mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Daring Arrangement and A Scandalous Deal by Joanna Shupe (The Four Hundred #1 and #2)

33783452Summary from Goodreads:
Set in New York City’s Gilded Age, Joanna Shupe’s Avon debut introduces an English beauty with a wicked scheme to win the man she loves—and the American scoundrel who ruins her best laid plans…

Lady Honora Parker must get engaged as soon as possible, and only a particular type of man will do. Nora seeks a mate so abhorrent, so completely unacceptable, that her father will reject the match—leaving her free to marry the artist she desires. Who then is the most appalling man in Manhattan? The wealthy, devilishly handsome financier, Julius Hatcher, of course….

Julius is intrigued by Nora’s ruse and decides to play along. But to Nora’s horror, Julius transforms himself into the perfect fiancé, charming the very people she hoped he would offend. It seems Julius has a secret plan all his own—one that will solve a dark mystery from his past, and perhaps turn him into the kind of man Nora could truly love.

35068754Summary from Goodreads:
Joanna Shupe returns with another unforgettable novel set in the glittering world of New York City’s Gilded Age…

They call her Lady Unlucky…

With three dead fiancés, Lady Eva Hyde has positively no luck when it comes to love. She sets sail for New York City, determined that nothing will deter her dream of becoming an architect, certainly not an unexpected passionate shipboard encounter with a mysterious stranger. But Eva’s misfortune strikes once more when she discovers the stranger who swept her off her feet is none other than her new employer.

Or is it Lady Irresistible?

Phillip Mansfield reluctantly agrees to let the fiery Lady Eva oversee his luxury hotel project while vowing to keep their relationship strictly professional. Yet Eva is more capable—and more alluring—than Phillip first thought, and he cannot keep from drawing up a plan of his own to seduce her.

When a series of onsite “accidents” makes it clear someone wants Lady Unlucky to earn her nickname, Phillip discovers he’s willing to do anything to protect her—even if it requires A SCANDALOUS DEAL.

This will be a two-for-one review. I didn’t make it to A Daring Arrangement before the galley expired, so I let it slide for a little bit.  But now that the release date has come for book 2, A Scandalous Deal, I needed to catch up on everyone.

Joanna Shupe’s  Avon debut, The Four Hundred series, is a lovely entry in the historical genre, especially given that Gilded Age novels set in New York City and environs are not thick upon the ground. If you really like Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence  but maybe want more romance/a happier ending, definitely give them a try.

I liked A Daring Arrangement a lot, although it wasn’t a total slam dunk for me. There’s a later plot point that I guessed easily (which is kind of a spoiler) but I wasn’t quite sure that the story earned. This is a “get an outrageous fake fiancé to annoy daddy enough to let you wed the unsuitable artist fiancé” plot and we all know where that leads.  If the “fake engagement” trope is your kryptonite, this is for you. Hatcher is an interesting character, as the self-made man trying to out-do the Old Money crowd.

I liked A Scandalous Deal a bit more. Partly because of Eva, struggling to be recognized for her work in what was (and is still) a very male profession, but also because Shupe pushes a bit more into how women were treated at the time of the Gilded Age.  There is a secondary character who is at risk of being committed to an asylum because she doesn’t conform (I know we all laugh about that meme going around with reasons women got committed but that was a real thing). Phillip is interesting because he is very Alpha Male who then has to learn to be a Beta at times for Eva. (I also think he looks like Matthew Macfadyen so I’m down with it.)

Dear FTC: I read book 1 on my nook and book 2 as a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss.

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Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian (Regency Impostors, #1)

35270780Summary from Goodreads:
The one you love…
Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.
May not be who you think…
Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.
But is who you need…
When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

Thus far in her writing career at Avon, Cat Sebastian has created four compelling, smart m/m romances. For her fifth book, she hit us with a surprise: her new couple was not comprised of two gay men.

Unmasked by the Marquess begins as the stodgy, grouchy, and very proper Marquess of Pembroke – whose father was rather notorious in his gambling and womanizing ways – is called upon by a complete stranger to grant a favor. The young Mr. Robert Selby has a very pretty younger sister in need of a good launch into Society and could Pembroke, as a very respectable member of the aristocracy, perhaps pay her some notice? Other gentlemen (i.e. of the titled, moneyed kind) would then notice Louisa and she would then be able to make a very good match. After a bit of back and forth – and a fortuitously loose bonnet ribbon – Pembroke agrees to the request and also becomes a bit interested in the bold young man who orchestrated the whole thing.

The rather interesting wrinkle in this relationship is that Mr. Selby is not a “mister” nor perhaps a “Selby” – he is Charity Church, an orphan raised as a maid, but who was sent off to Cambridge to receive a first-rate education under the guise of “Robert Selby” at the behest of her master, the real Robert Selby. The problem facing Charity now is that Robert Selby died unexpectedly of the influenza leaving behind Charity-as-Robert and a very (very) pretty sister Louisa and not very much money, since the estate will now pass to a cousin. So Charity and Lou concealed Selby’s death and have gone on as “Robert” and Louisa for the last two years while concocting this plan to get Louisa a husband to provide for her.

But Pembroke isn’t a fool, nor is he as straight-laced as he seems. When his aimless younger brother takes an interest in Louisa, and Pembroke becomes interested in Selby as more than just a friend, Pembroke begins to investigate a few cracks in Selby’s story. And he blows Charity’s secrets wide open.

img_9600Unmasked by the Marquess is an amazing, smart romance novel about an intelligent, genderfluid/nonbinary person and a bisexual aristocrat in the Regency period. The characters are funny and charming but so heartfelt and ready to walk right off the page. It is also a novel with a lot of consider about gender performance versus sexual preference. In Sebastian’s “Author Note” she provides more than enough historical context for anyone who needed proof that non-binary people could exist in the Regency (they’ve always existed, which is the point, and existed throughout history often at great risk to their lives). Charity, later renamed Robin in the book since she is neither a “Charity” nor a “Robert,” uses female pronouns, a choice Sebastian made and one that makes sense to me, but really creates a place for herself to exist in the world that is not “male” or “female” but rather in-between or both.

Pembroke really grows with Robin as he realizes that, first of all, he’s been a right bastard to his half-sisters because of his father issues, and second, if you have money and privilege the rest of Society will either get behind you or will stay out of your way. In this way, Pembroke is the polar opposite of Dain from Loretta Chase’s Lord of Scoundrels. Dain starts out as the most hedonistic, “wicked” aristocrat, able to do whatever he likes because of his immense wealth and rank, who becomes less of a prickly jackass once he finds a woman more than capable of dealing with his bullshit (spoiler: she shoots him). Pembroke is the stuffiest of Stuffy, Uptight, British Males until Robin comes along and makes him realize that he denies himself a lot of joy and happiness in the pursuit of “respectability.” (Richard Armitage is now Pembroke, I accept this headcanon. I’ve got three words for you: North and South.)

So, a smart genderfluid ex-maidservant + a bisexual stuffy marquess + Regency + secrets + hijinks = Cat Sebastian upping her game. I loved it so much. Y’all will want to read this immediately. It’s out now, by the way.

I do have to say, though, a petition is needed to have Avon get Cat Sebastian better covers. The general design is fine but they need to look less like student Photoshop projects. (Like, is Pembroke missing a thumb here?) And if you look up her next book on Goodreads, the cover shown there looks very much like two dudes pasted together from different stock photos. (Although, I need the text of that book in my eyeballs immediately because I do so want a cinnamon roll publican and bored socialite – whatever the male version of socialite is – heist m/m romance novel like yesterday.) Her books are selling, so spend a little more money on the actual art.

Dear FTC: I read the digital galley of this book and immediately pre-ordered it on my nook.

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

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry (Regency Reimagined #1)

20418278Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on . . .

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with . . .

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet . . .

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

So Jenn on Get Booked recommended Bound to be a Groom in response to a listener who wanted to expand their romance sub-genre reading and I was like, “huh, well, I will check this out” (plus it’s only like $3 on ebook, so even if it was a dud it was fine). This is a pretty ok book, though I found the story a bit too thin in places for my taste and the characters flat outside of their bedroom activities. So it falls more on the erotica side (plot serves the sex scenes) verses romance (sex scenes serve the plot). I think ménage romances/erotica are not for me? There are too many moving parts (haha, #sorrynotsorry) to keep track of, especially once three expanded to four. Not ruling the whole sub-genre out completely, but probably not moving up the preference ladder. Mulry does write the sex scenes well, so that is a plus if this is your thing.

Dear FTC: I read the copy I bought for my nook.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #5)

34848198Summary from Goodreads:
Edith Drummond owes her life to Niels Buchanan and his brothers. Waking after an illness to a castle overrun by rugged Highlanders is disconcerting, but so is learning that she’s slowly being poisoned. Niels insists on staying by her side, and Edith soon discovers that even more dangerous is her wild attraction to the fierce warrior.

Niels has never met a more courageous—or enticing—woman than Lady Edith. The idea of such a bonny lass being forced to enter a nunnery is more than any red-blooded Scotsman could bear. He’ll gladly marry her himself. But while sweeping her off her feet is easy, it’ll take all his skill to defeat her family’s relentless enemies, and convince her to surrender to his sweet embrace.

Lynsay Sands’s Scottish romances are ridiculous, and silly, and occasionally frustrating and impossible for me to quit. The last outing in her Highlanders series was a bit of a disappointment, so I was hoping Surrender to the Highlander would be a course correction. And I did like Edith’s and Niels’s romance quite a lot. So often in a Sands romance there’s a danger to the heroine and the hero restricts her activities to the extreme and then she goes and does something stupid out of frustration. *cue eyeroll* But with Surrender to the Highlander Edith and Neils actually discuss plans of action. Edith is treated like a smart person (which she is) who knows the castle and its people better than any of the Buchanans; Neils insists on many guards, but even though they get underfoot, Edith goes along with it because she’d really prefer not to be deceased. If you’ve read a lot of Sands, then the murder poison plot feels a bit rehashed but oh well. Sands could use an editor for the language (if you take the time to pepper in “ken” and “sgian-dubh” you can do the research for a suitable Scots epithet instead of “ai yi yi”). There is one scene where Edith asks the maid how to please Neils, because she’d like to return the favor (if you know what I mean), and gets some VERY TERRIBLE BUT FUNNY advice.

I am glad to see the next book coming is for Aulay (finally) then perhaps one for Rory, since he’s actually expressed that he’d like to fall in love compared to the remaining single-guys-get-all-the-ladies attitudes of the younger brothers. Bad news for the cover designer though – tartans are the same color in one family (Dougall’s cover had a blue-ish tartan, this one is red, and Aulay’s is green for the next one – they’re all brothers).

Surrender to the Highlander is out Tuesday January 30.

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

The ending was an interesting one, but after sitting with it for a while I have a bit of a quibble. I’ll put it behind a Read More tag (trigger warning for discussion of rape and suicide).

(ETA: well, beans, I guess the Read More only works if you’re on the blog’s main page, not the post itself, so feel free to stop reading here if you wish.) Continue reading “Surrender to the Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highlander #5)”

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #1)

S35230501ummary from Goodreads:
“Sebastian proves she is a new force to be reckoned with in historical romances.”–Booklist

Some of Ben Sedgwick’s favorite things:
Helping his poor parishioners
Baby animals
Shamelessly flirting with the handsome Captain Phillip Dacre

After an unconventional upbringing, Ben is perfectly content with the quiet, predictable life of a country vicar, free of strife or turmoil. When he’s asked to look after an absent naval captain’s three wild children, he reluctantly agrees, but instantly falls for the hellions. And when their stern but gloriously handsome father arrives, Ben is tempted in ways that make him doubt everything.

Some of Phillip Dacre’s favorite things:
His ship
People doing precisely as they’re told
Touching the irresistible vicar at every opportunity

Phillip can’t wait to leave England’s shores and be back on his ship, away from the grief that haunts him. But his children have driven off a succession of governesses and tutors and he must set things right. The unexpected presence of the cheerful, adorable vicar sets his world on its head and now he can’t seem to live without Ben’s winning smiles or devastating kisses.

In the midst of runaway children, a plot to blackmail Ben’s family, and torturous nights of pleasure, Ben and Phillip must decide if a safe life is worth losing the one thing that makes them come alive.

Out today! Cat Sebastian kicks off her new Seducing the Sedgwicks series with It Takes Two to Tumble.

This is a charming m/m Regency loosely based off the Maria/Captain von Trapp relationship in The Sound of Music (no Nazis or whistles, thankfully). Ben is the cheerful, dedicated-to-the-parish vicar and Philip is a stern sea captain returning to his home after two years (his wife has died while he was away and his three children are running wild). Their story is sweet and loving (and I think Ben looks like James Norton from Grantchester). Sebastian sets up future books in the series well.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke by Maya Rodale (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #4)

33783879Summary from Goodreads:
In the fourth novel of Maya Rodale’s tantalizing series, a newly minted duke spends one night with his perfect woman…but can he win her for a lifetime

Some Mistakes…

When American-born James Cavendish arrives in London tomorrow, he’ll become the Duke of Durham. Some might be ecstatic at the opportunity. Not James. He’s a simple man, fond of simple pleasures. And right now, nothing could be more pleasurable than spending his last night of freedom with a beautiful stranger.

Are Far Too Good…

One wild night, Meredith Green, companion to the dowager Duchess of Durham, said yes to a man she thought she’d never see again. Suddenly, they’re living under the same roof, where Meredith is expected to teach James how to be a duke—while trying not to surrender to temptation a second time.

To Be Forgotten

For a duke and a commoner, marriage would be pure scandal. Yet nothing has ever felt as right as having Meredith in his arms…and in his bed. Soon he must choose—between a duty he never desired, and a woman he longs for, body and soul…

I liked the first book in this series, Lady Bridget’s Diary, because I loved the layering of the retellings of Pride and Prejudice and Bridget Jones’s Diary (it was like 16 walls of meta-fiction, I loved it).  I was also intrigued by the idea of the series in general: the four books will take place more-or-less simultaneously over the same time period. Now, I haven’t read the second and third books in the series – I just didn’t get to them – so I thought that I’d squash down my “but it’s out of series order” objections and read It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke because it’s a holiday weekend and new romance galley and blah blah blah.

However, even with the intervening time since reading book one, the structure of the book felt repetitive. I’d seen the same drawing room scenes already. I knew when Bridget fell on her butt, or Claire went to the boxing match, or Amelia ran away for the day or that James danced twice with Meredith. I don’t know if I would have even made it to book four had I read two or three as well – we don’t see enough plot outside what has appeared in previous books.  Which is a shame, because I really liked Meredith as a character. The prologue between Meredith and James was very good, and set up their relationship nicely but it pottered along until we got to the expected conclusion (which I’d guessed long before, because it is an expected historical plot twist) with no surprises in between. A good romance, but I wanted more spark.

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

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Wilde in Love by Eloisa James (The Wildes of Lindow Castle #1)

34121896Summary from Goodreads:
Lord Alaric Wilde, son of the Duke of Lindow, is the most celebrated man in England, revered for his dangerous adventures and rakish good looks. Arriving home from years abroad, he has no idea of his own celebrity until his boat is met by mobs of screaming ladies. Alaric escapes to his father’s castle, but just as he grasps that he’s not only famous but notorious, he encounters the very private, very witty, Miss Willa Ffynche.

Willa presents the façade of a serene young lady to the world. Her love of books and bawdy jokes is purely for the delight of her intimate friends. She wants nothing to do with a man whose private life is splashed over every newspaper.

Alaric has never met a woman he wanted for his own . . . until he meets Willa. He’s never lost a battle.

But a spirited woman like Willa isn’t going to make it easy. . . .

The first book in Eloisa James’s dazzling new series set in the Georgian period glows with her trademark wit and sexy charm—and introduces a large, eccentric family. Readers will love the Wildes of Lindow Castle!

Eloisa James, who is basically the romance writer that got me back into reading romance with A Kiss at Midnight, has a new series!  Cue the confetti cannons!  She’s going back to the Georgian era of her Desperate Duchesses series and focusing on the romantic exploits of a single family: the Wildes, headed by the Duke of Lindow, who live in Lindow Castle on the edge of a bog.  The series doesn’t start with the Duke (more on him later).  It starts with the third son, Alaric.

Now, Alaric has become famous – infamous, really – as a globe-trotting explorer, sending back accounts of the people and places he’s seen.  There are books and broadsides and a play (which has all the worst parts of cheap Georgian melodrama) detailing his exploits. And maybe some of those exploits were embellished by someone other than Alaric?  And miniatures, that women buy and swoon over. When Alaric arrives back in England after an absence of five years he finds a horde of women ready and willing to be his next “wilde” adventure. (To use a “wilde”-ly anachronistic twenty-first century comparison, the ladies are into Alaric as if he were all the members of 1-D rolled into one.)

Except Willa. When Alaric meets Willa at his father’s castle – where a party has gathered to celebrate his older brother North’s engagement (North is something else, more on him a bit later, too) – he is immediately intrigued by the only woman in the room who isn’t trying to get into his breeches. Plus she’s a sharply intelligent women. And she has a love of good books and dirty jokes. When an emotionally disturbed young woman appears claiming to be Alaric’s long-lost would-have-been fiancée from a Christian mission in Africa, Willa agrees to be Alaric’s pretend fiancée to spike the girl’s guns. And we allllll know how long “pretend” engagements remain pretend….

It’s always so, so much fun to start a new romance series. This one has many of my favorite elements (Georgians, smart ladies, fashion, cute pets…although I feel bereft that my favorite fashionable Duke, Villiers from Desperate Duchesses, doesn’t even get a mention, le sigh, but I do agree with Eloisa that Villiers tends to just take over any narrative you allow him into). Willa and Alaric have a slow-burn romance, the kind that makes them friends first and lovers after. I love it. Eloisa James’s romances are high on my list of favorites, not just for the couples, but because they’re all so meta-textual. I enjoy the puzzles Eloisa leaves her readers with references to other books, whether within that time period or not. She also gives us excellent B-plots – North and his betrothed Diana present a unique problem of their own (and a cliff-hanger!).

I said that I would get back to the Duke of Lindow later. Actual warm, affectionate, live fathers in romance are rare (possibly rarer than mothers who aren’t terrible or dead) and the Duke is a wonderful addition to this book. There’s a scene late in the book between Alaric and his father that is just so warm and wonderful. You can also get the Duke’s romance with his third wife, Ophelia, in parts when you submit proof of your pre-order for books in the series (details are on Eloisa’s website).

(And check out the cutie on the cover!)

Wilde in Love is out Tuesday, October 31! (Just a few days!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss and I have a copy pre-ordered on my Nook.

mini-review · Readathon · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Blood of the Dawn by Claudia Salazar Jiménez (transl. Elizabeth Bryer)

29633622Summary from Goodreads:
Blood of the Dawn follows three women whose lives intertwine and are ripped apart during what’s known as “the time of fear” in Peruvian history when the Shining Path militant insurgency was at its peak. The novel rewrites the conflict through the voice of women, activating memory through a mixture of politics, desire, and pain in a lucid and brutal prose.

Claudia Salazar Jiménez (b. 1975, Lima, Peru), critic, scholar, and author, founded PERUFEST, the first Peruvian film festival in New York, where she lives, and won the 2014 Americas Narrative Prize for her debut novel, Blood of the Dawn.

Blood of the Dawn came across my radar when Amanda recommended it on a recent episode of All the Books.  So I picked it up at the library and put it in my readathon stack. And it is an absolutely heartbreaking and stunning short novel set during the time of the Shining Path insurgency told through the voices of three women: a revolutionary true-believer, a Quechua villager, and an upper-class reporter/photographer. Brutal, pain-soaked, and surreal.

TW for rape, which is an unavoidable event during this period in Peru and used against women on both sides of the conflict, and other brutality.