This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips (2001)
A coworker recommended that I read Phillips’ Nobody’s Baby But Mine and so I did at the end of last year. I was intrigued by the young quarterback, Kevin, in that story and was thrilled to find he got his own book. This Heart of Mine in fact has almost the exact same premise as Nobody’s Baby. Despite that, I really loved it. I thought it was funny (at times LOL funny) and I was rooting for these characters to find the love they deserved. Kevin is now the starting quarterback for the Chicago Stars and he’s got a reputation as a player. Molly is the sister of the Stars owner. She’s a children’s book writer but has a troublesome little reckless streak running through her. She also has a crush on Kevin. When they end up at a family cabin on the same night, an “incident” occurs. (Let me pause to say that this incident is problematic and I can understand why some readers might stop reading at that point. However, the incident is addressed, not ignored, which I appreciated.) Molly ends up pregnant. Kevin, fearing he’ll be traded but also a good guy at heart, marries her. There is a ton of plot going on in the book but it’s all just absolutely wonderful. I really enjoyed going back 17 years (!) to read this one.
For kicks, here are the old and new covers.
A Rogue by Any Other Name by Sarah MacLean (2012)
This historical romance was recommended to me by a coworker. This post will be rather short because the book was not for me. Have you ever loved half a book? I don’t mean first half, last half. I loved the heroine of this story but loathed the hero from page 1. I firmly believe in taking personal responsibility for our own choices and this guy could not seem to do that. Not on page 1 and not on page 405 either. I kept reading hoping he would do so, but nope. I also kept reading because the heroine was initially awesome. She called him on his BS time and time again. Still, he never owned up to his choices. Eventually she fell in love with him and then I just felt sorry for her. This was one story where the hero needed much, much more self-reflection than the few pages at the end.
The Duke’s Disaster by Grace Burrowes (2015)
Grace Burrowes has a lot of historical romance titles to her name but I’ve never read her books. I had one of her paperbacks lying around so I picked it up and started reading. About a half later I put it down, went to my library’s OverDrive site, and downloaded the ebook to my Kindle. That makes this a good read in my world:-) I’m not much for reading paperbacks anymore, especially ones with tiny print.
Noah is the duke in question and he’s not much for small talk and socializing so he decides to cut to the chase and ask Lady Thea, a down-on-her-luck earl’s daughter turned companion to marry him. Thea agrees because she doesn’t think she has any other prospects and Noah has agreed to provide a decent dowry and come-out for her younger sister. The marriage takes place straight away and off we go. Thea has a secret that she only tells Noah in dribs and drabs so things are rocky almost from the start. These two have problems communicating about the big things and that was frustrating. And yet, I found their everyday interactions adorable and enjoyed the rapport between them. Burrowes has a distinctive cadence to her writing, especially dialogue. It’s at once refreshing and wearing, especially over the course of a long book. Still, I enjoyed the story and loved the characters. I’ll give another of her books a try.
The Rake by Mary Jo Putney (2001)
Well, I thought this theme was RITA winner or finalist so that’s what you get from me!
I saw this book recommended on Twitter and after checking out the blurb, decided to give it a try. I struck gold. This is a rich, intense story that is all about the redemption of the titular rake, Reggie Davenport and while Reggie receives encouragement and nudges from those around him, his redemption comes from within and it doesn’t come easily, both of which I appreciated.
Reggie’s had a tough life–family wiped out when he was 8, raised by an uncaring uncle–and to make things worse for himself, he’s made some really bad decisions. Now in his late 30s, he’s an alcoholic with few friends and no family. Except a distant cousin reaches out to him and gives him an estate (for a good reason). When Reggie arrives at said estate he discovers the steward is a female named Alys Weston and she’s done an awesome job of running the estate. Alys also has a secret and it deeply affects her reaction to Reggie. There is a lot of plot going on in this story, not least of which is Reggie’s alcoholism, which is not glossed over and is treated in a realistic manner. I give Ms. Putney kudos for taking this direction. Reggie’s road to sobriety is a long one and while his actions often frustrated me I was glad that he wasn’t magically cured by a relationship with Alys. And that relationship is a fabulous one. Reggie is a man who appreciates intelligence and hard work, whether it comes from a man or woman. The romance between Reggie and Alys is wonderful, though I will admit there was a time or two when I wanted to knock their heads together.
I discovered halfway through this book that it’s an older title, originally titled The Rake and the Reformer, from 2001, but nonetheless I highly recommend it.
The Study of Seduction by Sabrina Jeffries (March 2016)
This is easily one of the best historical romances I’ve read this year. I don’t read Sabrina Jeffries all that often but heard this book had a trope I love–unbeknownst to the heroine, the hero has been attracted to her for some time. Edwin is an earl who’s a bit grumpy (I love a grumpy hero!), doesn’t have much of an inclination for all the social niceties, and is interested in making automatons. He has known social butterfly Clarissa for a few years through a friend/family connection. Clarissa thinks he’s very stuffy and always criticizing her. They are thrown together when Clarissa’s cousin, the head of their family, is called out of the country and he asks Edwin to watch over her. She needs watching over because the acting French ambassador is stalking her. The reason for that was fairly obvious to me but that didn’t detract from the story.
Clarissa has a traumatic secret in her past which, word of warning, is described in enough detail that it might upset some readers. I thought the portrayal of Clarissa post-trauma was really well done as was Edwin’s handling of the revelation of that incident. While there are peripheral external subplots going on, this is truly a sweet romance between a curmudgeon and a resilient woman. Read it if you get the chance.
P.S. This is also a RITA finalist. I hope it wins:-)
King’s Captive by Amber Bardan (Feb 2017)
I heard a lot of buzz about this book and decided to give it a try, even though it’s not something I would normally pick up. On Sarah’s 18th birthday her family party is interrupted by a man named Julius King and a bunch of guys with masks on and guns drawn. Sarah’s father, who she knows is involved in some shady business, ends up dead. Sarah ends up agreeing, under duress, to marry Julius so that he can have her inheritance when she turns 21. She gets him to agree, though, to keep his hands off her until that time. We then fast forward 3 years, to the month before her 21st birthday. Sarah has been held by Julius on a private Caribbean island the entire time.
This is a somewhat unusual book. I knew going in that all was not as it seems but I did not know the big twist in the story. Obviously I’m not going to spoil it here but I will say it was better than the scenarios I was imagining in my head:-) I have to admit, though, that once I knew what was going on (about 3/4 of the way through), my enthusiasm for finishing the book diminished, probably because I no longer had that sense of anticipation. Bardan is a thoroughly competent writer and there is a lot, I mean a LOT, of angst in this book, which isn’t really my thing, but if you love angst, it’s dialed up to 11 here. Be warned that this book revolves around criminal gangs who are into weapons and drug dealing. Even besides that, there are some very questionable morals running rampant through this story, especially if you think about it for longer than a minute. Still, I enjoyed this one!
Cold-Hearted Rake by Lisa Kleypas (Oct 2015)
When Lisa Kleypas was strictly a historical romance writer, I read everything she wrote. I didn’t follow her when she switched to contemporary romance because I’m selective about the books I read from that subgenre. Then about 18 months ago she jumped back into historical romance with Cold-Hearted Rake. I’m not really sure why now, but at the time I wasn’t interested in reading the book. I know I sampled the first chapter and didn’t fall in love with it, so I put it aside. However, when it was announced that Kleypas would be publishing a sequel to her much-loved book Devil in Winter this year, I knew I wanted to read that. Turns out that book, Devil in Spring, is actually the third in Kleypas’s newer trilogy so a colleague talked me into starting at the beginning with Cold-Hearted Rake.
I was not disappointed. I had forgotten what an awesome writer Kleypas is. The one word I would use to describe her writing is: Rich. She includes so much detail, whether it’s setting, characters, emotions, actions. She does not skimp on anything and reading one of her books is like enjoying a layered confection–with icing on top.
This is the story of Devon, the new earl of Trenear. His cousin died, leaving Devon an ancient house in need of repair, tenants farms that are struggling, a mountain of debt, and oh yes, a young widow, Kathleen. Devon and Kathleen get off on the wrong foot when Devon initially decides to sell the estate and kick Kathleen and his 3 female cousins out the door. He eventually softens and puts his heart and soul into trying to revive the estate. Along the way, he and Kathleen fall for each other of course. I came around to liking Devon a lot sooner than I did Kathleen, though honestly I wish the two of them had spent more time together. While I enjoyed reading about Devon’s brother West (please tell me he gets his own book), I thought there might have been a little too much time spent on secondary characters and their issues when the book should have focused on the main couple.
I wouldn’t say that this book is as good as Kleypas’s older historical romances, but it’s still really good. I finished this one and immediately downloaded the next one, Marrying Winterborne. I’m not going to blog about that one but let’s just say that I was never captivated by it and ended up skimming through the end. I’m hoping for better things from Devil in Spring.