It’s another edition of the midweek minis. This time we have Melanie, Heather, and Dabney assessing seven books.
Have you read any of these? We’d love to know your thoughts in the comments!
Maybe it’s the colder weather, but I find I am suddenly in the mood to dive into historicals. I love the kind you can really get lost in. You know the ones where you have to blink a few times when you stop reading to remember where you are and what century it is? Or is that just me?
The Turncoat by Donna Thorland transported me to Revolutionary War era Philadelphia, in which a young Quaker woman masquerades as a Tory Loyalist in order to funnel information to General Washington. She finds herself caught between two cousins on the opposite side of the conflict, developing genuine feelings for the person whom she must betray.
Rich in historical detail and character, the story twists and turns unpredictably. Political intrigue, action, and steamy romance intersect to form a complex novel of loyalty and bonds that transcend political affiliation. My only quibble is that I found it difficult at times to keep track of the players and their allegiances. Normally I don’t enjoy novels in which I feel like I have to take notes to keep up, but in this case the effort is well worth it. AAR grade: A
I’m not exactly late to the Maiden Lane party, but I admit to having read the books out of order. When a recent genealogy search revealed an ancestor who hailed from St. Giles in the 1700s, I knew I simply had to immerse myself in that world once again. This led me to Scandalous Desires, the third book of the series, starring river pirate Charming Mickey and staid widow Silence Hollingbrook.
Silence and Mickey share a tumultuous history, with him having ruined her reputation by coercing her to spend a night with him, though her virtue remained intact. Silence has a special bond with Mary Darling, a foundling at the Home for Unfortunate Infants and Children, caring for her as if she were her own child. Mary Darling’s biological parentage however lies with none other than Charming Mickey, who left her at the orphanage believing it to be the safest, best place for her. But the pirate has acquired formidable enemies over the years and now in order to ensure her safety, he sends for Mary to stay with him. Not one to give up easily, Silence follows her and plants herself squarely in the midst of the handsome rogue and his men. Though Mickey is undeniably a scoundrel, Silence quickly learns there is far more to him than meets the eye.
I’ve been intrigued by this pairing since their initial meeting. The undercurrent of sexual tension practically crackled off the pages then and only increases as they’re forced to spend more time in close quarters. While their physical attraction to one another is readily apparent, the emotional connection between them develops slowly as more of each character is revealed.
All in all, the story worked for me. Silence and Mickey balance one another out, with her softening his edges and him opening up a world of decadence for her. The bad guys provide an element of suspense and the climactic moment left me breathless, even though I knew it would turn out okay. The big revelation at the end didn’t have quite the same impact since I read the series out of order, but it didn’t lessen my enjoyment any.
AAR grade: A-
So just how many historical romance series am I behind on? Oh, like, all of them. No really. I have some serious catching up to do, so let’s get shaking on down to Pennyroyal Green, where the animosity runs deep between the Redmonds and Everseas. (I feel like this should be a ballad. Someone with a whole lot more musical talent than I have will have to write it though.)
Like No Other Lover, the second book in the series, takes place at the Redmond estate during a small house party. Miss Cynthia Brightly has come home with her friend Violet Redmond for a brief visit and a desperate attempt to find a rich husband. Her reputation as a provocateur of duels between gentleman callers has preceded her however, and Isaiah, the Redmond family patriarch, has requested his son Miles keep up an eye on her in his absence. Miles expects to find a cold, unlikable trollop in Miss Brightly, but instead is attracted to the vivacious beauty. Virtually destitute and with her back to the wall, Cynthia sets her sights on a variety of wealthy suitors, but Miles is the one whose attention she most craves.
I strongly disliked the beginning of this story and was not sure I would finish it. Though I felt bad for Cynthia due to her circumstances, she was so desperate and calculating it was off-putting. While understandable in this situation, I’ve never been a fan of storylines that hinge on a woman desperate to improve her lot in life by finding a husband. For me it’s uncomfortable because it seems like a recipe for making poor choices, causing me to doubt the HEA.
Cynthia becomes more winsome though as the story progresses and I admired her determination to make a spot for herself in society. She’s plucky and unconventional, brazenly making her way through a variety of unfamiliar situations. She initially comes across as mercenary, willing to do anything to secure her future. By the conclusion of the story though, she demonstrates she has character and a conscience.
AAR grade: B
Object Lesson by Artemis Harper
Okay, I’m not actually the biggest fan of erotica, I’ll fully admit that. I read tons of romance, but tend to flip through extended sex scenes. So that’s some perspective when I say I absolutely loved this. Basically, Kellin is getting sex lessons from smuggler Captain Dominique, and it involves a selection of sex toys. And Van, the entertainment for the evening, enjoys being….penetrated. And why not? And it’s a fantasy. Kellin’s an elf, for one thing. Think a bit of Dungeons and Dragons meets erotica.
It’s all of 19 pages, but it’s totally worth the $1 and then some. It is absolutely hysterical, in the best of ways. Kellin is strangely innocent for someone buckling herself into a strap-on, and wonderfully sweet. Dominique is definitely the woman in charge, and Van seems to be questioning his life decisions until Kellin magics up her metal dildo. And yes, feel free to read that again, it’s not gonna change. Kellin has a magical metal dildo. The writing itself is nice and clean, the situation makes total sense, and I am definitely going to keep my eye out for any future short stories written by this author in this world.
AAR grade: A
I’ve waited years for Jo Goodman’s Compass Club books to be re-released as ebooks and–yay!–last fall they finally were. I read all four again and am happy I did. Ms. Goodman excels at darker romances and the demons and common enemy the lovers in these books battle are truly evil.
I like the first and third books in the series best. The first, Let Me Be the One, is classic Ms. Goodman. The lovers, Brendan Northam (the North of the four directionally named heroes) and Elizabeth Penrose, keep secrets from each other even as they are compromised and forced to marry. This is a suspenseful story spun out slowly–there’s a sense of menace that shadows almost every scene. Elizabeth and North are a great couple–the passion between them is palpable–and it’s great fun to see them vanquish their personal demons together.
AAR grade: A-
The third book, All I Ever Needed, tells the story of Gabriel Whitney (aka East) and Sophia Colley. Gabriel is tasked by his Majesty’s government to work on Britain’s trade relationship with China but, before he can do so, he must resolve an awkward situation: There is an untrue rumor floating about that he has proposed to Lady Sophia. It will startle no one that, once he meets her–this is a romance–he’s rather unwilling to call the non-existent agreement off. Sophia rejects him for reasons unknown to East or to the reader–this is yet another Goodman book where the lovers remain mysterious to each other and to the reader. East is a wonderful hero–he’s my favorite in the series. He is determined to do right by Sophia–in and out of bed!–a task Sophia does not make easy.
I do recommend reading all four books. I’m not as fond of the second, Everything I Ever Wanted, or the fourth, Beyond a Wicked Kiss, (I’d give them both Bs.) but the series as a whole is strong and readers will thrill to see the very nasty Society of Bishops–the villains–get their comeuppance.
AAR grade: A-
Jill Sorenson’s Against the Wall might be my favorite of Ms. Sorenson’s books and she’s an author I thoroughly enjoy! Her characters are often genuinely hampered by their life choices, often to the point that there really isn’t a scott-free HEA in their future. This is definitely true for Eric Hernandez, the hero of Against the Wall. Eric first appeared in Ms. Sorenson’s 2011 The Edge of Night and, at the end of that book, went to jail for crimes he did indeed commit. In Against the Wall, Eric has now served his time and is trying to build a new life. He is, however, still in love with Meghan–also from The Edge of Night–who is, as she was five years ago, out of his reach.
I love everything about this book. Eric is poor, Hispanic, and faces real obstacles to staying safe–the choices he is forced to make are often heart-breaking. Meghan, like many a college student, isn’t sure what she wants from life or from herself. Both are vividly rendered. Ms. Sorenson’s prose crackles with life–this book transports you to its context. Eric and Meghan aren’t able to keep their hands off or their hearts closed to each other but their path is a fraught one. Against the Wall is a damn good story and one I recommend without reservation.
AAR grade: A