Readathon · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Wrong Highlander by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #7)

37868552Summary from Goodreads:
A laird’s daughter kidnaps a Highlander—and loses her heart… in New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands’ new historical romance…

Lady Evina Maclean has heard much about Rory Buchanan’s skill as a healer. What she hasn’t heard is how good the brawny Highlander looks bathing in a waterfall. But Evina can’t afford the distraction, for her ailing father urgently needs care. Only when she’s rendered Buchanan unconscious and dragged him back to her family’s castle does the truth emerge—it’s not Rory she’s kidnapped but his brother Conran.

Other ladies try to ensnare Conran with flattery. Evina hits him over the head with the hilt of her sword to save her kin—and Conran likes the spirited redhead all the more for it. He’s learned enough from his brother to heal Evina’s father, but there are other dangers swirling around the Maclean clan. And while the beautiful, independent lady has sworn not to marry, this wrong Highlander may be just the right man for her.

I cannot quit this series. It’s ridiculous, historically off-the-rails, full of moments of questionable consent, a high number of attempted murders (to the point that the characters joke about them), and some of my least favorite tropes. This one has a virgin widow (at least it’s not another amnesia book).

So Evina needs Rory Buchanan and his legendary skills to come and heal her father. Except…rather than invite Rory to come to MacLean she sees a Highlander wearing Buchanan plaid gathering herbs then bathing, clobbers him on the head and drags him off to MacLean. Which is how she winds up with Conran instead.

Cool, cool. Kidnap wrong dude. Luckily, Conran isn’t a dummy and has absorbed some of Rory’s knowledge over the years and gets the MacLean on the mend. Only to find that he’s attracted to Evina – like, VERY attracted – and they wind up having to have a hasty marriage because they got way too into the sexytimes and Evina’s still a virgin. Oh, and come clean about not being Rory. So all the Buchanans and their spouses show up at MacLean in time to help Conran foil a murderer. Standard Sands fare.

But the series is ridiculous and fun and OF COURSE I’ll line up to read the next one. I can’t quit before all the brothers have been paired off. Especially Rory – poor guy is the only one who wants to fall in love and get married and at this point I’m sure that Sands is going to leave him for last.

The Wrong Highlander was released yesterday, January 29, in the US.

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

Apropos Shakespeare · stuff I read

The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse: 1509–1659, selected by David Norbrook and edited by Henry R. Woudhuysen

609526Summary from Goodreads:
The era between the accession of Henry VIII and the crisis of the English republic in 1659 formed one of the most fertile epochs in world literature. This anthology offers a broad selection of its poetry, and includes a wide range of works by the great poets of the age – notably Sir Philip Sidney, Edmund Sepnser, John Donne, William Shakespeare and John Milton. Poems by less well-known writers also feature prominently – among them significant female poets such as Lady Mary Wroth and Katherine Philips. Compelling and exhilarating, this landmark collection illuminates a time of astonishing innovation, imagination and diversity.

Selected and with an introduction by David Norbrook, and edited by H.R. Woudhuysen.

One of my goals this year was to read very (very) long books. One of my goals was to start, and finish, The Penguin Book of Renaissance Verse 1509-1659. I loved the poetry we read when I took a Restoration literature class, and I love Shakespeare, so I was very interested in an overview of poetry  from this period. It’s a long haul of a book but a good overview of British Renaissance verse from the early Tudor period through just before the Restoration. I would have like better notation (there were a lot of analogies or references not explained), and for the poems in Scots or Welsh better translation side by side on the page as opposed to the endnotes, but I do appreciate that the editors didn’t modernize the spelling. It was harder to read in places but very interesting to see how spelling began to standardize over these 150 years of verse.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy from the local indie bookstore.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell

37457057Summary from Goodreads:
Shaun Bythell owns The Bookshop, Wigtown – Scotland’s largest second-hand bookshop. It contains 100,000 books, spread over a mile of shelving, with twisting corridors and roaring fires, and all set in a beautiful, rural town by the edge of the sea. A book-lover’s paradise? Well, almost … In these wry and hilarious diaries, Shaun provides an inside look at the trials and tribulations of life in the book trade, from struggles with eccentric customers to wrangles with his own staff, who include the ski-suit-wearing, bin-foraging Nicky. He takes us with him on buying trips to old estates and auction houses, recommends books (both lost classics and new discoveries), introduces us to the thrill of the unexpected find, and evokes the rhythms and charms of small-town life, always with a sharp and sympathetic eye.

I’ve had my eye out for Shaun Bythell’s The Diary of a Bookseller ever since it pubbed in the U.K. – thanks Melville House for bringing it stateside.

I loved reading Bythell’s record of a year in his life as a bookseller in Wigtown in lowland Scotland. It’s more than just a daily record of the dumb customers or the problems Amazon/the Internet has brought to the business. It’s about being a part of a community, the history of the area, and also the melancholy of going out to value and/or buy the library of a person who has died or needs to move out of their home. That said, I massively enjoyed the snark Bythell doles out on the page (also, his shop assistant Nicky is goofballs in the most amazing way). We meet his American girlfriend Anna who commutes between Wigtown and London, his ever-enlarging cat Captain, the friend who organizes the book festival yet leaves his shoes (and assorted mess) all over Bythell’s flat in the most annoying way, and go fishing with Bythell and his dad. If you’re a book-lover, you have to read this.

(I hand-sold this to a customer as “Black Books in Scotland but mostly sober and he actually sells books.” Haha.)

The Diary of a Bookseller is out now.

Dear FTC: I got access to the digital galley from the publisher via Edelweiss but I’ll definitely be buying a copy.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2)

35564582Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

I downloaded the galley for A Duke by Default about the second it was available to reviewers and TORE through it.

I’ll be honest. Portia wasn’t exactly my favorite secondary character coming out of A Princess in Theory. She had a major blow-up with Ledi regarding being a bad friend so this book is a chance for Portia to redeem herself.  And Portia herself has plans – she’s going to work hard at this swordmaking internship in Scotland, swear off both alcohol and men, and figure out how to be an adult with a plan and a career.  Easy, right? Wrong. Especially when she arrives at the Armory, thinks she sees a woman being assaulted, and sprays the attacker with pepper spray – which means she just sprayed her boss who was sparring with his sister-in-law. And she was downwind when she pushed the button and, therefore, sprayed herself.

Oops.

Tavish really wasn’t into the idea of getting an intern, let alone one who appears to rich, brainless, and attractive as all get out. But on the plus side she rushed to a strangers’ aid, even if she bungled it. HOWEVER, Tav has no time for all this nonsense because the Armory business is doing poorly and he really wants to just focus on making good swords and helping kids in the neighborhood. Right? When Portia goes digging into the Armory history she changes Tav’s life forever.

Alyssa Cole is an evil, evil genius, y’all. I loved this second installment in her Reluctant Royals series. Like any good rom-com, the minute Portia swears off dudes for the foreseeable future, the hottest half-Chilean silver-fox with a delicious Scottish accent swordsmith turns out to be her boss (even if he is pretty pissed at her for a bit because she maced him) and it makes for really, really good tension and banter in the story. Portia herself goes on a journey of personal discovery in this book, working out some things about herself and reconciling with her sister. Fair warning, it does take a little bit to get to the “but he’s secretly a duke!” reveal but there’s a lot of #swordbae in the interim and a super-good villain to wrap up at the end. Only two things bugged me: 1) the novel concluded super fast without a lot of Tav and Portia together, maybe we could have had a wee Epilogue? (idk, I read a galley, so maybe it’s just not included here? I live in hope) and 2) Tav’s secret duchy is the duchy of EDINBURGH, which is currently Prince Philip’s title (yes, that Prince Philip, the old geezer married to Her Maj, QEII) and it dragged me out of the book every, damn, time it was mentioned (someone at Avon should have caught that; if an entire country could be created for Thabiso in A Princess in Theory, just pick a totally random Scottish city for Tav’s duchy).

But anyway, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which appears to have the scandalous Prince Johan and Nedi’s cousin as the couple, yes please. (Still waiting on Likotsi’s novella, kthanx.)

A Duke by Default is out on Tuesday, July 31.

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

mini-review · stuff I read

Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure by Jenny Wormald

34957541Summary from Goodreads:
Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, was one of history’s romantically tragic figures. Devious, naïve, often highly principled, beautiful, and sexually voracious, this was a woman who secured the Scottish throne and bolstered the position of the Catholic Church in Scotland. Her endless plotting, including a likely involvement in the murder of her husband Lord Darnley, eventually led to her flight from Scotland and imprisonment by her equally ambitions cousin and fellow queen, Elizabeth of England. And yet when Elizabeth ordered her unpredictable rival and kinswoman to be beheaded in 1587 she did so in resigned frustration rather than as act of political wrath.Was the beheading of a cousin truly necessary? Did Mary, though churlish, petulant, and often disloyal, really deserve to forfeit the compassion of her cousin, a woman who from childhood had been her friend and playmate? Mary’s fate was to be born to supreme power, but she was totally lacking in the political ability to deal with its responsibilities. This was the tragedy that turned her life into a study in failure. The extraordinary story of Mary, which has inspired the great poets, playwrights, and operatic composers of the 19th and 20th centuries, is one of the most colorful and emotionally searing tales of western history, and is here told by a leading specialist of the 16th century.

I was listening to Book Riot’s For Real podcast, when co-host Alice mentioned a biography of Mary Queen of Scots that she particularly liked: Mary Queen of Scots: A Study in Failure.

Check out that subtitle! I had to read it.

Now, this isn’t a very long book, but it is one that requires a lot of the reader. Wormald focuses very narrowly on Mary’s actual performance as Queen regnant and far, far less on the romantic or tragic elements of her life. Along the way, Wormald assumes that the reader has a decent grasp of the history and political situation in Stewart Scotland as well as that of France, Spain, England, the Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, and the biographies of the major players. If you don’t, well, that’s what Google is for. I really appreciated how Wormald attempted to suss out whether Mary could have actually survived as a ruler in Scotland as Elizabeth I did in England. I enjoyed this book immensely.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy, obviously.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Highlander’s Promise by Lynsay Sands (Highland Brides #6)

35564556Summary from Goodreads:
In a spellbinding new Highlands story from New York Times bestselling author Lynsay Sands, the laird of the Buchanans finds the one woman who is his equal in passion and courage…

Aulay Buchanan has retreated to his clan’s hunting lodge for a few days of relaxation. But the raven-haired beauty he pulls from the ocean puts an end to any chance of rest. Though he christens her Jetta, she knows nothing of her real identity, save that someone is trying to kill her. As she recovers, it will not be easy for Aulay to protect her and keep her honor intact when she mistakenly believes they are man and wife.

Jetta sees beyond Aulay’s scars to the brave, loyal warrior she’s proud to call her own. But as the attempts on her life grow more brazen, Jetta realizes that not all is as she believes. And if Aulay is not her husband, can she trust the desire flaring in his eyes, or his promise to defend her with his life?

File under: I cannot quit Lynsay Sands’s Scottish romances. I can’t. They’re like crack.

God almighty, but I absolutely loathe amnesia tropes. They are #1 on my Shitty Romance Tropes list. Consent issues run rampant in them (the only romance I’ve ever read where this was handled well was Mary Balogh’s Slightly Sinful). The interactions between Jetta and Aulay weren’t bad as most. There is at least some discussion of consent and there is no deception (they do allow Jetta to think she’s married to Aulay for a bit when she starts waking up, but it doesn’t go on forever). At least they don’t do the nasty before Aulay breaks it to her they aren’t married – they do get RUL handsy, though, so there are some really fine lines.

The Highlander’s Promise is not the book I wanted for Aulay, poor guy. But it is a very readable, bananapants Sands Scottish historical. They even make a joke about how the Buchanans seem uniquely able to attract women with murderers after them (the murder bits are entirely predictable if you’ve read any Sands historicals). I’m actually interested in which brother is the next hero, since Rory (the one with the exceptional healing skills) has expressed that maybe he’d like to settle down and fall in love.

The Highlander’s Promise published yesterday.

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