Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayThe Formidable Earl (Diamonds in the Rough, #6) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance, regency romance
Series: Diamonds in the Rough #6
Pages: 416
Published by Sophie Barnes on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

He's breaking the rules for one woman, and coming dangerously close to falling in love…
Simon Nugent, Earl of Fielding, knows he's flawed. He's arrogant, possessive, and haunted by a terrible choice he made long ago. So when a former friend's daughter gives him the chance to do a good deed, he grabs it. Except he'd like to grab her as well and teach her a thing or two about kissing. If only she weren't so damn stubborn.
Ida Strong wants one thing – justice on behalf of her father. She has no room for anything else, in spite of her growing and (at times) inexplicable attraction toward a certain earl. But for a woman who knows what betrayal tastes like, placing her trust in others is hard. Risking her heart, would be downright foolish. Until it's the only thing that seems to make sense.

My Review:

The Formidable Earl harkens back to the first book in this series, A Most Unlikely Duke. In that first story, Raphe Matthews, the very unlikely duke, steals the Earl of Fielding’s fiancee. Not that it was actual theft, not that Gabriela didn’t go extremely willingly, and not that Simon was even remotely heartbroken.

The only parts of Simon that took any kind of hit were his pride and his reputation. Possibly along with the stick up his ass – although that may have become more firmly embedded as the years went by. After all, Simon only proposed to Gabriela because she’d make a perfect countess – not because he cared about her or even really knew her.

It was, after all, what the Earl of Fielding was expected to do. So he did. But fortunately for everyone both in that story and this one, SHE didn’t.

Considering that Simon has a terrible habit of doing what is expected instead of what he wants, well past the point of his own detriment, he’s actually better off without Gabriela, who wasn’t nearly as perfect for the role he imagined for her as he thought she was.

But she’s perfect as the Duchess of Huntley, and Raphe and Gabriela are perfect for each other.

Leaving Simon, in his mid-30s, alone and in need of a wife, or so he – and polite society – believe.

What Simon is really in need of is a LIFE. It’s only when he steps just a bit outside his comfort zone to get one that he finds everything he really needs. All he has to do is consign his starched and pristine reputation to the scrapheap where it belongs.

By marrying a woman who everyone insists is a traitor, a prostitute, and very nearly a murderess into the bargain.

Escape Rating B: There’s a theme to this series, and it’s pretty obvious from the series title. One protagonist or the other is just not “suitable” for marriage into the ton, whether it’s because they were raised outside it, because they were forced out of it, or because they were never part of it in the first place. The usual progress of each story is for the person who does belong to realize that what polite society thinks and believes is a whole lot of horseshit.

The books in the series are only kind of loosely linked, so it really isn’t necessary to read the previous books, or to read all of them, before diving into The Formidable Earl. (I just discovered I missed one along the way and now I WANT to go back to it, but I don’t HAVE to go back.)

The reason for, in this case, the heroine’s unsuitability was fascinating, but the hero’s reaction to it was at times just a bit squicky. Let me explain.

Ida Strong’s dilemma is a reminder that this series takes place at a time when the Napoleonic Wars were not far in the past at all, and that there were still a lot of hard feelings, wounded veterans and general all-around recriminations going on at the time. (The Napoleonic Wars, in a fictional sense, are a gift that just keeps on giving. So many dramatic possibilities both during the war and in the following years.)

Four years before this story begins, Ida Strong’s father, a celebrated British Army General, was convicted of treason in Napoleon’s escape from Elba. Matthew Strong was executed for a heinous crime that he did not commit, and his daughter vowed to find the men responsible and clear her father’s name.

In those intervening years, Ida lived in a brothel owned and operated by her mother’s sister. And that’s where Simon Nugent, the Earl of Fielding, discovers her the one time he decides to break away from his extremely priggish persona.

Simon’s exposure of Ida puts her life in danger from the men who connived at framing her father. The story here is Simon attempting to protect her while falling in love with this woman who is oh-so-wrong according to everyone who is anyone, but oh-so-right for Simon.

But, the exposure of Simon’s thoughts and feelings about the possibility that Ida is a prostitute is extremely uncomfortable to read. It’s not that it isn’t true to what we think of the Regency, it’s that, quite honestly, it just feels awful. It makes all kinds of sense for the era, but it still makes the reader, or at least this reader, squirm when reading it.

Which gives me mixed feelings that Ida has to reject the idea so forcefully in order to be considered “worthy” of becoming his heroine equally squirmy. Again, not that this isn’t true to what we believe of the era. But it still made me uncomfortable.

All of that being said, I really, really liked Ida. She’s a terrific heroine, forthright and proactive with plenty of agency. She was more middle-class to begin with, but society has completely rejected her so she’s pretty much said “to hell with it and the horse it rode in on.”

That Simon is both slavishly devoted to worrying about what people will think and falling desperately in love with Ida puts him on the horns of a delicious dilemma. That Ida has decided what she wants and what she doesn’t, and has no plans to settle, in contrast with Simon’s need to keep her with his initial unwillingness to buck society provides the romantic tension.

That someone really is out to get her, and that they nearly succeed, provides plenty of dramatic tension to keep the reader turning pages until the very last.

I’m certainly looking forward to the continuation of this series with Her Scottish Scoundrel in May of 2021. Not nearly soon enough!

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

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Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop, hosted by Review Wire Media and Chatty Patty’s Place!

Even in this very strange year, it’s beginning to look a lot like the holidays. After all, the U.S. Thanksgiving holiday is next Thursday, one week from tomorrow! That’s close.

I’m just realizing that one of the few bright spots of this bizarre year is not having to hear holiday carols wherever I go. The downside, of course, is that there is no place TO go. Or at least there shouldn’t be.

Still, it’s that time of year again. Which in our house means picking up our annual turkey “boob” at the grocery store this weekend. (There’s only two of us, we don’t feed the cats people food, so a turkey breast is enough for us and we STILL have leftovers!)

Our annual discussion of what to trim that turkey boob with (as well as my annual preparations for the Black Friday Giveaway Hop) marks the holiday season as officially here in our house.

What about your house? What marks the opening of the holiday season for you? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance to win either a $10 Amazon Gift Card (or the equivalent from your local Amazon) or $10 in books from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open to anyone anywhere that the Book Depository ships, so the U.S. and LOTS of other places!

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For more holiday prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter


Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. Boyer

Review: Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. BoyerLowcountry Boughs of Holly (A Liz Talbot Mystery, #10) by Susan M. Boyer
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: cozy mystery, mystery
Series: Liz Talbot #10
Pages: 258
Published by Henery Press on November 17, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, but Private Investigator Liz Talbot is struggling to feel festive. She hasn’t seen her best friend, Colleen, in weeks and fears she may never see her again in this life. Meanwhile Nate, Liz’s husband and partner, is spending money like he prints it in the attic on a mysterious family Christmas celebration. Liz’s nerves are shot, and she hasn’t even decked a single hall. But there’s simply no time to fret.
On a morning beach run, Liz spots a wooden rowboat run aground with Santa inside. Did Old Saint Nick have too much eggnog at the boat parade? No indeedy—Santa’s been shot. And he’s none other than C.C. Bounetheau, patriarch of one of Charleston’s wealthiest families.
Liz and Nate already unwrapped quite a few family secrets while searching for the Bounetheau’s missing granddaughter last year—enough to make them swear to steer forever clear of the entire clan. But as Mr. Bounetheau’s body is found in Stella Maris, and Liz and Nate are the police chief’s on-call detectives, they’re on the case.
With no shortage of suspects, Liz and Nate dash to find a killer who may be working his or her way down a naughty list.
Spend Christmas in the Lowcountry with the Talbot family and their friends in Susan M. Boyer’s latest Southern charmer, Lowcountry Boughs of Holly. Tis the season for merry mayhem!

My Review:

As the saying goes, “the love of money is the root of all evil.” But there’s a kind of codicil to that saying that goes, “Every woman needs roots.” And in several peculiar, holly covered and sometimes holly strangled ways, that combination of contradictions is the essence of this story.

Along with that always-applicable thing about power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely.

Not that anyone in Stella Maris actually has absolute power, not even Colleen the ghost with her mission from, let’s call it, “on high” to preserve the character, ecology and population balance of beautiful Stella Maris island.

(Please consider all of the above as a tease, because if I explain ANY of it I’ll give away the entire thing.)

There are always some people who think they have that power – and certainly act like they do. And one of them has just turned up dead on the Stella Maris shoreline, the morning after the island’s annual Christmas boat parade. Whatever the circumstances surrounding C.C. Bounetheau’s death, one thing that Private Investigator Liz Talbot is certain of is that he didn’t die of drowning, despite his corpse’s location.

Someone shot C.C. straight through the heart. While he was wearing a Santa suit.

The question is not only whodunnit but why they did it. C.C.’s wife has a well-deserved reputation for “eliminating” people that get in her way, but Abigail Bounetheau has always hired out her dirty work.

The family certainly has plenty of money to make that possible. Even after the ill-gotten gains of her drug-kingpin twin sons were removed from the equation – along with the two men, the apples of their mother’s eye, who are now serving a lot of time in prison.

But money makes for plenty of motives, and the Bounetheaus certainly have plenty of it.

The question before Liz and her partner/husband Nate is whether that money is the reason for C.C.’s murder – and if so in what way? Did someone need C.C. to die earlier than nature intended – even though the man was 80 – so that they could inherit whatever they believed was coming to them?

Did someone want revenge for either the twins’ actions or C.C.’s own – even if that action was in the long past? Or did one of the twins’ former partners fear that C.C. knew of their involvement – and would talk?

Liz and Nate, contracted to the Stella Maris Police Department for any cases that required more investigative skills that the tiny SMPD has on tap, find themselves in the thick of the case and under the gun – literally and figuratively – and without the assistant of Liz’ ghostly friend Colleen.

But this case is so twisted that it may take Colleen’s “special gifts” to get it solved in time for Christmas!

Escape Rating B+: I didn’t realize until I started this entry in the series that I missed a couple of the preceding books. While I didn’t absolutely NEED to have read Lowcountry Boomerang and Lowcountry Boondoggle to get into this one, I’m kinda sorry that I hadn’t read them first, as they introduce the Bounetheau family and explain why Colleen seems to have abandoned Liz at the beginning of this story.

Howsomever, there’s plenty of explication about the Bounetheaus to make the situation perfectly clear to anyone who hasn’t read those two books. But the whole thing, particularly Abigail’s apparently well-known but never proven murderous ways, sounds absolutely fascinating and I’ll have to go back and pick up what I missed.

That being said, this is not the place to get started with this series if you haven’t read any of them at all. The background on Colleen’s part in the whole series as the genius loci of Stella Maris needs more explanation than one gets 10 books into this series.

Besides, the whole thing is tremendously fun and highly recommended pretty much anytime there’s a Goodreads or Facebook query about terrific cozy mystery series. So if you haven’t had the pleasure, and it definitely is a great deal of pleasure, start with Lowcountry Boil.

But I decided to read this now instead of backtracking because, this is a holiday story and well, ‘tis the season and all that. And I’m very happy that I did!

There’s something about this series that reminds me of both of Miranda James’ cozy mystery series, Cat in the Stacks and Southern Ladies Mysteries. Part of that is the setting, as James’ series are set in a small college town in Mississippi, while Stella Maris is a small town on a small island in the South Carolina Lowcountry. The towns do have a similar feel to them, as well as a similarly unrealistic number of murders.

I think I just compared Diesel, the intelligent and empathetic Maine Coon cat from the Cat in the Stacks to Colleen the ghost, and it sorta/kinda works. Abigail Bounetheau certainly reads like the Ducote Sisters’ evil twin. But they wield the same kind of economic and social power in their respective communities, even though the Ducote Sisters only use their powers for good.

And I’ll confess that I like the idea of an 80something woman as an evil villain. It gives me something to aspire towards. Not the villainy, but certainly the vitality!

If you like Liz Talbot and Stella Maris, you’ll like Charlie Harris and Diesel, and very much vice versa. Which is a great thing as the publication date for Liz’ next adventure is still a mystery!

In Everything Give Thanks Giveaway Hop

Welcome to In Everything Give Thanks Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

I think that if anyone had said, this time last year, that 2020 was going to go the way it has, we’d all have thought they were seriously out of their minds. Little did we know that anyone last year correctly predicting the course of this year would have to be the mythical Cassandra. The seer who was able to see the honest-to-goodness (or in this case mostly badness) future but was doomed or cursed that no one would ever believe her, at least not until it was much too late.

But still, there are things to be thankful for. Particularly the outcome of the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. Also, that it’s finally over – even if there is still plenty of shouting yet to come. There’s a light at the end of the tunnel that is not an oncoming train. I’ll take it.

Here at Chez Reading Reality there are plenty of other things to be thankful for as well. It’s been a weird year, but so far, knock on wood, both the humans and the felines of our household are safe and healthy. The company that Galen works for converted to an all-virtual office a couple of years ago, and they are doing fine, so we’re fine in that regard as well. I’ll confess to being grateful that I’m not a working librarian during this crisis, which has been devastating for many in my profession. Hopefully things will finally turn the corner sometime next year.

We’re both introverts, so, it hasn’t been as difficult as it might have been for us to be stuck at home with each other. I think we’re also both grateful to be in this house and not some of the smaller apartments we’ve lived in over the years. I can think of at least one place we lived in where if we’d been quarantined there one of us would have jumped off the balcony by now.

Adopting George back in March was possibly the best thing we could have done. Not only did we give a feral kitten a good home, but he’s been terrific comic relief and just a joy to have in the family. And he’s so intent on cuddling that he’s gotten all of the other cats to play with him and cuddle with him – even if they still don’t cuddle with each other. But progress!

What about you? What are you thankful for at the start of this holiday season? Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at the winner’s choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card (or the equivalent amount from your local Amazon equivalent) or $10 in Books from the Book Depository. This giveaway is open everywhere the Book Depository ships!

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For more great prizes be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

MamatheFox and all participating blogs are not held responsible for sponsors who fail to fulfill their prize obligations.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 11-15-20

Sunday Post

The picture below is from Friday afternoon. I looked up from my computer and saw that all of the male cats in the house were recharging their solar powered generators in the entry. (The box in the picture is, you guessed it, a box of books. Or as we refer to them in this house, more coals being delivered to Newcastle. Although more books arriving here is never pointless or superfluous, it is occasionally overwhelming.

Current Giveaways:

$10 Gift Card or $10 Book in the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop

Blog Recap:

A- Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan
Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop
Veterans Day 2020
B+ Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick
A- Review: The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich
Stacking the Shelves (416)

Coming This Week:

In Everything Give Thanks Giveaway Hop
Lowcountry Boughs of Holly by Susan M. Boyer (review)
Holiday HOHOHO Giveaway Hop
The Formidable Earl by Sophie Barnes (blog tour review)
Under a Winter Sky by Kelley Armstrong, Jeffe Kennedy, Melissa Marr and L. Penelope

Stacking the Shelves (418)

Stacking the Shelves

Has anyone else had difficulty concentrating this week? Or is it just me?

At the same time, I’m just seeing SO MANY fantastic books coming out in the next few months – along with the ones I already have. And OMG I just want to read ALL THE THINGS. Just as soon as I can manage to focus on ANY OF THE THINGS.

ARRRGGGHHH! So damn many books, so damn little time!

For Review:
The Consequences of Fear (Maisie Dobbs #16) by Jacqueline Winspear
Dream Girl by Laura Lippman
Floodpath (Outlaw Road #2) by Emily B. Martin
The Heiress Hunt (Fifth Avenue Rebels #1) by Joanna Shupe
I’m Only Wicked with You (Palace of Rogues #3) by Julie Anne Long
The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye
Lowcountry Boughs of Holly (Liz Talbot #10) by Susan M. Boyer
The Past is Red by Catherynne M. Valente
A Peculiar Combination (Electra McDonnell #1) by Ashley Weaver
Quiet in Her Bones by Nalini Singh
A Wicked Bargain for the Duke (Hazards of Dukes #3) by Megan Frampton



Review: The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich

Review: The Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. MalerichThe Factory Witches of Lowell by C.S. Malerich
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, historical fantasy, historical fiction
Pages: 128
Published by Tordotcom on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

C. S. Malerich's The Factory Witches of Lowell is a riveting historical fantasy about witches going on strike in the historical mill-town of Lowell, Massachusetts.
Faced with abominable working conditions, unsympathetic owners, and hard-hearted managers, the mill girls of Lowell have had enough. They're going on strike, and they have a secret weapon on their side: a little witchcraft to ensure that no one leaves the picket line.
For the young women of Lowell, Massachusetts, freedom means fair wages for fair work, decent room and board, and a chance to escape the cotton mills before lint stops up their lungs. When the Boston owners decide to raise the workers’ rent, the girls go on strike. Their ringleader is Judith Whittier, a newcomer to Lowell but not to class warfare. Judith has already seen one strike fold and she doesn’t intend to see it again. Fortunately Hannah, her best friend in the boardinghouse—and maybe first love?—has a gift for the dying art of witchcraft.
At the Publisher's request, this title is being sold without Digital Rights Management Software (DRM) applied.

My Review:

This is a story about a group of women who grab their own agency, take back their own power and harness their own magic.

And it’s definitely magical.

The “mill girls” of Lowell, their lives and working conditions, make an interesting story to begin with, even before adding in witchcraft.

Not that the real women who worked in the mills weren’t called unnatural, as well as witches and bitches every single time they went on strike, or as it was called then, a “turn out”. Because these women, mostly young, were able to live away from their families, earn their own wages and save their own money by working in the mills.

It was revolutionary.

At the same time, as is detailed in this story, the conditions really were brutal. The work days started early, ended late, the windows were closed winter and summer, the noise was “infernal” and their leisure time was both limited in duration and ringed round with conditions about where they could go, what they could do, how long they could be away.

It was still freedom – of a sort. More freedom than they would have in the homes they came from for many of them.

It was also, as the residents of many a “company town” discovered, a chain that was difficult to break, as the company they worked for controlled the wages they were paid AND the cost of their food and lodging. As this story begins, and as occurred in real history in 1836, the company could squeeze its workers between the rock of their wages and the hard place of their living expenses at any time and seemingly without recourse.

The recourse that the female mill workers in the story take is the same one that the real mill workers took in the fall of 1836. They went on strike.

The striking workers in this story had a weapon that their real-life historical sisters did not. They had witchcraft. They had the power to make their strike into a magically binding pact. And they had the leadership to make that binding so strong that even the mills bent to their will.

Not just figuratively by giving in, but literally. By magic. And by the power of love.

Escape Rating A-:This was lovely and surprisingly charming, even though the conditions under which the “mill girls” worked were anything but.

What made this story “sing” was the way that the magic of witchcraft, which is always considered to be “women’s magic” and therefore “less than”, wraps itself around the bones of the history like the weft of the women’s work wrapped around the warp of the looms.

And then there’s the character of Judith, and her love for Hannah. In a way, everything Judith does is about her love for Hannah. And they weave together as well. Because Judith is the leader and the organizer. She is the driving force behind the strike and the union and the witchcraft. And yet, it’s not her power. Judith has no “craft” of her own. The craft is Hannah’s. It’s only together that they can achieve the impossible, holding the strike – and saving Hannah’s life.

Their love, and their desire to save each other is the grace note that makes this story just rise.

One of the marvelous things about this story is that it is complete in and of itself, in spite of its relatively short length. Not that I wouldn’t love to know about what happened to all of them, particularly Judith and Hannah. But I don’t have to know to feel satisfied. They lived, they loved, and even if they spent the rest of their lives together fighting the long defeat against the powerful mill owners, it’s clear from the end of the story that there will be plenty of joy for them in that fight.

This is a story that doesn’t have a happy ending. Rather, it ends in a kind of “happy for now”. The Factory Girls Union of Lowell really can’t win the long war against the rich and rapacious “gentlemen” who own the mills. But as the story ends, they have won a big victory, and are firmly resolved to continue the fight. As they did.

As unions continue to do to this day. Unfortunately without the witchcraft – as far as we know.

Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Forgotten Sister by Nicola CornickThe Forgotten Sister by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction
Pages: 368
Published by Graydon House on November 10, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In the tradition of the spellbinding historical novels of Philippa Gregory and Kate Morton comes a stunning story based on a real-life Tudor mystery, and of a curse that echoes through the centuries and shapes two women’s destinies…
1560: Amy Robsart is trapped in a loveless marriage to Robert Dudley, a member of the court of Queen Elizabeth I. Surrounded by enemies and with nowhere left to turn, Amy hatches a desperate scheme to escape—one with devastating consequences that will echo through the centuries…
Present Day: When Lizzie Kingdom is forced to withdraw from the public eye in a blaze of scandal, it seems her life is over. But she’s about to encounter a young man, Johnny Robsart, whose fate will interlace with hers in the most unexpected of ways. For Johnny is certain that Lizzie is linked to a terrible secret dating back to Tudor times. If Lizzie is brave enough to go in search of the truth, then what she discovers will change the course of their lives forever.

My Review:

The fate of Amy Robsart has been one of those long-standing historical questions, to the point where the mystery of whether it was accident, suicide or murder was one of the historical mysteries presented to Inspector Alan Grant at the beginning of The Daughter of Time. While he decided to investigate the “Princes in the Tower”, the question of Amy Robsart is still an interesting one, because of the way that it ties back to a towering figure of English history, Queen Elizabeth I.

Whether the “Virgin Queen” really wanted to marry her Master of Horse, Robert Dudley, or not, the questions that surrounded his wife’s death pushed that possibility forever out of reach. But it’s easy to get caught up in the alternate paths of history. If Dudley and Elizabeth had married, would she still have managed to become the legendary Gloriana? Would they have had children? How much different would history be if Elizabeth had a child of her own to follow her on the throne, instead of the endless plots of Mary, Queen of Scots and the English throne passing to HER son, James VI of Scotland who became James I of England.

There might have been no King James’ Bible. The Stuarts would never have come to the throne, which means that the Hanovers would never have followed them. If there was no George III, there would have been no American Revolution.

Now there’s a fascinating idea, and just the kind of rabbit hole that alternate history stories love to go down. But that’s not what happens in this story.

The story of The Forgotten Sister is kind of a time slip story that provides illumination on that long-ago mystery but doesn’t change the outcome.

In the 21st century, Lizzie Kingdom and Dudley Lester have been friends since childhood. They are also A-List celebrities. What they aren’t is married to each other. Nor do they seem to have any desire to be. Rather, Dudley is married to Amelia Robsart, while he spends a great deal of time palling around London and partying with his best friend Lizzie.

To the point where Amelia Lester feels neglected, only because she is – gets depressed, only because her life is depressing – and falls down a flight of marble stairs. At her home, Oakhanger, which was constructed using the stones from Cunmor, where, guess what? Amy Robsart fell down a marble staircase and died in 1560, neglected and depressed because everyone knew her husband was off cavorting with Elizabeth Tudor while she was forced to rusticate in the country.

The parallels between Amelia Robsart’s fate in the 21st century and Amy Robsart’s fate in the 16th are filled with similarities and congruences to the point where we think we know what happened both times around – and that the same things happened both times around. And we kind of do.

But we kind of don’t.

Because the 16th century part of this story may be told from Amy Robsart’s point of view, but the 21st century perspective is not Amelia’s. Instead, we see the events in the 21st century through the eyes of Lizzie Kingdom. A woman who, like her 16th century avatar, is determined to finally seize the reins of her own life, but someone who has an entirely different set of options.

If she can just get out from under the accessory to murder charge she’s currently saddled with – along with the fleet of managers and assistants and toadies who are determined to keep her under glass and under their control – so they can continue to drain her dry.

Escape Rating B+: One of the things I wondered about as I read this was whether it worked better if you knew the history – or if it worked better if you didn’t and everything was a revelation. This was history I knew and knew well, so the parallels were easy to spot – although the way the author twisted Amy/Amelia’s story was fascinating. Historically perhaps not plausible, but not completely implausible either.

The one problem with knowing the history was that while the name parallels mostly worked pretty well, the idea that anyone had named their child Letty Knollys in the late 20th century was almost a bridge too far. The congruences didn’t need to be THAT on the nose to work.

That being said, what makes this story work is that the 21st century protagonist isn’t Amelia but rather Lizzie. And that the similarities between Lizzie’s life – and especially Lizzie’s choices – and those of OMG Elizabeth I are less direct equivalences and more of a looser connection. Although it was inspired to think that the closest match to the life of a royal in the 16th century was that of an A-Lister in the 21st. And it so works.

But the story works because as much as the Amy/Amelia Robsart deaths turn out to be history repeating itself, what we see in Lizzie is her breaking out of the bubble she’s been living in, breaking away from the sycophants who are actually controlling her, and finally making a life of her own and making her own choices and taking her own chances. She’s in her late 20s, money seems to be no object, she can afford to take a chance – at least once the murder is solved – and search for a life that has meaning for her rather than a life that makes money for everybody else.

The bits of paranormal woo-woo that serve as kind of the glue between the two time streams are done once-over-lightly in a way that makes them part of Lizzie’s taking charge of her own life as well as part of the ultimate resolution to the timestream. It was just right and just enough and made the ending just lovely.

Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Super Stocking Stuffer Giveaway Hop, hosted by  The Mommy Island & The Kids Did It!

The cat pictured in the hop image looks just like my first cat, Licorice. I still miss that cat. A lot, because he was with me through a lot. I still tear up just thinking about him.

But this is not a time for tears, or at least not for sad tears. The holidays are coming! And even though the days are getting shorter, the long dark night feels like it’s finally coming to an end.

This is a time for celebration, even if it is a socially-distanced one.

What would you most hope to see in your holiday stocking this year? Even if we celebrated Xmas, I can’t quite image hanging stockings from our mantel. George and Hecate would conspire to bring them down. It would be hilariously messy, but seriously not conducive to putting anything in them – not even coal. Especially not coal! Lucifer’s solid coal coat is gorgeous on him, but getting actual coal dust on everyone else would just be a disaster.

Yes, our cats rule our house. If you have pets in yours, is it any different?

But back to the hoped for contents of those holiday stockings. Let us know what you’re hoping for in your holiday stocking for a chance at my usual prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card (or equivalent from your country’s Amazon) or a book up to $10 from the Book Depository.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

For more wonderful holiday prizes, be sure to check out the other stops on this hop!

Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney Milan

Review: The Duke Who Didn’t by Courtney MilanThe Duke Who Didn't by Courtney Milan
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, historical romance
Series: Wedgeford Trials #1
Pages: 311
Published by Courtney Milan on September 22, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Miss Chloe Fong has plans for her life, lists for her days, and absolutely no time for nonsense. Three years ago, she told her childhood sweetheart that he could talk to her once he planned to be serious. He disappeared that very night.
Except now he’s back. Jeremy Wentworth, the Duke of Lansing, has returned to the tiny village he once visited with the hope of wooing Chloe. In his defense, it took him years of attempting to be serious to realize that the endeavor was incompatible with his personality.
All he has to do is convince Chloe to make room for a mischievous trickster in her life, then disclose that in all the years they’ve known each other, he’s failed to mention his real name, his title… and the minor fact that he owns her entire village.
Only one thing can go wrong: Everything.

My Review:

I couldn’t settle down to read any of the things I had planned this weekend (Gee, I wonder why?) and this looked like fun and fluff, and this was a good weekend to read something about a woman of color with agency in a time and place where it wasn’t the norm, because, again gee, there’s a lot of glass lying around from all the ceilings that got broken over the weekend.

The Duke Who Didn’t turned out to be the perfect thing to read this weekend. Not that it’s perfect, exactly, but that it had just the right mixture of fun, fluff, fantasy and romance to get me into it and encourage me to keep the smile that was already splitting my face.

There is just a bit of a fantasy feel at the beginning of The Duke Who Didn’t. That this story takes place in the southeast of England in 1891, in a village whose population is primarily British-Chinese seems just a bit outside readers’ expectations of late-Victorian era English-set historical romance. That the village has a well-known once-a-year contest – with slightly obscure rules – that temporarily explodes the population, sounds a bit like Brigadoon a place that only comes to life once a year. That’s not quite the situation here, but comparisons could be drawn.

That the contest has a basis in historical reality is kind of the icing on the cake. The story is definitely the cake. Or possibly it’s a delicious steam bun, a bao, filled with pork and exquisite sauce. Actually the story is a lot about the sauce. Because Chloe Fong is all about the sauce – especially when she’s trying not to be all about Jeremy Yu. And even when she is.

Escape Rating A-: I’m bringing in the rating early because this is a book that is just so much fun that I need to squee about the details. Not all the details, but enough to get you to pick up this book.

On the one hand, the community of Wedgeford doesn’t quite seem historically real, because of its mixed race, primarily Chinese-British, population. At the same time, I don’t care, although if such a community existed, I’d love to know. But if the options for representation in historical fiction involve a little bit of handwavium, I’m all for it. I don’t need historical accuracy in my historical fiction, I just need historical plausibility – and that is definitely present.

The story of the origins of Wedgeford as it exists in this story feels possible – maybe not likely – but possible. And it’s enough to make the leap into willing suspension of disbelief. Because the author doesn’t gloss over Jeremy’s, and Chloe’s, “acceptance” in the rest of British society – it’s every bit as awful as we imagine. The entire world isn’t different – just this one tiny corner of it.

A part of the premise of this story has been done before, and multiple times, including in A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian. Jeremy Yu is the Duke of Lansing, the man who in fact owns the entire town of Wedgeford, lock, stock, barrel and every single house and building in the place. But his estate hasn’t collected rents in over 50 years, and he has no plans to ever start.

Jeremy has been coming to Wedgeford since he was 12 or so, once a year for the Wedgeford Trials. He’s never told anyone in Wedgeford that he’s the Duke. He doesn’t want anyone in Wedgeford to know that he’s the Duke, because they would treat him differently.

And he really, really doesn’t want to be treated differently. Wedgeford is the one place in England where he can be exactly who he is without apology, a young British-Chinese man who is proud of his heritage. ALL of his heritage and not just the bits that are acceptable to British so-called “polite” society.

In other stories, like the above mentioned A Duke in Disguise, the hidden Duke’s, well, ducalness, comes as a great shock to all when it is finally revealed. Jeremy’s story turns that on its head wonderfully in a way that I won’t reveal. It’s a way that should have been obvious to both Jeremy and the reader, but wasn’t. What it was was delightful. Absolutely.

Actually, delightful is the best word for the whole story. The portrait of the community is lovely, the trials themselves are an absolute hoot, and in the middle of it all is the oh-so-organized Miss Chloe Fong, her dreams, her ambitions and all of her lists, her love for her father and her need to help him get revenge on the British gentlemen who stole his work and his recipe and tossed him to the curb. And her lists. Have I mentioned her obsessive lists? Chloe certainly would. She’s never without them.

And then there’s the food. The descriptions of the food are absolutely mouth-watering, as is the romance between Jeremy and Chloe, the serious young woman and the trickster who adores her. To the point of willingly consuming endless meals of hot peppers in order to gain her father’s respect. Or at least his forbearance.

So come for the Trials, and stay for this saucy tale of love and tasty revenge. Revenge served not cold this time, but hot, flavored with the best sauce ever..