Sometimes you might want to read a romance with a huge, huge jerk who falls in love.
Class, we call those heroes alphaholes, and L. J. Shen writes them superbly. Men who snarl. Who say the cruelest, crudest things, particularly to our heroine. Who seem so close to being irredeemable that you wonder if it’s actually possible for the main characters to have a HEA.
But with Shen’s books, it is. Her books are dishy, juicy, and naughty, and I feel the perfect amount of voyeur when reading them because the characters and their lives are so alien to me.
With her latest release, The Kiss Thief, Shen tackles the arranged marriage trope. Nineteen-year-old Francesca Rossi is beautiful and accomplished and she’s dreamed of marrying Angelo Bandini for years. But in one night, her father, Arthur, head of the Chicago Outfit, promises her in marriage to Senator Wolfe Keaton, a ruthless man who has dirt on Arthur and promises to use it.
Wolfe is not a nice person, and his plans to make Francesca’s father miserable include making her miserable as well. He puts his plans into effect ASAP, and the results are truly cringeworthy.
But Francesca is warm and quirky, and before he knows it, Wolfe finds himself doing things for her that he never imagined. Is it possible for Wolfe to allow himself to care about her? And for her to let go of the love she’s had for Angelo for so many years? Also, on an entirely unrelated note, how well does vengeance go with new marriages, particularly if the person being targeted is the bride’s father?
Though I tore through the pages of The Kiss Thief, this book didn’t resonate with me quite as much as some of Shen’s other books have (i.e. Bane and Dirty Headlines), and I think it comes down to these simple facts about the characters. Francesca is 19 and (understandably) unsure about a lot of things, and this, added to other factors like Wolfe’s intense vengeance plot and the complex lover’s triangle, led to some behaviors and decisions that I wasn’t entirely crazy about (even though I also recognized that those behaviors and decisions seemed fairly realistic to the characters, given what we knew about them).
But I still enjoyed this book very much, and here’s why: The Kiss Thief is glamorous and magnetic, and I fell into the story right away. I don’t usually identify with Shen’s characters, but I’m enthralled by them and eager to see what manner of mischief is about to transpire next. They’re always unpredictable, and enticingly dramatic, and this book was no exception.
I received a complimentary copy of the book from the author, but all opinions provided are my own.
I finished Amanda Bouchet’s galactic romance Nightchaser several nights ago, and I continue marveling at it, at the worlds Bouchet dreamed up and how badass her characters are as they almost die/laugh in the face of danger/otherwise survive. If spaceships, space renegades, and sex are your cup of tea then you’re in luck, because Nightchaser has them all, packed into a wildly inventive story that offers a whip-fast thrill akin to taking off in a really fast roller coaster.
The book opens pretty dramatically: Captain Tess Bailey and the rest of her Endeavor crew are hiding out from the Dark Watch—the galactic “police force” which operates under the orders of the dictatorial Overlord—because they’ve just stolen something big. It’s a laboratory, which they’ve attached to the side of the ship. The Dark Watch isn’t happy about that, and it’s up to Bailey and her crew to see if they can survive the Dark Watch’s efforts to get it back.
This tense episode is over pretty quickly, but it sets up the questions that drive the rest of the book: what’s in the lab and why is the Dark Watch going to such lengths to get it back? And who is the real Tess “Bailey”? How did she come to be Captain and what are her ultimate aims?
With Nightchaser, Bouchet offers us an escape that feels cinematic: the detail is brilliant, the story is action-packed, the characters, particularly Tess, have a messwithmeatyourownrisk vibe that I love. These aren’t shrinking violets; I just know that there’s going to be a lot of setting the world(s) on fire in future books of this trilogy, and I’m. here. for. it. But make no mistake about it: Tess and company are up against a formidable set of opponents, and the coming confrontations promise to be difficult (and enthralling).
Though there were a few moments when I felt like the book had almost a bit too much going on—lots of strands were introduced here, and will, no doubt, be picked back up in later books—I can’t wait to see where the series is going next and what the pay-off will be.
Nightchaser is another explosive read from Amanda Bouchet. “So say we all.”*
*This phrase is from Battlestar Galactica and not Nightchaser, but it seemed fitting. (Or maybe BG is just the only other space thing I've really enjoyed, so it was just a convenient comparison.)
**I received an ARC of this book via Netgalley but all opinions provided are my own.
It’s 2019, and if there’s one historical romance writer who could take us into the future, it’s Scarlett Peckham.
Peckham writes marvelously, and I would like to laze in her books, where everything is sumptuous and luxurious—including the words themselves. She writes romance that thrills, that clutches your heart, and that’s also composed of the kind of wry, beautifully written sentences I could see adorning the stationary of my dreams.
The darkly sumptuous The Earl I Ruined is her latest offering.
There are some things that can’t be forgiven. Is finding out that the person that you love has written and distributed a poem with salacious rumors about your sexual proclivities one of them (particularly if it has the potential to kill a political deal you’ve been working on for years, ruin you, and result in your family’s downfall as well)?
That’s the question of the hour in The Earl I Ruined.
We first met Lady Constance Stonewell, sister of the Duke of Westmead, in The Duke I Tempted. Though her brother chastised her roundly for playing fast and loose with words in that book, she hasn’t quite learned her lesson, and it leads to the stuffy Julian, the Earl of Apthorp’s, ruin in this book. But she has a plan: she’ll propose, they’ll resuscitate his reputation and save his bill, and everything will be okay.
Only he doesn’t want to marry her—this, despite (or perhaps because) he was in love with her for eight years. Also complicating the matter: for the first time in a very long time, people are laughing at her again.
Can she save Julian, and make up for this decision she made, before her brother finds out? And can Julian recognize the part he’s played in this, too?
If you’re looking for crazy-sexy historical romance, try this book. And if you’re looking for a book that’s remarkably astute about its characters and human psychology, try this book again. I love how Peckham proves that sparkling and shallow are not the same thing; how there’s a strength to Constance (and the fiercely female domain she rules) that can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.
Andddddd, I love how Constance and Julian offer us a reminder that people make mistakes. Sometimes we do shitty things; sometimes for the wrong reasons and sometimes for the right. Though I did want a more direct acknowledgement from Julian of the deeper motivations behind what Constance did, I thought that overall Peckham handled what happened, why, and its deeper repercussions, stunningly.
The Earl I Ruined gave me that beautiful redemption story that I was looking for, wrapped up in a rich scandal, and enhanced by a killer sexual attraction between two characters who deserve a second chance (or maybe third or fourth).
"I've been surprised by a lot of things since becoming a mom," she whispered behind a cupped hand, "but I never, ever expected how much I would talk about poop."
Maybe it’s just me, but a romantic storyline that has its origins in guilt doesn’t really seem sexy to me. Or hopeful, or joyous. But that’s where I’d/we’d be wrong. Because Kate Clayborn’s Luck of the Draw deals with the unpleasant side of being human and imperfect—the mistakes that are made and the guilt and pain that result—but her story lives in the beautiful, redemptive side of that same humanity.
Luck of the Draw is a series sequel to Beginner’s Luck, a wonderful novel featured on my “100 Books” list for one day (now to be replaced by Luck of the Draw). The series begins with the plot-point that three best friends have won the lottery. Zoe Ferris, the main character of our book, says that she wanted to chase “adventure” after taking her winnings, but that’s not quite right. Instead of booking the trips she thought she’d be taking, she makes a Guilt Jar, and in it she puts the names of people who have suffered as a result of her actions—her brusqueness and irritability, her drive to put in the most hours at the law firm where she used to work.
She draws a slip from the jar, and on it is the O’Leary family, a family that took a settlement from a pharmaceutical company she represented.
Aiden O’Leary is swimming in loss, and Zoe Ferris is the last person he wants to see in his driveway. But when she asks him if there’s anything she can do to atone for what she did to his family, he says she can pretend to be his fiancée.
This isn’t a lighthearted pretend romance romp, as I’m sure you can guess from what I’ve said so far. Because the Luck of the Draw meets us where we are at. Fully human. Capable of hurting people. Capable of forgiving and being better. Of loving. And being really freaking funny.
I loved this book so much.
There comes a time in a bookworm's life when said bookworm has to talk favorites. Maybe you're at a dinner party (jkjkjk--you don't go to parties). Maybe you're at an obligatory work function. Or maybe someone interrupts you while you're reading on a subway (or folding clothes). They ask, what's your favorite book?, and the panic is rising because you don't have one favorite book, you have a million, and you want that person to read them all and then come talk to you about them, because you have so much to say.
That's why I made this list called "100 books." Which ones do you agree with? Which ones do you vehemently disagree with? It's all part of the fun. I tend to avoid confrontation but this is a hill (approximately 100 hills) I'm willing to die on.
Never was she more assured of how different they were than when he--who had grown up on a dairy farm--described her much-adored goldenrod sweater as "calf-shit yellow."
When I was growing up, my great-grandmother Nan (born Lora Dena) was very nice to me and my siblings, and very mean to some other people in my family. She was old when I was born, with a cap of white hair and a heavily wrinkled face, and she favored cardigans in sober colors, button-down shirts, and black orthopedic shoes. Her querulous voice was a constant backdrop in my grandparents’s house; it’s no exaggeration to say that she spent a great deal of time complaining and demanding, and my grandmother worked hard to make her happy.
Of course I recognize that she had a long life, that she was elderly, and those facts presented their own difficulties and challenges. But by most accounts, she had been this way--even worse, they said--for as long as people had known her. It would have been easy to dismiss Nan as a mean person—to a lot of people at least. But that would be too simplistic. Because she could be loving, to some of us. She could be protective. She could be proud of our achievements. And then there were other things that indicated a richer, more complex nature, like how she wrote poetry, which she sometimes shared with me and my sister and which we found in her room after her death. There were also the bits and pieces of her history, which I learned, not from her, but from my grandmother and genealogical research I’d done. Nan had lost multiple children, in one tragedy after another. Her husband had left her.
So much loss. Sadness. Beauty. And yet, meanness too. It was all there.
Leah Weiss’s If the Creek Don’t Rise reminded me of our brilliant, perplexing human nature. That good and bad can exist within the same person, and a decision can be both good and bad as well. How your life doesn’t look the same from your perspective as it does from mine. How family pain can be passed down—a lesson I learned well from studying my own extended family—but it’s possible for a person to refuse to carry it into the next generation. (Thank you, Dad.)
It’s difficult for me to reduce this book to a plot, because its richness lies in its characterization and language. Told from multiple perspectives, If the Creek Don’t Rise is set in 1970 Baines Creek, North Carolina, a largely isolated Appalachian community where the arrival of an outside teacher, a jasper, is a big deal. The book opens with Sadie Blue’s perspective as she’s being abused by her newlywed husband, Roy. In subsequent chapters, we get perspectives from her grandmother, a godmother-like figure, her preacher, her teacher, other neighbors, and eventually her husband.
Weiss’s book is compassionate. By the time that I got to some character’s chapters, I already disdained, if not actively disliked them, based on other people’s stories. And yet I always found that there was something to learn about those disliked people. Some secret that didn’t excuse what they had done, not by a long shot, but that showed that they had their own pains they’d been shuffling along. Those moments were revelatory, particularly after I reflected that their secrets were revealed only to the reader; the people they were interacting with in the story--the people they were hurting--would likely never know.
There’s so much that I could say about this incredible book. That it’s beautifully written. Lee Smith-esque. A valuable contribution to contemporary Appalachian literature, particularly in its portrayal of womanhood. A meditation on what it means to be human. So I think I’ll just close by saying that If the Creek Don’t Rise reminded me to be kinder and more empathetic, and that my judgement of a person (for good or for bad) will forever fail at seeing and acknowledging the entirety of a person. We all have whole worlds inside of us.
I loved this book.
**I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley, but all opinions provided are my own.
About the Author
When my toddler and infant sleep--or are otherwise engaged--I write, read, and eat lots of chocolate.