A 2018 Year-End Report: The Western Binge

The Westerns Binge - banner image

I think this was my longest theme binge ever. It all started last January with a new Beverly Jenkins release, which reminded me how long it had been since I read Westerns, so I went into the Kindle archives and then bought a bunch of new stuff and now I have approximately 137,000 books in my Westerns collection.

Looking back at dates in Goodreads, this kicked into high gear at the end of May. Which is when Thing1 graduated from high school. Upon reflection, I believe I was establishing the mindset to achieve A Mood in which to visualize The Ex falling off a cliff into a really prickly bush and having to stay there for days in a dust storm because of a nest of rattlesnakes or something. (NOTE: His horse is fine and lingers happily just far enough out of reach to add to the evil humor of the situation.)

ANYWAY.

From January through July, I read more than 40 Western historical romances — a mix of re-reads and new-to-me — and watched a bunch of classic Western movies. It was a grand (and, of course, inherently problematic) adventure.

Saddle up, pardners.

(You knew I was going to say that.)

Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins puts me in a book trance nearly every single time. Her books are filled with not just characters, but communities. The stories and people and historical events are all tied intricately and seamlessly together and how in the bloody hell do authors do this?

I enjoyed the Old West series, but I’m not yet sure how these will rank among all of Jenkin’s wonderful backlist.

Tempest by Beverly Jenkins

I’ve been pondering Tempest for nearly a year now, and I have to be honest — I wasn’t all giddy over the heroine like everyone else seemed to be. Yeah, Regan shot the hero in the first chapter. But increasingly throughout the rest of the book, I found Regan to be — YES, I’M GOING TO SAY IT, GET READY TO HAVE YOUR BLOOMERS IN A BUNCH — unlikeable.

There. I said it. I hid it way down here, but I said it.

Well, not unlikeable, exactly. Maybe…insufferable? Not really that either. Argh.

Regan could do everything. Effortlessly. She cooked. She sewed. She assisted in surgery and milked cows and painted and hunted and fished and rode horses and probably saved the governor from assassination and wrestled grizzly bears as a child. I might be exaggerating about the cow milking.

She was Mary Poppins — practically perfect in every way. And she never changed. The story centered on Regan, but I only remember everyone else revolving around her and having to adapt to her. Regan was never compelled to do any self-reflection or face any self-doubts or show any vulnerability.

I want both halves of a romance couple to suffer and learn and change and grow. Colton did a lot of suffering, and a lot of learning, and a lot of changing. Regan just kept doing…stuff. Her character arc was a flat line, while Colton’s was a scatter graph.

It’s entirely possible that I’m remembering this all wrong, as I read this on audio from the library nearly a year ago. I just remember getting to a point in the story — maybe the fishing? — where I checked out of Regan’s story and switched my emotional focus to the hero instead. Which a very rare thing for me to do. Regan simply didn’t need me to root for her or her HEA.

Now I’m going have to read it again to see if I really am remembering it fairly. I shall report back.

Alexis Harrington

Harrington was one of my first ebook author binges. I bought and read her entire backlist in 2011-2012, and it was great to see how well they hold up.

One thing I realized on the second go-round is how amazing Harrington is at establishing a sense of place. My brain knows exactly what each backwoods cabin looks like, how muddy the streets are, and where the town drunk hides his empty bottles.

And the Western character tropes are all there — the spinster and the drifter blacksmith, the rancher and the duped mail-order bride, the failed prospector and the abandoned mother, the runaway-disguised-as-a-boy and the bounty hunter.

Read them all. Trust me.

Before we move on, let’s take a look at the original cover for Homeward Hearts (Topaz, 1994):

Homeward Hearts by Alexis Harrington

Saddle up indeed.

Lorraine Heath

The binge ended with Lorraine Heath. I couldn’t go on after a certain book set in post-Civil War Texas, which wrecked me for weeks and which I’m still recovering from six months later and which I immediately added to my DIK Holy Fuck All-Time Favorites list. But I’m not going to talk about that one here, because I don’t think it’s really a Western despite the Texas setting, and because it’s going on another Page O’ Lists.

I wasn’t super jazzed about reading Heath. I DNF’d one of her recent Regencies — it was…quite weird and creepy.

To my everlasting pleasure, I learned that Heath’s Westerns aren’t like that. At all. They’re mesmerizing. Back to that “sense of place” thing that I have such a hard time defining. I was there, every time. Nothing kicked me out of the stories, and a few times I may or may not have actually yelled at characters.

The Rogues in Texas books were fast reads — enjoyable romps with Brit aristos hooking up with downtrodden American ladies in need of smug wealthy manly men whether they wanted to admit it or not.

Rogues in Texas trilogy - Italian cover Rogues in Texas trilogy - Italian cover Rogues in Texas trilogy - Italian cover

As you might expect, the American ladies were quite distrustful of the soft-handed, fancy-talkin’, duded-up foreigners. There were some Big Understandings and some Bad Guys and some Jealous Neighbors and I think maybe a barn-burning at one point? Definitely worth a read.

Texas Destiny by Lorraine Heath

The Leigh Brothers aren’t rompish. They’re rough and dusty and remote and fucked up cowboys. All three books were excellent, but the first book, Texas Destiny, blew me away.

A war-scarred, brooding recluse is forced to transport his injured older brother’s mail-order bride to their ginormous spread in the middle of fucking nowhere. It’s a weeks-long journey, she’s a greenhorn, he’s an asshole, there’s storms and bugs and snakes and god know what else and sometimes that “sense of place” thing is a little too visceral, okay?

But, in the absence of any other entertainment, Amelia and Houston wind up talking to each other. And OH MY GOD. The closer they get to the ranch, the more then tension ramps up, and then it goes even higher when she’s successfully delivered to the older brother, and then there’s a little brother who decides to create even more tension and OH MY GOD.

Please read this. And that other one. Trust me.                            .

Genevieve Turner

Summer Chaparra by Genevieve Turner

The Las Morenas series. Just trust me. I haven’t even finished them all because I don’t want it to end. The Farmer Takes a Wife is one of my Perfect Novellas.

Edie Harris

Wild Burn by Edie Harris

I had Wild Burn in the TBR for years. A bounty hunter and an ex-nun schoolmarm, and the author couldn’t have chosen a more apt title. This one burns.

Lacy Williams

Cowboy Pride by Lacy Williams

I binged all of Williams a few years ago, and then all of sudden my library did a Big Library Read for a new one called Cowboy Pride — a Pride & Prejudice retelling. I inhaled it and I need mooooore.

A wagonload of Harlequins

In between all of the above, I read a bunch of Harlequins I had in the TBR and bought a few new ones. By “a few” I mean “several.” And by “several” I mean maybe a dozen or so? Most were from the Love Inspired line.

Kathryn Albright

The Prairie Doctor's Bride by Kathryn Albright The Gunslinger and Heiress

The Prairie Doctor’s Bride was one of the most memorable of the entire binge. The chemistry between the highly educated doctor and the illiterate outcast was unexpected and really moving, and the Bad Guy external conflict was just the right level of creepy suspense.

The Gunslinger and the Heiress stuck with me as well, and seriously, how could I not buy anything with that title? It’s a suspenseful second chance romance set in San Diego and Corona del Mar.

There were also good Albright stories in some anthologies I inhaled, including a runaway mail-order bride.

Carolyn Davidson

A Man for Glory by Carolyn Davidson

A hit and a miss. Redemption was sublime, with a widowed wounded veteran and plain-Jane spinster schoolmarm. A Man for Glory was almost painfully earnest and forced.

Cheryl St. John

Prairie Wife by Cheryl St. John Harvey Girls bundle by Cheryl St. John

Thank you, SuperWendy, for these. Every story was amazing. Prairie Wife is a fantastic marriage-in-trouble story that wrecked me almost as much as that Heath book. And then of course after reading all the Harvey Girls I had to watch the Judy Garland movie for the eight millionth time.

Stacy Henrie

Express Rider's Lady by Stacy Henrie The Outlaw's Secret by Stacy Henrie The Rancher's Temporary Engagement by Stacy Henrie

Henrie impressed me with her debut Lady Outlaw, and now she’s an auto-buy. I especially love The Express Rider’s Lady and The Outlaw’s Secret (Lady Novelist!) and The Rancher’s Temporary Engagement (Lady Pinkerton Agent!).

Sherri Shackelford

Winning the Widow's Heart by Sherri Shackelford A Temporary Family by Sherri Shackelford The Cattleman Meets His Match by Sherri Shackelford

Another auto-buy Love Inspired author. The Prairie Courtships series is particularly great, filled with classic Western themes, like the ranger and the pregnant widow, stalked by Bad Guys though an abandoned town, and a cattle drive with kid cowboys (cowgirls this time!).

The Bridegroom Brothers series

The Preacher's Bride Claim by Laurie Kingery The Horseman's Frontier Family by Karen Kirst The Lawman's Oklahoma Sweetheart by Allie Pleiter

These are set during the Oklahoma land rush, with a marriage of convenience, an enemies to lovers on a disputed land claim, and a skittish widow in need of protection. There’s a running suspense theme through all three books that really ramps up the tension and ends with a very satisfying conclusion.

I recall these are more overtly religious than most books in this line, but they’re also quite violent. Go figure.

More mail-order brides

I just cannot resist this trope — all of these are highly recommended:

Want Ad Wedding by Cheryl St. John The Marshal's Promise by Rhonda Gibson The Courtship of Izzy McCree by Ruth Langan Timeless Romance Collection: Mail Order Brides

And one that needs a bit of special attention: Last Chance Wife by Janette Foreman, who I believe is a debut author. This is set in Deadwood, South Dakota. Yep, that Deadwood. But definitely not that Deadwood. This Deadwood is squeaky-clean and populated by people who never drop F-bombs.

Last Chance Wife by Janette Foreman

The hero is a mine owner in dire financial straits, and the heroine is a six-times-failed (no lie) mail-order bride. She arrives to find out she was duped by a saloon owner, so she goes to work at the mine guy’s mercantile and gradually takes over his life.

But wait — there’s more! They unwittingly carry on a secret lonely-hearts correspondence. You guys. I mean, seriously, just TAKE ALL MY MONEY.

The problematic stuff

Westerns are inherent racist. Period. There can be no argument. And with nearly all the books I read, and like all the others still unread, the biggest problem is erasure.

With the very notable exception of Beverly Jenkins, the Romance West is blindingly white.  I didn’t notice any “oh my god, that’s racist” moments while I read, but I’d only notice glaringly obvious examples.

It’s what missing that’s the problem. Just think of all those glorious stories waiting to be told — and all the ones that will never be told.

A 2018 Year-End Page O’ Lists: The Audiobooks

I listened to some really good stuff last year.  A lot of really really good stuff.

Two things I noticed while I was putting this together:

  1. Apparently I have A Thing for covers with bluish gray color schemes.
  2. There are only two non-historicals in here – and there are none in my extensive Audible wishlist. I just never do contemps in audio.

The Really Favorite Favorites

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss

European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman by Theodora Goss, narrated by Kate Reading

Please read this series. For the love of Mary Shelley, just trust me. You need the Lady Monsters in your life.

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James, narrated by Rebecca Lowman

That one scene, in the [REDACTED]? And that other one where they [REDACTED]?  How does St. James do tension like that? Hold me.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn, narrated by Saskia Maarleveld

Speaking of tension? This was almost unbearably visceral.  Her next book, about a Russian sniper in World War II, is tops on my 2019 Must-Haves.

A Hope Divided by Alyssa Cole An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

A Hope Divided and An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole, narrated by Karen Chilton

The stories we need, told by an amazing storyteller, performed by a fantastic narrator. Continue reading

Totally Not Book-Related You’ve Been Warned

The Nut Cup: A Sports Mom’s Lament

Fourteen years ago, when my boy-type child was born, no one warned me about the The Nut Cup.

February 3, 2017 – outside the bathroom door

No one warned me about the agonies of location, retrieval, placement, extraction, transportation and storage of The Nut Cup.

No one told me that precious minutes – nay, hours – of my life would focus on the whereabouts and well-being of The Nut Cup.

To help prevent Nut Cup Angst as your boy-type child ages out of t-ball, below are basic facts you might find educational.

FACT: When one who requires The Nut Cup has placed The Nut Cup in optimal position, The Nut Cup must be rapped loudly three times to proclaim success.

FACT: The Nut Cup has no permanent habitat. It thrives in ecosystems like the bathroom counter, the floor of a car, the side pocket of a purse, or the inside of a sneaker.

FACT: Nut Cups can also be found on computer desks, holding empty cheese stick wrappers while waiting patiently for their turn to play Minecraft.

FACT: Some Nut Cups are tattooed with their owner’s initials in the event they wander off into Foreign Nut Cup Territory.

FACT: At some point in your Sports Parenting career, you will have a long discussion about The Differences Between Bras and Nut Cups (“like a bra but the WHOLE THING is underwire!”) This usually occurs in the car on the way to or from practice and may continue into the toothpaste aisle at Target.

May 18, 2017 – back of living room chair (protest sign courtesy of Thing1)

Some role-playing scenarios for awkward situations:

Him: The package said “clean with warm soapy water.”

You: YOU DROPPED IT IN A PUDDLE IN THE DUGOUT THAT FUCKER IS GETTING BOILED IN BLEACH.

Him: WHY IS THE DOG PLAYING WITH MY NUT CUP?

A: She found it in the couch cushions and you know that’s finders keepers.

Him: WHAT IS THAT ON MY GRADUATION CAKE?

You: Your nut cup. Don’t worry, we’ll wash it with warm soapy water.

THE END.

Non-Fic Goodness: The Symphony for the City of the Dead by M.T. Anderson

  • symphonyTitle: Symphony for the City of the Dead: Dmitri Shostakovich and the Siege of Leningrad
  • Author:  M.T. Anderson
  • Published:  September 2015, Candlewick Press
  • Source: Library, Scribd
  • Format:  Print and audio (narrated by author)
  • Length: 456 pages (10:20 on audio)
  • Tropes: Music Nerdery, History Geekery, Russian Misery Porn
  • Quick blurb: Social, political and cultural history of Shostakovich’s Symphony No. 7
  • Quick review: All music and history lovers should read this book RIGHT NOW.
  • Grade: A

After reading The Bronze Horseman, I went on a Russian binge.  I wishlisted and bookmarked and downloaded anything and everything. I wound up glancing through most of it. Except this one.

I may or may not have GEEKED OUT when I saw it. I glommed the hardcover from the library, then immediately got the audio as well.

It’s a young adult title by the author of the Octavian Nothing series (which I didn’t realize until just now). It won boatloads of awards. It’s a magnificent mashup of social, cultural, military and political history, And biography. And musicology. And fantastically good story-telling.

I love it when people write books just for me.

Yes, it has all the Russian misery porn you’d expect from a history of Stalin’s terrors and the siege of Leningrad. But instead of a meandering melodrama, Anderson gives us context and empathy and humanity. The story builds through all the horrors and then we get the TOTAL DRAMA PERFORMANCE and we cry and feel all the weltschmerz lift away.

It’s art against evil. And art wins.

Dear god, this was sappy. Ignore all of that up there, Just read the damn book. No, wait — listen to Symphony No. 7 first, then read the book. Then read the book again while listening to the symphony.  Unless you’re a newbie to classical music, in which case you should read the book first. I am available via email or DMs for one-on-one suggestions/discussions.

The 2016 Year-End Page O’ Lists

In my usual slacker style, here’s my belated 2016 wrap-up. Nothing kicked off an emotional and obsessive spate of full-snark bitchery last year, so that change in meds must be working. There was that one (see below) but that was only one post that I throw at everyone who put it on their Best of 2016 list so it really doesn’t count.

Also a quick note: as usual, no LGBTQ titles because of the side job with Riptide, but I read a few absolute gems. Mostly from Riptide or Riptide authors, of course, because I’m completely spoiled and snobbish like that. Shoot me an email or DM if you need recs!

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

My absolute favorite reads of 2016:

I think the number one slot has to be a tie:

barry_earthbound  https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

To quote myself on Earth Bound

I loved the others in the series, but this one KILLED ME DEAD <dead>. Good lord, this was utterly fan-freaking-tastic. Definitely one of my top reads this year, and it’s poking at my DIK shelf. I need a moment to recover just remembering that telephone call scene in the restaurant *swoon*.

To quote myself on The Study of Seduction:

a marriage of convenience between a grumpy hero who makes lists and a secretly-smart social butterfly, and adds in a truly creepy stalker who cooks up some creative blackmail over Deep Dark Secrets, and just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I can’t say more without spoilers, but Seduction was especially memorable because of the social butterfly heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, which made the consummation of the marriage…heart-wrenching.

Jeffries is a romance veteran who just keeps giving me everything I need in ways I never expected. Barry/Turner are relative rookies who keep giving me things I never knew I needed.

But WAIT.

It’s a three-way tie. Or would it be a five-way tie? Who the hell cares, because YOU NEED TO READ THESE TRUST ME:

Must Love Time Travel series by Angela Quarles, narrated by Mary Jane Wells

  

Breeches has Ada Lovelace as an important secondary character. Chainmail has a kick-ass heroine and a stunner of a climax (the story kind, not the other kind, you pervs). Kilts has a charmingly-dopey-but-secretly-complex-and-vulnerable hero. And the narration was perfection. READ THESE TRUST ME HOW MANY TIMES DO I HAVE TO SAY IT. Continue reading

The 2016 Holiday Romance Wrap-Up

It’s still the holidays.

The must-reads:

parker_duesouth anthology_wish anthology_sprinkling adams_edenmanor warfield_dangerousnativity

Due South by Tamsen Parker – I think this might be the best office romance I’ve ever read.

Wish Upon a Snowflake by Christine Merrill, Linda Skye and Elizabeth Rolls – loved all three stories, this is a fabulous anthology that will be a re-read every year.

A Sprinkling of Christmas Magic by Elizabeth Rolls, Bronwyn Scott and Margaret McPhee – another practically perfect anthology with three very different, very entertaining stories.

Christmas at Eden Manor by Noelle Adams – I kind of wish Adams wasn’t so prolific, because I want to read everything and I can’t keep up. This is a lovely, just-angsty-enough age gap romance.

A Dangerous Nativity by Caroline Warfield – a completely charming lord-in-the-cute-village novella that is FREE FREE FREE (hint hint hint). I immediately bought more by Warfield (see below).

anthology_holly allen_countess anthology_onceuponaregencychristmas anthology_countrychristmas anthology_silverbelles

An Open Heart by Caroline Warfield (in Holly and Hopeful Hearts: A Bluestocking Belles Collection)– a Jewish couple at a country house party. It starts out like Carola Dunn’s Miss Jacobson’s Journey, but it goes in a different direction and ends up with a soul-satisfying HEA. I haven’t read the rest in this anthology, but this one story is so worth the NINETY-NINE (99) CENTS (hint).

His Christmas Countess by Louise Allen – I found this on Scribd and was a little wary of the blurb, but holy cow, this was fantastic. Caz at AAR did a great review. READ THIS TRUST ME. I immediately bought the rest of the series, which led to the nearly-epic WTFery of the earl who assigns himself an undercover spy job as a hermit on the heroine’s father’s estate. But we’ll discuss that one later because it needs our full attention.

Once Upon a Regency Christmas by Louise Allen, Sophia James and Annie Burrows – another great anthology from Harlequin. I am a complete sucker for these and they give me the happysighs nearly every time.

A Country Christmas by Josi Kilpack, Carla Kelly and Jennifer Moore – OH LOOK A CARLA KELLY HOLIDAY NOVELLA HERE JUST TAKE ALL MY MONEY.  Do I care that it’s another half-pay retired naval officer and another penniless widow? NO I DO NOT.

Silver Belles: An Over-40 Holiday Anthology by Sarah M. Anderson, Ros Clarke, Laura K. Curtis, Yasmine Galenorn and Suleikha Synder – I love it when authors write stories JUST FOR ME *hearteyes*.

quinlan_singlegirl robinson_unwrappingrancher kirst_sheriffschristmastwins

The Last Single Girl by Bria Quinlan – this a New Year’s Eve story and it’s adorable and you should read it right now trust me.

Unwrapping the Rancher’s Secret by Lauri Robinson – reunited by a blizzard? OKAY. And, oh look, he’s shirtless (see above).

The Sheriff’s Christmas Twins by Karen Kirst – ignore the dopey cover and see Miss Bates’ “real comfort” review.

The good:

  • Vicar’s Daughter by Betty Neels – DO NOT ASK how many Neels I bought after I read this.
  • Holiday with a Twist by Shannon Stacey
  • My Scandalous Duke by Theresa Romain
  • His Housekeeper’s Christmas Wish  by Louise Allen
  • A Midwinter’s Scandal by Erin Knightley
  • A Match Made in Mistletoe by Anna Campbell
  • We Need a Little Christmas by Sierra Donovan
  • A Regency Christmas Carol by Christine Merrill
  • Greetings of the Season  by Barbara Metzger
  • Father Christmas by Barbara Metzger

The take-them-or-leave-them:

  • The Cowbear’s Christmas Shotgun Wedding by Liv Brywood – not nearly the WTF factor I was hoping for.
  • A Christmas Dance by Alissa Johnson
  • A Countess for Christmas by Christy McKellen
  • Christmas at the Castle by Melissa McClone
  • A Convenient Christmas Wedding by Regina Scott
  • The Billionaire’s Christmas Proposal by Victoria James
  • Miss Mistletoe by Erin Knightley

The duds:

I DNF’d all of these. What the hell what I thinking with all these “princess” titles???

  • Let it Snow by Jeannette Grey
  • His Jingle Bell Princess by Barbara Dunlop
  • A Royal Christmas Princess by Scarlet Wilson
  • Once Upon a Royal Christmas – Robin Bielman
  • Lord Lansbury’s Christmas Wedding by Helen Dickson – I’m giving up on Dickson. Her stuff is dry.as.dust.

The as-yet-unfinished:

  • Christmas in America: Historical Romance Anthology by Holly Bush, Piper Huguley, Joanna Shupe and Donna Thorland – I’m savoring this slowly.

The I’ll-try-again-next-year:

  • Miracle on 5th Avenue by Sarah Morgan – I know, I know. I just wasn’t in the mood for a perky heroine when I tried it.

TBR Challenge: The Vicar’s Daughter by Betty Neels

  • neels_vicarsdaughterTitle:  The Vicar’s Daughter
  • Author: Betty Neels
  • Published: June 1997
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length: 218 pages
  • Tropes: Plain Jane, Enigmatic Doctor, Marriage of Convenience, Big Misunderstanding
  • Quick blurb: Plain-Jane vicar’s daughter and jet-set Dutch surgeon and that’s pretty much all you need to know.
  • Quick review: It was nice. Victoria Holt without the gothic weirdness. Like Xanax in a book.
  • Grade: B

“…I told George I didn’t want to marry him. He hadn’t exactly asked me, but I thought I’d tell him first and save him the trouble.”

He turned a laugh into a cough. “How very sensible of you. I must admit that I find it hard to imagine you as a farmer’s wife.”

“Well, I dare say you do. I expect you think of me as a vicar’s daughter.”

Margo is a plain-Jane small-town vicar’s daughter.  Gijs is a Dutch pediatric surgeon/professor. They meet-cute over a roadside childbirth (not hers, obvs) and then she saves a toddler from drowning and then her parents die and he offers a marriage of convenience and she goes shopping and tries to do a Big Makeover and there’s a Big Misunderstanding and she cries and he cries and then everyone is happy.

This was my first Betty Neels, part of last year’s Black Friday Harlequin Binge. I read it in one sitting, and then I said, “Well. That was…nice.”

That sounds snarky, but it’s really not. I swear.

While I was reading, I kept waiting for something to happen. And then I realized that stuff was happening. But it was so understated that I didn’t see that all those seemingly throw-away plot bits were actually really good character- and relationship-building.

So that “that was…nice” reaction was completely sincere. As someone said on Twitter, Neels Nice is like oatmeal. Warm and comforting with just a tiny dash of cinnamon or something, but goes down easy in the best way.

ALSO: One other thing that struck me was the timelessness of the setting – it obviously wasn’t modern, but it could have been anywhere from 1920s to 1980s. Add a bit of suspense — the hero might be already married! he might be doing experimental surgeries on babies without permission! he might have syphilis! — and you’d have a Victoria Holt gothic.

ALSO ALSO: There was a big ol’ bloodhound name Punch (see cheesy cover) and he saved the heroine from falling into a canal during a blizzard. I like dogs.

I will probably read more Betty Neels. They will probably be nearly the same as this one. I probably won’t care.

TBR Challenge: Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee Guhrke

The November Challenge was historical romance. Well, if you insist…

  • Guilty Pleasures by Laura Lee GuhrkeTitle: Guilty Pleasures
  • Series: Guilty, Book 1
  • Author: Laura Lee Guhrke
  • Published: January 2004
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length: 388 pages
  • Tropes: Plain Jane, Bespectacled Bluestocking, Stuffy Duke, Deep Dark Secrets, Secret Longings
  • Quick blurb: Plain-Jane bluestocking finds her voice and stuffy duke loses his shit.
  • Quick review: Kelly’s Book Crack
  • Grade: A

Amazon informs me I purchased this on July 5, 2012. I waited four and a half years to read this book, and I could have been reading it EVERY MONTH for FIFTY-ONE AND A HALF MONTHS. Why do I do this to myself?

On the other hand, I bought High Energy by Dara Joy at the same time, and I have no regrets about leaving that unread.

I loved Daphne and Her Duke. And I say this as a cynical side-eyer of Dukes-A-Million historicals. Nearly everything about this book was perfect. I’m sure there was something iffy about it somewhere, but I’m too enamored right now to really care.

Daphne is our orphaned, plain-Jane, bespectacled bluestocking heroine. She’s working as an antiquities curator for a scholarly duke who’s excavating Roman ruins on one of his estates.

Anthony is our stuffy dukish hero who became dukish way too young and expects everyone to fall at his feet.

She’s had a secret crush on His Noble Shirtlessness (he lifts things, you know, with his muscles) and can do no more than stammer in his presence. But then she overhears him describing her as a stick insect, and her self-esteem mechanism finally kicks in. She cries it out, and then she gets mad.

You can hear the Kelly’s Book Crack Radar pinging from all the way over here, can’t you? IT JUST KEPT GETTING BETTER.

She decides to quit, he orders her to stay. She mouths off, he negotiates an extension. And he keeps negotiating. He starts paying attention to her to determine how he can get more work out of her.

“I am toying with you because this is a game. I will not let you win, but I can teach you how to play.”

Something in those words made her shiver with excitement. “I really do not know what you are talking about.”

“The real question is, what do you want? Do you want to be a proper young lady, or do you want to be Cleopatra?”

“Both.”

“Ah. That is an interesting answer, and brings with it an even more interesting question. Can a young lady be captivating and alluring, and still be proper, do you think?”

“Why not?”

“Why not, indeed.” His lashes lowered until his eyes were half-closed. “If I do give you back your spectacles, what do I receive in return?”

“The satisfaction of doing the right thing?”

He laughed low in his throat. “Not good enough.”

“What, then?” she asked. “What do you want?”

His gaze moved to her mouth, lingered there. “What are you offering?”

Daphne licked her lips, and she heard his sharp in-take of breath. “Three days,” she whispered. “You may have three more days.”

<swoon> *thud*

And OF COURSE they wind up having sex on the workroom table and breaking a priceless ancient vase and he insists they marry and she slams the door in his face and he woos her with flowers in front of all of London and then there’s this ending that’s all like OH DEAR GOD <swoon> *thud*.

I adored every minute of this book, and it took me hours to write this half-assed squeeing review because I had to sneak-read the whole damn thing again at the dayjob.

You should read this book. Trust me.

TBR Challenge: No Proper Lady by Isabel Cooper

This month’s theme was Paranormal or Romantic Suspense — my book was both!

  • No Proper Lady by Isabel CooperTitle: No Proper Lady
  • Series: Englefield, #1
  • Author: Isabel Cooper
  • Published:  2011
  • Source: Purchased
  • Format: Ebook
  • Length: 329 pages
  • Tropes:  Kick-Ass Heroine, Beta Hero, Villainous Villain, Impending Apocalypse, Demons & Other Icky Things
  • Quick blurb: Magical warrior from the future drops into Victorian England to stop an Evil Warlock from unleashing the Powers of Darkness.
  • Quick review: Suspenseful and fun, and it made me yearn for an audio version
  • Grade: B

“You’re in a hell of a lot of trouble here, Simon Grenville.”

This one wasn’t in my TBR for long — I purchased it in May when it was on sale for $1.99. A bunch of people on Twitter raved about it, and after I read Cooper’s story to the utterly glorious Gambled Away anthology, I knew I’d be in good hands for a temporary foray back into the paranormal world.

The blurb does a fantastic job of setting up the story:

When a half-naked woman suddenly appears on his country estate, Simon Grenville doesn’t have time to be shocked. Demonic beasts are hot on his heels until the beautiful stranger unsheathes several knives strapped to her skin-tight trousers and kills them.

Our heroine Joan is a kick-ass warrior from the future, on a mission to save mankind from evil and bad guys and slobbering hellhounds and whatnot.

“…she’s quite…rugged.”

Simon was the bad guy’s best friend until the whole badness stuff got out of hand. Simon blames himself for everything because he introduced Tom Riddle to magic when they were obnoxious teenagers.

Simon and Joan compare weapons both metal and magical, and decide she needs to stay in England and cuddle up to the bad guy so Simon can destroy the Secret Book of Secrets his ex-bestie stole from this other baddish-but-not-nearly-as-bad guy.

This is a book about magic. So of course I had to match up everything with Harry Potter for it to make sense in my brain. Simon is obviously brooding reluctant hero Harry. Joan is Hermione with tattoos and poison darts in her underwear. Simon’s de-demonized little sister is Ginny. The Big Book of Scary Stuff is a horcrux.

Got it? OK.

In the midst of all of this, Joan gets a  makeover into a Prim and Proper Victorian Miss and it goes about as well as you’d expect, what with the full-body scars and the flashgun attached to her boobs and all (I still have no figure out that one and it makes my cleavage hurt every time I think about it). She shows tremendous bravery when cozying with the bad guy to divert his attention from Simon.

“You kiss,” said Joan, “like a goddamn squid.”

Simon, meanwhile, gathers evidence and visits an old professor (Slughorn) and nearly gets his magical aura flayed off by a Slobbering Hellhound of Exceptional Smelliness and he gets splinched during an escape but his little sister saves him with a blood sacrifice.

There’s a big showdown with ricocheting spells and exploding fireplaces and the bad guy shriveling up like Gollum (yes, I’m mixing my Movie Metaphors, shut up about it) and an HEA. There are some lovely moments of angst and reconciliation between Simon and his little sister, and the sexy times built from insta-lust into a great working relationship and romance,

There’s also some fantastic moments of wonder and yearning from Joan of Dystopia as she tries to process a world with sunlight and clean handkerchiefs and the color green.

This was a world in the summer of its time, and the people here moved and talked liked leaves on the wind.

But don’t worry – there’s plenty of snark, too:

“And how do you see the universe, Miss MacArthur?”

Like an outhouse the morning after a hard party, Joan thought at first.

No Proper Lady was pretty damn good. But I think I would have liked it better as an audiobook — with the playback speed bumped up to about 1.25x. A strong but familiar narrator like Kate Reading or Kristen Potter would have forced me to stay in the story more, instead of allowing my brain to wander off in search of HP spells. When the world-building gets otherworldly, I need an anchor.

If you’re a regular PNR reader, this is a must-read. If you’re not, read it anyway and tell me what Harry Potter match-ups I missed.

Audiobook Adventure: The Eight by Katherine Neville

  • The Eight by Katherine NevilleTitle: The Eight
  • Author: Katherine Neville
  • Genre(s): Historical, Thriller
  • Publisher: Open Road, July 2015 (first published 1988)
  • Source: Audible
  • Length: 25 hrs, 50 min (549 pages)
  • Trope(s): Kickass Women, Alternate Timelines, Actual Historical Name-Dropping (x1000), Every Possible Thriller Kink You Could Possibly Imagine, Nuns on the Run, Very Convenient Coincidences, Mysterious Men of Mystery, Deep Dark Secrets
  • Quick blurb: A 1970s computer programmer gets mixed up in a chess game of epic scope.
  • Quick review: Holy cow.
  • Grade: B

It was she, and only she, who bored the burden of placing this powerful force into the right hands, hands that would protect it from the greedy or ambitious.

It’s been close to four years since Darlynne (@DarlynneReads) recommended this one during my Medieval Mania binge. It showed up on NetGalley last year as a re-release so I grabbed it – and of course it taunted me from my NG Wall of Shame. Then it showed up on Audible and it was the universe telling me to just read the damn book already.

And holy cow.

This book was chock full of…everything.

This book was…Dan Brown on steroids. And crack. And estrogen.

Things you should know about the Lady Computer Programmer (not in chronological order):

  • She was a music major which makes her an expert on everything because music is math. And religion. And physics. And chess.
  • She crashes an OPEC planning meeting to discuss the 1974 oil embargo, at which Muammar Gaddafi shows up and knocks wine glasses off the tables with a walking stick. (I did not make that up.)
  • She and her fat sidekick almost die in the desert when they make a wrong turn while crashing through a highway checkpoint. BUT WAIT! They’re rescued by a transport plane full of Japanese students that just happens to have cargo space for their sun-scorched Rolls Royce Corniche convertible. (I did not make that up either.)
  • Shipwreck sex with a Russian chess master while he’s bleeding and concussed.
  • Beach sex on a deserted island with the Russian chess master.

Things you should know about the Red-Headed Nun on the Run (not in chronological order):

  • Gets pregnant by Talleyrand. Doesn’t get upset when he calls her by her recently-dead cousin’s name while in the throes of passion.
  • Doesn’t realize she’s pregnant until Napoleon’s mother tells her.
  • Gives birth in the Algerian desert at the foot of a magical rock statue.
  • Disguises herself as a fellow nun to stab Jean-Paul Marat in his bathtub. Her guardian Jacques-Louis David paints the dead guy’s portrait.
  • Drinks [NO SPOILERS] and becomes the ancestor of [NO SPOILERS].

Thrilling Thriller Kinks (not in chronological order):

  • Dead chess master at chess tournament
  • Fibonacci numbers
  • Man of mystery reachable only by secret hotline phone in his kitchen cupboard
  • Secret codes in cave paintings
  • Secret codes in bible verses
  • Secret codes in baroque minuets
  • Barricade crashings (note plural)
  • Gunfights (note plural)
  • Car chases (note plural)
  • Shipwreck
  • Dead body in Mediation Room of the United Nations
  • 200-year-old journal that eerily mirrors present day
  • Know-it-all phone operator
  • Secret police interrogations
  • Sand storms (note plural)
  • Jewish diamond merchant
  • Jewish fur merchant
  • Muslim rug merchant
  • Orphans
  • Fortune teller
  • Harmonics theory
  • Beheadings (note plural)
  • Riots (note plural)
  • Bat attack in desert cave (alas, only the one)
  • Subliminal painting
  • Rented donkeys
  • Foot chase through Algiers Casbah
  • Midnight escape from KGB over Black Sea cliffs
  • Long-lost relatives reunited
  • Jewish mysticism
  • Muslim mysticism
  • Phoenician mysticism

Actual Historical Name-Dropping (in addition to those mentioned above; not in chronological order):

Rousseau, Voltaire, Richelieu, Robespierre, Corday, Pythagoras, Fourier, Philidor, Euler, C.P.E. Bach, Newton, Charlemagne, Wordsworth, Blake, Boswell, Catherine the Great, Potemkin