TBR Challenge: Kicking It Old School with Patricia Rice

Last year for Old School Month, I read two Jude Devereaux classics — a hit and a miss. This time, I’m kinda sorta maybe mostly undecided.

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

  • Title: Moon Dreams
  • Author: Patricia Rice
  • Series: American Dreams, #1
  • Published:  January 1991; re-released February 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Tropes: Dimwit Runaway Innocent Ingenue, Illegitimacy-But-Not-Really (see “Back From the Dead” below), Evil Heirs, Kilted Kourage, Exotic Otherness, Cultural Appropriation, Fake Scottish Brogues, Cinderella Makeovers, Back From the Dead, Very Convenient Coincidences, Smuggler With a Heart of Gold, Actual Historical Name-Dropping, Metaphorical Metaphors
  • Quick blurb: Illegitimate heiress runs away from her lecherous cousin and gets rescued by a Scottish smuggler obsessed with avenging his own family dishonor.
  • Quick review: Stuffed with all the Old Schoolish WTFery you could ever possibly want.
  • Grade: C- (it was a loooong slog up the Highlands in the last third to avoid a D+)

Firstly, let’s wallow in the original cover for a moment, shall we?

Moon Dreams by Patricia Rice

THE FLAMING PASSION OF TROPIC NIGHTS LIT LOVE’S GOLDEN DAWN

Are you done wallowing yet? Need a moment? Need an ointment of some sort?

*~*waits patiently*~*

So. I bought this one and the follow-up a few months ago when I was looking for some American-set historicals. Despite the series name, very little of this one was set in Colonial America. The happy couple bounced around the northern hemisphere and it was pretty exhausting trying to figure out how they manuevered all that Near-Sex and Actual Penetrative Sex and Hate-Sex into their year-long itinerary.

I’m going do a full recap to help you properly appreciate the Full Glory Old-Schooliness of this Epic Adventure. I haven’t gone full-snark in over a year, so buckle up and gird your loins and grab a snack.

Chapters 1-2 — Cornwall, Fall 1759

Reality was the cold gray mist soaking her woolen cloak and clinging to her lashes and mixing with a torrent of tears.

Our heroine Alyson (yes, really) Hampton has a dog named Peabody. I was highly encouraged about this, but, alas, poor Peabody is never heard from again.

Alyson is the orphaned illegitimate granddaughter of an earl. She has Secret Rendezvouses (?) with a neighbor guy who Promises Things In The Dark. These Promises In The Dark do not, alas, include marriage proposals. (But you probably already knew that.) Innocent Alyson realizes she must Grow Up and Open Her Eyes.

Alyson’s Beloved Grandfather dies and leaves all the unentailed property to Alyson (because of course he does).The  Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir (aka The Macaroni, aka The Despicable Fiend),  arrives and announces Alyson will marry him. She rebuffs his tender attentions by pouring boiling tea in his lap.

Alyson’s only recourse, of course, is to Run Away. In the middle of the night. In a maid’s dress with a horse blanket for a cloak.

Chapter 3

Angels and half-wits and kidnappers all in a night strained credulity,

We meet our hero, Rory Douglas Maclean, of the disgraced Jacobite Macleans, as he’s scratching a flea bite in his armpit. No, really. I did not make that up.

Rory’s smuggling ship lands in Cornwall and he takes the mail coach to London because…IDK, we just need to move the plot along here. He’s squashed between an obese woman who is so fat she couldn’t possibly be raped (no, really) and a skinny shrewish  spinster. On the opposite seat is a Mysterious Waif who reads books and smells like the “barely perceptible evergreen scent of heather in the springtime.” That, and horses because of the whole horse blanket as cloak thing. The book-reading heather-smelling waif has smooth white hands.

En route, Rory foils the kidnapping of our smooth-handed, horse-blanked-yet-heather-smelling waifish heroine. Because of course he does. The kidnappers take the skinny shrewish spinster instead.

Our heroine is enchanted by our hero’s rolling Scottish R’s. We learn our heroine is half-Scottish because of course she is.

Rory just doesna ken. He just doesna. But he is very hungry.

Rory opened the napkin, and the scent of pickled salmon hit him. With wonder he sampled the rest of the fare, each discovery bringing another enraptured cry. “Bannocks! Ach, my bonny lassie, do ye not know what I would give for fresh bannocks? And spelding? It’s been years….” His ecstasy disappeared in the mouthful of bread and fish he deposited between his grateful lips.

So. Food metaphor as sex foreshadowing, amirite?

Anyway. Alyson tells this complete stranger her entire life story because she can totally trust him because he’s The Maclean.

Chapter 4 — February 1760

Alyson smiled. The Maclean was looking at her as if he couldn’t decide whether to eat her or strangle her, but she felt confident he would do neither. He really was a nice man for all that he tried to be an irascible curmudgeon.

Rory hires a chaise and horses and they somehow make it to London without having Actual Penetrative Sex or even Near Sex. However, he is “stunned to the state of shock by the force of her devastating smile.” But, alas, he must part from the only angel heaven would ever send to him. He leaves her with his aunt, who, of course, is a Dear Old Friend of Alyson’s Kindly London Solicitor.

Makeover time! Dress porn, powdered wig with fat sausage curls, blah, blah, blah.

Reunited!

The innocent cherub who had slept in his arms had become a much more worldy angel in satin and bows, but to Rory she still appeared to have wings and a halo. Where before she had been all heather and mint, now she was the sparkling, crystalline drifts of Ben Nevis in winter. 

So, remember: Alyson is still an innocent angel. This is important because this is an Old School Romance.

“No kissing?” Alyson stared at him in wonder. “But kissing is so very pleasant. Who should anyone be denied it?”

::HEADDESK::

Chapters 5-8

Cranville [our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir] studied the pale nape of Alyson’s neck. It was a very fragile neck, topped by a thick cloud of ebony tresses. It wouldn’t take any effort at all to snap it, but he doubted that a murderer could inherit his victim’s wealth. It was the money he wanted, after all.

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) challenges our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir to a duel because of course he does.

Alyson is upset. So she runs away. In the middle of the night. Again. Because of course she does. She’s a Dimwit Innocent Ingenue, remember? Also, it’s very foggy out. Because London is always foggy.

She’s kidnapped. Again.

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) just happens to saunter into the the very same slimy Bishopsgate tavern where the Half-Wit Henchman have taken their prize. Because OF COURSE HE DOES.

coincidence

Rory tricks the Half-Wit Henchmen into bringing Alyson to his smuggling ship (with only one sword-slit throat along the way), and the Sea Witch escapes into the storm-tossed Atlantic.

“I have always wanted to sail on a ship. Can I go up and see the sails?”

*~*sigh*~*

Imprisoned Alyson (no sails for her) befriends the cabin boy and the cranky ship’s cook and bakes bread in her undies. Somewhere in here Rory is knocked senseless by…something…and she sees his naked torso and touches his forehead and has tingly feelings in her ladybits.

Rory recovers and yells at her for being a dimwit without the sense that God gave a goose and she gets all weepy that he doesn’t respect her and ruffled feathers waaah waaah waaah.

They’re forced to share a cabin and there’s some awkward moments changing clothes and whatever Insta-Boner #377 yada yada yada.

Chapter 9-10 – Charleston, Spring 1760

Land ho. Her hair is frothing and he gets Insta-Boner # 417 whilst imagining releasing the wild ecstasy behind her demure features.

She runs away. Again. (OH MY GOD REALLY WTF BUT WAIT THERE’S MORE)

She finds her way to an attorney in hopes of contacting her Kindly London Solicitor. But guess what? The Charleston attorney is besties with The Maclean’s man of business! Who’da thunk it, amirite?

Reunited! And It Feels So Good! (sorry, couldn’t resist)

They finally kiss. Breasts full of promise (hers). Aching loins (his). He apologizes and she gets all huffy.

“If the moon is what leads a man to madness, I’ll be certain to lead all my suitors down the garden path in its light. Then they shall be as mad as they think I am, and I can choose the one who kisses me best.”

With a flounce of her skirts, she fled back to the house.

flounce

Chapters 11-14

Alyson hangs in Charleston while Rory sails off to do his smuggling thing. She has lots of beaux and buys lots of new clothes because that’s what Runaway Dimwit Innocent Ingenues do.

Until…our Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Heir shows up, having somehow figured out exactly where in all of the Eastern Seaboard she was hiding. She gets tricked into boarding his ship.

BUT WAIT.

JUST WAIT.

ARE YOU READY FOR THIS?

Alyson escapes from her captors and makes it to the deck. She spies — WAIT FOR IT — Rory’s ship just pulling into the harbor.

NO, REALLY. I am not making this up.

So. What’s an Abducted Dimwit Innocent Ingenue to do? She takes off her petticoat and waves it around and drops it into the harbor to get Rory’s attention.

It totally works.

“Jump, Alys, jump!” he shouted as the dinghy lowered into the water.

“I can’t swim!” she wailed, glancing over her shoulder.

He saves her, he yells at her, she tries to flounce in her water-logged gown, etc., etc., etc.

Rory stood there in his sodden clothes contemplating the insane but enchanting pixie who had danced into his life one fair morn….

Feeling as if he had lost complete control of the situation, Rory surrendered. Since he had met his personal angel, he had been held up by highwaymen, challenged an earl to a duel, killed a kidnapper, and fired on a British merchant. He was down to his last three decent shirts and one of those was clinging clammily to his shoulders right now. He was better off when he courted the devil, despite the fact that Alyson looked more delicious in a blanket and dripping ringlets than any other woman on the planet.

She changes clothes, he sees her boobs, Insta-Boner #818. Storm-clouded eyes, passions of a royal hellion, sweetness and tartness, etc., etc., etc.

More boobs. More boners. He makes her wear the cabin boy’s breeches and stares at her arse. You are not surprised.

But now you will be surprised, because SURPRISE!

“You have the Sight, don’t you?”

Yes, really. Half-Scottish Alyson has second sight. Because OF COURSE SHE DOES. Just like her mother and grandmother who were shunned as witches.

That was the beauty of Alyson’s deception. For years she had been convincing people of her half-wittedness with her vague habits, when in truth she had just adapted to the behavior expected of her, the one that explained her strangeness to everyone’s satisfaction.

So, you see, she’s not really a dimwit. She’s just…special.

I could really use Peabody the terrier right about now.

YAWN.

YAWN.

Chapters 15-16 – a deserted island in the Caribbean (yes, really)

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) machetes his way through an isolated lagoon. Our almost-happy couple gets naked separately to bathe. Because while Alyson is no longer a dimwit, she is still an Innocent Ingenue.

BUT NOT FOR LONG.

He tells her his sob story (1745 Jacobite rebellion, everything lost, boohoo), she comforts him, he gets a boner.

“Ach lass, I’ll take ye, will ye, nill ye, if we do not return to the ship now. There is time yet to do this with a little more ceremony,”

They return to the beach, where a Raucous Pagan Pirate Party is going on. He hand-feeds her tempting nuggets from a bowl of fruit. I don’t think that’s a metaphor, but you never know. However, she does get hot moisture in her nether parts.

They dance on the beach as the bonfire flames grow higher. I think that is a metaphor.

But what about that “ceremony” mentioned above, you ask? You shouldn’t have asked.

You’ll want to read this next bit with one eye closed and a full-on headtilt.

One of the crewmen, a giant African, had apparently been selected as spokesman, and he stood blocking their entrance into the circle. For some odd reason, the men behind him were waving a worn-out broom from the ship’s galley.

Yeah. Not making this up.

BUT WAIT — THERE’S MORE. The Giant African has a Big Knife.

With further intonations, the African rubbed their bleeding palms together, and Rory’s fingers twined around hers. Their blood mixed and flowed into each other, and Alyson felt the completeness of this joining as her legs threatened to give way beneath her.

Something’s giving way over here, and it’s not my legs.

Rory hauls her off into the rainforest again and promises are pulled from the wind and carried on moonbeams. You think I just made that up but I totally didn’t.

So. The deflowering in the jungle is all about the music metaphors.

It was as if his body was the bow and hers was the string. He played her sweetly first, testing the notes, refining the tension until she quivered beneath his touch….

His fingers played across her skin….brought her closer to the crescendo he sought.

…Alyson’s wild cry as Rory entered her rang through the jungle, at one with the call of the other creatures around them. [NOTE: WHAT THE HELL NO NO NO NO NO where is that ointment]

…She only knew Rory had pulled her strings taut as he drew himself back and forth, and the music reached its height.

A crescendo built so that she could no longer control her own movements. The pulsing beat carried her away, rolling over her in wave after wave of pleasure.

Before you give in to the crescendoing swoon: He didn’t pull out. This is important later in the story.

Rory saves the virginal-blood-stained satin…something…they had sex on and wraps it around himself.

“I should have a flag made of this.”

Could ANYTHING be more Old-School Romance than that? I think not.

Chapters 17-18 — Barbados, August 1760

We’re only at 44%. Still with me?

So they pull up into Barbados. She marvels at the bright colors in the garb of the island inhabitants, but apparently fails to notice shackles or branding or other distasteful slavery-type things.

Instead, she spies a Tarted-Up Tart in pink pouring from a fancy carriage. And she gets a Sight. In her third eye, she sees the Pink Canary having sex with Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean).

Naturally, our Deflowered Ingenue gets upset about this (she barfs over the rail of the Sea Witch). So — WAIT FOR IT — she runs away.

AGAIN.

Because OF COURSE SHE DOES.

She somehow finds her way to a kindly lady (because of course she does). This family just happens to be besties with the Governor of Barbados, who just happens to be in cahoots with smugglers like Rory Douglas Maclean.

coincidence

Our hero and heroine meet up at a ball and she runs away again. Yes, that’s twice in one chapter. I am still not making this up.

He corners her (in his own bedroom, for the love of god do not ask) and declares that her choices are to (a) marry him in truth in front of God and All Of Barbados Except the Africans or (b) get hauled off to prison because she stole money from him about seventeen chapters ago and wrote him an IOU and he’s going to call it in.

This, apparently, is the Black Moment.

There’s a lot of crying and flouncing and they get married but she’s still totally miffed at him.

Somewhere in here, her long-dead father shows up. And the Evil Heir is on his way because he has a GPS tracker on them or something.

Chapters 19-22

Rory’s excellent plan of action to escape the Evil Heir involves booking passage on an Actual Pirate Ship. This pirate ship is a piece of shit that falls apart at the first flash of lightning and they founder on the coast of…somewhere…and there’s a mutiny and Rory must punch Alyson in the face to knock her out so she won’t get raped and he’s sorry he didn’t just go ahead and kill her to save her from the pirates.

Rory drags his unconscious bride to the deck of the pirate ship (after the mutiny is over, of course) and lo and behold, the Evil Heir. Who was following the chemtrails. Or something.

Chapters 22-24 — London, Fall 1760

These two really get around.

Back in England, Rory is taken away in chains but Alyson gets him freed on bond and she has another Vision of Doom and he refuses to use her money and they snub each other in the hallways. This goes on for weeks.

And weeks.

And weeks.

Rory befriends Samuel Johnson at a party. Yes, the dictionary-guy Samuel Johnson. Actual Historical Name-Dropping appears to be A Required Thing in Old-School Romance.

Chapters 25-26

Alyson is pregnant. Alyson is surprised. You are not surprised.

Chapters 27-33 — Scotland, November 1760

Two-thirds done. You will not believe what happens in the last third.

Our grumpy couple slogs off to Scotland and stays at Alyson’s ruined castle tower because of course she has one.  The one remaining servant of course remembers her dear sainted mother and grandmother who totally weren’t witches.

Meanwhile, Alyson’s Long-Dead Father reappears in Cornwall to Claim His Rightful Inheritance. Everyone believes him because OF COURSE he looks exactly like his childhood portrait and the portraits of all his ancestors in the portrait gallery.

The Long-Dead Father slogs off to Scotland.

The Evil Heir slogs off to Scotland.

Meanwhile, Rory gets all pissy that Alyson is using her own money to fix up her own castle so he stomps off to his own castle which isn’t his anymore because his Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Cousin (hereafter known as Evil Cousin #2) stole it during the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745. Rory rouses the impoverished populace to his Rightful Cause and they hoard weapons and steal sheep.

Rory and Alyson finally have sex again but they’re still mad at each other.

With cries of joy, they discovered new heights, and clinging to each other, fell from the cliffs with dizzying delight.

That cliff thing was just a metaphor. The actual cliff-falling comes later. Sorry not sorry about the spoilers; I’m trying to get this mess of crap over with.

The Evil Drunken Lecherous Debt-Ridden Cousins conspire to kill off the Rightful Heirs. This involves shooting at the happy couple from across a loch in hopes of starting a landslide because they’re both too drunk to aim properly. But don’t worry. Rory saves them.

“‘Tis nothin’, lass. Dinna fash yerself.”

I did not make that up.

Alyson’s Long-Dead Father shows up on Christmas Eve in a snowstorm.

I did not make that up either.

Alyson’s parents were totally really married and therefore she is not illegitimate but there’s no proof OF COURSE because someone ripped the pages from the marriage register or ship’s log or something.

Rory gets an Illegal Kilt for Christmas and he totally Wears It In Defiance because he is a Rebel and the Rightful Heir.

Evil Cousin #1 finally gets disgusted with being an Disgusting Drunken Lecher and ditches Evil Cousin #2 to stew in his own juices (don’t ask).

Then there’s this swirling snowstorm and they all go out searching for…someone…because Alyson has Had A Vision. You know, that Second Sight thing because we haven’t had any blatant foreshadowing in like a whole chapter and a half even though it doesn’t really add anything to the plot.

Chapters 34-OH DEAR GOD WE’RE FINALLY ALMOST DONE

85%. We’re finally getting to the good stuff. Trust me.

Alyson is now approximately 57 weeks pregnant and she very innocently goes for a walk on a high, snowy, craggy hill because Scotland in the winter is really boring, duh. A scary dark-caped horseman appears out of the fog and there’s screaming and whatnot. Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) naturally assumes his Paragon of Innocence ran away again so he gets all up in arms (literally, with, like guns and everything) and goes after her up the high, snowy, craggy hill.

Alyson goes into labor on the high, snowy craggy hill. Because — all together now — OF COURSE SHE DOES.

BUT WAIT. This is where it gets exciting. The bad guy (Evil Cousin #2, not the boiling-tea-in-the-crotch one) catches Alyson and ties her up and hauls her off to Rory’s Repossessed Castle. But on the way, Evil Cousin #2 shoots at Rory and makes him fall off the cliff (not a metaphor this time). But don’t worry — Rory pulls an Indiana Jones and clambers back up the craggy hillside.

Rory Douglas Maclean (aka The Maclean) calls his men to arms.

Men poured in from the blinding blizzard, summoned by a series of signals, As they arrived, the servants passed out torches. Outlawed swords, halberds, and hatchets were removed from the walls…. Even Rory, once  his injuries had been seen to, emerged sporting the plaid of war instead of a frock coat.

They’re going FULL KILT here, people. Like…Braveheart. Yeah, Braveheart.

braveheart

Or…maybe more like this:

mob-scene

But with, you know, kilts. Because we’re in Scotland, duh.

Meanwhile, Alyson is still in labor. Evil Cousin #2 tries to throw her out a window but she spits in his face. Rory is concerned that such”wayward behavior” will enrage the demented villain even further. I did not make that up.

The bad guy sets something on fire and makes a break for it.

Only when he flung open the door did Drummond realize the back stairs were filled with pitchforks, hatchets and carving knives of his own servants.

He turned and found Rory waiting for him in the doorway, claymore in hand, the fire blazing impossibly high behind him, glinting red off his hair as if he were a demon from hell.

Rory carries Alyson to safety and they argue if the baby will be a boy or girl.

It’s a boy. Because of course it is.

Bagpipe time! Rory does a sword dance in his kilt.

sword-dance

Because he’s the Rightful Laird, ye ken.

I just got lost for about 20 minutes looking at Highland sword dance pictures.

Epilogue

Post-baby sex in a meadow. You are not surprised.

Things I Have Learned About Old-School Romance

  • All the heroines are dimwit ingenues.
  • All the heroes are galumphing whiners.
  • Plots are magically driven by Very Convenient Coincidences.
  • Actual Historical Name-Dropping is required.
  • London is always foggy.
  • Virginal blood is a Big Deal and worth saving to share with friends and family and pirate crews.
  • Food and music metaphors are vitally important because otherwise the sex would be really boring.
  • Runaway ingenues never actually end up in brothels no matter how many times the exasperated heroes tell them they will.
  • People can have sex in a jungle but not get eaten by gigantic bugs.
  • People can have sex in a Scottish meadow and not get swarmed by gnats.

The final pronouncement

Moon Dreams was, indeed, full-on Old School Romance. complete with wild adventure and purple prose. The pacing was dreadful and every time Alyson ran away I wanted to scream, but the last 15% with the pitchfork mob was worth the effort.

Recent Reads

A visual depiction of a single parent with two kids and two jobs at the end of a school year:

Looney Tunes gif - Sylvester sliding down stairs

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Let’s see, where were we? Ah, yes — books. I’ve…read a lot more than I thought. And nearly all of it was soul-satisfying. It’s not hyperbole to say books can keep us sane.

I’m dumping everything in one stupidly long post so I can clear out my NetGalley Wall of Shame.

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Only Beloved and Longing by Mary Balogh

Only Beloved by Mary Balogh  Longing by Mary Balogh

I was a little wary of the last of the Survivors’ Club books because I did not like Ralph and Chloe’s story (so distressingly repetitive, especially on audio, and it added nothing of value to the series), but I knew Balogh would pull out the Big Guns of Angst and Drama for Stanbrook’s Deep Dark Secret. It’s set on a cliff-top in Cornwall, for crying out loud. I loved Dora, but I really wish she had a different name.

Speaking of Big Guns of Angst and Drama…. Longing is chock full of both. This is a stand-alone title, more of a “historical with romantic elements” than a straight rom-dram. Widowed mine worker becomes governess for widowed mine owner’s lonely daughter, with Chartist labor intrigue and unrest keeping them apart. The setting in the depths of an isolated Welsh valley is my favorite character in this story; Balogh’s usually understated brilliance at world-building is front and center here — it’s atmospheric and vivid and  tactile and completely enveloping.

Someday I will write up my feelings about Balogh. But it will likely just be the word “effortless” over and over and over.

Only Beloved »  |  Longing »

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Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries by C.S. Harris

Why Kings Confess by C.S. Harris  Who Buries the Dead by C.S. Harris  When Falcons Fall by C.S. Harris

Epic re-read binge. The first binge was a few years ago with the first six books, then I bought each one (at full price) when it came out and they sat in the TBR. When I saw the cover of the newest one — When Falcons Fall (Book 11) — I had to dig them out and start the whole thing from scratch.

There’s a lot of High Political Intrigue in this series; these aren’t cozies by a long shot. But not even the regular appearances of the Prince Regent can kick me out of my St. Cyr book trances — and you know how I feel about Prinny. Harris’s cast of characters is phenomenal, and she’s masterful at revealing just enough bits of backstory to keep the series momentum going.  I’m  on book TEN and we STILL don’t know what secret Sebastian’s estranged father is hoarding about his Machiavellian father-in-law.

Also, I love Lady Hero. A heroine named Hero, and she kicks ass.

I have to finish #10 tonight because #11 is due back to the library tomorrow night but we have a doubleheader ballgame and I can’t renew it because there’s a wait list and I already feel guilty for keeping it the full three weeks OMG *FLAIL*

The Sebastian St. Cyr series »

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The Reckless Brides series by Elizabeth Essex

Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex  A Scandal to Remember by Elizabeth Essex

A few people on Twitter were talking up different titles in this series, so I got the first two from the library and then I had to buy them all. At full price. Yes, I have issues with impulse purchases and instant gratification.

The first one — Almost a Scandal — is the best chick-in-pants romance I’ve ever read. The sea-loving heroine disguises herself as her younger brother when he refuses to report for naval duty. Usually plots like this have me running the other way screaming “THEY’RE ALL TSTL JUST PUT THEM OUT OF THEIR MISERY ALREADY,” but Essex hooked me in the first chapter. The chemistry is palpable, and the HEA is so hard-worn I’m still sighing over it months later.

It’s a family-centered series, but each book and each couple is markedly different and very memorable. I’m on book five — Grumpy Lieutenant and Lady Scientist Get Shipwrecked — and I’m loving every minute of it.

I need to give a big-ol’ eyeroll for the backless satin that magically survives a lethal storm and shipwreck with all its hideous shininess inexplicably intact and holy cow I just used a lot of modifiers there, didn’t I? This is what bad book covers can do.

The Reckless Brides series »

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Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

'Til Death Do Us Part by Amanda Quick

On audio from the library. I’m working through Quick’s backlist (all from the library) and I’d love for her to get my money directly, but there’s no way in hell I’m paying $13.99 for an ebook. FOURTEEN DOLLARS. What in god’s name are the people at Berkley smoking? Thank god (and I mean that literally this time) for libraries.

Quick’s latest is a lot like her other recent Victorian mysteries, but it’s worth a read/listen; narrator Louise Jane Underwood manages Quick’s slightly off-kilter characters and careening plots without turning them into breathless melodramas. This one has a particularly good twist I am a bit embarrassed to admit I did not see coming.

Did you notice I used a semi-colon up there instead of yet another em-dash?

‘Til Death Do Us Part »

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As You Are by Sarah M. Eden

As You Are by Sarah M. Eden

Speaking of overpricing nonsense…. I got this self-pub novella for $3.99 when someone recommended it on that SBTB post on beta heroes, also known as Kelly’s Book Crack.

I loved this novella about a horse breeder and the widow with Deep Dark Secrets who moves in next door. Loved it. I immediately wanted to read the rest of the series.

But even my recklessly impulsive one-click finger balked at $10.99 for each of the other titles. These books range from 225-300 pages. ELEVEN DOLLARS FOR NOVELLA OR CATEGORY-LENGTH I DON’T THINK SO WHAT ARE YOU PEOPLE SMOKING? And no go at the library. Ugh.

I have an upcoming title by Eden from NetGalley in the queue that I’m really looking forward to — lady sheriff gets pushed aside by the new manly sheriff. I’ll keep you posted.

As You Are  »

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Our Own Country by Jodi Daynard

Our Own Country Jodi Daynard

On audio (purchased); I think I had an ARC as well. I liked the author’s debut novel, The Midwife’s Revolt,  about a healer who gets mixed up in Revolutionary War intrigue, so I gave this one a try — despite the major side-eye of the “rich white lady falls in love with a slave” premise.

On the plus side, the historical world-building is really, really good; I was there through the whole story. The romance worked beautifully, and I believed in the heroine’s evolution.

But I think I like the idea of this author’s books rather more than the execution. The characters and plots are so compelling enough to keep me reading, but the storytelling is forced and episodic and I never quite reach the level of wanting to recommend to other readers.

I do not recommend the audiobook. The over-enunciated and sometimes wooden narration doesn’t do much to overcome the structured formality of the prose.

Our Own Country  »

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The Dashing Widows series by Anna Campbell

The Seduction of Lord Stone by Anna Campbell  Tempting Mr. Townsend by Anna Campbell  Winning Lord West by Anna Campbell

I squeed over an Anna Campbell holiday story, so I grabbed these as soon as I saw them. Three widowed friends find new loves with some of my favorite tropes: mysterious newcomer, friends-to-lovers and enemies-to-lovers.

I especially loved the first one, in which a brash merchant drags a mother from her self-imposed isolation to search for their runaway boys. So, so romantic and sexy — fantastic relationship-building in just a few chapters.

The Dashing Widows series »

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Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn

Just inject these straight into my brain, I don’t care how fluffy they are. It’s all about the banter, and Quinn is the best at it.

And holy cow, hurry up with the next book about the brother missing in the colonies.

Because of Miss Bridgerton »

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The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen

The Painter's Daughter

I’ve been really disappointed with Klassen, but this lovely marriage of convenience story brought me back. Just enough edginess to balance the angst, a very hard-won HEA, and the bad guy gets the comeuppance he deserves.

It’s an inspie, but not preachy in the least.

The Painter’s Daughter »»

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Maiden Lane series by Elizabeth Hoyt

Duke of Sin by Elizabeth Hoyt

Yeah, me and everyone else. I was way behind on this series too, so I glommed them all in about week.

The Ghost of St. Giles thing was getting old, so I’m glad the series turned to other characters. I really liked the suspense in Darling Beast (Apollo/Lily) and Dearest Rogue (Phoebe/Trevillion), and the chemistry between Asa and Eve in Sweetest Scoundrel was delicious.

I’m still trying to decide about Duke of Sin (coming out May 31). While Val and Bridget definitely have sparks, I didn’t quite buy the romance. And that’s because amoral Val left me feeling a bit squicky. Not quite an Eloisa James level of squickiness,  but close. I love that Hoyt didn’t turn him into a born-again do-gooder, but I never really crossed the line into seeing him as true hero material.

Until the bit at the end with the kittens. THE KITTENS. Good lord.

Duke of Sin »

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Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

Earls Just Want to Have Fun by Shana Galen

An impulse download from the library, I think because I saw an author I trust recommend it (Theresa Romain, maybe?). I’ve tried and DNF’d Galen before; let’s just say the word “wallpaper” comes to mind.

But I made it through this fluffy bit of nonsense about a pickpocket as a missing heiress  in one sitting. It’s still wallpaper and wildly unbelievable, but I will grudgingly admit that I was maybe slightly charmed in a grumpy sort of way.

Earls Just Want to Have Fun »

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The Express Rider’s Lady by Stacy Henrie

The Express Rider's Lady by Stacy Henrie

Henrie is now an auto-buy. I enjoyed her debut Lady Outlaw, and I highly recommend her Of Love and War series (homefront WWI). The newest is going on my READ THIS TRUST ME list as well. All of the Pony Express category line is good, but Henrie’s really stands out. Total book trance.

The Express Rider’s Lady »

Of Love and War series »

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Anything and everything by Theresa Romain

A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain  Fortune Favors the Wicked by Theresa Romain

Author binge, and well worth it. I’m really enjoying her new series with the horsey people – the prequel novella The Sport of Baronets is wickedly sexy, and A Gentleman’s Game is a fun suspense-y road-trip yarn.

I have the one with the courtesan vs. the bossy naval officer in the queue for the MOM IS BUSY LEAVE ME ALONE MEMORIAL DAY READ-A-THON.

Romance of the Turf series »

Fortune Favors the Wicked »

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Boston Fire series by Shannon Stacey

Heat Exchange by Shannon Stacey  Controlled Burn by Shannon Stacey Fully Ignited by Shannon Stacey

I like Stacey’s stand-alone books, especially Slow Summer Kisses, but I think the Kowalski books are…*glances around furtively*…highly overrated. Yes, I just said that out loud.

The firefighters, however…. Caretaking alphas, yes please. And the heroines are Stacey’s best by far. The covers are all about the abs, but I’m remembering the women more.

Boston Fire series »

Recent Reads

I’m currently reading Riveted by Meljean Brook (audio) and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.

Riveted by Meljean Brook   The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

Both are good. Really good. As in this kind of good:

snoopy_library

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A quick disclaimer: I’m friendly with several authors below on Twitter.

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The Art of Sinning and The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries

The Art of Sinning by Sabrina Jeffries    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/25814323-the-study-of-seduction

Jeffries has been an auto-buy for years, and there’s no sign of breakup. I inhaled her entire backlist when I first started reading romance, and the Hellions of Halstead Hall and Duke’s Men series are constant re-reads.

The latest titles are just as good. Sinning has an artist hero and you know I can’t resist those. Seduction has 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. I think Jeffries handled that potentially problematic trope really well.

I keep trying to articulate why Jeffries’ books work so well for me. She’s not a particularly flashy or profound or incisive writer. Her books are standard dukes-a-million regency fare that never bust out of the usual tropes – but they’re never wallpapery fluff.

I think it’s the simple fact that I know I can rely on her consistency. That might not sound like a compliment, but I mean it the best way – she’s just a damn good storyteller. Every. Single. Time.

Source: Edelweiss

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All I Have and All I Am by Nicole Helm

All I Have by Nicole Helm  All I Am by Nicole Helm

Helm is kind of the contemporary version of Jeffries — nothing flashy, just consistently good storytelling with really memorable characters. The realistic small-town settings and kick-ass heroines really set her Superromances apart. Also, dogs. I like dogs.

Her latest Harlequins are both close to perfect contemporary romances for me, and I think Helm just keeps getting better with every book. I’m a very character-driven reader, and Helm knows my sweet spot.

You need to read Falling for the New Guy too, because ANGST-O-RAMA. And Too Friendly to Date, because LADY ELECTRICIAN. Trust me.

I have Rebel Cowboy in the TBR; cowboy hockey star on a motorcycle usually isn’t my kind of thing, but we’ll see.

Source: Purchased; Provided by Author

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The Sport of Baronets and A Gentleman’s Game by Theresa Romain

The Sport of Baronets by Theresa Romain    A Gentleman's Game by Theresa Romain

Romain is another Regency author whose titles and covers have that wallpapery vibe.  But like Jeffries, Romain has the kind of character-driven stories that push every one of my buttons.

Her latest series centers on horse racing. I love it when authors give their characters hobbies and obsessions, and when unlikely couples are thrown together under high-conflict circumstances, so just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

I also love how Romain’s heroines (in all her books, not just this series) always have equal agency in the relationship, regardless of their social status.

Source: NetGalley

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Once Beloved by Amara Royce

Once Beloved by Amara Royce

I need Royce to write faster. Character-driven stories with unusual — but always realistic — conflicts. Royce isn’t afraid to take risks, and it’s a Book Trance every time.

Source: NetGalley

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A Woman’s Worth by Audra North

A Woman's Worth by Amara Royce

North tweeted something about her newest novella featuring a single mother and of course I one-clicked immediately.

This trope is a really touchy one for me, and this story got nearly everything right. The heroine is a marketing executive who loves her job and values her career. The initial flirty-sexy times with her enigmatic boss were a bit squirmy, but in good way, and I loved how their relationship developed.

The parenting bits were spot-on. I highlighted a lot of bits about the ex that really resonated with me, and I *loved* that the Other Woman wasn’t a shrewish harpy.

The only thing that bothered me was the timing. Characters jumping head-long into a new relationship immediately after a divorce is one of my eye-twitch triggers. I broke up with Marie Force over it. Authors, do your research and think long and hard about rebound romances.

Source: Purchased

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Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Tycoon by Joanna Shupe

Just put that crack in a bowl and give me a spoon, OK?

Read this. Trust me.

Source: NetGalley

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The Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Silk Series by Cassandra Dean

Olivia Dade made me buy the first in the series. Then I had to get all the others.

Source: Purchased

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Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

Chasing Jane by Noelle Adams

A little bonus for reading this far: It’s a freebie!

All of Adams’ novellas are great comfort reads. This one is just fluffy friends-to-lovers cuteness and I loved every word of it.

Source: Purchased

Audiobook Adventures: More Wallowing

It’s Friday afternoon and I’m bored at the dayjob. Go figure.

Another fun fact: It’s so windy here on the open prairie (well, a barren cornfield north of the airport, but whatever) that the facilities guy put himself on call to HELP US OPEN THE DOORS. True story.

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Current read: Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Narrated by Stina Nielsen

I’m retitling this Until the Yawn, because I’m clever like that. I’m about halfway in, and the pacing just ….keeps …..slowing …….down. I expect great things from Camden because I’ve unreservedly loved all her previous books; Against the Tide and Into the Whirlwind are both DIKS.

Until the Dawn by Elizabeth Camden

Sadly, Dawn has “meh” all over it, partly because the narrator is noticeably lackluster, but mostly because the main characters are both completely insufferable. He’s a Cranky Crankhole and she’s a Sunny Sunbeam and ALL RIGHT THEY’RE OPPOSITES WE GET IT MOVE ON ALREADY FOR CRIPES SAKE. The heroine is described as “nice” at least 1,486 times.

A bunch of scientists just showed up at the cursed mansion, so I’m hoping there’ll be some ghost action or a dog unearths buried treasure (I like dogs) or Mr. Crankhole breaks his other leg falling off a cliff or something to get this story moving.

HOWEVER. The prequel novella, Toward the Sunrise, was really good. It had GOATS as a primary plot device and I still liked it.

NO GOATS ALLOWED

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Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Narrated by Rachel Botchan

Gist gave me a dud with her last book, which gave me Book Anxiety for this one. But I sucked it up and got sucked into her world-building once again. I stayed a while to wallow.

Tiffany Girl by Deeanne Gist

Gist can take a tiny thread from a historical newspaper article or, in this case, a Chicago World’s Fair brochure, and spin it into glorious layers of character and relationship building. And then she surrounds it with an almost touchable sense of place. Tiffany Girl has the same Grumpy vs. Perky pairing as Until the Dawn, but this time it works beautifully.

I don’t necessarily recommend the audiobook over other formats; the narration was serviceable but nothing outstanding. Just read it. Trust me.

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The Bride by Julie Garwood

Narrated by Rosalyn Landor

I wanted to like it. I really did. Garwood’s The Prize was my first audiobook ever, and I hated it so much I put the narrator (Anne Flosnick) on my Never Again list. Then I tried Ransom and loved it, so I figured what the hell.

The Bride by Julie Garwood

Hell indeed. I hated The Bride. I thought it was irredeemably stupid. I know it’s a classic and it has a million copycats. I still hated it. I yelled “OH FOR GOD SAKE” approximately seven times per chapter. We won’t even discuss the eye-rolling.

Me and Garwood were just not meant to be.

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The Parfit Knight by Stella Riley

Narrated by Alex Wyndham

Me and Stella Riley, on the other hand….

The Parfit Knight by Stella Rilery

Nearly perfect in every way. A noble but insecure hero. A strong but vulnerable heroine. A bad guy I still want to punch in the face. If someone had punched him in the face, and then had him press-ganged, this would have been perfectly perfect instead of just nearly perfect.

The narration was perfectly perfect. Wyndham is brilliant.

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A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Narrated by Angele Masters

So, some people loved this and other people didn’t. I — because it’s all about ME — loved it. LOVED IT. I struggled with the Book Anxiety again; Raybourn’s foray into more “upmarket” chick lit didn’t impress me, and I read the first three chapters of this three times over three months.

A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn

Then I tried the audiobook, and I was there. As Joanna Bourne said (yes, I’m name-dropping, shut up), Raybourn is brilliant at texture, and the world-building was stellar with this one. The heroine is, admittedly, very…odd, and the actual romance doesn’t show up until the last chapter, but the melding of action and suspense was everything I’ve wanted since my last (umpteenth) re-read of Lady Julia. I did not see the twisty bit coming at all, and I’ve read at least five books attempting that particular twist.

I am eagerly awaiting the next installment.

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Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley

Narrated by Alastair Stephens

Knightley is a new auto-buy for me, and I grabbed her two novellas on Audible as soon as I saw them.

Ruined by a Rake by Erin Knightley

I…squeed. I think I honest-to-god squeed. A solid A grade – FIVE BIG FAT STARS – because this completely charmed me and I’m going to listen to it again and again. I’m…using a lot of italics.

The other novella, Scandalized by a Scoundrel, was more of a B-/C+ read; it really needed the same narrator as Ruined.

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The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston

Narrated by Nicholas Boulton

Everyone else squeed, which usually scares me off. I should trust you guys more.

The King's Man by Elizabeth Kingston

I got to the part where the disguised-as-a-boy heroine whips out her bow and shoots the smarmy hero in the foot to shut him up and then I was all OH HELLS YES.

And then the end killed me dead. Actually, just mostly dead, but I still haven’t fully recovered.

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The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

Narrated by Faye Adele

Yes, I’m the only person in Romland who hadn’t read this yet. Steampunk intimidates me. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea. I had a Scribd credit to use so I girded my clockwork loins. Or would clockwork loins already be girded? I’m still a noob at this kind of stuff.

The Iron Duke by Meljean Brook

While I was listening, I was all “yeah, I see why everyone likes this, it’s pretty good.” And then after I was done, I kept thinking about it. And thinking about it. Random scenes pop into my head and they’re vivid. So I’m keeping my Scribd subscription for a few more months.

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All the Loretta Chases

Narrated by Kate Reading

ALL THE CARSINGTONS ALL THE TIME.

Mr Impossible by Loretta Chase

I love Daphne and Rupert SO MUCH.

I also listened to the Scoundrels series and I still think Rupert would just ignore the blow-hard Marquess of Dain until he got fed up with the endless blustering and threw him out a window.

Chase’s earlier novels — Devil’s Delilah, Viscount Vagabound and Knave’s Wager — were kind of uneven. I liked Vagabond a lot, but the other two didn’t do much for me.

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Next up….

ALL THE TESSA DARES.

Who started me on audiobooks anyway??? I may have a problem. Damn you all.

Audiobook Update: The Kearsley Binge

The binge is done. I have no more new Kearsley audiobooks. *sob*

I started my re-reads even before the binge ended. I listened to Winter Sea again first, because I had to prepare myself for the re-read of Firebird.

The Firebird by Susanna Kearsley

I love this book. I have I mentioned this before?

Firebird was even better the second time, because I allowed myself to just sink in and wallow in it.

WALLOW. IN. IT.

pig-wallowing

Wallow: to indulge in an unrestrained way in
something that creates a pleasurable sensation.

My facial expressions while reading this book are even dopier. Except when I’m ugly-crying, and no one needs pics of that.

tweets

Also, I really need to go to St. Petersburg.

ANYWAY. Back to the first round. Every single book will be a re-read. A quick breakdown:

More must-reads….

A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley   Season of Storms by Susanna Kearsley

The Shadowy Horses by Susanna Kearsley   The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley

I am not kidding about this. Your life is incomplete without these books. Trust me.

Time-Travel for Serious Time-Travelers….

Mariana by Susanna Kearsley   The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley

Only Kearsley can invalidate all my cynical skepticism about Serious Time Travel. These are full-on “sucked into the past unwillingly” stories, and she makes them work.

The ones I’m slightly iffy on, so I need to read them again….

Named of the Dragon by Susanna Kearsley   The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

These are more straight-up suspense that are almost…Hitchcockian with the MacGuffins and red herrings and bizarre dreams and whatnot.

The narrators….

Katherine Kellgren (Firebird, Desperate Fortune) sounds exactly like Lady Mary from Downton Abbey. Perfection. I am coveting the entire Bloody Jack middle-grade series.

Barbara Rosenblat (Splendour Falls) is one of my “I’ll Listen to Anything” narrators. LOVE HER.

Rosalyn Landor does a great job with Winter Sea, but she’s the voice of so many romances (Balogh, Kleypas, Garwood, Quinn, Milan), I wasn’t quite as enthralled on the second listen.

I did have some issues with Carolyn Bonnyman‘s narration of Season of Storms and Mariana. The performances are great, but her softer delivery and intonation make it really difficult to hear while I’m driving — I have to crank the volume to full blast to cut through ambient noise.

Good, but not rave-worthy until I listen to more from them: Jill Tanner (Named of the Dragon), Sally Armstrong (Shadowy Horses), and Nicola Barber (Rose Garden).

Also….

A huge round of applause for Kearsley’s design team, because these are truly beautiful and evocative covers.

Also….

Just in case Ms. Kearsley might see this…. I am being patient waiting for your next book. No, really. I’m not even going to email or tweet you.

I’m just going to leave these here, so you know that I am WAITING PATIENTLY.

a0zim-black-bear-picnic-table

 

Year in Review: The Page O’ Lists

Have I mentioned that I ♥ bullet lists? And…ellipses. Also — em-dashes.

Favorite historicals….

Virtuous Scoundrel by Maggie Fenton

Favorite contemporaries….

Favorite inspies….

Author Binges….

Panda rolling in snow

Me reading Carla Kelly

  • Carla Kelly
  • Molly O’Keefe
  • Julie James
  • Meredith Duran
  • Laura Kaye
  • Donna Thorland
  • Edith Layton
  • Sarah Mayberry
  • Susanna Fraser
  • Laura Frantz
  • Erin Knightley
  • Sarina Bowen
  • Amanda Quick

New Adult….

Did someone say FANGIRL?

Did someone say FANGIRL?

Yes, really. I actually read — and liked — some New Adult.

Favorite audiobooks….

Tangled

Me listening to Susanna Kearsley

  • All the Susanna Kearsley — I’m on my second go-round. The Firebird is the current fave.
  • A boatload of comfort reads — Tessa Dare, Lisa Kleypas, Cecilia Grant, Loretta Chase. And holy cow, I almost forgot how much I love Rupert and Daphne in Mr. Impossible.
  • A bunch of Amanda Quick — With This Ring, I Thee Wed, The Paid Companion, Otherwise Engaged
  • Virtuous Scoundrel by Maggie Fenton — Did I mention that you should READ THIS BOOK?
  • The Queen’s Fool by Philippa Gregory – A bit more repetitive than I remember from traditional reads (and re-reads), but still my favorite Gregory.
  • The Proposition by Judith Ivory — First listen from library, then I had to buy it so I can keep it on my phone at all times.
  • Ransom by Julie Garwood — Everything I was hoping for that I didn’t get with The Prize.
  • Heartless and Silent Melody by Mary Balogh
  • The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman — This helped me get over my blah about Hild (see below).
  • The Gilded Hour by Sara Donati — Someone else needs to read this because I neeeeeed to discuss the ending.

Catching up….

Black Ice by Anne StuartStuff everyone else has read that I just got around to and why in the hell didn’t I read these earlier.

Disappointed….

Still with the Book Anxiety….

The Big Fat Books….

  • Middlemarch by George Eliot
  • Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor
  • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens — This is still a work in progress. A very…slow…work in progress.

The TBR Challenges….

The Heyer Project….

I documented Part II of the quest, in which I color-coded a spreadsheet of Heyer’s character archetypes and plot tropes.

I’ve listened to Bath Tangle and Black Sheep and Venetia three times to erase Cousin Kate from my brain.

Deconstructing For Such a Time, Parts 1-17

I'm not coming down until someone apologiesI know I went overboard on my continued ranting about this book and probably pissed off a lot of people, but I desperately needed to think through the depictions of my faith on the page.

I learned a lot, and what I learned will forever change the way I read inspirationals and historical fiction.

TBR Challenge: A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell

  • A Pirate for Christmas by Anna CampbellTitle: A Pirate for Christmas
  • Author: Anna Campbell
  • Published: Self-published, October 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 150 pages
  • Tropes: Mysterious Man of Mystery, Virtuous Village Vixen, Madcap Meddling, Snowbound
  • Quick blurb: A pirate and a vicar’s daughter and a recalcitrant donkey.
  • Quick review: BUY THIS RIGHT NOW TRUST ME
  • Grade: A-

I cheated. Again. This wasn’t in the TBR, but it’s so ridiculously charming I couldn’t not share the squee.

A Pirate for Christmas by Anna Campbell

Accessible (screen-reader friendly) version

I read Campbell’s Her Christmas Earl last year and loved that one too. I feel another Author Binge coming on….