Today’s Steals and Deals at AAR…..

It’s Monday and the book deal gods are smiling upon us. We’ve got a Loretta Chase, a Lorraine Heath,a “if you stick with it, it’s worth it” HR by Suzanne Enoch, a DIK from Sabrina Jeffries, and a very good thriller by perennial favorite Karin Slaughter. Enjoy!

We do love ourselves some Carsington Brothers. (And isn’t this cover gorgeous?) In our review, we wrote:

At sixteen, Charlotte was seduced by a rake who was subsequently killed in a duel. She gave birth in secret to a son who was then placed with a good family. Charlotte’s stepmother helped her but her father was kept in the dark. She has sworn off love for the past ten years and learned to subjugate her emotions, determined to be the perfect daughter and never give her family any more cause to worry. She is heartily ashamed of her past; she believes herself to be damaged goods and so can never marry, for she can’t imagine ever trusting any man enough to tell him of her past.

Charlotte has managed, through hard work and rigorous politeness, to not marry, but her well-meaning father is determined to see her happily settled. He has invited likely candidates to a house party but in his eyes, the best prospect for his beloved daughter is Darius Carsington, their new neighbor.

Darius is incredibly intelligent and well known for his many papers on agricultural matters – he specializes in animal mating behavior. It is his human mating behavior, however, that bothers his father, the Earl of Hargate. Darius’s driving force is Logic, and he comes across as emotionless, heartless and cold-blooded in his dealings with women. His partners are always worldly, experienced women whom he engages and then dismisses with neither his heart or emotions ever being engaged. He does not debauch the innocent, but he has not had much contact with them either, as he shuns polite society.

The earl is fed up with his youngest son’s heartless ways and lack of income. He challenges Darius to take a derelict property and turn a profit within one year by putting his endless theories into practice. If he fails, he is to marry an heiress in order to support his expensive ways. It is a challenge – and a motivation – that Darius cannot refuse.

So we have two people well-versed in not showing their emotions and avoiding any kind of romantic attachment. It isn’t long before both are behaving in ways that are unusual for them and rethinking their positions.

Charlotte isn’t so much unemotional as she is controlled. Her emotions are, at times, barely below the surface. She has great grief, guilt, and longing, and the effort to keep it all bottled up, to be the perfect daughter, occasionally requires an outlet. When this happens, she walks and walks, and cries or laughs or screams, depending on the situation. It is on one of these walks that she runs into Darius, lying on the ground studying dragonflies. It is a great and funny first meeting and Darius’s “breeding organs” are quickly engaged, but Logic intervenes when he learns she is his neighbor’s daughter – a lady – and therefore off-limits.

Charlotte is an immediately sympathetic character who finds that her usual methods of avoidance don’t work on Darius. For his part, Darius can’t logically work out why a beautiful heiress is still unmarried at 27. She is a puzzle and he can’t resist a puzzle. Before long, Logic begins to give way to those pesky Feelings and he can’t stay away from her, though he knows he should.

You can get it for 1.99 here at Amazon.

Never Love a Cowboy by Lorraine Heath is a DIK at AAR. (Our review is here.)

Never Love a Cowboy is the kind of book that makes me wonder why I’m not more familiar with Lorraine Heath’s name. Why is everyone buying that latest glossy big-name hardback when they could be reading this little jewel? Between these inexpensive green paper covers is a book with more emotional depth than anything I’ve read in a long time.

Harrison Bainbridge is one of a trio of exiled British noblemen who find themselves in the dusty little frontier town of Fortune, Texas. He is a charming clothes-horse with a gift for poker, but beneath his well-groomed exterior lies a man who believes that he is incapable of love. He was gravely abused by his mother, and always felt that his father, an earl, had no interest in him except as a spare heir. He feels he has nothing to offer a woman but sex.

Jessye Kane is a nice girl, but she was raised in her widowed father’s saloon and has no reputation to speak of. In her foolish youth, she was led astray by a sweet-talking man, an affair that led to a shatteringly painful experience, one that still haunts her with regret. She longs for love but wants never to find herself in a man’s power again. She intends to raise a little money and be entirely independent, and hopes that her need to be loved will go away on its own.

These characters were first introduced in A Rogue in Texas, a book I haven’t read, and so we do not see the opening chapters of their relationship. By the time we meet them, they’ve already reached an impasse. Jessye longs for Harry’s love but cannot trust him. Harrison wants to sleep with her but is incapable of offering the one thing that would win her – his love. The way we’re dropped into the middle of this already-existing relationship is a touch confusing but, once we know who all the players are, it’s very effective. It gives immediacy to the sexual frustration, resentment and need that hums between Harry and Jessye from the very first chapter.

In the first half of the book, Harry and his friend Kit (one of the Brits) plan on making a fortune driving Texas cattle to eastern markets, and they talk Jessye into investing in the scheme. She agrees to become Kit’s partner, but pencils Harry out of the deal because, as she makes clear, he’s an untrustworthy scoundrel. Over the next several months Harry and Jessye work closely together. Harry learns about the deep wounds in Jessye’s spirit, and Jessye learns that Harry might not be the scoundrel she’d assumed, and begins to suspect that her mistrust cuts him deep. Before long Jessye and Harry are firmly and unmistakably in love, but their insecurities still keep them apart. It takes a very skilled writer to make this kind of subtle internal conflict work because it shows both characters at a disadvantage – it focuses on their faults, their hurts, the things they hate about themselves.

At mid-point in the book, something so catastrophic happens that I can’t tell you what it is. I’m sorry – I know that’s unsatisfactory. But it’s shocking, and you just have to read it. It changes every aspect of the relationship between our protagonists. And at it’s at this point that Never Love a Cowboy goes from being a pretty darn good book to a masterpiece. I liked the first two hundred pages; I was absolutely riveted to the last two hundred.

You can get it at Amazon for 1.99 here.

This one starts slow and then ends up being worth it. Our review is here.

Alexandra Gallant is a rather desperate governess. Her reputation blackened by an incident with her previous employer, she accepts employment from the only person who will hire her, Lucien Balfour. Since his own reputation is rather notorious, he doesn’t worry about these things. All he wants is someone to help polish his rather immature niece so he can marry her off and fulfill his familial duty.

I disliked Lucien from the very beginning, and his obnoxiousness overcame whatever allure was making Alexandra dither about him. He had no qualms at all about sexually harassing his employee; the only thing to be said in his favor is that he didn’t attempt to just throw her skirts up and take her, like her previous employer. His dislike of and offensiveness to his aunt and cousin seemed completely out of proportion to their sins, he seemed to be the biggest obstacle in the way of his stated goal of getting his cousin married, and his motivation for steering clear of love and marriage (his father was an amoral womanizer) was weak. Add to that a distinctly Regency Lite setting and a silly rank for Lucien (Earl of Kilcairn Abbey), and reading this book felt like the same kind of chore that watching an amateur play sometimes does.

But sometimes in those plays that start off badly, at some point, for no discernable reason, magic happens. Thing start coming together. The sixteen-year-old actors suddenly seem credible as Shakespearean lovers. The set recedes properly into the background. And something you thought would be a chore suddenly becomes a great pleasure. That’s what reading the rest of Reforming a Rake was like for me.

I can’t say when it happened, but suddenly I respected Alexandra more, Lucien began to grow on me, and the sniveling cousin grew a spine and became interesting. By the time Lucien made up his mind to make everything right so that Alexandra would marry him, I was cheering him on. If secondary characters like the aunt and cousin did not become totally three-dimensional, they at least grew from one dimension to two, or even two and a half. And I admit to being taken by surprise when a plot twist revealed an unexpected villain.

Best of all, the latter part of the book took me completely by surprise with some moments of emotional depth. I genuinely felt for Alexandra during painful encounters with her disdainful relatives, and for Lucien in his need to set his life back in order. Reformed rake stories are more satisfactory if the rake seriously changes, not just in forswearing womanizing (something Lucien openly planned to continue after marriage at first) but in changing the careless way they treat other people. Lucien does so, and I went from loathing him to liking him, even if I still thought his title sounded fake.

It’s on sale at Amazon for 1.99 here.

We love this oldie by Jeffries. (Our DIK review is here.)

Jordan Willis, Earl of Blackmore, is powerful, handsome and completely arrogant in his opinions on the folly of falling in love. His amorous attentions are saved for lonely widows and those women who make pleasure their business. So when he finds himself alone in his carriage with a complete innocent – a rector’s daughter – whom he had mistaken for a widow, he is totally unprepared for the desire that overwhelms him. He is even less prepared to meet up with her months later – disguised as the bewitching niece of his most vocal political enemy.

Emily Fairchild could only dream of being a lady until she is made an offer she can’t refuse. She must pose as Lord Nesfield’s niece and help him find the man who tried to elope with his daughter, or he will make public what he knows of her mother’s mysterious death. Emily gives in to his unscrupulous demands, and by posing as his niece, she is able to gain entry into society. Still she is terrified that Nesfield will ruin not only her life but her father’s as well. And what if the Earl of Blackmore recognizes her?

Jordan and Emily spend much of their time dancing – not just at balls but around each other as well. Jordan is determined to reveal her masquerade. Emily is determined to keep her mask firmly in place while uncovering the identity of the man who tried to run away with Nesfield’s daughter, Sophie. The more their attraction grows, the more desperate both Jordan and Emily become until the tension snaps, resulting in a seduction and an abduction.

With this latest book in the Lord series, Jeffries has struck gold. The war of wills between Jordan and Emily is wonderfully written, and I loved the fact that Emily often put Jordan in his place with her verbal set downs. Both characters could have been over the top and stereotypical, but Jeffries manages to keep them real by allowing them to make mistakes and realize the foolishness of their actions.

It’s on sale at Amazon for 1.99 here.

Karin Slaughter’s books are almost compulsively readable. We gave this one a B+.

The first book I read by Karin Slaughter was Pieces of Her. Like our reviewer, I couldn’t put it down and, upon finishing it, I read EVERY SINGLE NOVEL she’s written. That said, Pieces of Her is bonkers and I wasn’t crazy about Andy, the young woman whose mother’s past is told in the book. Thus, when I saw that Andy was the lead in Slaughter’s most recent work, Girl, Forgotten, I was somewhat apprehensive.

I need not have been. Here, Andy is a well-rounded, sane detective whose behavior never veers into batshit crazy or TSTL behavior. Instead, she’s methodically trying to solve a cold case in the small, insular town she’s moved to in order to leave behind the trauma of the events in Pieces of Her. (Girl, Forgotten can be read as a stand alone but you’ll understand it much better if you’ve read Pieces of Her.)

Andrea is now a US Marshall and has been assigned to protect a judge, one Esther Vaughn, the subject of violent death threats. Forty years ago, Esther’s daughter, Emily was brutally attacked and left brain dead. She was kept alive long enough to deliver the child she was carrying and then died. Her murder remains unsolved. The Vaughns still live in Longbill, Delaware as do Emily’s teenage circle of friends all of whom had reasons to harm Emily.

This case is also connected to Andrea’s birth father, the murderous Clayton Morrow, who, after being jailed for thirty years for things he did in Pieces of Her, is up for parole in six months. Clayton, born Nicholas Harp, hailed from Longbill and had a connection to Emily back in the day. Andrea is determined to find out what truly happened to Emily, in part because she is trying to determine if Clayton was Emily’s killer–Andrea very much does not want Clayton to be free and were he to be charged with more crimes, he’d remain incarcerated. Furthermore, something is still very wrong in Longbill- including a nearby fava bean farm run by two of Emily’s old friends whose workers are almost all emaciated, terrified young women.

This is a dual timeline tale. We see the final months of Emily’s life in 1982–and whoa, the early 80s do not come off well here. So many cults, drugs, and horribly privileged, sexist and racist males! Still, I enjoyed these chapters–Emily, though overly naive, is a smart, intrepid young woman and it’s harrowing to see how the choices she makes sentence her to death. Slaughter is a gifted world builder and, in this past as well as in the present, Longbill is a vibrant and believable community.

It’s on sale for 2.99 here.


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