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

The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig (Pink Carnation #12)

23398702Summary from Goodreads:
In the final Pink Carnation novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla, Napoleon has occupied Lisbon, and Jane Wooliston, aka the Pink Carnation, teams up with a rogue agent to protect the escaped Queen of Portugal.

Portugal, December 1807. Jack Reid, the British agent known as the Moonflower (formerly the French agent known as the Moonflower), has been stationed in Portugal and is awaiting his new contact. He does not expect to be paired with a woman—especially not the legendary Pink Carnation.

All of Portugal believes that the royal family departed for Brazil just before the French troops marched into Lisbon. Only the English government knows that mad seventy-three-year-old Queen Maria was spirited away by a group of loyalists determined to rally a resistance. But as the French garrison scours the countryside, it’s only a matter of time before she’s found and taken.

It’s up to Jane to find her first and ensure her safety. But she has no knowledge of Portugal or the language. Though she is loath to admit it, she needs the Moonflower. Operating alone has taught her to respect her own limitations. But she knows better than to show weakness around the Moonflower—an agent with a reputation for brilliance, a tendency toward insubordination, and a history of going rogue.

I reached the point in this COVID-19 zoo where I had to read my “break glass in case of emergency” book: The Lure of the Moonflower by Lauren Willig, the final book in the Pink Carnation series. I was introduced to this series waaaay back in 2006 by my sister-in-law Kristen (I was reading The Thirteenth Tale and she was reading Pink 1, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation, and we kept sneaking looks at each other’s books 😂) and since then had happily devoured each book as it came out. My favorites are books 3 and 7 (Geoff/Letty and Turnip/Arabella forever 💖💖). But when book 12 came out, the final book, the actual Pink Carnation’s story, I couldn’t read it. I bought it on release day but could not make myself open it. It was the last book, and Lauren wasn’t committed to ever write any more. So it sat and stared at me from the top of my Pink Carnation stack for five years.

So I guess we can thank the coronavirus because last night I sat down in my reading chair, looked over at my Pink Carnation stack, and just picked it up. I read almost the whole thing straight through. It’s good and sweet and brings back a lot of familiar characters and lines up nicely with my James Bond rewatch (only less misogyny and more flowery French spies). And now it’s done. Guess I’ll go re-read Turnip’s book now.

Dear FTC: I read my own damn copy of this book.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Virgin and the Rogue is out today!

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

Austenesque · stuff I read

Sanditon by Jane Austen and Kate Riordan: A blog tour review with Austenprose!

Riordan_Sanditon(TP)

BOOK DESCRIPTION:

In the vein of Downton Abbey, Jane Austen’s beloved but unfinished masterpiece-often considered her most modern and exciting novel-gets a spectacular second act in this tie-in to a major new limited television series.

Written only months before Austen’s death in 1817, Sanditon tells the story of the joyously impulsive, spirited and unconventional Charlotte Heywood and her spiky relationship with the humorous, charming (and slightly wild!) Sidney Parker. When a chance accident transports her from her rural hometown of Willingden to the would-be coastal resort of the eponymous title, it exposes Charlotte to the intrigues and dalliances of a seaside town on the make, and the characters whose fortunes depend on its commercial success. The twists and turns of the plot, which takes viewers from the West Indies to the rotting alleys of London, exposes the hidden agendas of each character and sees Charlotte discover herself… and ultimately find love.

AUTHOR BIO:

Kate Riordan is a writer and journalist from England. Her first job was as an editorial assistant at the Guardian newspaper, followed by a stint as deputy editor for the lifestyle section of London bible, Time Out magazine. There she had assignments that saw her racing reindeers in Lapland, going undercover in London’s premier department store and gleaning writing tips (none-too subtly) during interviews with some of her favorite authors. After becoming a freelancer, she left London behind and moved to the beautiful Cotswolds in order to write her first novel.

When Jane Austen died, she left behind six completed novels (four published) and fragments of several more, including the beginning of Sanditon, a novel about a young woman visiting an up-and-coming resort town. Only about sixty pages exist, several of them more in the vein of “plot-bunny problems for Future Jane to solve later,” definitely not enough to determine Austen’s intention for the resolution of the plot but just enough to establish her cast of characters: Miss Charlotte Heywood, the many Parkers, Lady Denham and her household, and Miss Lambe.

Fast forward to the twenty-first century and Sanditon has been adapted as an eight-part television series airing in the US on PBS January 12 – February 23, 2020. Screenwriter Andrew Davies – responsible for Colin Firth’s wet-shirt scene in Pride and Prejudice (at the very least) – took on the task of fleshing out Austen’s world of seaside resorts and invalids and creating a plot where not had existed. And it is a very pretty adaptation, with lovely costumes and beautiful British actors (oh, hello, Theo James). It is a very sexy adaptation, too, which is to be expected in a Davies adaptation and it, uh, goes rather beyond wet shirts. There’s a gorgeous companion book in the vein of the Downton Abbey tie-ins that looks behind the scenes of the show (this show is totally Regency era catnip for Downton Abbey fans). I haven’t watched more than the first few episodes of the show because I finished the novelization by Kate Riordan.

And I didn’t like the ending.

Now. I had also prepped for this release by re-reading Austen’s original fragment (I have multiple editions of her fragments and juvenilia but the Penguin Classics edition that includes The Watsons and Lady Susan is the most readable, in my opinion). So I had Austen’s sentence structure and style fresh in my mind when I started Kate Riordan’s adaptation of Andrew Davies script. The two styles do not mesh well in my mind. Modern prose is very prescriptive, telling you what characters are touching and doing as if describing a movie scene to the reader. In addition, this adaptation and novelization is rather…earthy. Austen would have known all about sex and what people get up to when alone (she was a Georgian, not a Victorian, and spent more than enough of her time helping her sisters-in-law during their confinements) but she certainly wouldn’t have put it on the page, even as a fade-to-black scene. So it was a bit jarring.

Then there’s the ending. I’m not going to totally spoil it, but quit reading now if you want to finish out either the show or the novel without a whiff of spoilage. So. If one is a show runner, who wants to keep Sanditon going for more than one season, you go for this ending. Look at the mileage Downton Abbey got for three seasons with the will-they-won’t-they antagonism of Mary and Matthew. If one is a reader who reads Austen extensively, owns multiple editions of her novels, and regularly imbibes Regency romance novels? This ending is so unsatisfying. I sincerely hope the show gets second season pickup because I can’t believe this is where Austen would have left her characters. (Well, to be honest, she wouldn’t have put some of them in some of these situations in the first place, in my opinion.)

Verdict? Enjoy the TV show but don’t re-read Austen’s original right before reading the novelization.

I’m participating in a blog tour organized by Lauren Ann of Austenprose! Visit her site to read Laurel Ann’s review of Sanditon and find a list of other bloggers featuring Sanditon on their pages. Thanks Laurel Ann for the review opportunity!

Dear FTC: I received finished copies of Sanditon and The World of Sanditon from the publisher for participating in the blog tour.

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.

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 · stuff I read

The Regency Years: During Which Jane Austen Writes, Napoleon Fights, Byron Makes Love, and Britain Becomes Modern by Robert Morrison

untitledSummary from Goodreads:
The Victorians are often credited with ushering in our current era, yet the seeds of change were planted in the years before. The Regency (1811–1820) began when the profligate Prince of Wales—the future king George IV—replaced his insane father, George III, as Britain’s ruler.

Around the regent surged a society steeped in contrasts: evangelicalism and hedonism, elegance and brutality, exuberance and despair. The arts flourished at this time with a showcase of extraordinary writers and painters such as Jane Austen, Lord Byron, the Shelleys, John Constable, and J. M. W. Turner. Science burgeoned during this decade, too, giving us the steam locomotive and the blueprint for the modern computer.

Yet the dark side of the era was visible in poverty, slavery, pornography, opium, and the gothic imaginings that birthed the novel Frankenstein. With the British military in foreign lands, fighting the Napoleonic Wars in Europe and the War of 1812 in the United States, the desire for empire and an expanding colonial enterprise gained unstoppable momentum. Exploring these crosscurrents, Robert Morrison illuminates the profound ways this period shaped and indelibly marked the modern world.

The Regency Years seems a rather short book to try and cover all the parts of the ten years of the official Regency during end of George III’s life. But it does hit all the highlights, from crime and politics to the arts. The author does provide a critical view of unjust policies regarding the poor, racism, slavery, and colonialism/globalism so it definitely isn’t a “Rah Rah Britain” book. It just didn’t seem to read very easily.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

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

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Feminine Pursuits #1)

42117380._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Look at that pretty, pretty cover. The story for The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is pretty rad, too.

Our astronomer-heroine Lucy – who performed all the mathematical calculations for her astronomer father – is at the end of her rope. Her lover has just married, her artist-brother is being a hypocritical jerk, and she’s running out of money. She jumps on the opportunity to translate a critical work of astronomy from French to English and presents herself to the widowed Countess of Moth.

Our embroiderer-heroine Catherine would like to get this business finished so she can wash her hands of her late adventurer-husband’s affairs. He had been volatile and unappreciative but Catherine is in need of something to do. So the young woman who turns up on her doorstep for the position of translator is an intriguing – although somewhat dismaying, Catherine has had enough of scientific ambition – surprise. After a few missteps and one scathingly patriarchal Society meeting later, Catherine determines that she will fund Lucy’s translation of the book herself in opposition to the Society translation (by a male translator, naturally).

Over the course of the months that Lucy lives with Catherine, diligently working away at the translation, the two women grow closer to one another. Lucy never makes it a secret that she is attracted to Catherine, but for Catherine – who defined herself sexually in terms of, well, she was married to a man and had an affair with a man so she likes only men, yes? – becoming entangled with Lucy in a non-professional sense means that she will have to re-examine past relationships to see herself in a new light. There is a beautiful scene where she examines some of her embroidery work – Catherine is a gifted fiber-artist who can create a portrait with her needle and silks – in light of the realization that she is also attracted to women.

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was a wonderful summer romance filled with lady scientists and artists taking down the patriarchy. Waite sort-of signals the Big Reveal plot-twist at a Royal Society debate ahead of time, so I did catch it, but it was a delicious piece of “eat crow, dudes” nonetheless. Lucy’s and Catherine’s relationship was so lovely to see develop and also to see them have growing pains related to class, wealth, and jealousy. There are even small side plots where Catherine and Lucy help lift up other women scientists and artists.

(Note: I read my galley while waiting on an Amtrak train that was supposed to arrive at 830pm but didn’t arrive until almost 11pm and I was stuck in the crappy train station starting around 5:30pm. This book kept me from murdering people. High praise, I’m sure, lol.)

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is out today in ebook! Mass market paperbacks are expected July 23.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and I had a copy pre-ordered on my Nook OF COURSE.