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).

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Virgin and the Rogue by Sophie Jordan (The Rogue Files #6)

43700828Summary from Goodreads:
Continuing her bestselling Rogue Files series, Sophie Jordan brews up a scintillating romance about a timid wallflower who discovers a love potion and ends up falling for a dashing rogue.

A love potion…
Charlotte Langley has always been the prudent middle sister, so her family is not surprised when she makes the safe choice and agrees to wed her childhood sweetheart. But when she finds herself under the weather and drinks a “healing” tonic, the potion provokes the most maddening desire… for someone other than her betrothed.

With the power…
Kingston’s rakehell ways are going to destroy him, and he’s vowed to change. His stepbrother’s remote estate is just the place for a reformed rogue to hide. The last thing he wants is to be surrounded by society, but when he gets stuck alone with a wallflower who is already betrothed… and she astonishes him with a fiery kiss, he forgets all about hiding.

To alter two destinies.
Although Charlotte appears meek, Kingston soon discovers there’s a vixen inside, yearning to break free. Unable to forget their illicit moment of passion, Kingston vows to relive the encounter, but Charlotte has sworn it will never happen again—no matter how earth-shattering it was. But will a devilish rogue tempt her to risk everything for a chance at true love?

The Virgin and the Rogue is a rompy historical kicked off when a prudent, staid young lady (Charlotte) is accidentally given an aphrodisiac by her herbalist sister (it was supposed to help with PMS cramps) and she ends up getting off with her brother-in-law’s stepbrother (Kingston, an infamous rake, who is REAL surprised that this is happening but he doesn’t take advantage of the situation)…who is not her fiance (who is boring and has terrible parents, no surprise there). Oops. Many FEELINGS ensue.

Jordan does take a risk with this book. By giving her heroine Charlotte what is essentially a drug that affects her behavior without her knowledge, this could have gone in very questionable places regarding consent. But since the drug is given to her by her sister – who clearly didn’t intend harm to Charlotte – and Kingston doesn’t act on Charlotte’s advances while she’s under the influence, Jordan keeps the consent for sexual activity in Charlotte’s court. I think it works and unlocks a part of Charlotte’s self and thinking that she had been suppressing for a long time (of course, your mileage may vary so this plot may not work for every reader). Kingston is also a rake trying to reform himself and his image and it works so well opposite Charlotte’s situation.

I have a few installments of the Rogue Files series hanging around, but I hadn’t read any yet, so you can totally read this one if you aren’t current on the series.

The Virgin and the Rogue is out today!

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

audiobooks · mini-review · stuff I read

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel (Thomas Cromwell Trilogy #2), read by Simon Vance

17304636 (1)Summary from Goodreads:
The sequel to Hilary Mantel’s 2009 Man Booker Prize winner and New York Times best seller, Wolf Hall, delves into the heart of Tudor history with the downfall of Anne Boleyn. Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice. At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?

I bought Bring Up the Bodies in hardcover when it came out, but never got to it. (And it won a Booker, what is wrong with me, lol) But the third book in the trilogy is out this month so I decided to knuckle down and read it. Meaning, I put the audiobook on hold through the library Overdrive because I had such problems sorting out who was speaking in Wolf Hall (when almost all the characters are dudes, “he” doesn’t help much). The narrator of Bring Up the Bodies, Simon Vance, really helped keep the characters straight with excellent variation in voices and accents. Mantel also helped this problem by stating “he, Cromwell” or “he, Henry” which gave a very formal sense of history to the story as well. It felt like a more zippy book since the plot place over a much shorter timeline – approximately a year versus what seemed like 40 years of Cromwell’s life in Wolf Hall.

Not sure when I’ll read The Mirror and the Light but I’ll get there.

Dear FTC: I borrowed the audiobook from the library overdrive, but I also bought it in hardcover.

Reading Diversely · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert (The Brown Sisters #1)

43884209Summary from Goodreads:
Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Do you want a mad-sexy romance between a sarcastic programmer/web designer with chronic pain syndromes and a motorcycle-riding, secret artist building superintendent set in Nottingham? Where both main characters have some emotional garbage in their pasts they have to deal with in very real-world, adult ways? Plus a very sweet cat?

You do. You so do. Get a Life, Chloe Brown starts when the titular Chloe is almost run-over by a drunk driver. Like, the car misses her by three feet. In the life-flashing-past-her-eyes moment she imagines the eulogy at her funeral, which boils down to she never did anything and possibly might have a more exciting life as a dead person. Ouch. So she decides to make some changes. First off: get her own place (family is great, but they might be contributing to the problem). Second: make a list of exciting tasks.

So Chloe moves into an apartment complex managed by Red Morgan who is sexy and fit, with gorgeous ginger hair, and Chloe is immediately attracted to him (he paints at night without his shirt on, not that Chloe is spying on him or anything….she totally isn’t! Ok, fine. She is.). But he apparently doesn’t like her. (Incorrect: he is very attracted to her, too, but his ex-girlfriend was a moneyed, emotionally abusive piece of trash and Chloe sounds like money, therefore, he thinks Chloe is not for him.) When Chloe tries to rescue a cat stuck in a tree – overexerting herself, which sets off her fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue – Red comes to her rescue. And they slowly start to learn about each other. Soon Red is helping Chloe with her list.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown is a wonderful one-sitting read!!!! I hadn’t got around to reading my galley when it came out in November but it was Valentine’s Day and Dani’s book comes out this summer so I plopped myself down and DEVOURED Chloe’s book. (It’s Red’s book, too, but you know.) It’s such a rom-com, with a great “meet-cute” and funny sisters and scenes that just make you smile with joy, but Hibbert makes her characters very real. Chloe has a “real” body, rather than an imagined ideal figure, with a physical illness that isn’t often represented in fiction and one that has contributed to the walls she has built around her heart. Red is an absolute sweetheart but he has been the victim of an abusive manipulator; his confidence and ability to trust has to be rebuilt and he starts figuring out how to do this as a result of his relationship with Chloe. They both make mistakes that require considerable acts of trust to overcome. That makes the resolution of their story that much sweeter.

Chloe and Red are funny and sexy and sweet and very honest and if someone doesn’t option this book to adapt it as a movie and fill it with sexy British people (and a cat) this timeline has no soul. I personally vote for Tom Hardy – sexy man who can play a bit of rough – and, although this wouldn’t work IRL because Chloe is in her late 20s (I think), Marianne Jean-Baptiste can deliver perfect sarcasm that would be spot-on for that character. Although I think Tom is too old, too, given Red’s age in the book so WHO KNOWS! DREAM CASTING FOR EVERYONE! (Also putting forward a vote for Letitia Wright to play Chloe’s youngest sister Eve, because she can totally pull that character off and then get her own love story in book/movie three.)

CW: description of mental abuse of a character in the past and its aftermath, but very well-handled

Dear FTC: I read my copy of this book on my Nook because I didn’t get to my galley before it expired.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Headliners by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #5)

47826382Summary from Goodreads:
Sparks fly when two feuding TV presenters are thrown together to host a live morning show in Lucy Parker’s latest enemies-to-lovers contemporary romance.

He might be the sexiest man in London, according to his fan site (which he definitely writes himself), but he’s also the most arrogant man she’s ever met.

She might have the longest legs he’s ever seen, but she also has the sharpest tongue.

For years, rival TV presenters Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have traded barbs on their respective shows. The public can’t get enough of their feud, but after Nick airs Sabrina’s family scandals to all of Britain, the gloves are off. They can barely be in the same room together—but these longtime enemies are about to become the unlikeliest of cohosts.

With their reputations on the rocks, Sabrina and Nick have one last chance to save their careers. If they can resurrect a sinking morning show, they’ll still have a future in television. But with ratings at an all-time low and a Christmas Eve deadline to win back the nation’s favor, the clock is ticking—and someone on their staff doesn’t want them to succeed.

Small mishaps on set start adding up, and Sabrina and Nick find themselves—quelle horreur—working together to hunt down the saboteur…and discovering they might have more in common than they thought. When a fiery encounter is caught on camera, the public is convinced that the reluctant cohosts are secretly lusting after one another.

The public might not be wrong.

Their chemistry has always been explosive, but with hate turning to love, the stakes are rising and everything is on the line. Neither is sure if they can trust these new feelings…or if they’ll still have a job in the New Year.

Now, if you haven’t read London Celebrities book 4, The Austen Playbook, you can read Headliners without it but I suggest you just go read it (and the rest of the series) because it’s really flipping good. And the big climax of that book leads directly into Sabs’ and Nick’s story here (you are hereby warned about spoilers…). 

Sabrina Carlton and Nick Davenport have been professional rivals and competitors for years with competing evening news shows. Their separate networks have recently combined in a merger – so there’s only one spot at the top. But Nick displayed questionable ethics and broke a massive story about Sabs’ family that ruined one of his closest friendships and almost cost her sister Freddy her career (The Austen Playbook), not to mention tanking Sabrina’s credit with the network. On top of that, Nick got caught on camera in a dressing room rant about the network’s shady new boss. So he’s doubly in the doghouse and what was going to be a professional dogfight is now a knives-out grudge-match. But they’re each given one more chance: work together to rehab the network’s flagging morning chat show in one month and maybe they won’t be out on their asses in the New Year. Nick and Sabrina have to make nice for the camera but then doing it for the camera leads to perhaps making nice IRL…and then something more (knitting is involved, it’s adorable). And when a saboteur starts causing strange accidents – a misprogrammed child’s toy, salt in the sugar in a baking segment, a rogue boom mike – Nick and Sabs are in a race against time to save their careers and find time to come together (SPARKS DO SOME FLYING, OH YEAH). 

Headliners is an absolutely smashing enemies-to-lovers contemporary. This is an excellent addition to books that rehab the “bad guy” (Devil in Winter, Duke of Sin, Loving Rose) except rather than a rakish nobleman who kidnapped the previous book’s heroine or tried to kill the hero the stakes are much more realistic. Nick is a reporter who made a very ill-considered decision with professional and personal consequences. The fallout cost him friendships and integrity. The incident was also connected to Sabs discovering her boyfriend had been cheating on her (again) while on air which contributed to her bad press. Parker really gets into how one has to adult up after making a such a huge mistake, how trust has to be rebuilt. 

It’s also another in a recent string of contemporaries where everyone refreshingly is an adult and has adult problems. Nick and Sabs, despite their seemingly glamorous television presenter jobs, get up every morning – too damn early for normal humans, in my opinion – and do the daily grind. They have family to deal with, former lovers, surprise job opportunities. They are eventually able to talk about what happened, about all the hurt that Nick’s decision caused. And, to top it off, when Sabs gets her period and rotten cramps and the whole nine yards, and needs supplies, Nick goes out and gets them for her from the store, no whining, no acting like an nincompoop about it. Seeing characters on the page who aren’t jerks about menstrual cycles is such a great step forward. (If you were wondering if the infamous Sadie Foster, instigator of all the problems in The Austen Playbook, is still around, you best read this book.)

The Austen Playbook is out today, January 20, in ebook formats! (Paperbacks are out next week.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and I bought a copy on my Nook.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell

50234293._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Be careful who you let in.

Soon after her twenty-fifth birthday, Libby Jones returns home from work to find the letter she’s been waiting for her entire life. She rips it open with one driving thought: I am finally going to know who I am.

She soon learns not only the identity of her birth parents, but also that she is the sole inheritor of their abandoned mansion on the banks of the Thames in London’s fashionable Chelsea neighborhood, worth millions. Everything in Libby’s life is about to change. But what she can’t possibly know is that others have been waiting for this day as well—and she is on a collision course to meet them.

Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

In The Family Upstairs, the master of “bone-chilling suspense” (People) brings us the can’t-look-away story of three entangled families living in a house with the darkest of secrets.

The Family Upstairs is fine. But it does some things that annoy me.
1) rotating narrators, two in 3rd person present and ONE in 1st person present who was clearly set up as the “unreliable” character and telegraphing a lot of what this character did in the 3rd person timelines.
2) too much foreshadowing; we know stuff is going to get bad/nuts because it’s a domestic thriller so ending almost every 1st person chapter with some sort of cliff-hanger or foreshadowing statement caused me to guess every, single plot twist about two chapters before it happened (I am Dido, I have read all the Agatha Christies).

It’s plotty and reads quickly. This was my first introduction to Lisa Jewell and it will probably be my last for some time.

Content warning: domestic abuse both in reference and on the page; reference to abuse of a cat; use of abortifacients (with a bonus combo of slipping it into someone’s food/drink)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss since I’m the book club leader at my store.

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.