Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Say Yes to the Duke by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #5)

42448315Summary from Goodreads:
A shy wallflower meets her dream man—or does she?—in the next book in New York Times bestselling author Eloisa James’ Wildes of Lindow series.

Miss Viola Astley is so painfully shy that she’s horrified by the mere idea of dancing with a stranger; her upcoming London debut feels like a nightmare.

So she’s overjoyed to meet handsome, quiet vicar with no interest in polite society — but just when she catches his attention, her reputation is compromised by a duke.

Devin Lucas Augustus Elstan, Duke of Wynter, will stop at nothing to marry Viola, including marrying a woman whom he believes to be in love with another man.

A vicar, no less.

Devin knows he’s no saint, but he’s used to conquest, and he’s determined to win Viola’s heart.

Viola has already said Yes to his proposal, but now he wants her unruly heart…and he won’t accept No for an answer.

Say Yes to the Duke has an almost completely internal plot. Viola, who has awful social anxiety (occasionally bad enough to involve vomiting so she has delayed her debut as much as possible), has fallen in puppy love with the new and very attractive vicar on the Lindow estate, probably because he’s the safest non-related male around. Never mind that he’s got a (terrible) fiancee and potentially equally awful mother-in-law in tow. She also – unfortunately, or fortunately – overhears the Duke of Wynter cold-bloodedly discussing how he would rather propose to her sister Joan (he has “reasons,” they aren’t great). Viola gets up the nerve to tell him off, which makes her immediately intriguing to him. So Wynter sets about trying to engage her interest in him and not the vicar – which is going fairly well until they are caught kissing behind a closed door (at the vicarage no less, because Wynter has decided to lure the vicar back to his own parish). Marriage by special license! But will Viola and Wynter fall in love?

This story is quiet and sweet and delicious. Sometimes, I just really need a book where nothing untoward happens – there’s no unhinged hanger-on, no greedy cousin, no addict mother, etc etc here for distraction – and the entire plot hangs on whether the main characters will fall in love. And if this is also what you’re looking for, Say Yes to the Duke is it. What I also like here are the musings on what makes one part of a family in this book – and by extension some of Betsy’s story in Say No to the Duke. Viola is “not a Wilde” since her father was her mother’s first husband but she’s been raised “as a Wilde” since she was a toddler when her mother married the Duke of Lindow. Betsy is “a Wilde” but out in Society she long felt that her mother’s reputation – having run off with another man, causing the Duke to divorce her and later marry Viola’s mother Ophelia – overshadowed her Wilde connection. By contrast Betsy’s younger sister Joan, the only Wilde who does not share the Duke’s coloring which marks her out as another man’s child, appears to let any worry about her parentage just roll off her back – she is “a Wilde” in all the ways that count (meaning: the Duke has said she’s a Wilde, so she’s a Wilde and woe to anyone who crosses him otherwise).

Some of my favorite Eloisa James novels are the ones where she brings in information from her other life as a literature professor (The Taming of the Duke is a particular favorite for this reason) because we get to see what people did in their communities or in their downtime. Say Yes to the Duke has a minor plot element that turns on one of  Viola’s suggestions to the vicar: putting on a Bible play in the parish – which is not exactly CofE, given that the plays are medieval or Elizabethan in origin and run somewhat closer to the dreaded papistry of Ye Olde Englande (my joke here, not Eloisa’s, but she uses the play to great effect late in the book). There’s also an extremely steamy closet-sex scene which might be the sexiest thing Eloisa has written since the blindfolded chess/sex scene in This Duchess of Mine.

Say Yes to the Duke is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I also have a copy on pre-order on my Nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner (The World of Riverside #1)

68485Summary from Goodreads:
The classic forerunner to The Fall of the Kings now with three bonus stories.

Hailed by critics as “a bravura performance” (Locus) and “witty, sharp-eyed, [and] full of interesting people” (Newsday), this classic melodrama of manners, filled with remarkable plot twists and unexpected humor, takes fantasy to an unprecedented level of elegant writing and scintillating wit. Award-winning author Ellen Kushner has created a world of unforgettable characters whose political ambitions, passionate love affairs, and age-old rivalries collide with deadly results.

Swordspoint

On the treacherous streets of Riverside, a man lives and dies by the sword. Even the nobles on the Hill turn to duels to settle their disputes. Within this elite, dangerous world, Richard St. Vier is the undisputed master, as skilled as he is ruthless–until a death by the sword is met with outrage instead of awe, and the city discovers that the line between hero and villain can be altered in the blink of an eye.

I picked up Swordspoint a while back because it kept popping up on lists of fantasy novels with good queer rep on the page, which it definitely has. But this is also the ur-“mannerpunk” novel, a smash-up of Jane Austen, Baroness Orczy, and fantasy. I really liked the world-building and the writing. The premise is fantastic – a quasi-Georgian alternate England (where the old aristocratic system has morphed into something that thinks it’s a republic of sorts) where master swordsmen are hired to settle disputes in duels (upper class swords are only for show and it’s frowned upon to actually learn swordfighting). There’s a lot of gay and bisexual rep on the page but one question: there were a lot of male perspectives on sex but really only one woman who seemed to have agency in this area so it was hard to tell if women in this world formed non-hetero pairings or not unless I missed it.

The major drawback, for me, is that this is a book that holds the cards of its plot extremely close to its chest. It’s Politics, in the way that Kushiel’s Dart or ASOIAF are about Politics, but this is all boardrooms and bedrooms and double entendres and behind-the-back-deals instead of war and soldiers. It’s very subtle so you have to pay attention. I occasionally lost the thread of the plot – heyo, I was into this for the sword fights, of which it has many, A+ – and at the end I’m still not exactly sure what happened. This is definitely more of a character- and setting-driven book than a plot-driven one.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy on my Nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Rafe: A Buff Male Nanny by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Loose Ends #1)

42900442._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
All Dr. Sloan Copeland needed was someone to watch her kids. What she found was the man of her dreams…

After a nasty divorce and a thousand mile move, Dr. Sloan Copeland and her twin daughters are finally getting the hang of their new life in Los Angeles. When their live-in nanny bails with no warning, Sloan is left scrambling to find a competent caretaker to wrangle her smart, sensitive girls. Nothing less will do.

Enter Rafe Whitcomb. He’s all of those things, not to mention good-natured and one heck of a whiz in the kitchen. He’s also tall, and handsome, and bearded, and ripped, and tatted, wrist to neck.

It doesn’t take long for the Copelands to invite Rafe into their home. Just as quickly, both Sloan and Rafe find themselves succumbing to a heady mutual attraction, neither of them wants to deny. With every minute they spend under the same roof, this working mom can’t help but wonder if Rafe can handle all her needs…

Rafe is a solid “what if Chris Hemsworth was a ginger with way more tattoos and also real good with kids” fantasy where a genius cardiac surgeon (single mom with twins) needs a nanny in an emergency and this real tall hot bearded dude with excellent references happens to be available. And then they realize very quickly that they’re attracted to each other, like attracted to each other. Then have amazing sex when neither of them have kid duty. Loved it. Plus Rafe’s family is so awesome.

Picked up my copy at The Ripped Bodice almost exactly one year ago and had Rebekah sign it for me because she just happened to be working 💖

Dear FTC: This copy is fucking mine.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie

8880488Summary from Goodreads:
This is New York Times and USA Today bestselling author Jennifer Crusie’s novel about long shots, risk management, true love, and great shoes. . . .

Minerva Dobbs knows how to work the odds.
Calvin Morrisey always plays to win.

But when they face off, neither one is prepared.
Because when real life meets true love, all bets are off. . . .

Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet, even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs, even if she does wear great shoes and keep him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree never to see each other again.

But fate has other plans, and it’s not long before Min and Cal meet again. Soon they’re dealing with a jealous ex-boyfriend, Krispy Kreme doughnuts, a determined psychologist, chaos theory, a freakishly intelligent cat, Chicken Marsala, and more risky propositions than either of them ever dreamed of. Including the biggest gamble of all—true love.

Bet Me has been on my very long Romance TBR forever but Sarah and Jen at Fated Mates finally tipped me over the edge. I loved it. Cal and Min are fantastic and their surrounding group of friends are just a hoot. It’s basically a fairy-tale disguised as a rom-com so that’s a solid intersection of my interests – plus many, many little tidbits in this book have direct correlations to 90s rom-com movies starting with the Julia Roberts Movie Playlist for Diana’s wedding. Even the ending to “the bet” turns out in an extremely screwball rom-com fashion.

I would have been forced to poison all the parents tho, YIKES. Min’s mom is EXTREMELY fatphobic and the heroine has internalized a lot of negative body image so if those things are triggering for you this may be one to skip. But Cal is basically “you’re attractive as fuck just as you are also we should eat good food because eating is pleasure” so I’m down with him. (I also read a review that was really critical about how much chicken marsala is eaten by the characters, especially Min, and clearly that person has never found their absolute favorite food or had their favorite dish at a favorite restaurant ever.)

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this on my Nook because the library is closed to the public and they didn’t have a copy on Overdrive. (Which, by the way, WHAT ARE YOU DOING ST. MARTIN’S – the ebook is $11.99 and the paperback is $25.99, for a book first published in 2004. This is how you price a book out of circulation. I’m a bookseller – if I get a trade paperback (and the current cover is awful, yo) into the store to sell and it’s priced $25.99 and NOT 1500 pages long or an academic title it won’t sell. Because a romance reader can buy 2-4 books for that price.)

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig (Pink Carnation #12)

23398702Summary from Goodreads:
In the final Pink Carnation novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Napoleon has occupied Lisbon, and Jane Wooliston, aka the Pink Carnation, teams up with a rogue agent to protect the escaped Queen of Portugal.

Portugal, December 1807. Jack Reid, the British agent known as the Moonflower (formerly the French agent known as the Moonflower), has been stationed in Portugal and is awaiting his new contact. He does not expect to be paired with a woman—especially not the legendary Pink Carnation.

All of Portugal believes that the royal family departed for Brazil just before the French troops marched into Lisbon. Only the English government knows that mad seventy-three-year-old Queen Maria was spirited away by a group of loyalists determined to rally a resistance. But as the French garrison scours the countryside, it’s only a matter of time before she’s found and taken.

It’s up to Jane to find her first and ensure her safety. But she has no knowledge of Portugal or the language. Though she is loath to admit it, she needs the Moonflower. Operating alone has taught her to respect her own limitations. But she knows better than to show weakness around the Moonflower—an agent with a reputation for brilliance, a tendency toward insubordination, and a history of going rogue.

I reached the point in this COVID-19 zoo where I had to read my “break glass in case of emergency” book: The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig, the final book in the Pink Carnation series. I was introduced to this series waaaay back in 2006 by my sister-in-law Kristen (I was reading The Thirteenth Tale and she was reading Pink 1, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and we kept sneaking looks at each other’s books 😂) and since then had happily devoured each book as it came out. My favorites are books 3 and 7 (Geoff/Letty and Turnip/Arabella forever 💖💖). But when book 12 came out, the final book, the actual Pink Carnation’s story, I couldn’t read it. I bought it on release day but could not make myself open it. It was the last book, and Lauren wasn’t committed to ever write any more. So it sat and stared at me from the top of my Pink Carnation stack for five years.

So I guess we can thank the coronavirus because last night I sat down in my reading chair, looked over at my Pink Carnation stack, and just picked it up. I read almost the whole thing straight through. It’s good and sweet and brings back a lot of familiar characters and lines up nicely with my James Bond rewatch (only less misogyny and more flowery French spies). And now it’s done. Guess I’ll go re-read Turnip’s book now.

Dear FTC: I read my own damn copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

How to Be Fine: What We Learned from Living by the Rules of 50 Self-Help Books by Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer

52436930._SX318_SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A humorous and insightful look into what advice works, what doesn’t, and what it means to transform yourself, by the co-hosts of the popular By the Book podcast.

In each episode of their podcast By the Book, Jolenta Greenberg and Kristen Meinzer take a deep dive into a different self-help book, following its specific instructions, rules, and advice to the letter. From diet and productivity to decorating to social interactions, they try it all, record themselves along the way, then share what they’ve learned with their devoted and growing audience of fans who tune in.

In How to Be Fine, Jolenta and Kristen synthesize the lessons and insights they’ve learned and share their experiences with everyone. How to Be Fine is a thoughtful look at the books and practices that have worked, real talk on those that didn’t, and a list of philosophies they want to see explored in-depth. The topics they cover include:

Getting off your device
Engaging in positive self-talk
Downsizing
Admitting you’re a liar
Meditation
Going outside
Getting in touch with your emotions
Seeing a therapist

Before they began their podcast, Jolenta wanted to believe the promises of self-help books, while Kristen was very much the skeptic. They embraced their differences of opinion, hoping they’d be good for laughs and downloads. But in the years since launching the By the Book, they’ve come to realize their show is about much more than humor. In fact, reading and following each book’s advice has actually changed and improved their lives. Thanks to the show, Kristen penned the Amish romance novel she’d always joked about writing, traveled back to her past lives, and she broached some difficult conversations with her husband about their marriage. Jolenta finally memorized her husband’s phone number, began tracking her finances, and fell in love with cutting clutter.

Part memoir, part prescriptive handbook, this honest, funny, and heartfelt guide is like a warm soul-baring conversation with your closest and smartest friends.

How to Be Fine is a  book I somehow got from William Morrow for review (not sure if I requested it or if it just came with something else? oh well). I hadn’t listened to the podcast this is based on, though I did know about it. I was dreading this would be a fifty-chapter summary of each book they read, like a mini-podcast, and was delighted to see that this isn’t it. The authors divided up their work into a section of “advice that worked”, a section of “advice that didn’t work”, and a section of “advice we wish people would recommend more often.” So this makes for a good discussion about the self-help “industry” and the ways that it assumes a classist/racist/misogynistic/homophobic stance and can actively promote harmful viewpoints.

A quick read.

Dear FTC: I read a review copy sent to me by the publisher.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Say No to the Duke by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #4)

40220892Summary from Goodreads:
One little wager will determine their fate—a daring escape or falling into temptation with a rakish lord.

Lady Betsy Wilde’s first season was triumphant by any measure, and a duke has proposed—but before marriage, she longs for one last adventure.

No gentleman would agree to her scandalous plan—but Lord Jeremy Roden is no gentleman. He offers a wager. If she wins a billiards game, he’ll provide the breeches.

If he wins…she is his, for one wild night.

But what happens when Jeremy realizes that one night will never be enough? In the most important battle of his life, he’ll have to convince Betsy to say no to the duke.

I started reading Say No to the Duke as a galley last year and just couldn’t get into it. So I put it aside. I’m glad I did because I think it was a case of “it’s not the book, it’s me” – for whatever reason, it just wasn’t grabbing me and since I don’t get paid to review, I hit pause.

Since Eloisa’s next Wilde installment Say Yes to the Duke is due out this month, I picked this back up. I really liked it. The plot is mostly internal, with both Betsy and Jeremy having to deal with some mental stuff before they can truly come together (Betsy, the internalized misogyny that sexual desire means she’s going to abandon her family like her mother did; Jeremy, his guilt over the deaths of his men in battle and his ongoing struggle with PTSD). They bicker delightfully, especially at the beginning. There is some external plot that feels shoehorned in to tie-up a plotbunny at the end but that’s minimal. The auction scene is a treat.

I would definitely like a book for Aunt Knowe (ok, so her first name is Louisa and the family last name is Wilde and she’s the duke’s twin sister….so if she hadn’t ever married (or married a commoner) she would be Lady Louisa or (at a stretch) Lady Wilde, not Aunt or Lady Knowe. Am I missing something??? She’s a fun character and there’s definitely a story there!!)

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley sent to my store by the publisher but I also had a copy I preordered on my Nook last year (so I could have read that, too, I guess).