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 ‚ÄĒ¬†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 ‚ÄĒ 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¬†¬Ľ ¬†| ¬†Longing¬†¬Ľ

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TBR Challenge: Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya Clark

  • Good Time Bad Boy by Sonya ClarkTitle: Good Time Bad Boy
  • Author: Sonya Clark
  • Published: Self-Published, June 2015
  • Source: Purchased
  • Length: 316 pages
  • Tropes: Good Ol‚Äô Boy, Smartass Heroine, Small Town, Music, Dysfunctional Families
  • Quick blurb:¬†Country singer on the skids has to make amends for getting hometown barmaid fired.
  • Quick review: New-to-romance author needs to write more romance.
  • Grade: A-

This month’s TBR Challenge theme is Recommended Reads, and boy howdy, do I choose my friends wisely.

I bought Good Time Bad Boy last year when everyone else (e.g., Sunita and Janine at Dear Author and others) was raving about it. And of course it got buried pretty quickly because I rarely make an effort to keep contemporaries at the top of the queue.

I finished it in one night.

I haven‚Äôt read Liz‚Äôs review¬†yet, but I‚Äôm sure she‚Äôs done her typically smart things with it.¬†I’ll just do my usual thing because otherwise we’ll be here until next Tuesday.

The premise is pretty simple ‚Äď the heroine is a small-town barmaid who puts the smackdown on a handsy drunk customer, who just happens to be the hometown celebrity. He gets his shit together enough to make amends and there‚Äôs an HEA and a crap-ton of angsty-yet-fun goodness in between.

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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.

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More Sappy Holiday Goodness: No Christmas Like the Present by Sierra Donovan

  • No Christmas Like the Present by Sierra DonovanTitle:¬†No Christmas Like the Present
  • Author:¬†Sierra Donovan
  • Published:¬†Zebra,¬†October 2014
  • Source:¬†Library (and then purchased)
  • Length:¬†257 pages
  • Tropes:¬†Mysterious Man of Mystery,¬†Lady Scrooge
  • Quick blurb:¬†A glorious¬†mash-up of A Christmas Carol and It’s a Wonderful Life. No, really.
  • Quick review:¬†BUY AND READ THIS RIGHT NOW TRUST ME
  • Grade:¬†A

I don’t use gifs (except for Tessa Dare books), but this one calls for a gif.

Belle gif

This is only $1.99 and everyone should read it immediately. The premise could have been¬†horribly wrong, but it’s everything right. So of course I had to live-tweet it.

NoChristmasLikeThePresent

Accessible (screen-reader friendly) version

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….

Big Fat Book: Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor

  • Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor - 1st ed, Macmillian, 1944Title: Forever Amber
  • Author: Kathleen Winsor
  • Published:¬†Macmillan, January 1944
  • Source: Purchased (in hardcover, paperback and digital)
  • Length:¬†976
  • Tropes:¬†Everything you could possibly think of
  • Quick blurb: And you thought Scarlett O‚ÄôHara was bad‚Ķ.
  • Quick review: The ultimate anti-heroine in all her gaudy, garish glory.
  • Grade: A

‚ÄúMadame,‚ÄĚ he said finally, ‚Äúyour future is of singular interest. You were born with Venus in separating square aspect to Mars in the Fifth House.‚ÄĚ Amber solemnly absorbed that, too impressed at first even to wonder what it meant. Then, as she was about to ask, he continued, having reached his conclusions as much by looking at her as at his charts: ‚ÄúHence you are inclined, madame, to over-ardent affections and to rash impulsive attractions to the opposite sex. This can cause you serious trouble, madame. You are also too much inclined to indulge yourself in pleasure ‚ÄĒ and hence must suffer the attendant difficulties.”

Forever Amber is‚Ķ”a bawdy bestseller”‚Ķ”a torrid potboiler”‚Ķ”a bawdy, lusty costume epic”‚Ķ”a crude and superficial glorification of a courtesan”‚Ķ”a big, fat tombstone of a bestseller”‚Ķ”a naughty literary relic”‚Ķ”a preposterously long and sumptuously naughty book”‚Ķ”a love story of immense driving force and a magnificent, all-inclusive picture of an era”‚Ķ”swoony with ill-defined sex”‚Ķ”a glamorization of¬†immorality¬†and licentiousness”‚Ķ”a colorful picture of Restoration England in all its¬†immoral¬†finery”‚Ķ”Moll Flanders¬†with, as it were, knobs on”‚Ķ”a splendidly evocative guide to the events and mores of the time.”

Also:

…”the story of a slut’s progress.”

And, my favorite:

‚Ķ”Opium on a gigantic scale.”

Every one of those descriptions is accurate. Set in Restoration England, Amber St. Clare’s¬†story begins in 1660 with our 16-year-old heroine throwing herself at a Returning Cavalier, and ends (heh) 10 years later with our heroine throwing herself at the Jilting Cavalier.
In between, our heroine…

…Runs off to London with Cavalier. Gets pregnant. Gets scammed into marriage with a fortune hunter. Gets thrown into Newgate for debt. Escapes with infamous highwayman. Becomes con artist. Escapes a con-gone-wrong, winds up with impoverished second-son aristo, charms her way onto the stage. Sleeps with the king. Steals rival’s protector, then goads him into a fatal duel with the Returning Cavalier.

At this point, we’re only a third of the way through the book.

…Duel makes her more popular, sleeps with the king again, gets preggo again, gets abortion. Goes to Tunbridge Wells to recuperate and seduces filthy rich aging widower with 14 children. Resumes affair with Returning Cavalier (again), gets pregnant (again), finds out Cavalier also got 16-year-old stepdaughter pregnant. Husband dies, cavalier returns (again).

…THE PLAGUE. (this deserves a paragraph by itself)

Halfway done. Hang in there with me.

…Cavalier still refuses to marry her, she marries Evil Earl in revenge to gain title and access to Court. Evil Earl drags her off to the country, where she seduces his son in revenge. Evil Earl discovers them, poisons his own son.

…GREAT FIRE OF LONDON.

We’re now at page 666. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.

‚ĶFinagles a post in queen‚Äôs bedchamber, sleeps her way through the courtiers. Gets pregnant by the king; he makes her marry a nobody. Various intrigues with courtiers. King makes her a duchess. Builds ridiculous mansion. Goes ballistic when Jilting Cavalier returns with new wife. Dresses as half-naked Venus at ball for spite. Fakes duel letter from cuckolded husband. Affair with Cavalier resumes (AGAIN), more hissy fits. Confronts Cavalier’s wife; he (finally!)¬†throws her out.

And then…

…BEST UNRESOLVED CLIFFHANGER EVER.

I’m not kidding. ¬†This was a one-hit wonder of a book, and¬†a much-discussed sequel never appeared, so poor Amber is left perpetually chasing after her One True Love.

IT’S GLORIOUS.

It’s a swashbuckling melodrama stuffed with fashion and poverty porn. It’s a sex-positive feminist manifesto. ¬†It’s a full-blown and blowsy historical¬†soap opera that unapologetically dismantles every “heroine” trope while coating it all in the glossy-yet-sleazy¬†veneer of Restoration England.

Scarlett O’Hara and Becky Sharp can just take a seat. The gleefully amoral Amber St. Clare is the ultimate antiheroine.

This book is EPIC…. All I will say is that after finishing this book, I called my mother in a rage, and she said, “For lord’s sake, read Kathleen Woodiwiss and call me in the morning.”

~ Maria (Maya) Rodale, “Romance Novels 101: The Infamous Book List That Changed My Life,” Huffington Post, May 27, 2015

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Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

I expanded it from a day to weekend because I am Having Ideas.

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Marrying the Royal Marine by Carla KellyWhy I Am A Carla Kelly Fangirl:

1. The historical worldbuilding. Total immersion book trance, every single time. No one does military romance better than Carla Kelly, and from what I can tell, her accuracy is nearly flawless.

2. The joining of equals. The heroines always have ‚ÄĒ or find ‚ÄĒ their agency, and their heroes are quietly heroic in the best possible way.

3. The mix of drama, high comedy, adventure, angst (and more). Nearly every heroine is a direly impoverished (see below) orphan or widow, and nearly all the heroes are stoic military men, but the width and depth of CK’s storytelling is truly impressive.

The must-reads:

Channel Fleet Series
(Marrying the Captain, Surgeon’s Lady, Marrying the Royal Marine)
My first and truest loves. Connected, but each is unique in story, tone and romance. On my DIK list. A+ for all three. (Harlequin Historical, 2008-2010)

The Wedding Journey
A marriage of convenience between an army surgeon and a dying officer’s daughter who’s threatened by a lecherous major. If you liked Marrying the Royal Marine or Balogh’s Beyond the Sunrise, you will love this one. (Signet, 2002)

With This RingWith This Ring by Carla Kelly
Plain Jane debutante volunteers to nurse wounded soldiers and finds herself in a fake engagement to a lordly major. It’s a glorious road-trip comedy with a lengthy rest stop at a friendly village where the heroine opens a barbershop (no really). (Signet, 1997)

The Lady’s Companion
A penniless companion and her employer’s cranky bailiff. Quietly funny and achingly romantic, with a great side story about the lonely aging dowager who schemes to bring them together. Added to my “Best Beta Heroes” list. (Signet, 1996)

Miss Milton Speaks Her Mind
A poor relation caring for her orphaned nephew slowly learns to appreciate the mill owner who lives nearby. A slow-building romance (on her side) and Deep Dark Secrets (on both sides) make this a really compelling and memorable read. (Signet, 1998) Continue reading