Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Luckiest Lady in London

Back in historical romance for this week’s BotW, which was a tricky week to pick a book from in some ways. It was a short list, but there were some really good books. I binged on the Alisha Rai series because they were really addictive – but the first of those was last week’s choice and I don’t repeat (or not that quickly anyway). I loved the latest Vinyl Detective – but the the four in the series and you ready need to have read the others. Then there was the Susan Mallery – who I’ve definitely already talked about enough. So that leaves The Luckiest Lady in London, which I did enjoy – but which isn’t my favourite Sherry Thomas and its only six months since Study in Scarlet Women was a BotW. But it is a lot of fun and it is a stand-alone choice. And I love Thomas’s writing style. Welcome to my stream of consciousness decision making everyone.

Cover of The Luckiest Lady in London

Ok, to the plot: Felix Rivendale is The Ideal Gentleman, or at least that’s what society believes. After the death of his parents, he made himself into society’s dream man, worth of his title, the Marquess of Wrenworth. He’s been playing the role so long, he can almost believe it is really who he is. But there’s one person who sees through it. Louisa Cantwell can see through the flattery and attention and knows that he shouldn’t be trusted. She has planned and prepared for her season in London because she needs to marry well. Unfortunately no one else can see through Felix and they keep pushing the two of them together. At the end of the season, his is the only proposal and she reluctantly accepts. After all, there’s something between them – but what is it, what game is he playing and can she ever trust him enough to fall in love with him?

Now that is quite a lot of plot. It’s more than I usually give you – but this isn’t a book that ends with a wedding or an engagement. It’s more complicated than that, and to only give you that part of the plot would be to short change you about what this book is really about. It’s playing with historical romance tropes in a way that really works for me. Louisa has a plan for how to catch the husband that she needs – but she’s never portrayed as scheming or deceitful. Felix sees what she’s doing but doesn’t shame her for it – this isn’t an enemies to lovers romance because he ruins her prospects. This is more of a marriage of convenience with a twist. Felix is charming but manipulative and has a lot to learn about being in a relationship and giving up some of his power. I liked him as a hero and I thought his issues were well handled. Having read Thomas’s Lady Sherlock series, the feisty smart heroine and her voice are familiar, but the setting is not. I thought it all wrapped up a bit quickly at the end, but that’s a minor quibble really and one I often have with romances.

If you like the Lady Sherlock series (and I like it enough to have the next one preordered even though it’s an American import and really quite expensive for a paperback) then I think you’ll like this. If you’re not into Sherlock Holmes retelling but like smart heroines who aren’t passive, then I think this would be a good book to try.

My copy of The Luckiest Lady in London came from the library, but you can get it on Kindle and Kobo and it’s only £1.99 at time of writing, which is a total bargain. The paperback is slightly harder to get in the UK but it should be manageable if you’re prepared to special order or to buy through Amazon.

Happy Reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, historical, romance

Book of the Week: Day of the Duchess

This week’s pick is a book that I brought back from my American Adventure with me and have been saving for a time of need.  And last week was my time of need for a variety of reasons including but not limited to: a book hangover after finishing the Blessings series, a super stressy week at work, not enough sleep and general life stress that I’m not going to talk about because talking about it makes me anxious. So it seemed like the time to crack out the emergency MacLean.

Paperback copy of Day of the Duchess

Day of the Duchess is the last book in the Scandal and Scoundrel series, which was inspired by modern celebrity scandals and translated them back to the nineteenth century. Seraphina is the most scandalous of the sisters that we’ve been following – she left her husband Malcolm and fled abroad but now she’s back and she wants a divorce. The book flashes backwards and forwards between Sera and Mal before their relationship imploded and now when Sera is very clear that she wants her freedom and her future back no matter what the consequences and Mal is equally determined that he wants her back and that they should and can fix things.

And it is really good – an estranged couple, a battle of wills, a fiery relationship with amazing chemistry and the ultimate question: is love and chemistry enough? What happens when you are head over heels for someone – and they are for you – but there is a fundamental problem in your relationship and a conflict that isn’t just a misunderstanding. How do you work past that? This is much more melancholic and reflective than a lot of historical romance – if I hadn’t known it was a romance (and that it was written by an author who I trust and who knows the genre rules!) I would have been worried that there wasn’t going to be an Happily Ever After. But there is and I had strong feelings about what needed to happen to get there too. But the end I was a satisfied customer although it sort of broke me and put me back together again along the way, which was not quite what I was expecting.

As I said at the top, this has been on the shelf for a while and there has been another Sarah MacLean since this  which has started a new series which has some set up going on here, but in a subtle way. On reflection I think that I probably should have reread the rest of the series first because it’s nearly 18 months since I read A Scot in the Dark and I forgotten a little bit where everything fitted in and what we already knew. But that’s not to say that it would be a problem to start reading Sarah MacLean here – because it totally isn’t.  It’s more that if you’re a nerd like me it’s nice to remind yourself who everyone else is and how we got here. Although to be fair, I could also just have gone back and checked the archives here to start with!

As I mentioned at the top, my copy of Day of the Duchess came from the US – specifically the Clarendon Market Common Barnes and Noble – and I’d expect this to be easy to find in any US bookstore with a reasonable romance section – because Sarah MacLean is a Big Name.  If you’re not in the US, you can get the UK version (with a cover that does it no justice) from Kindle or Kobo. Amazon are also carrying the paperback, but I suspect if you want to get it from a real shop it’ll be a special order. All I need to do now is figure out how I’m going to get an American edition of the next Bareknuckle Bastards book when that comes out in the summer. I’m open to offers y’all.

Happy Reading!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: An Extraordinary Union

So. Here’s the thing. I try not to repeat myself too much with these BotW reviews. In another week, The Confessions of Frannie Langton would have been my pick. But I already wrote about that. And yes, I finished An Extraordinary Union on the commute on Monday. And yes it’s only a couple of weeks since I recommended Alyssa Cole, but I loved this and I’m still annoyed about the racism in RWA and so there, I’m chosing it, it’s my blog, try and stop me.

Cover of An Extraordinary Union by Alyssa Cole

Elle Burns is fighting the Confederacy by returning to the south to spy for the Union as a slave in the household of a Confederate senator. As everyone in the house thinks she is mute, she’s perfectly placed to hear conversations filled with valuable information that she can then pass on to pass to the Loyal League. Malcolm McCall is a Pinkerton’s detective, undercover and trying to infiltrate a Rebel enclave. The two of them find themselves working together and fighting an undeniable attraction. But as the net of intrigue tightens around them, it seems impossible for anything good to come out of a relationship – of any kind – between a black woman and a white man in Virginia. Or can it?

I would say this is more historical romantic suspense than a a straight-up historical romance – there is very real peril here at every turn for both Elle and Malcolm. But don’t panic, this is a romance, so don’t worry too much, there is Happily Ever After for these two, but it takes a lot of twists and turns and danger to get there. Elle is a fantastic character – smart and resourceful and determined to do her bit to try to defeat slavery. She knows exactly what is at stake and the risks that she faces on all fronts .  There’s the reality of being an enslaved woman, then there’s being a spy and finally as a woman contemplating any kind of relationship with a white man – not just inside the Confederacy but in the north if they both manage make it out alive. I was a little uncertain about how the relationship in this would work out given that Malcolm has so much more power than Elle, any way you look at their relative situations. But Alyssa Cole has written this so cleverly. Malcolm saw the Highland Clearances as a child and knows about power imbalances and persecution and this informs how he interacts with Elle and his determination to do his bit to overthrow slavery and oppression.

I’ve already said a lot about how many different types of romances there should be, and how everyone should see themselves reflected in romance. And yet a lot of people seem sceptical that black characters can have Happily Ever Afters in Historical Romance. Well take a seat and let Alyssa Cole show you how wrong that idea is. She’s not sugar coating it, and yes it’s harder for Elle than it is for a wilting wallflower in Almacks. But that hard won happy ending is deeply, deeply satisfying.

I’ve already borrowed the second Loyal League book to read the story of Malcolm’s brother Ewan and I’m on the waiting list for the third book. That’s how much I liked it. My copy came from the library, but you can get hold of it on ebook on Kindle (a bargainous £2.37 at time of writing!) and Kobo. It’s slightly harder to get the paperback in this country – Amazon is showing me the French version in paperback and a large print hardback on the same page as the kindle edition – so I think it’s a special order job again. Or you can look and see if your library has it.

Happy Reading!

Blog tours, historical, new releases

Blog Tour: The Confessions of Frannie Langton

A Friday bonus post for you today because I am on the blog tour for The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins, which came out on Tuesday in the UK.  I actually mentioned this book last week in my post about diverse authors, although  that was focusing on romance and this is a mystery thriller Gothic page turner, definitely not a romance. It’s also a debut and I have many things to say about it.

Hardback of The Confessions of Frannie Langton

Let’s start with the plot. This is the story of a young Jamaican woman named (by her owners) Frances Langton.  When we meet her she is in a cell in Newgate prison, awaiting trial for the murder of her employer and his wife. Over the course of the novel we go back over her life, starting at the plantation in Jamaica where she was born a slave and then the journey that led her to the trial which may see her hanged.

Frannie is an incredible character.  She is smart she is determined and she wants to believe that she can better herself and better her situation in life, despite all the advice from her friends and all the evidence that the world is trying to stop her from doing anything, being anyone and achieving anything.  The story she tells is fractured and oblique at times – there’s a lot of reading between the lines to do and there are lots of twists and turns and information withheld from the reader until very late on – which is more powerful than unravelling it all at once.  I had some of the revelations figured out quite early on, which didn’t make it anyway shocking when it was finally revealed – if anything it made it worse, because I was hoping I was wrong!   I was unsure about how the central mystery, that is who killed Marguerite and Mr Benham, was going to be resolved, but I think that’s the point – the book is keeping you on a knife edge.

You will know by now I read a lot of historical fiction, and it’s easy to forget when you read them what the reality of life was like for most people, and even worse that most of the money, if not all of the money, that was supporting the lives of wealthy people was supported by the slave trade or by sugar plantations which themselves were run by slaves.  This is the book to read to remind yourself of that and to counteract. It’s dark and disturbing and unflinching at the violence that was inflicted upon slaves by their masters, but it’s also a big old page turner.

Along with my hardback, I got sent some bits and bobs about the book, among them some notes from Sara Collins, who says that this book is in part a response to reading Jane Eyre as a child in the Caribbean and wanting to write a story with a Jamaican former slave in a similarly ambiguous, complicated Gothic love story.  As she puts it “like Jane Eyre, if Jane had been given as a gift to ‘the finest mind in all of England’ and then accused of cuckolding and murdering him.” If you need further convincing, it’s also compared to Sarah Waters, Alias Grace and the Wide Sargasso Sea.

I enjoyed it a lot – and will be looking forward to seeing what Sara Collins does next.  My copy of The Confessions of Frannie Langton was sent to me by the publisher, but you can get hold of one of your very own now – in Kindle, Kobo and hardback which is rather well priced at Amazon at time of writing, but I’m expecting it to be in all the bookshops fairly prominently, and I’m sure Big Green Bookshop would be happy to order it for you too in their new online-only incarnation.

Happy reading!

historical, new releases, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: The Governess Game

Bonus post this week – because the new Tessa Dare book came out yesterday.  I read it back at the start of the month and really, really enjoyed it.  It is the second book in the Girl Meets Duke series and features the romance between one of the friends of the heroine of the first book and a man you saw her run into in that book.  The Duchess Deal was a BotW back in May, and is also well worth reading.

Cover of The Governess Game

Alexandra Mountbatten makes a living by setting clocks in the London houses of the rich.  But when she loses her equipment, she finds herself the governess to two out of control orphans who are in the care of a renowned libertine.  Alexandra knows that what they need is a stable, loving home.  Chase is the heir to a duke and lives by one rule: no attachments.  He won’t settle down and he doesn’t want anyone depending on him.  He knows he’s not to be trusted – all he wants is for his new governess to turn his wards into proper young ladies so that they can find men that they can rely on when they grow up.  And we all know where this is going.  It’s got a grumpy scared to love rakish hero with two children to take care of, a very wary accidental governess who sees the job as her ticket to her own independence and a bit of forced proximity. Bingo, my catnip.

The dialogue is sparky, the characters are great from the hero and heroine, right the way through all the minor characters.  I loved the running joke about the funerals.  You’ll get it when you read it – but if I tell you it’ll spoil it.  Here’s what the author had to say about it on twitter:

And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what will.  Anyway, if I had one quibble, it’s that the heroine’s surname is Mountbatten which I *think* originated as one of the invented surnames for some of the British end of the Royal Family when they were Anglicizing things during World War One – in this case the bits of the Battenburg family that married Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter and one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters.  It’s also the one that Prince Philip adopted just before he married the then Princess Elizabeth – meaning the current British royal family has the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.  If you’re not a massive nerd like me, it probably won’t bother you, but it made me think of Prince Philip every time it was mentioned.*  I’m sorry if by mentioning it I’ve caused the same issue for you.

My copy came via NetGalley, but The Governess Game is available on Kindle and Kobo and if it’s anything like the Duchess Deal it may pop up in larger supermarket book selections and some of the bigger bookshops when it comes out in paperback in the UK next week.  If not, order it from your local friendly indie.

Happy Reading!

*Oddly not the only romance novel I’ve read recently that has done this.

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!