Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Dukes Prefer Blondes by Loretta Chase

Loretta Chase has written a few books that fall in my "favorite books of all time" list and have brought me hours of reading and re-reading pleasure. Dukes Prefer Blondes is the newest addition. I was leery of picking up such a highly-praised book, however, I decided to trust the reviews and go for it. And I am so glad I did! Dukes Prefer Blondes is vintage Chase with frank, witty dialog and a deeply emotional connection between the characters.

Oliver "Raven" Radford is part of the laboring branch of the Radfords despite being the grandson of a duke; to wit, he is a barrister prosecuting criminals even as he mingles with them to prepare his cases. "The beau monde and I are not well acquainted, for obvious reasons, I should think, they spending little time in criminal courts, and I being gainfully employed therein."

Lady Clara Fairfax is a diamond of the first water, being feted by the ton and regularly proposed to by her beaus. In other words, she is bored. So she volunteers at the Milliners' Society for the Education of Indigent Females started by the former Misses Noirot, who are now related to her by marriage. She is most concerned about the welfare of fifteen-year-old Bridget Coppy, whose brother has been impressed into a gang of boys from London's stews.

Radford and Clara meet when he rescues her from a gig about to run her down. "I daresay you noticed nothing about him?" he asked. "But why do I ask a pointless question? Everybody flies into a panic and nobody pays attention. Well, then. Not injured, my lady? No swooning? No tears? Excellent. Good day." And he turns away. But he is brought up short by her extremely acute descriptions of the scene, the driver, the tiger, and the carriage. She has taken him by surprise, but to her surprise, he doesn't labor under the assumption that women have no brains to speak of. He's pleased with her detailed observations and she, in turn, is pleased with his casual "Well done" that is praise and acceptance of her talent as commonplace.

As the story moves forward, both of them realize that they'd met before in their childhood. He was a friend of her brother's and they had once spent an entire day together when he decided to entertain her to ward off her disappointment in her brothers' indifference. That day had ended when she flew into a fight on his behalf and chipped her tooth. And to this day, she continues to champion those whose voices have been flattened by society.

The entire romance between Clara and Raven unfolds from these twin threads: the dialog and the work. Put two bright, intelligent, "with it" people together, stir in some antagonism and reserve, and watch the mixture bubble and hiss and spit articulately and humorously. Chase uses language so sparingly and purposefully, it makes the lean ripostes crackle with wit and pointed observations. "Women had to overlook men's personality flaws, else nobody would ever wed or reproduce & the human race would come to an end."

I liked how passionate both Clara and Raven are about their duties. It was very interesting to look into the daily doings of a barrister in Regency London and to see how a missing child may be found in the East End. (You have to believe in the soupçon of luck required, of course.)

Some unfortunate shortcuts, such as repeatedly describing Clara's maid, Davis, as a bulldog in looks to match her loyal tenacity could've been avoided, but overall, these are minor quibbles in an otherwise overwhelmingly fabulous story. I first borrowed this book from the library, but now I have my own copy for future re-reads.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

#TBRChallenge Reading: The Lawrence Browne Affair by Cat Sebastian

2017 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Lawrence Browne Affair
Author: Cat Sebastian
My Categories: m/m Historical Romance
Wendy Crutcher's Category: Something Different (outside your usual reading)

This is my first m/m story, and I'm so glad I débuted with Cat Sebastian. She gets the Regency era just right, and she does a true Beauty and the Beast story.

Lawrence Browne, the Earl of Radnor, thinks he is mad. The people in the village believe he is mad. In reality, he's merely eccentric and a brilliant inventor and researcher. He has a touch of agoraphobia and an extreme shyness with people that makes him hide away in his disgusting, crumbling manor at Penkellis at the mercy of the handful of diehard servants. In a bid to save this lord, the Reverend writes a letter to his friend in London, begging him to send Radnor a secretary.

Enter handsome thief and confidence artist posing as a secretary. When he took up the post, little did Georgie Turner realize that Penkellis and Radnor would wake up a latent conscience and sense of duty in him. Of course, being wildly attracted to the large, gorgeous earl acts as a good prod to said conscience. In London, Turner was a thief who's on the run from a colleague out for his blood. In Cornwall, Turner is a hardworking secretary with patience and good organizational skills.

I loved how sensitively, Sebastian handles the two men's characters, their growing attraction, and how they open up to each other in all their vulnerability.

With a single, menacing forefinger, Lawrence touched Turner's chest. He had meant for the gesture to be intimidating, but it felt strangely intimate. Before he knew what had happened, Turner had taken hold of Lawrence's large, calloused hands in his own fine ones. Lawrence didn't know if the man was motivated by kindness or self-defense, but he found that he was holding hands with a person for the first time since he was a child.

While Radnor is no virgin, yet his experience is limited, and in recent years, nonexistent. So he is very susceptible to Turner's advances. I felt such tenderness for Radnor as he assumes his every moment of desire for Turner is a sign of incipient madness. Turner, in turn, is the experienced one but affection and admiration had never before been part of his dealings with his partners, and he is flummoxed by what Radnor brings out in him.

These two men from such disparate backgrounds come together as such equals—I loved that about this book. Neither disdains the other for who they are, what they do, or their past. They're concerned with who they are with each other. The Lawrence Browne Affair is such a romantic tale! Not to be missed.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

My April Reading

Keira and romantic comedy? Who'd've thunk?! But Lucy Parker's books were a revelation to me, and I loved them so much, I can hardly wait for her next one. This doesn't mean that I'm going to dive into RomCom now. I doubt it, because whatever I have read in the past has been, ah, execrable not for me. (Convince me otherwise, please!) Nevertheless, I will read whatever Lucy Parker writes.

Act Like It by Lucy Parker
Pretty Face by Lucy Parker
Categories: RomCom
Comments: How I LOVED these two books: the snappy dialog, the wit, the modern characterization, the London theater scene, all of it so detailed and well-tuned. Parker's talent is in building tight, complex relationships that don't feel rushed or smoothened out. All the problems are out in the open, and they are all dealt with. There're no deus ex machina events that magically get characters out of the tight spots they put themselves in. Act Like It was a far funnier and tighter book than Pretty Face, but both are good. My review is here.

Artistic License by Elle Pierson
Categories: Contemporary Romance
Comments: Lucy Parker also writes as Elle Pierson but in a different vein. This is a sweet, gentle story of two socially awkward, diffident people finding freedom and love and trust with each other. How wonderful is that! Each thinks the other is wonderful and talented, and while neither can talk much to most other people, they can talk up a storm with each other. She's an introvert and he thinks he is ugly. This is their meet cute: Sophy James is a twenty-something art student on a tour of a gallery hosting the art collection of the Ryland Curry Corporation in Queenstown, New Zealand. Mick Hollister is the security guard hired to guard the touring collection. While Sophy and her fellow students of the Dunedin Art School were supposed to study and sketch some of the art, Sophy was not-so-secretly sketching Mick. He's irritated by her attention while also reveling in it. My review is here.

Of Thee I Sing by Barack Obama
Categories: Children's Picture Book
Comments: I cried as I read this book—it made me proud and it touched me, even as I absorbed the book with my mind and heart. The book covers the important figures of our nation's history with a paucity of words and a wealth of meaning. Obama is telling his kids how wonderful they are and how the beauty and hardships, successes and failures of history are all part of them. He touches upon the bravery of Jackie Robinson, the brilliance of Einstein, the creativity of O'Keefe, the healing power of Sitting Bull, the strength of Helen Keller, the emotional depth of Maya Lin, the kindness of Jane Addams, the persistence of Martin Luther King Jr., the bravery of Neil Armstrong, the inspiration of Cesar Chavez, the pride of Lincoln, and others.

"Have I told you that America is made up of people of every kind? People of all races, religions, and beliefs. People front the coastlines and the mountains. people who have made bright lights shine by sharing their unique gifts and giving us the courage to lift one another up, to keep up the fight, to work and build upon all that is good in our nation."

Goodnight from London by Jennifer Robson
Categories: General Fiction
Comments: Set in London during the 1940s, Robson brings the whole wartime atmosphere alive with great characterization and excellent setting. No detail was deemed too small to get right: journalism jobs, character thoughts and actions, pop culture references, the effects of the Blitz on the people and the city structures, and subsisting on the rationing of everything. The gentle, trusting romance is the icing on the top. Ruby Sutton is a young, ambitious American journalist, who's offered a plum assignment to move to London in the summer of 1940 to report on the war. She's great at her job and very passionate about it. The whole wartime journalism aspect of the story is done superbly well. My discussion of the book with two other reviewers is here.

All Through the Night by Connie Brockway
Categories: Regency Romance
Comments: My Dearest Enemy and All Through the Night are among my top favorite romances of all time. ATTN is a story of two strongly adversarial characters who fight their natures, their jobs, and society's constraints for the right to love one another.

Emily and the Dark Angel by Jo Beverley
Categories: Traditional Regency Romance
Comments: Put two perfectly disparate, but highly memorable people together and watch the sparks fly and love blossom. What a great book by a great author.

Whispering Palms by Rosalind Brett
Categories: Contemporary 1979 Romance
Comments: Alas, this book did not hold up to the test of time. It had racism, a brusque domineering wealthy hero, a formerly brave but now doormat heroine, a scheming beautiful older sister, and gorgeous African countryside. Africa was the only secondary character with anything positive going for it—I enjoyed reading about the description of countryside living in the mid-to-late 20th century. Unfortunately, we see only Caucasians in roles of power and wealth with casual racism running rampant through the narrative. Africa is a backdrop, a painting drop-cloth to the story, but it was unable to save it from its cheesiness. I got this 1979 Mills & Boon from a library book sale, and I won't get back the time I invested in it. Back to the library it goes, to be visited upon another hapless soul. Perhaps I should be kind and simply recycle it.

The Rake to Rescue Her by Julia Justiss
Categories: Historical Romance
Comments: I adore Julia Justiss's work but I just wasn't in the mood for the type of second-chance love this proved to be in the first few chapters. It was a DNF for me, and I felt very silently apologetic to Justiss for abandoning her book. In what little I read, the writing is as usual very good. My beef was with the type of story and the characters. The whole tragedy surrounding Diana and why she spurned the young Alastair's love so cruelly in front of all the ton after having professed her love for him was melodramatic and unbelievable. I simply could not move forward from there.