My pick this week has been on my to-be-read list for quite a while and I am so glad I finally got to it! Jeannie Lin’s The Lotus Palace is set in Tang Dynasty China. One of the most famous residents of Pingkang Li has been murdered. Someone must know something about the crime, but no one in the secretive pleasure quarter has been forthcoming. Bai Huang, a wealthy aristocrat, makes it his personal mission to solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. In the meantime, he also appears to be courting Mingyu, a celebrated concubine. In fact, Bai Huang only has eyes for Mingyu’s plain servant, Yue-ying. Because Yue-ying knows the pleasure quarter so well, Bai Huang finally has an excuse to talk to the servant, and soon Bai Huang and Yue-ying are routinely spending time together in an effort to solve the mystery. The pair fall in love, but they have no clear future together – Huang has been betrothed to another since childhood. Furthermore, Bai Huang and Yue-ying are from different social classes – another seemingly insurmountable hurdle. Bai Huang offers Yue-ying the position of concubine, but his proposition is untenable to her – she cannot stand the notion of being in her beloved’s life as he marries another. The novel’s setting is unusual for the romance genre and is a truly refreshing change of pace. Moreover, Ms. Lin writes with panache – this novel is engrossing and really satisfied. I cannot wait to read the next book in the Pingkang Li Mysteries series and happily, The Jade Temptress is available now.
The latest installment of Mary Balogh’s marvelous Survivors’ Club series is called The Escape. Ben Harper is a wounded veteran. His injuries are such that he will struggle with pain and need to use crutches for the rest of his life. He is, however, determined to live life to the fullest and his goals even include dancing again. Samantha McKay is a widow. Her deceased husband returned from war wounded and ill. She nursed him for many long years before he passed away. Her mourning period has just begun, but after many years spent in a sick room, she desperately wants to feel alive and free. The restrictions associated with ‘proper’ mourning placed on her by her in-laws are ridiculously severe and keep Samantha in near-seclusion. The situation is untenable and Samantha feels the need to escape. When Ben and Samantha meet they become friends and later they become lovers. Neither is ready for a serious commitment, so when they fall in love, it is frightening and not particularly welcome. They decide to part ways in order to individually make peace with the past and with their own futures before they will consider moving forward together. Yet neither forgets the other and both continue to dream of dancing. Mary Balogh writes deeply romantic love stories. Her characters are finely wrought and on complex journeys. I highly recommend this novel and feel certain you will enjoy it.
In Meredith Duran’s Fool Me Twice Olivia Mather gets the job of housekeeper in the household of Alastair de Grey. Olivia needs information she believes Alastair has in his possession. Her plan is to work in his household until she finds the documents, then steal the papers and flee. Her simple plan is thwarted time and again. The files Olivia needs seem to be in her employer’s bedroom and Alastair, who is in the throes of a deep depression, never leaves his room. A combination of desperation and audacity enables Olivia to pester and push her terrifyingly moody boss out of his self-imposed confinement. This engrossing novel’s plot becomes more complicated from there and I don’t want to say too much and risk spoiling it for you. I will say that Olivia and Alastair are perfect for each other. They each see the other clearly, and as they each have a strong desire to be truly known, this is something they each value about the other. And they have quite a bit in common, having both been betrayed by the people who should have loved them most. Neither has much faith in a happily-ever-after, so when they find one with each other, it is marvelously satisfying. I loved this book and bet you will too. Happy reading, everyone!
At the beginning of Tessa Dare’s Romancing the Duke we meet Izzy, the daughter of a famous author who neglected to provide for her in his will, even though she functioned as both his secretary and housekeeper for most of her life. When he passes away, she is left homeless, penniless and close to hopeless. Then she receives an unexpected inheritance from another source and finds herself the owner of a run-down medieval castle. Izzy needs money, shelter, and food. A vermin-infested shambles of a house is not of particular use to her. To make matters worse, the prior owner insists he didn’t sell his property, is still in residence, and refuses to go. Ransom was injured in a duel. He has been hiding in one of his ancestral homes ever since, determined to avoid what his life has become. His correspondence – pile after pile – is ignored, and no one can get in touch with him. When Izzy shows up, convinced she is the new owner of his crumbling estate, Ransom must rejoin the living – if only to convince Izzy to leave him alone. Romancing the Duke is funny, romantic and pretty darned hot. I laughed repeatedly while reading this novel and shed a happy tear when I got to its sublime ending. This one is a keeper for sure. Happy reading, everyone!
My pick this week is Sherry Thomas’ heartwarming novel, The Luckiest Lady in London. When Louisa Cantwell, a woman with plenty of smarts, but lacking in fortune, beauty and bosom, wins the hand of Felix Rivendale, the most sought-after bachelor in town, she is repeatedly told she is ‘the luckiest lady in London’. Louisa mostly agrees with that statement and is flummoxed by Felix’s interest, but she does recognize his motives are not what they seem. She does not realize her ability to see the real man lying beneath Felix’s carefully constructed façade of kindly gentlemanliness is what Felix adores about her. Louisa and Felix are drawn to each other physically and both are comfortable expressing that fact. However, they are also in love and neither has the courage to say so. Both Louisa and Felix will have to face their fears to find their happily-ever-after. Ms. Thomas writes smart, original, romance and I always read her new releases. I am looking forward to her next novel, My Beautiful Enemy, which will be available in August.
This week I am recommending a whole series, instead of an individual title. I just finished How to School Your Scoundrel, the third novel in Juliana Gray’s fabulous A Princess In Hiding series. All three novels are splendid and my guess is you will enjoy the books best if you read them all. The series begins with three princesses on the run from a regicidal revolutionary movement in their small germanic principality. The king and the crown princess’ consort have been murdered and it is clear the three princesses are next. They go to England and ask their powerful uncle, the Duke of Olympia, for help. Olympia comes up with a plan and soon all three of the women are hiding in plain sight. They masquerade as working men, each in assistant positions for powerful friends of their uncle. None of the princesses realize their uncle is also playing matchmaker and has sent them to work for men he feels would be appropriate mates. Each novel in the series is smart, charming, romantic, sexy and fun. As I finished book three, I found myself wanting to get to know Uncle Olympia better, so I was thrilled to see he will have his own novella: The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match will be available in the Spring of 2015.
The second installment of Anne Gracie’s wonderful Chance Sisters series is called The Winter Bride. Neither Damaris Chance nor Freddy Monkton-Coombes wants to get married – to anyone – ever. This fact makes them ideally suited for a sham betrothal. By pretending to be altar-bound, Damaris and Freddy will be able to avoid pressure from marriage-minded relatives and potential future spouses. Their pretense creates the need for them to spend a lot of time together and because they each know they have no real future together, they feel no pressure to avoid making a connection – they mistakenly think of each other as ‘safe’ and not a threat to their single status. But soon Damaris and Freddy form a strong bond – it turns out they have a lot in common. They are both smart, capable and kind. Each is haunted by pasts they are trying, unsuccessfully, to forget and neither has much faith in love. When Damaris and Freddy fall for each other, it comes as a surprise to them both. I thoroughly enjoyed this heartwarming novel and bet you will too. You don’t need to read the first book in the series to appreciate the second, but in the case of this series I think you might want to start with book one: The Autumn Bride, a delightful novel I recommended on February 20, 2013.
Isabella Bradford’s A Wicked Pursuit tells the tale of Harry and Augusta. Harry is the heir to a Dukedom and quite the catch. When Harry decides to marry, he chooses Lady Julia Barclay: a great beauty he is convinced is his ideal match. Harry is gravely injured while visiting the Barclay family and Julia reveals herself to be flaky, selfish and not up to the challenge of dealing with a difficult situation. Julia’s sister, Augusta, is the one who nurses Harry back to health. Harry and Augusta get to know each other well during his convalescence and while Augusta may not be as beautiful as her sister, she is kind, smart, responsible and honorable. She shows Harry what love – and a great match – can be. The story struck me as primarily Harry’s and he is an intriguing hero. Harry is a good egg, but he is well-rendered with many sides to his personality. He can be dictatorial and cranky, romantic and sweet, selfish and temperamental, selfless and kind. Harry’s journey held my interest and kept me well entertained, making A Wicked Pursuit my pick this week. Happy reading, everyone!
Rose Lerner is a total rock star and her new novel, Sweet Disorder, is fabulous. The book is original, heart-warming and an absolute must-read as far as I am concerned. Nick Dymond and Phoebe Sparks are thrown together for complicated reasons, but once they meet, they cannot get enough of each other. Questions raised in the novel have to do with the nature of love: is love selfish and a matter of possessing the object of one’s desire? Or is love defined by selflessness, requiring self-sacrifice (if not all-out martyrdom)? Nick and Phoebe both struggle with love – and lack thereof – in their lives. Both want to be seen, heard, and truly known. When these exceptionally well-drawn characters find each other and meet those needs for one another, it’s simply a matter of time before they find their answer: love is both selfish and selfless, and very important to them both.
A Rogue for All Seasons is the third novel in Sara Lindsey’s wonderful Weston Family series. Henry Weston is popular, handsome, charismatic and kind. Diana Merriwether is a quiet, introverted wallflower who is close to being labelled unmarriageable. Diana has always had a crush on Henry but she has always known he was out of her league. It comes as a shock to almost everyone, Diana included, when the dashing rogue falls for the serious spinster. A traumatic moment in Diana’s childhood led to her to believe she was not loveable. Diana knows the idea is irrational, yet she cannot shake it. This toxic mental problem prevents Diana from getting close to anyone, even Henry, the man she loves. Henry does his best to help Diana overcome her issues, but in the end the only person who can help Diana is Diana. Ms. Lindsey writes endearing, emotional, sexy romance. I highly recommend all three books in the Weston Family series and look forward to the next installment!