him more and more.

Captain Andrews was an orphan raised at sea, and it is the only life he has ever known. He has finally achieved his goal of captaining his own vessel for Neptune Shipping Lines, but he can't seem to get the Dowager Duchess of Seaton out of his mind. His closest friend and former fellow seaman introduced Drake to her just before Drake set sail on his maiden voyage as a captain, and the woman has haunted his dreams every night.

Now back in London and between sailing assignments, Drake calls upon the dowager duchess, finding despite their origins, they have much in common. Their growing attraction flames into a torrid affair, with Dinah declaring her wish for them to wed.

Will Drake allow obstacles to keep them apart--or will love triumph over Polite Society's expectations for the widowed duchess?
This fourth book in The Strongs of Shadowcrest series features a widowed (presumably "older") heroine looking for love in all the wrong places when she's reunited with the one man she could never forget, our orphaned sea captain hero. 

He took her innocence…She took his honor. But when danger unhinges their world, someone will have to fall on their sword.

The lust. The betrayal. The love. Sometimes the hardest battle…is seducing your enemy.

Alexandra wants one thing: to train with her sword, never mind the outraged public. But when the achingly handsome Monsieur Philippe kisses her, she finds herself willing to give up her heart and even her blade to be with him. That is, until she learns Philippe took another woman to bed after giving Alexandra her first kiss. Shattered and humiliated, Alexandra is done with etiquette. She’s done with skirts and ruffles. And men. Now, five years later, she’s a mercenary, known for her quick wits, expert blade, and dedication to protecting the people she guides through the uncharted forests of Provence. And if, by chance, she ever sees Philippe again, she’ll have no problem knocking that seductive smile right off his goddamned face.

Philippe never forgot the tender kiss he and Alexandra shared, and he never forgave himself for acting so badly. Years later, when he finds himself tracking a mysterious band of foes, the mercenary hired to lead him is none other than the enticing girl he unwittingly destroyed. But Alexandra is a woman now, a breathtaking and dangerous woman. Though he must balance his mounting desire for her with his duty to tame the venomous nest of criminals, Philippe soon realizes that winning Alexandra’s affection will mean he must strip his pride, lay his title on the line, and fight harder than ever before. And if dodging a few of her punches means he can maybe get another taste of her, then this adventure might be more explosive than he ever expected.

Heh, heh, she said "taken by his sword." 

Welcome to the Bat Cave. Come for the Unusual Historicals, stay for the juvenile teenage boy humor.

Look, I couldn't let that one go. I wouldn't have respected myself in the morning.

Anyway, this appears to be a debut, the first in a series, and it's set in 17th century France. Toss in a mercenary heroine and a seemingly repentant rake hero, it's worth giving this one a whirl. 

Whew! We made it. Thirteen new unusual historicals to explore this month. What are you looking forward to reading?


azteclady said...

I already have a few of these in the TBR (so looking forward to Vixen, for one), but I wanted to note the absolutely 1990s feel of the Peckham book. Everything, from the composition to the colors, screams old skool of the '90s to me.

I wish there were more queer historical in the list (it's Pride month, after all), but though I saw more historical titles with queer characters, they mostly followed the tried-and-trite tropes.

Jen Twimom said...

I absolutely adored A Shore Thing, despite the slow beginning. And the cover is gorgeous!

Wendy said...

AL: I've got the Jade Lee locked and loaded on my Kindle and I hope to get to it "soon" - just as soon as I find my reading mojo.

The marketing, the blurbs, Peckham definitely has that Old School, almost Bodice Ripper-like vibe going on. And honestly half the charm for me is she gets unapologetic clinch covers on her books, even if this one looks overly illustrated (IMHO). I've got one of her earlier self-published books in my TBR but I still need to try her out.

Re: Queer characters - yeah, same. As you know I subscribe to the "people are neither genre nor trope" school of thought - so when it's Regency/Victorian England and "tried and true" it's hard to make them work for these posts.

Jen: Oh, that's good to hear! And I almost mentioned the cover. I think it's pretty well known at this point that I'm not a fan of illustrated covers, but I do like the one for A Shore Thing. It's the color palette I think. It's bright and warm at the same time.

willaful said...

Haven't read a Dodd in forever, but I'm kind of intrigued...

And I must read the first book in the Everless series! I'm putting it in the "on deck" section of my BookSpin list ( a Litsy challenge) to make sure I do get to it in the next 10 years or so. 😂

Wendy said...

Willaful: I kind of gasped a little bit when I read about the Dodd. I mean, yes - she's never stopped writing but she's been working in suspense for a while now. Interesting to see her come back to historicals and setting up a new series to boot!