I started reading romance after reading a fun paranormal retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion, "Almost Persuaded" by Mary Balogh. At the time I didn't realize how significant Balogh is to modern historical romance. I ended up reading through several of her series enjoying the Bedwyn Saga most of all. I then read most of Julia Quinn's and Stephanie Laurens' books. I eventually discovered Courtney Milan, Tessa Dare, Cecilia Grant and Sarah Maclean. However right around that time I was also starting to get burned out. I was reading 1.5 books or so a day for over a year, and so at a certain point the plots, the balls, the boots and estates were all running together. All the authors I have named here are amazing and I loved their books, it was all the nameless others that eventually burned me out.
I ended up taking a sabbatical from Historical Romances and instead started reading Contemporary Romance instead. I have read all the variations, from NA, small-town, sporty, urban, to MC, but at the end of the year I finally found myself missing historicals.
Jane from Dear Author on twitter suggested Historical Romance reading challenge. One historical a month for 2014. This seemed like a do-able goal for me. There were a couple of new releases by trusted names that I could see myself trying and I have a large TBR collection on my kindle of books I bought before I stopped reading historicals.
First up for me was Courtney Milan's Countess Conspiracy. I had loved the first book of The Brothers Sinister series and two related novellas but I had DNF'ed (Did not finish) the 2nd, Heiress Effect. It was in fact one of the last Historical I attempted to read last year. Heiress Effect simply didn't grab me, and while intellectually knew it was a well written book, I just had no interest in finishing it which made me realize I needed to take a break.
I was however very interested in reading about Violet and Sebastian. Supporting characters in the previous books, Violet is a cool, collected, witty widow, whose friendship with Sebastian a droll, devastatingly handsome and intellectually scientist-rake was deep, genuine and seemingly platonic.
In the Countess Conspiracy we discover that what we thought we knew about Violet and Sebastian, their public personas, are facades they have carefully cultivated to hide their true feelings and agendas. Violet is not simply an ultra-proper Countess but secretly a passionate obsessive scientist, responsible for most of the work Sebastian has presented as his own for the past decade. Sebastian isn't just a easy-going pleasure-seeking rake, but a devoted friend and co-conspirator with Violet whose choice to present her work for her, and to hide his true feelings for her, is coming a great personal cost including his brother's respect and possibly the opportunity to be the guardian to his beloved nephew.
The romance in this story was breathtaking. I just loved reading Violet start to break out of her icy-shell, to reclaim herself, and take the risk to love Sebastian after all the has secretly suffered. Sebastian is now my favorite historical hero. So swoon worthy in his admiration for Violet, his willingness to sacrifice so much for her sake and just simply valuing her and understanding her. There is no overbearing alpha-hole in this book!
Honestly it was the perfect return to Historical Romance book for me. No Balls, older characters, real stakes. Characters talk about their feelings and problems, turn to their friends for help, and it has the nerdiest declaration of love I have ever read.
5 out 5 for the Countess Conspiracy.
A digital ARC of this book was provided by the author via Netgalley for review purposes.
No Good Duke Goes Unpunished by Sarah Maclean is the third book in her Rules of Scoundrels series. I liked the first, A Rogue by Any Other Name, despite thinking the hero was almost irredeemable due cruelty in the beginning and I adored the second, One Good Earl Deserves a Lover with its tortured hero, and spunky bespectacled heroine.
In No Good Duke Goes Unpunished we finally learn the details of the crime that drove Temple, the large undefeated brawler Duke, and third of four partner-owners of The Angel gambling club from society.
Temple is suspected of ruining and killing his father's fiancée Mara Lowe. Mara Lowe's body was never found and Temple’s recollections of that night are few and hazy. He has lived for over a decade with society's fear and disdain but most of all with the uncertainty and fear that he might be a killer.
But Mara Lowe is not dead but instead hiding in plain sight running a foster home for unwanted society bastards. She would have been content to continue to do so except her brother has gambled away their family fortune but more importantly for Mara the funds she uses to run the Home that he was holding in Trust for her.
When Mara first approaches Temple he is solely focused on revenge and heaping on Mara the scorn he has endured. Mara is flinty, independent and constantly unbalances him with her deviousness. Maclean crafted an intriguing romance that was as much about Temple and Mara forgiving and risking trust as exploring the repercussion of abuse and rejection. Despite a heart-stopping climax the real payoff in this book is the revelation we are given about Chase, the upcoming protagonist of the 4th book in the Rules of Scoundrels series. It honestly stole the thunder of Temple's story and had me re-reading the book to admire Maclean's deft writing.
4 out 5 for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished.
I follow and enjoy interacting with Edie Harris on Twitter. I have read and enjoyed her sexy contemporary novels Stripped and Sparked set in current day Hollywood. At the end of last year she gifted me a copy of her Regency era Historical Romance mainly set in France, The Corrupt Comte. I have started but not yet finished reading it, although I am intrigued by the amoral anti-hero Gaspard and his quest to save and enrich himself by seducing the vulnerable Claudia. I liked everything about it, the language, the setting and characters except for the fact that it made me too anxious. I need to find time to read it and enjoy without distractions.
I did however stumble upon a copy of her post-Civil War Western Wild Burn in the NYPL's e-book collection. This is probably the first non-steampunk Western I have ever read. The book opens with ex-nun and frontier-town schoolteacher Moira Tully being accosted by a dusty, dangerous, bearded gunslinger, Delaney Crawford. A tarnished Confederated survivor, Crawford is the Mad Dog Killer, employed by the US Army to hunt down Cheyenne outlaw warrior bands. Their first encounter is fraught and nearly fatal to Moira's good friend and neighbor, John White Horse. Crawford has been summoned to Red Creek Colorado to hunt down Cloud Rider and his band that might be threatening the mining community despite the fact that the only Cheyenne in the area is a small peaceful community attempting to integrate in order to avoid expulsion. Crawford, White Horse and Tully come to realize there is a conspiracy afoot, and they must untangle it before it cost the lives of White Horse's people.
I thought Harris did a great job portraying a complex and ugly time in American History. She doesn't shy away from the ugly racism, misogyny and genocide in the American West. Her characters are both a product of their time, and simply people trying to do their best with the hands that they were dealt. Red Creek feels like a living town, with diverse people.
I thought Harris did a particularly good job with Moira Tully's complicated back-story. How Moira comes to lose her faith and vocation in the same night before moving West was heartbreaking, and her bravery in the face of violence admirable. I particularly admired how realistic the reasons for Moira choosing the veil were in the first place.
I do wish however that Moira and Delaney's connection had evolved more slowly. Although Moira struggles with her insta-trust of Delaney, it still bothered me. I believed that she was attracted to him, interested in him and that helped overcome her fears but I struggled with how safe she felt with him despite all the reasons she shouldn't have. Moira didn't understand it and neither did I.
4 out 5 Stars for Wild Burn