Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite

Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia WaiteThe Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits, #2) by Olivia Waite
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: F/F romance, historical romance
Series: Feminine Pursuits #2
Pages: 416
Published by Avon Impulse on July 28, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous…
Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk. Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge.
As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

My Review:

I picked this up because I really enjoyed the first book in this series, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, and was hoping for not just more but even better from this second book – and that’s exactly what I got – both the more and the better!

As this story opens, Mrs. Agatha Griffin and Mrs. Penelope Flood are just about to meet over a hive of bees who have decided to make their honey amongst the stored printing plates of previously published works by Griffin’s print shop, the business that Agatha inherited from her late – and much missed – husband.

Penelope is the local expert on rehoming swarms of bees that are swarming in places where they are not wanted. Or in Agatha’s case, a swarm that has formed a quite industrious hive in a place where they are not wanted – her auxiliary printing house in Melliton.

They are opposites in every way. Agatha is a city woman, at home in London and still feeling a stranger in Melliton. Penelope may enjoy a visit to the metropolis but her home is in Melliton with her bees. Agatha is tall, Penelope is short. While both are what we would consider middle class, Penelope is comfortably off while Agatha works for her living, albeit in a business which she owns. Agatha has a grown son, Penelope has no children. Because Agatha’s marriage was mostly happy, while Penelope’s is entirely a marriage of convenience. Penelope married John Flood because he is her brother’s best friend and lifetime companion. Their marriage makes it easier for her brother Harry and John to hide their relationship in plain sight, while Penelope believed that she’d never marry. Just as her brother prefers the company of his own sex, so does Penelope prefer the company of hers.

It’s an arrangement that Penelope begins to call into question as the sudden attraction she feels for Agatha turns into something both mutual and more. Into a love that Agatha feels is forbidden, not so much because they are both women as because Penelope is married and subject to all the expectations that society has for married women – no matter what mischief their husbands happen to be up to.

They are both under threat from those expectations of society, although not in the same ways. When Penelope sets herself against the wishes of the local squire, or more accurately the expectations of the local squire’s wife, all of the ways in which she flouts convention come screaming down on her head, and on the heads of her brother, her husband, and all of the many beekeepers in the area who are her friends, her colleagues and in many ways her family of choice.

Meanwhile in London, it is 1820, and King George IV, the Prince Regent now king, is in dispute with his wife and his parliament. The revolutions in both France and those stubborn former colonies – the United States – are still very much on the minds of the aristocrats who want to remain on top of the heap, while Radicals who want more power for the people are fomenting, not exactly rebellion, but certainly disrespectful questioning of the established order.

Agatha is a practical and pragmatic woman who knows that she must steer a course for her publishing house that keeps them both solvent and out of the sights of government agents who will shut them down at the slightest provocation – which they very nearly do.

But her son is 19 and more than willing to tilt at all the windmills of that established order – no matter the cost.

The tightropes walked by Agatha and Penelope are dangerous, and if not deadly, certainly threatening to all that they hold dear. Including, especially, each other.

Escape Rating A: It felt like there were three threads being pulled in this story, and they braided together marvelously.

The first, the foremost, the loveliest thread is, of course, the romance between Agatha and Penelope. This is a romance that, unlike the one in the first book, takes an appropriate amount of time to develop. It begins with an unexpected friendship with an unquestioned amount of good old-fashioned lust, but it moves slowly and methodically as these two, separately and eventually together, work their way through all of the things that lie between them, their possible happiness as well as the potential for scandal.

At the same time, there’s that second, and very important thread that runs directly through the political turmoil of the time. Which leads directly into the part of the story that centers around Agatha’s printing house, her son who wants to throw in their lot with the Radicals, and her female apprentice who is more than educated enough to know that marriage is all too often a trap and a cage for women. This part of the story, including apprentice Eliza’s sensible but possibly slightly anachronistic attitude, reads similarly to A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian, which takes place no more than a couple of years before this story and also centers around a printing shop with Radical sympathies.

The final thread winds its way through the town of Melliton, where Penelope lives and Agatha has her auxiliary printing press. Just as the government is cracking down on Radicals in London, so in the countryside are there factions determined to stamp out all threats to morality, decency and the status quo that keeps them in power. Penelope, already considered outre, sets herself against those forces by setting herself against the local squire’s wife on pretty much every front. And is reminded at every turn that the established order is not only against her but has the power to make her life, and the lives of those she loves, a misery. Simply because she is a woman.

Like the previous book in the series, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics, the story never loses sight of the fact that the deck was stacked against women in this time and place every single step of the way. Not even the Queen is exempt from that universal truism. At the same time, the story doesn’t beat the reader over the head with it in quite the same way the setup of that first story does. Agatha and Penelope, being older and more experienced when this story begins than Lucy was in Celestial Mechanics, are better able to beat against the tide at least some of the time. They just never lose their awareness that they are being beaten by that tide.

That being said, while this is the second book in the series, it feels like it’s only tangentially related to the first book. In other words, Waspish Widows can be read very enjoyably without having read Celestial Mechanics, although if you like one you’ll certainly like the other.

To sum up, while I merely liked Celestial Mechanics, I loved Waspish Widows. We get to root for the underdogs, we get to see the forces of conformity routed – just a bit – and we get to fall in love with two women who are determined to find the happy ever after that they want for themselves no matter what society says they are supposed to want.

Feminine Pursuits will continue next year with The Hellion’s Waltz. I’m looking forward to the dance!

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + Giveaway

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite + GiveawayThe Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: F/F romance, historical romance
Series: Feminine Pursuits #1
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on June 25, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

My Review:

In late 19th century New England, they’d have called the relationship between Lucy Muchelney and Catherine St. Day a “Boston Marriage”. In early 19th century “old” England, it becomes a life and business partnership, because a traditional marriage is not a possibility for two women who want to spend their lives together in their own happily ever after.

Along the way it’s a beautiful story about falling in love, creating a partnership of equals, and dealing with all of the crap that society doles out to those of us “living while female” – no matter who we love.

It begins with Lucy. Lucy thinks of herself as an astronomer. She knows that she has spent the last ten years as her father’s unpaid and unacknowledged apprentice and assistant, performing the complex mathematical calculations that made it possible for others to follow his erratic but brilliant paths across the stars.

But her father is dead, and no one except her brother knows that she provided the backbone of his work for the previous decade. Stephen, a mostly unsuccessful painter, is now the head of her family and household. He tells her that it’s time for her to give up her “hobby” and get married. He plans to sell her precious telescope to keep himself in paints and parties.

In the wake of witnessing her lover’s wedding, Lucy takes a desperate leap. One of her father’s patrons needs him to translate an important work of astronomy, currently available only in French. There are plenty of people who can translate the language, even a few who have the necessary background in astronomy, but none who have the language, the astronomy and the crucial ability to follow the mathematical calculations that are integral to the text.

Except Lucy.

Having nothing left except the work that her brother has threatened to take away, Lucy takes herself to London, to the (not-so) Polite Science Society of which her father was a member, and to the potential patron who made the request, Catherine St. Day, Countess of Moth, widow of the naturalist George St. Day, world traveler and funder of her husband’s many, many expeditions.

Catherine has no desire to yoke herself to another genius. She’s been there and done that, and has the emotional scars to prove it. Her late husband has been dead for two years but she still flinches upon entering the rooms that he marked out as “his”.

But Lucy needs succor. And a patron – or perhaps a patroness. Catherine needs a purpose.

Together they set the scientific world on fire. And each other.

Escape Rating B+: In the end, I enjoyed this a LOT, but there were points in the middle where I kind of wanted to turn my eyes away. Not in a bad way, but I FELT for both characters so much, and I kept expecting more bad things to happen to them than actually did. Or for the story to descend into misogynistic cliches – which it never does.

The romance here, while it does happen just a bit fast, is a beautiful exploration of consent at every turn. No one ever overpowers the other. There is no sweeping away of one by the other. But there is still plenty of love and heat and fire, as these two women carefully – and sometimes not so carefully – explore what they can be to each other. It is every bit as romantic as any romance I’ve ever read.

Unfortunately that includes the misunderstandammit that nearly breaks them apart. It does, however, lead to a beautiful and epic reconciliation scene. As it should.

Once upon a time, an author of m/m romance told me that she had fallen for the genre because both protagonists in a romance were equals. The power imbalances that used to be a traditional feature of traditional romance simply aren’t present. Which made it easy to identify with either or both characters.

That observation came to mind somewhat ironically in the case of The Lady’s Guide, because in this f/f romance the protagonists are also equal. What gives this story its heart and soul is that both protagonists are equally in the “one down” position in society. In spite of Catherine’s wealth and relatively high social position, her opinions, her contributions, her very presence is always discounted by the men she deals with. That is true even when it is her money making their work possible.

The way that the so-called “important” men in this story attempt and frequently succeed in cutting both Lucy and Catherine down at every turn is heartbreaking – and easily identifiable with for any woman. We’ve all been talked over, talked down and discounted at every turn.

That Lucy and Catherine discover a way to not just knit their own lives together but to also bring many of the forgotten women of science and art out of the shadows into which they have been cast by male scientists and artist felt like a phenomenal way to bring this historical romance to a wonderful conclusion.

As well as set up hopefully many future stories in the Feminine Pursuits series!

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

 

To celebrate the release of THE LADY’S GUIDE TO CELESTIAL MECHANICS by Olivia Waite, we’re giving away a bound manuscript copy of the book to one lucky winner!

LINK: http://bit.ly/2HIlsH1 

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a bound manuscript copy of The Lady Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Books.  Giveaway ends 7/9/2019 @ 11:59pm EST.

Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Review: A Duke in Disguise by Cat SebastianA Duke in Disguise (Regency Imposters, #2) by Cat Sebastian
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical romance, regency romance
Series: Regency Impostors #2
Pages: 384
Published by Avon Impulse on April 9, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

One reluctant heir

If anyone else had asked for his help publishing a naughty novel, Ash would have had the sense to say no. But he’s never been able to deny Verity Plum. Now he has his hands full illustrating a book and trying his damnedest not to fall in love with his best friend. The last thing he needs is to discover he’s a duke’s lost heir. Without a family or a proper education, he’s had to fight for his place in the world, and the idea of it—and Verity—being taken away from him chills him to the bone.

One radical bookseller

All Verity wants is to keep her brother out of prison, her business afloat, and her hands off Ash. Lately it seems she’s not getting anything she wants. She knows from bitter experience that she isn’t cut out for romance, but the more time she spends with Ash, the more she wonders if maybe she’s been wrong about herself.

One disaster waiting to happen

Ash has a month before his identity is exposed, and he plans to spend it with Verity. As they explore their long-buried passion, it becomes harder for Ash to face the music. Can Verity accept who Ash must become or will he turn away the only woman he’s ever loved?

My Review:

I finished this a week or so ago, but unlike my usual habit, I did not immediately write up the review. It took me a few days to figure out why I didn’t want to revisit the book.

I think it’s that I was disappointed.

I expected to love this book. The first book in the series, Unmasked by the Marquess, was filled with light and verve and was just amazeballs. The author had managed to take a genre that has been done to death and took it into an entirely new direction with its genderqueer heroine (Robin thinks of herself as “she”, so she is the heroine, after all) and its unashamedly bisexual hero.

That they don’t just find each other, but fall in love and marry, and that the titular Marquess loves Robin exactly as she is, male clothing, behavior and ALL, was remarkably refreshing. And a whole lot of fun.

After that, and after her two highly regarded male/male Regency series, The Turners and Seducing the Sedgwicks, I was expecting something other than the rather traditional male/female romance I got in A Duke in Disguise.

This is an author whose Twitter bio proclaims her as “writer of Marxist tracts with boning…” In A Duke in Disguise, we got plenty of the Marxist tracts, as heroine Verity Plum heads a publishing house that publishes radical political tracts – and is branching out into publishing very dirty books with plenty of boning.

That Verity is politically active, and that she very definitely works for her living, makes her a bit different from the standard Regency heroine. Verity isn’t just part of the radical political movement, she’s also unashamedly bisexual and is completely unwilling to marry – because marriage will cost her the independence she both needs and prizes.

But the hero of this tale feels like he’s a bit too much cut from the standard Regency hero mold. In fact, he reminds me a teensy bit of the hero of A Most Unlikely Duke (although I liked that book considerably more), in that he has no clue that he is a duke until a series of fortunate (actually unfortunate from his perspective) coincidences returns him to the family who gave him away for adoption when he was a toddler.

Before he discovers he’s a duke, James Ashby makes his living as a highly skilled engraver. He’s the artist who is designing the plates for that dirty book that Verity plans to publish.

Ash, as he’s called, Verity and her brother Roger, have been friends for years, forming a family-of-choice for the seemingly orphaned Ash. However, Ash has been in love with Verity for years – merely too afraid to risk the friendship he needs for a romantic relationship that he’s sure has very little chance of working out.

His angsty pining over Verity gets to be a bit much after awhile – and feels very traditional at the same time – albeit with the proverbial shoe on the other foot. He pines after her, while she is aware of the sexual tension and the risk that it might be more – or might explode in their faces – but it doesn’t break her heart or interfere with her rational processes in quite the same way – at least not for a considerable while into the story.

When Ash discovers he’s the heir to a dukedom, he finally decides to risk a relationship with Verity – because he believes it will be brief. He assumes that once she discovers that he is part of the aristocracy they both loathe, she will leave him behind without a second thought.

And he will have some beautiful but bittersweet memories to keep him warm in the cold company he must keep in order to rescue his aunt and all of his family’s dependents from the murderous impulses of the man who will otherwise inherit the title and the power that goes with it.

In the end, Ash gives up love for duty, and Verity, surprising to both of them, gives up independence for love. It does all tie up neatly with a bow.

I expected more fun and much less tradition.

Escape Rating B-: I was disappointed in comparison with the previous book in the series, but that doesn’t mean that A Duke in Disguise was not a fun read – because it mostly was. I’ll also confess that I thought that Verity was a much more interesting character than Ash – in spite of his sudden and unexpected elevation.

She was different from the usual run of Regency heroines, while still being plausible. Ash, in spite of the illness that caused his family to send him away, felt too much like he was cut from the standard cloth.

The story reminds me rather a lot of Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh, in a couple of important ways. Ash, like the hero of that story, conceals his heritage in order to spend time with the woman he loves – a woman he believes that he will have to give up because of their relative positions in society – and a woman who he believes will not want to be part of that society with the restrictions that it places on the women in it.

Unfortunately, the two books also resemble each other in the way that both were good reads in themselves but slightly disappointing compared to their predecessors in their respective series. Your reading mileage may vary.

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + Giveaway

Review: Diamond Fire by Ilona Andrews + GiveawayDiamond Fire (Hidden Legacy, #3.5) by Ilona Andrews
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: paranormal, urban fantasy
Series: Hidden Legacy #3.5
Pages: 160
Published by Avon Impulse on November 6, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Nevada Frida Baylor and Connor Ander Rogan cordially invite you to join their wedding celebration. Summoning, weather manipulation, and other magical activities strictly forbidden.

Catalina Baylor is looking forward to wearing her maid of honor dress and watching her older sister walk down the aisle. Then the wedding planner gets escorted off the premises, the bride’s priceless tiara disappears, and Rogan's extensive family overruns his mother’s home. Someone is cheating, someone is lying, and someone is plotting murder.

To make this wedding happen, Catalina will have to do the thing she fears most: use her magic. But she’s a Baylor and there’s nothing she wouldn't do for her sister's happiness. Nevada will have her fairy tale wedding, even if Catalina has to tear the mansion apart brick by brick to get it done.

My Review:

Although Nevada and Rogan’s wedding is the setting – or the excuse – for this story, this is definitely NOT Nevada’s story, unlike the rest of the Hidden Legacy series so far.

This is Nevada’s sister Catalina’s story, which makes this novella a kind of bridge book in the series, as the focus switches from Nevada, who has found her happy ever after with Connor Rogan. Future books need to feature other characters, and it looks like we’re going to be treated to watch every member of the Baylor family come into their own and find their HEA, starting with Catalina.

The setup of this variation on our world began in the awesome Burn for Me. Diamond Fire is not meant to be read as a standalone, it is an integral part of the series and I think that too much is left to previous knowledge. After all, why would you care about Nevada and Rogan if you hadn’t watched their struggle?

Also, the house rivalries, politics and downright internecine warfare probably only make sense if you start at the beginning. This series is so awesome that it is no hardship whatsoever.

But this is Catalina’s story through and through, and it is not a romance. I think there’s going to be one on the horizon for her, eventually, but Catalina has to learn to love herself and accept her gift before she can manage to love anyone else.

That’s more true for her than most, because Catalina’s gift is love. Not real love, but obsessive love. Love-potion-type-love along with stalker-level obsession. Their world doesn’t have a name for her gift, but we’d call her a siren. When she lets her gift loose, anyone she focuses on is compelled to love her to the exclusion of all else.

Which means that Catalina is never sure whether someone likes her for herself, or because she wanted them to. The only people who seem to be immune are her family – but then, they love her anyway.

The story in Diamond Fire is all about Catalina protecting her sister from too many distractions while she’s playing bridezilla (just a bit) and to keep Nevada from using her invasive gift, truthseeking, to break the minds of her in-laws in order to find out just who wants to sabotage her wedding.

Instead, it’s up to Catalina to not just follow the more mundane clues, but to convince whoever those clues lead to to tell her everything she needs to know – by whatever means necessary – and whether she wants to know or not.

Catalina’s afraid that she’ll end up with a trail of mindless love slaves following her around – and that she’ll like it that way. But she’ll do anything for Nevada – no matter what dark places it leads her to.

There might even be something shiny and sparkly at the end.

Escape Rating B+: This is short, and in the end sweet – but not without plenty of interesting angst in the middle.

It is not a starting point for this series – so start with Burn for Me. Or wait for the first book in the Catalina trilogy that’s coming out in 2019. Just don’t start here. The world of the Primes, while it bears a superficial resemblance to our 21st century, certainly has some hidden depths that are not explained in this novella.

Instead, this one falls much more on the urban fantasy side of the paranormal romance/urban fantasy divide. Catalina is the amateur detective, and she has a case to solve. Someone stole the heirloom tiara that Nevada is supposed to wear down the aisle at her wedding. The tiara isn’t worth much – relatively for this uber-rich family – but it is important. Also well-known, so it’s not an item that can be fenced.

It seems like the only people who would have any motive for the theft are Nevada’s in-laws. Because of their psychic powers, they are also the only people who could have done it. And they are all in attendance for the wedding – however resentfully or reluctantly.

So Catalina has to do what detectives do, sort through all of the possible suspects, suss out their possible motives, and eventually figure out whodunit – not that the result isn’t a complete surprise. And not that she doesn’t uncover a whole lot of other crap that the family wishes had remained unknown. But that’s what House Baylor Investigations has always done – discover the truth – even when it hurts.

But the point of the story is on Catalina coming out of Nevada’s very tall (metaphorically speaking) shadow. And it’s the making of her. She learns that she can trust herself, and that’s one of the hardest lessons of all.

I can’t wait to see what she does next!

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

To celebrate the release of DIAMOND FIRE by Ilona Andrews, we’re giving away one paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy!

LINK:  http://bit.ly/2Nnhq6v

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to internationally. One winner will receive a paperback set of the Hidden Legacy trilogy by Ilona Andrews. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 11/12/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Limit one entry per reader. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + Giveaway

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess by Cat Sebastian + GiveawayUnmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters, #1) by Cat Sebastian
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Regency Impostors #1
Pages: 320
Published by Avon Impulse on April 17, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The one you love…

Robert Selby is determined to see his sister make an advantageous match. But he has two problems: the Selbys have no connections or money and Robert is really a housemaid named Charity Church. She’s enjoyed every minute of her masquerade over the past six years, but she knows her pretense is nearing an end. Charity needs to see her beloved friend married well and then Robert Selby will disappear…forever.

May not be who you think…

Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has spent years repairing the estate ruined by his wastrel father, and nothing is more important than protecting his fortune and name. He shouldn’t be so beguiled by the charming young man who shows up on his doorstep asking for favors. And he certainly shouldn’t be thinking of all the disreputable things he’d like to do to the impertinent scamp.

But is who you need…

When Charity’s true nature is revealed, Alistair knows he can’t marry a scandalous woman in breeches, and Charity isn’t about to lace herself into a corset and play a respectable miss. Can these stubborn souls learn to sacrifice what they’ve always wanted for a love that is more than they could have imagined?

My Review:

This is my first book from the author who claims on her twitter profile to write “Marxist tracts with boning,” but it certainly won’t be my last. I’ll admit that when I read the quote, I expected “boning” to be more of a double entendre, not just referring to sex but also to the boning in ladies’ corsets during the Regency period.

But there are no boned corsets here, at least not ever on the person of the heroine. And that’s a huge part of the point of the story.

The Marquess of the title, Alistair, is unapologetically bisexual. He may have a giant stick up his fundament about his role and his place in society and proper behavior, or at least proper public behavior, for that place, but he doesn’t whinge, whine or feel the least bit guilty about his bisexuality. And that’s refreshing and different, particularly for a character who begins as the epitome of the stock Regency hero of the aristocratic type.

It seems to be the one part of himself that he accepts unconditionally, because most of the rest of the time he’s putting on an act. Multiple acts. In his heart of hearts, he’s not nearly as buttoned up as he plays – but that stick is fairly firmly lodged and it takes Robin and that “champagne pop of laughter” to slowly begin to dislodge the damned thing.

Robin, however,  is nothing like he appears to be. And that is an epic understatement.

Once upon a time, Robin was Charity Church, a foundling who was literally discovered in a church, and raised there for several years. Let’s just the late clergyman who raised her was way better at teaching her to read, write and figure than he was imaginative when it came to names. Charity went from being a foundling at the vicarage to a servant at the Selbys, taking care of old Mr. Selby along with his two children, Robert and Louisa. Robert and Charity were the same age, and Laura just six years younger.

They became friends, and co-conspirators, and eventually family-of-choice. So when it came time for Robert to go off to Cambridge, and he really, really didn’t want to go, Charity went in his place. Literally in his place. As far as her fellow students knew, Charity Church WAS Robert Selby.

As Robert Selby, Charity had the life of the mind she always dreamed of, and the freedom, if not the pockets, to indulge it. The real Robert was an indifferent student at best, but Charity-as-Robert took a double first. She absolutely had the time of her life, and wished it would never end. But she didn’t expect it to continue quite like this.

Charity doesn’t see herself as playing a part. Except for having to pretend to be Robert Selby in particular, as opposed to just being a man and not a woman, she feels like she has found her true self. Being Robert becomes the real person, while being Charity becomes the pretense.

At least until Robert dies, and Charity feels compelled to pretend to be Robert full-time, at least long enough to see Louisa happily and safely married.

And that’s when “Robert” and Louisa come to London for the only Season they can manage to afford, in the hopes that Louisa’s extremely beautiful face will indeed prove to be her fortune. And that’s where “Robert” inserts himself into the outer social circle of Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, and finds all the stratagems that were devised to take care of Louisa have made an absolute mess out of “Robert” and any chances he might find happiness.

Or have they?

Escape Rating A: As a Regency romance, this still has its occasional farcical aspects, but overall this story is an absolute delight from beginning to end, while skewering pretty much every single trope of the genre along its merry way.

Alistair, on the surface at least, seems like the typical, overbearing and often priggish Regency hero who just needs a good woman to help him become less stuffy and less priggish (even if not less overbearing) so that he can find his happy ever after with a woman who will grace his life and give him the heirs his title requires.

Instead, Alistair gets the person he eventually nicknames Robin, and all the qualities, as well as all the flaws, that make Robin Robin are what Alistair really needs – even if he takes a long time and rather a lot of heartache to finally let go of everything holding him back. Because as much as he loves Robin as he is, once he learns that Robin is also Charity he spends a long but not incomprehensible time both loving him as he is and trying to mold Charity into what she isn’t in a way that is as much stubborn as it is stupid.

Even so, part of what makes this story so much fun is its intelligence. Robin and Alistair find their way towards each other with witty dialog and shared interests. Their scenes together are a joy to read and laugh along with.

One of the problems of historical romance, at least for this reader, is the necessity for the author to walk the tightrope between making sure that the heroine has enough agency to actually BE a heroine, without making her so anachronistic that she does not at least plausibly fit into her time and place.

As a solution to that particular dilemma, Charity/Robert/Robin is utterly marvelous. And also marvelously subversive. Robin is who Charity really is, on the inside. She doesn’t seem to want to actually BE a man, but she certainly does want to have the freedom and agency that men have, and she is not merely unwilling but absolutely unable to give it up. But she’s also not just a woman in men’s clothing – that clothing represents her real self. But that real self is neither male nor female as her society defines those terms.

Society may not be able to make heads nor tails of Robin’s gender identity, but Robin knows what works for her. And what I loved about this story is that in the end she doesn’t give up who she is to be who the hero thinks he needs her to be. Instead, Alistair finally realizes that she is, as she is, exactly what he needed all along.

And that’s something that doesn’t happen in historical romance nearly enough.

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

LINK:  https://goo.gl/qQovFr

GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS:  Open to US shipping addresses only. One winner will receive a paperback copy of The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance.  Giveaway ends 4/22/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

 

Review: Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: Midsummer Delights by Eloisa James + GiveawayMidsummer Delights: A Short Story Collection by Eloisa James
Formats available: ebook
Pages: 96
Published by Avon Impulse on February 6th 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads


A Midsummer Night's Disgrace
​Eloisa revisits the ​scintillating world of the Essex Sisters with a story featuring a young lady, Cecilia Bellingworth, who has decided she would rather ruin her reputation than endure further speculation about whether her children will be "silly," like her brother, Billy.​ ​After two failed seasons, ​Cecilia ​decides she ​will dress as she likes​ (in a scandalous red dress!)​ and flirt outrageously​ (with a scandalous pianist!)​. Fortunately, a gorgeous musician at the Duchess of Ormond's house party presents the perfect candidate for scandal…

​Previously published in the Essex Sisters Official Companion Guide (e only).


At Midnight
​Elias Hempleworth-Gray has one thing and one thing only of value—his title, Earl of Leyton. Determined to leave England and the scandal of his gambler father behind, Elias hopes to turn his fortunes around and come back a respectable man to claim the only woman for him, Miss Penelope White. But Penny has other plans for the man she has loved all her life…plans that include a masquerade, a stolen kiss and a lost shoe.

Previously published in the Fairy Tale sampler (print only).


Ever After
When she was sixteen, Miss Violet Leighton spent one blissful month romping around her family estate with Rothwell Talcott…thirty days of shared kisses, culminating in a very illicit afternoon in a berry patch. As Rothwell leaves for his grand tour, he gives his word of honor that he will return for her. Four years and seven refused proposals later, Violet is about to give up and marry when he finally returns. Now the Duke of Cambridge, Rothwell wants to make her his duchess. But how can Violet trust the man who stole her virtue—and then broke her heart?

Previously published in The Ugly Duchess (print only).

My Review:

This will be a short and sweet review of three short and very sweet (also slightly naughty) historical romances.

All three of these stories have been published before, but in separate collections. And while they all hearken back to earlier series, all three also have something in common.

The stories in this collection are very short. In fact, very, very short. If you are looking for a quick romantic getaway, the individual stories in this collection can probably each be read over a cup of coffee – or certainly over a quick lunch.

One of the dilemmas of romances in short stories is that they can easily smack of insta-love – especially if one is hoping for a happily ever after. In the case of these three stories, the author has worked around that problem by making these, not exactly second chances at love, but returns to, or reveals of, an existing love that is quickly re-established in the course of the story.

In A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, the heroine has had enough of pretending to be the perfect debutante. While not exactly on the shelf yet, she really wants to be relegated to that shelf, so she can retire to the country and pursue her musical studies. If she had been born male, she would be able to take lessons and possibly even be a musician, but it is deemed unladylike and inappropriate for her female self.

She plans on seducing, or being seduced by, the marvelous and utterly gorgeous piano player at the house party she is attending, only to discover that the mysterious pianist is actually the very well grown up version of the boy who used to put grasshoppers down her dress when they were children. And that he can give her all the music her heart desires.

At Midnight is the story of a young man with a prestigious title and pockets to let, courtesy of a father who gambled away just about everything else the family owned. He loves the young woman whose father bought his former patrimony, but is unwilling to ask for her hand and let it be said that he is only marrying her for the land he once called home. It takes the contrivance of their friends, along with the seeming anonymity of a masquerade ball, for the course of true love to find its way.

Ever After, like A Midsummer Night’s Disgrace, is also the story of a young woman who has turned down all her suitors. But in this case, it’s because none of them measure up to the young man she fell in love with when she was 16. At the time, she believed that he loved her in return, but he has been out of the country for four years and she has received only two letters in all that time. She’s sure he’s moved on, and equally sure that no one else will ever replace him in her heart. Then he arrives, in the middle of a ton ball where she is dodging yet more suitors, and literally carries her off to plead his case. She shouldn’t forgive him, but of course she does.

Escape Rating B: These stories are all, as I said at the top, short and sweet, with just a touch of naughty. In spite of their brief length, each one does a fairly good job of establishing its characters and the connection between them without making it feel like insta-love.

For readers who are familiar with the series from which each story came, I’m sure that it is an extra treat to see familiar characters in the background. But for those who are not, as I am, each story is surprisingly complete within itself, especially considering their brevity.

In addition to these little confections, the book also includes a teaser first chapter for the next book in the Wildes of Ludlow Castle series, Too Wilde to Wed. This teaser is a real tease! I loved the first book in the series, Wilde in Love, and was already looking forward to the next book. Having read the first chapter, now I know that May is much too far away. I want it now!

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

LINK: https://goo.gl/gfG1vy
GIVEAWAY TERMS & CONDITIONS: Open to US shipping addresses only. Two winners will each receive a paperback copy of A Kiss At Midnight by Eloisa James. This giveaway is administered by Pure Textuality PR on behalf of Avon Romance. Giveaway ends 2/10/2018 @ 11:59pm EST. Avon Romance will send the winning copies out to the winner directly. Limit one entry per reader and mailing address. Duplicates will be deleted.

Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + Giveaway

Review: A Gentleman Never Tells by Eloisa James + GiveawayA Gentleman Never Tells (Essex Sisters, #4.5) by Eloisa James
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Series: Essex Sisters #4.5
Pages: 112
Published by Avon Impulse on June 28th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Eighteen months ago, Lizzie Troutt’s husband died in his mistress’s bed, leaving her determined to never marry again….and unfortunately virginal.
Eighteen years ago (give or take a few) the Honorable Oliver Berwick blackened his own soul, leaving him hardened and resolutely single.
When the chance for redemption in the form of a country house party invitation comes his way, Oliver is determined to prove himself a gentleman.
Until he breaks all the codes of gentlemanly behavior…once again.

My Review:

This one was just good fun. And sometimes that’s exactly what a reader, or at any rate this reader, is looking for.

Oliver is just so earnest. He really needs the element of whimsy (and occasional hair-pulling insanity) that his niece Hattie brings into his life. She lightens him up, and he needs that lightness, even as both he and the reader want to shake his sister. Oliver has become Hattie’s guardian not through the usual tragedy, but because his sister and brother-in-law have run off to Africa to convert the locals to their version of Christianity.

Hattie is much, much better off with Oliver. And is old enough to understand that she is. She also seems to be permanently plotting to bring him out of himself, and to get her own way. She and her best friend connive to do both, dragging Oliver to a house party at Lady Windingham’s two days early, so that she has more time with her best friend.

Fifteen-year-old Hattie has yet another ulterior motive. Back when Oliver and his friends were young and insufferable, they put about a whole series of cruel witticisms about various young ladies in the ton. Those witticisms set back the victims marriage prospects considerably at the time, even though all was well that ended well.

Lady Windingham was one of those young ladies, and Oliver needs to apologize for helping to attach “The Woolly Breeder” to her name.

But when Oliver discovers Cat Windingham’s beautiful but withdrawn sister Lizzie Troutt, he develops more than a few ulterior motives of his own.

As part of his apology to Cat, he makes a deal with her. He will make Lizzie laugh before the rest of the guests arrive. Including a man that Cat hopes will convince her sister to marry again.

Oliver plans to get there first.

Escape Rating B+: A Gentleman Never Tells is light, frothy and just plain fun, even though I haven’t read the rest of the series. (But now I plan to!)

Both Lizzie and Oliver very seriously need to lighten up, and the best way they can do that is with each other. While Oliver’s tenacious courtship and the sparkle of their banter carries the story, one of the underlying points is the often exasperated but always loving relationship between the sisters Cat and Lizzie. Even though they are currently driving each other crazy, they clearly want the best for each other. And Cat will stop at nothing to make sure that her sister gets a chance at happiness.

pleasure for pleasure by eloisa jamesThere is also a deeper layer underneath the froth about the way that guilt eats away at a person. Oliver feels guilty about the young ladies whose lives he and his friends attempted to ruin through their cruelty. And he has become an old sobersides to punish himself for his youthful peccadilloes. Those ladies deserve an apology, but he needn’t wallow in guilt for the rest of his life. If Cat and her best friend Josie (see Pleasure for Pleasure for details) are any indication, he seems to have accidentally done them each a very big favor.

Lizzie is also wallowing in guilt, along with a much healthier dose of anger. But being angry at dead people never gets a person anywhere at all. Her husband was an ass, and dying in his mistress’ bed was his last act of asshattery. But not before he blamed poor, inexperienced Lizzie for his inability to consummate their marriage. As I keep saying, and as Oliver says, her dead husband was an ass.

That Lizzie is both a widow and a virgin is its own delicious and shameful secret. It also fires Oliver’s desire to make Lizzie his and only his. Before his would-be rival appears on the scene.

But his real opponent is Lizzie. After her experience, she has absolutely zero willingness to trust another man with her fate or her future. Her father knowingly bartered her into the arms of her late asshat husband, a man who openly intended to spend her dowry and his nights with his mistress, while leaving her to care for his dying mother in a run-down house with few servants and even fewer comforts. When her father wouldn’t take her back, she swore off the entire male gender and was prepared to make it stick.

It takes more than a bit of persuading for Lizzie to see that either Oliver is an exception, just like her sister’s loving husband, or that her late, unlamented husband was just a singular ass and not a representative of his whole species.

Watching Lizzie and Oliver come out of their respective shells and find each other is just oodles of fun.

Reviewer’s Note: I will admit that the virgin widow trope is a personal pet peeve. It always seems like a contrivance to arrange for the ritual romantic deflowering by the hero, even when the heroine is no longer a dewy debutante. My two pence.

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

Eloisa and Avon Impulse are giving away an Essex Sisters Boxed Set to one lucky entrant on this tour!

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Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + Giveaway

Review: Burning Bright by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen + GiveawayBurning Bright: Four Chanukah Love Stories by Megan Hart, KK Hendin, Stacey Agdern, Jennifer Gracen
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Pages: 400
Published by Avon Impulse on December 1st 2015
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

This December, take a break from dreidel spinning, gelt winning, and latke eating to experience the joy of Chanukah. When you fall in love during the Festival of Lights, the world burns a whole lot brighter.
It’s definitely not love at first sight for Amanda and her cute but mysterious new neighbor, Ben. Can a Chanukah miracle show them that getting off on the wrong foot doesn’t mean they can’t walk the same road?
Lawyers in love, Shari Cohen and Evan Sonntag are happy together. But in a moment of doubt, he pushes her away—then soon realizes he made a huge mistake. To win her back, it might take something like a Chanukah miracle.
When impulsive interior designer Molly Baker-Stein barges into Jon Adelman's apartment and his life intent on planning the best Chanukah party their building has ever seen, neither expects that together they just might discover a Home for Chanukah.
All Tamar expected from her Israel vacation was time to hang out with one of her besties and to act like a tourist, cheesy t-shirt and all, in her two favorite cities. She definitely was not expecting to fall for Avi, a handsome soldier who’s more than she ever dreamed. 

My Review:

In the avalanche of holiday romances that arrives every November and December, I seldom see anyone like myself. Why? Because there is a dearth of Hanukkah romance in the middle of all the Christmas. And just like the heroines in this collection of Hanukkah romances, I’m Jewish. It was beyond marvelous to read romances that reflected some of my experience, where the cultural background is the one that I remember from my own family. So for that alone, this collection is a marvelous collection of Hanukkah lights.

But these are also terrific love stories, and anyone looking for something slightly different in their holiday romance will certainly find someone and something to love in this bunch of treats. Or bag of chocolate Hanukkah gelt.

My favorite story in the book is the first one, Miracle by Megan Hart. It’s a love story, and it is also a story about finding your own path, even if it is not the one that other people think you should follow. So it’s a story about growing up and breaking away. Ben has moved to Harrisburg, PA of all places, in order to get away from his ultra-orthodox religious community back in New York. While it is impossible to grow up in the U.S. without some exposure to popular (and Christian) culture, Ben’s community in NYC was as isolated in its own way as the Amish. Popular culture was something forbidden, and something that happened very much on the outside of the insular and insulated community. But when the girl that Ben was supposed to marry falls in love with his best friend, Ben takes the opportunity to escape a life that doesn’t fit him. He wants to travel, he wants to experience the entire world, and he doesn’t want to take over his father’s kosher grocery store chain. He isn’t sure what he wants for his life, but he wants a wider world than the one he has experienced so far.

In Harrisburg, he meets Amanda. While Amanda is also Jewish, she has grown up in the wider and predominantly Christian world. In Amanda’s life, while she is proud of being Jewish, she has also experience some anti-Semitism and has the experience of being a minority where most people she meets are different from herself. Ben often seems critical because she does not act the way that he was brought up to expect “good girls” to act, while at the same time he is definitely attracted both to her and the adaptation to the world as a whole that he craves. When his father shows up at his doorstep in an attempt to guilt Ben into returning home, Ben is caught between the life he had, and the life he wants with Amanda.

In both A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen and A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern, while the details in the stories are different, the theme is the same. In both stories, the couple are negotiating the shift from friends and lovers to lovers and partners. And in both cases, there is a huge bump in the smoothness of that road. In Gracen’s story, Evan and Shari have been lovers for several months, long enough for both of them to think seriously about the future. But they are both lawyers, and Evan in particular is a divorce lawyer. He has soured on marriage so much that he isn’t sure he will ever want to enter that institution for himself. When he brings Shari home for the holidays, his unwillingness to ever marry runs headlong into his family’s desire for him to settle down with Shari, and Shari’s coalescing thoughts that someday she would like to marry and have children, and that she would like her someday with Evan.

The relationship between Jon and Molly in Agdern’s story is much newer than the one in A Dose of Gelt, but hits similar rocky shoals. Jon invites interior designer Molly to turn his empty apartment into a place he will feel at home – but when he comes back from a business trip and sees what she has done, he feels invaded and exposed, and pretty much shoots the messenger, meaning Molly. It takes a lot of appropriate groveling and some very pointed nudging from Jon’s family and Molly’s friends to get Jon to see the light. Or lights.

KK Hendin’s story, All I Got, gave me a bit of trouble. I liked the happy ending, but getting there was a bit confusing. Tamar returns to Israel for Winter break, and meets a handsome soldier. She falls in love, but keeps her feelings to herself, knowing that she has to return to the U.S. to fulfill her college scholarship. That handsome soldier, Avi, finds a way to follow her to the States, so he can discover if what they feel for each other is real. The story is told from Tamar’s first person perspective, with lots of inserted quotes from either her friends or from others who have written about the experience of traveling to or living in Israel. The quotes are fascinating, and Tamar’s story is lovely, but for this reader they didn’t blend together well.

Escape Ratings:
Miracle by Megan Hart: A-
A Dose of Gelt by Jennifer Gracen: B
A Home for Chanukah by Stacey Agdern: B+
All I Got by KK Hendin: C+

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

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The authors are giving away a $25 Gift Card to the bookseller of the winner’s choice:

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