Thanks to Netgalley for my complimentary copy of this book. All opinions provided are my own.
If there’s ever a book to get lost in, it’s Jenn Bennett’s The Lady Rogue.
First of all, that title. Second, nearly every other thing about the book.
I’m not kidding: this cross-Asia-and-Europe adventure of thrilling proportion—set in 1937 and featuring an intrepid heroine and hero on the hunt—is so great. The Lady Rogue seems to have been created with maximum entertainment in mind, from the journal excerpts to the legends to the Big Bad Ring itself, and it succeeds beautifully. It’s sassy, smart, and bold, like the heroine herself.
Theodora (Theo) Fox can’t believe it when her father Richard “Damn” Fox abandons her with a companion so that he can search for a magical ring believed to have belonged to Vlad the Impaler, the inspiration for Dracula. But her father doesn’t return when he’s supposed to. Instead, Richard sends Huxley Gallagher, or Huck, in his stead, with his mysterious journal and warnings about the danger his search has put them all in.
Theo’s great quest takes off with her looking for her father, who is looking for a ring, while she’s accompanied by the young man, Huck, who broke her heart.
Bennett makes these characters come alive. Their motivations, quirks, and insecurities are blissfully and skillfully made clear, and I felt like I came to know them. Also like I would love to read a book written by nearly any one of them, or perhaps join them for tea on a very long train ride.
And you can see history’s charisma in The Lady Rogue, too: it’s in the description of the hotels and trains, the towns Theo and Huck visit, the caravan they stay in, the stretches of wilderness they pass through, and it feels cinematic in nature. Like one of those gorgeous classic films, when everything was done in a big way.
Zingers fly between Theo and Huck but there's also an underlying camaraderie that can't be ignored, even if they were estranged for over a year before the book opens. The book is pretty chaste, but the passionate feeling between Theo and Huck explodes off the page.
I’ve been a huge fan of Jenn Bennett’s YA contemporaries (if you haven’t read them yet, do that already), and I was so excited to see that she was writing YA historical fantasy and that she was super excited about this book. You can sense that excitement—that joy—from beginning to end. The Lady Rogue is fun, even as Theo and Huck are scared (nearly) witless, even as they try to figure out a way out of the messes they’re in.
And I'd follow them every step of the way, because Bennett makes it impossible to do otherwise.
"IF THERE'S ANYTHING WORSE THAN KNOWING YOU'RE OUT OF PLACE, IT'S BEING TOLD YOU FIT IN."
I've seen a quote before about how lucky we are to live in the time of Beyonce. Yes, a million times, yes. But I think we’re also lucky to live in a time where romance novels are so stupendously written, when they’re not afraid of tackling critical national conversations we’re having, when they articulate our most fervent (and most hopeful/lovely) wishes more beautifully than we could have ever hoped, and when they light us on fire with the joy of companionship, love, and sex.
The historical romances I’ve read lately have been particularly insane (in a great way): first, I read Julie Anne Long’s Lady Derring Takes a Lover; then I read Tessa Dare’s The Wallflower Wager; and finishing this triumvirate of books that Left Me Awed is Sarah MacLean’s Brazen and the Beast, which has gotten a lot of hype and is even better than I had hoped.
The heroine of MacLean’s BandB, Hattie, is bold and confident, a real go-getter who’s been battered by the less than nice opinions of others but who gives those opinions a big f you, and Whit is divine, an alpha you don’t want to anger but who also possesses a luscious weakness for a close circle of people, the heroine foremost among them.
Their romance is stellar and MacLean’s writing should be held up as an example of how people should/could write about love. Also being a woman who is constantly critiqued or found wanting. Also how to be brave. On The Voice, the coaches tell the contestants not to stay at a 10 the whole time—to choose when they do a run—and MacLean observes those dynamics, Blake, Adam, Alicia, and Kelly (my favorite coaches)! She’s delicate when she needs to be and can decimate an army of foes when she needs to, and every bit of it is dramatic and suspenseful in the way that the best romances—whether they’re romantic suspense or not—are.
This is a gushing review on par with how I used to attack people with compliments after I had one or two drinks in college, but it’s the truth. Historical romance is for everyone and this book in particular could teach people more than a thing or two.
Hattie and Whit are for the ages (and Nora and Nik too).
Really good milk chocolate, a cuddle, a Tessa Bailey book...these are all wonderful things that make me feel seriously happy. Our resident Dirty Talk Queen (the aforementioned Bailey) is at it again, releasing Sink or Swim, the latest in her Beach Kingdom series, on August 20th. I'm so excited to participate in this sensational cover reveal and can't wait to read the book in a few days!
First, the Blurb.
Andrew Prince wakes up before everyone else. He schedules the bar shifts, demands perfection from Long Beach’s lifeguards—most of all himself—and makes sure the family debts are paid. His unfaltering worth ethic might leave him exhausted, but it comes with one advantage. It distracts him from the love he’s been harboring since childhood for the girl next door—who he cannot have.
Jiya Dalal has dreams. To fly a plane, see the world below…and prove irresistible to her best friend, Andrew. But she needs to be a good daughter first, which is becoming an increasingly difficult task, since her parents expect a good marriage and the man she loves with all her heart refuses to pursue the blistering connection between them. Just when she’s beginning to believe Andrew truly doesn’t want her, a moonlight tryst on the beach exposes his true feelings. But an echo from the past kept them apart before…and it’s only growing louder with every stolen kiss…
Childhood best friends to (hopefully) lovers?! Swoon, swoon, swoon. And now here's the cover:
Hellooo. And if that's not enough to whet your appetite, an excerpt:
Jiya looked up and found Andrew watching her intently. “What is this, Andrew?”
“We’re dancing,” he rasped, his gaze slightly unfocused.
“You’ve never danced with me like this before.”
His gaze strayed to her lips, before he resolutely dragged them away. “Do you want to stop?”
“No and that’s the problem.” Come on, Mrs. I Don’t Play Games Anymore, bring up the elephant in the room. It’s not going away. “You’ve been different with me lately. Is it...” She took two bracing breaths. “Is it because I’m dating?”
He started to deny it, then changed his mind. “Might be. Yeah. I know that’s fucked up,” he said. “You’ve always been min—my best friend. We won’t have this if you start dating someone seriously. If you...”
“Get married?” His complexion turned gray. “Mmm.” Cement caked her insides, but she was used to it by now. She’d loved Andrew since she was a child. She’d waited patiently for him to love her back—as more than a friend—and he hadn’t. He’d done nothing about it. So while she yearned to dissect his every word and rejoice in them, ached for what he was feeling, she couldn’t do it anymore without being a fool. “Ask me the question, Andrew. The one you ask me every night.”
A line formed between his brows. “Can I do anything for you, Jiya?”
“Yes.” She took his face in her hands. “You can stay my friend. No matter what happens. Fine, things are changing in my life. But I couldn’t bear it if I ever lost what we have. Just stay my friend. Promise me.”
His jaw bunched. “You know I’d cut my heart out before saying no to you, right?”
“Then you have your answer.” He wet his lips. “But we’re finishing the dance.”
!!! Can't wait to read this one soon. If you haven't checked out the Beach Kingdom series yet, you can read Mouth to Mouth or Heat Stroke (m/m and my personal favorite) in the meantime!
About Tessa Bailey:
Tessa Bailey is originally from Carlsbad, California. The day after high school graduation, she packed her yearbook, ripped jeans and laptop, driving cross-country to New York City in under four days.
Her most valuable life experiences were learned thereafter while waitressing at K-Dees, a Manhattan pub owned by her uncle. Inside those four walls, she met her husband, best friend and discovered the magic of classic rock, managing to put herself through Kingsborough Community College and the English program at Pace University at the same time. Several stunted attempts to enter the work force as a journalist followed, but romance writing continued to demand her attention.
She now lives in Long Island, New York with her husband of eleven years and six-year-old daughter. Although she is severely sleep-deprived, she is incredibly happy to be living her dream of writing about people falling in love.
There you have it, folks! How about that cover?
Thanks to the author for providing me with these materials and a complimentary copy of the book. All opinions provided are my own.
She leaned forward, her fingers resting on her neck, and whispered to the best friend who would never judge her: “I’m sorry for being weird today. It’s just that I’m irrationally sad that Liam and Miley broke up.”
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I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher but all opinions provided are my own.
Would you like your hero and heroine to be overall decent people but slightlyyyyy sketchy? And they live in a black+white=gray world, where they’re willing to risk everything to do what they feel like is right (even if it’s something that’s not technically legal?) And how steamy do you want it? Sexy and bold, with heroes who usually aren’t super expressive, even in the ending, but who would do anything for their partner?
You’ve come to the right place.
Outfox is Brown’s latest release, a dramatic, high-octane, high-stakes ride.
Drex Easton has a personal stake in finally capturing the con-man/serial killer he’s been following for years. When Drex’s partners tell him they think they’ve found the killer in Charleston, South Carolina, he’s only too willing to risk everything—including a superior FBI agent’s wrath—to try to take this guy down. Drex’s case is pretty slim, especially since the guy Jasper is married, which would be a pretty big breach in the alleged con-man/serial killer’s MO.
Jasper’s wife is Talia Shafer, and as soon as Drex sees her, bam, it’s instalust all the way. Does she know that her husband is almost definitely the murderer Drex has been chasing? Is she complicit in his crimes? Or is she an innocent victim?
Sandra Brown really knows how to write alpha heroes who are instantly stricken by the heroine, and I love it. The slick, manipulative personality that Drex takes on is no match for his lust and while his devotion to his admirable mission is stronger, he can’t help but want Talia in every way.
But there was a pretty big problem for me. On one hand, it’s uber sensual/exciting/passionate, how Drex’s drawn to her even though he knows he shouldn’t be and vice versa. On the other, Talia’s married, and she’s the wife of the man he’s hunting, so it’s not even close to being aboveboard. It’s part of that whole black+white=gray world I mentioned earlier.
Like in all of Brown’s books that I’ve read, the mystery is compelling and Brown’s writing is smart and punchy, but there are some aspects of the plot that I wasn’t as convinced by. There was at least one substantial conclusion that Drex and his partners seem to jump to, and I’m obviously not an expert, but I was surprised no one was saying, let’s wait before we get totally crazy here.
And a bigger lapse for me is that I wanted more from Talia’s characterization throughout the book. She’s beautiful and warm and ambitious—all the good things—but without getting too spoiler-y, the twists she takes later would have been even more convincing had there been more notice before. As it is, there were moments when her responses almost seemed shallow because they felt a little too spontaneous.
These plot quibbles aside, Outfox is uber romantic (if you can ignore that whole already-married thing--hey! her husband is probably a serial killer), with one of Brown’s more expressive heroes, and a really lovely Epilogue. All-around it’s a 3.5-4 star read for me, a gray area that I’m happy to leave gray.
Last Friday Daniel, Raymond, and I went to my doctor’s appointment and heard the ultrasound tech say these words: it’s a girl! Daniel and I had said that we wouldn’t care what sex the baby is (and I really believe that’s true), but we were pretty excited about this news for multiple, multiple reasons. One of them is that that we’ve had a girl name picked out in the Event of a Girl since my first pregnancy.
This is actually a big deal for us. I’ll tell you why.
First, I’m not someone who's dreamed of naming my child the same name since I was a child. In fact, if I look back over that long list of names that I’ve dreamed about, most of them now make me laugh, or marvel at what I was drawn to at that particular moment in time to make that particular name sound like the name for my offspring.
The first name I remember loving is Felicity Autumn. She would probably look like Keri Russell and love Autumn. The second name I remember is Daphne. She would probably be British. Sophia would probably play the violin and tell me that my jeans didn’t fit properly. And so on.
But the name we’ll be giving our third baby has held my interest and adoration for nearly five years now, and it’s partially because I love it and it reminds me of my childhood, and it’s partially because I’ve become convinced that picking out a baby name with my partner is one of the most challenging exercises we will undertake as a couple and when you find a name you can agree on, that’s it, that’s the one, no more talking. Picking out a baby name requires so much compromise. It involves so much diplomacy (on my part. Maybe on his part too, although that’s doubtful. Daniel isn't much for diplomacy). It necessitates frequently hearing the word “no” or its counterparts (an astonished laugh; an “are you serious?!”) or sometimes just an attractive bug-eyed stare (like your partner just started pulling down his or her pants in a Food City).
It’s more challenging than determining the temperature of the car for road trips. Or the radio station. What color you should paint your spare bathroom. How you should save money for your kids. Etc. etc.
This is where I should probably say something like: it’s hard finding a name that both people like. And this is true for probably every couple. But you all. Another truth is that my beloved husband—who is incredibly kind and thoughtful, extremely smart and handsome, etc.—is also brutally honest about his likes and dislikes (but only when you ask him for his opinion, a necessity when picking a name), and he happens to dislike most names. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that he happens to dislike most names I throw out there.
I would characterize my naming preference as mostly Classic Book, supplemented with some I Casually Knew a Person Named This and They Were Attractive and Charismatic in Some Kinda Way. Daniel’s is largely: I Browsed Every Branch of my Danish-American Family Tree and This is What I Like. These two categories sometimes overlap, but not often. At all.
I don’t fault Daniel for wanting a family name. In fact, I think it’s lovely to name a baby after a cherished family member. But sometimes, and I say this with so much love, family names aren’t great. Including my own. Sometimes they’re amazing. But I repeat, sometimes family names aren’t great. Sometimes you can’t imagine yelling them across a playground, for example. Or hearing them at a high school graduation and recognizing them as your child. Or seeing them penciled in on a Scantron. Or associating them with the baby growing in your belly.
The fact is that baby-naming is a historic challenge for Daniel and I, starting when I was pregnant with Sam. Gather round and I’ll tell you a story:
We ran through a long list of names and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that my beloved husband rejected nearly every one. But somehow Samuel made the cut for both of us.
There was another contender, though. A long-held name in Daniel’s family that Daniel really wanted, and that I didn’t connect with at all. It just didn’t feel like a name that I would ordinarily name my child, and that felt really important to me. (I’m not sharing the name out of respect for my husband and his family, because it’s a good name, it just wasn’t the one I would choose).
I began imagining a future Samuel, and probably Daniel began imagining a future x. As the time grew closer, Daniel said I could name the baby whatever I wanted, but that just didn’t feel right to me either, mostly because I knew how much he had become invested in his name. How could I ask him to give up something he felt so strongly about (even though I had made him aware of my reservations from the beginning)? But I didn’t want to give mine up either.
This is probably where you're frustrated with me, and I don’t blame you. What did you want, Jessica? Here’s what I wanted: Daniel to say, I’ve changed my mind about my name entirely and I would pick your name, Jessica.
Dear Reader, this was not going to happen.
After the first day in the hospital, and hearing repeatedly that we should pick a name, I suggested to Daniel that he should flip a coin. We assigned sides for each name and he flipped the quarter…so hard that it bounced off the ceiling tile—knocking it awry in the process—and was never seen again. Or maybe it was seen again, by some excited soul who had no idea that it was actually a very significant quarter for our family.
So then we drew names. Twice.
Samuel it was, and I was struck anew with the beauty of the name and the rightness of it.
The second time around, I was feeling so tender-hearted about our first naming debacle that I gave Daniel 51% naming rights for the baby’s first name if it was a boy. This was a risk but I think it paid off. We settled on Raymond, another family name of Daniel’s that was not one in serious contention the first go-round, and a name that I grew to love.
But I grew smarter, and stronger, and before we even tried to have the third baby, I claimed 100% naming rights on the whole name. I can name the baby anything I want, and that power has me feeling a little bit like a villain in a Marvel movie, flush with power and set on taking over the world, and a little like Leslie Knope with a binder full of possibilities.
Now could be my chance for Felicity Autumn or Daphne or Sophia. Maybe Maggie Rose, a name I loved in my early 20s.
But I’m not going that far back in my roots.
We’ll be using the only name to make it successfully through three rounds of vetting, and we’re super excited about it.
This post was meant to be a little joking, a little serious. Obviously we are primarily grateful to be having a third child, period, and even more grateful that so far everything indicates our baby is healthy and safe. But I’m also a little grateful that I have 100% naming rights. Is that so wrong?
Q: Tell me about your baby-naming experience!
*This title was inspired by Christina Lauren’s lovely Love and Other Words. Read it and weep! Literally. But also smile.
(I received a complimentary copy of this ARC via Edelweiss+ but all opinions provided are my own.)
Tessa Dare’s The Wallflower Wager is an absolute, freaking delight. There’s a conflict in the book. A beautifully articulated, smart conflict, in fact. But still The Wallflower Wager feels so easy to read, so effortlessly written, like the story was inevitable.
It’s a dream of a historical romance, and it’s got my historical romance catnip: a strong, hard-working man overcomes all the odds against him to build a fortune but has locked away his heart in the process (and would, in fact, deny that he has a heart to begin with), and an aristocratic lady who looks soft, maybe is soft in some ways, but is stronger than anyone—but the hero (eventually)—gives her credit for.
Despite her family’s annoyance, Lady Penelope Campion has a need and gift for taking care of injured and/or unwanted animals. Do not call Gabriel, the Duke of Ruin, an injured or unwanted animal, despite the traumatic past that he keeps hidden from nearly everyone. He’s strong and powerful, and he will crush the aristocracy’s assets like a bigger, more muscular Pretty Woman-esque Edward Lewis, okay?
At the age of 26, Penny’s pretty much firmly on the shelf, with no apparent intention or desire of coming off it. She's content with her life on the very, very furthest fringes of aristocratic society. In fact, she’s so reluctant to return to her familial estate that she works with Gabriel to keep her in London. And what are his motivations for helping Penny retain her fairly independent status when he is self-admittedly so selfish? Gabriel needs Penny to remain in her current London home so that she’ll drive up the worth of the neighboring property he just purchased.
God, this book is sweet, and Dare draws out the building relationship between Penny & Gabriel exquisitely. Everyone deserves a champion, and Penny & Gabriel are that for each other. They’re also fantastically sensual, and those scenes deserve mention as well. Penny is a lesson in taking control of and pleasure in one’s sexuality. The way that she finds herself is lovely and sexy as heck and has all the steam that Gabriel wishes his new bathtub pipes had.
Dare’s also known for her humor, and this book sparkles with it. A special scene involving a goat (no spoiler alert here 😉) had me dying and appreciating how Dare tells a love story in a totally new way.
In case you couldn’t tell, I loved this book. It had me smiling on the outside and inside and wishing for a second, third, and fourth epilogue.
TNW Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.
Q: what’s your favorite romance with a wealthy working-class hero and aristocratic heroine?
past sexual abuse.
Thanks to Grand Central Pub & Read Forever Pub for my complimentary copy of the book. All opinions provided below are my own.
Feelings bombarded me after reading the closing lines of Leila Meacham’s Dragonfly. It would have been kind of hard to avoid such a response, actually. At 569 pages, a lot was bound to happen to happen in this book, and if you throw in the fact that it’s WWII-era historical fiction, well, there you go.
I was sad, happy, contemplative, mostly satisfied but also a little confused (more to come on this later). Maybe most of all I had that feeling you get when you’ve been immersed in a different place and time and feel like you’ve been reawakened to the present.
In essence, Dragonfly is about a group of five young American spies who are sent into German-occupied France in 1942, and only four of them return home. In 1962, when the book opens, their case officer known as The Man in Brown reads that the fifth spy was not executed as the other spies and he believed. What could have happened to the fifth spy? Could she/he still be alive? What follows is an answer to the mystery and a reconstruction of sorts: what drew the spies to their work; their training; and their years in France, ending with the culminating event.
Meacham compellingly creates characters who are relatively inexperienced, even as they’re skilled and devoted to their mission. I love how she establishes their various personal motivations for wanting to be in France and how those motivations are not only inspiration to them, but possible temptation to deviate from mission rules as well.
Any deviation would be superbly dangerous, a fact that’s frequently underlined by the five spies encounters with various Nazis, French collaborators, and even an American traitor while in Paris. There are a lot of characters in this book, and even more than that, a lot of names (each spy has three different names, for ex.), and yet Meacham adeptly establishes connections between them. It’s a literary delight (and also scary since I became invested in the lives of the spies) to see potentially deadly secondary characters popping up in multiple spies’ lives….and contemplate whether it was that secondary character who made the whole mission come tumbling down.
The answer to that question is definitely worth reading, though there was one aspect of the plot that didn’t feel fully explained.
There are occasional moments in Dragonfly when the writing didn’t feel quite as subtle as I would have liked, but overall, along with feeling superbly researched, Dragonfly is engrossing and well-written. I wanted to keep reading so I could discover the answers to the questions posed at the beginning, and also because I cared about the fate of five young Americans who had their own reasons for going to France, not least of which was discovering intel that could save Americans during the war.
TNW Arbitrary Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.