Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Delicate Deception (Regency Imposters #3) by Cat Sebastian

39735911Summary from Goodreads:
When Amelia Allenby escaped a stifling London ballroom for the quiet solitude of the Derbyshire countryside, the very last thing she wanted was an extremely large, if—she grudgingly admits—passably attractive man disturbing her daily walks. Lecturing the surveyor about property rights doesn’t work and, somehow, he has soon charmed his way into lemon cakes, long walks, and dangerously heady kisses.

The very last place Sydney wished to be was in the shadow of the ruins of Pelham Hall, the inherited property that stole everything from him. But as he awaits his old friend, the Duke of Hereford, he finds himself increasingly captivated by the maddeningly lovely and exceptionally odd Amelia. He quickly finds that keeping his ownership of Pelham Hall a secret is as impossible as keeping himself from falling in love with her.

But when the Duke of Hereford arrives, Sydney’s ruse is revealed and what started out as a delicate deception has become a love too powerful to ignore. Will they let a lifetime of hurt come between them or can these two lost souls find love and peace in each other?

New. Cat. Sebastian. Yes!

The last time we saw Amelia Allenby, she was co-authoring a Perkin Warbeck slash-fic novel so racy she was in danger of violating the obscenity laws. Since then Amelia has voluntarily exiled herself from the upper class Society her mother worked so hard to enter. Amelia didn’t want it. Between the whispers about her illegitimate birth and her growing social anxiety the situation was growing untenable, so Amelia just…left. In the middle of a dance at a ball, so quite dramatic, but for a year she and her ex-governess-turned-companion Georgiana have been living quietly in the countryside. Amelia has been writing less-racy historical novels and taking long walks.

Once day, there’s a man in her path. He’s large and mysterious and a land surveyor – and a Quaker. And he simply won’t go away. As we, the reader, so find out, Sydney is in the neighborhood because he is the owner of Pelham Hall – Amelia’s landlord – and he absolutely does not want to be present on the property he now owns that was the site of his brother’s and sister-in-law’s deaths. However, his old friend Lex, Duke of Hereford has summoned him. Amelia’s conversation is diverting, and her inquisitive mind challenges him, so Syd allows Amelia to believe he’s only visiting in the neighborhood. He’s not planning to stay long, so why allow formalities to come between them (which also seems to be a very Quaker viewpoint). Amelia lets down her guard….which is when Lex arrives – with several surprises for Syd in store – and upsets the delicate balance of Amelia’s life.

Lesson: being unreasonably vague about the circumstances of one’s life and trying to hide from it are extremely bad for the development of trust in one’s closest relationships. This cuts both ways because Amelia hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about who she is to Syd.

A Delicate Deception is a very quiet book – Lex and his Duke-sized ego aside – about working through one’s complex social anxieties to meet your partner halfway. Sebastian seeds in bits from beloved English canon novels (you’ll know them when you read them) and also gives Amelia some really lovely things to say about how we (still) view virginity and the position of children born to unmarried parents. However, I would have loved a few more scenes between Amelia and Syd “falling in love” – I didn’t quite feel them connect like Robin/Alistair and Verity/Ash did. The resolution of the HEA is very interesting in this book and I’m glad to see Sebastian working on an ending that fits the genre but is less traditional.

This has to be the queerest non-erotica historical I’ve ever read – all the presumed straight people are either deceased (Syd’s brother and sister-in-law), in America (his parents), or very minor characters who don’t really matter (the vicar and his wife, Lady Stafford, etc). Amelia is bisexual (or pansexual, possibly, since at one point she says something about kissing interesting people) and Sydney is bisexual. Lex is Syd’s ex-lover and best friend and definitely gay (he is also blind and gets all the best lines, because of course he does, he’s the duke) and Georgiana appears to be asexual or aromantic. Keating, from Unmasked by the Marquess, is here as Amelia’s groom/handyman and apparently making the rounds of the local gay men. AND ROBIN POPS UP RIGHT AT THE VERY END. (Omg, Robin and Keating greeting each other is like the “hey, bitch” of Regency romance I never knew I wanted; but we are denied a meeting between Lex and Alistair and you will understand why when you read this book *give it, do want a short story*)

Also, PLEASE can we have the Perkin Warbeck slash-fic novel? Will read, I promise 😂

A Delicate Deception is out today, December 10!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and you know I had this preordered like last decade.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

32075861._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Sarah Perry’s award-winning novel, set at the end of the nineteenth century and inspired by true events.

Moving between Essex and London, myth and modernity, Cora Seaborne’s spirited search for the Essex Serpent encourages all around her to test their allegiance to faith or reason in an age of rapid scientific advancement. At the same time, the novel explores the boundaries of love and friendship and the allegiances that we have to one another. The depth of feeling that the inhabitants of Aldwinter share are matched by their city counterparts as they strive to find the courage to express and understand their deepest desires, and strongest fears.

The Essex Serpent is a book that I had a galley for, didn’t get to it, bought it when it came out, didn’t read it, ran across the audiobook on the library Overdrive site, gave it two tries to get through it, and finally polished off the last 50 pages by aforementioned hardcover.

On premise, and a lot of the individual writing, the story in The Essex Serpent ought to be so far up my wheelhouse its not funny.

Victorian? Check. Mysterious monster? Check. Ladies being awesome? Check. Absolutely gorgeous cover? Check, check, and check.

But it just wouldn’t READ. It plods along back and forth from London to Aldwinter, letters sent and letters received. I found it very hard to care about the motivations of the characters and I could definitely have done without the surgeon plot line. Eliminating him would have taken out at least one of the dudes who seem placed in this book solely to want into Cora Seabourne’s knickers 🙄

Dear FTC: You saw it above.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Act Like It, Pretty Face, and Making Up by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #1-3)

28208878._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A sharp-witted heroine and an infuriating-but-swoon-worthy leading man bring down the house in this utterly charming contemporary romance debut from Lucy Parker

This just in: romance takes center stage as West End theatre’s Richard Troy steps out with none other than castmate Elaine Graham

Richard Troy used to be the hottest actor in London, but the only thing firing up lately is his temper. We all love to love a bad boy, but Richard’s antics have made him Enemy Number One, breaking the hearts of fans across the city.

Have the tides turned? Has English rose Lainie Graham made him into a new man?

Sources say the mismatched pair has been spotted at multiple events, arm in arm and hip to hip. From fits of jealousy to longing looks and heated whispers, onlookers are stunned by this blooming romance.

Could the rumors be right? Could this unlikely romance be the real thing? Or are these gifted stage actors playing us all?

After starting with book 4 in the London Celebrities series (oops) I hopped back to the beginning to start with Act Like It. I really enjoyed this fake relationship plot between a good-natured, publicly-minded actress (Lainie) and a grouchy, patrician, git of an actor (Richard) who have to start appearing to be an item so ticket sales for the play they’re in won’t tank. So much good banter and a look inside the theatre world of West End London. I really liked how Richard softens, but doesn’t entirely lose his “people are insufferable” vibe while Lainie gets a little bit of an edge to her. Also, bro actors are the worst. (I kept imagining Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys as the main characters. 😻)

30631124._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Highly acclaimed, award-winning author of Act Like It Lucy Parker returns readers to the London stage with laugh-out-loud wit and plenty of drama

The play’s the fling

It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.

Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…

I polished off Pretty Face as my second book in the July 2019 24in48 readathon!

I really loved this second book in the London Celebrities series. Lucy Parker takes aim at the shit actresses have to deal in the acting profession. Lily Lamprey, because she plays a sexy, sultry, somewhat loosely-moraled star of a Raging Twenties television show, is almost summarily dismissed out of hand by demanding theatre director Luc Savage for his groundbreaking new play about the Tudor queens. Breathy floozies (which is a kind paraphrase) should not portray Queen Elizabeth I. Lily can hold her own, though, and she nails her audition – and Luc’s attraction. Which is a problem when you are the much-older boss. And then you have to hire your recently-married ex-girlfriend to play Bloody Mary due to a casting change. Cue headaches.

Luc and Lily are great characters. I’ll admit to being a bit nervous about the age difference – Luc is in his early forties and Lily her mid-twenties – but it is handled so well on the page. Lucy Parker writes such wonderful adults in her books, who have jobs and careers and stakes but who also learn to deal with their emotional crap in very real ways. Pretty Face is probably my favorite in this series and I would love to see the actual play described in this book as a real production. Great to see an early version of Freddy from The Austen Playbook and Lainie and Richard back in a short scene (Richard gives great advice when he remembers to not be an actual git).

36533218._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Once upon a time, circus artist Trix Lane was the best around. Her spark vanished with her confidence, though, and reclaiming either has proved… difficult. So when the star of The Festival of Masks is nixed and Trix is unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight, it’s exactly the push she needs. But the joy over her sudden elevation in status is cut short by a new hire on the makeup team.

Leo Magasiva: disgraced wizard of special effects. He of the beautiful voice and impressive beard. Complete dickhead and—in an unexpected twist—an enragingly good kisser.

To Leo, something about Trix is… different. Lovely. Beautiful, even though the pint-size, pink-haired former bane of his existence still spends most of her waking hours working to annoy him. They’ve barely been able to spend two minutes together for years, and now he can’t get enough of her. On stage. At home. In his bed.

When it comes to commitment, Trix has been there, done that, never wants to do it again. Leo’s this close to the job of a lifetime, which would take him away from London — and from Trix. Their past is a constant barrier between them.

It seems hopeless.

Utterly impossible.

And yet…

I had a weirdly hard time getting into Making Up. I think I was initially put off by the animosity between Leo and Trix at the beginning of the book, since we met them both in the previous book Pretty Face and they were both likeable characters. It’s uncomfortable for a bit plus Trix’s boss (and Leo’s, since he joins the makeup team) at The Festival of Masks is such a shit that it’s very grimace-inducing. I put the book aside for a while. But once Leo and Trix clear the air (that was a hot scene by the end *fans self*) the plot loosened up and I really came to like this couple. Plus, this is a very different aspect of stagecraft, with an aerial Cirque du Soleil-like show compared to the other three books in the series that are more oriented around playacting.

I’m going to give a brief trigger warning for this book – Trix has experienced psychlogical abuse in a previous relationship and that manifests on the page in vivid panic attacks.

And now I’m all caught up and ready for Headliners (book 5, due out January 2020, I lucked into a digital galley approval on Netgalley, but I am contemplating a re-read of The Austen Playbook to get ready for Sabs and Nick).

Dear FTC: I bought all my copies of this series on my Nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The Victorians are often credited with ushering in our current era, yet the seeds of change were planted in the years before. The Regency (1811–1820) began when the profligate Prince of Wales—the future king George IV—replaced his insane father, George III, as Britain’s ruler.

Around the regent surged a society steeped in contrasts: evangelicalism and hedonism, elegance and brutality, exuberance and despair. The arts flourished at this time with a showcase of extraordinary writers and painters such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Shelleys, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. Science burgeoned during this decade, too, giving us the steam locomotive and the blueprint for the modern computer.

Yet the dark side of the era was visible in poverty, slavery, pornography, opium, and the gothic imaginings that birthed the novel Frankenstein. With the British military in foreign lands, fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the War of 1812 in the United States, the desire for empire and an expanding colonial enterprise gained unstoppable momentum. Exploring these crosscurrents, Robert Morrison illuminates the profound ways this period shaped and indelibly marked the modern world.

The Regency Years seems a rather short book to try and cover all the parts of the ten years of the official Regency during end of George III’s life. But it does hit all the highlights, from crime and politics to the arts. The author does provide a critical view of unjust policies regarding the poor, racism, slavery, and colonialism/globalism so it definitely isn’t a “Rah Rah Britain” book. It just didn’t seem to read very easily.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

When the Marquess Was Mine by Caroline Linden (The Wagers of Sin #3)

41716340Summary from Goodreads:
In the game of love…
Georgiana Lucas despises the arrogant and cruel Marquess of Westmorland even before learning that he’s won the deed to her friend Kitty’s home in a card game. Still, Georgiana assures Kitty the marquess wouldn’t possibly come all the way to Derbyshire to throw them out—until he shows up, bloody and unconscious. Fearing that Kitty would rather see him die, Georgiana blurts out that he’s her fiancé. She’ll nurse the hateful man back to health and make him vow to leave and never return. The man who wakes up, though, is nothing like the heartless rogue Georgiana thought she knew…
You have to risk it all
He wakes up with no memory of being assaulted—or of who he is. The bewitching beauty tending him so devotedly calls him Rob and claims she’s his fiancée even as she avoids his touch. Though he can’t remember how he won her hand, he’s now determined to win her heart. But as his memory returns and the truth is revealed, Rob must decide if the game is up—or if he’ll take a chance on a love that defies all odds.

I’ve been a bit behind-hand with my romance reading. So I was pleased to pick up Caroline Linden’s new novel, When the Marquess Was Mine. Although it does have an amnesia plot, one of my least favorite tropes because it’s rarely handled well. But never fear! Four stars for the overall plot, an amnesia plot that doesn’t have consent issues and doesn’t revolve around “punishing” the person who has lost their memory. (For my money, the best amnesia romance is Slightly Sinful by Mary Balogh.)

However, the end of this book – say, the last 50-75 pages is really stuffed with A LOT. Georgiana has to ditch her long-standing fiancée (who is nice, but she doesn’t love him), receive several info dumps about how dudes are keeping information from her because she’s a “lady”, get with Rob, deal with her decidedly awful brother, AND foil the slave trade (which, yes foil slave trade=good but the plan was convoluted).

I do love Caro’s writing but I missed the two previous books in this series and so I think there was a bit of shorthand with the Vega Club and other characters that I was missing in the reading. So a fun read but you might want to catch up with the series.

When the Marquess Was Mine is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas (The Gamblers of Craven’s #2)

330721Summary from Goodreads:
She stood at danger’s threshold—then love beckoned her in.

In the shelter of her country cottage, Sara Fielding puts pen to paper to create dreams. But curiosity has enticed the prim, well-bred gentlewoman out of her safe haven—and into Derek Craven’s dangerous world.

A handsome, tough and tenacious Cockney, he rose from poverty to become lord of London’s most exclusive gambling house—a struggle that has left Derek Craven fabulously wealthy, but hardened and suspicious. And now duty demands he allow Sara Fielding into his world—with her impeccable manners and her infuriating innocence. But here, in a perilous shadow-realm of ever-shifting fortunes, even a proper “mouse” can be transformed into a breathtaking enchantress—and a world-weary gambler can be shaken to his cynical core by the power of passion…and the promise of love.

I am weirdly late to the Lisa Kleypas party – when I was getting back into romance she didn’t pop onto my radar like some of the newer authors. But I’ve been backtracking through her backlist very slowly. YES, Derek Craven of Dreaming of You is a LOT. I can see why Sarah MacLean cites this book as a favorite and where her Scoundrels and Bastards come from (and why Tom Hardy has to play all of them). Sara is pretty fun in her “I am a writer, please give me backround information” mode and it was nice to see her decide that she’s not going to be a “good girl” and confine herself to a predefined role (and I loved her older parents and all the workers at the gambling club, from the servants to the sex workers, because they were so convinced Sara’s book was real). Now I need to back up and read Lily and Alex’s book.

Dear FTC: I read a strip of this book I had hanging around the house.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · sleuthing · stuff I read

Hither, Page by Cat Sebastian (Page & Sommers #1)

44785311._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A jaded spy and a shell shocked country doctor team up to solve a murder in postwar England.

James Sommers returned from the war with his nerves in tatters. All he wants is to retreat to the quiet village of his childhood and enjoy the boring, predictable life of a country doctor. The last thing in the world he needs is a handsome stranger who seems to be mixed up with the first violent death the village has seen in years. It certainly doesn’t help that this stranger is the first person James has wanted to touch since before the war.

The war may be over for the rest of the world, but Leo Page is still busy doing the dirty work for one of the more disreputable branches of the intelligence service. When his boss orders him to cover up a murder, Leo isn’t expecting to be sent to a sleepy village. After a week of helping old ladies wind balls of yarn and flirting with a handsome doctor, Leo is in danger of forgetting what he really is and why he’s there. He’s in danger of feeling things he has no business feeling. A person who burns his identity after every job can’t set down roots.

As he starts to untangle the mess of secrets and lies that lurk behind the lace curtains of even the most peaceful-seeming of villages, Leo realizes that the truths he’s about to uncover will affect his future and those of the man he’s growing to care about.

Cat Sebastian: Do you want a galley of my new post-WW2 m/m mystery-romance?
Me: OMG YES PLEASE

Hither, Page is a m/m romance and mystery set in the village of Wychcomb St. Mary. If you like Grantchester, and want a bit of romance, too, this first installment in Sommers & Page is as if Sidney Chambers was a hot doctor, instead of the vicar (and if you’ve seen the TV adaptation, James Norton is almost a dead-ringer for Dr. Sommers) and Geordie was a jaded spy, and they were both gay. This is a romance set in the immediate aftermath of WWII so many lives have been shattered and not put back together, if they ever will be. The resolution of the mystery was a bit too tangly but I enjoyed the characters of Sommers and Page, and so many of the side characters especially Edith and Cora and Wendy, very much.

Also – everyone wash your hands and don’t share utensils/cups, etc. because tonsillitis/strep throat in the early antibiotics era is contagious as all get out.

This is much less steamy than other Cat Sebastian romances.

Dear FTC: Many thanks to Cat Sebastian for the galley. I bought a copy, too. 🙂

Readathon · stuff I read

A Murder to Die For by Stevyn Colgan

35004372Summary from Goodreads:
When hordes of people descend on the picturesque village of Nasely for the annual celebration of its most famous resident, murder mystery writer Agnes Crabbe, events take a dark turn as the festival opens with a shocking death.

Each year the residents are outnumbered by crowds dressed as Crabbe’s best-known character, the lady detective Millicent Cutter. The weekend is never a mild-mannered affair as fan club rivalries bubble below the surface, but tensions reach new heights when a second Crabbe devotee is found murdered. Though the police are quick to arrive on the scene, the facts are tricky to ascertain as the witnesses, suspects and victim are all dressed as Miss Cutter. And they all want to solve that crime too . . .

I picked up A Murder to Die For after John (@johnnie_cakes) recommended it on Instagram. It is a delightful, madcap murder mystery set at a fan-con for a fictional English crime writer with a Phrynne Fisher-esque 1920s amateur detective. Colgan gleefully breaks all the “rules” of crime writing and name drops all sorts of mystery-related Easter eggs, including Midsomer Murders (and you’ll find the retired DS Shunter a bit of an analog to Tom Barnaby, my favorite dad-detective, although with less of John Nettles’s TV panache). Not a cosy, since the amateur detectives are quite useless and it’s a bit more violent than a cosy, so I can’t use it for the Read Harder task, but a good, zany whodunnit. The sum-up at the end is a bit awkward, imo.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.