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

My Fake Rake by Eva Leigh (The Union of the Rakes #1)

42872108Summary from Goodreads:
In the first book in Eva Leigh’s new Union of the Rakes series, a bluestocking hires a faux suitor to help her land an ideal husband only to be blindsided by real desire…

Lady Grace Wyatt is content as a wallflower, focusing on scientific pursuits rather than the complications of society matches. But when a handsome, celebrated naturalist returns from abroad, Grace wishes, for once, to be noticed. Her solution: to “build” the perfect man, who will court her publicly and help her catch his eye. Grace’s colleague, anthropologist Sebastian Holloway, is just the blank slate she requires.

In exchange for funding his passage on an expedition leaving London in a few months, Sebastian allows Grace to transform him from a bespectacled, bookish academic into a dashing—albeit fake—rake. Between secret lessons on how to be a rogue and exaggerated public flirtations, Grace’s feelings for Sebastian grow from friendship into undeniable, inconvenient, real attraction. If only she hadn’t hired him to help her marry someone else…

Sebastian is in love with brilliant, beautiful Grace, but their bargain is complete, and she desires another. Yet when he’s faced with losing her forever, Sebastian will do whatever it takes to tell her the truth, even if it means risking his own future—and his heart.

I missed a few of Eva Leigh’s recent releases so I perked up when I heard that she had a new series starting – The Union of the Rakes. (omg, what) My Fake Rake is the first offering and it has one of my favorite tropes – friends to lovers! – AND the hero and heroine are total library nerds. Oh, my research dork babies. How I love them.

SO.

My Fake Rake is a reverse My Fair Lady plot, with a few nods to Pretty Woman thrown in for good measure (ahhh, the boat scene at the end! No spoilers!). Herpetologist Lady Grace Wyatt has had a long-standing, unrequited crush on a famous naturalist. When the wandering gent returns to Town, he mentions in passing to Grace (omg, he doesn’t deserve her, what a dense twerp) that he is in the market for a wife before he leaves on his expedition to Greenland in about a month. Grace is determined to make the drip notice her so she enlists her friend Sebastian, a bespectacled social scientist with social anxiety, to help her. And, what is the best way to get a guy to notice you? Get courted by a sexy rake, of course!

Cue what is the funniest thing I have read in forever: Grace and Sebastian do library research in forty year old conduct books to make Sebastian over into a rake. It is hi-larious. Luckily, Sebastian’s best friend from school is the Duke of Rotherby, the rakiest rake to ever rake, who catches them trying out some (ill-advised) rake-moves and saves them from embarrassing themselves. It’s delicious.

There is a wrinkle in the plan: Sebastian has been nursing an unrequited love for Grace. But he won’t ruin his friendship by getting in the way of Grace’s goals. But then Grace suddenly sees Sebastian in a new light as Rotherby’s Rake Lessons progress (the “goodness he’s hot without his spectacles” scene *sigh*). She, also, doesn’t want to ruin their friendship. The tension. You can cut it with a knife.

I love this book so much. Leigh really presents how fear of rejection and fear that you’ll ruin your best relationship can derail the best laid plans. Leigh also cleverly seeded in little bits of the other four heroes in this series – The Union of the Rakes – and I would like the rest of the books now please. (If you are not a Prologue reader, you will want to read this Prologue because it is a real Prologue, not just a mislabeled Chapter 1.)

My Fake Rake is out today, November 26!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and you can bet I pre-ordered this on my Nook immediately after finishing it.

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.