Book of the Week, Fantasy, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: Thornyhold

A short but sweet post today for BotW because it’s super busy here.  I also didn’t read as much as usual during the week, so I had trouble picking a book to write about before I headed off for my weekend of bookwormery at the book conference.  Anyway, the best of what I read before the weekend was Mary Stewart’s Thornyhold.

Cover of Thornyhold

Thornyhold tells the story of Gilly, who has a mysterious godmother figure who shows up at intervals throughout her childhood and who then leaves her a house, just as Gilly is most at need of it.  Thornyhold is deep in the woods, isolated and has the potential to be really creepy.  But Gilly never really feels scared by the house – although she’s not really sure about some of the people associated with the house.  But there’s something magical about Thornyhold – possibly literally – and soon she’s caught up in trying to figure out exactly what her aunt wanted her to do with her legacy.

This was my first Mary Stewart book and i understand that it’s not 100 percent typical of what she does.  I spent a lot of the book waiting for some big gothic tragedy to happen – because that’s what it felt like was bound to happen.  But actually it’s much more straightforward than I was expecting.  It is quite gothic – but ultimately it’s more of a romantic story and after the initial tragedies in Gilly’s stories, it’s working it’s way towards a happier resolution for her than I was expecting.  I don’t know why I was expecting disaster and it all to end badly, except that there’s a lot of tension in the writing and I’ve read so many books where things like this end badly, I couldn’t quite let myself hope that it was all going to be ok!  There is actual romance in this, and it comes in quite late on and doesn’t get quite as much time spent on it as I would have liked, but it was still fairly satisfyinging in the end.  As always with this sort of book I wanted a bit more of the “after” of all the resolutions – even another couple of pages would have helped, but I can’t complain too much.

I’m fairly sure I’ll be reading some more Mary Stewart – but given the state of the to-read bookshelf at the moment, it may be some time.  This one had been sitting waiting for me for a while and the pile has only grown since I bought it! My copy of Thornyhold was a secondhand paperback, but there’s a shiny new paperback edition should you feel so inclined and it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo for £1.99 at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Princess Trap

It’s so hot outside, that all I want to do at the moment is lie in the shade and drink a cold drink and read books.  So because the UK is in the midst of a heatwave – and there are lots of people who are on holiday at the moment and will be doing exactly the same thing but by a beach somewhere glamourous, this week’s BotW that is perfect for reading while doing exactly that: Talia Hibbert’s The Princess Trap.

Cover of The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert

This is a contemporary romance with a prince in disguise and a fake relationship.  If you read Alyssa Cole’s A Princess in Theory earlier in the year and were looking for something else that scratches that itch, this may be the book for you.  It is a bit steamier than I remember that being – and there’s a couple of elements to the relationship here that are a bit different – but if you want another twist on the royalty trope – this time with a black British woman (who is not a stick insect) as the heroine, then go pick this up – what have you got to use.

Ruben is the younger brother of the king of a Scandinavian island, who is trying to recover his life from a sex-tape scandal.  Cherry works in HR at a school in London and is trying to help her family put her sister through college in the US.  He’s there incognito to have a look at whether the school’s ideas would fit into his educational programme when he spots her.  But when they’re spotted by the paparazzi, he tells them she’s his fiancée and asks her to keep up the pretence to get his family off his back.  What’s in it for her?  A big stack of cash that would really help with her sister’s tuition bills.  Cherry likes him and the money would be handy.  But she doesn’t really understand what being a royal fiancée entails and she doesn’t know about his scandal.  And then there’s his family and his past, which has got some serious issues in it.  I should add a trigger warning here – for abuse in the back story and in flashbacks – so avoid this if these are problematic for you, but I didn’t find it too upsetting.

This was my first Talia Hibbert and I really loved it.  I heard her interviewed on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast a few weeks back and made a note to read some of her books.  And I’m so glad that I picked this one up.  It’s got a great story, a fantastic heroine who knows exactly what she wants and isn’t going to let anyone (even a prince) push her about, a hero who has his issues, but also a load of privilege and luckily has a bunch of people around him who call hin out when he’s being an idiot.  And it has all the diversity and representation you could want in a book.  I’m not going to run through the list here – because that makes it feel like a box ticking exercise and that is the opposite of what this is.  This is society as I see it everyday in a book – not a boring homogenous version of life – and it’s wonderful.  I’ll definitely be reading some more of Hibbert’s books.

This is available on Kindle version – I picked it up for free last week – but it’s £2.99 at time of writing.  It is however included in the Kindle Unlimited programme – so if you’re in that it’s just a guilt free click away.  In fact quite a lot of Hibbert’s books are in Kindle Unlimited so if this trope doesn’t work for you – or you’re worried about that trigger warning, then there maybe another one for you in the mix somewhere.  From that interview that I mentioned earlier, Hibbert’s thing is definitely strong heroines and diverse casts of characters who challenge sterotypes in romantic fiction.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: One and Only

This week’s BotW is another romance – Jenny Holiday’s One and Only.  I impulse bought this after seeing the author tweeting that she’d realised that she keeps putting scenes in her books where her characters eat grilled cheese. Now, I currently have five different types of cheese in my fridge, and when I was learning to talk my word was more, and my first phrase was “more cheese” so I think we all know what it was that got my book buying ban overruled…

Cover of One and Only

Now as the whole book is not about cheese, I should give you a plot outline: Jane is the sensible, organised, responsible member of her friendship group.  So of course she’s the one tasked with keeping her Bridezilla friend’s soon-to-be brother-in-law out of trouble in the run up to the wedding.  Cameron has just been kicked out of the army (with the Canadian equivalent of a dishonourable discharge) after his attempt at turning his life around went awry.  He’s got a list of things that he wants to do now he’s free of the military’s rules and he’s determined to tick them all off before his brother gets married.  The last thing he needs is someone dogging his every move to keep him in line.

Of course we all know what’s going to happen here – these two opposites are going to fall for each other and we’re going to learn that there’s a lot more to Cameron than his bad boy reputation. Hint: he definitely got a rough deal from the army.  Jane needs some one to challenge her and get her out of her comfort zone and he needs someone to prove to him that he is more than other people think he is and that he can have the future that he wants to have.  I would chalk this up as reasonably steamy – there’s quite a lot of bedroom action here, and it’s a little bit more… adventurous than some of the others I’ve read recently.

The other great thing about this book is Jane’s group of friends – they’re fun and supportive, even the Bridezilla (who is also a great comic turn).  I also loved the setting – I can’t remember the last time (if ever) I read a contemporary romance set in Canada and this left me a) wanting more and b) wanting to visit Canada.  It’s the first in the series and the sequel is out in June.  I’m busy resisting the urge to go and buy more of Holiday’s back catalogue to read more of the grilled cheese scenes.

You can get One and Only on Kindle and Kobo and Amazon also sell a paperback edition, although I’ve not worked out if it’s a UK edition or a US one which will affect whether you’ll be able to order it elsewhere.  Summer is coming and with it I know a lot of you will be going to weddings, so get yourself in the mood with this!

Happy Reading!

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!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Princess in Theory

Normal service is nearly resumed here this week – real life is still super busy, but I read some really good stuff last week and I have an excellent BotW pick in Alyssa Cole’s latest book, A Princess in Theory.  After a few weeks of crime picks, I’m back on a romance reading spree, and this one is one of the best that I’ve read in a long time.  And it’s on offer at the moment as an ebook in the UK – so I’m all about enabling your book-buying habit as well!

Cover of A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory’s heroine is Ledi, a smart, fiercely independent orphan who’s come through the foster care system and built her own life.  She’s an epidemiologist – aka someone who studies diseeases – and is really fed up with getting taken advantage of at work.  She just doesn’t have time to deal with these weird scam emails claiming that she’s betrothed to an African prince. Prince Thabiso is one of Africa’s most eligible bachelors, sole heir to the kingdom of Thesolo, so why is he so hung up on the idea that the girl he was betrothed to when he was a child is the one for him? When he tracks her down, she ends up thinking he’s just another normal guy – could this be the best way to find out if they could be the real thing? Ledi really likes this clueless new guy who’s moved in across the hall, but what will happen when she finds out who he really is?

This is full of some of my favourite tropes – secret identities, fake relationships and most of all: a Super Competent Heroine. Ledi is such an engaging character – you really feel like you understand who she is, and what she wants and what her hopes are. She’s so used to being let down – describing herself as “defective Velcro” that people just don’t stick around to – that she’s put up big walls to keep people out and stop her from being hurt any more. She’s clever and driven, but she’s used to not being taken seriously and to people not treating her fairly – as a black woman in a male-dominated STEM field, she’s used to trying to get what she’s due whilst trying to avoid being labelled troublesome. One of the things I liked most about the resolution to this was that it didn’t diminish Ledi’s own accomplishments and skills in her finding her happy ever after. She and Thabiso are going to be a team, and he’s on her side.

I usually have a limited tolerance for princes as heroes, but actually Thabiso is kinda charming in his clueless way. Of course he should have told Ledi who he was straight away (although the book wouldn’t be the same at all if he had!) but he knows that and if he starts to look like forgetting that, he has his super efficient, super sarcastic assistant Likotsi to remind him. And Likotsi is a lot of fun too – she’s not going to let Thabiso get away with taking away Ledi’s decision making power and she’s firmly on Ledi’s side later in the book. I really liked that for once in this sort of book, the prince’s advisor/friend who was trying to sabotage his relationship.

I had a few concerns at the midpoint about whether this was all going to be resolved in a totally satisfactory manner, but I shouldn’t have been worrying. This is a fun, smart contemporary romance, with a great voice and that’s diverse and inclusive and bringing something different to the genre. This is my first Alyssa Cole – but it definitely won’t be the last, because I’ve already got the next book in this series preordered! I’ve heard Alyssa interviewed a couple of times on The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast and not only does she seem like great fun and someone you’d really like to go out for a meal with, but she’s a great advocate for her genre and for the need for more books representing people other than white women. Oh and she lives in the Caribbean and it all sounds super exciting.

Anyway, I think I’ve gone on about how much I enjoyed this enough – so here are the links: I bought my copy on Kindle (it’s only £1.99!), but it’s also available on Kobo. There is a paperback edition, but I suspect if you want it, you’re going to have to order it in, either from Amazon or Foyles or Big Green Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Duke of Pleasure

I was still suffering from the after effects of my virus from hell last week, so not a lot of reading got done – as you can see from yesterday’s Week in Books post.  But luckily one of the books that I did finish hit the spot.  My brain is still a bit fried and over tired, so apologies that this post is going to be shorter than usual.

Copy of Duke of Pleasure

Duke of Pleasure is the eleventh book in the Maiden Lane series – but only the second one of them that I’ve read.  The Maiden Lane series – or at least the ones of them that I’ve read – are set in the early to mid eighteenth century (around the 1730s) and have characters from the ton mixing it with the less fortunate in the East End and the Stews.  Duke of Pleasure sees Hugh Fitzroy, the titular Duke (of Kyle) on an errand from the government to break up a secret society known as the Lords of Chaos.  When Hugh is ambushed in an alley, he’s helped out of trouble by the legendary Ghost of St Giles – who turns out to be a woman.  Alf has survived on the streets by disguising herself as a man.  During the day she’s a street urchin, dealing in information, but by night she’s a masked vigilante flitting across the rooftops.  When Hugh hires Alf to work for him, how long with Alf be able to maintain his disguise as his two worlds collide?

Regular readers to my posts about romance will be aware that one of my favourite historical romance tropes is people in diguise.  Usually it’s women dressed as men – Twelfth Night, Heyer’s These Old Shades – ocassionally it’s the other way around – Heyer’s Maskeraders – but really, I’ll read anything about people in disguise.  And this scratched that itch nicely for me.  It’s a bit overblown at times – a bastard son of the king working as a spy can have that effect – but I just couldn’t put it down.  Alf is a great character and I liked Hugh’s complicated family and backstory.  It all wrapped up very quickly in the end, but the set up for the next book was intriguing.  I got this one from the library – I can only hope they’ve got a few more!

You should be able to get hold of this from your preferred purveyor of romantic fiction – Amazon have it in Kindle and paperback – but I suspect you may have to have a rummage for it in the bookshops.

Happy reading!