A visual depiction of a single parent with two kids and two jobs at the end of a school year:
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.
Only Beloved and 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.
Sebastian St. Cyr mysteries 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 Reckless Brides series 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.
‘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?
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.
Our Own Country by 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.
The Dashing Widows series 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.
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.
The Painter’s Daughter by Julie Klassen
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.
Maiden Lane series 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.
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.
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.
Anything and everything 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.
Boston Fire series 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.