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 »

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.

Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries by Emma Jameson

Ice Blue by Emma JamesonBlue Murder by Emma JamesonSomething Blue by Emma Jameson

  • Title(s): Ice Blue, Blue Murder, Something Blue
  • Author: Emma Jameson
  • Series: Lord and Lady Hetheridge Mysteries
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Mystery/Suspense
  • Publisher: Lyonnesse Books, March 2011
  • Source: Purchased ($3.99 for Kindle)
  • Length: 170-200 pages
  • Trope(s): Age Gap, Smartass Heroine, Repressed Hero, Cops, Misogyny & Racism, Murder & Mayhem
  • Quick blurb: Veteran (and titled) Scotland Yard inspector’s world is turned upside down when he brings a foul-mouthed young female onto his team.
  • Quick review: Hooked by the brilliant characterization, stayed for the bloody stuff.
  • Grade: A- (for the series so far)

The first book in this series popped somewhere in my Amazon recommendations soon after it was published, and I LOVED it without even realizing I’d read the author before. Emma Jameson is a pseudonym of Stephanie Abbott, aka edgy m/m author S.A. Reid (Protection, Something Different). I’m always blown away by writers who can successfully switch genre and voice, and Abbott/Jameson/Reid appears to be phenomenally good at it.

The author labels the Lord and Lady Hetheridge books as “cozy” mysteries, but with the metro London setting and the prickly, smartass professional detective heroine, these books don’t have that Miss Marple/Jessica Fletcher vibe I associate with cozies. There’s just enough blood-and-guts gore and police procedural stuff to sustain the “cynical urban cops” atmosphere, with a few suspenseful gun-in-the-face moments and a charming serial killer to keep everyone from getting too jaded.  Book two, Blue Murder, has a particularly good twisty bit at the end.

For me, however, this series is all about the characters.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Selling Out by Amber Lin

Selling Out by Amber Lin

  • Title: Selling Out
  • Author: Amber Lin
  • Series: Lost Girls, Book 2
  • Genre(s): Contemporary, Suspense
  • Publisher: Loose Id, February 2013
  • Source: Review copy provided by author ($7.99 ebook)
  • Length: 315 pages
  • Trope(s): Crusty Cop, Hooker with a Heart of Gold, Family Drama
  • Quick blurb:  A jaded call girl feels compelled to save a naive young runaway — and an enigmatic cop is trying to protect them both.
  • Quick review: The frenetic opening almost left me behind, but when I finally caught up, the intense atmosphere and complex characters had me hooked.
  • Grade: B

He was more deserving of love than anybody I had ever known, but it wasn’t even relevant to how I felt about him. Love wasn’t a choice, it was an accident. Not a climb, but a fall. I had slipped somewhere along my prickly path and down, down to the murky depths, hurtling ever farther, ever faster, and the only question was whether he would meet me at the bottom.

I probably should have read the first book in the series again before starting this one, because I felt more than a little bewildered during the first few chapters. But then Officer Luke showed up, and GOOD LORD.

And just as Lin captured the despair and hope of a struggling single mother in Giving It Up, the call girl main character here is anything but cookie-cutter. Shelly is bitchy and vulnerable and probably the most complex prostitute I’ve ever read in a contemporary.

The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

The Reluctant Earl by C.J. Chase

  • Title: The Reluctant Earl
  • Author: C.J. Chase
  • Series/Category: Love Inspired Historical
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency), Inspirational, Suspense
  • Publisher: Harlequin, February 2013
  • Source: NetGalley ($3.82 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Governess in Peril, Unexpected Title, Espionage & Intrigue. Big Misunderstandings
  • Quick blurb: Desperate governess who sells her high-placed employer’s secrets and a newly-titled nobleman are drawn into an anti-royalty rebellion
  • Quick review: Way too many sub-plots to be a coherent story, but the romance and faith messages worked for me.
  • Grade: B-

The power of her loneliness and longing flared through her, melting the strength from her bones.

And then he withdrew. Only inches, yet far enough to let the rush of common sense and regret return.

The suspense-y stuff came close to being a mess, but the relationship-building and chemistry, sustained by a strong authorial voice, made this a worthwhile read.