You are currently browsing the monthly archive for March 2017.

A Sudden, Fearful Death by Anne Perry
This is book 4 in the William Monk series. I reviewed the first three books (plus book 8, since I started out of order) in the last installment of our little book club, and if you were there for that, you know that I FREAKING LOVE THIS SERIES. William Monk is an amnesiac detective in Victorian England. He lost his memory in a carriage accident and has been slowly piecing together who he is by observation, deduction, and the occasional flashback which breaks through the wall of his consciousness at inopportune times. He often works with nurse Hester Latterly, a willful, independent lady who is not at all his cup of tea, but is nevertheless his most loyal friend. Also in the mix is Oliver Rathbone, a prestigious barrister who helps in the pursuit of justice.

The plot of this book centers on Prudence Barrymore, a talented and ambitious nurse (she wanted to be a doctor, at a time when women were not admitted into medical schools) who has been strangled at the hospital where Hester is currently working. Who would have strangled Prudence and thrown her down a laundry chute? Was it some madman who found his way into the hospital? Was it another nurse who was jealous of her abilities? Was it a doctor who thought she was too uppity for her own good? (Hester wouldn’t know anything about that, lol.) This was a good story, but I did think everyone spent an inordinate amount of time befuddled and utterly missing the key to solving the mystery; I mean, I know they were Victorians and their thought processes were subject to their worldview, but HELLO, MCFLY, WHAT DO WE KNOW ABOUT PRUDENCE? SHE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR! But, you know, that’s part of this series’ charm, the fact that they’re all Victorians who, despite their relative sophistication, still have trouble wrapping their heads around some things. 4/5 stars

The Sins of the Wolf by Anne Perry
Monk #6, and this time–you’ll never guess–Hester herself has been framed for the murder of one of her patients. The victim was an elderly woman whose family are sure a bunch of odd ducks, almost all of whom had some plausible motive for killing her. The one person we know didn’t do it is Hester. Can Monk and Rathbone prove her innocence in time? Complicating matters is the fact that the crime technically took place in Scotland, so she has to be tried by the Scottish justice system. Och! This is a very exciting book with lots of intrigue and recurring-character development (best appreciated if you’ve read the previous five books). The climax is action-packed and INSANE. But also glorious. 5/5 stars

Cain His Brother by Anne Perry
Monk #7. Businessman Angus Stonefield has gone missing; his wife, worried for his safety, hires Monk to find him. Actually, what she fears is that his brother, Caleb–a violent man who prefers a life on the streets to respectable work–has murdered him. Monk finds evidence that indicates foul play was most likely, but he needs to find proof of death so that Stonefield’s widow can have his estate settled. Turns out what is really going on is much weirder than anyone could have guessed. I mean, really weird. But interesting. 4/5 stars

Weighed in the Balance by Anne Perry
Monk #7. Rathbone agrees to defend Countess Zorah Rostova against a charge of slander. She says the onetime ruler of her small German principality was murdered by his own wife, who was responsible for his exile to Venice years ago. (She wasn’t the girl his mom wanted for him.) No one has any evidence of this. Rathbone doesn’t even know why he took the case, but he hopes Monk can figure out who really did it. This requires him to travel to Venice and examine the prince’s past acquaintances. I found the German politics alternately fascinating and tedious. But Perry has a way of holding my interest even when I don’t want to be interested. 4/5 stars

A Breach of Promise by Anne Perry
Are you starting to get the picture here? I’m really extremely fond of this series. And I am really extremely fond of this particular book. It’s #9. (Recall that I had already read #8 out of order, but I re-read it right before starting this one.) Rathbone has taken on another hopeless case–will the man ever learn? (Signs point to no.) Killian Melville is a gifted architect–a genius, really–who has found himself unwittingly engaged to the daughter of one of his wealthy patrons. No offense to the girl–whose name is Zillah, if you can believe that–she’s perfectly lovely, but he does not want to marry her, he cannot marry her, and he will not marry her. He won’t say why, which frustrates Rathbone no end, but perhaps Monk can figure it out.

There is a plot twist about half-ish-way through, so I can’t say much more, but much of the book is a commentary on the status of women during this time. Plot-wise, coincidence plays a bigger role than usual in the resolution–the willing suspension of disbelief is stretched quite a bit, but I decided it made for a great story, so screw it. Also–no spoilers, but the ending of this book was so good. The last page was worth a whole extra star by itself. I’m a sucker for that crap. 5/5 stars

The Twisted Root by Anne Perry
Monk #10. A young man hires Monk to find his fiancee, who fled a garden party at his family’s home and hasn’t been seen since. Monk tracks down the carriage the woman left in, and nearby he finds the coachman, who has been murdered. Why did the woman change her mind about the marriage? What did she learn that made her get such terribly cold feet–and did it lead to cold-blooded murder?? Well. Remember when I said that situation in Cain His Brother turned out to be much weirder than anyone suspected? I was just kidding. This situation is REALLY MUCH WEIRDER than anyone suspected. 4/5 stars

Slaves of Obsession by Anne Perry
Monk #11. Monk and Hester must travel to America on the eve of the Civil War to find a young lady who has eloped with the Union soldier who may have murdered her father, an arms dealer who had agreed to sell weapons to the Confederacy. But did he really do it? It sure looks like it, and he’s kind of a douchebag, so we all want to believe he did it, but he insists he’s innocent, and his fiancee (they didn’t quite complete the elopement) refuses to doubt him. They both end up getting prosecuted for the father’s murder, and Rathbone agrees to defend them. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time Monk has worked both sides of a case. This book deals with some interesting ethical questions–how far should one go when fighting for a cause, particularly when the cause has already lead to war? 5/5 stars

Funeral in Blue by Anne Perry
Monk #12. Two women are found strangled in an artist’s apartment. One of them is the wife of Dr. Kristian Beck, a Bohemian doctor Monk knows through Hester and his erstwhile benefactress, Lady Callandra Daviot. Dr. Beck is arrested for both murders. Rathbone is off in France or Italy or some such place, so he’s not available to defend him. Fortunately, Beck’s father-in-law believes in his innocence enough that he’s willing to take the case himself. You have to admit, the optics are great. Monk, Hester, and Callandra are desperate to have Beck exonerated. Monk even travels to Vienna in the hope of discovering something from Beck and his wife’s past lives as revolutionaries (!) that will shed light on the murders. This was a riveting read, right up until the end, which came out of literally freaking nowhere. After all those plot twists and turns, I felt a tad ripped-off. I would recommend this book for die-hard Monk fans and Monk completists only. Of which I am one. 3/5 stars

Death of a Stranger by Anne Perry
Monk #13. This is the book where Monk finally finds out the truth about his past. He’s learned bits and pieces over the years, but now a case involving a railroad company and fraud intersects with a past case in which he was a star player. Was Monk himself guilty of fraud, as a businessman–or of an even worse betrayal? How will the knowledge of who he once was affect who he is now? A reasonably satisfying resolution to this long-standing mystery. And yes, he still has amnesia. 4/5 stars

And no, this isn’t the end of the Monk series. But it is the end of this blog post and the psycho-killers edition of this installment. Or the psycho-killers installment of this edition. Next time: Romance!

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I seem to be having some difficulty keeping up this breakneck pace of blogging more than once a month. Or so. But let’s not waste time with my usual self-flagellation. Let’s talk psycho killers.

Ice Cold by Tess Gerritsen
This is Rizzoli & Isles #8, and it’s a bit of a departure for the series. Maura Isles is in Wyoming for a medical examiners conference, and feeling out of sorts with her secret-boyfriend-the-Catholic-priest, she decides to be spontaneous and go on a skiing trip with an old med school acquaintance and his daughter and another couple. Of course they get stranded in the snow in the middle of nowhere. (Is there anywhere else in Wyoming? I kid!) But as luck would have it, the middle of nowhere is not far from a hastily-abandoned religious commune. So they’ve found shelter, but where the heck are all the folks who used to live here (obviously not too long ago)? Also, there’s no cell phone service and no one knows they’re missing and one of them is seriously injured and needs a hospital, not makeshift medical care by a couple of coroners. Also, they’re not quite as alone as they thought: someone is out there, possibly a predator. It’s a very stressful situation for Maura, who is not the outdoorsy type and is also used to working with patients who are already dead.

This was a very exciting read, as I remember, but I also remember that the climactic action and the ending were kind of nuts. Every time you thought it was over, IT WAS NOT OVER. As I said on Goodreads, save something for the next book, Tess! But I appreciated how Maura’s character evolved during this story. 3.5/5 stars

The Silent Girl by Tess Gerritsen
Rizzoli & Isles #9. This is about a murder in Boston’s Chinatown which turns out to be connected to an old murder-suicide case that left five people dead. The (alleged) murderer-suicider’s widow always insisted that her husband was innocent and the true killer had never been caught. There’s a lot of intrigue and mystical Chinese martial arts stuff in this book. It was diverting enough, but also kind of random and frustrating. 3/5 stars

Ripper: A Novel by Isabel Allende
Should this be under the “highbrow” category? It’s a bit more “literary” than your average psycho-killer book, but in the end, it is a psycho-killer book. At the center are Indiana, a hippy-dippy holistic healer, and her daughter, Amanda, who is fascinated by the darker things in life, but she comes by it honestly, as her dad is the SFPD’s deputy chief of homicide. Indiana and Amanda’s dad have been long divorced, and Indiana has been in a long-term relationship with Alan, an older, old-money rich dude who’s kind of a douchebag, but she’s also friends with Ryan, a battle-scarred former Navy SEAL who is in love with her. There have been a string of mysterious, seemingly-unrelated murders in the city, and Amanda and her online friends (and her grandpa, Indiana’s dad–it’s a long story) start to figure out the connections. I forgot to mention that Amanda’s grandmother (on her father’s side) has foretold an ominous fate for Indiana, so it becomes extremely important that Amanda and her fellow Scoobys figure out who the real killer is, pronto.

This was an enjoyable, intriguing read, despite its leisurely pace. It took a while for me to read, and it was pretty dark, probably more so because it was so character-centered. It’s not your usual crime thriller. I felt a real sense of dread as the solution to the mystery unfolded. 4/5 stars

For the Sake of Elena by Elizabeth George
This is Inspector Lynley #5. Lynley and Havers are called in to investigate the murder of a deaf student at Cambridge. The student, Elena, is the daughter of a professor, and she had her secrets. Her father, who is poised for a big academic appointment, has his secrets too–including an affair with a local artist. Who had reason to kill Elena? Was it one of her (many) paramours? Was it her jealous step-mother? Was it someone else you’d never guess in a million years? What more is her father hiding?

Initially I found the mystery’s resolution a bit unbelievable. But the more I thought about it, I decided it was actually pretty interesting. I can’t say anything else without giving away the ending. 4/5 stars

The Kept Woman by Karin Slaughter
So this book came out in September, and I still can’t believe I totally forgot about it until January! This is book 8 in the Will Trent series, which I don’t think can be fully appreciated out of order, so if you haven’t read the first seven books, I suggest you get started. Will and the Georgia Bureau of Investigation have been called to investigate a murder at an old construction site. The victim turns out to be a former cop. Evidence at the crime scene indicates that there was another victim, Will’s estranged wife, Angie, who managed to escape but left behind so much blood that it’s doubtful she has survived. Will becomes obsessed with finding Angie alive, which puts a real crimp in his relationship with Sarah. (It’s a long story. Seven books’ worth!) Much is revealed about Will’s and Angie’s pasts, and Will makes some substantial progress in his project of becoming an emotionally functional human being, despite his traumatic childhood (and, frankly, adulthood). Plus, I’m kind of a sucker for Will Trent. 5/5 stars

Missing Joseph by Elizabeth George
Inspector Lynley #6. A vicar in Lancashire is dead–officially, the victim of accidental poisoning…but was it really accidental? The allegedly-accidental poisoner has only lived in the village for a couple years, and she’s kind of an odd bird–anti-social and very protective of her teenage daughter, who is secretly having an affair with a local boy, much to her mother’s dismay. But look here, despite being anti-social, the mother is in turn having an affair with the local constable who investigated the “accidental” poisoning. Seem sketchy? Lynley thinks so, too. But everything is much more complicated than it seems.

This book can stand alone, in theory, but the reason I liked it best of all the Lynley books I’ve read so far is that in addition to the mystery plot, which is good, there are developments in the recurring characters’ story arcs which can’t be fully appreciated, obviously, if you haven’t read the other books. But there are also interesting questions about ethics and justice. Content warning: A scene of sexual violence. 4/5 stars

The Cater Street Hangman by Anne Perry
I so enjoy Perry’s William Monk series that I decided I would give her Thomas Pitt series a whirl. This is the first book in that series, and I have to say, I was underwhelmed. It started out promisingly enough. Women have been getting garrotted in the respectable neighborhood of Cater Street, and everyone is beside themselves with fear. Detective Inspector Thomas Pitt has deduced from available evidence that the murderer must be someone who lives in the neighborhood, so now everyone is suspicious in addition to fearful. Which of their neighbors has been garroting ladies and girl servants? Charlotte Ellison is afraid she doesn’t want to find out, but Inspector Pitt won’t leave her family alone. Come to think on it, her father and brother-in-law have been acting rather peculiar lately.

I wanted to like this story better than I did. The mystery itself was fine, I guess. I mean, the ending was sort of wackadoo, in my opinion, but the bigger problem for me was that I just didn’t care about any of the characters. Also, it just seemed to drag on and on. When I’m reading a Monk book, it goes so fast, and with this one I kept checking to see how many more pages I had left, and the answer was always too many. I’ll say this about Thomas Pitt: he’s no William Monk. Not by a long shot! 2.5/5 stars

Evelyn, After by Victoria Helen Stone
Evelyn is just an average suburban housewife. She’s married to a prestigious psychiatrist, and they have a son who is about to go off to college. One night she is woken from a sound sleep to come to the aid of her husband, who has been in an accident. He says his car hit a deer. But Evelyn discovers her husband has been having an affair, and he did not hit a deer that night but a teenage girl. If the truth comes out, her husband will be ruined, and in turn, Evelyn’s life will also be ruined, and their son won’t be too thrilled with the fallout either. So it’s tempting to do as her husband says and just keep quiet and no one will ever have to know. But she’s so pissed off about the affair that she becomes obsessed with the other woman, who was in her husband’s car at the time of the accident, and who her husband says was driving. Evelyn’s desire for revenge takes over, and she starts down a very dubious path.

This is a reasonably interesting psychological thriller, but its big flaw, in my opinion, is that Evelyn is a big dope and I didn’t like her at all. Maybe I saw too much of myself in her–frustrated artist, passively gave the best years of her life to her family, gained too much weight, doesn’t have any decent clothes–but fortunately, my husband is not an unethical, cheating douchebag, so probably I will never be tempted to do the things Evelyn ends up doing. Except re-invest in my career and buy some new clothes. 3/5 stars

I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh
This book begins with a brutal scene of a little boy pulling away from his mother and running into the street, only to get hit by a car. The next chapter has us following Jenna Gray, an artist who moves to the English coast to start a new life, hoping to escape the painful memories of her old one, especially the terrible car accident that keeps playing over and over in her mind. We learn that her ex is a jerk and she is mourning the death of her son. Meanwhile, two Bristol police officers are trying to get to the bottom of this horrible hit-and-run that claimed the life of a five-year-old child; a year later, the perpetrator is still unknown and at large.

I can’t say much more without getting into major spoilers, but suffice it to say that there’s a plot twist and then there’s another plot twist, and it’s all pretty exciting stuff. This book has been compared to The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, but I think I liked it better than both of them (although I liked Gone Girl quite a bit). I could have done without the angsty relationship between the two detectives (a man and a woman–you know how that goes!), but I guess if Mackintosh ever hopes to use these particular characters in another book, it makes for good back story. Content warning: Scenes of sexual violence. 4/5 stars

Are those all the psycho-killer books I read during this two-month period? Not by a long shot, gentle readers. But all the other ones were William Monk books, and I decided to give them their own post, or this one would be way too long. Stay tuned, friends. Adieu.

Welcome, gentle readers. I know you’re all just burning with curiosity to know what I’ve been reading this year as opposed to last year. Well, let’s start with the beginning. Start with January and February, anyway. First, the sublime. Later, the ridiculous.

Non-fiction

Saving Alex by Alex Cooper with Joanna Brooks
The subtitle to this book is “When I Was Fifteen I Told My Mormon Parents I Was Gay, and That’s When My Nightmare Began.” Which is a very informative subtitle. I may not even need to tell you what the rest of the book is about, but I will anyway. She starts her story by describing her Mormon upbringing; she was the youngest of several children, with several years separating her and her older siblings, so she was sort of like an only child. She got into the usual sort of teenage trouble–a little pot-smoking here and there, skipping school and whatnot–but her parents, basically decent people, really freaked out when they discovered that she was lying to them and staying out all night to be with her girlfriend. They felt Alex was out of control, so in desperation they sent her to an unlicensed “residential treatment program” in Utah, where she was held captive against her will and abused physically and psychologically. This is not a long book, and it’s not a super-profound book. It is documentation of the kind of rejection and abuse suffered by many gay and lesbian teens, and Alex’s personal story is compelling. 3/5 stars

They Shall Not Have Me by Jean Helion
French artist Jean Helion’s memoir of his two years in a Nazi prisoner-of-war camp paints (figuratively!) vivid pictures of life in captivity, of the prisoners and their Nazi captors. There are poignant and humorous anecdotes, and some harrowing ones as well. Since Helion spoke German, he was able to work as a translator for the camp and enjoyed some relative privilege as a prisoner; from his position he got to know his Nazi guards as men. It is a very interesting read, and the story of his escape had me very nervous right up to the end, even though I knew how it turned out–which is the mark of a good storyteller. 4/5 stars

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
If you’ve seen the movie or the movie trailers, you know that this book is about the African-American women who worked as computers for NASA, starting in the 1940s (when it was still NACA and they were just building planes and jets) and up through the height of the space program. It focuses on four women particularly: Dorothy Vaughn, Mary Jackson, Katherine Gobel Johnson, and Christine Darden. I saw the movie after reading the book; I would have seen the movie in any case because it has Janelle Monae in it, and come on. I did think the movie was great, but I recommend reading the book because it goes into much more detail about the women’s work and their lives. 4/5 stars

Highbrow fiction

Mr. Splitfoot by Samantha Hunt
Ruth and Nat are teenage orphans, raised in a group home by a religious fanatic. Nat, apparently, can talk to the dead, and when an enterprising stranger talks them into monetizing his gift, Ruth joins the act. That’s one storyline in this book. The other takes place about 20 years later and is about Ruth’s niece, Cora, who finds herself dealing with an unplanned pregnancy when Aunt Ruth (whom she hasn’t seen in years) shows up out of nowhere; Ruth is mysteriously mute, but she obviously wants Cora to follow her, wherever she’s going. Together they embark on a long journey by foot. Where? That’s for Ruth to know and Cora to find out.

The Cora-walking story is interspersed with the Ruth-and-Nat-when-Ruth-could-talk flashbacks, and it’s hard to tell where any of it is going. It’s basically one freak show after another, and that was my main problem with the book. I don’t mind a good freak show, but I felt very removed from all the characters, who never seemed quite real to me. It’s not a bad story, though, and I liked the handling of the supernatural elements. It was the mundanity of the freak show that got to me. 3/5 stars

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederick Backman
Backman wrote A Man Called Ove, which was one of my favorite books I read last year. This book is told from the perspective of a highly precocious seven-year-old, Elsa, whose grandmother dies, leaving Elsa with the task of delivering some mysterious letters. In the process of delivering these various apologies to people her grandmother has wronged, Elsa figures out that the fairy-tale stories her grandmother used to tell her correspond to real-life events in people in her grandmother’s and Elsa’s own life.

There are quirky characters galore, and I did enjoy the story, though not as much as I did A Man Called Ove. I liked how everything came together in the end, although it was a bit neat, but you know what, who cares? 3.5/5 stars

Shirley: A Novel by Susan Scarf Merrell
As a Shirley Jackson fan, I couldn’t resist this (fictional) story about a young married couple who live with Jackson and her husband, literary critic and Bennington professor Stanley Edgar Hyman, for a term and get swept up in the older couple’s marital drama plus an old scandal involving a Bennington coed who mysteriously disappeared 20 years previous. It’s pretty creepy, in a Shirley Jackson-esque way. Despite the fact that it’s not a terribly flattering portrait of her persona, I think Jackson would be flattered by Merrell’s homage to her oeuvre. It’s a fairly quick read, too, so bonus. 4/5 stars

And that concludes part one of this installment of Mad’s Book Club. Part two is Psycho Killers!

And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for, wherein I finish reviewing the books I read in 2016 before I start reviewing the books I’ve read so far in 2017.

This installment is devoted exclusively to romances. So sue me.

Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare
Now that we’ve got that song from Frozen stuck in your mind for the rest of the day, let’s commence with the review. This book is technically part of two series–two of my favorite series, as it happens–Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After. But you don’t have to have read either series to appreciate this book, which features Charlotte Highwood, who was but a child in the Spindle Cove series, and Piers Brandon, Lord Granville, who only showed up for about five minutes in Say Yes to the Marquess (CEA #2). Piers has spent the last several years on the continent in service to the crown–ostensibly as a diplomat, BUT ACTUALLY as a spy. He doesn’t have time for love! Charlotte is a spirited girl with a penchant for getting in trouble, and all she really wants is to keep her nose clean long enough so her BFF’s parents will approve of her accompanying their daughter on a European tour. Unfortunately, Charlotte and Piers find themselves forced into an engagement when everyone at the Parkhurst ball assumes they were the couple who had a scandalous tryst in the library–but they weren’t! (It’s a long story.) So Charlotte has to find out who the real trysting culprits are so she can clear her name and not be forced to marry Lord Granville, who is decidedly sexy but also has major trust issues. (Which I can tell you is true of pretty much every nineteenth-century British peer who secretly works as a spy.)

As a confirmed Tessa Dare fan, I found this book delightful in the usual ways–the characters are likeable, the dialogue is witty, the story is fun, even if the whodunnit-in-the-library mystery is a bit thin. If I had a quibble, it is that at a crucial turning point in the story, the ostensibly-sane hero does something that only a crazy person would do. In fairness, I suppose that if I had spent the last decade living a secret life as a spy, I might have moments of crazy-person behavior in addition to the usual trust issues. So I let it go..THIS TIME. (And now that you have that other song from Frozen stuck in your brain, it’s time for the content warning: there is sex.) 4/5 stars

Luck Is No Lady by Amy Sandas
Isn’t it a shame when a gently-bred young lady is forced to use her mathematical talents to procure a paid position as a bookkeeper in a notorious gambling hell in order to pay off her late father’s debts? And yet it is such a common story. I wish I could remember more about this book. That I gave it three stars on Goodreads indicates a reasonable entertainment value. Yet this is what I wrote there: “I enjoyed this story initially, but something I don’t enjoy in romance is when women put themselves and their loved ones in peril for reasons that only make sense to heroines in romance novels. This is especially annoying when the women are supposed to be smart and sensible. Also, there are subplots that serve to set up the next two books in the series but don’t enhance this particular book at all. I’m not against authors setting up their next book(s), except when the events are extremely dramatic and treated as though they were incidental because they have nothing to do with the main plot of the current book. ‘Oh, so and so was kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery, but she’s okay now? Phew!’ Come on, people.” Indeed. Come on, people. For that I am retroactively downgrading you a half star. Content warning: I don’t really remember, but I’m pretty sure there was probably sex. 2.5/5 stars

A Bride in the Bargain by Deanne Gist
I remember this book a lot better. The hero is a logger in 1860s Seattle who has built a prosperous business by taking advantage of a government deal that offered 640 acres of free timberland to a married man. Joe (our lumberjack hero) was a married man, but his wife died before she could join him out west, and now a dastardly judge is threatening to take away his claim unless he can produce another bride. Given that time is of the essence, it seems he has no choice but to buy himself one (as one does–or did, back in the 1860s on the frontier). Unfortunately, Anna, the woman he’s paid for, was brought out west under false pretenses: she was told she’d be someone’s cook, not someone’s wife. It’s hard to imagine that a dude who makes his living selling women would employ such underhanded tactics, but anyway, that’s the sitch. Anna is much obliged to Joe for her passage out west, and she’s happy to work as his cook until his debt is paid off, but she does NOT want to marry him, even if he is a very nice man who also happens to be totally hot (as nice men who have to buy women so often are). So Joe is left with no choice but to make Anna fall in love with him before he runs out of time and loses everything.

Does this story sound silly? It is. It’s also kind of cute. (You know, in a mail-order bride sort of way.) I don’t often go for the American frontier romances, especially those featuring lumberjacks, but I found this one sweet and diverting, even if the heroine was at times kind of annoying. I mean, really, lady: it’s 1860-something, you’ve got no family and no money, and here’s a perfectly nice and wealthy and hot lumberjack ready to marry you. What else do you have going on? Well, it’s a good thing some ladies are stubborn, I guess, or otherwise there would be no romance novels. Content warning: no actual sex that I can recall, just sexual tension and descriptions of lumberjack hotness. Actually, there is a religious theme woven into the plot, but it isn’t heavy-handed or weird. I wouldn’t sort this under “inspirational” romance, but I guess inspiration is there if you like that sort of thing (with a side of hot lumberjack). (Actually, I just like saying “hot lumberjack.”) 3/5 stars

The Escape by Mary Balogh
This is book 3 in the Survivors series, which I have read all out of order, so I don’t think it matters much where you start. This story is about Sir Benedict Harper, who survived the Napoleonic Wars, but his body and spirit are both pretty messed up. (I can’t remember if he’s disabled or disfigured, but suffice it to say, he doesn’t think he has anything to offer to any woman. Oh, these silly, sexy war veterans.) Samantha McKay is a widow at the mercy of her oppressive in-laws; she decides to escape to a seaside cottage she’s inherited, and Sir Ben agrees to accompany her–for her safety, naturally. I’m sure you can see where this is going. I’m generally a fan of Mary Balogh and of the Survivors series particularly, but this one didn’t do much for me. I never got that invested in the characters’ fates. And frankly, I don’t remember much else besides that. Content warning: I’m sure there was sex in there somewhere, but it would have been tasteful, Balogh-style sex. (I wonder how Mary Balogh feels about me naming a style of sex after her.) 2.5/5 stars

Three Nights with a Scoundrel by Tessa Dare
As I said earlier, I’m a huge Tessa Dare fan, though I believe she did not come into her full powers until the Spindle Cove series. This book is pre-Spindle Cove and is #3 in the Stud Club Trilogy. Get your minds out of the gutter! We’re just talking about a group of dudes who like horses. Not in that way! Just breeding them and crap. You know what I mean! Anyway, this series should probably not be read out of order, as there’s a big mystery involving the Stud Club founder’s murder that spans the trilogy. The heroine of this book is Lily Chatwick, aforementioned murdered-founder’s sister. (Are you following this?) The hero is Julian Bellamy, who has loved Lily for years, but he considers himself beneath her because she is a lady and he is but the bastard son of a nobleman. Julian’s always been sort of a scoundrel but he is determined to get justice for Lily’s brother and also to protect Lily and see that she gets a suitable husband of her own class. You can probably see where this is going too. I wrote on Goodreads that the story starts a little slow but gets more interesting toward the middle/end, as the murder is finally solved and justice starts prevailing and crap. Content warning: I also wrote on Goodreads that “the sex scenes are RI.DI.CU.LOUS.” And by “RI.DI.CU.LOUS” I don’t mean that they are ridiculously hot or something; I mean that they are literally ridiculous. If you like to read ridiculous sex scenes, this is the book for you. Not one of Tessa Dare’s better offerings, but not the worst either. 3/5 stars

The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble
Apparently Kate Noble is the author of YouTube sensation The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. I’ve never watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but if you have and you like(d) it, maybe you would enjoy Noble’s historical romances. This is the first of hers that I’ve read, and I did so because it was on sale for Kindle. The blurb described it as Trading Places meets Pride and Prejudice. This book is the first in a trilogy about three men who became friends while serving in the army during wartime: “Lucky” Ned Ashby, an earl; John Turner, a miller who takes a position as the earl’s secretary after the war is over; Rhys Gray, a doctor. Ned is a happy-go-lucky type who is well liked by everyone; Turner, his secretary, is the moody type, and in a fit of pique he tells Ned that people only like him because he’s the earl, and if he had to be a secretary like Turner, he’d be in a crappy mood all the time too. So on a jaunt to the country to conduct some earl-ish business, they agree to trade places so each can prove the other wrong. Turner’s bet is that Ned-as-secretary won’t be able to get a gently-bred lady to fall in love with him; Ned bets this will be child’s play. I bet you can guess what happens next!

The heroine is a gently-bred lady who was forced to seek work as a governess for the usual financial reasons. I liked a lot of things about this book. The writing was good, the characters were good, but it sort of fell apart for me near the climax. As I said on Goodreads, “I’ve never been a fan of dramatic exits followed by waiting around for two weeks before someone decides they weren’t that mad after all.” Apparently that happened. But I enjoyed it enough that I would certainly read Kate Noble again. Content warning: I guess there is sex, as the blurb describes the book as “sexy,” so take that for what it’s worth. 3/5 stars

Three Weeks to Wed by Ella Quinn
Lady Grace Carpenter has guardianship of her seven younger siblings, which makes her virtually ineligible for marriage, as no sane gentleman would willingly take on such a burden. She figures, however, that if she’s not going to get married, she at least deserves to have one night of (anonymous) romance with the handsome Mattheus, Earl of Worthington. Make that “romance,” nudge nudge wink wink. It’s a long story; suffice it to say, the opportunity presents itself, she takes advantage of it, and then she bolts before Mattheus can propose. The rest of the story is Mattheus a) trying to figure out who this mysterious lady is so he can b) convince her to marry him. On Goodreads I described this book as “Cheaper by the Dozen imagined as a bodice-ripper,” which is not as much fun as it sounds. Grace is one of those ladies who can’t be persuaded to marry a man who can solve all of her problems because she’s convinced he’s only proposing out of a misguided sense of honor. AS IF THAT MATTERS WHEN YOU HAVE SEVEN KIDS TO LOOK AFTER. This is even more annoying than if he had been a lumberjack trying to save her from a lifetime of poverty. And to be honest, I’m not a fan of stories where people fall instantly in love (even if one of them doesn’t believe it’s love, AS IF IT MATTERS). Where the “three weeks” comes into play, I don’t remember, but SPOILER ALERT, they meet the deadline. Content warning: one night of anonymous “romance” leads to more “romance.” 2/5 stars

And that brings us to the end of my 2016 books. Stay tuned for the next installment of Mad’s Book Club, in which I begin on 2017.

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