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.
Only Beloved » | Longing »
I’m currently reading Riveted by Meljean Brook (audio) and The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons.
Both are good. Really good. As in this kind of good:
A quick disclaimer: I’m friendly with several authors below on Twitter.
The Art of Sinning and The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries
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.
I cheated a bit on this one because it wasn’t really in my TBR. But I cheated for a very worthy reason, because Layton was a favorite author of an online friend.
This one is for Liz (@meoskop/#DogNamedLucky).
Wicked smart, funny as all hell, and passionate about books.
ETA: Remembering Meoskop at Love in the Margins. Thanks, Ridley.
Also, FUCK CANCER.
Pass the tissues again. Goddammit.
The Cad by Edith Layton
- Title: The Cad by Edith Layton
- Author: Edith Layton
- Series: The “C” Series, Book 1
- Published: HarperTorch, August 1998 (rereleased 1989 by HarperCollins)
- Source: Scribd
- Length: 368
- Tropes: Poor Relation, Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Marriage of Convenience, Man of Mystery
- Quick blurb: Scarred poor relation is overwhelmed by whirlwind marriage to an engimatic nobleman.
- Quick review: Now I understand all the love for Edith Layton. I feel an author binge coming on.
- Grade: A
“Bridget,” he said, his deep voice low and soft and slow. “Ah, Bridget. I’m sorry, but in spite of my better judgment, I’ve decided we really must meet again.”
Her eyes flew to his. “But—why?” she asked, all thoughts of revenge swept away because of the regret in his voice, all hurt swept away by the look in his eyes.
“Because I burn for you,” he said.
I can’t think of anything this book was missing. It’s all there, in just the right amounts and in all the right places. And you think it’s going to be about one thing, but it’s not, and it’s all just SO GOOD.
These challenges make me feel like an overachiever because they totally enable my hoarding/binging tendencies. I’ve been sitting on SEVENTEEN (17) (no lie) Carla Kellys for years because I knew that once I started, I’d have to read them all. So I did. And it was gooooood.
I’m only going to do the Harlequins in this post — more on the Signets next time! (And yes, I’ve read all of Kelly’s other Harlequins. I’m a capital-F Fangirl.)
Her Hesitant Heart
- Title: Her Hesitant Heart
- Published: Harlequin Historical, January 2013
- Source: Purchased
- Length: 282
- Tropes: Deep Dark Secrets, Scandal & Gossip, Beta Hero, Military Man, Widower, Schoolmarm
- Quick blurb: Newly divorced schoolmarm finds refuge teaching at remote army fort.
- Quick review: Great setting and perfect pacing, but the angst needed a bit more balance.
- Grade: B+
“I can’t tell you how nice it was to open my front door and take a whiff of someone cares.”
Nobody does historical military romance better than Carla Kelly. She has an exquisite knack for world-building that has me THERE every single time, and this book was no exception. The only thing that knocked it down to a B was the uneven angst balance — it was all on the heroine, with the stalwart hero basically standing around waiting to display his stalwartiness. Continue reading
The Duchess War
- Title: The Duchess War
- Author: Courtney Milan
- Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1
- Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
- Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
- Source: Amazon ($3.99 ebook)
- Length: ??? pages (5068 Kindle locations)
- Trope(s): Tragic Past, Parental Issues, In Disguise, Virgin Hero, Smartass Heroine, Blundering Hero
- Quick blurb: Progressive but guilt-ridden duke brings unwanted attention to heroine who’s desperate to remain an overlooked wallflower.
- Quick review: A lot I really liked and a few things that just didn’t work.
- Grade: B-
- “I’m winning,” he announced. “You can’t bore me into a surrender.”
- “Don’t tell me to look up. Don’t ask me to want. If I do, I’ll never survive.”
- “I’ve always found that the quickest way to make someone relent in his foolish edicts is to take every command literally and to perform it with flagrant obedience.”
- “A paste emergency!” she huffed. “A paste assault, that’s what we had.”
- It wasn’t fair that he could rob her heart of anger and her lungs of air with just one word.
- “The male of the human species has a fundamental flaw. At the moment when we most want to say something clever and impressive, all the blood rushes from our brains.”
- His voice was rough when he spoke again. “So beat me to flinders,” he said. “Win. Overmatch me, Minnie. And when we’re alone…” His fingers touched her chin lightly. “When we’re alone,” he whispered, “look up.”
- She was a shard of stained glass, casting colors about the room, and yet capable of slicing everything she touched.
- “No,” Minnie said bitterly. “I earned this, fair and square.” Well, maybe it hadn’t been fair. And maybe it hadn’t been precisely square. Still, she’d earned it legally. Legally and…rectangularly. That would have to do.
- It was messy and slippery and wrong, and it felt so, so damned right.
Stuff I liked:
- Heroine named Minerva. I am a complete sucker for this.
- Hero who’s an anti-Duke.
- Heroine who isn’t a TSTL doormat.
- Victorian NON-LONDON, NON-COUNTRY-HOUSE-PARTY setting.
- Relationship between Robert and his illegitimate half-brother Oliver (“…because he chose me first”).
- Robert struggling with his loyalties between Minnie and Oliver.
- Severe anxiety issue that doesn’t evaporate with a Magical Orgasm Cure.
- Awkward wedding night with Robert shutting his eyes and thinking of England and Minnie unashamedly taking matters into her own hands (literally).
- Dowager Duchess swooping in à la Lady Catherine de Bourgh and then acknowledging the literary reference herself.
- The non-threatening reason for the “Brothers Sinister” name of the series.
Stuff that didn’t work for me:
- Repetitive angstifying (on both sides) after the meet-cute and before the Paste Incident. I really struggled with the book until I got past the halfway point.
- Needlessly blatant telegraphing of yet another upcoming round of angst (“…a blood-red portent of things to come”).
- The over-the-topness of the Dowager Duchess (except for the incident mentioned above) with a complete personality overhaul in the schmaltzy epilogue as she turns into the perfect grandparent.
- The goat rampage. Yes, I was warned, but sheesh. Was that really necessary? I think NOT.
- On the whole, I found it surprisingly earnest and heavy-handed, without Milan’s trademark dark humor that sets her writing apart.
A Kiss for Midwinter
- Title: A Kiss for Midwinter
- Author: Courtney Milan
- Series: Brothers Sinister, Book 1.5
- Genre(s): Historical (Victorian)
- Publisher: Self-Published, December 2012
- Source: Amazon (99¢ ebook)
- Length: 121 pages
- Trope(s): Ruined by a
Rake Predator, Parental Issues, Blundering Hero, Non-Euphemistic References to Naughty Bits
- Quick blurb: Eleventh prettiest girl in Leicester rebuffs wooing of doctor who knows her secret.
- Quick review: I loved this one almost as much as A Governess Affair.
- Grade: A-
- “Work your way on to number twelve,” she snapped. “Number eleven wants nothing more to do with you.”
- But it was too late. Miss Lydia Charingford wasn’t just on the list. She was the list, and he hoped God would have mercy on his soul.
- She leaned in and whispered. “Let me tell you a secret. I’m not stupid.”
- “Well,” she finally said, “you’re doing it wrong.”
- Even if she swooned at whatever poetic nonsense he managed to spout, she would only be disappointed once they grew comfortable with each other and he went back to making jokes about death and gonorrhea.
- “Maybe,” he said, “I’m thinking that the days are dark and long, that midwinter is approaching. Maybe, Miss Charingford, all I really want is a kiss.”
- “I believe,” he said, “that there is a special place in hell for those who steal truth. And that man—whoever he is—I hope he is burning there.”
- “Once you speak,” he said, “you have no equal.”
- “Sometimes,” she said, “it feels like there are some hurts that can only be cured by this. By warmth. And touch.”
- “I suppose it’s too much to hope that you have a question about gonorrhea. Those questions are so much easier to answer.”
- There was the mistletoe piled on a market table, a poisonous, parasitic reminder that kisses could lie.
- Even the way he talked to her. It was outrageous. It was blunt. It was impossible. And it was…precisely what she needed, the truth boned and filleted without garnish or flourish, placed in front of her for her decision. He made her wants seem ordinary instead of dark and dangerous.
- “The truth isn’t a gift,” she told him. “It’s a terror. And every time I look at you, I feel it.
- He’d never noticed before how much a breath could say. It seemed more than the transportation of air to lungs. The act of breathing with another person—of accepting silence together, of simply living in tune with the rhythm of someone else’s existence—was deeply intimate. They said more to each other with quiet respiration than they’d managed in sixteen months of bickering. [*SWOON*]
- I only said I would stop talking to you, he’d written. I never promised to stop loving you. [O.M.G. *~*~*SWOON*~*~* <thud>]
(Yes, I know that was longer than the list for the longer novel. Just shut up and keep reading.)
Stuff I loved:
- Blundering hero who knows when to just shut up and listen.
- Troubled heroine who finally learns to start talking.
- Lydia’s quiet but loving-no-matter-what relationship with her parents, especially her father.
- Jonas struggling with love for and utter frustration with his aging father, and no Magic Grandchild Cure in the epilogue.
- Jokes about gonorrhea. This novella had all the dark humor the novel was missing.
- The sense of equality between Lydia and Jonas, as a romantic couple and as equally important characters who are never shoved to the sidelines for the sake of the plot.
- The achingly lovely intimate moments with no dialogue.
- Use of the word “ensorcellment.”
- Non-kissy references to mistletoe. Yes, it’s New Year’s Eve and I’m bitter and cranky and I haven’t started drinking yet. Shut up.
- Fascinating history without gratuitous info-dumping. I love it when authors are bigger nerds than I am.
Stuff I didn’t love:
- The premise seemed a bit too similar to A Governess Affair, with a gruff but sensitive hero overcoming the fears of a ruined heroine.
- See item #1. Other than that, I got nothing.