Viscountess of Vice (Regency Reformers, book 3) by Jenny Holiday

51-mDlewAnL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_To tonish society Lady Catherine, Viscountess of Cranbook is a somewhat scandalous widow whose pleasurable but short liaisons with younger men draw little notice.  When an old associate of her late husband asks her to join his espionage ring, and pose as courtesan in order to help uncover a plot against the British government, the risks are an incentive rather than a deterrent. But her task becomes harder and more complicated when she meets James Burnham. James is doctor and earnest social reformer who engages Lady V out of a very personal desire to understand the reasons women enter prostitution at all levels.  At first she enjoys tempting and needling him but sincerely comes to like and admire him. When Lady V uncovers a scheme involving children that deeply distress her but is of little interest to her home office handlers she turns to James for help, endangering both their lives and reputations.

I really enjoyed getting to know Lady Catherine's backstory and watching her struggle to discover her personal ethics and boundaries.  While her interest in James prompts some of it, it is really her own journey to finding purpose and meaning in her life.  I  found James's journey less compelling and complete, as he lets go of past resentments .  However their romance and the sacrifices they have to make for it was wholly satisfying.  I liked the humor and playfulness to Catherine and James initial interactions. I particularly like how Catherine comes to consider James's feelings without giving up her agency and autonomy.

I very much enjoyed the historical details and the broader scope of Regency life, Holiday portrayed in the Viscountess of Vice. I will be going back and reading the previous Regency Reformers books, to catch up on this different corner of Regency world.

 

I received a review copy of The Viscountess of Vice from the author.

 

 


February RT Book Reviews

Life on the Level by Zoraida Cordova:  There was a lot to like in this book but it didn't fully work for me.

Fully Ignited by Shannon Stacey: I really loved this book.  The chemistry and the conflict were just what I wanted and I think it is the best of the Boston Fire series so far.

Fighting Dirty by Lori Foster:  The heroine in the book was great  as was the plotting and pacing but I really disliked this hero, especially the his backstory.


Four-Novella-Day Mini-Reviews

Saturdays are usually crazy hectic at our house. We run our girls to different activities, choir, karate & other social events and then often head out ourselves in the evening.  This Saturday I had a great excuse to stay in my PJs all day as my youngest daughter was feverish but recovering from a mini-bout of flu. She wanted company but not conversation so I sat next to her and read novella after novella. I enjoyed an eclectic but solidly good mix.

41AD8Zm7tCL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_I started my morning with Play With Me by Alisha Rai.  It is really book 1 in the Bedroom Games triology but the romantic arc in this first novella is satisfying & hopeful enough that it can be read as a stand-alone. Tatiana and Wyatt were each other's first lovers. They had a passionate seven year relationship that broke down dramatically for lots of reasons that carry little weight anymore.  When Tatiana's newly discovered brother makes a horrible mistake, stealing in desperation from Wyatt's casino, she rushes to intervene.  This short is heavily in the erotic side of erotic romance, but I really loved the romantic turn in the last half, when Wyatt and Tatiana surface from their lust-filled night to untangle their feelings for each other and explore if they want more from each other than a one-night reunion now that they can play as equals.

51K7Ugb1xbL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Blizzard Bliss by Kelly Maher was written and published during Storm Jonas and it was a delightful sexy little story. Two co-workers are finally able to break the ice and get together after months of secretly crushing on each other.  When Cecilia is stranded in DC, Rory offers her a place to stay.  The story is sweetly flirtatious as they go out sledding together and share kisses in the snow.  There is not a lot of tension in the book because it is clear fairly early on that they both like each other and just needed an excuse to get to know each other outside of work. I would love read more books related to this one, as there were a lot of intriguing hints to deeper backstories. 

518qU1Z85wL._SX308_BO1,204,203,200_Next, I read Tessa Dare's latest Spindle Cove story, Lord Dashwood Missed Out.  Miss Nora Browning grew up loving Dash, the wild orphaned boy-next-door, that was her brother's best-friend and her quiet comfort after his unexpected death.  When he unexpectedly and cruelly dashes all her hopes,  treating her abominably during her first season, then departs without notice on five-year cartographic mission, Nora pours all her disappointment and frustration into a pamphlet titled: Lord Ashwood Missed Out. The pamphlet becomes hugely popular with young overlooked misses and Nora refashions her life around writing and speaking for young women, finding new purpose and passions through it.  She is on her way to Spindle Cove for a speaking engagement when she unexpectedly runs into a livid Dashwood, who has just recently returned to England to find his reputation in tatters.  A series of storm-related travel mishaps strands Nora and Dash together in a frigid gamekeeper's hut, where they have to confront all their hurt feelings and searing attraction.   When Nora fails to arrive in Spindle Cove, Dare reunites several previous heroes in a comedic quest to rescue the missing visiting authoress.  The last few chapter's bordered on mad-cap ridiculousness and farce but remained grounded through the sincerity of Dash and Nora's conflicted feelings for each other.  

26067203After finishing these three novellas by mid-morning I struggled to find another book to read.  I started and abandoned several good books after a few chapters because I wasn't in the right mood before sinking into K.J. Charles' A Fashionable Indulgence. The first book in her new Regency-era series is about the son of political radicals that is plucked from his working-class life by his domineering aristocratic grand-father. His cousin recruits a friend and consummate dandy, Julius, to help Harry learn how to dress and navigate high-society. It started out very strong but I had a niggling feeling that I was missing something. I did some googling and discovered that Charles had released a short-story set before the first book. The short-story is not a prequel, but did offer just enough backstory on Richard Vane and the Ricardians that I feel more secure in returning to A Fashionable Indulgence after reading it.

The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh is a enemies-to-lovers story.  Ash is the somewhat hapless, unloved youngest son of a Duke.  He loses his whole fortune in one very ill-advised night of gambling against Francis Webster, a long-time enemy of his older brother. He is contemplating suicide or fleeing to the France when Webster summons him. Unexpectedly Webster offers him an opportunity to win back his fortune. The tension and conflict in this face-off was fantastic. I loved how slowly Ash comes around to realizing what Francis really wants from him and how long he has wanted it himself. I am very glad I went back and read this as I adore enemies to lovers.

These four novellas were really very different but they were just what I need to read yesterday. 


The King's Man by Elizabeth Kingston

51tRptIWeJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Ranulf Ombrier earned his lands with blood. He murdered his foster father and the king's rival as a teenager, earning himself the king's favor and the scorn and suspicion of all others.  That his foster father was an abusive monster was well known but you simply didn't kill a man in his bed.  Since then Ranulf has faithfully done Edward's bidding, but when Ruardean armed party stumbles upon him and nearly kills him, he is deep in Wales far from the court, ignoring the king's summons. Ranulf is a haunted man seeking peace and redemption but trapped by a reputation and legacy of dishonor and brutality.

Gwenllian of Ruardean is the chief of that armed party. She is the daughter of an absent mad Marcher Lord and an ambitious Welsh noblewoman who holds his lands in his place. She leads a mighty armed forced and has many reasons for wanting Ranulf Ombrier dead.  But instead of letting him die, she nurses him back to health only to forcibly escort him back to Edward. Gwenllian is a consummate warrior but is just as trapped as Ranulf when they arrive at court. Her loyalties and ethics are deeply tested.

There are not a lot of medieval romances on the market anymore but even if there was a crowded field Elizabeth Kingston's The King's Man would rise to the top.  I listened to the audiobook narrated by the industry legend, Nicholas Boulton.  I was riveted and not just because Boulton is an excellent narrator. I was reduced to manufacturing errands so I could justify staying in my car a little longer to listen. In the end I ended up listening to the audiobook while my children were in the car with me because the build up to the final conflict and tension was so great I couldn't bear to stop and I didn't have a copy of the ebook to switch to.

The novel is rich in political and interpersonal conflict as these two protagonists are physically powerful people who have to learn to be vulnerable to each and put each other first defying everyone's expectations.  I absolutely loved Gwenllian and Ranulf and the unlikely and hesitant bond they develop. Their relationship is at times awkward, frantic, rough and deeply passionate. Their commitment and loyalty despite their own fear and insecurity was remarkably compelling.

I would absolutely love to read a series related to King's Man. I would love to see more of Gwenllian and Ranulf and the many rich secondary characters Kingston created. I loved Gwenllian's Ruardean men, faithful, steadfast soldiers, loyal to her and wary of the future.  Gwenllian's ambitious mother, with her machinations and political games, born to rule. All of them have feel like they have some much solidity and promise for more.

The King's Man was the January selection of "The Not-a-bookclub" twitter discussion group I participate in.  We discussed it together last Sunday and I have embedded below the tweets from our discussion.  It is extremely rare for all of us to love the same book but we did. The King's Man just pleased us all so much.  Rich in historical detail, powerful story, and compelling characters. 


Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang (Practice Perfect, Book 2)

Helen Chang Frobisher, a Portland neurologist, has developed a very personal interest in the long-term effects of concussions ever since her father, a doctor and amateur boxer, was diagnosed in Parkinsonism.  When her starstruck supervisor introduces her to Adam and Serge, two massive Portland Wolves hockey players being observed for concussion symptoms, she shows little patience when she knows they will risk more concussions by continuing to play.  

51vyOv2lHYL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_Adam Magnus has never been a hockey star. Adam is a Minnesotan farm-boy who fumbled through the start of his career and is just trying to squeeze a few more years in as an enforcer for a struggling team while he figures out what to do next after Hockey. Despite Helen's aggressive disapproval, he find himself compellingly attracted to her passion and energy.

Adam and Helen are on a collision course, drawn to each other when everything in their lives should pull them apart.   A one-night stand, an impulsive letter to the editor, local-news face-offs and two hearts scared to trust and love in the midst of uncertainty.

Hard Knocks is Ruby Lang's second novel and while I enjoyed her first, I loved Hard Knocks.  Lang takes a difficult topics and a tricky premise and creates a charming, funny and deeply emotional romance.  I loved the relationship dynamics, and Lang's portrayal of how family, friends and career concerns play into how the lovers respond and react to each other, an element so often absent in contemporary romance.  It is the richness in these relationships that support the banter & humor through the tricky emotional conflicts.   I am looking forward to many more books from Ms. Lang.

I received an ARC from Ms.Lang but ended up buying my own copy because I hate reading PDFs on my kindle and wanted to finish reading it so much.

 


TBR Challenge review: The Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison (narrated by Kyle McCarley)

17910048This month's TBR Challenge theme is We Love Short Shorts! (category romance, short stories, novella etc.)

My #TBRChallenge book is pretty much the exact opposite of short and sweet. I read/listened to the Goblin Emperor by Katherine Addison. The hardcover was 446 pages and the excellent audiobook 16 1/2 hours long.  I've had it in my TBR for about a year.   Although I had hear a lot positive buzz for this book I remained very ignorant about the plot. I had not idea where the book the was going for most of the time I was reading.  

The Goblin Emperor is the story of Maia, the youngest, almost-forgotten ill-favored half-goblin son of the Elvish Emperor. When the Emperor and his three older sons are killed in an airship accident, Maia is summoned from the remote corner of the empire he had been stashed in with his abusive guardian after his mother died. The story was not at all what I expected, as it is decidedly low on action and adventure. The narrative is introspective taking it is sweet-time building up to a climax and the resolution was quiet and subtle.  

Maia is disruption personified, his 1/2 goblin heritage, his experience with marginalization and his lack of familiarity with the ways things are usually handled makes him open to unconventional solutions and sympathetic to those who are most commonly marginalized in that world. Overwhelmed, unprepared & isolated, Maia draws on the principles his mother instilled in him and the instincts he honed learning to dodge his abuser to learn to negotiate the court and untangle its many intrigues and plots in order to become a worthy ruler and surround himself by capable and trustworthy people. The Deep POV was exhausting at times, and I wished we had the opportunity to see more of the life and spaces inhabited by the people Maia champions.  I resented how little we saw women in the first 2/3 of the book even though there are good narrative reasons for it.

The world-building is intricate and immersive but occasionally info-dumpy. I loved that language, and I am incredibly thankful for the audiobook narration for providing me with the correct and melodious pronunciations for the long made-up words and titles that recur throughout the novel. Some of the words still keep resurfacing in my mind like mini earworms days after I finished reading and listening to the book (Michen'theileian...Alcethmeret...Untheileneuse'meire) .  

I found the world incredibly interesting and I would love to see more of it. I was particularly intrigued by the mentions of Maia's unconventional Goblin aunts and I would love to read more books set in this world, as I have feel I have invested a lot of time getting to know its culture, religion and language. I felt like Addison was setting up for a larger-wider story and I hope that promise is fulfilled at some point, hopefully with a queer, poor, or female protagonist, whose world is wider thanks to Maia's efforts and rule.

 


One Love with stories by Roxie Rivera, Farrah Rochon, Liliana Lee, Jill Sorenson, Genevieve Turner & Audra North

CYrh_04WYAEMNqxOne Love collects a lot of great previously released multi-cultural romances along with one new story by Audra North. The stories are great introductions to some wonderful authors and are well worth the .99 price tag.

In Roxie Rivera's Her Cowboy Protector, Cruz Montes, a heavily pregnant Doctoral student in Math, must go into hiding when her undercover DEA agent brother, Carlos discovers that her rapist and wanted assassin is looking back in town and looking for Cruz. 

When his old army buddy calls him, Niall Campbell doesn't hesitate to step up and help.  He will do his best to keep Carlos's sister safe even if he doesn't have much more than a desolate farm and war-honed instincts to offer.

If that seems like a lot of plot, it is only a fraction of what goes on in this book.  Rivera's action packed plots are always intense, complicated and over-the-top. Somehow her books are fun to read despite the many hard topics she tackles.  While I rolled my eyes at points, I enjoyed the ride. 

All You Can Handle by Farrah Rochon 

Madison "Sonny" White left the behind medical school, a social climbing fiancee and the ever-present pressure of her parents' expectations to pursue a life of her own choosing.  Flirting outrageously with the wickedly handsome stranger in a suit on her first night in a new town is a risk she would have never dared before but hopes never to regret.

Ian Landry almost always has grease under his fingernails from the engines he repairs on his off-days.  His life is dedicated to caring for his younger sister and making a better life for both of them, so he rarely ever has an opportunity to share drinks with his friends at his old bar but he has cause to celebrate.  Madison is alluring and a temptation he doesn't want to walk away from after one night, especially when they both awkwardly discover he is her new landlord the next morning.

All You Can Handle is the sixth book in Rochon's Moments in Maplesville novella series and is the kind of story I am always asking for:  a small town romance that is sexy and fun, has a great sense of place and has POC leads. As soon as I finished it I picked up the rest of the series. If you are fan of small-town contemporary romances similar to Shannon Stacey's Kowalski series, pick these up. The first two are available as a free bundle.

The second-to-last story in the collection was Audra North's Cabin Fever, a second-chance-at-love story. The last time Rico Cardenas and Becca Neubaum saw each other their friendship fell apart with harsh words and a misunderstanding. It has been five years polite distance, punctuated by awkward avoidance, regret and unexpected challenges. 

Rico and Becca's reunion is not easy. They have both grown up a lot in 5 years, their lives changing in directions they never anticipated and as much as they are familiar with each other, they need to get to know each other in a different way and learn lessons from how they hurt each other before.

I had previously read Liliana Lee's Obsession, Jill Sorenson's Wild for Him and Genevieve Turner's Summer Chaparral, so I didn't re-read them this time around even though I enjoyed them all when they were first released.  Liliana Lee is the another name for Jeannie Lin, whose Tang Dynasty historical romances I adore.  Obsession is first of a historical erotica series.  

The events in Jill Sorenson's story Wild for Him, happen concurrently with her full-length novel Wild but can be read as stand-alone.  Gwen Tagaloa is a tattoo artist who finds herself falling for her best-friend's long-distance-not-quite-ex-boyfriend Mitch when they work together to try to rescue Helen in the aftermath of massive earthquake.  

Summer Chaparral is the first of Turner's historical romance Las Morenas series about three sisters from an Old Spanish family in a rapidly changing California.  Jace and Catarina are both flawed people carrying heavy family burdens.  They have to overcome a lot to turn their shot-gun marriage into a love match.

One Love provides a great mix of multi-cultural romances across genre and time-periods showcasing the amazing variety of multi-cultural romances available.

 

 


Giving It Up by Audra North and Looking for a Complication by Tamsen Parker from the First TIme Anthology

Giving It Up by Audra North

I absolutely loved this book when I read it months ago. I am so glad it is finally its release day. The storytelling was great, emotional, humorous and well-paced.

The setup to this story is that the heroine Beatrice is professional photographer struggling to make ends meet.  Beatrice is working a friend's wedding and trying to get a good shot of one of the groomsmen, Warren Davis.  She is usually hyper aware of him because she of her frustrating attraction to him and his seeming desire to avoid her.  When he ducks out of the reception to take a call, just when she needs him for a group shot, she follows him to confront him and ends up overhearing him talking to professional Domme service. She impulsively proposes that he hire her instead.

Lots of things about this story appeal to me. Both the hero and heroine have a lot of in common, but they have a hard time recognizing it.

Warren is interested in seeing a Domme because he has a high-stress job and has no release in his personal life. Tired and overwhelmed from years of over-performing in order take care of his family, he feels overstretch and isolated. He is looking for one place in his life where he doesn't have to be in charge.

Beatrice family was oppressively repressive and while she is estranged from them she still struggles to express desire and wants forcefully.

Both the hero and heroine are afraid of rejection and risking their feelings.   Taking this risk together is  huge challenge to both of them, and struggle mightily against the boundaries they intentionally set up and just as quickly breach.  I loved seeing their struggle to see that they could find love and release together.

Looking for A Complication by Tamsen Parker (Novella included in the For the First Time anthology)

Astrid and Kinsey's story begins with a collision that sparks mutual wary interest  and attraction in both heroines. Whether that attraction and interest will be ignited is at the heart of  the story's central conflict. 

The For the First Time Anthology includes 21 stories for .99 cents.  I read only a couple of them before  I jumped ahead to read Parker's story. It takes special skill to communicate a satisfyingly complete romantic arc is less than 1oK words without skimping on worldbuilding but Parker does so in a way that is sexy, swoony and fun while tackling emotionally charged situations in believable way. I think Parker's novella is worth the price of the whole anthology.

 


RT Review Round-up January

51EGLMxuqpLThe One for Me by Sydney Landon  There was some really fun twitter flirtation in this book but final conflict confrontation was really hard to come back from.

Winterwood by Jacey Bedford  This is absolutely my favorite book I have ever reviewed for RT. I gave it 4.5 stars, RT Top Pick. The first I have ever given out.  I really enjoyed it cross-dressing female pirate captain, ghosts, shape-shifting wolf and a very interesting magical world.  I will be eagerly awaiting the next book in this series.


When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castle Ever After #3) by Tessa Dare

Almost every year I manage to sneak down to Puerto Rico for a week during the second half of Christmas Break.  The long plane rides and longer layovers allow me to have guilt-free dedicated reading time at the end of a very busy season of concerts, extra services and gatherings.

The very first book I read on my vacation was Tessa Dare's When a Scot Ties the Knot

23587120I really love Dare's Castle Ever After series. They are deliciously meta about fandom & writing, while remaining joyfully romantic.

Madeline Gracechurch is paralyzing shy and makes up fake fiance, an army captain heading to war,  in order to avoid having to endure a season of balls and dinners with strangers. Creating a fictional fiance gave her time to grow and mature but at same time distanced her from her family as the burden of her lie grew.  For years Madeline sends confessional letters to her fake fiance before killing him off when the deception was too much to maintain. Madeline retires to castle in Scotland as spinster, where she can concentrate on her nature studies and life-drawings. When her fake fiance shows up at her door, ready to claim her and her lands there is no one more shocked.

Logan Mackenzie was mere private when Madeline's letters started arriving. The letters and their odd intimacies sustained him through the worst days of the wars and trapped him in a deception of his own.  He is resentfully fascinated with Madeline, whose motivations he can barely understand.  With the wars over he returns to a greatly changed Scotland. His damaged men are landless and un-welcomed and Madeline's lands and the fiction of their long anticipated reunion is the only hope he can offer them. 

I love fake engagements, especially those that turn into grudging marriage of conveniences because the lovers are both accomplices and antagonists, creating fantastic tension. Logan and Madeline must get to know each other in order to working together but also in order to try to outwit each other in the tug-of-war of their relationship. They start falling in love the more they discover about each other, untangling the truth from the fictions. 

I loved the way Dare explores the complicated relationship we have with truth and love in all the storylines, the lies we speak to protect ourselves and those we love from hurt and disappointment, lies of hope and lies of pain. Logan and Madelines's lies isolate them but also draw them together and eventually  they come to each other in genuine love that allows them to see each other truthfully and accept each others failures, failings and vulnerabilities.  

When a Scot Ties the Knot is deceptively light read whose conflicts and questions stayed with me long after I finished it.