mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

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

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

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

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

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

When the Marquess Was Mine is out today!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Right Swipe by Alisha Rai (Modern Love #1)

39863092Summary from Goodreads:
Alisha Rai returns with the first book in her sizzling new Modern Love series, in which two rival dating app creators find themselves at odds in the boardroom but in sync in the bedroom.

Rhiannon Hunter may have revolutionized romance in the digital world, but in real life she only swipes right on her career—and the occasional hookup. The cynical dating app creator controls her love life with a few key rules:
– Nude pics are by invitation only
– If someone stands you up, block them with extreme prejudice
– Protect your heart
Only there aren’t any rules to govern her attraction to her newest match, former pro-football player Samson Lima. The sexy and seemingly sweet hunk woos her one magical night… and disappears.

Rhi thought she’d buried her hurt over Samson ghosting her, until he suddenly surfaces months later, still big, still beautiful—and in league with a business rival. He says he won’t fumble their second chance, but she’s wary. A temporary physical partnership is one thing, but a merger of hearts? Surely that’s too high a risk…

Coming off of Rai’s Forbidden Hearts series, I was ready for some angsty, dating sexytimes in the new Modern Love series. However, Rai changed up the dynamics of this book.

Rhiannon (sister to Gabe from Hurts to Love You) has launched her dating app and is gearing up to acquire an old-school rival matchmaking service. However, their new spokesman? A hookup who ghosted her for their second date. Nerp! She’s been scalded by toxic dudes before. Blocked!

Samson didn’t mean to ghost his sexy, intriguing match but a family emergency happened – by the time Samson remembered his date he’d been blocked. Plus, it turns out she didn’t even use her own name! They’re thrown together by chance in a live interview at an industry event and have to make nice for the camera. Once Rhiannon and Samson clear the air, Rhiannon still wants to acquire his aunt’s matchmaking company and Samson needs help actually using a dating service for work purposes. So they agree to a series of advice-giving “dates” under the guise of helping Samson navigate the dating scene.

And, oh yes, there’s still a spark. A great, big, forest fire-level spark.

The Right Swipe is a second-chance, slow-burn-but-very-hot romance between Rhiannon and Samson. They are two capable professionals approaching 40 so if you like competence *pr0n* (it me!!!), get yourselves this book. I was 100% here for the emotional work the couple does to overcome their own baggage because it’s baggage that we all have: how do you trust again, how do you navigate a C-level position with the unrealistic expectations we put on women at that level, how do you make a life after walking away from something you love. Rai also has excellent commentary on the effect of the #metoo movement and the CTE controversy in professional sports. This is also an incredibly diverse romance – almost all major characters are people of color – and you’ll get some serious style envy from Rhiannon’s personal assistant Lakshmi, who is a serious fashionista and makeup genius. (I’ve already asked Rai if Lakshmi is going to meet Sadia’s Influencer sister….apparently maybe, but not as a couple?)

The Right Swipe is out today!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and bought it on my nook.

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.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory (The Wedding Date #3)

42599067Summary from Goodreads:
Maddie and Theo have two things in common:

1. Alexa is their best friend
2. They hate each other

After an “oops, we made a mistake” night together, neither one can stop thinking about the other. With Alexa’s wedding rapidly approaching, Maddie and Theo both share bridal party responsibilities that require more interaction with each other than they’re comfortable with. Underneath the sharp barbs they toss at each other is a simmering attraction that won’t fade. It builds until they find themselves sneaking off together to release some tension when Alexa isn’t looking.

But as with any engagement with a nemesis, there are unspoken rules that must be abided by. First and foremost, don’t fall in love.

Now you know why I had to get The Proposal finished ASAP – The Wedding Party galleys went live! LOL.

We met Maddie (Alexa’s best friend) and Theo (Alexa’s work husband) in The Wedding Date and they don’t like each other, even though they’re Alexa’s attendants at her wedding. It’s bit Pride and Prejudice – Theo thinks being a stylist is a waste, Maddie thinks Theo is a stuck-up snob. They have a little one-night stand at the beginning of The Wedding Party – and intend to never speak of it again – but since they have to interact because of “bridal party” duties they keep finding themselves alone together. Soon, Maddie and Theo are hanging out (I had a really bad pun here but I am going to spare you) outside of wedding duties.

4 stars overall: The beginning of the book felt rushed but I liked how Theo and Maddie found themselves caught in the trap of “we said this was a fling but how do we admit this is more” because God forbid you show anyone your softer bits or give ground first. I loved Maddie’s idea of creating a way to help low income women with style tips was aces and how she remembered what her mother went through as a single parent without a large income or support. I read this book while I was on vacation in San Francisco – it was really neat to be able to put the geography from the book together with the real streets and neighborhoods (and the climate – even though it was late May it sure as heck wasn’t very warm at night!).

5 great big stars for Alexa: She makes a big appearance here as Maddie and Theo’s bestie (and sets up the “I love you” scene SO WELL) and I ❤️ her.

Now, if having a great story for Maddie isn’t enough, Maddie’s awesome mom Vivian is going to get her own HEA in November! Christmas romance! In England! Royals!

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

40514431Summary from Goodreads:
In a small town in Maine, recently widowed Eveleth “Evvie” Drake rarely leaves her house. Everyone in town, including her best friend, Andy, thinks grief keeps her locked inside, and she doesn’t correct them. In New York, Dean Tenney, former major-league pitcher and Andy’s childhood friend, is struggling with a case of the “yips”: he can’t throw straight anymore, and he can’t figure out why. An invitation from Andy to stay in Maine for a few months seems like the perfect chance to hit the reset button.

When Dean moves into an apartment at the back of Evvie’s house, the two make a deal: Dean won’t ask about Evvie’s late husband, and Evvie won’t ask about Dean’s baseball career. Rules, though, have a funny way of being broken–and what starts as an unexpected friendship soon turns into something more. But before they can find out what might lie ahead, they’ll have to wrestle a few demons: the bonds they’ve broken, the plans they’ve changed, and the secrets they’ve kept. They’ll need a lot of help, but in life, as in baseball, there’s always a chance–right up until the last out.

Evvie Drake Starts Over opens as the titular Evvie is getting ready to leave the house – and her husband. She’s saved up some money and loaded her luggage into the car. All she has to do is get in, start the motor, and leave. But then the phone rings. Her husband has been in an accident, she needs to come to the hospital immediately.

One year later, Evvie is performing the role of grieving widow – she is stuck in her house she shared with her now-deceased husband in the same small Maine town and unable to process either grief or guilt at the idea of telling anyone she was actually in the process of leaving her husband. Even her best friend has no idea. But she’s in financial straights with the expense of the house. When Andy suggests renting the mother-in-law apartment to a friend of his who needs some quiet time, Evvie agrees.

Dean Tenney got “the yips” and it ended his career as a major league pitcher. The media frenzy just makes everything worse. So he could definitely use a quiet place to try and figure out some next steps. He and Evvie develop a tentative friendship – with some rules about what kinds of questions or topics that must be avoided – and start to develop something much deeper…but they each have to deal with their own baggage, secrets, and broken dreams first.

Evvie Drake is For the Love of the Game and Catch and Release and a good cry all rolled into one. This a story that starts in a bad life place for two people and lets them work through all their stuff over the course of a year. And boy-howdy do they have STUFF. We find out why Evvie was going to leave her husband and why it was such a risky step for her; she also has to grieve for the man she used to love, even if that love has been gone for years. Dean has to learn to grieve for a dream career that he may not be able to return to. Evvie and Andy have to renegotiate their friendship when he starts a serious romantic relationship (we have all been there when a Best Friend gets a romantic partner and suddenly is no longer available to us). You just want to cheer and sigh (because that is the finishing touch for a romance right there, the HEA sigh) for Evvie and Dean. This is Linda’s first novel and I sincerely hope it won’t be her last. (I’ve been a Linda stan for years, ever since she was writing for Television Without Pity).

Evvie Drake Starts Over is out today!!!! Go get a copy of this book that is perfectly made for summer reading.

Dear FTC: I begged/borrowed/stole my way into a digital galley (jk, no stealing) and I’m picking up a hardcover copy today.

Austenesque · stuff I read

Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

43124133Summary from Goodreads:
A modern-day Muslim Pride and Prejudice for a new generation of love.

Ayesha Shamsi has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and the unsettling new gossip she hears about his family. Looking into the rumors, she finds she has to deal with not only what she discovers about Khalid, but also the truth she realizes about herself.

I’d been hearing about Ayesha at Last since it published in Canada last year – a Pride and Prejudice retelling set in a Toronto Muslim community.

SOLD. Where could I buy this? (Ugh, I had to wait until it got picked up in the US and then read a galley.)

Poet Ayesha (our Lizzie Bennet character) is working as a substitute high school teacher in order to repay her uncle for saving her family/paying for school after they were forced to emigrate to Canada when her reported father was killed in India. She gets roped into helping plan a youth meeting at the local Muslim community center, first to assist her cousin Hafsa (the Lydia character) and then to pretend to be Hafsa when Hafsa clearly has other (read: non-boring and more likely to lead to a financially lucrative marriage) things to do. Computer programmer Khalid (come through, Fitzwilliam Darcy) is under a lot of pressure – his father died recently, his overbearing mother is on his back about getting married, and he just got a bigoted new boss at his job who is concern-trolling his choices as a man who practices a somewhat more conservative form of Islam (she lived in Saudi Arabia for six months….qu’elle horreur). But he makes time to help with the planning committee and so he meets “Hafsa.”

Turns out they’ve also met before, at a poetry-slam. Khalid got dragged to it by his coworker, a much-less devout man determined to shake up Khalid’s more-rigid world-view. Ayesha is there – she’s kind-of dragged to it by a friend but it’s also one of the only creative outlets she has – and they immediately don’t like each other. Khalid is appalled at the mixing of the sexes, the availability of alcohol, and the fact that this Muslim woman would get up in front of an audience and recite poetry. Ayesha has already had her patience tested by “veil-chasers” and she doesn’t have time for a conservative guy who acts like women have only one place and that’s inside the home. She recites a poem clearly meant to provoke Khalid, the result of which is that he starts to admire her despite himself.

Now that the two of them are thrown together on this planning committee, Khalid starts to fall for “Hafsa” despite the fact that she isn’t a “good Muslim girl”. Ayesha tolerates him, and perhaps comes to see him as a possible friend…or more. But when Khalid’s mother gets wind of their friendship, and a specter from Khalid’s past returns, everything starts to go off the rails.

The first twenty pages aside (read at lunch before grocery shopping) I INHALED this this book. Jalaluddin very cleverly kept the bones of Austen’s masterpiece, and a few well-placed near-quotes, and used it to tell a fresh story about appearances, religious intolerance, and how a culture changes over time. I really liked how Jalaluddin allowed Khalid to re-examine how he practices Islam but he never loses his faith or throws it away; opening up his practice allows him to see that he was closed-off to those he could help, like his sister or his office-mate. Plot-wise, there aren’t too many changes from the original – “Lizzie” and “Darcy” meet, have mutual disdain, he starts to like her, there’s some rejection, they start over, then “Lydia” throws a spanner in the whole works – but the change of setting and culture puts a new spin on the whole. Oh, and when Khalid’s boss gets her comeuppance….I almost stood up on my chair and cheered. There’s even Ayesha’s Shakespeare-quoting, ex-professor Nana and sharp-eyed Nani (who gives an amazing roti cooking lesson) as stand-ins for our beloved Uncle and Aunt Gardiner. A must-read this summer.

Ayesha at Last is out today in the US, complete with that beautiful cover.

Dear FTC: I read a digitally from the publisher via Edelweiss and I have a copy of the paper book waiting for me to purchase at work.