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

 

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Colonial/Revolutionary Binge

The party continues with a list that’s not so random – my recent reads about colonial, revolutionary and post-war/frontier America. I’d been hoarding most of these for years, but finally got inspired by — wait for it — Jude Devereux’s The Raider.

Most are from inspie publishers, who seem to be the only ones interested in non-Brit settings. Maybe someday Harlequin will discover early America. I would GLOM THAT SO HARD. That sounds vaguely dirty, but you know what I mean.

All the family pics are from a trip to Washington D.C.,  in 2008 to visit my little sis, who had an actual job actually schmoozing actual politicians. She likes that sort of thing (*~*shudder*~*).

Kids_MtVernon2

Damn, my kids are cute.

Things 1&2 were eight and five. We spent July 4th at Mount Vernon, where it was approximately 157 degrees, with mosquitoes the size of bats and restroom lines nine miles long. It sounded like a good idea at the time.

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The colonial era

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton

The Winthrop Woman by Anya Seton
The story of Elizabeth Fones Winthrop Feake Hallet,  a founder of Greenwich, Connecticut, and ancestor of Howard Dean,  John Kerry, Amelia Earhart, Bill Gates and Johnny Depp. No, seriously. Not quite as good as Seton’s Katherine, but definitely a must-read. There’s some info-dumping when the narrative skips ahead a few months or years, but the heroine’s struggles with her Puritan community and the harshness of the early settlements are incredibly vivid and memorable. Grade: A- (HMH, 1958; purchased (I own all of Seton in paper, ebook and audio)) Continue reading

TBR Challenge: More Than One – Carla Kelly Harlequins

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 by Carla KellyHer 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

Audiobook Adventure: The Prize by Julie Garwood

The Prize by Julie Garwood

  • Title: The Prize
  • Author: Julie Garwood
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Medieval)
  • Publisher: Pocket Books, August 1991
  • Format: Audio CD narrated by Anne Flosnik (Brilliance Audio, 2009)
  • Source: Public library
  • Length: 408 pages (10 CDs, 12.5 hours)
  • Trope(s): Conquering Hero, Dimwit Heroine, Battle of the Sexes, Newlywed Woes
  • Quick blurb: Saxon maiden vs. Norman warrior
  • Quick review: Not a good choice for my first commute-time audiobook, or my first Garwood.
  • Grade: C- for story, D- for narration

He never knew what hit him.

I’m glad that’s over with. Also, I now know who Kathryn Le Veque has been reading for inspiration.

The story….

The Prize is set in 1066 England, with William the Conqueror on the throne in London and his minions crawling the countryside to claim Saxon holdings. One of those minions, our hero Baron Royce, gets clobbered on the head with a stone flung by our slingshot-wielding heroine Nicolaa, a feisty (god help us) Saxon maiden determined to defend her family’s home.

When he regains consciousness, Royce and his men overtake the manor, mostly thanks to Nicolaa’s idiot older brother abandoning her to “go north.” Our spunky (god help us) heroine disguises herself as a nun and claims sanctuary at the nearby abbey where her other brother is recovering from a serious injury. Royce feels all tingly in his manly parts upon meeting the beautiful young nun, but he manages to get them to the convent without disturbing her maidenly essence.

Somehow, Royce manages to figure out that Nicolaa isn’t really a nun, which allows the tingling to burst forth into full-on mental lusting. Nicolaa is too busy swanning about denouncing the Normans and pronouncing things about her family’s honor to notice much about Royce. Except for the fact that he smells good.

After some unimportant secondary character nonsense, Royce forces Nicolaa out of the abbey and on the road to London, where she’ll be auctioned off as the titular “prize” to a deserving Norman lord. Nicolaa insists on bringing along her infant nephew, who she claims is hers by her deceased husband. There is no mention of a wet nurse, so I have no clue how this poor child is being fed, and we get a first glimpse of our heroine utter cluelessness as she flounders to explain the chronology of her fake husband’s death and her pretend child’s birth.

At some point early in the road trip, Nicolaa decides to escape. She does this in the dead of night, with no plan of whatsoever. No food, no weapon, leaving her infant “son” in the hands of god knows who – but she’s sure nothing will happen because she knows the territory. She then promptly falls into a ravine and twists her ankle. She starts to call for help, but – never fear – hero Royce is near. He followed her, because he’s not a clueless idiot.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Gambling on Love by Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger

Gambling on Love by Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger

  • Title: Gambling on Love
  • Author: Nancy Fraser and Patti Shenberger
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Entangled (Scandalous), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 87 pages
  • Trope(s): Runaway Debutante, In Disguise, Slavery, Gambling,
  • Quick blurb: Southern belle hires riverboat captain to transport her father’s former slaves to safety.
  • Quick review: Not painful, not much there.
  • Grade: C-

Instead of a quote, I will make reference to the six (6) times the word “teat” is used in this story. Hence the minus added to the letter grade.

I don’t have much to say about this one — nothing too objectionable, but nothing memorable. The middle sagged with no real conflict, and the heroine was Little Miss Perfect throughout the story.