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:-)
Yesternight by Cat Winters (Oct 2016)
Yesternight, being a historical mystery, is really not something different for me, although the 1920s time period is. This book reminded me of those by Simone St. James. It wasn’t perfect but it did keep me interested all the way through to the end.
Alice Lind is a female psychologist who travels around to rural Oregon schools giving intelligence tests to children. She would prefer to be going to graduate school and doing research but those kinds of things are reserved for the menfolk. Alice is independent and she’s used to doing what she wants. She’s also a bit unsettled and has some dark secrets in her past that will come back to haunt her.
In Gordon Bay, she’s presented with 7-year-old Janie, who is a mathematical genius but also claims to be/have been a 19-year-old woman named Violet Sunday who drowned violently (and yes, I did keep reading her name as Violent Sunday!). Alice does not believe in reincarnation but Janie’s father is convinced and wants Alice to help him prove the truth of his daughter’s wild tales. Janie’s mother, divorced from dad, is completely opposed to this.
I will say that the characters are somewhat shallowly written but the mystery of Janie’s past life and Alice’s past are intriguing enough to keep you reading. I didn’t really find Janie creepy, even when she was speaking as Violet, but let me tell you, the ending took a really dark twist and the epilogue really creeped me out.
All in all, an entertaining read.
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.
Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (Jan 2016)
I am slightly embarrassed to admit that I’ve never read Beverly Jenkins so she was my “new to me author” this month.
Though published in 2016, this is an old-school romance. And I mean that in a good way. Jenkins builds a community here with a wonderful cast of secondary characters who enrich not only the story, but the lives of the main characters as well.
I loved the premise of this story. The heroine Eddy is an independent woman who decides to move from Denver to San Francisco. While she encounters some kind and generous strangers along the way, she also meets a not-so-nice stranger and ends up stranded in Virginia City, Nevada. The hero, Rhine, is a former slave who fought for the Union Army in the Civil War. His mother was a slave; his father the slave owner. After the war, Rhine decided to pass as a white man and has built up his fortune and reputation in Virginia City.
As Rhine and Eddy fall for each other the main conflict is that he is supposedly white, she is black, and any relationship between them is fraught and marriage is illegal. I was hoping for an emotion-filled story that would include a gut-wrenching climax for this couple. Unfortunately that’s not what I got. I was underwhelmed by how their story played out and was hoping for much more for these characters I cared about. The ending was rushed and the “villain,” Rhine’s scorned ex-fiancée, felt tacked on.
I liked Jenkins sense of humor and her descriptions. I think if I read another I would choose something from her backlist.
Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran (Nov 2016)
Well, I’m starting the year off right by getting my TBR challenge done on time. Woohoo! To add to that sweetness, I really liked this novella. In fact I liked the novella so much I wished it had been a novel. That can be a knock against a shorter story and I will admit I wish this one had been fleshed out to a longer length because I enjoyed spending time with the hero and heroine.
Georgiana, the daughter of a diplomat/spymaster, and Lucas, said diplomat’s underling, hit it off two years ago. Both thought the other was unique and they enjoyed each other’s conversation. Georgiana thought things were heading toward a possible proposal when Lucas abruptly left town without even a goodbye.
Fast forward two years to a Christmas party at Georgiana’s father’s house. Her father has been entertaining some foreign diplomats and showing them the delights of an English Christmas when he’s suddenly called away. He leaves Georgiana to see to the guests but also to search their rooms to see if one of them stole some incriminating papers. As you can imagine, Georgie is less than thrilled about this task and even more so when Lucas shows up, sent by her father, to help her.
The romance between Georgiana and Lucas is sweet and they are both such earnest, honest characters that I was really rooting for them. Their efforts at putting on a holiday display for the guests and also searching for those damnable letters are an enjoyable read.
I easily guessed what it was that drove Lucas away from Georgiana in the past but that’s okay because I really admired the way Duran handled that at the end of the story. No spoilers, but it was gratifying to see this person’s deception handled in a realistic and meaningful way that didn’t excuse it.
It’s still January, so if you aren’t all holidayed out and are looking for a short, fun read, you won’t “regret” this one (sorry, I couldn’t resist). Two thumbs up from me!