The Soldier’s Scoundrel (CBR9 #38)

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The past few years I’ve been attempting the Read Harder Challenge put on by Book Riot, and hile I’ve completed it the past two years, I am not on track to do that this year. But, one of the tasks is LGBTQ romance, and there are always a TON of suggestions for Romance around the Cannonball Read. So, while on vacation I made sure I moved one to the head of the list.

The Soldier’s Scoundrel  is a historical m/m romance. It strikes me as in the Lisa Kleypas school of recognizable history with lovely smoldery romance woven in. Is it up to the high, HIGH standards of Kleypas’ Wallflowers and Hathaways series which I have just completed? Not quite. But Cat Sebastian is a relatively new author (this is her debut), which means she has room to grow. I like her modus operandi though: Cat writes steamy, upbeat historical romances. They usually take place in the Regency, generally have at least one LGBTQ+ main character, and always have happy endings.

As to the story itself, I thought the romance was delightful. We have Oliver and Jack, two men from different class in the society who find them selves crossing paths as war injured Oliver returns home to find his married sister has paid Jack Turner a large sum of money, and he is determined to find out what for. Turner, making his living filling in the gaps in the justice system in Regency England, will not be sharing that information if he can avoid it, and is put out when Oliver Rivington inserts himself in his latest case. This is a well-written enemies-to-lovers where the relationship progress is slow-burn with undeniable sexual chemistry and tension. My main problem with the book, taking away a full star, is pacing. While the slow burn requires a slow start this one is a bit too slow, and the end moves a bit too fast. But I did love how Cat Sebastian decided to anuever these two characters into closer social circles for their happily ever after (which is strengthened by the characters ability to be accurate about their situations).

This is first in a series, and I’ve added book two The Lawrence Brown Affair featuring Jack Turner’s brother Georgie to my to read list.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

Seduce Me at Sunrise and Tempt Me at Twilight (CBR9 #28 & 29)

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I was told, repeatedly, not to read Seduce Me at Sunrise, otherwise known as the Win and Merripen book. I swear I was listening, but then someone mentioned that there were several Amelia and Cam scenes in the book worth seeking out. So… I checked it out along with the book I meant to read, Tempt Me at Twilight, and got to skimming.

More of the book was okay then I feared initially, but it is still only a two star/okay book, and that’s not great for a Romance. Usually the happy feelings push me to rate these about a half star higher than I would more traditional, non-genre fiction. What can I say, I’m not perfect and my emotions can and do get the better of me.

I am glad however that I got these books from the library at the same time, and didn’t do my usual habit of spreading out the series to savor it. These two books occur in rapid succession in the series’ timeline, and I have a feeling book 4, Married by Morning, is also set immediately after (I’ve requested it and book 5 from the library to arrive sometime late in May or early in June – don’t worry). This allowed me to sink into the family dynamic that Kleypas is building. I missed this same experience with Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton books and in retrospect; I wish I had read them closer together.

These two books are set about two and a half years after the events of the first book and Kleypas is telling one large story. It is entirely typical of the genre to tell serialized stories of one family, or in the case of the Wallflowers one group of friends, but generally other than winks and nods and updates on previous characters there isn’t usually much interplay between each book’s lead protagonists. That is not the method at hand with these books: instead Kleypas is using the tight family she has created to tell a tightly woven story. I have to say, I prefer this method. There is story and plot points for everyone in Seduce Me at Sunrise, which means that while the main couple have major problems as a pair, there is still plenty of story to carry the book to a two star rating. When a better pairing happens, then we get a better book as well.

I do not know what exactly about Tempt Me at Twilight that won me over to a five star. The book teeters on the edge of too much, our self-made hero Harry is able to do all the things, and upsets Poppy’s possible marriage proposal in order to trap her into choosing to marry him. Kleypas is often playing with the themes of hard work and getting out of your comfort zones, and that is exactly what this pairing is built around. Perhaps the decisive factor was the inclusion of a not physically pleasing first experience for the virgin, which then puts other important plot points into action.

Kleypas isn’t afraid to make and keep her heroes and heroines imperfect, and that is more often a strength than a weakness for her writing.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. We read what we want, review it honestly, and help raise funds to support the American Cancer Society in the name of one of our fallen friends.

Pretty Face (CBR9 #14)

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First, a note: read this in as few sittings as possible. Lucy Parker’s writing is best in long drinks, not short sips. I should NOT have read this before bed over a series of nights, but I just didn’t want to read Grunt by Mary Roach, nor can I do audio before I sleep.

Next: If you are a contemporary romance reader, or someone who wants to flirt with reading the genre run out right now and get your hands on this, its predecessor Act Like It, or Sally Thorne’s The Hating Game.

Now, for this actual book that I’m supposed to be reviewing. I have a fondness for the way in which Lucy Parker builds her world, it’s quick, and quiet, and with a deft hand she plunks you in the middle of an environment without paragraphs upon paragraphs of exposition. Her word choice and well-chosen details build out the world and its people so that you know what you are reading and where they are, without being bogged down. Parker allows your imagination room to play and fill in the details for yourself.

Moreover, the details she does provide are delicious. In the case of our male lead: “Luc Savage looked like Gregory Peck, circa some dapper time between Roman Holiday and To Kill a Mockingbird. There was more bulk in the shoulders, silver in the hair and darkness in the soul; otherwise, the resemblance was uncanny.”

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The story is rather straightforward, Luc is one of the London theatre’s best directors and he is reopening his family’s theatre after much familial difficulty with a new play, 1553, which is a character study of Mary I, Elizabeth I, and Lady Jane Grey. He needs an Elizabeth and after much struggle in filling the role he agrees – under pressure – to see Lily Lamprey. The problem with Lily is that she has spent the past several years playing a bubbly, porn voiced, sex kitten on a period drama. Her reputation is not good, and Luc has serious concerns about her vocal strength. Lily nails the audition and is cast, but from the moment go each is trying to ignore sparks between them.

The budding romance between these two characters should have made me shake my head no. On paper, it is not great. There is a 14-year age gap, he is her boss and employer, he just got out of an eight-year relationship, and she has massive trust issues. Yet… it works precisely because the characters name all the issues, which should keep them apart and spend a more than usual time for romance books apart from each other because of them.

Even though this is a rather slim volume, Parker still manages to work in some great cultural commentary into her book. Sexism, like in Career of Evil, is the underlying plot. Parker portrays for the reader the unrelenting sexism that Lily puts up with based on her looks and her previous role. She is all too often presumed to be an airhead and merely an object for others to look upon.  The way she, and Luc once he gets his head on straight, withstands the constant wave of our culture’s casual sexism is a the kind of character detail which I am growing to expect from Parker.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

4 stars, do read.

Dukes Prefer Blondes (CBR9 #1)

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Here we are again lovelies. It’s the beginning of another Cannonball Read and I am telling you about a romance novel that I enjoyed and picked up based on the suggestions of other cannonballers. It’s the system at its finest, really.

We almost read this one for Book Club last year, and part of me wishes we had, and another part of me thinks this one would have been a little too tropey as well. And I say that knowing full well that it ended up on Mrs. Julien’s best of list for CBR8.

I don’t normally struggle with reviews, but I’m having a tough time coming up with my point of view on this one. Dukes Prefer Blondes didn’t really grab me out of the gate, and that might be my own fault for reading it before bed on vacation. The book is also fourth in a series, and I haven’t read any of them. You don’t need to, but I could tell there was backstory I wasn’t quite piecing together in the early part of the book.

Our romantic pair in this outing is Oliver “Raven” Radford and Lady Clara Fairfax. She was raised to marry a duke (I believe see book 1 of the series for further details?) and he is a barrister like his father and third in line to a dukedom, but his cousin is only a few years older than him and it looks as though he will continue his life just as it is. Of course, that’s where Lady Clara arrives needing his help to find and rescue a boy from a nefarious crime figure. Drama Ensues.

The parts of the book which focus on the relationship building between Raven and Clara worked for me, particularly when he needs to convince her family to let them wed. But the narrative felt uneven in places, as though the three distinct acts of the book were actually three novellas all about the same characters. I’m not complaining, really, just processing as I type. Ah, I’m a little rusty at this reviewing thing

So, to recap: yes, read this book, but your mileage may vary.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, now in its ninth year. You can join us in reading, reviewing, and saying fuck you to cancer until January 13, 2017 when registration closes. Otherwise, please just come on by and read reviews or keep an eye out for our Book Club posts. All are welcome.

A Wallflower Christmas (CBR8 #84)

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It should be known that I am a completist. I love to complete a series, it’s like the book version of checking the last thing off of a to do list. (I also like to do lists.) To cap off the Wallflowers series Lisa Kleypas wrote A Wallflower Christmas, and I was in because I also like to finish the year with a Christmassy read when I can, and I’ve already reread and reviewed A Kiss for Midwinter once this Cannonball.

As I summarized in my review of Scandal in Spring, Kleypas set herself up with four friends who were on the outside of the matchmaking market of their various seasons, and found fun and interesting pairings for each. Half of our Wallflowers are sisters, and this fifth book (although a very skimpy 200 pages in my hardcover version from the library) focuses on their eldest brother Rafe. We’ve already been introduced to the horrible parenting of the Bowmans, and Rafe’s childhood was certainly no better and perhaps worse. While I have a fondness for men with terrible childhoods as romance protagonists, this book suffers from other shortcomings which bring it down to a two.

While not the most grievous, it should be noted that this book reads like a series of vignettes as opposed to an actual story. If Kleypas had released the characters of Rafe and Hannah to their own 100 page novella the story flow would have progressed nicely, but in order to shoehorn in the visits with the beloved Wallflowers, and create a place for Hannah in the pantheon, the narrative arc is sacrificed in places. And that is not the worst crime, Kleypas’ worst crime and what in all honesty has me rounding this down to 2 stars is the nonsensical plot line where Lillian thinks Marcus has eyes for another woman and the amount of real estate it is given in this book in comparison to our short visits with Simon, Sebastian, and Matthew.

But even that 100 page novella would need something more, because the story is very paint by the numbers, and per Kleypas’ Authors Note at the end is a way to give her readers what they want, and hopefully convince them to move over to her other series.

Do I regret reading this? No, it’s not bad; it’s just not very good. Rafe is a rake out of central casting with a grudge against his father and designs on being let back into the family business. Hannah is a woman of middle class means just trying to ensure her cousin marries for love and will be treated well while trying to find a small corner of life for herself – and has her thoughts turned completely upside down by falling in love with the very opposite of “good” Rafe. It filled that perfect place for me as something to read while sitting in an airport and then on a plane and not being able to concentrate since the world is alive with holiday travelers. This is review 84, and I had hoped to get to 85 (from an overly ambitious 91, that would have been 1 and three quarters cannonball). I still have about a week, but I don’t know if I’ll sneak another one in. If I don’t, it’s been a great year cannonballers and I’ll see you in January for CBR9.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Registration for CBR9 (yes our ninth year!) will be open until January 13th, 2017. Come join us.

On the Way to the Wedding (CBR8 #82)

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The end of 2016 finds me reading and reviewing quite a few Romance novels. This is my third in recent weeks. I decided to read the second four books in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series this year, which meant it was time to make sure I hit that goal and finally get to Gregory’s book, On the Way to the Wedding.

When I started the Bridgerton series in 2015, I knew from the romance readers around Cannonball Read that these were peak Quinn books, and I was starting with perhaps the cream of the crop for this author. I didn’t care, given the variety of my reading habits I knew I would and could stretch these books out over a few years. 2015 saw me read, review, and highly enjoy (well, mostly) The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. I ended on a high note; I waffle back and forth about whether Benedict or Colin’s book is my favorite.

2016 started off with a bit of fits and starts as far as Bridgerton books were concerned. To Sir Phillip, With Love and When He Was Wicked were set concurrently with Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and reading them separated over many months did not help the experience, although Eloise in To Sir Phillip was a delight to me. It’s in His Kiss moves forward to the next year and embarks on the story of youngest Bridgerton Hyacinth and her love Gareth. The Eloise/Phillip and Hyacinth/Gareth books were the high points for me in the second half, and while I fell hard for book eight’s pairing of Gregory and Hyacinth, their book didn’t completely live up to the characters Quinn built.

At this point, nearly 300 words in, I feel I should say that this book is firmly a 3.5 rating for me. It was a perfectly serviceable Bridgerton book, and Quinn continues to excel at building great characters, but she doesn’t always know what to do with them, specifically when providing an antagonist. I personally find that Quinn’s style is at its best when the problems remain within the character’s own personalities, (Sophie’s distrust, Colin’s blindness to what’s been right in front of him, Hyacinth’s bullheadedness), but where there is some sort of external dilemma… Quinn struggles. I’m not alone here, either. Malin, in her review of this book, says Quinn “rarely manages to do good antagonists and the books where there is no outside party trying to interfere with the lovers are generally better.” Mrs. Julien is with us too: “the only challenge is that it seems to be hard for her to shift gears when the going needs to get tough.  Everything glides along beautifully, but when the action in On the Way to the Wedding gets ratcheted up, it’s too sudden a tonal shift and jarred with the carefully crafted buoyancy of the rest of the story”.

The outside antagonists in On the Way to the Wedding are the men contracting Lucy’s betrothal to Lord Haselby. Both are odious, overbearing, and violent. One is worse than the other, and when the true levels of his treachery are uncovered the novel takes a decided turn in tone, heading for suspense. Up until this point this is just another fluffy, light, whimsical meditation on what love is, and what falling in love feels like, or doesn’t. I was on board. This was the good stuff: if you’re already spoken for and your best friend is a stunning beauty, what is your understanding of falling in love? Particularly if you haven’t laid eyes on your betrothed in years? What if you are the last unmarried sibling in your family where everyone has found a truly loving pairing, how does that affect your thoughts on the ease of finding love? This is what I am here for.

And then… the sturm and drang of it all gets well out of proportion. Thankfully Quinn balances this against reappearances by several beloved siblings and Violet, but you know something’s off when not even Colin can pacify me. It’s also a nitpick, but we as the reader never find out how exactly these two crazy kids overcome the various obstacles to their wedding and if they are ever properly accepted in polite society, since the epilogue skips ahead 12 or 13 years. Is it answered somewhere else? I have questions.

With this I conclude my reading of the main books of the Bridgerton series. I’ll be on the lookout for more Quinn, but next year’s Romance reading will be focused on Lisa Kleypas’ Hawthorne series, and perhaps Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series. Oh, and I really should make time for the last book in the ridiculously named Stud Club series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Reigstration to join us for CBR 9 is open until January 13, 2017.

Scandal in Spring (CBR8 #80)

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Here we have the concluding story of the Wallflowers quartet (ok, not quite, there is a Christmas book about a brother that I have already requested from the library even though Mrs. Julien marked it two stars…) and we have arrived at Daisy’s story, our last remaining Wallflower. I’ve had ups and downs with these books this year, but mostly this book ends the series on a good note.

Scandal in Spring shows that Kleypas has learned from her previous outings.  I still feel It Happened One Autumn suffered greatly in the pacing department (I was bored, and that’s never okay) this fourth book tempers the drama of the third, The Devil in Winter with the more reasonable pacing and practicality of the delightful first book, Secrets of a Summer Night (beware the beginning of that review, I probably owe the book a rewrite as it has grown on me in the last several months).

Daisy is the final remaining Wallflower and her father is done waiting for her to find a match. Lillian already nailed the most eligible bachelor in England and his business is secure, now he just needs to marry her off. In order to accomplish this goal, he gives Daisy an ultimatum: find a wealthy peer to marry or marry his protégé Matthew Swift. Daisy is not pleased about this idea.

Kleypas balances the unveiling of Matthew as not a bad man like Daisy’s father as well as moving Daisy out of the kid sister side kick role well. So much so that by the time the deed was done and these two were heading in the same direction I was not expecting the capital S scandal which is unleashed on them in the final quarter of the book. Matthew tells us it’s out there, but not what it is, and it’s a big one. This book rounds up to four and not down to three because Kleypas gives the plot time to unravel itself as it should to be even vaguely historically accurate (which she generally is, her 1840s England is recognizably 1840s) even though she doesn’t necessarily give it the page real estate it could have used. These plot points also continue to round out the cast of characters and build some good will towards them.

I’m on board with Lisa Kleypas and will be moving on to her Hawthorne series in 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Won’t you think about joining us? Registration is open until January 13th, 2017.