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

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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  »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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  »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »»

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 »

Weekend O’ Random Lists: The Carla Kelly Backlist Binge

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

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

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 — or find — 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

Tripleheader: Carina Press Historicals

A Dream Defiant by Susanna FraserA Dream Defiant by Susanna Fraser

  • Title: A Dream Defiant
  • Author:  Susanna Fraser
  • Series: N/A
  • Genre(s): Historical (Regency)
  • Publisher: Carina Press, July 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: ~85 pages
  • Trope(s): Forbidden Love, War Heroes and Widows, Family Matters
  • Quick blurb: Black soldier delivers spoils of war to new widow and marries her for her protection
  • Quick review: Too much story for the short format.
  • Grade: B

He caught her hand. “Wait.” He slid his hands to the back of her neck, fumbling for the necklace’s clasp. He undid it and held the chain of rubies up, red and gold in the flickering candlelight. “No shackles for us,” he said, “no matter how rich.”

Loved the characters and premise, and Fraser managed to get a lot of emotion into less than 100 pages. But this story deserves more than a novella to avoid the rushed romance and resolution.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Never Too Late by Amara Royce

Never Too Late by Amara Royce

  • Title: Never Too Late
  • Author: Amara Royce
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Kensington, May 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 226 pages
  • Trope(s): Bookselling Widow, Angsty Nobleman, Age Gap, Blackmail, Deep Dark Secrets
  • Quick blurb: Young viscount falls in love with the older widow he’s been blackmailed into ruining.
  • Quick review: A bit uneven, but I’m really looking forward to this debut author’s next title.
  • Grade: B-

“I will never be done with you,” he said, low and fierce.

While I had issues with the rather melodramatic plot and the heroine’s Deep Dark Secret, I loved Royce’s voice and storytelling. The hero and heroine were equally compelling, the relationship-building was spot-on, and the sexy times were hot.

Book Anxiety, Part 1: A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

A Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

  • Title: A Spear of Summer Grass
  • Author: Deanna Raybourn
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harlequin (MIRA), April 2013
  • Source: NetGalley
  • Length: 384 pages
  • Trope(s): Bad Girl with a Heart of Gold and Hidden Depths, Enigmatic Loner Hero, Colorful Cast of Supporting Characters, Very Convenient Coincidences
  • Quick blurb: Disgraced socialite exiled to stepfather’s crumbling estate in 1920s colonial Kenya
  • Quick review: After much pre-reading anxiety and post-reading obsessing, it didn’t work for me — but for more reasons than I expected.
  • Grade: D+

“For Christ’s sake, woman. Don’t stand there mooning about. This is Africa. Go inside before something eats you.”

I’m a huge fan of Raybourn’s Julia Grey mystery series (countless re-reads, book trance every single time), so when I saw the cover and blurb for A Spear of Summer Grass, I sighed happily and thought, “Ohhhhh, she wrote a new one just for me.”

So why the Book Anxiety? It started with the usual “She’s one of my favorite authors, what if I don’t like it???” I sucked it up and made it through the two chapters with an initial dislike for the heroine, but no major red flags – so far, so good.

But then a quick glance at a few reviews – “horrible” and “DNF” from The Book Smugglers and the enlightening discussion at Dear Author – sent me flailing into the worst-case scenario of “What if I like it – but I shouldn’t???” So I moved it from currently-reading back to the to-read shelf and let the anxiety fester. For weeks.

I started reading again last night, and finished this morning around 3 a.m. It was a one-sitting read, but not a full-on blissful book trance. Instead of wallowing in the language and characters, I could not stop myself from focusing on all the elements that were so problematic for other reviewers.

Continue reading

Backlist Binge: Sophia James

This took me longer than I thought, because I wound up doing a full re-read of one, and I had to buy and read the newest because it finished off a series.

So… Here are the highs and lows of Harlequin Historical author Sophia James, presented in chronological order (minus the anthologies). Cover images link to Goodreads.

In summary: James is on the dark and angsty edge of Harlequin Historicals — her characters are complex and conflicted, and when she stays away from rakes and pirates, her storytelling skills are memorable. But it’s hit or miss whether all the pieces and parts coalesce enough to suck me into a full-on book trance.

Continue reading

One-Quote Review: Lady with the Devil’s Scar by Sophia James

Yes, I’m still here. I have a boatload of reviews in the backlog, so be prepared for a influx of One-Quote Wonders.

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

  • Lady with the Devil's Scar by Sophia JamesTitle: Lady with the Devil’s Scar
  • Author: Sophia James
  • Genre(s): Historical
  • Publisher: Harlequin, August 2012
  • Source: Amazon ($4.61 ebook)
  • Length: 288 pages
  • Trope(s): Scarred Heroine, Illegitimate Loner Hero, Vengeful King
  • Quick blurb: Daughter of infamous Highland rebel fights and flirts with French mercenary sent to destroy her castle.
  • Quick review: Strong characters and good historical world-building, but not something I’ll read again.
  • Grade: B-

He kissed like a warrior would, taking what he needed without discourse to the properness of society, her timid answer pushed away into sheer and blazing want.

Sophia James, along with Julia Justiss and Elizabeth Rolls, was one of my “gateway” Harlequin Historical authors – I glommed her entire backlist when I first got my Kindle.

James is one of those authors that I enjoy, but not enough to rave about, and Lady With the Devil’s Scar fits right in that middle territory – I liked it, but not enough to displace any of my favorites.

Coming up next: The Sophia James Backlist Binge….