Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews + Giveaway

Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews + GiveawayThe Belle of Belgrave Square (Belles of London, #2) by Mimi Matthews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Belles of London #2
Pages: 432
Published by Berkley on October 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook DepositoryBookshop.org
Goodreads

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.
Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has his sights set on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes…

My Review:

The first book in the Belles of London series, The Siren of Sussex, introduced readers to four Victorian heroines who cared more for their horses, and the equestrienne skills required to master them, than for the marriage mart that was supposed to have been every young lady’s dream.

Not that the romantic heroes of the series, at least so far, are any more conventional than the heroines have so far proven to be.

The second book in the series’ case in point, presumed wallflower Julia Wychwood – with her dowry of 50,000 pounds, and reluctant fortune hunter and Crimean War veteran Captain Jasper Blunt.

But neither of them is exactly what they appear to be on the surface, as Julia and Jasper discover – very nearly to their cost – after it is too late to get out of their hasty marriage. Probably too late, anyway.

A problem which hinges on one of the many, many secrets that have either been kept from them or that they are keeping from each other. Any one of which could break them. Or their marriage. Or both.

Escape Rating B: In a review of another work of historical fiction, I said that “it seems as if behind every successful woman there’s either a rotten first husband, a harridan of a mother, or both.” I forgot about just how selfish and/or profligate fathers can be in attempting to doom their daughters to dependency or failure. I was definitely remiss.

Because Julia Wychwood has both the harridan of a mother and the selfish, self-indulgent cruelty of a father to contend with. And as the story begins she is not contending terribly well at all.

Her parents, both wealthy hypochondriacs, quite literally plan on marrying Julia off to a rich man who will keep her in London, near to their home in Belgrave Square, so that she can continue to be their unpaid attendant, verbal punching bag and slave for the rest of her life.

What makes the first third of this book hard to read is that she doesn’t fight back, in spite of being of age and having an inheritance of her own that is not dependent on her father. Because she is so beaten down that she can’t imagine getting out from under.

It’s only when the hypochondriacs bring in a quack doctor who bleeds her half to death that the penny finally drops that she isn’t even safe in her parents’ household. Their plan is to bleed her into insensibility so that she can be declared unfit and they can marry her off to a man they know will at least verbally abuse her just as much as they do.

It’s hard to read about Julia becoming increasingly downtrodden – particularly when it becomes known that she has options she isn’t exercising.

But that’s where Blunt comes in. He tried to do the honorable thing and marry her with her father’s permission, which was denied because Blunt intends to take Julia to his estate in the Yorkshire moors. A place where she’ll be much, much happier. She hates the London Season for a myriad of reasons that only begin with her acute social anxiety.

It’s when he finally manages to literally sweep Julia off her feet, in the most romantic fashion possible, that the story lifts itself up – right along with Julia’s health and spirits – and runs off with the reader’s heart. Because it’s when they are away from London that they are able to see all the problems that their hasty marriage has led them into – and to see a way out of those problems together.

Once they finally begin telling each other the truth.

As a reader, I have to say that Julia’s helplessness in that first third of the story hit a whole bunch of triggers for me – to the point where if this hadn’t been for a tour I would have DNF’d the book.

But I hung on because so many people love this series so much, and there were so many interesting features in the first book that I kept going to see if I could find the charm that others have found. And I have to say that I did.

In the first third of the story Julia has no agency, which is hard to read. At that point she finally takes her life into her own hands – no matter how much those hands happen to be trembling with weakness from blood loss at the time – and proposes marriage to Blunt and asks him to rescue her because she is temporarily incapacitated and rightfully afraid to stay another minute.

And who can blame her?

But once they are out of that terrible house the story takes off too. They have a lot to learn about each other, and they’ll need to grow together, but they have a solid friendship as well as a growing attraction to build upon.

Once they get all of the secrets between them out of the way.

Most of those secrets are fairly obvious to the reader pretty early on, but that doesn’t detract from the story at all. It’s the reveal of those secrets to each other that is key, not whether the reader has figured it out beforehand. Especially considering that those secrets are real and important and not just misunderstandammits. We understand the reason they were kept and empathize with how difficult it is to finally let them go.

One of the fun parts of the story is the way that literature and fairy tales are woven into the romance without ever taking it over. Julia is very much Belle to Jasper’s Beast, but that’s not the only trope that gets woven into the story.

In the end, The Belle of Belgrave Square is a charming Victorian romance about learning to face one’s tormentors, standing on one’s own two feet AND finding the right person to stand with you. It’s about planting yourself where you belong and blooming there. And it’s about doing the right thing rather than the easy thing – and taking the lumps for it.

While I had my doubts at the beginning, by the end I was all in for this one. To the point where I’m very curious to see where the series goes in its next entry, The Lily of Ludgate Hill, coming out in January of 2024.

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

Mimi has generously offered a fabulous giveaway that book tour participants can add to their post and on social media. Here are the details:

Giveaway period: October 3 – October 30

Terms & Conditions:

Giveaway hosted by Mimi Matthews. No Purchase Necessary. Entrants must be 18 years or older. Open to US residents only. All information will remain confidential and will not be sold or otherwise used, except to notify the winner and to facilitate postage of the book to the winner. Void where prohibited.

Giveaway Details:

1 winner (selected at random by Rafflecopter) receives a paperback copy of The Belle of Belgrave Square, signed and annotated by the author with personal comments, underlining of her favorite lines, and other highlights by Mimi Matthews. 

Giveaway is open from 12:01 am Pacific time 10/03/22 until 11:59pm Pacific time on 10/30/22. 

The winner will be announced on Mimi’s blog on 10/31/22.

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Howloween Giveaway Hop

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

In keeping with that adorable gnome up there, here’s another cute image to put you in the mood for October and the Halloween (or Howloween!) season.

This boi looks very like my Lucifer, and he definitely looks ready for the season. Lucifer would probably be bundled up like this, too. He’d been living rough when we adopted him, about this time of year five years ago. He’s been very clear ever since on the fact that outside may look interesting but he has no desire to ever experience it first hand ever again.

But for humans, it is a time of crunchy leaves blowing in the door – and having cats bring them to us to be praised as might heroes for bring us presents. They’re always so proud when they bring us a leaf they’ve conquered!

Whether the cats – or the humans – are ready or not, Halloween is coming. What’s your favorite Halloween themed movie or book? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at our usual giveaway prize, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

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

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop

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

It’s October! Fall is finally fell, at least here in the ATL. I’ve actually started wearing long sleeves outside again. But October means that it’s also the start of spooky season, so here’s a picture of one of my favorite ghosts.

As a librarian, I certainly can empathize with her plight. There’s just never enough time to read!

Which doesn’t stop me from getting more books – or from giving one lucky person a chance to get a book or two of their own – or something else equally spooky. Comment in the rafflecopter for a chance at your choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in Books.

And have a Spooktacular Fall!
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Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Fall 2022 Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop, hosted by It Starts At Midnight and Shooting Stars Mag!

Once upon a time, this was the Month of Books Giveaway Hop, now it’s the Seasons of Books Giveaway Hop, with the hops starting on the days the seasons change. Today is the first official day of Fall no matter how far behind Labor Day seems in the rearview mirror. Or whether the leaves have even begun to turn in your location. I’m in Atlanta and the leaves aren’t even going to start changing for at least a couple of weeks.

But the question this season is the same question it’s always been for one of these particular hops. What book or books are you most looking forward to this season?

I’m never looking forward to just one thing when it comes to books. Here are a few that are at the top of my list for this fall of 2022:

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews
Fox in the Fold by Candace Robb
Into the West by Mercedes Lackey
Pets of Park Avenue by Stefanie London
Secrets Typed in Blood by Stephen Spotswood
Under a Veiled Moon by Karen Odden

What about you? What books are you most looking forward to this fall? Answer in the rafflecopter for you choice of either a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books so you can get one or two of the books on your list!

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

You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!

Click here to enter



Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Falling into Leaves Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

Speaking of leaves and falling, let’s talk about leaf-peeping! While this hop is about leaves falling, we’re not quite into the season for it, at least not yet. I don’t mean just not here, I mean that according to predictive maps, most of the US isn’t there yet – except New England, Michigan and along the Canadian border.

But here in Atlanta peak season for leaf-peeping is a month off. Which makes this a perfect time to post this reminder:

When do the leaves let go where you are? What part of the change in seasons are you most – or least – looking forward to? Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at one of Reading Reality’s usual prizes, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

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For more fabulous fall 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.

Fabulous Fall Giveaway Hop

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

It’s not just the leaves that are falling as I write this on September 8. It was announced a few minutes ago that Queen Elizabeth II has died at the age of 96. It feels like not just the end of AN era, but of two or three eras all rolled into one. However one might feel about the late Queen, those eras or what happened within them.

September 8 would also have been my mother’s 94th birthday. So I’m having kind of a weird day.

It’s also not quite Fall yet. Not just because the leaves haven’t even started to turn here in Atlanta, but because, technically, it’s not Fall yet. It won’t officially BE Fall until this giveaway hop is nearly over, as the Fall equinox will occur on September 22, 2022. But Labor Day is past and, while there’s not exactly a chill in the air here yet, it is definitely less blisteringly hot.

All of the above are hitting me in the feels in different places. Not that the coming of Fall doesn’t hit all of us in the feels in one way or another.

What does Fall mean to you?

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Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Glam and Glitz Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

I have to admit that I keep seeing the image for this hop as a cookie – and that a cookie is way more relevant to my interests than either glam or glitz. My mom never went anywhere without “putting her face on”. I can’t remember the last time I wore makeup, I just know it was long before COVID. I just didn’t – at least in part because that would have meant getting up a few minutes earlier and that just wasn’t happening. Ever. At All.

What about you? Do you like putting on the glitz? Everyday? Only for special occasions? Or never in a million years? Answer in the rafflecopter for your chance at the usual Reading Reality prize, the choice between a $10 Amazon Gift Card and $10 in books.

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For more glamourous and glitzy prizes, be sure to visit the other stops on this hop!

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Old School Giveaway Hop

Welcome to the Old School Giveaway Hop, hosted by Mama the Fox!

The term “Old School” is actually pretty old school itself. It was first used in 1749 and meant exactly what it means today, that someone or something is sticking to “traditional policies and practices” instead of whatever would have been “state-of-the-art” back in 1749.

But the older generation has ALWAYS complained about the younger generation. And I do mean always. There are quotes going back to Aristotle in the 4th century B.C.E. that prove that the older generation has ALWAYS thought the younger generation was on the road to perdition. Or Hades. Or wherever other than traditional, “old school”, productive adulthood.

“The more things change, the more they remain the same” – a quote that only goes back to 1849. Not nearly so old school, but still very apropos.

What’s the most “Old School” thing that you are hanging on to? For me it’s Classic Rock, which I listened to – on the radio OMG – when it was just Rock. What about you?

Answer in the rafflecopter for a chance at the usual prize around here, the winner’s choice of a $10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 in books.

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

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Review: Signal Moon by Kate Quinn + Giveaway

Review: Signal Moon by Kate Quinn + GiveawaySignal Moon: A Short Story by Kate Quinn
Narrator: Saskia Maarleveld, Andrew Gibson
Format: audiobook
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, timeslip fiction, World War II
Pages: 57
Length: 1 hour and 22 minutes
Published by Amazon Original Stories, Audible Audio on August 1, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Diamond Eye comes a riveting short story about an impossible connection across two centuries that could make the difference between peace or war.

Yorkshire, 1943. Lily Baines, a bright young debutante increasingly ground down by an endless war, has traded in her white gloves for a set of headphones. It’s her job to intercept enemy naval communications and send them to Bletchley Park for decryption.

One night, she picks up a transmission that isn’t code at all—it’s a cry for help.

An American ship is taking heavy fire in the North Atlantic—but no one else has reported an attack, and the information relayed by the young US officer, Matt Jackson, seems all wrong. The contact that Lily has made on the other end of the radio channel says it’s…2023.

Across an eighty-year gap, Lily and Matt must find a way to help each other: Matt to convince her that the war she’s fighting can still be won, and Lily to help him stave off the war to come. As their connection grows stronger, they both know there’s no telling when time will run out on their inexplicable link.

My Review:

This story was so beautiful it just about broke me. It was gorgeous and glorious and heartbreaking all at the same time, and I was in tears at the end.

I want to say this is a timeslip story but that isn’t quite right. It’s more of a time-merging story, or a bit of technological SF sleight of hand story. It’s best to just say that it works. It all works marvelously, and let the how and why of it remain a bit nebulous.

After all, our two principals don’t completely understand the why of it themselves. They just know that it happened. And that it saved them both.

Lily Baines is a signal tech in Yorkshire in 1943, spending her days and nights with a Bakelite headset wrapped around her “bat-like” ears, listening for German signals. She’s a Petty Officer in the WRENS (Women’s Royal Naval Service), doing her bit for in a war that she’s entirely too afraid is being lost.

Late one shift, she picks up a signal from an American ship, broadcast in English, in the “clear”, detailing an attack on the ship by “Vampires”. An attack that results in the ship sinking with all hands after 42 minutes of harrowing transmission by the U.S. Naval signal tech, ST Matt Jackson, who gives the date as 2023.

While her superiors are certain that Lily has just been working too many days in a row without a break, Lily feels like she owes it to her fellow signal tech, the man she just heard narrate his own death, to try to help him. So she sends him a letter, a 1943-era radio, extra batteries, and a list of frequencies that she promises to listen on at a specific time every day.

There’s no science fiction involved in her package to the future. Her uncle is a solicitor and she contracts with his office to deliver the package to a certain room in a certain hotel in York on the day Matt said he checked in. Law offices do this all the time, just not necessarily for quite 80 years.

When Matt gets the radio, he’s sure it’s a prank, but he dials the frequency anyway. Even when Lily starts talking, he STILL thinks it’s a prank – at least until that night, when an event that she predicted comes true.

They have less than 24 hours to analyze the transmission that Matt hasn’t sent yet, in the hopes of figuring out what is about to go wrong so that he can prevent it. Or save his ship. Whatever it takes to prevent yet another war.

What they get is more than either of them ever bargained for. It’s enough – and it’s not nearly enough at all.

Escape Rating A++: Signal Moon is short and absolutely perfect in its length. It represents a very brief moment in time and needed to reflect that brevity. Also, it’s just so damn bittersweet – and appropriate in that bitter sweetness, that more would be just too much to take.

It’s that good.

But because of that short length, I was able to sit down with the audiobook and finish in one utterly absorbing and in the end completely heartbreaking listen. (If you have Amazon Prime you can get both the ebook and the audio as part of your Prime membership, and it’s so worth it to listen to the audio if you have a mere 82 minutes to occupy your hands while your mind wanders back to 1943 – and forward to OMG next year.)

The strength of this story is in the characters. The author sketches us a complete picture of Lily and her wartime service with just a bit of description and a whole lot of Lily’s internal monologue as she goes through her day pretending that everything is going to be alright even though she’s scared right down to her not-nearly-warm-enough fingertips that all is already lost.

While Matt’s more frank and frequently profane dialog, along with the desperation of his own internal monologue, gives the reader or listener a clear portrait of who he is and what drove him to become the person – and the officer – that he is on the brink of what could be – briefly – his very own war.

In the audiobook, the two characters are brilliantly voiced by their own narrators, Saskia Maarleveld for Lily and Andrew Gibson for Matt and they embody their characters beautifully. The audio would not have worked half so well with a single narrator. (Saskia Maarleveld is also the narrator for several of the author’s novels, including this year’s The Diamond Eye, which just moved up the towering TBR pile as a result.)

The ending of this story is inevitable. There’s just no other way this one works. But it’s easy to get so involved in their story that you just want it to have a different ending anyway. And that’s what broke me in the end. I knew what the end would be, but this was just one of those times where I really wanted a deus ex machina to step in and make that difference happen – even knowing how much I usually hate those kinds of endings. But it wasn’t, and it shouldn’t have been, meant to be.

Dammit.

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

Kate Quinn and Amazon Publishing are giving away a $50 Amazon Gift Card to one very lucky entrant on this tour!
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