The Heyer Project: Part II – A Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes

Bugger, bugger, bugger — I started this over a month ago and emailed it to myself so I wouldn’t lose it. *sigh*

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In which I color-code a spreadsheet and compare The Grand Sophy to Curious George.

heyer_part2

Holy crap, I cannot believe it’s been over a year since Part I. I haven’t ruminated on my Balogh Binge yet either. I am such a slacker.

But then, sometimes things like this happen:

heyer_tweet

I am serious about this. I have never met any of you, but I seriously love you guys.

So this is me:

heyer_dug

Yes. I used a gif. Get over it. It’s Dug, so you can’t complain.

On to the good stuff! My initial foray into Heyer included (in reading order):

  • The Black Moth
  • FredericaPowder & Patch
  • Pistols for Two
  • April Lady
  • Cotillion
  • The Nonesuch
  • The Masqueraders
  • Black Sheep
  • Frederica
  • Venetia
  • The Grand Sophy
  • The Unknown Ajax
  • The Convenient Marriage

Since then, I’ve done all the rest on audiobook (all dirt-cheap from Audible thanks to Amazon’s nifty “Hey, You Really Need This Ebook On Audio Too, Just Give Us All Your Money And Be Done With It Already” feature). So a shout-out to Sourcebooks for their incredible $1.99 ebook sale way back when.

Round 2, in reading order:

  • Bath Tangle
  • farosdaughterThe Toll-Gate
  • Regency Buck
  • Sylvester, or The Wicked Uncle
  • Sprig Muslin
  • Devil’s Cub
  • The Quiet Gentleman
  • Faro’s Daughter
  • Arabella
  • The Foundling
  • False Colours
  • A Civil Contract
  • The Reluctant Widow
  • The Talisman Ring
  • Friday’s Child
  • Cousin Kate

I’m only doing the romances (not the hist-fics or mysteries), so I think I only have a few left to go: These Old Shades, The Corinthian, Charity Girl and Lady of Quality.

That’s a lot of Heyer. And since this is all about ME, I made up my own Matrix O’ Heyer Tropes. There are many, many cross-overs, but this is how I find myself mentally categorizing them.

heyer_matrix

View larger image!  |  View and comment(!!!) on the spreadsheet!

As I’m typing the list and re-color-coding the spreadsheet, I keep realizing how brilliant Heyer was in using the same tropes to tell very different stories.

The plot tropes

The Mysterious Stranger

A dysfunctional family gathers in a run-down manor, awaiting the patriarch’s imminent death. A Mysterious Stranger appears, and guess what? He’s the Long-Lost Heir! Or a Passing Stranger With the Right Weapon at the Right Time! The Dispossessed Cousins scheme frantically while the Female Third-Cousin-Twice-Removed Poor Relation languishes in a window seat with her embroidery waiting patiently for her next once-every-four-chapters scene.

The Big Big BIG Misunderstanding

These are the full-on farces – usually a mix of all the plot tropes.

In Disguise

Characters pretending to be who they’re not — includes mistaken identity, hiding in plain sight, etc.

Sibling Shenanigans

Heyer’s heroes and heroines have a LOT of clueless and reckless and sometimes evil relatives. Also includes cousins, parents, aunts/uncles, etc., so more “Feckless Families” but I love the word “shenanigans” so I’m going with it.

Spies & Smugglers

I really love alliteration. This includes blackmailers, con artists, kidnappers and whatnot.

Road Trip

Usually set in out-of-the-way country inns with spies/smugglers hiding in the cellar.

The character tropes

The Smartass Heroine

I love smartass heroines. Have I mentioned this before?

The Background Betty

See the “languishing in a window seat with her embroidery waiting patiently” bit above.

The Dimwit Ingénue

I want to smack each and every one of them upside the head. Often.

The Bachelor Babysitter

In which our Beta/Grumpy Hero becomes inextricably intertwined in the escapades of a Dimwit Ingénue and/or Dandy FratBro.

The Dandy FratBro

Self-explanatory. Sometimes redeemable, but usually just a pain in the arse.

Share your thoughts!

Because I am the open-minded sort, the spreadsheet is open to any and all comments — have at it!

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And…my thoughts on The Grand Sophy

grandsophyIn my original Heyer post, I said:

I read it. It was good. It was everything every five-star reviewer raved about. And then some.

That’s all I’ll say for now because I need to do a closer re-read to distill my thoughts.

A year later, I haven’t done a re-read, but my thoughts are distilled.  Memorable characters, imaginative plot, etc., etc. — it’s Quintessential Heyer.  Eleventy thousand five-star fangirls can’t be wrong, right?

Unfortunately, the “and then some” part ruined it for me. I am not a Sophia Stanton-Lacy Fangirl.

I was expecting a Kickass/Smartass Heroine like Deborah from Faro’s Daughter or Mary from Devil’s Cub. But the best word I can think of to describe Sophy (the character) is Bulldozer. She shows up, mows down everyone in her path, and leaves their carcasses by the side of the road. (How many metaphors did I just mix right there?) I kept thinking, “Jaysus, woman, just SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, AND LISTEN TO SOMEONE ELSE FOR A CHANGE.” If ever a “beloved” heroine deserved the epithet “insufferable,” it’s Sophy.

Oh! I just thought of a literary analogy! My sister the third-grade teacher hates the Curious George books (hang in there, I’m going somewhere with this) because George never pays the consequences for his action. In dozens of books, George does whatever the hell he wants, and everyone around him just watches him do it and says “oh, isn’t he cute???” At the end of every story, the Man in the Yellow Hat just bails his illegal exotic pet out of jail and then let him escape again to wreak more havoc in schools, parks, libraries, hospitals, ocean liners and embassies around the world.

Where was I going with this? Ah, yes — Sophy is Curious George because she’s continually rewarded for her selfishness. There’s zero development in her character. She never changes. And let’s just give Charles his Yellow Hat right now, shall we?

And that imaginative plot — it’s exhausting. There’s no downtime. With shenanigans (heh) this intricate, I need some anxiety-free backstory/exposition/set-up scenes to process all the flailing and flinging that passes for character development, and to reach that all-important emotional catharsis required for a satisfying HEA.

And, of course, the infamous anti-Semitic “Evil Jew Moneylender” scene. It makes me throw up in my mouth a little every time I think of it. There’s no arguing the scene itself is historically accurate for the story and the characters’ reactions. There’s no arguing it reflects the abhorrent stereotypes still common even in post-war Britain when it was first published.

But I also think there’s no arguing that the stereotype Heyer presents in this scene are beyond excessive. It’s repulsive. Period. Full stop. It’s the first thing that comes to mind whenever I see a mention of the title. It’s why I’m not re-reading it now or ever.

TBR Challenge: More Than One – Carla Kelly Harlequins

These challenges make me feel like an overachiever because they totally enable my hoarding/binging tendencies. I’ve been sitting on SEVENTEEN (17) (no lie) Carla Kellys for years because I knew that once I started, I’d have to read them all. So I did. And it was gooooood.

I’m only going to do the Harlequins in this post — more on the Signets next time! (And yes, I’ve read all of Kelly’s other Harlequins. I’m a capital-F Fangirl.)

Her Hesitant Heart by Carla KellyHer Hesitant Heart

  • Title: Her Hesitant Heart
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, January 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 282
  • Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Beta Hero, Military Man, Widower, Schoolmarm
  • Quick blurb: Newly divorced schoolmarm finds refuge teaching at remote army fort.
  • Quick review: Great setting and perfect pacing, but the angst needed a bit more balance.
  • Grade: B+

“I can’t tell you how nice it was to open my front door and take a whiff of someone cares.”

Nobody does historical military romance better than Carla Kelly. She has an exquisite knack for world-building that has me THERE every single time, and this book was no exception. The only thing that knocked it down to a B was the uneven angst balance — it was all on the heroine, with the stalwart hero basically standing around waiting to display his stalwartiness.

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MMarriage Of Mercy by Carla Kellyarriage of Mercy

  • Title:  Marriage of Mercy
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, January 2012
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 282
  • Tropes: Small Town, Riches to Rags, Scandal & Gossip, Military Man, Working Girl, In Disguise
  • Quick blurb: Impoverished baker’s assistant gets a surprise inheritance — with a shocking responsibility attached.
  • Quick review: Another book trance, but with an iffy setup.
  • Grade: B-

No matter the outcome of these uncertain times, Grace Curtis knew that someone had chosen her and it was enough. There might be great pain ahead, or great bliss, but she would not go to her grave knowing that no one had ever singled her out and cared for her above all others.

So romantic, even if the meet-cute isn’t quite believable. If you’re considering this one, ignore the completely irrelevant title and the bad blurb — I don’t think the marketing team even read the book.

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The Wedding Ring Quest by Carla KellyThe Wedding Ring Quest

  • Title:  The Wedding Ring Quest
  • Published: Harlequin Historical, April 2014
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 288
  • Tropes: Road Trip, Big Misunderstanding, Poor Relation, Plot Moppet, Military Man
  • Quick blurb:  A missing wedding ring lost in fruitcake. No, really.
  • Quick review: Better than it sounds.
  • Grade: B

The world would never forget Napoleon. One man and one boy would never forget Mary Rennie. He knew, for the first time since the war began, which mattered more.

I was going to give it a C until I did a quick skim to find quotes and then I had to read it again. And, oy, that insipid cover — the hero has a peg leg and the road trip is in the middle of winter. Read the damn book, Harlequin marketing people!

TBR Challenge: Kickin’ It Old School with Jude Deveraux

I missed the March and April challenges, but I am all over this one because MY FIRST DEVERAUXS. (Is that the plural? I’m going with it.) I had a hit and a miss.

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A Knight in Shining Armor (1987)

It was a DUD. I was DISAPPOINTED. There, I SAID IT.

A Knight in Shining Armor by Jude Deveraux (1987)

My less-than-enthusiastic reaction can be blamed on:

The Susanna Kearsley binge.

I listened to The Winter Sea, The Firebird, The Rose Garden, and Splendour Falls, and read The Shadowy Horses and Season of Storms, so my standards for timeslip romances were raised ridiculously high.

Knight was undoubtedly romantic, and the time travel was entertaining, but I wanted the intensity and emotion of the chapel/churchyard scenes to be sustained through the whole story.

The awkward and uncomfortable narration.

I do NOT recommend the audiobook narrated by Steve West. It appears that he’s done several historical romances, but his performance on Knight had a lot to do with my negative reaction to the heroine (see below).

The over-the-top ex and his bratty daughter.

Halfway through the first chapter, my only thoughts were “Really?” A little subtlety would have gone a long way to make the opening of Knight a little more palatable. Instead, we get sledgehammered with caricatures.

And the fat-shaming of a 13-year-girl? REALLY? I don’t care how obnoxious the child was, or when this book was written, there is no excuse for that. I almost DNF’d by chapter two.

The heroine.

I hated Dougless. I wanted to slap her upside the head and say GOOD GOD WOMAN STOP WHINGING. She’s the prototype of the Ditzy, Klutzy, Family Fuck-Up and she annoyed me from beginning to end. All she did was whine, pout, plead and cry through the whole damn book.

Grade: C- (saved from a D+ by the perfectly perfect ending)

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The Raider (1987)

This one, on the other hand, was GLORIOUS.

The Raider by Jude Deveraux (1987)

It was a funny, sexy romp in the best possible way, and I LOVED EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

The heroine was a smartass.

I adore smartass heroines. Have I mentioned this before?

The hero has two (count ‘em, TWO) alter egos.

hero

And the heroine falls in love with both of them. I almost liked it against my will because the “in disguise” trope generally makes me roll my eyes, but Deveraux pulled it off beautifully.

The secondary characters were memorable and essential to the story.

I think this is another reason why Knight didn’t work for me — for most of the book, we get little respite from Dougless’s internal angst-o-rama. The remainder of the cast just served as reusable props for her self-pity party.

In Raider, however, we get scene after scene of comic relief from Jessica’s gauche family, Alex’s mysterious Russian prince sidekick, the villainous villains and the raucous residents of Warbooke— and every bit of it advances the plot.

The pacing was perfect.

Knight was a weird combination of comedy and melodrama that just wasn’t my thing — it just didn’t feel cohesive.

Raider gives us high farce from page one and never lets go. We get just enough downtime for crucial backstory, character development, foreshadowing and (of course) sexytimes before we’re thrown headfirst into the next escapade.

The time period and setting were…not Regency England.

I have no idea if every minute detail was historically accurate, but I couldn’t give a rat’s arse because I totally bought into the historical world-building. And that sucked me into a still-ongoing Colonial/Revolutionary America binge.

Grade: A

(If you missed it, be sure to check out SBTB’s post on The Raider collectible Barbies.

The (Belated) 1Q2015 Big Fat Book Review: Middlemarch by George Eliot

NOTE: I’m reading a BIG FAT BOOK each quarter in 2015. I kinda sorta forgot to write a review of my first one because I was still wallowing in it weeks afterward.

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If you don’t like MIDDLEMARCH, I don’t think we can be friends anymore.

Middlemarch - Original Serial CoverAlso, you are wrong. Wrong, wrong, WRONGITY WRONG. Everyone who knows anything about books agrees that MIDDLEMARCH is brilliant.

I am capitalizing and bolding MIDDLEMARCH to make sure it gets your attention so you will remember to READ THIS FREE BOOK THAT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE. Did I mention that MIDDLEMARCH is brilliant?

Yes, it’s eleventy thousand pages long. Yes, it’s 35+ hours on audio. Get over it. Suck it up and read it, buttercup.

My Bullet List of Reasons Why Everyone Should Read MIDDLEMARCH:

  • Because it’s BLOODY BRILLIANT.
  • Because the audio narration by Juliet Stevenson is BLOODY BRILLIANT.

So, that’s my belated, yet dramatic and insightful, 1Q2015 Big Fat Book Review of MIDDLEMARCH. You’re welcome.

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I’d never scrolled down far enough on the Wikipedia page to notice these glorious illustrations from The Works of George Eliot, published by The Jenson Society, NY, 1910.

Dorothea and Will

We start out loving these two idealists and aching for their star-crossed HEA. She’s the Self-Martyring Bleeding Heart and he’s the Brooding Artistic Poor Relation. What could be more romantic?

Then Eliot slowly, masterfully, shows us Idealism vs. Reality. And we’re always shown and never just told. Eliot somehow manages to uses every single bit of description and dialogue in her 300,000+-words to build these characters and then deconstruct them in such a way that we’re mired in their pity party and we’re LOVING EVERY MINUTE OF IT.

The illustration is perfect — Dorothea is heaving a big ol’ sigh and Will glares at us with all his brooding intensity.

 Rosamond and Tertius

We all love to hate Rosamund. She’s insufferable. And yet, she’s got a hell of a lot more gumption than Dodo. Instead of swanning about moaning about her lot in life, Mrs. Lydgate just goes out and does whatever the hell she wants.

Again with the subversive character deconstruction — Rosamund never turns the corner from loathsome to loveable, but we learn to empathize as she fulfills her destiny as arm-candy for her ambitious husband. And along the way, those ambitions reveal Tertius the Noble Physician’s own self-centeredness. His unsuccessful turnaround is kind of heartbreaking in a “we knew that would happen” sort of way.

I love how blithely pompous and patronizing Tertius looks in this illustration.

Mary and Fred

Mary is pretty much a non-entity in the book, but who the hell cares? She waits patiently for Fred to get his head of his arse and we love her unreservedly for it.

And oh, Fred. Our dear, dear Fuck-Up Fred. He’s the clueless but well-meaning frat boy who just cannot seem to get his shit together. If anything demonstrates Eliot’s storytelling genius, it’s the Redemption of Fred.  I just CAN’T EVEN with him.

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Discussion topics

  1. I want Rev. Farebrother to have his HEA. Who can we ‘ship him with? He needs something wildly passionate because I’m pretty sure he secretly reads naughty books. He’s a very open-minded kind of reverend.
  2. Is there anything in the book more painful than the Featherstone Death Watch?
  3. I still do not understand the Bulstrode ↔ Ladislaw connection. Could someone please succinctly explain what Bulstrode knew about Will’s family? If that’s important in revealing Will’s — or Bulstrode’s — character, why does it come so late in the book?
  4. The BBC miniseries. I think the casting was close to perfect. I heard rumors of a new adaptation (there’s an IMDB page for it, I think Sam Mendes was the producer)— help me fan-cast a new version. Let’s re-gender Bulstrode so we can have Helen Mirren.
  5. The concept of re-gendering just made me think of this…. Could/should an adaptation of Middlemarch be modernized, or set in the mid 20th century instead of the 19th? Or is it too quintessentially capitol-V Victorian?

Make yourself useful in the comments.

TBR Challenge: The Earl I Adore by Erin Knightley

February’s TBR Challenge was “Recommended Read (A book recommended to you by another reader/blogger etc.).” I blame this one on John (@DreamingReviews) who reviewed it for Heroes and Heartbreakers. “Heroine plays the oboe” = FASTEST ONE-CLICK EVER.

Yes, I played the oboe. Full-on band geek. You are not surprised.

  • The Earl I Adore by Erin KnightleyTitle: The Earl I Adore
  • Author: Erin Knightley
  • Series: Prelude to a Kiss
  • Published: Signet, January 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 336 pages
  • Tropes: Big Misunderstanding, Deep Dark Secrets, Music Nerds, Mean Girl
  • Quick blurb: The heroine plays oboe. The hero sings opera. There’s some conflict-type stuff but I didn’t pay attention to that because MUSIC-SWOON.
  • Quick review: To quote the hero describing the heroine, it’s : “…a glass of champagne. Effervescent, light, and sweet.”
  • Grade: B

“You make me want to learn more Italian,” he murmured, offering her a small private smile.

“You make me want to listen to more opera,” she replied….

This was just charming. I’m going to be lazy and just tell you to read John’s review, because he really captures the feel of it. I never would have even looked at it without his recommendation — the title and cover just scream “wallpaper.” It does skirt the boundaries of fluff, but the wooing-with-music scenes are quite swoon-y, and I may have needed a tissue or two at the end.

And, of course, I bought the first in the series, featuring a pianist and her grumpy neighbor, and I’m impatiently awaiting book three with the Chinese heroine who plays the zither. THE ZITHER. I’m not kidding.

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More on the I Was a High School Oboe Player….

Why did I play oboe, you ask? Because I started out on the clarinet, but my two best friends were always first and second chair and I got sick of competing with them. Only two oboes, so I’d never sit lower than second chair — and I only had to practice once a week.

True story.

“The double reed is quite tricky, and it can be a lot of effort to get the sound just right, so we oboists tend to have exceedingly strong lips.”

Oboes cost $1200 for a “cheap” student model. Reeds cost $12-15 each. Strong lips, indeed.

TBR Challenge: Free Agent by Roz Lee

My first #tbrchallenge — woohoo!

  • Free Agent by Roz LeeTitle: Free Agent
  • Author: Roz Lee
  • Series: Mustangs Baseball, #0.5
  • Published: State of Mind Publishing, May 2013
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 65 pages
  • Tropes: BDSM, Insta-Lust, Insta-Love
  • Quick blurb: Star ballplayer hooks up with new sub
  • Quick review: *YAWN*
  • Grade: D

“If you sign the contract tomorrow, we’ll seal the deal with a good fuck. How’s that?”

Yeesh. It’s a good thing this was a freebie, because it’s got every possible erotica cliché. I annotated every other paragraph with a variation of “Of course.”

  • Honey-blonde hair hung in soft waves over bare shoulders, framing fine features, porcelain fair skin, and blue eyes. [Of course.]
  • It was as if she saw past his defenses, right to his soul. [As he’s eye-fucking her while she’s fingering herself. Before they’ve even spoken. Because OF COURSE.]
  • Brooke licked her lips…. [Of course she did. How else would he know she’s horny?]
  • “…say yellow if you need a minute before we continue, red if you can’t take anymore.” [Because we all need BDSM 101 in every.single.book.]
  • Glossy pink petals framed a perfectly shaped slit. [Of course it’s perfect. Duh.]
  • …the most amazing orgasm of her life. [At their first actual encounter at the dungeon. Of course.]
  • He’d claimed a part of her no one else ever had—her heart.  [After their first encounter at the dungeon. And they’ve only shared first names. Of course.]
  • Now, she understood. The real pleasure came from pleasing her master, not the other way around. [*yawn*]
  • ...until he met Brooke, he hadn’t truly understood the submissive partner held as much power—perhaps more—than the dominant one. [*YAWN* Will this be on the quiz?]

Other random thoughts/observations:

  • There is zero character- or relationship-building. These people are completely cardboard and interchangeable with every other bad erotica I’ve read.
  • Might have been a D+ if not for the pluralizing-with-an-apostrophe egregiousness (“two single Dom’s looking…”) throughout.
  • The meet-cute occurs at a munch. Yes, a “munch.” I cannot believe I’ve never come across that term before.
  • The contract is “Concise and well written with headings, subheadings, and bullet points.” She wonders if a secretary prepared it for him. [No, really.]
  • The word “slurping” is used.
  • Secondary character is a sub named Candy. There are dessert jokes.
  • The characters contradict themselves ALL THE TIME, sometimes even within the same sentence. “Punishment is not intended to be pleasant” — but then he teases her about being a pain slut and yammers on about how sexy her moans are. “I don’t enjoy leaving those marks” — but, um, dude, YOU’RE A DOM WITH A FLOGGER.

I was hoping for something quick and fun to prep for a Spring Training baseball theme. I’ll keep looking.

The Insta-Love Annual Sappy Holiday Romance Binge: The Historicals

It’s still the holidays. YES, IT IS. Because I’m the only one in the office at the dayjob.

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Now on the DIK Shelf….*

A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy Williams

  • A Cowboy for Christmas by Lacy WilliamsTitle: A Cowboy for Christmas
  • Author: Lacy Williams
  • Series: Wyoming Legacy, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, December 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Angst-O-Rama
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy tries to make amends with boss’s daughter for a horrific accident
  • Quick review: Lovely. Just lovely. *~*HAPPYSIGH*~*
  • Grade: A

“I thought, for a moment, that you might kiss me.” She rushed on, a fountain of words babbling out of her. “And I know you didn’t want to. I know you said we’re to be friends, and I didn’t want you to think that had I had any expectations, because I don’t—”

Three strides brought him to her, but it wasn’t until he took her upper arm in his hand that she went silent. Looking up at him, she could see his face was like a thundercloud, eyes stormy.

“You think I don’t want to kiss you?” He grated the words, as if it was hard to speak them.

“I know you don’t.”

“You don’t know anything.”

He reached for her, and before she could even think that she should push him away — that she didn’t want a pity kiss from him — he’d cupped her jaw, his calloused palm sliding along her cheek and sending sparks flying like a summer cowboy campfire….

It was like putting a match to tinder.

By the time I finished the first chapter, I was THERE. Book Trance. I can’t reveal too much without spoilers, but this book is a master class in angst as a plot device. And character- and relationship-building. And describing panic attacks and agoraphobia. And portraying struggles with faith. Also, there’s a puppy rescue.

I read a few of Williams’ earlier books on Scribd; they were on the OK-but-not-memorable scale. After finishing Cowboy, I bought the entire Wyoming Legacy series — I’m giddy about seeing how she’s evolved as a writer. Let the Author Binge continue!

*As soon as I update that page. Remind me to do that. DONE!

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More inspies….

Married by Christmas by Karen Kirst

  • Married by Christmas by Karen KirstTitle: Married by Christmas
  • Author: Karen Kirst
  • Series: Smoky Mountain Matches, #5
  • Published: Harlequin Love Inspired Historical, October 2014
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Tropes: Faith, Forgiveness, Redemption, Marriage by Scandal, Angst Lite
  • Quick blurb: Former bad boy must marry woman whose life he disrupted with an unfortunate accident
  • Quick review: And…I bought the rest of the series.
  • Grade: B

I read Kirst’s The Husband Hunt first — a charming friends-to-lovers story. This one was really enjoyable too; the basic premise is very similar to the Williams book, but the difference in tone and voice make these completely unique reads.

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