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

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

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.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Austen Playbook by Lucy Parker (London Celebrities #4)

40957180

Summary from Goodreads:
In which experienced West End actress Freddy Carlton takes on an Austen-inspired play, a scandal at a country estate, an enthusiastic search for a passion outside of acting…and the (some people might say icy*) heart of London’s most feared theater critic.

*if those people were being nice

Freddy Carlton knows she should be focusing on her lines for The Austen Playbook, a live-action TV event where viewers choose the outcome of each scene, but her concentration’s been blown. The palatial estate housing the endeavor is now run by the rude (brilliant) critic who’s consistently slammed her performances of late. James “Griff” Ford-Griffin has a penchant for sarcasm, a majestic nose and all the sensitivity of a sledgehammer.

She can’t take her eyes off him.

Griff can hardly focus with a contagious joy fairy flitting about near him, especially when Freddy looks at him like that. His only concern right now should be on shutting down his younger brother’s well-intentioned (disastrous) schemes—or at the very least on the production (not this one) that might save his family home from the banks.

Instead all he can think of is soft skin and vibrant curls.

As he’s reluctantly dragged into her quest to rediscover her passion for the stage and Freddy is drawn into his research on a legendary theater star, the adage about appearances being deceiving proves abundantly true. It’s the unlikely start of something enormous…but a single revelation about the past could derail it all.

The Austen Playbook is a super-cute contemporary romance between a frosty, Jason Isaacs-as-Lucius Malfoy look-alike theatre critic (who, due to descriptions of his nose, actually resembles a blonde Richard Armitage in my head #sorrynotsorry) and a bubbly, musical-theatre actress at a career crossroads. I really liked how Griff and Freddy worked out the mystery, worked toward each other (Freddy needling Griff about how much of a feared theatre critic he is is hilarious), and that what looked vaguely like a love-triangle in the making did NOT go there. However, the resolution of the novel is a bit overstuffed with extra side-plots, especially the one about the sister and her hideous boyfriend. It was one too many layers and not necessary to the set-up for the next book, in my opinion.

Now, I had been hoping that we would see more of this actual “Jane Austen characters smashed together in a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure whodunnit” but wound up disappointed (although I’d fire the casting director of that fictional TV production because holy cats was those were some bad choices). The whole idea sounded really genius, though, and I’m surprised some TV showrunner hasn’t actually done something like this. (Jasper Fforde toyed with it at the end of First Among Sequels.)

Even though this is book four in the London Celebrities series, you can read it without having read the previous three. I hadn’t. But I’m definitely going to check them out now.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.

Austenesque · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors by Sonali Dev (The Rajes #1)

41154302Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Sonali Dev launches a new series about the Rajes, an immigrant Indian family descended from royalty, who have built their lives in San Francisco…

It is a truth universally acknowledged that only in an overachieving Indian American family can a genius daughter be considered a black sheep.

Dr. Trisha Raje is San Francisco’s most acclaimed neurosurgeon. But that’s not enough for the Rajes, her influential immigrant family who’s achieved power by making its own non-negotiable rules:
· Never trust an outsider
· Never do anything to jeopardize your brother’s political aspirations
· And never, ever, defy your family
Trisha is guilty of breaking all three rules. But now she has a chance to redeem herself. So long as she doesn’t repeat old mistakes.

Up-and-coming chef DJ Caine has known people like Trisha before, people who judge him by his rough beginnings and place pedigree above character. He needs the lucrative job the Rajes offer, but he values his pride too much to indulge Trisha’s arrogance. And then he discovers that she’s the only surgeon who can save his sister’s life.

As the two clash, their assumptions crumble like the spun sugar on one of DJ’s stunning desserts. But before a future can be savored there’s a past to be reckoned with…
A family trying to build home in a new land.
A man who has never felt at home anywhere.
And a choice to be made between the two.

‘Tis a year of Austen re-tellings – Unmarriageable was out a little earlier this year (that I haven’t got to, yet, because I didn’t have a galley), Ayesha at Last is finally publishing States-side in June, an adaptation of Emma coming in August, and this month we have Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors.

In this version of Pride and Prejudice, we don’t have strict analogues for each original Austen character. Fitzwilliam Darcy is now Dr. Trisha Raje, a brilliant neurosurgeon and the younger child in a privileged Indian-American family. In undergrad she met and befriended Julia Wickham, who later almost destroyed the life and political career of Trisha’s brother Yash; Trisha has been on the outskirts of her family ever since. Feisty Lizzie is now DJ Caine (Darcy James, just to be tricky), a talented French-trained chef who moves to the Bay Area to support his sister Emma as she seeks treatment for a brain tumor that can only be removed by Trisha Raje. But removing the tumor will destroy Emma’s sight, the worst result for a visual artist. Trisha and DJ get off on the wrong foot at a Raje family ‘do he’s hired to cater and then Julia Wickham (in full hippie-white-lady-with-dreds mode) returns to town and lends an ear to Emma and DJ….

I had a little trouble getting into this book, which annoyed me as an Austen fan. I think it’s because Dev introduces SO MANY characters at once, so we’re trying to sort out who’s who and what they do and who has history, etc because it’s very expansive instead of insular. There are a lot of B-plots (Yash, older sister Nisha and her husband, Emma’s decision regarding surgery and her art, the cousin with visions who is the obvious Mary stand-in) that create a lot of extra stuff Trisha and DJ have to work around aside from the obvious “pride” and “prejudice” themes imported from the Austen original. But once I got past the first 40 pages (i.e. I put on my giant headphones in the airport terminal) and got a basic handle on who-was-who, I was able to sink right in. I really liked how Dev did a “remix” of the characters and shook everything up a bit (Julia Wickham is the only character who performs exactly the same function in this book as George Wickham does in the original).

There are two things I have issues with in this book. First, many characters in this book – Trisha first among them – violate HIPAA repeatedly and cavalierly. This is plainly irresponsible. Tangential to this is a lack of support from social work or patient advocacy for Emma (although this is what allows the Wickham character to get close to Emma and DJ, so plot bunny). Second, there is an explanation of what Julia Wickham did to Yash that draws from #metoo and gets part of it very wrong. [I’m going to do some minor spoiling – it’s not a secret that Original Wickham is a sexual predator and has a thing for teenagers so it stands to reason that Julia Wickham is a predator, too – but skip the rest of this paragraph if you want to stay un-spoiled.] Julia roofies Yash, among other things, and assaults him (this is the “incident” Trisha feels she is being punished for). When this is finally revealed to the reader, we are given the scene between Trisha and Yash talking it over from Trisha’s point-of-view – and Trisha thinks that if this came to light, that even if Yash was the victim it would set back progress women were making with #metoo (I’m paraphrasing). This is a misreading of #metoo – we don’t fight that fight just for women who are assaulted by men, but also for men assaulted by women, and so on. It’s a very tone-deaf couple of paragraphs.  Which is unfortunate because Sonali Dev gets so much of the classism, racism (DJ is biracial – Anglo-Indian and Rwandan – and he experiences racism from both his paternal family in London and from the police in the US), privilege, and misogyny right in setting her Pride and Prejudice in 2019 California.

But those things aside, I did like it a lot. An excellent vacation book to read in the airport/on the plane.

Appetite warning: This book will make you VERY hungry because DJ is an amazing chef. All food described in this book is drool-inducing.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I also bought a paper copy after I came back from vacation.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Game Plan by Kristen Callihan (Game On #3)

27412436._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A beard-related dare and one hot-as-hell kiss changes everything.

NFL center Ethan Dexter’s focus has always been on playing football and little else. Except when it comes to one particular woman. The lovely Fiona Mackenzie might not care about his fame, but she’s also never looked at him as anything more than one of her brother-in-law’s best friend. That ends now.

Fi doesn’t know what to make of Dex. The bearded, tattooed, mountain of man-muscle looks more like a biker than a football player. Rumor has it he’s a virgin, but she finds that hard to believe. Because from the moment he decides to turn his quiet intensity on her she’s left weak at the knees and aching to see his famous control fully unleashed.

Dex is looking for a forever girl, but they live vastly different lives in separate cities. Fi ought to guard her heart and walk away. But Dex has upped his game and is using all his considerable charm to convince Fi he’s her forever man.

Y’all. Sarah MacLean’s romance recommendations are like weaponized book fumes. She did a series of stories where people told her what tropes, etc. they loved and she did a rec based off them. And someone asked for an alpha virgin hero. So Sarah recommended Kristen Callihan’s The Game Plan – a virgin NFL center (who has his junk pierced) and a more-experienced younger sister of a friend.

This was not on my vacation TBR but SIGN ME UP.

Well-plotted and very steamy. I liked the sports star/virgin + experienced woman/friend’s younger sister combo really fun. The author also did good work on the toxic nature of celebrity media and how it just tears apart lives. It was also interesting seeing how Ethan and Fi work out a long-distance relationship. A few things didn’t work for me. I didn’t quite buy how spectacular he was in the sack from the word go or the MAJOR decision Fi makes late in the book (plot spoiler, sorry, so I won’t be specific here) was made without even considering how it would screw Ethan up and maybe she should talk to him first? I, uh, also have question about how a dude with piercings plays professional sports where the pads would rub on said piercings and no one appeared to say anything about them, even at a nude calendar shoot.

But very fun and a quick vacation read.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook and read it immediately.

mini-review · sleuthing · stuff I read

Death by Dumpling by Vivien Chien (A Noodle Shop Mystery #1)

37535130Summary from Goodreads:
Welcome to the Ho-Lee Noodle House, where the Chinese food is to die for. . .

The last place Lana Lee thought she would ever end up is back at her family’s restaurant. But after a brutal break-up and a dramatic workplace walk-out, she figures that helping wait tables is her best option for putting her life back together. Even if that means having to put up with her mother, who is dead-set on finding her a husband.

Lana’s love life soon becomes yesterday’s news once the restaurant’s property manager, Mr. Feng, turns up dead—after a delivery of shrimp dumplings from Ho-Lee. But how could this have happened when everyone on staff knew about Mr. Feng’s severe, life-threatening shellfish allergy? Now, with the whole restaurant under suspicion for murder and the local media in a feeding frenzy—to say nothing of the gorgeous police detective who keeps turning up for take-out—it’s up to Lana to find out who is behind Feng’s killer order. . . before her own number is up.

I was building up a TBR of books to read on vacation and I was interested in a cozy mystery. Vivien Chen’s new series was recommended by a friend, so I picked up book 1 on my Nook.

Death by Dumpling is a sweet and funny cozy mystery set in a Chinese-American shopping center in central Ohio with a nosy protagonist (Lana Lee) who works at her family’s Chinese restaurant and inadvertently ends up delivering the murder weapon: shrimp dumplings (the victim had a known shellfish allergy, which the whole restaurant knew about, gasp!). There’s also a spunky roommate (this gal had grown up Harriet the Spy written all over her), a pushy mom, a lovable dad, way too many plausible suspects (I do love me a good Murder She Wrote or Midsomer Murders episode), and a cute pug named Kikko. And a cute, gruff detective who really wants Lana to mind her own business and tell him the truth. A little predictable and some of the characterizations were thin but a really fun read. I’ll probably check out book two to at least see where the relationship with the detective goes.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book on my Nook.