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.

stuff I read

Inland by Téa Obreht

47878222Summary from Goodreads:
In the lawless, drought-ridden lands of the Arizona Territory in 1893, two extraordinary lives unfold. Nora is an unflinching frontierswoman awaiting the return of the men in her life–her husband, who has gone in search of water for the parched household, and her elder sons, who have vanished after an explosive argument. Nora is biding her time with her youngest son, who is convinced that a mysterious beast is stalking the land around their home.

Meanwhile, Lurie is a former outlaw and a man haunted by ghosts. He sees lost souls who want something from him, and he finds reprieve from their longing in an unexpected relationship that inspires a momentous expedition across the West. The way in which Lurie’s death-defying trek at last intersects with Nora’s plight is the surprise and suspense of this brilliant novel.

Mythical, lyrical, and sweeping in scope, Inland is grounded in true but little-known history. It showcases all of Téa Obreht’s talents as a writer, as she subverts and reimagines the myths of the American West, making them entirely–and unforgettably–her own.

I finally finished Inland, which I had to since I’m the book club leader tonight, but oof. Bit of a slog.

Téa Obreht’s lovely sentences saved this “novel” – which was comprised of two drastically different, cheaply foreshadowed, novellas that converged (finally) at the end of the book. In my opinion, she should have chosen either Nora’s story or Lurie’s story and developed an emotionally compelling, complete story. As it is, I found neither compelling. I would like to talk to her editor.

Content warning for racism toward non-white people on the page, particularly Native Americans (extremely to-period but it isn’t easy to read).

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book provided for the Book Club leader.

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.

stuff I read

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

47517597._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
In this bravura follow-up to the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning #1 New York Times bestseller The Underground Railroad , Colson Whitehead brilliantly dramatizes another strand of American history through the story of two boys sentenced to a hellish reform school in Jim Crow-era Florida.

As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown in segregated Tallahassee, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Abandoned by his parents, but kept on the straight and narrow by his grandmother, Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, whose mission statement says it provides “physical, intellectual and moral training” so the delinquent boys in their charge can become “honorable and honest men.”

In reality, The Nickel Academy is a grotesque chamber of horrors, where the sadistic staff beats and sexually abuses the students, corrupt officials and locals steal food and supplies, and any boy who resists is likely to disappear “out back.” Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.” His friend Turner thinks Elwood is worse than naive, that the world is crooked and the only way to survive is to scheme and avoid trouble.

The tension between Elwood’s ideals and Turner’s skepticism leads to a decision whose repercussions will echo down the decades. Formed in the crucible of the evils Jim Crow wrought, the boys’ fates will be determined by what they endured at The Nickel Academy.

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.

I was so excited when The Nickel Boys was announced because The Underground Railroad was one of the best books I read in 2016. So much is packed into this little book. Now, it didn’t wreck me like The Underground Railroad – I was a sobbing mess by the end of that book. The Nickel Boys was more quietly devastating. Whitehead didn’t pull his punches but instead slipped them around from behind. The violence doesn’t hit you in the face, it come from the side, stabs you in the back. I also thought a lot about Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us, currently streaming on Netflix, of all the years and opportunities schools and jails like the Nickel Academy steal from young black men.

Read for the Barnes and Noble Book Club – the best book they’ve picked for the program by far.

Dear FTC: I read an advance galley sent to my store for the book club discussion leader (me).

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wallflower Wager by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #3)

40972652Summary from Goodreads:
They call him the Duke of Ruin.

To an undaunted wallflower, he’s just the beast next door.

Wealthy and ruthless, Gabriel Duke clawed his way from the lowliest slums to the pinnacle of high society—and now he wants to get even.

Loyal and passionate, Lady Penelope Campion never met a lost or wounded creature she wouldn’t take into her home and her heart.

When her imposing—and attractive—new neighbor demands she clear out the rescued animals, Penny sets him a challenge. She will part with her precious charges, if he can find them loving homes.

Done, Gabriel says. How hard can it be to find homes for a few kittens?

And a two-legged dog.

And a foul-mouthed parrot.

And a goat, an otter, a hedgehog . . .

Easier said than done, for a cold-blooded bastard who wouldn’t know a loving home from a workhouse. Soon he’s covered in cat hair, knee-deep in adorable, and bewitched by a shyly pretty spinster who defies his every attempt to resist. Now she’s set her mind and heart on saving him.

Not if he ruins her first.

Hello, yes, new Tessa Dare book, with SO MUCH banter. I love it – banter between Penny and Gabe and, my favorite, banter between Gabe, Ash, and Chase in one scene that made me laugh so hard I almost fell out of my chair (there’s also a dirty-mouthed parrot and a clear homage to Mrs Danvers). But there’s also a darker side to this book, one where both Penny and Gabe have old wounds and scars that have to come to light. Penny is lovely and brave, a vegetarian and animal lover who cares for the creatures that no one seems to want. Gabe grew up poorer than poor and has made his own fortune as the Regency version of a real estate “flipper”, which makes him desired and reviled by the ton.

And there’s a tiny hook for Nicola’s book which, drat it all, I need it now!

A small content warning: there is childhood sexual abuse that is recounted at one point, it is not graphic, but may be a page or two to skip if that is triggering for you.

The Wallflower Wager is out today!!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian (The Turner Series #3.5)

43386064._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A seductive thief
Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is done with thieving—and cheating and stabbing and all the rest of it. She’s determined to keep her hands to herself, so she really shouldn’t be tempted to seduce her employer’s prim and proper companion, Alice. But how can she resist when Alice can’t seem to keep her eyes off Molly?
Finds her own heart
For the first time in her life, Alice Stapleton has absolutely nothing to do. The only thing that seems to occupy her thoughts is a lady’s maid with a sharp tongue and a beautiful mouth. Her determination to know Molly’s secrets has her behaving in ways she never imagined as she begins to fall for the impertinent woman.
Has been stolen
When an unwelcome specter from Alice’s past shows up unexpectedly at a house party, Molly volunteers to help the only way she knows how: with a little bit of mischief.

A Little Light Mischief is lovely but short even for a novella. Cat’s first historical f/f for Avon contains the story of Molly the streetwise housemaid (we’ve met her before) and Alice the cast-off vicar’s daughter. While on the way to an HEA without relationship miscommunication or reluctance to acknowledge love (I mean, so refreshing! No angst about being in love!) the two women show a couple of awful dudes where to get off (here for it). Love the cover.

A Little Light Mischief is out now in ebook!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean (The Bareknuckle Bastards #2)

40221961._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
The Lady’s Plan

When Lady Henrietta Sedley declares her twenty-ninth year her own, she has plans to inherit her father’s business, to make her own fortune, and to live her own life. But first, she intends to experience a taste of the pleasure she’ll forgo as a confirmed spinster. Everything is going perfectly…until she discovers the most beautiful man she’s ever seen tied up in her carriage and threatening to ruin the Year of Hattie before it’s even begun.

The Bastard’s Proposal

When he wakes in a carriage at Hattie’s feet, Whit, a king of Covent Garden known to all the world as Beast, can’t help but wonder about the strange woman who frees him—especially when he discovers she’s headed for a night of pleasure . . . on his turf. He is more than happy to offer Hattie all she desires…for a price.

An Unexpected Passion

Soon, Hattie and Whit find themselves rivals in business and pleasure. She won’t give up her plans; he won’t give up his power . . . and neither of them sees that if they’re not careful, they’ll have no choice but to give up everything . . . including their hearts.

Sarah MacLean is an auto-buy for me. Please to have, I will cram it into my brain immediately (which stinks for recommending books to people because I get to read the galley then have to remember every time I talk about it that it’s not out yet, gah). So, while I read this back in May on vacation, today is release day for a new book in the Bareknuckle Bastards series, Brazen and the BeastHuzzah!

Here’s what you need to know. Hattie, who is quite good at the family business but gets relegated to the side because “female,” decides that for her twenty-ninth year she’s just going to prove that she’s meant to inherit the family business instead of her twerpy brother rather than just get married and pop out babies. First order of business: enlist carriage-driving bestie Nora to drive her to a lady-catering brother to rid herself of her v-card. Problem: there’s a very attractive, unconscious man tied up in the carriage they need to use.

That’s Beast. He can throw knives. Is very dangerous. Of course you know how this is going to go.

Turns out Hattie’s brother Auggie is mixed up in bad (read: likely to get him killed) business dealings and has got himself on the wrong side of the Bareknuckle Bastards. Beast wants retribution for hurts to himself, both personal and business-wise. Hattie won’t give up her brother, but wants to make Beast a deal. And what a deal they make….*fans self*. Lurking at the edges of this love story is the darker tale of Beast’s childhood, shared with Devil and Grace, and the third brother Ewan who wants Grace back at any cost.

I didn’t think it would be possible to make a better hero and heroine couple than Pippa and Cross but omg Hattie and Beast. The climax of this book was amazing. I also really appreciate how Sarah has seeded in some more of Ewan and Grace’s history – enough to understand some of what happened – but left the complete tale for the third book.

Things I require post-haste:
1. Sesily’s story. OMG she’s been waiting forever.
2. Nik and Nora need their own damn book (spoiler, sorrrrryyyyy, but it’s so adorable). Also, Nora is such a great bestie.

Brazen and the Beast is out today!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss. Also, it’s been preordered on my nook since forever.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Vexations by Caitlin Horrocks

42283234Summary from Goodreads:
A kaleidoscopic debut novel about love, family, genius, and the madness of art, circling the life of eccentric composer Erik Satie and La Belle Époque Paris, from a writer who is “wildly entertaining” (San Francisco Chronicle), “startlingly ingenious” (Boston Globe), and “impressively sharp” (New York Times Book Review).

Erik Satie begins life with every possible advantage. But after the dual blows of his mother’s early death and his father’s breakdown upend his childhood, Erik and his younger siblings — Louise and Conrad — are scattered. Later, as an ambitious young composer, Erik flings himself into the Parisian art scene, aiming for greatness but achieving only notoriety.
As the years, then decades, pass, he alienates those in his circle as often as he inspires them, lashing out at friends and lovers like Claude Debussy and Suzanne Valadon. Only Louise and Conrad are steadfast allies. Together they strive to maintain their faith in their brother’s talent and hold fast the badly frayed threads of family. But in a journey that will take her from Normandy to Paris to Argentina, Louise is rocked by a severe loss that ultimately forces her into a reckoning with how Erik — obsessed with his art and hungry for fame — will never be the brother she’s wished for.
With her buoyant, vivid reimagination of an iconic artist’s eventful life, Caitlin Horrocks has written a captivating and ceaselessly entertaining novel about the tenacious bonds of family and the costs of greatness, both to ourselves and to those we love.

The Vexations is a very intimate novel about the life of Erik Satie and his sister, brother, and two friends who knew him well. The writing is beautiful, particularly in those chapters from Satie’s perspective talking about “touch” or music, and Horrocks described the Montmartre that Satie inhabited so well. The chapters from his sister Louise’s perspective are interesting. These chapters are the only ones told using a first-person narrator; all others, including Satie’s chapters, are told using a close third person perspective. I think I figured out why the author made that choice – Louise outlives every else involved in Satie’s life – but I don’t quite think it was needed. I would also argue that while Satie is the focus of the novel, as a man writing music that needed the world to catch up to him, Louise is as important a character. She brings to life a woman who was a talented pianist, who may have blossomed given the instruction and encouragement that Erik is given (that he rejects), but is instead relegated to the roles of mother, widow, and then branded an unfit mother by the French legal system and a greedy brother-in-law.

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