August reads

I read 10 books. 7 of them were romances but not all of them were Regency settings.

The other 2 were mysteries by the same author


 
Last Kashmiri Rose & The Damascened Blade by Barbara Cleverly. Both are set in 1920’s India and feature Scotland Yard Detective Joe Sandilands, who is out in India teaching new police techniques, like identifying guns by the rifling on the bullets, to the local police forces.
In Last Kashmiri Rose he is asked to look into the recent murder of a British officer’s wife, which may be part of series of murders that occurred before the war. I found it rather obvious who the murderer was but it was interesting watching Joe get there. Some of the male characters seemed a bit too stereotypical 1920’s British Officer types while the female ones had greater depth for the most part. Overall it was ok, not as good as the others, but decent.
In the Damascened Blade he is sent off to basically babysit an American heiress as she tours the northwest frontier with Afghanistan. They end up at an outpost just as a Pathan prince is murdered. The victim’s kinsman takes hostages & demands the murderer be found within a week or there could be war. The characters in this book were better fleshed out than the last & the mystery more engrossing.
Both books (actually all 4 books including Ragtime in Simla & The Palace Tiger, which I listened to on audio earlier this year) walk a middle road on their portrayal of the end of the Raj. They are not pro British rule nor do they spend much time moaning about the evils of it. They give a nice flavor of the times & anyone who has read a Miss Marple book will recognize an old India boor in the making in many of the male characters.  I enjoyed these 4 of the series. After these the setting moves back to Europe & those are less interesting to me. I’m listening to The Bees Kiss now & while it is still holding my interest, I don’t feel the desire to try & find it in paperback. I read much faster than I listen & when an audiobook really interests me I often stop listening in favor of reading.

I read three romances by Amanda Quick. All involved the paranormal & were set in late Victorian times (though the only real giveaway to that are the mentions of women wearing bustles & of photography). Quick’s books do not feature a lot of sex & what there is seems much more realistic to me, not that anyone has complained of morning breath yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them did some day. I almost always love her heroines; they are smart, clever women who are financially supporting themselves at a time when women rarely did so & generally are supporting a family as well. Her heroes rarely seem overbearing,they are not trying to prevent the heroine from following her interests & they are not always somewhat wistfully wondering if they have gotten the heroine pregnant so she has to marry them the way Stephanie Laurens’ heroes often are. Though the preponderance of illegitimate characters does leave one wondering if anyone in her world has sex with a person to whom they are actually married.

Quicksilver: Book Two of the Looking Glass Trilogy Also book 11 in the Arcane Society series. I failed to read this series in order & that does leave me occasionally wondering what went before because there is an assumption of knowledge about the Arcane Society itself as well as of various prominent members of the Society. The heroine is Virginia Dean, a glass reader, who sees images of the dead in mirrors. She wakes up next to a dead man with no recollection of what happened earlier. Two other glass readers have recently turned up dead as well. As she makes her escape from the house she encounters Owen Sweetwater, who is investigating those deaths. Owen has psychic powers of his own, which apparently will drive him mad in time if he doesn’t find an appropriate wife. The details of how exactly this curse works are never really made clear. Owen decides Virginia is the wife he needs but first he needs to figure how who killed the murdered women to keep Virginia safe. It’s enjoyable mind candy if you don’t look to closely for details.
Wait Until Midnight Adam Hardesty is being blackmailed by a medium.When he goes to confront her he finds she has been murdered & the diary she was using to blackmail him is missing. He traces the people who attended a séance at the medium’s house shortly before her death in his search for the diary. Sensational novelist Carolyn Fordyce was one of those people. She has secrets of her own & she does not trust Adam not to fix the crime on her out of convenience. She decides to look into it on her own to protect herself. Eventually they team up & I’m sure you can guess the rest. Adam has moments of overbearing-ness but not so much I wanted to shake him & turns out to be quite generous & likeable once you get past all his ridiculous rules. Carolyn though was great, wonderfully well written, almost as if the author knows what it’s like to be a writer of sensational novels. Smile Overall the story was decent.
Second Sight (The Arcane Society, Book 1) I am just now getting around to reading book 1 of the Arcane Society after reading about 5 others in the series (several of which are contemporaries & I don’t read contemporary romances. Maybe next summer). Venetia Milton is a photographer, trying to support her siblings & aunt after her parents’ deaths leave them destitute. She can read auras. She is hired by the Arcane Society to photograph some of their artifacts. She travels to Arcane House to do this & meets Gabriel Jones, heir to the Master’s Chair of the Arcane Society. They share one brief passionate experience before the house is invaded by robbers & she & the staff flee. Later she learns of Gabriel’s death & she takes the name Mrs Jones in his honor before she embarks on pursuing her career in London. Only he isn’t dead & when he learns she is using his name he fears the people who came after him that night will come after her. Together they pursue a mysterious killer & search for a dangerous missing artifact.  I really enjoyed this one. Very well plotted. I liked Venetia & Gabriel and found their interaction to be believable. The mystery was not that mysterious to me because, having read the books out of order I know how the overriding story arc ends but that did not detract from the enjoyment of seeing how it all began

Then there are the other romances I read

A Sense of Sin by Elizabeth Essex. Rupert, Viscount Darling (who names these guys?) blames Celia Burke for his sister Emily’s suicide & for revenge he decides to ruin her in the eyes of society by seducing her (as motivation…I don’t know…seems like sleeping with her would be the last thing a man would want to do but maybe if you have grown up named Rupert Darling you’d feel differently) Celia does feel some guilt for her part in Emily’s death but not for the reasons Del thinks. And they are both being blackmailed by someone who knows a good deal about just what happened to Emily. Initially they suspect each other but eventually they team up to solve the mystery.  The story had it’s ups and downs. The mystery was somewhat clunky, the motives of everyone were a bit confusing & lacking in much background but the romance was decent. Regency setting
Always a Princess by Alice Gaines. I loved the premise of this book. Eve Stanhope is a former governess who was ruined & cast out when she was falsely accused of stealing her employers jewels. So she decides the best way to support herself is to become a jewel thief for real. To that end she poses as Princess Eugenia d’Armand of Valdstok to gain entrée to society balls. But there is another jewel thief preying on society as well – the Orchid Thief, who is actually the bored Phillip Rosemont, Viscount Wesley. He sees through her disguise & offers to team up. It wasn’t love at first sight, they were too suspicious of one another for that, and Eve had a few other secrets she was in no hurry to share, but love did eventually grow as they come know one another & that is a refreshing change. I thought the ending was a bit forced & rather strained credulity but overall the book was a win. I just felt it could have been a bit more than it was. Regency setting
The Vow: A Loveswept Historical Medieval Romance by Juliana Garnett. This one was set in England, near the Scottish border, at the time of the Norman Conquest. Ceara of Wulfridge hates the Normans & the distruction they have brought to England. When a Norman lord demands entry to her home & sends her messanger’s head back in response to a request for a talk she attacks him & his troops. King William cannot allow this and sends Luc Louvat to quell the rebellion, take over the lands & deliver the rebel chieftain to him (thinking it is Ceara’s father). Luc succeeds in this and because he took her virginity as well (with her mostly willing cooperation) they are ordered to wed. While the two are electric together, both have them a great many things to overcome in their own pasts, as well as in their combined present before they can admit their true feelings for one another. Ceara’s motivations were clear, what was driving her mistrust of him was spelled out early on & made sense. Luc though is another matter. His motivations for a long time were left vague to the detriment of the story for me & did not seems as driving  as they were made out to be. It seemed he was just being difficult because he was an arrogant PITA a lot of the time. Plus his justification for his method of persuasion when he first slept with Ceara reminded me a little too much of a date rapist claiming his victim’s choice between having sex with him or walking home 10 miles in the freezing rain was actually a valid choice so therefore she was willing. That, more than anything kept me from warming much to him until near the end. Once bits of his background were filled in he made more sense & I’m not sure why those things were kept from the reader or Ceara for so long. Given the other things going on it would hardly of detracted from the story to explain his background earlier. I don’t think I have read a romance set in Norman times in more than 20 years & it was enjoyable to revisit the period, which was well done with a decent amount of detail. Overall I enjoyed it.
Disclosure -  I received a free copy of the book in exchange for writing a review about it here on my blog & anywhere else I wished.
Viscount Breckenridge to the Rescue by Stephanie Laurens. The latest Cynster novel. Eh. Usually I love the Cynster books and this started off with a great deal of promise. Heather Cynster is kidnapped by agents of a ‘laird’ sent after ‘one of the Cynster sisters’, any one will do, & she was in a position to be snatched due to Viscount Breckenridge removing her from a party she was attending, on the grounds it was too wild for her, and letting her walk alone to her carriage. He sees her being taken & follows after her. Not being the weak & helpless sort Heather sets herself to finding out why she was taken & learning from her captors what she can about their employer. The kidnappers are not your run of the mill rent a thugs, they are smart men & respect her intelligence & capabilities. They take her to Gretna Green to await the laird. Before he turns up she escapes with the help of Breckenridge. The laird pursues them to the Vale of Casphairn, where Richard & Catriona Cynster live, then accepting his quarry has eluded him, he returns to his highland home.
And at this point the the promise sort of fails for me. Lacking any drama or mystery, we are left watching Breckenridge do his damnedest not to admit he loves Heather for far far too many pages. He at least seems to have a valid reason for this behavior, unlike several other of Laurens’ heroes, who also exhibit it. But still, get over yourself man & speak up! If your ego is that important to you she is probably better off without you. Not that she is necessarily proclaiming her undying love either but she is certainly more open about it. Endlessly repeating "We must marry because society says so" after she has basically said "Oh hell no, not for that reason" more than once, is not going to change her mind & is really irritating after a bit, not to mention made me start questioning his intelligence.
I was beginning to think there would be no dramatic action to precipitate he & Heather’s finally admitting their feelings to one another, but at last there was. And good thing too because I was about done with them both, likeable as they both are. There is only so much ‘no, a man like me can’t admit love’ nonsense I can take.
Meanwhile I want to know more about this laird, he seems more complex & interesting than Breckenridge.He’s featured in the next book which comes out in October focusing on his pursuit of the next Cynster sister, Eliza.
I did like that we got to see more of Richard & Catriona. He is my very favorite of all the Cynster males.

My last book was non-fiction

Livia, Empress of Rome: A Biography I didn’t know much about Livia, wife of the first Augustus, apart from the fact that contemporary male authors didn’t like her. This was an interesting study about her. I felt I learned a great deal about her and the times in which she lived. If you are interested in the roles women had in early days of the Roman Empire I highly recommend it

I think I have completed my summer thesis research on the ever evolving hero in historic romance. Not that I am giving up romance novels but probably I will be going back to just my tried & true authors – Stephanie Laurens, Sabrina Jeffries & Amanda Quick, for the rest of the year. They are, apart from a few clunkers here & there, generally consistently good writers who provide a solid story, with a decent mystery, witty dialogue, maybe some humor & likeable characters. Considering they have over 50 books between them, this is not too surprising. If you are interested in entertaining, historic, mostly Regency setting, romances with a bit of a puzzle to solve, you will do well with just about any book by one of them.

My current total books read for the year is 86. I’m only 14 from my goal of 100.

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3 comments to August reads

  • Great reviews! We have very different tastes in books, but I love hearing about what other people read and what they thought of the books. Thanks for sharing!

  • I read “Blind Your Ponies,” which was frustrating because it could have been really good, but it was overlong and a bit trite (but I couldn’t put it down, either).
    Next up for me is “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lax.”
    Rinda

  • Rinda, I loved the Henrietta Lacks book and can’t recommend it enough! It’s an amazing page-turner. :)

    Fun reviews :) I think I’ve only read one book of Amanda Quick, but I loved it: Seduction. :)