REVIEW: Tessa Arlen’s POPPY REDFERN AND THE MIDNIGHT MURDERS

Poppy_Redfern_Midnight_MurdersI have droned on and on, to your great boredom, about how I love romance and how my second love is the mystery-romance-historical combo, like Deanna Raybourn, or Susanna Kearsley, C. S. Harris, Jennifer Ashley … *sobs* and the no-longer-writing-new-Renegades-of-the-Revolution Donna Thorland. Let’s face it, I love the hybrids as much as I love romance, so let’s let that second love thing die. Now, with Tessa Arlen’s first in A Woman of WWII series, I’m adding another much-anticipated series to the beloved list. Given the stay-at-home state of things, Arlen’s Poppy Redfern and the Midnight Murders made for the perfect comfort read: with a Christie-Foyle’s-War-inspired English village + eccentrics setting and intrepid, engaging, loveable heroine, the eponymous Poppy, a too-charming-for-his-and-Poppy’s-own-good American Army Air Force hero …  and no less than a Midsommer Murders corps of village-body-count! While I toiled away at WFH and dabbed lipstick for Zoom meetings, I enjoyed, in the time-interstices, my reading of Poppy, her American hero, and their joint sleuthing. Continue reading

REVIEW: Julie Anne Long’s ANGEL IN A DEVIL’S ARMS

Angel_In-Devil's_ArmsI haven’t read a Julie Anne Long histrom in a “long” time, not since I dipped my reading toes into one of the Pennyroyal series and thought “meh”: opaque style, puerile humour, characters I couldn’t bring myself to care much about. Despite the weirdly lacking-in-perspective cover (look at his arm and that bed, how short are his legs?!), I wanted to read this latest series, the Palace of Rogues, thanks to my great enjoyment of her contemporary romance, The First Time At Firelight Falls.

Since the Pennyroyal experience, Long has dropped the overwrought and wrought a wonderful romance. I was skeptical at first, sensing that opacity I didn’t find in the contemporary, evident in Angel. But after the first chapter, this was a lovely read, indeed. Read on, for my full review. 
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MINI-REVIEW: Megan Crane’s SERGEANT’S CHRISTMAS SIEGE

Sergeant's_Christmas_SiegeMegan Crane’s Sergeant’s Christmas Siege is the second Alaska Force romance I’ve read, nabbing this second one after loving the first, Sniper’s Pride. (Let me take a moment to say that I missed out on the actual first in the series, Seal’s Honor. My reading order is not the series order if you’re keen to check them out.) In comparing the two, I would say that Christmas Siege was heavier on suspense than rom and I definitely enjoyed Sniper’s romance more. But Crane sure can write and, therefore, it’s always pleasurable to follow her protagonists’ journey. In this case, with a hero and heroine consistently, relentless verbally sparring, a dearth of tender moments, made for a romance that could’ve used some ramping up. Alaskan state trooper and investigator, Kate Holiday, arrives at Grizzly Harbor, where Alaska Force runs its save-the-vulnerable operations. Kate  suspects they’re a paramilitary group with nefarious purposes, only one of which is to upstage conventional law enforcement, such as her own outfit.
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MINI-REVIEW: Kate Bateman’s THIS EARL OF MINE

This_Earl_Of_MineIn these days of coronavirus isolation (I’m blessed to be healthy for the time being and hope you, Miss Bates’s readers, are well), a diverting, witty book is the best of companions, offering respite, amusement, and the hope that we will, once more, “embrace one another joyously” (as we chant in my church on Pascha). Such is Kate Bateman’s first in her new series, “Bow Street Bachelors,” This Earl of Mine. It’s light, fresh, engaging, and written with ease and a lovely flow. It is premised on my favourite histrom trope, marriage-of-convenience, which, in truth, if it’s well done, should turn into a marriage-of-inconvenience when those pesky feels come into play for hero and heroine. This Earl of Mine captivated me from the opening scene: wealthy cit-heiress, Georgianna “Georgie” Caversteed, has arranged to marry a Newgate condemned convict to put an end, once and for all, to her cousin Josiah’s, among others, constant, persistent, and unwelcome forays into acquiring her fortune for himself, or as Georgie thinks, “Better a temporary marriage to a murderous, unwashed criminal than a lifetime of misery with Josiah.” A convenient marriage and subsequent widowhood, while Georgie hightails it to her Lincolnshire estate, will ensure her independence of person and fortune. Instead, she marries undercover Bow Street runner and impoverished second son, Bendict “Ben” William Henry Wylde, Etonian and formerly of the “Rifles” during the Napoleonic Wars. It is a most engaging opening scene when Georgie notes, despite the grime and overlong hair, how handsome, strong, and confident her husband is, he of the teasing, twinkling eyes and “broad shoulders, wide chest, and long legs.”      Continue reading

MINI-REVIEW: Angelina M. Lopez’s LUSH MONEY

Lush_MoneyThree romance novels saw me DNF them because of their opening scene: Mary Balogh’s The Secret Pearl; Susan Elizabeth Phillips’s Nobody’s Baby But Mine; and, Cecilia Grant’s A Lady Awakened. In time, I returned to all three and loved them. We can add a fourth, Lopez’s début, Lush Money. All four open with a scene where one or both of the protagonists are morally comprised; we see the them at their worst. All four involve a scene where the body is exchanged for money, or services, where the “other” is objectified and exploited. It is most interesting that in three of the four, including Lopez’s, the hero is objectified. What Lopez brings to the table is a flip to the classic HP ethos: the billionaire, in this case, the heroine, Roxanne Medina, “buys” Prince Mateo Esperanza’s, the hero’s, services to make her dream baby and cement her business empire. They marry, business-like, and “meet” once a month over a three-day period when Roxanne ovulates. So, what’s in it for Mateo? Continue reading

REVIEW: Maisey Yates’s COWBOY CHRISTMAS REDEMPTION

Cowboy_Christmas_RedemptionI read a lot of Maisey Yates romance, rarely missing a new release. I read her as much for the intensity of the romance as for its ethos. Because it aligns with mine. And so, even though from a critical viewpoint there’s something repetitive about her romances, I enjoy each and every one. In Cowboy Christmas Redemption, Yates has dropped some of the relentless interiority of her recent work and created something deeper, better developped, with a more expansive theme and characters.

On the sidelines to Yates’s recent Gold Valley books (this latest is #8) are Caleb Dalton and Ellie Bell. Caleb is Ellie and her four-year-old daughter’s shadow. Since Ellie’s husband and Caleb’s best friend died, Caleb has been Ellie’s ” … rock. Her salvation.” Caleb was there to tell Ellie about his death, hold her when she grieved, hold her hand when she gave birth to Amelia, been there to repair the porch steps, drive Amelia to pre-school. He’s been everything stalwart and good Ellie could ever want, or need. But four years have gone and as Ellie emerges from grief, she wants more than being Clint’s widow. She makes a Christmas wish list, checks it twice, and goes out to get what she needs and wants after four years of single-motherhood and grieving widowhood. She wants a new dress, shoes, to dance in a bar, and flirt with a man. She wants to “feel like a woman again,” to experience intimacy once more.
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MINI-REVIEW: Lucy Gilmore’s PUPPY CHRISTMAS

Puppy_ChristmasI anticipated Lucy Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance, Puppy Christmas, from the moment I turned the last page on the first, Puppy LoveI’m sorry it took me this long to read the former. Equally laugh-out-loud funny, heart-wrenching, and rawr-sexy, it would have made a hellacious work month so much better. Lesson learned: I’ve settled into my romance reading (thirteen years since I picked up a copy of Garwood’s Shadow Music at the local Costco and reignited my love for the genre) with the knowledge that romance is the best respite from daily stress, an oasis of happy in a desert of demands. Gilmore’s series, including this latest (as I anticipate the third, Puppy Kisses!), deserves a spot in the happy-reader Hall of Fame. Continuing with her initial premise, three sisters running a service-dog non-profit, “Puppy Promise,” Puppy Christmas focusses on the eldest, 31-year-old Lila Vasquez, as she works to build the confidence of six-year-old, hearing-impaired Emily Ford with the help of cockapoo Jeeves, while falling in love with Emily’s father, ridiculously-named Ford Ford. Gilmore’s second Forever Home romance is plot-light, but character-deep and chock full of lovely anecdotes, including a funny meet-cute, first date set in a snow maze, Elsa-allusions, cocked-puppy-head adorableness, and hot phone sex.
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MINI-REVIEW: Meg Cabot’s NO JUDGMENTS

No-JudgmentsI’m way too old to have read Cabot’s Princess Diary books, but glad I’m old enough to enjoy her contemporary romance. Despite its rom-com cover, No Judgments, though often droll, tackles sombre issues for its protagonist and narrator, Sabrina “Bree” Beckham. Bree has divided her life between when-she-was-Sabrina and lived in Manhattan as a law student with a famous mom and a trust fund and, at present, Bree, living humbly in Florida’s fictional Little Bridge Island, waitress, art-dabbler, and cat owner. (Indeed, Bree’s imperious former-shelter-cat Gary is one of the most charming of the island’s denizens, feline, canine, or human.) But darker events than law-school-dropping-out brought Bree to Florida: her ex-boyfriend’s betrayal, oh, not with another woman, but by excusing his best friend’s execrable behaviour, behaviour that left Bree with uncertainty, fear, and mistrust. But there’s one man who breaks through her wariness, sexy Drew Hartwell, her bosses’ nephew and resident renovation-king-and-heartthrob. When Hurricane Marilyn bears down on Little Bridge Island, Drew and Bree, despite their initial banterish dislike (which we always know masks healthy-lust-like), work together to ensure evacuees’ left-behind animals are cared for, while falling into love and between Drew’s bed-sheets.  
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MINI-REVIEW: Caroline Linden’s WHEN THE MARQUESS WAS MINE

When_Marquess_Was_MineI was greatly looking forward to Linden’s When the Marquess Was Mine because I loved the previous Wagers of Sin romance, An Earl Like You. The Marquess didn’t capture me as deeply as the Earl did, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. Certainly, the premise intrigued me because AMNESIAC hero narrative!

When the romance opens, our privileged, wealthy, heir-to-a-dukedom hero, Robert Churchill-Gray, Marquess of Westmorland, is celebrating his 29th birthday, with his equally rogue-ish friends, by drinking and gambling at the Vega Club. Foolishly, one of the players, Sir Charles Winston, loses his Derbyshire home, Osbourne House, to Rob. When Rob’s father, the Duke of Rowland, catches wind of the shenanigans, he sends Rob to Winston’s seat to return the deed to his wife, Kitty, there rusticating with her six-month-old, Annabel. Her companion is her bosom friend, Lady Georgianna Lucas, enjoying the country air away from London and the now summer-dwindled season. As Rob nears Osbourne House, he is beset by nasties, beaten about the head, and left for dead. Georgianna, out riding with a groom, finds him injured and unconscious and realizes he is the marquess Charles wrote to Kitty about, out to oust them from their home, and generally make everyone miserable with his arrogant self.  
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MINI-REVIEW: Sarah M. Eden’s THE LADY AND THE HIGHWAYMAN

Lady_HighwaymanI was pleasantly surprised at the complexity and page-turning élan of Sarah M. Eden’s The Lady and the Highwayman. Eden is a new-to-me author and I’m glad I’ve discovered her romances; this first read won’t be my last, thanks to her robust backlist.

Victorian-set among the humble and working-class, Eden’s thriller-melodrama-romance boasts a former-“guttersnipe” hero, now successful penny dreadful author, and girls-school headmistress heroine. Fletcher Walker struts the streets of 1865-London with the swagger of a man who brought himself out of the gutter and into success. But Fletcher is not an advocate of the every-man-is-an-economic-island making his own way in the world. He is the defender, rescuer, and fighter for the poorest of the poor and the most vulnerable of London’s invisible people, the widowed, fatherless, and orphaned; the sweep’s agony, the harlot’s cry come under Fletcher’s protection and his penned stories tell of their pathos, endurance, and spunky survival, the importance of helping one another, and defending those who cannot defend themselves. His author’s income isn’t for himself alone, but largely given to the poorest of the poor. Continue reading