This month I’ve read a lot really great books, some of which are new releases and some only new to me. Here are a few short reviews of my favorite reads from this month. All of these books were either checked out of the library or purchased by yours truly.
Madeline Hunter’s Ravishing in Red This is the first of the Rarest Blooms series, and it’s an absolute winner. This is by far the best historical I’ve read in a long, long time, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The heroine is Audrianna Kelmsleigh, whose father committed suicide when accused of negligence that led to barrels of unusable gunpowder reaching the troops fighting in France. Audrianna is determined to clear her father’s name, and when she spots a newspaper ad from someone calling himself Domino, she arranges to meet him to learn the truth. Unfortunately, Lord Sebastian Summerhays, who Audrianna believes hounded her father to death, also sees the ad and comes to confront Domino as well. The resulting scandal from their meeting requires the two to wed, and the two work to solve the mystery behind the faulty gunpowder. Both are reasonable, likeable people, and their romance is a delight to watch.
Julia Quinn’s Just Like Heaven If you’ve read any of Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton novels, you are all too aware of the Smythe-Smith musicales. The Smythe-Smith girls are truly atrocious musicians, and the few exceptions among them with talent can’t be heard over the cacophony of the others. This novel features Lady Honoria Smythe-Smith and her brother’s best friend, Marcus Holroyd, the Earl of Chatteris. The two have known each other for years, and this novel is a sweet story of friends falling in love. Much time is given to Honoria’s relationship with the other Smythe-Smith girls “practicing” for the musicale, which is truly hilarious, since only some of the girls are aware of how awful their performances are. A bit too much time is spent on Marcus’ injury and Honoria’s nursing him to health, and there is very little conflict, but it is a light-hearted read worth the short time you will spend reading it.
Courtney Milan’s Proof by Seduction Don’t let the atrocious cover of this novel put you off. Ms. Milan’s first novel is not particularly accurate historically speaking, but it’s a charming fantasy and a truly enjoyable read. Jenny Keeble earns a living a “Madame Esmerelda” telling fortunes. One day Gareth Carhart, Marquess of Blakely, accompanies Jenny’s regular client, Ned, to his reading to confront her and expose her as a fraud. As Jenny and the Marquess spend more and more time together, they fall in love, and it’s painful to watch the socially awkward Marquess try to convince Jenny to become his mistress, truly the only socially acceptable way for the two of them to be together. Fortunately they find their happy-ever-after, and I’ve now added Ms. Milan to my list of must-read authors.
Candace Camp’s A Lady Never Tells (Willowmere #1) This romance has a few bumps, but it’s worth the time. The novel begins with the arrival of the four American Bascombe sisters in London. All four are named after flowers (Marigold/Mary, Rose, Lily, and Camellia), and they are there to throw themselves on the mercy of their maternal grandfather, the Earl of Stewkesbury, who disinherited their mother when she eloped with their father. Unfortunately, the old Earl has died, and the girls’ cousin Oliver is the new Earl. Thanks to the intervention of Sir Royce Winslow, the Earl’s step-brother, the girls are acquainted with the new Earl and he will provide for them to make their debuts among the ton. This novel focuses on the romance between Sir Royce and Mary. The best parts of the novel are the frequent misunderstandings caused by the American sisters, who have no clue how to comport themselves in high society.
Lynn Kurland’s One Magic Moment This is Ms. Kurland’s latest novel featuring the medieval DePiaget family. It’s a time travelling romance and typical of her style. If you’ve read any of the other novels, you’ll recognize the time travelling elements and some familiar characters from the 1240s, but that doesn’t detract from the story at all. Tess Alexander has just said goodbye to her sister, who has married Montgomery DePiaget and left her family in the present to live in the year 1241. Tess is currently living in a medieval castle in modern-day England, and she’s stunned when she drives into town to see the new mechanic and discovers that he looks exactly like her medieval brother-in-law. John DePiaget is Montgomery’s twin and has been living for the last few years in the present-day. Despite his best efforts, he and Tess fall in love and are faced with difficult decisions about where and “when” to live together. There’s a short mystery involved as well, but it’s truly secondary to the plot. I liked the book so much I’ve been catching up on Ms. Kurland’s backlist. Her books are definitely PG, so they make for good recommendations for the mothers and grandmothers looking for slightly less steamy romances.
Caitlin Kittredge’s Street Magic (Black London #1) This is the first book in the Black London series featuring Detective Pete Caldecott and anti-hero Jack Winter. A truly gritty urban fantasy with a stung-out junkie for a hero, Street Magic was intriguing and stunning in its world-building. At sixteen, Pete witnessed her older sister’s boyfriend Jack Winter get murdered by a demon, but years later she runs across him again while working a kidnapping case for the police. Ms. Kittredge’s use of punk rock and language in her dark version of London make this complex story with romance elements a pleasure to read.
Kim Harrison’s Dead Witch Walking (The Hollows #1) The beginning of the now long-running Hollows series was a bit rough to get into, but a few chapters in it really picks up and I couldn’t put it down after that. In a world where a bioengineered virus has killed off a lot of the human population and forced the exposure of Inderlanders (weres, vampires, witches, and others), Rachel Morgan is a bounty-hunter for Inderland Runner Services. She quits her crappy job for IS, striking out on her own with vampire partner Ivy and pixy Jenks. Her former boss puts out a contract on her, and the action of the novel revolves around her dodging assassination attempts while trying to bring in a big-time criminal in order to get the contract revoked. A solid start to what becomes a much stronger series, Dead Witch Walking is another urban fantasy well worth reading.