Too Scot to Handle – Grace Burrowes

Oh, what fun this book was! 4.5 stars.

Grace Burrowes’ books are what I turn to when I’m feeling a little ragged. To me, they’re the equivalent of a nice, civilized cup of tea; particularly after I’ve been drinking too much coffee (or whiskey). Her writing is woven together as precisely as a lace-knit shawl, and the basic decency of her characters is generally a balm to my nerves.

This book covered all those bases for me, but it also managed to be a little sharper, a little livelier than some of her recent books (I’m looking at you, True Gentlemen). In this story, we got Burrowes’ usual likeable, intelligent main characters who used their words, had nice adult reactions to their physical attraction, and dealt with their interpersonal issues in mostly un-frustrating ways. But we also got a compelling side plot complete with fairly three-dimensional antagonists, not-too-cute kids, and a little bit of action.

The only thing keeping it from being a true five-star read is that Colin and Anwen fell for each other SO quickly, SO easily… it was just so convenient. On the other hand, the lack of angst between them is part of what I enjoyed!

Overall, I found this to be one of Grace Burrowes’ most balanced and enjoyable reads, and look forward to revisiting it in a year when I need that soothing, settling, slightly adventurous just-right tone.

An Unnatural Vice, by KJ Charles

It’s no secret to readers of my reviews that I love KJ Charles’s writing. In fact, I’m fairly convinced KJ Charles has never written a bad book; that in fact everything she’s written is spectacular. So when I tell you that I’m pretty sure this is her best yet, that should mean something.

An Unnatural Vice has all the grittiness of her Charm of Magpies series and all the class conflict of the Society of Gentlemen series, rolled into one perfect package. We get to revisit characters from An Unseen Attraction while also meeting Justin Lazarus, the Seer of London, a man of infinite talents and insecurities. The plot thread begun in An Unseen Attraction about the Earl of Moreton’s bigamy and its consequences continues here, with more violence and mystery as the heroes and secondary characters frantically seek the missing heir.

The ending is a delight, and I find myself desperately hoping that the next book (as indicated by the “to be continued…”) will be about Mark Braglewicz and the young man he’s in such a twist about as this story ends (no spoilers here).

A 5-star, must-buy.

The Spymasters series, by Joanna Bourne

It’s hard for me to believe that these books flew under my radar for so long. I see that I had checked The Black Hawk out of the library, even, but not read it (which is good, because really, of all the books in the series, that one is the one that benefits most from the build-up! Definitely not a standalone candidate).

I guess that we read the books we’re meant to read, at the time we’re meant to read them. And for me, that time was now. I started on this series this spring, and binge-read my way through all five of the currently available books. I was late getting back from lunch, at work, because I was busy reading. I stayed up way past bedtime more than once. Now I’m sad because the sixth (and probably final) book, Severine’s book, Beauty Like the Night, isn’t out until August. For now, have some capsule reviews of the rest!

I read them in chronological/event timeline order rather than publication order, because my brain works that way.

The Forbidden Rose: Doyle’s story! I love me some Doyle, and not just because he reminds me of my husband (cleans up nicely but is a working man). Doyle and Maggie are utterly charming together, and Marguerite is pretty incredible on her own too. This is our introduction to Adrian and Justine, and really the setup for the rest of the series. The scenes of the chaos in Paris were gripping, heartbreaking, but none so much as Justine leaving her sister in the care of Doyle and Maggie. 4 stars at time of reading and 5 stars on further reflection.

The Spymaster’s Lady: I put this on my “multiple rereads, it’s that awesome” shelf in Goodreads. That’s the first thing you should know. The second is that the heroine has a secret that even we don’t know, at first, and when you realize it, you’ll be as flabbergasted as I was that she managed the things she did. It starts with a daring escape and the adventure continues at a breakneck pace from there. Annique and Grey are delightful together, both a little bit curmudgeonly and with reason, and the secondary characters, particularly Doyle, are fantastic. Let’s not forget — no, we’d never forget — Adrian. *swoon* — 4 stars

Rogue Spy: The action in this happens somewhat in parallel with The Spymaster’s Lady. Pax’s story is pretty heart-wrenching, and watching him find some measure of happiness by the end of the book was great. He and Camille have a shared history as child spies of the French Secret Police, and their relationship is as tangled as can be. That they come to any sort of denouement is amazing. I shelved this one as ‘multiple rereads’ but also as ‘dark’ and ‘damaged hero/heroine’. 5 stars.

My Lord and Spymaster: Oh, another ships-and-kidnappings story. Except it did turn out to have plenty of surprises! I think my favorite thing about Bourne’s writing is that her H and h generally start off as enemies, or at least at odds/on opposite sides, and watching them work around to love is pretty neat. Especially when there are a lot of complications, as there were in this story. I found some of this particular novel a little unbelievable – that Jess could have ‘belonged’ to the crime lord and then simply gone on to have a whole other life – but it worked fine for the plot. As always, our favorite secondary characters are here, waiting their turns for their stories. — 4 stars

The Black Hawk: The book everyone was waiting for – Adrian Hawkhurst and Justine de Cabrillac. So, is it just me or did anyone else miss some bits, like when and where Adrian changed his name and became a Sir? Anyhow, in this story, we find him mature and rather terrifyingly in charge of the British Intelligence Service. Justine drops back into his life when someone attempts to kill her nearly on his doorstep. We learn, through many flashbacks, of their complicated history. I think one of my favorite things about this book is that both of them are older – mid-thirties or more, if my math is right – and there’s no expectation that they will have an epilogue with babies and idyllic country house parties. There’s a lot of accumulated damage and a lot of work on both sides to reach a happy ending. But they do, oh, they do. 5 I’m-not-crying-you’re-crying stars.

Now for the countdown to August 1……………….

Rules for the Reckless series by Meredith Duran

I’ve been reading my way through this series over the past week-plus. I had read Fool Me Twice three years ago but not picked up any of the others, for some reason. This time I started at the beginning, with Michael and Elizabeth’s story in That Scandalous Summer. It really added depth to Fool Me Twice (though that book works as a standalone too!) to see its characters through others’ eyes.

Moving on to Lady Be Good – I really liked this one, though I found it a little uneven. I think that having more detail about Christian’s background with his Russian nemesis would have strengthened the occasionally-outlandish revenge plot. Christian and Lilah were a lovely pairing, and I enjoyed Lilah’s resourcefulness. Bonus points for her being a self-rescuing heroine!

In the next, Luck Be A Lady, we get Lilah’s uncle Nick – who was really quite a negative character in Lady Be Good – paired with Catherine Everleigh, the Ice Queen. Nick is one of my favorite types of characters – the bad boy with a heart of gold – but I had a hard time reconciling some of his actions in the previous book with the wonderful man he was portrayed as here. Catherine’s character verged on caricature – a little too far into the shy/fearful/cold and with not enough real motivation. All that said I really loved the story and in the second half, the characters did a wonderful job of pushing each other through their fears and into growth.

Now I’m reading A Lady’s Code of Misconduct. I’ll let you know soon what I think!

Passion Favors the Bold by Theresa Romain

4.5 stars and a wish for more!

This book had everything I love: a road trip, a curmudgeonly hero, a bit of a swindle, a heroine determined to make her own way in the world….

Theresa Romain’s writing is a delight because of the way she builds up layers and layers of fine detail until suddenly you’ve arrived at the plot’s climax, and everything makes perfect sense. Her characters manage to have conflict without being horrible to each other, and the secondary characters are generally a delight.  I’m already eagerly anticipating the next book in this series.

-Disclaimer – I received a free ARC from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.