A dangerous thing happened at my local thrift store over the weekend.

I exited the store $2.97 poorer (plus tax!) but fifteen books richer.

I was short on time, and the hardest thing was actually choosing which fifteen books to try. The choices were mostly vintage, at least twenty years old, and mostly obscure authors, although I did find a few more prominent names (Elizabeth Lowell, Jude Deveraux, Laura Kinsale). I had to start judging books by their cover and their blurbs, which every romance reader know is an enormous gamble.

I have so far been able to read two of the fifteen books I picked up. Which was a buried treasure, and which was buried for a really good reason?

A Desperate Gamble by Janice Bennett

(Used only/Out of Print; no digital edition)

Picked because: Working-class protagonists in a Regency – a maid and a Bow Street Runner!

Verdict: I liked it! The author has a way with dialect, which makes the wide social class range (from servants up to a viscount) in her book more vivid. It is also nice to read about a maid heroine who is actually working class, and not a baron’s daughter on the lam or a vicar’s daughter in disguise.

The heroine, Emma, finds the body of Sir Joseph in the library, and just about everybody the man has ever met seems to have a motive to kill him, including Emma herself. That’s my favorite kind of mystery – the one where the dead guy is completely unsympathetic. It’s a gentle mystery (no gore and horror, sort of Christie-esque that way) and I liked the calm professionalism of the Bow Street Runner hero Benjamin Frake. I could have wished for more chemistry between him and Emma, and some subplots within the mystery were not fully explained, but I recognize the challenge of telling a full and complex story while meeting those old Zebra word counts.

I’m going to have to look for more Janice Bennetts, even though they’re out of print. I mean, in addition to mysteries, she has two kitten-themed Regency anthologies (Autumn Kittens and Summer Kittens) and a book called Across Forever that seems to involve a painter heroine time-traveling to 1851 via a hot air balloon. This is a lady worth reading more of!

Overall grade: B

Yukon Love Song by Veronica Blake

(Used only/Out of Print; no digital edition)

Picked because: YUKON. LOVE. SONG.

Verdict: The author’s prose isn’t awful, but her characters are. The heroine has a solid education (paid for by her mother’s prostitution) yet decides that her only job prospect is as a mail-order bride to the Yukon, which I think is overreacting a trifle. The ‘hero’ Cole is a total tool, positing that women turn to prostitution because they are too lazy for real jobs. I can’t tell you how often, after a long day of sitting at my desk, I’ve thought to myself, “This is so much harder than standing on a street corner soliciting strange men to enter my body and hoping none of them will infect or murder me, all the while avoiding police who would rather arrest me than the men driving this industry. Honestly, I’d quit tomorrow if I didn’t need the insurance.”

Anyway, after a riverboat shipwreck, Cole picks the city-girl heroine as his companion on a schlep to Fort Yukon because having her along to boink every night is more important than taking a partner with actual survival skills. Bonus points for the fact that after said hike, they have the energy for said boinking, and for a guest appearance by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (unfortunately not involved in the boinking). Points off for the hero abandoning the pregnant heroine. He really is a douche.

The best part of the book was the really interesting depictions of life in the Yukon. The swarms of Arctic mosquitoes made me itch just reading about them, although the stinking lard cream the characters smear on themselves as a shield provides yet another reason to be dubious about all the boinking.

Overall grade: D

So what about you all? Have you discovered a book or anything else that was truly amazing (in both the positive and head-shaking senses of the word) at a thrift store? What’s the least money you’ve ever been able to spend on getting your romance fix? What’s your best obscure read? Enquiring minds need to know…

~ Caroline Russomanno


Caroline Russomanno
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I'm a history geek and educator, and I've lived in five different countries in North America, Asia, and Europe. In addition to the usual subgenres, I'm partial to YA, Sci-fi/Fantasy, and graphic novels. I love to cook.