American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Duchess Deal

April’s stats are coming up tomorrow, but first we have another Book of the Week post – and for the second week in a row it’s a historical romance novel that has got the nod.  I was lucky enough to go to Sarah MacLean’s London tea party back in February and met Tessa Dare there – but it’s taken a little while for her latest book to come to the top of the to-read pile.

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

The Duchess Deal is the first in a new series and tells the story a battle scarred duke and his marriage of convenience with a seamstress.  The Duke of Ashbury came back from Waterloo a different man.  Since then he’s hidden himself away as he recovered from his injuries.  When Emma Gladstone turns up in his library, demanding payment for the dress she made for the fiancée who jilted him, he proposes that she marry him so that he can get the heir he needs.  Emma had been relying on the money from the wedding dress to keep her afloat.  Since her father disowned her, she’s made her own way in the world and is determined to succeed.  But the chance to be a duchess could be the solution to all her problems.  They both have rules for the relationship – his are all designed to stop her from getting close to him, hers are about conversation and getting to know each other.  But as time passes, they both realise that this marriage may be the making of both of them.

Emma is feisty and determined, and definitely not a wilting wallflower.  She knows her own mind and is prepared to stand up for what she believes in.  I liked Ash as well.  He is definitely an alphamale, but he’s one who has had to face up to a future he wasn’t really expecting which makes him more my sort of hero.  They have great banter together and the reader gets to see plenty of their relationship in action.  Because this is a marriage got into because Ash wants an heir, there is also quite a lot of bedroom action in this, which I would say is fairly steamy.*

I do love a marriage – or engagement – of convenience novel.  When they’re done well they’re delicious – and this is one of those cases.  I had a brief moment at the end where I wondered if there was about to be one storyline too many on the road to happily ever after, but I really shouldn’t have worried.   There is quite a lot of set up here for the rest of the series – I’m looking forward to book 2, which gets a little meet cute here – but as most of that revolved around group of women being friends I didn’t have a problem with it.

I ended up with two review copies of this – one from NetGalley and then a proper book copy that I won in a competition on Twitter – but it’s out now and I don’t think it will be too hard to find.  It came out in the UK in February (and in the US last summer) so you may have missed it in the supermarkets, but I’m sure it’s orderable and there are also the Kindle and Kobo editions too.

Happy Reading!

*Which is fine by me, but I know that other people like their romances to be more closed door than that.

American imports, Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: After the Wedding

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s post, I did a lot of reading last week – even for me.  And there were a lot of contenders for this week’s BotW, but it seemed serendipitous that Courtney Milan’s latest romance is actually out today, whereas the release dates had already passed for the other contenders.  And don’t worry, some of the other books from last week will feature in upcoming posts I have planned – there’s another cozy crime round up due as well as the traditional Holiday Reading post.  I read through my holiday so that you can benefit from it when picking your holiday reading.  Or at least that’s a happy accident of the fact that my preferred way of spending my holiday is reading!  Anyway, on to the review.

The cover of After the Wedding

After the Wedding is the second book in Courtney Milan’s Worth Saga.  I haven’t read the first, but that didn’t in any way impair my enjoyment.  Set in the late 1860s, it tells the story of Camilla and Adrian. Camilla has been moving around from family to family for years since her father was convicted of treason, but she never seems to be able to keep any of them happy enough with her to be allowed to stay.  Adrian is juggling a lot of things.  He’s trying to run the family business while trying to convince his uncle (a bishop) to recognise his family, who were disowned when his mother ran off with a black abolitionist. This sees him doing things that he would rather not be doing – like impersonating servants to obtain vital information.  When the two of them find themselves married – at gunpoint no less – they begin an awkward dance to work out what to do next.  He has definite ideas about what he wants from marriage, she can’t see how the world can make anything worse for her, but has had enough blows that she knows that she can’t rule anything else.

This is a really good historical romance – but it’s not your typical historical romance.  There is a a sadness in each of the character’s backstories that goes beyond what you normal find, and that is never going to go away or be resolved fully.  But that makes a lot of the other events of the book even sweeter.  Milan says in the afterword that this book is about hope – and I can totally get on board with that.  It’s showing two characters who face obstacles in their lives work out how they’re going to get around them – or live with them – and come to terms with themselves in the process.  The Camilla of the end of the book is not the same bowed, cowed and undermined character that she is at the start, but that’s not because everything has been magically fixed for her because she has found a man.  She’s done it for herself.   Adrian also works out what his priorities are and what he really wants but he’s also working for the best outcome for Camilla because he knows that she has even less choices than he does in many ways.  For me, the best sort of romances are the ones where the characters grow and develop and the fact that they’ve fallen in love in the process is a happy consequence, not the fix.  And that’s how it should be.   You can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on someone else to make you happy or to make your life complete.

I think this is my favourite new romance of the year so far and a timely reminder to me to go back and read more of what Courtney Milan has written.  I really, really like what she is doing with her historical romances – they’re something a bit different from what you expect and have a cast of characters who not only aren’t all dukes, but aren’t all white members of the haut ton.  And they’re stories that I want to read more of.  The conflict at the heart of this is not a misunderstanding that could have been fixed by having a conversation. And that makes for a really satisfying conclusion when you get to the happy ending.

I received my advance copy of After the Wedding from the author via her Facebook page, but as mentioned at the top, this is out today.  As I write this, I can only find it in Kindle and Kobo in the UK, but fingers crossed there’ll be some physical copies at some point.  I’m off to buy more of Courtney Milan’s back catalogue.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: A Scot in the Dark

A day late, because of my birthday special post, but I’m sure you don’t mind waiting. I read a lot of cozy crime ARCs last week but in the end the choice for BotW was easy: Sarah MacLean’s A Scot in the Dark.

This is the second in MacLean’s Scandal and Scoundrel series and tells the story of Lily, who is facing public ruin after posing for a portrait that she thought was going to be private, and Alec, a Scotsman who has already inherited a title he didn’t want and wasn’t expecting and now discovers that he has a ward and that she’s caused a scandal.

Now, regular readers will know that I’m a big fan of Sarah MacLean’s books and although this isn’t my favourite of hers (still a tie between Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake and Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover I think) it was still my favourite thing that I read last week by far.  I really like what MacLean is doing in this series by turning modern day celebrity scandals into historical romances and this is a really good one. As modern technology and social networks continue to take over our lives we’re seeing more and more cases of revenge porn – and this is the nineteenth century equivalent. Lily has been betrayed by someone she thought loved her, but who was actually using her for his own ends. She’s devastated at the betrayal but she’s not defeated by it. Alec is a fixer – he wants to solve the problem and make it better – but that’s no easier to do then than it is now. He’s also stubborn and has some baggage of his own. All of this makes for a really readable twist on traditional historical romance tropes.

I found a lot of this totally compelling and it’s all very readable. I’ve been trying to work out all week why I didn’t love it, love it, and the closest that I can get is that I just didn’t always know enough about what was going on in Alec’s head and in his history – but it’s still comfortably the best historical romance that I’ve read recently.

I’m a book behind in this series – the final one Day of the Duchess is already out – but I have a very strong negative reaction to the UK covers for these and so I have to wait for a Kindle offer or bribe someone going to the US to buy me the American version and also it got packed into the boxes of stuff. Fingers crossed I get my hands on Day of the Duchess soon. These are always harder to find if you are in the UK: your best bet is to order online or try a big bookshop with a romance section. Of course if you’re in the US it should be much easier and I’m very jealous!

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: First Grave on the Right

Ok, so this week’s BotW post is a little cheating – because I actually finished this on Monday.  But in my defense, I was going to have to break the (my self-imposed) rules this week whatever happened, because it was either pick this, or have a Sarah Morgan book as BotW for the second week in a row.  So I chose this, because it was my favourite book I started reading last week, so it’s only fair.

First Grave on the Right by Darynda Jones
Another book on the train picture, but I do spend a lot of time there…

First Grave on the Right is the first in the Charley Davidson by Darynda Jones.  Charlie is a private investigator with a secret – she’s a grim reaper.  It’s actually the secret to her success as a PI – after all, what better way to solve murders than to ask the dead person who did it?  She’s also a consultant to the local police force – where her uncle is a cop.  Her mysterious (to everyone else) ability to solve crimes has raised more than a few eyebrows over the years, but Charley is used to that.  What she’s not used to is the mysterious presence that’s haunting her dreams and the effect that it’s having on her.  And when three lawyers end up dead on the same she’s got a high profile case to solve – if she can just keep one step ahead of the Bad Guys.

I’ve been hearing about this series for ages, but it’s taken me a while to get hold of the first book at a reasonable price.  And it lived up to the hype.  Charley is a kick ass heroine with a complicated backstory, a big secret (from most people at any rate), a difficult family life and a great gang of friends.  The various mystery plots are clever and well written and Charley’s inner monologue is a joy.  I’m already annoyed that I’m meant to be avoiding buying books which means I can’t immediately buy book 2 (although to be fair it’s over my price limits at the moment any way).  If I was trying to do an elevator pitch for this, I think the closest I can get is Steph Plum meets Sookie Stackhouse, but in a good way.  It sits in the cross section of murder mysteries, thrillers, supernatural and romance – it’s not hard-boiled, there’s some violence but it’s not too graphic and there’s definitely a fair bit of heat going on in the romance stakes.  All of which is right in my wheelhouse – and if anyone has any recommendations for similar books, please do let me know.

Books with supernatural elements are a bit of a hazy area for me, as long time readers will be aware.  When they work for me, they really work and I love them; but when they don’t it’s horrid.  And I’m still incapable of working out what makes some books work, while others don’t.  The closest I can get is that they have to be part of a well worked out world, with definite rules and that the supernatural element shouldn’t be fetishised in anyway.  And if there can be punning and wise cracking that helps too.

Anyway, I raced through this – if I hadn’t been working at the weekend it would definitely have been finished before Monday morning!*  I suspect you may need to order a copy of First Grave on the Right if you’re in the UK – I certainly haven’t seen it in the supermarkets, although I haven’t had a chance to check the bookshops to see if they have it.  I’m sure Big Green Books would be able to get hold of it if you asked them.  It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo for £.399 at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

*I do hate it when real life gets in the way of my reading time.

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Match Me If You Can

If you looked at what I read last week (and the week before) you’ll have noticed that I’ve been on a massive Susan Elizabeth Phillips kick and so it’ll be no surprise to you that this week’s BotW is one of them.  It took a quite a while to pick out which one was my favourite, but in the end I plumped for Match Me If You Can.

Cover of Match Me If You Can
This cover is a little bit retro, but don’t let that put you off.
Annabelle is a matchmaker.  Or at least she wants to be a matchmaker.  She’s taken over her grandmother’s old business and rebranded it to move it away from OAPs towards over achievers.  Now all she needs is a suitably overachieving client to find a match for to make her name.  Heath Champion has worked his way up to turn himself into a sports agent known as the Python.  Annabelle has decided that finding him a wife is going to be the client that makes her name.  It doesn’t matter that he’s already got a contract with Chicago’s top matchmaker, Annabelle is sure that she can do better…

All of the Susan Elizabeth Phillips books that I read last week were from her Chicago Stars series, which centres around a (fictional) American football franchise.  I don’t read a lot of sports romances, partly because they’re mostly about American sports and secondly because they often feature unreconstructed Alpha heros, which are not always my thing.   The difference with these is that all the women are strong, capable, professionally competent and not sitting around waiting to be rescued by the big old man.  In this, Annabelle is struggling to get her business off the ground at the start – but not because she’s incompetant, she’s just trying to break into the market.  She’s got a plan and she’s executing it.  She’s also got an awful family of overachievers trying to persuade her to do their bidding rather than what she wants to do – but she’s sticking to her guns.

In fact, the only bit of the book that didn’t work for me, was late on and revolved around her family – and a lack of resolution of the issues/recognition of how she felt from the hero – but that was a minor blip in a sparky, fun romance which rattles along.  This also has some appearances from previous couples in the series, which is always nice if you enjoyed reading about their romances and sets up the next book in the series (which I had actually read first!).  With a Phillips book, there’s always a secondary romance going on as well – and this one was a bit different to the usual.  I wasn’t sure that I was going to like it at first, but by the end, I was totally won over.

I’ve read four Chicago Stars books in less than a week – which suited me perfectly: satisfying romances, interesting characters that are linked but definitely not the same plots with different names, a bit of humour and not too much angst.  Or at least not unrelenting angst.  The angstiest of the four was Dream a Little Dream – and even that won me over, despite my dislike of traumatised widows and small children.*

Several of the Chicago Stars books are on offer on Kindle at the moment – including the latest in the series First Star I See Tonight for £1.99, which is much nuts and far more fun than you’d expect for a book which includes Middle Eastern Princesses in its blurb!  Match Me If You can is a reasonable £2.49 on Kindle or under £3 if you want a second hand copy of the book from Amazon or you could try Natural Born Charmer – which started me off on this kick last week – for the same prices.  Any of these is well worth a look if you want to dip your toe into this sort of book.

*I often find them to be aiming for winsome, but actually irritating plot moppets.

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime, new releases

Book of the Week: Lowcountry Bonfire

As you’ll have seen from yesterday’s Week in Books, I had a less productive week in reading last week, but that didn’t give me a problem when it came to picking a BotW –  because after I read Lowcountry Bonfire, I went and bought myself another book in the series straight away.

The cover of Lowcountry Bonfire
I kinda like this cover – its simple but stylish.

Lowcountry Bonfire is the sixth book in the Liz Talbot cozy crime series.  Liz and her partner Nate Andrews run a private investigation agency on an island in South Carolina.  Their bread and butter cases are suspicious spouses and adultery cases.  They’re not expecting Tammy Sue Lyerley’s case to be any different.  But when her husband Zeke turns up dead in the boot of the car that Tammy Sue has just filled with his stuff and is trying to set alight, they end up smack bang in the middle of a murder investigation.  Soon they’re trying to work out the truth behind Zeke’s tall tales and uncovering buried secrets.

After a disappointing run of cozy crime novels during my holiday*, this was a breath of fresh air. This is just the sort of cozy crime that I like – a great cast of characters, a quirky setting and a satisfying murder mystery.  And to top that off, Liz is one of my favourite things – a sleuth who has a legitimate reason to be snooping around.  The plot is perhaps a little bonkers at times, but the book is so pacey that you don’t really have time to think about that – which is exactly what you want really.

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I liked this so much that I went off and bought myself the first book in the series so I could see how Liz got to where she is.  I finished that on the train home on Monday afternoon and can report that that’s also a lot of fun – although the mystery and pacing isn’t quite as good as in Lowcountry Bonfire.  Admittedly that may be partly because I could spot which townspeople were no longer about in book six and extrapolate some of the solution from that!

My copy of Lowcountry Bonfire came from NetGalley, but it’s out now and available on all the usual platforms, like Kindle and Kobo.  But if you want to start at the beginning, Lowcountry Boil was £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing, as was book two, Lowcountry Bombshell, (although only on Kindle) which I may have just bought myself.  Naughty Verity!

Happy reading.

*Written in Dead Wax (in my book at least) is not a cozy crime.  And even if it was, I read it at the start of the week – it was the mysteries afterwards that were a disappointment!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Once in a Lifetime

This week’s BotW is Jill Shalvis’s Once in a Lifetime which was the last book in that omnibus of her Lucky Harbor series that I mentioned in a Recommendsday post when it was on Kindle sale last month.  It was a very busy and challenging week at work for me last week what with the fall out from the London Bridge attacks and the General Election here in the UK and this was perfect escapist reading for me.

This is the UK cover for the individual ebook which is… ok. Not as pretty as I’d like

Aubrey is Lucky Harbor’s resident bad girl – or at least the town thinks that she is.  She got into trouble at school, she was a mean girl and a beauty queen – and she recently slept with her boss.  But now she’s trying to make things right and turn her life into what she wants it to be.   Ben is back in his hometown after leaving to escape his grief over the death of his wife.  He’s not looking to risk his heart again, but there’s something about Aubrey that draws him to her, even though everyone keeps telling him that she is Trouble.

Once in a Lifetime is the ninth book in the Lucky Harbor series and it has been building towards Aubrey and Ben’s story for the previous two books.  You’ll get more out of this if you’ve read those two books – because you’ll have more insight into Aubrey and Ben’s pasts and you’ll see the love stories of Aubrey and Ben’s closest friends, but it still works as a standalone book too.  Aubrey is not a traditional romance heroine – she’s not sweet and goody goody and you learn through the book exactly how mean she can be.  But she’s working to be better and to make amends and her family backstory explains a lot of her behaviours and makes a character who you don’t initially like that much into one that you’re really rooting for.

Ben is a more usual sort of romance hero – except for the fact that he is a widower.  Shalvis does a really good job of negotiating the fact that he has been in love before and had a happy marriage whilst still working towards a happy ending with Aubrey.  It’s a difficult tightrope to tread – particularly at times because he is discovering things about his wife that he didn’t know – but Shalvis manages to create a lovely relationship between Ben and Aubrey without running down or ruining the one that he had before.

I’m not a massive reader of contemporary romance as you all know, but small town contemporaries really do scratch an itch sometimes.  They seem like a logical extension of my love of Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters’ Club books when I was growing up.  To me the towns often feel  a lot like a larger (and American) version of the villages that I grew up in – where everyone knows you and your business – but populated by small businesses, often quirky, and attractive people.  Who wouldn’t want to live in that sort of world?  Well except for everyone knowing you and your business and your history, which I know from personal experience can get on your wick after a while, but hey it’s a romance book and it’s fun to read about!

Anyway, as I mentioned, my copy of Once in a Lifetime was in an omnibus (the third of the Lucky Harbor omnibuses to be precise). That’s unfortunately not on sale anymore and is back up to £4.99 on Kindle but that’s still a better deal than buying it individually for £3.99.  Both of those are probably better value than buying the actual books – which I think are quite expensive considering how long they take to read – but that is often the case with American romance novels.  However the first three Lucky Harbour books are £3.99 at the moment,  if you want to dip your toe into the water (so to speak) – I know I’m very tempted…

Happy reading!