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TBR Challenge: It's Catch-Up Time!

david It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Grace Burrowes’ writing, and although I’ve read the majority of her books, there are still a few I haven’t got around to, as she writes them faster than I can read them! When I read Daniel’s True Desire at the end of last year, I realised that I had somehow missed out on reading David, the ninth book in her Lonely Lords series; David Worthington, Viscount Fairly, plays an important secondary role in Daniel’s book, which is what jogged my memory.

Through unusual circumstances (explained in Gareth, book six in the series) David has inherited a high-class brothel named the Pleasure Palace. He doesn’t quite know what to do with it, and thinks he’ll sell it eventually, but doesn’t relish the prospect of turning the working ladies out onto the streets without being able to offer alternative employment. So he’s stuck with it for the immediate future while he decides what to do. One thing he does know, however, is that he needs someone – a madam – to run the place on a day to day basis.

While pondering these problems, his man of business, Thomas Jennings, asks David to look in on Mrs Letty Banks, the former mistress of David’s younger sister’s late husband (this is what I meant about this not being the best place to start with this series!). David is surprised by the request, but on encountering the lady by chance, can see why Jennings was so concerned. Mrs Banks is pale, too thin and obviously not taking care of herself, despite the settlement she received from her former protector.

Letty, a vicar’s daughter, was forced by circumstances into becoming a courtesan. She is struggling to make ends meet, not because she is a spendthrift, but for other reasons that become clear as the story progresses. She is reticent and wary of men – a very unlikely courtesan in fact, something which intrigues David even as he acknowledges that he is attracted to her.

Realising that Letty is living in straightened circumstances, David sees an opportunity to help both of them at the same time and offers her the position of madam at the brothel. Letty is suspicious at first, fearing he has an ulterior motive; but when he quickly makes it clear that his offer of employment is not contingent on her sharing his bed, Letty accepts. Beggars can’t be choosers, after all, and she needs to eat, keep warm and earn money.

I enjoyed watching the relationship develop between these two cautious, emotionally bruised people. On the surface, David has everything – golden good-looks, pots of money, a title and a group of friends who care for him deeply. But not everything in his life has been easy. Readers of earlier books will know why this is; he lived with the stigma of illegitimacy for most of his life, and stopped practicing medicine following a personal tragedy that continues to haunt him. He makes no bones about the fact that he has been promiscuous in the past, but still manages to be a compassionate, sympathetic hero. Letty comes across as rather cold to start with, but as we learn more about her life, that is completely understandable. She is living daily with the heart-breaking consequences of a youthful indiscretion, deeply ashamed of the way she has had to support herself, and is constantly looking over her shoulder waiting for the secret she has carried for years to be exposed.

One of the things I love about Grace Burrowes’ romances is how she has the heroes show their ladies care and consideration through the little things they do for them, rather than by lots of grand gestures. David’s attention to those little things – ordering Letty’s favourite tea-cakes or rubbing her feet at the end of a long day – are terribly sweet and impossible to resist. David asks Letty to become his mistress but she likes him too much to enter into the sort of agreement which would see her receiving financial compensation for what happens between them. But she can’t deny the attraction between them or her desire for him and instead agrees to an affair, something they will continue for as long as they both wish it. But she knows that at some point, David must marry and produce an heir, and also knows that she is not a suitable prospect for him – and not just because he’s a viscount and she’s a mere vicar’s daughter.

The author drops the odd clue about Letty’s past in the first part of the book, but it’s not until the second half that this side of the story really gets going and we learn exactly what is going on. This is where we meet Letty’s brother, Daniel, and discover why she has been struggling financially for so long. I’m not going to spoil it (although anyone who has read Daniel’s True Desire will already know) but it’s an intriguing and well-thought-out twist that tugs at the heartstrings in the way that fans of this author will no doubt recognise. This also sets the stage for the very genuine and well-written friendship between David and Daniel that carries over into Daniel’s book and is a great example of yet another of the things I so enjoy in Ms Burrowes’ books; the way she writes friendships between her male characters. Douglas, Viscount Amery and Lord Valentine Windham (The Virtuoso) play important secondary roles in this book, and it’s clear that these men share a strong bond of affection. In fact, the familial relationships and friendships in Ms Burrowes’ stories are often as important and enjoyable to read as the central romance, and I always look forward to reading them.

David: Lord of Honour is a terrific character-driven romance, and a great addition to this long-running series (there are now twelve books in total). The only reason I’m not recommending it to all and sundry is that potential readers do need to have read at least some of the earlier books in order to be able to place all the secondary characters; but if, like me, you’ve done that, then I’d say go for it, sit back and enjoy. Grade: B

– Caz Owens
silentgirl This month’s TBR prompt, catching up on a series, took me in something of a non-romance direction. As I contemplated my little wall of TBR, I realized my series-avoidance of the past few years had left me with only a few that needed catching up. Since I’ve been loving the Rizzoli & Isles books by Tess Gerritsen, I decided to jump into that world again. My TBR read for February was 2011’s The Silent Girl.

The mystery running through this book takes readers on an unforgettable journey. The discovery of a grisly murder scene in Boston’s Chinatown takes Jane Rizzoli on an investigation that leads her back not only to past crimes, but also gives readers an interesting look at Chinese mythology and at the Chinese community in Boston. This is a group about which I am largely ignorant, and I found the background information every bit as fascinating as the story.

The basic gist of the story is this – the Chinatown murderer left behind few clues. However, the little bit Maura Isles finds at autopsy leads directly back to a murder-suicide that occurred in a Chinatown restaurant nearly 20 years before. The only known witness with a connection to the events is a local martial arts instructor whose husband died in the massacre, and whose own life is more than a bit mysterious.

When Rizzoli’s team comes searching and interviewing in Chinatown, they quickly learn that this martial arts instructor doesn’t believe the murder-suicide conclusion reached years before. Her belief that the alleged killer was himself a victim initially appears far-fetched, but then as events unfold and it becomes obvious that just about everyone connected with the long ago crime is now in danger, her assertions start to look more realistic.

This story takes readers on a maze of twists and turns, and it’s one of those grand mysteries that veers off into another direction just as one can almost feel the solution to the puzzle coming into view. From a plotting standpoint, even though this is a somewhat fantastical “grand conspiracy” story, it really does work. The dynamic between law enforcement and the residents of Chinatown fascinated me, too. At times, the police seemed to view the Chinese as exotic and “other,” but I notice that throughout the book, the residents of Chinatown view the American police in a very similar way. The mixture of curiosity, lack of understanding, and suspicion intermingled with attempts to make connections felt very real.

My only quibble with this story is that I wish we could have seen more of Rizzoli and Isles as characters. Gerritsen has developed their characters over many books (this is 9th in a series), and their characters felt thinner than usual in this installment. Even so, The Silent Girl is a worthy installment in a fantastic mystery series. Grade: B+

– Lynn Spencer

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