Q: what historical time period do you think is sexiest? I love 19th century Britain but I also get really excited about books set in the Gilded Age & 1920s!
There are parts of Ella Stainton’s Best Laid PlaidsI devoured. Set in 1928 & revolving around the first World War’s ghosts, BLP is the steamy story of two academics who set out on a supernatural quest—one of them a believer in ghosts & one of them skeptical.
PhD student Joachim Cockburn travels to the home of discredited folklorist & academic Ainsley Graham in the hopes of convincing Ainsley to guide him to his favorite haunting sites.
Ainsley’s professional reputation is in tatters after it got out that he thinks he communicates with ghosts. But who better to accompany Joachim on his research trip?, because Joachim doesn’t believe in ghosts & his research in psychology will study places that have become famous for their supposed specters.
I loved so much about this romance: the atmospheric setting, the ghost stories (yes!!!), the steam between Ainsley & Graham (double yes!!!), the engrossing family drama, the way Graham helps Ainsley with his anxiety and “brain fidgets,” the academia angle, the humor. Sign me up for all of it!
What worked less for me: some of my questions didn’t seem answered & the frequent incorporation of lovers’s nicknames that I wasn’t a huge fan of in the narration itself made me feel a little uncomfortable in that secondhand embarrassment kinda way.
Overall, though, Best Laid Plaids is a sizzling, thrilling read & Ella Stainton’s a talent that I’m excited to read more of. I really enjoyed my time with this one!
*I read & rated this romance before doing away with my .25 rating.
Best Laid Plaids is out on 08/31. Thanks to Netgalley & Carina Press for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Tropes: childhood friends to enemies to lovers; redemption; GROVEL
Q: what romance novel offers the best grovel?
If you want supreme grovel—supreme—then you probably want to check out Sarah MacLean’s Daring and the Duke, the last in her Bareknuckle Bastard series. This bodacious beauty of a romance focuses on Ewan, the mad duke of Marwick, (remember him?, she asks casually, the man who tried to *kill* the leads in previous books?!) and Grace, a proprietress and warrior-Queen of Covent Garden who uses her scarf as a weapon 🏻 and who was his first (and only!) love.
I’m going to keep this review pretty short because I feel like I don’t have a lot to add to the convo. Things that give me the good shivers: some serious swoonworthy lines (yowsers 🥵); equal opportunity grunting 🤣; an ending that’s lushly, boldly cinematic ; and fantastic consideration of women and choice and pleasure (the book uses those words btw, so it’s a very deliberate consideration.) Let’s not forget the groveling, which happens over and over again because dude has some big things to apologize for and explain.
This is what I wasn’t expecting: how funny Daring and the Duke is. Devil and Whit make the hottest Greek chorus.
Everything about this book works for me.
But I do think that it would be best to have the previous books fresh in your mind because you need to be recently emotionally devastated by what Ewan did and how it affects other leads in the series—people we care about. I didn’t do that, and the redemption arc felt a teeny tiny bit less impactful as as a result.
What a grand series. I mean, really.
Daring and the Duke is out today. Thanks to Avon and Edelweiss Plus for the complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
🎳 Q: bowling is an important activity in this romance. How do you feel about bowling? Are you good? Awful?
🥵🥵🥵. Okay, sorry, had to get that string of emoji out of the way first. How do I always forget how perfectly dirty Joanna Shupe’s books are?! It’s inexcusable!
The Devil of Downtown is Shupe’s latest foray into the Gilded Age and it’s basically a treasure trove of some of my favorite things.
⭐️ A romance between a criminal kingpin and a “do-gooder.”
⭐️ A hero who is turned on by the “stern” tones of the heroine. In this case, said criminal kingpin is absolutely infatuated with do-gooder’s “brass ones” because she refuses to be cowed by him, the man they all fear.
⭐️ Steam, steam, steam!
⭐️ An aggressive, ruthless hero who is squishy soft on the inside BUT ONLY for the heroine and a philanthropic heroine who is hard as steel—as the hero notes on several occasions. She’s ambitious (for the sake of others) and not willing to ultimately compromise herself, even for him. The Devil of Downtown feels luxuriously enjoyable and it’s not without some commentary on deserting husbands and the police, too. I absolutely love the dynamic between the hero Jack and heroine Justine—I imagine him continually internally gaping at how unimpressed she is by his efforts to intimidate.
I have two quibbles, though. One is part of the ending, which I don’t want to get into because of spoilers. And the second, which makes me sound like a bad person, is that for a little while Justine only enjoys helping people (no hobbies, Justine?), and that can come across as a little one dimensional. But then she likes helping people, bowling, *and* being intimate with the most powerful criminal leader in Manhattan so 👍🏻, I’ll allow it 🤣. .
This is a fantastic historical and I loved every second of it.
The Devil of Downtownis out on 06/30. Thanks to Avon Publishing and Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: I don’t know how to word this. But do you like the trope where one lead assumes the wrong thing about the other, makes judgments about the other’s character & repeatedly shares them whether explicitly or implicitly, and then eventually has to grovel? What can we call this?
You all, I love a good grovel. One where the hero is going to have marks on his knees from carpet/stone/grass for a while because he’s kneeled and apologized for so long. I knew it was going to happen in Kerrigan Byrne’s upcoming release, A Dark and Stormy Knight, and every time the hero expressed his lack of trust in the heroine, every time he rebuffed her efforts to befriend him on a true partner level, I GOT MORE EXCITED because I knew a day of reckoning was coming, and in Kerrigan’s hands it was going to be glorious.
This is Chief Inspector Carlton Morley’s Book and Prudence’s as well, Prudence who tries to wrestle some control over her life. I’m not going to delve into the plot any more than I have above because I don’t want to ruin it. But know that I am crying tears on the inside.
Kerrigan’s writing is sublime, rich, decadent. The theatricality is unreal. The pathos of each wounded soul in her books ensnares the reader—or at least it does me. My only quibble with this book is that I wanted even more honesty and openness from Carlton toward the end—but again, I don’t want to say more because I don’t want to spoil it.
What a great series.
A Dark and Stormy Knightis out on 06/02. Thanks to the publisher & Netgalley for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Eloisa James’s Say Yes to the Duke takes on one of my favorite trope combos: enemies to lovers with an uptight, seemingly emotionless duke. God love those men. Throw in a socially anxious Miss who fancies herself in love with the already-engaged vicar and well, who’s to blame me for falling as hard as I did?
Miss Viola Astley doesn’t feel like a Wilde and this, paired with a disastrous encounter at a ball, has resulted in anxiety related to societal events, marriage, & sex.
Devin the duke was raised in isolation & learned to put on a mask as a coping mechanism. He wants to marry Viola’s sister Joan only because she ticks off his boxes, and Viola overhears him coldly assessing her sister and calling *her, Viola,* a mouse in the same supercilious tone.
You have to read to see how mouse-y sweet Viola is with the jerk duke. Spoiler alert: not very mouse-y at all.
I just really loved this book. It was nearly everything that I wanted and needed. I love how Viola puts herself out there despite her shyness (that’s me in certain situations), I love how the Ice Man looks out for her and encourages her, I love how sexy their romps are. I love how Devin’s so closed off at first, poor dear, and has to learn that it’s safe for him to share his feelings with her.
Some of the transitions feel somewhat abrupt and some of the coincidences in the book are a bit much but Say Yes to the Duke is a funny, heartwarming, and did I mention sexy? foray into opening up, learning how to be married, and falling in love.
It made me really happy.
Say Yes to the Duke is out today. Thanks to the publisher & Edelweiss for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Q: are you a fan of classic movies? Tell me about it!
I grew up watching classic movies. The glamorous clothes, the dance numbers, the rat tat tat of the banter, the Cary Grant. Seriously, GOOGLE HIM RIGHT NOW. That’s part of the reason why I’m drawn to Amanda Quick’s Burning Cove series, romantic suspense books set mostly in a town where the rich and famous of the 1930s play when they want to escape LA. Only, sometimes they get murdered there (!).
In Close Up Vivian Brazier is living on her own after she refused to clean up an ignominious affair with a society marriage. Though she wants to be an art photographer she’s currently a news photographer taking pics of murders & the like. She also has a sixth sense that helps her “see” things.
After helping solve a murder, Vivian herself becomes the target of a killer. Are the two events related? And will the mysterious man who shows up on her doorstep claiming to be able to protect her, a Nick Sundridge, actually be able to do so?
Close Up takes on the tone & cadence of those classic movies I loved. Though there are moments when the book veers into affected for the most part it’s dry and glamorous & has the Katherine Hepburn assured & courageous sensibility I adore.
The attraction between Vivian & Nick is strong & immediate & the way that they offer support without trying to change or temper the other is lovely. Give me all the sex positive romances with intrepid, daring heroines you can.
The plot of this one is a little convoluted. But Amanda Quick isn’t afraid to go there. Her stories are maybe more dramatic than they need to be but they’re also entertaining & dishy & I’m like, (in my best Hepburn voice), *bring the car around, won’t you? I’ve got a killer to catch.
Close Up is out today. Thanks to Berkley Publishing & Edelweiss for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Scarlett Peckham’s The Rakess is an unforgettable titan of a romance and I think I’ll be unpacking it for a while.
Plot-wise, it’s about the meeting of the scandalous Rakess Seraphina Arden and the widower and single father architect Adam Anderson in Cornwall as Sera writes her memoirs and Adam works on a renovation. Sera wants Adam but not a relationship. She’s vehemently opposed to those and sends her lovers packing if she catches the slightest bit of heart eyes.
And Adam would like Sera and a relationship, but he’s dealing with the loss of his wife and his work and familial obligations, which are incompatible with a relationship with a scandalous woman.
If you’ve ever thought to yourself that women are all too often unjustly treated, that their bodies and their choices are unfairly judged, restricted, and controlled, that they are condemned for the same things that people often overlook in men, as Peckham writes, then you might appreciate this book. Because The Rakess doesn’t pull its punches and it offers a compelling indictment of so-called polite society—how it can make “cowards” of people—and a rousing and heartstirring celebration of bravery when it comes to love and making good decisions for ourselves. You know: the decisions that make us happy.
Please also read this book for its sisterhood of Sirens—devoted female friends who make use of their notoriety for the good of other women; D I R T Y bedroom scenes that were much enjoyed; and a tautly maintained level of suspense regarding how the leads could end up together. I’ve been needing a good grovel and this one delivers.
Though I did feel like The Rakess is a tad light in the conclusion—a couple of things felt rushed and needed more deliberation—everything else about this book sang to me. Absolutely soared.
CW: alcohol abuse; loss of newborn, loss of wife, imprisonment of a spouse in mental asylum.
The Rakess is out now. Thanks to Avon and Edelweiss for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
Sophie Jordan knows how to bring the steam and that, plus the fact that her books are entertaining and eminently readable (an even more appreciated combo in the days of social distancing), made me so excited to open The Virgin and the Rogueup.
Samuel Kingston—an illegitimate son of an earl—stops at his stepbrother Warrington’s home for the night after determining that his old carousing ways no longer satisfy. There he meets the quiet, already affianced Charlotte Langley, a woman so biddable that she lets her soon to be mother-in-law walk all over her.
After taking a tonic that her sister Nora prepares for her cramps, quiet Charlotte runs into Kingston when everyone else is abed and turns into a greedy, passion-fueled, pleasure-seeking woman, basically jumping the bemused man in the library. Kingston is intrigued, to put it mildly, and for her part, Charlotte’s horrified but she also can’t stop wanting Kingston, aphrodisiac or no. But she’s ENGAGED and he’s not the MARRYING TYPE.
The chemistry between Kingston and Charlotte is at a 15 and there’s not much prep before you’re in the eye of the storm. Sweet cheese and crackers, as Judy Hopps would say in Zootopia, this one’s hot.
But I kinda have two issues with this book that all the sensuality, touching emotional overtures, and sweet sweet Epilogue didn’t quite overcome. One, I don’t like the aphrodisiac plot-line—or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I don’t like that it just puts Charlotte at a disadvantage. It has an effect on her body and decision-making that she didn’t choose or anticipate and while that didn’t seem to bother her too much, I can’t fully embrace it as a plot device.
And two, I wanted more sharing of emotions. Sophie so beautifully sets up Kingston’s pain, his loneliness, but I craved one scene where he really lays his heart on the line about how his relationship with Charlotte has soothed his heart and offered him a home. It seems like a missed opportunity, as does the lack of emotional reconciliation between the stepbrothers. I want the words!
So in the end, though this book is mega sexy and I enjoyed the heck out of it, it didn’t quite give me the emotional payoff I desired.
The Virgin and the Rogue releases on 04/28. Thanks to the publisher and Edelweiss+ for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
After finishing Amy Harmon’s Where the Lost Wander I had a lump of feelings sitting in my throat. This book beguiled me, pulling me in to a story about love and loss and love again both while reading it and in the months since. I haven’t forgotten it.
It’s 1853 and Naomi May is a young widow accompanying her large family to Oregon. The book opens with a group of Native Americans attacking Naomi’s party and Naomi watching as people she loves and has traveled with are struck down until it’s only her and her baby brother left.
From there, we’re taken back even further to the past, to the beginning of the journey west when Naomi meets John Lowry, the white and Pawnee man she was immediately drawn to but who resisted her efforts to befriend him—and more—every step of their trip.
Where the Lost Wanderis an immersive experience, from the creaking of the wagon trains to Naomi’s mother’s wise words and the interaction of her loving, large family, to the tentative efforts of Naomi to reach out to John—known amongst Native Americans as Two Feet—and his efforts to box her out.
And the independent, feminist, loving Naomi has her own challenges, particularly those experiences that occur on the journey west. Her stunning resilience gives the book more vibrancy, and her relationship with John—their determination to reach each other—the staying power of a contemporary classic.
WTLW is out on 04/28. Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.
I think my review of Julia Quinn’s First Comes Scandal could be summed up with this sentence: I enjoyed this book and found a lot to admire in it, but I didn’t love it.
Med school student Nicholas Rokesby proposes to his neighbor (and his best friend’s sister) Georgiana Bridgerton. Lest you think this gesture is borne of romance, Nicholas’s father has ordered him to propose because Georgie was deliberately ruined by an idiot-scoundrel.
But to their great surprise, Georgie and Nicholas start noticing things about the other, and those things are actually quite entrancing, now that they think about it.
I picked up this JQ book because with everything going on these days, I wanted something comforting. I found it.
I also found a book that addresses the plight of women spectacularly (capable of being ruined so easily, among other things). Three cheers to Julia for writing a non-rake hero who often agrees with Georgie’s less conventional beliefs and behaviors and for making her heroine at least somewhat aware of her privilege. The proposal scene is just *chef's kiss.
The banter between Georgie and Nicholas is pleasing and the exploratory sex scenes between the two relatively inexperienced friends-to-lovers, sexy.
But tbh, Nicholas comes across as strangely arrogant at times given how otherwise modest he is, and a bigger problem for me: some aspects of the book, including the development of their feelings, seem a bit rushed and need more groundwork laid.
On the whole, the book feels kinda domestic and cozy but also peopled with characters who are quietly rebellious. That’s an attractive combination, but while First Comes Scandal was a delightful way to spend my afternoon, it just didn’t grab my heart (or sometimes my interest) like so many of her other books do.
CW: a disgusting, selfish man who ruins Georgie; asthmatic heroine
First Comes Scandalreleases on April 21, 2020. Thanks to Edelweiss+ and Avon Books for my complimentary ARC. All opinions provided are my own.