Welcome to the second portion of this edition of Mad’s Book Club. The first portion, in which we (i.e. I) discussed highbrow literature is here. In this portion we shall be discussing literary offerings of a more modest type, i.e. the type you wouldn’t brag about reading (but I do).

Psycho-killer books

Technically, this should be psycho-killer book, since I only read one of this genre during the March-April period. I know, right? What the heck happened in March-April? Well, mostly I was reading Don Quixote, but I discussed that in part one. Let’s just move along, shall we?

Blood Defense by Marcia Clark
Part of me knew that Marcia Clark had become a novelist, but I didn’t have any particular interest in reading her stuff. Probably this can be chalked up to mere envy on my part. Seriously, it’s not enough to have one successful career (successful, you know, despite that one magnificent failure)? Now you have to be a famous novelist too? Whatevs. Anyway, Blood Defense was a Kindle First offering in either March or April, and heck, it was free, so why wouldn’t I? Okay, I also read somewhere that Marcia Clark was a pretty good writer. Which, it turns out, she is. Not like Ray Bradbury good, but as far as psycho-killer books go, pretty darn good. Her tone is conversational and humorous, and there’s not a lot of extemporaneous info. I like that in a writer of any genre. Apparently her previous books were all about a lady prosecutor. (Go figure.)

In Blood Defense, the protagonist is a lady defense attorney, who manages to be both cynical and idealistic at the same time. Samantha Brinkman knows all her clients are guilty, but everyone deserves a robust defense, and plus, prosecutors and cops can be pretty scummy. So imagine her surprise when a cop accused of murder asks her to defend him. She’s not sure she wants to, even though it is a high-profile case that could make her career (also, he can pay her–score!), because a) she’s not so fond of cops and b) there’s something fishy going on here. Indeed there is something fishy. Suffice it to say, it’s personal. AND it makes the matter of her client’s guilt or innocence that much more consequential (to her, personally). There is a twist ending, and then there is another twist. Part of me was like, “Seriously, Marcia Clark?” And the other part of me was like, “That was pretty awesome, Marcia Clark.” I will definitely read more of Clark’s books. 4/5 stars

Romance

The Reluctant Widow by Georgette Heyer
This is the first Georgette Heyer regency romance I have not loved. It is not bad, really. Heyer always writes very witty dialogue, and there is witty dialogue in this book. The story is kind of silly, but that’s neither here nor there. The main problem I had was with the main character, a young woman who has chosen to become a governess rather than live in genteel poverty, and by a wacky Three’s Company-worthy misunderstanding, she winds up in the wrong house with the wrong prospective employer, a gentleman who doesn’t want her to be a governess but to marry his dissolute cousin, who (he’s convinced) is bound to kill himself with drink or some other debauchery any day now. The deal is that she marries the awful cousin and once the awful cousin has kicked the bucket, she gets all his stuff and becomes an independent woman. Why would this gentleman (whom we shall call Carlyon because that is his name) need or want someone to marry his odious cousin? Gosh, I’d tell you, but it seems like a lot of trouble to go to for a mere book review, so let’s just say it’s as good a reason as you’re likely to find in any madcap regency romance. Anyway, The heroine (whom we shall call Elinor, also her name) does not want to marry the odious cousin because, hello, that’s nuts, and not at all the done thing, but somehow she ends up marrying the cousin on his (conveniently timed) deathbed anyway, thereby becoming his heir.

What happens from there is not terribly important. Suffice it to say there is some intrigue involving Napoleon and whatnot, but Elinor really got on my nerves because she kept blaming Carlyon for forcing her into marriage with his odious (now dead) cousin, when the truth was that she was just too taken aback and indecisive not to go along with everything. And anyway, she only had to be married to him for, like, two seconds, and what’s the point of going on and on about it now? I mean, now that I write it down, it seems like she had a right to be upset, but at the time she was just whiny and annoying. Not always, but occasionally. As usual, though, the hero was perfect. 3/5 stars (but there are so many better Heyers to choose from)

Because of Miss Bridgerton by Julia Quinn
Julia Quinn is probably single-handedly responsible for my obsession with Regency romance. Her eight-book Bridgerton series (featuring a family with eight children, each of whom finds love, hence, eight books) was my gateway drug. This book is not technically part of that series; this Miss Bridgerton is the Bridgerton patriarch’s elder sister, whom we have never met before, but Julia Quinn likes all her books to be in the same world (and also to capitalize on the Bridgerton name, probably–not that there’s anything wrong with that). Miss Billie Bridgerton has grown up with the Rokesby brothers as her neighbors and considers them her dearest friends–except for the eldest Rokesby brother, George, the heir to the earldom. She thinks he is stuffy and judgmental, and he thinks she is a hoyden, which, technically, she is–always running wild with his younger brothers, getting into scrapes and whatnot–NOT AT ALL WHAT A PROSPECTIVE COUNTESS SHOULD BE. Foreshadowing! I know you know where this headed. By a strange twist of fate (and also an ankle), Billie and George get to know each other better and, quelle horreur, start to develop inconvenient feelings for one another (though of course they don’t admit this to each other because that would be too sensible, which love seldom is). This is typically delightful Quinn fare, humorous and sweet, and a worthy successor to the Bridgerton series. I look forward to reading the rest of the Rokesby clan’s stories. (Content warning: there is sex.) 4/5 stars

A Novella Collection by Courtney Milan
Courtney Milan is hit or miss for me. When she hits, she’s fantastic. When she misses, meh. (It’s not awful, just not my bag.) The first two novellas in this collection are quite good. They are both part of the Brothers Sinister series, which you don’t need to have read to appreciate these stories. The other two were just okay. All stories are set in nineteenth century England. Milan doesn’t use a lot of humor, but she writes good characters (who don’t want for wit, even if they aren’t comedians), and she tends to eschew the usual artifices of romances (namely, characters acting like crazy people in order to keep the plot going). Content warning: There is sex. 3/5 stars

Just One of the Guys by Kristan Higgins
As I said in the last edition of Mad’s Book Club (January-February), Kristan Higgins pretty much has one book that she writes over and over again, but she writes it so well that I don’t mind. The last book of hers I reviewed was something of a departure. This is more her usual book, about a girl hung up on a dude she fell in love with a long time ago but who doesn’t feel the same way about her OR SO SHE THINKS. This girl is tall, sporty, and the only daughter in a family chock full of sons; as the title might have already informed you, she has difficulty getting men to see her as a potential romantic partner. In fact, our story opens on her getting dumped by yet another dude who can’t handle dating a woman who can pick him up (literally). But soon she meets a dude–a doctor, yet–who finds her robust athleticism irresistible. But wait! What about the dude she’s been hung up on forever? Can she bring herself to move on? Can she??? The story is actually more entertaining than it sounds, although I do wonder about the life choices of some of these people. Fortunately, I don’t have to live with them. I will say that although this is pretty much Kristan Higgins’ usual book, it does have a somewhat different ending. I enjoyed it. 3.5/4 stars

Heir to the Duke by Jane Ashford
This is an arranged-marriage historical romance. The wedding takes place early in the story. Nathaniel Gresham, aka heir to the duke, is good-natured but duty-bound control freak. He thinks his marriage to the very proper Violet Devere satisfactory and sensible. What he doesn’t know is that Violet has been repressing her adventurous spirit for years because her grandmother what raised her kept her on such a short leash, but now that she is married, she is ready to let her freak flag fly. Don’t be alarmed–it’s not that kind of freak flag. She just wants to wear fashionable clothes and go to the theatre and junk. But then she learns a deep, dark secret about herself, and she’s afraid that if she tells her good-natured but very proper husband, he will be DISGUSTED. Don’t worry–it’s not that kind of deep, dark secret. Suffice it to say, Nathaniel learns how to relax and have a good time, secrets are revealed, and really, not all that much happens, but it’s a light-hearted romp, fun while it lasts. Content warning: I think there is sex, although I don’t really remember. It seems like it wasn’t terribly explicit, though. YMMV. 3/5 stars

A Duke of Her Own by Lorraine Heath
Here is another story about a gently-bred lady (sister to an earl, in fact) facing genteel poverty who decides to strike out on her own by hiring herself out as a chaperone for American heiresses in London. What she’s really doing is less chaperoning and more husband-vetting. Her brother and his pals–all of them broke and needing wealthy wives–want her to set them up with some American sugar mamas, but she is too conscientious to recommend these dissolute rakes to her charges. Unfortunately, the Duke of Hawkhurst, her brother’s BFF, whom she has always held in disdain despite him being really hot, is determined to win the hand of this season’s loveliest and richest American girl, no matter what it takes, because only a vast influx of cash will allow him to restore his estates and bring out his illegitimate half-sister into society. So he’s ruthless, but for noble reasons. And unfortunately, as Lady Louisa comes to realize this, she finds she is no longer immune to his hotness. ALSO unfortunate: the duke is not nearly as attracted to the rich American beauty as he is to her most provoking chaperone. HIGHJINKS ENSUE.

Actually, this is quite a well-done story. Often in these must-marry-for-money tales, someone turns out to be a secret millionaire or something. In this case there is no deus ex machine. The hero and heroine really are facing genteel poverty. The stakes are high. No one acts like only a crazy person would (well, except when they’re addled by lust, but that’s to be expected). BUT DOES LOVE PREVAIL? You must read to find out. (Or, you know, you could guess.) Content warning: There is sex. (I remember that much.) 3.5/5 stars

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