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November 2020 TBR Challenge – Series

This month the TBR Reading Challenge prompt invited us all to dive into our series reads. While Caz used this month to catch up on a series by an author she’s enjoyed, Lynn decided to jump into a new-to-her series because she was craving an angsty historical. And fortunately for both of us, the books we chose delivered. What series are you all enjoying now?

If His Kiss is Wicked by Jo Goodman

Jo Goodman is one of those authors whose books I’ve generally liked, and I have several books from her backlist sitting  in my TBR. When I saw a discussion on Twitter comparing her novels to Meredith Duran, particularly with regard to the level of angst involved, I knew immediately which author I wanted to read for this “series” TBR prompt. Goodman’s 2007 novel, If His Kiss is Wicked, comes from the Grantham series, but it reads very well as a standalone. This romance is one of those dark, dark books where the leads have to really work for their HEA, but it’s ultimately quite satisfying.

Emma Hathaway is desperate, and that leads her to Restell Gardner, an aristocratic younger son who has a discreet business making inquiries and basically fixing situations for people. And Emma’s situation is truly dire. Emma lives with her uncle, a renowned painter, and his daughter Marisol. As it turns out, Marisol had been engaged in a flirtation with a young man behind her fiancé’s back. Realizing the possible repercussions of her situation, she knows she needs to break off this relationship. To avoid suspicion, she sends Emma to a millinery shop with a note for the young man.

What happened there is anyone’s guess.  A badly beaten Emma is found in a village several miles outside London with no recollection of what happened to her, and she enlists Restell’s aid. Since she was mistaken for Marisol, she fears that her cousin is still in danger so she asks Restell for protection.

The mystery that unfolds from here is dark and rather gothic. It seems everyone has hidden layers, and secrets abound. I rather liked both of the leads, so that made this an enjoyable read.  Emma, as one might expect, is rather overwhelmed by what happened to her. She suffers from what might be diagnosed today as PTSD, and we see throughout the story how certain sounds trigger her. Emma herself fears she is going mad, but Restell responds with kindness, sympathy and courtesy to her, one of many things that made me like him as a hero.

The author shows Emma as a multifaceted character, and I appreciated that. I’ve read many romances in which a heroine who has experienced trauma is basically shown only as a victim in need of a knight in shining armor. Restell is a bit of that knight, but much of the time, Emma does a pretty good job of standing on her own two feet. We see her as the capable manager of her uncle’s art business as well as an intelligent woman who takes interest in what goes on around her. Emma has moments of weakness, but she also stands up for herself and gets to show her strengths throughout the story.

And then there’s Restell. Restell is a younger son and appears to be cheerfully living on his older brother’s largesse. Like Emma, he is clearly observant and intelligent. The dialogue between these two is a delight. It’s witty but not always light. Given the nature of the story, that makes sense. This book covers some rather dark subject matter, much of which gets hinted at rather than shown outright. Both Emma and Restell occupy the place of poor relations in their families, and in a subgenre dominated by dukes, it was a nice change to see these two planning a future for themselves that didn’t involve dominating the ton.

As well as liking the leads, I enjoyed the secondary characters around them. In addition to Emma’s uncle and cousin, we also meet Restell’s large, close-knit family and various friends. It’s an enjoyable assortment of characters, and I felt like I was seeing an entire world come to life as I read.

So, why is this book not a DIK? Well, it fell apart a bit as it reached the end. The drama started turning into melodrama, and while there are plenty of threads of mystery to wrap up, the ending felt a tad rushed. This tends to be an intensely emotional book and the tension builds wonderfully until… it was just the end of the book, and there were some things that got glossed over that I really wanted to see explored.  However, even with that, I still enjoyed If His Kiss is Wicked. It’s a great pick for those whose reaction to 2020 is to wallow in all the angst.

~ Lynn Spencer

Rating:  B                    Sensuality: Warm

Buy it at: Amazon

My Lady Quicksilver by Bec McMaster

Somehow, I read Of Silk and Steam, the final book in Bec McMaster’s fabulous London Steampunk series first, then moved onto the Blue Blood Conspiracy series, so thanks to the TBR Challenge, I’ve been slowly catching up with the books I missed.  My Lady Quicksilver is book three and is every bit as good as those that preceded it, boasting a tightly-written story with plenty of intrigue and high-stakes action, a steamy antagonists-to-lovers romance, excellent world-building and a strongly drawn set of central and secondary characters.

While each book could be read as a standalone (the central storyline and romance are concluded in each book), there’s an overarching plotline that runs throughout the series, so I’d advise starting at the beginning with Kiss of Steel.  There will be spoilers for the previous books in this review.

Sir Jasper Lynch, Master of the Nighthawks – London’s (sort of) police force, which is made up of rogue blue bloods (those not of the nobility who became accidentally infected with the craving virus) – has been given just three weeks to track down and arrest the mysterious Mercury, the leader of the humanist movement believed responsible for the recent bombing of the Ivory Tower, the seat of the Echelon’s power.  With two weeks left until the deadline – and knowing that the price of failure to deliver will be his life – Lynch has very little to go on, until he connects rumours of a smuggling operation with the humanist movement, and makes plans to intercept the next shipment.  On a dank, foggy night down by the river, he and his team await their moment to strike – but they’re spotted and all hell breaks loose.  During the fight, Lynch almost captures Mercury – who escapes into the enclaves beyond the city walls.  The enclaves are dangerous places – especially for a blue blood – but he follows anyway and quickly corners his quarry and makes a startling discovery.  Mercury is a woman.  A woman who attracts him and repels him in equal measure.  They circle each other metaphorically, testing each other’s mettle with the thrust and parry of their conversation until, after sharing a heated kiss, Mercury sticks Lynch with a hemlock dart and disappears.

Rosalind Fairchild took on the mantle of the humanist cause espoused by her late husband after his death some eight years previously and her secret identity is known only to a select few.  She was not, in fact, responsible for the bombing at the Ivory Tower;  a breakaway faction of mechs planned and executed it and Rosa tried to prevent it, to no avail.  Her main concern now, though, is her younger brother Jeremy, who was duped by Mordecai, the mechs’ leader, into delivering the bomb.  Rosa doesn’t know if Jeremy is dead or alive and is desperate to find out – and she decides the best way to get the information she needs is by taking a position as secretary to Sir Jasper Lynch at the HQ of the Nighthawks.  She presents herself at Lynch’s office as Mrs. Marberry and talks her way into the job – her no nonsense manner, her gumption and her ability to look him in the eye (not to mention her pretty face and soft curves) convincing him to give her the position on a trial basis.

Searching for Mercury isn’t Lynch’s only priority. The recent gruesome murders of two blueblood families – by a family member seemingly gone berserk – are mystifying and completely random, and Lynch has no real clues to go on.

The plot is engaging and well-executed as is the romance between Lynch and Rosa which is full of the sizzling sexual tension Bec McMaster writes so well.  Lynch is another of her swoonworthy heroes; handsome (of course!), honourable, intelligent and tightly controlled, he comes across as somewhat cold at first, but is gradually revealed to have a dry sense of humour and a vulnerability he keeps ruthlessly hidden.  Rosa’s backstory is heartbreaking; she and her brothers lived on the streets for a while after their mother (a thrall) died, until she was taken in and trained as an assassin and spy by her father, the evil Lord Balfour.  In the eight years since the death of her husband, Rosa has never looked at another man – she just hasn’t been interested – and her attraction to Lynch infuriates her.  She hates blue bloods and he, as the Master of the Nighthawks, answerable to the  even more hated Prince Consort, is the worst of the lot. But as she works alongside Lynch as Mrs Marberry, Rosa begins to see a different side to him and to see him as a man of compassion, with emotions he works hard to keep at bay.  She realises that she’s been wrong in tarring all blue bloods with the same brush and that some of them are actually capable and desirous of doing good.

The author sets up the conflict early on, and then drip-feeds information about the characters and their backstories, slowly revealing the truth about these two flawed and damaged characters, their loneliness, their guilt and their determination to do what they believe to be right.  The sparks fly between Lynch and Rosa right from the start; it’s an attraction neither of them wants or can afford, but it won’t go away, no matter how hard they try to ignore it.  The staid and principled Lynch is very much in lust with Mercury, but is also falling for Mrs Mayberry; he struggles with the fact he’s attracted to two women, while Rosa is unable to resist him, even though she knows she’s heading for trouble.

My Lady Quicksilver is another gripping read in what is one of the best series of paranormal romances of recent years. Lynch and Rosa are fully-formed, three-dimensional individuals with flaws and insecurities who, despite their difficult pasts, have grown into strong, determined individuals who will do whatever they must in pursuit of their goals.  The sexual chemistry between them burns up the pages, the banter is excellent and the romance is both tender and sexy as hell (chess, anyone?! Phew!)

If you haven’t read this series yet, then do yourself a favour and get started.  You can thank me later ;)

~ Caz Owens

Rating: A-           Sensuality: Warm

Buy it at: Amazon or Audible

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