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A Gentleman's Position by K.J. Charles

Charles-k-j-a-gentlemans-position-society-of-gentlemen-3I have been eagerly anticipating this romance since we were first introduced to Lord Richard and his trusted valet David Cyprian. Richard is the linchpin around whom all the Ricardians revolve.  The Ricardians (bisexual, gay or transgender) all look out for one another, protecting each other from those who would happily send them to the gallows for their orientations, preferences and predilections but it is Richard who sets the standards,  provides the listening ear or chastising word if needed and sees that the Ricardians problems are solved.  

David Cyprian however is really the person who makes it all happen.  Officially as valet he makes sure Richard always looks flawless but unofficially he the person that pays the bribes, gathers the illicit information and makes sure Richard has absolutely everything in his life go smoothly. He is the rogue with all the connections, who fixes the problems before Richard even has any inkling of them. He is incredibly proud of how far he has risen in life, but has not risen so far that he doesn't know how to work on the street.  

The one wrinkle in David and Richard's relationship is that while Cyprian is beyond devoted to Richard & Richard trusts him like he trusts no other their mutual attraction has become impossible to ignore. While David is more than willing enter into a liaison with Richard, Richard is resolute to never importune someone in his employ (unlike his father, who used and abuse anybody under his power). Their facade of mutual indifference crumbles completely in the aftermath to a surprise death-bed summons from Richard's estranged mother. 

Once their mutual attraction is no longer something they can ignore, Richard ends up hurting David while trying not to hurt him and as a result he is deprived of David when he and the Ricardians need him most.  Richard must convince David to return and if they all survive, help him figure out how they can be together.

I loved this romance. I usually avoid boss-employee/servant-master romances for all the reasons for all the same reasons Richard wants to avoid one. KJ Charles however has a great handle on the issues of consent, agency, dignity and the nature of partnership that are such a large stumbling block in their relationship.  I loved how hard it was for Richard to unbend, and realize he was wrong. Richard has to eat a lot of humble pie, and comes truly appreciate and recognize all that he has taken for granted in David. David also grows, setting boundaries and demanding Richard truly see him and value him. He is able to demonstrate that his love is not servile even if he is Richard's servant.  

Charles exploits the intimacy of David's role as Richard's valet to explore the anguish of denial and build sexual tension but the biggest loss they feel when they are apart is for each other's companionship. I loved that despite the deep chasm between them, it is the absence of their easy relationship, the effortless conversation, that wrecks them both. 

Like all the endings in the Society of Gentlemen series, I believe in David and Richard's love and felt hopeful for them despite having a great awareness of the many risks they continually face.  Charles also provides a great pulse pounding and satisfying conclusion to the overarching series plot. I highly recommend this whole series.

I received a review copy via NetGalley from the publisher Loveswept.  A Gentleman's Position by KJ Charles will be available starting April 5th.


Beyond Ruin by Kit Rocha

Beyondruin-400Beyond Ruin is the seventh book in the gritty and erotic post-apocalyptic romance series by Kit Rocha. I have an unapologetic love for this series, and I loved this book but you won't love it as much as I did  if you haven't invested in reading the previous books in the series. Luckily Bree Bridges and Donna Herren, the writing duo known as Kit Rocha have made it easy to catch up by offering discounted book bundles and fantastic website with a great character directory.

In Beyond Ruin all the seeds of conflict between Eden and the sectors that have been planted from the very beginning are bearing fruit. The tensions that rock  the central romance between Mad, Doc, Jade & Scarlet is inseparable from this conflict.

Mad, Adrian Maddox Rios, is the grandson of Prophet who built a powerful religious dynasty in Sector One.  He is somewhat estranged from his family, having fled to Sector Four and joined the O'Kanes, rather than taking up leadership there and face the suffocating love the of Prophet's followers, who would gladly give their lives for him, and wear his sainted mother's image on their bodies.  

Dylan "Doc" is a self-destructive pain-pill addict, who once was a sought after physician in Eden before he learned too many secrets and found himself a captive forced to oversee torture sessions. Dylan's family had sacrificed everything so he could get an education, but he became nothing but a tool to masters of Eden. He lost them and the position they had wanted for him and now he feels he has nothing left to lose. Once reckless and rootless, he has found some solace and comfort in Mad's embrace.

While Dylan and Mad are together they long for Jade and Scarlet, dreaming and fantasizing about them but unable to figure out how to approach them. They are caught in a tug of war of desire and fear, wanting and wishing but never quite acting on the flirtation, dancing frustrated circles around each other. 

Jade came to Sector 4, fragile and strung-out, after being betrayed by the Cerys the head of Sector Two.  She once used her training as an Orchid-trained prostitute to be serve as a spy, pleasing and manipulating powerful men in Eden with sex and submission.  When her patron discovered the truth, he nearly killed through drugs and abuse.  She has found comfort and love in Scarlet's arms but has not yet lowered the walls around her own heart enough to truly give and accept that love.

Scarlet is orphaned singer from the bombed-out Sector Three. She feels keenly out-classed by her lovers, never having lived in anything like the luxury and privilege they have all come from. They all adore her open-hearted embrace of life and sensation.

Beyond Ruin is probably the most plot heavy book Kit Rocha have ever written. A hell of a lot stuff happens, both to the central quartet and to Eden and the sectors. There are attacks, rescue missions, assassinations and the steady build-up toward war, all while Jade, Scarlet, Mad and Dylan try to figure out if their coming together as foursome can be maintained. There are a lot of moving parts to their relationship and they have to figure out how they can be there for each other beyond wrecking themselves with pleasure in bed.  Kit Rocha excels at building toward some seriously dark wrenching relationship moments that are 100% earned and consistent to who the characters are.  The push and pull of their ambitions, self-protection and instinctual drives, come up against the desire to truly accept, trust and belong to each other.

The stars of the book for me where Jade and Mad because they both struggle so much and respond so differently to very similar situations.  I was fascinated by Jade's internal struggle to let herself be truly seen by her lovers and her agonizing sense of responsibility over all the girls from the pleasure houses in Sector Two. Raised from childhood to feign desire and pleasure, to mimic affection and care in order to manipulate and control, she constantly questions her reactions and responses, as she works to reclaim her authentic self.  I felt Mad's anxiety and claustrophobia in Sector One, and his desire for and fear of wielding power over others.  He is a true prophet in how clearly he saw his grandfather's corruption and is struggling with untangling his desire to protect, save from his grand-father's power-hungry appetites. His struggle is how to love and care without controlling and self-martyr-ship.

The sex in these books continues to be inventive, hot but most importantly emotionally meaningful. The storyline continues to build with great payoff for longtime readers and I am on the edge of my seat waiting  to see what the future holds for the O'Kanes as their world is shaken once more.

I received a review copy for Beyond Ruin from one of its authors and was happily immersed into it.


The King's Man by Elizabeth Kingston

51tRptIWeJL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Ranulf Ombrier earned his lands with blood. He murdered his foster father and the king's rival as a teenager, earning himself the king's favor and the scorn and suspicion of all others.  That his foster father was an abusive monster was well known but you simply didn't kill a man in his bed.  Since then Ranulf has faithfully done Edward's bidding, but when Ruardean armed party stumbles upon him and nearly kills him, he is deep in Wales far from the court, ignoring the king's summons. Ranulf is a haunted man seeking peace and redemption but trapped by a reputation and legacy of dishonor and brutality.

Gwenllian of Ruardean is the chief of that armed party. She is the daughter of an absent mad Marcher Lord and an ambitious Welsh noblewoman who holds his lands in his place. She leads a mighty armed forced and has many reasons for wanting Ranulf Ombrier dead.  But instead of letting him die, she nurses him back to health only to forcibly escort him back to Edward. Gwenllian is a consummate warrior but is just as trapped as Ranulf when they arrive at court. Her loyalties and ethics are deeply tested.

There are not a lot of medieval romances on the market anymore but even if there was a crowded field Elizabeth Kingston's The King's Man would rise to the top.  I listened to the audiobook narrated by the industry legend, Nicholas Boulton.  I was riveted and not just because Boulton is an excellent narrator. I was reduced to manufacturing errands so I could justify staying in my car a little longer to listen. In the end I ended up listening to the audiobook while my children were in the car with me because the build up to the final conflict and tension was so great I couldn't bear to stop and I didn't have a copy of the ebook to switch to.

The novel is rich in political and interpersonal conflict as these two protagonists are physically powerful people who have to learn to be vulnerable to each and put each other first defying everyone's expectations.  I absolutely loved Gwenllian and Ranulf and the unlikely and hesitant bond they develop. Their relationship is at times awkward, frantic, rough and deeply passionate. Their commitment and loyalty despite their own fear and insecurity was remarkably compelling.

I would absolutely love to read a series related to King's Man. I would love to see more of Gwenllian and Ranulf and the many rich secondary characters Kingston created. I loved Gwenllian's Ruardean men, faithful, steadfast soldiers, loyal to her and wary of the future.  Gwenllian's ambitious mother, with her machinations and political games, born to rule. All of them have feel like they have some much solidity and promise for more.

The King's Man was the January selection of "The Not-a-bookclub" twitter discussion group I participate in.  We discussed it together last Sunday and I have embedded below the tweets from our discussion.  It is extremely rare for all of us to love the same book but we did. The King's Man just pleased us all so much.  Rich in historical detail, powerful story, and compelling characters. 


When a Scot Ties the Knot (Castle Ever After #3) by Tessa Dare

Almost every year I manage to sneak down to Puerto Rico for a week during the second half of Christmas Break.  The long plane rides and longer layovers allow me to have guilt-free dedicated reading time at the end of a very busy season of concerts, extra services and gatherings.

The very first book I read on my vacation was Tessa Dare's When a Scot Ties the Knot

23587120I really love Dare's Castle Ever After series. They are deliciously meta about fandom & writing, while remaining joyfully romantic.

Madeline Gracechurch is paralyzing shy and makes up fake fiance, an army captain heading to war,  in order to avoid having to endure a season of balls and dinners with strangers. Creating a fictional fiance gave her time to grow and mature but at same time distanced her from her family as the burden of her lie grew.  For years Madeline sends confessional letters to her fake fiance before killing him off when the deception was too much to maintain. Madeline retires to castle in Scotland as spinster, where she can concentrate on her nature studies and life-drawings. When her fake fiance shows up at her door, ready to claim her and her lands there is no one more shocked.

Logan Mackenzie was mere private when Madeline's letters started arriving. The letters and their odd intimacies sustained him through the worst days of the wars and trapped him in a deception of his own.  He is resentfully fascinated with Madeline, whose motivations he can barely understand.  With the wars over he returns to a greatly changed Scotland. His damaged men are landless and un-welcomed and Madeline's lands and the fiction of their long anticipated reunion is the only hope he can offer them. 

I love fake engagements, especially those that turn into grudging marriage of conveniences because the lovers are both accomplices and antagonists, creating fantastic tension. Logan and Madeline must get to know each other in order to working together but also in order to try to outwit each other in the tug-of-war of their relationship. They start falling in love the more they discover about each other, untangling the truth from the fictions. 

I loved the way Dare explores the complicated relationship we have with truth and love in all the storylines, the lies we speak to protect ourselves and those we love from hurt and disappointment, lies of hope and lies of pain. Logan and Madelines's lies isolate them but also draw them together and eventually  they come to each other in genuine love that allows them to see each other truthfully and accept each others failures, failings and vulnerabilities.  

When a Scot Ties the Knot is deceptively light read whose conflicts and questions stayed with me long after I finished it.

 


Marked in the Flesh by Anne Bishop (The Others, Book #4) Early Review

22062202Meg Corbyn,  Simon Wolfguard and the rest of the ensemble cast that make up the Lakeside Courtyard community and its connected settlements return in Marked in the Flesh as they try to figure out how save humanity from extinction as the HFL (The Human First and Last ) Movement's heinous attacks on the Others captures the interest of the Elders, the more primal and powerful beings in Thasia.

Meg and Simon's relationship is certainly on the back burner through this novel. Meg and Simon spend most of the novel involved in separate plots. Meg's primary focus is on being the Trailblazer, and working to find way to keep herself and the other Cassandra Sangue from cutting themselves into insanity and death. Simon and the Police Pack are working to try to mitigate the damage being done by the HFL to Human-Others relationships and preparing for the inevitable backlash from the Elders.  His focus is the survival of those humans he has come to care for and planning for a life afterwards.  While the novel does close with yet another step forward in intimacy between Meg and Simon, it just served to emphasize how little time they have spent together during the novel.

The novel's main theme seemed to be communication and isolation. Everyone in this novels is constantly scrambling to email and call each other in order to share prophesies, veiled warnings and urgent alarms.  A significant part of the novel's plot is communicated via emails, speech excerpts or newspaper clippings.  There is also a lot of miscommunication, misinterpretations. and intentional obfuscation.  In the end however everyone clearly receives the message, and Meg figures out how to best help the Cassandra Sangue communicate their own. Despite the darkness and fear near the end of the novel there is a sense that at least the Cassandra Sangue will have a potentially brighter future.

While Marked in the Flesh is fourth book of a five book series, I could have easily confused it with a final book. A lot of storylines seem to be awfully close to their conclusions, while a few new mysteries were raised in the final chapters it seems to me that the final book will feel more like an extended epilogue as it deals with the aftermath of the world-shaking events in this volume.

I was not as emotionally invested in this book as I was in the others since Meg and Simon where not as involved but it was still compelling and I will be back for the concluding story.

 

I received a review copy of Marked in the Flesh from ROC/Berkley Publishing Group.  Marked in the Flesh is scheduled to be released  March 8, 2016.


TBR Challenge Review: Naked in Death by JD Robb

October's TBR challenge theme is Paranormal or Romantic Suspense. I chose to read the first in JD Robb's best-selling futuristic sci-fi romantic suspense series "In Death". It was very daunting to even consider starting a 40 book deep series, but I bought the 1st "In Death" back in January when it was on sale. It has been sitting in my TBR taunting me since then. I mostly listened to "Naked in Death", reading chapters when I couldn't wait till my next convenient listening time.  

I loved the book. It was more graphically violent than I expected but I was completely engrossed in the story and the romance even though I figured out who the killer less than a third of the way through the story.

Eve Dallas is a tough cop in New York hundreds of years into the future.  While the culture and tech have in some ways radically changed the way people crime, motives and policing have only changed superficially. While Dallas carries a laser, and uses crime-analyzing computer, she is still buried in piles of reports, bureaucratic red-tape in chronically under-staffed department with a chief of police more interested in returning political favors than solving crimes.  While sex work might be legal & space-travel commonplace, money, political power and sex continue to deeply intertwined.  The more things change, the more things stay the same.

A demoralized, emotionally raw Eve is called to the scene of a murder just hours after surviving a traumatic encounter with a child murderer.  She finds a once vibrantly beautiful politically connected sex-worker murdered, possibly by a new serial killer. Eve drives herself nearly to her breaking point trying to find the killer and stop him before he kills again, against the strong headwinds of political pressure.

Roarke is a self-made billionaire with a mysterious past whose acquaintance with the first victim and large collection of antique guns make him a suspect.  Rourke quickly becomes fascinated with Eve. Her determination to solve the crime and refuse to be intimidated or swayed by his money and power catch his attention. Despite his alpha-pushiness and boundary crossing (more like trampling), his humor and emotional vulnerability make him incredibly attractive. He is baffled at his own response and desire for Eve, but proves again and again that he will put her needs above his every chance he gets. Unlike ruthless billionaire heroes Roarke almost always makes himself emotionally vulnerable in ways he doesn't demand from Eve. While he is used to getting his way, and getting whatever he wants, he doesn't see Eve as someone to acquire as much as he wants her.  His interventions on her behalf never diminish her. Their love affair has all the markings of a fascinating and genuine partnership.

Their first love-making scene was epic.  I am sure someone has written scads on the marital-violent language of their first encounter, because craft-wise it was a master class on writing truly un-skippable sex scene, that has ramifications to the whole story. While Eve's instincts tell her that Roarke is not a suspect, the scene is filled with tension, because he is not truly cleared yet and getting involved with him, even if he means her no harm is truly dangerous to Eve's career, which is the only thing that matters to Eve.

The series is not for the faint of heart but it is fantastic blend of romance and police procedural, and I will be coming back for more.

The audiobook was capably narrated by Susan Ericksen.  

PS.  I am embarrassingly behind on my ARC reading and reviewing.  =(


The Brightest Day: A Juneteenth Historical Romance Anthology with stories by Lena Hart, Kianna Alexander, Piper Hugley & Alyssa Cole

The stories in this historical romance anthology move forward through American history from 1866, post-Civil War New York City through to 1961, Civil Rights Era Virginia. They are stories about finding and nurturing love in the face of adversity and oppression. The stories in The Brightest Day are tied together by references to celebrations of Juneteenth.  Juneteeth celebrations commemorate July 19th, 1865, the last of the Freedom days, when slaves in Galveston, TX finally received their freedom. The celebration of that day spread beyond Texas to different black communities around the United States.  The stories express the diversity of African American experience in the United States and get better and better as you move through the anthology. 

Amazing Grace by Lena Hart:  In post-Civil War New York a young black woman, Grace Shaw, agrees to an arranged marriage to a wealthy Montana miner she has never met in order to provide for her family. On her way West, she falls in love with the last person she expects. Logan Foley is looking to start over for the second time in his life. Once the half-Mexican bastard son of white plantation owner, he reinvented himself as teenager, when he father claimed him as a heir. Now he is starting over again, moving West to Colorado to homestead, abandoning his father's ruined plantation and his slave owning past. Logan and Grace meet by chance but are tied together in ways they don't expect.

The romance centers on identity and intentions.  Both Grace and Logan must both come to terms with the choices they have made in order to secure their futures and please their families. These choices turned into bad ones that place them in difficult situations with lasting life consequences. Logan has the most to overcome as his slave owning past nearly cost him Grace's love. I enjoyed this story even though it felt compressed. There was certainly enough material & conflict to justify more pages. I didn't feel we spent enough time with Grace and Logan to fully develop why they fell for one another beyond their instant awareness and attraction but I still believe that they have what it takes to make a life together.

Drifting to You by Kianna Alexander: A prominent black Fayetteville family inaugurates their new boat with a celebratory Juneteeth Cruise of Cape Fear,NC in 1875. The family contracts Rosaline Rhodes a successful and hard-working baker to provide her famed spice cake for the outing. Having Rosaline on board all day provides Will Pruett, the local shipbuilder with the opportunity to finally let Rosaline know of his feelings for her. But Will Pruett is not the only one interested in courting Rosaline and soon Rosaline will have to choose.

I thought this books did a very good job addressing the social tensions within the black community post-Civil War. There is stigma to having been born a slave, and Rosaline for however much she has raised herself up, still faces that. I did feel however that I was dropped into the middle of a story, as Rosaline and Will have been denying their attraction for good long while and are only really getting started by the end of the story. There was also several interesting secondary characters who seem ripe for stories of their own.

A Sweet Way to Freedom by Piper Hugley: It is 1910 and Missouri "Missy" Baxter the pride of Milford and the first black teacher in Winslow, GA can no longer hide she is in "a family way". Arlo Tucker is the sweet-talking good-time man responsible for her condition.  Missy is determined not succumb to his charms again, less she be disappointed again. Arlo has always been able to evade responsibilities and emotional entanglements but for the first time he doesn't want to be let off the hook.  He wants Missy and wants to do right by her, and he needs to figure out away to convince her to give him another chance.

I just loved this story. I was crying for Missy and Arlo after the first few pages.  I strongly felt their conflicted emotions.  Arlo is full of fear, sure that he will only bring Missy pain, and Missy is hurt, determined not to be a fool again. Despite the fear and hurt they do truly love one another and I loved how they come to show each other forgiveness and grace. Hugely is fantastically skilled at characterization.  The large cast of secondary characters making up the Winslow community are all distinct and well developed without stealing focus from Arlo and Missy. I already have a one of Hugley's novels in my TBR, and will been pushing it toward the top of the queue.

Let it Shine by Alyssa Cole: Sofronia "Sofie" Wallis has done her best since her mother's death to be the good girl her father desperately wants her to be. She quieted her voice, she has lowered her eyes and done her best not to run into trouble. As the struggle of the Civil Rights movement is brought close to home, she longer feels that being quiet and meek is going to protect her and she is motivated to go against her father's wishes and join the non-violent protest movement.  Ivan Friedman has never forgotten Sofronia, he remembers vividly the hours they spent together at children.  To him she shines as brightly as always and he doesn't want leave her side again even if the whole world looks at them with derision. 

This story had great internal and external conflict and the way Sofie and Ivan interact was fantastic. I believed the intensity of their attraction, their awareness of the tension and danger they face by reconnecting.  I had previously read the epilogue to this story (it has been published on Cole's blog as part of a Hanukkah blog hop this past winter) but it was even more meaningful and beautiful after reading the rest of their story.

While I think the last two stories in the Anthology are certainly the strongest, the anthology as whole was enjoyable and worth reading. It was well balanced, and provided a great journey and I will be on the lookout for more books by these authors .

 


The Orphan Pearl by Erin Satie

DownloadLady Lily Spark has been on the run for a long time. Ten years ago when her choices were an empty arranged marriage to one of her father's cronies or ruination, Lily ran.

She first ran to her brother in Egypt and then took her chances on the road, choosing to start her life over. She ran knowing it would wreck her brother, knowing she could die on road to Damascus, a single woman without protection but she refused to go home and do her father's bidding. On the road to she met a good man, a Turk, Rustem Pasha. Rustem married her, loved her and she ruined his life. Their home in Acara has burned to the ground, her husband is dead, so Lily runs again, this time running all the way back home. She runs right into the manipulative arms of her father the powerful and petty Duke of Hastings.

John Tacitus Ware had risen high in the world. He had fame as explorer, and a job he loved in the Home Office.  His job allowed him to travel and explore till he overstepped and lost it all by trying to start a war. Then unexpectedly the Duke of Clive offers him an opportunity to set it all right and be welcome back, if he does one thing for them. The thing? Save a treaty & avert a war by finding out what the Duke of Hastings and his daughter Lady Lily are up to.

The Orphan Pearl is equal parts diplomatic & romantic intrigue. I really enjoyed how Lily and John interacted. John is conflicted but attracted, Lily is charmed but reluctant. They flirt and tease but neither really means it.  John incites Lily by daring her (stolen walks, late-night rendezvous, garden meeting) and offering her a temporary escape, pressing his advantage when she is scared or anxious. Lily disarms him at each step with her wit, daring & self-deprecating humor and a well-placed kick so that she has the advantage in the end. Despite the layers of deception and hidden motivations, there is an undeniable truth to their connection and attraction. They see through, challenge, trick and poke at each other all the while building up an uncomfortable level of trust.

Since her debut Satie has consistently impressed me with her ability to make me care about morally flexible, difficult characters with suspect motivations. Lily is self-centered, impulsive and restless, but she is also tenacious, vulnerable and charming. She is so much more complicated & smart than the people around her ever give her credit for being. Seen as a pretty pawn in her father's game, she is shown to be playing a game of her own. Her game is deeply personal but she remembers more than anyone else that the intrigue over the treaty is not merely political gamesmanship but something that can cause the death of thousands in a region she grew love. John is the one who has to wake up to the fact he isn't just a willing pawn in Clive's game but has also been an unknowing one for far longer to his mentor & biological father. He has craved acceptance for so long that he nearly lost his soul. John has to struggle to figure out what the right thing to do is. He is torn between loyalty to his country, loyalty to his word and his own desires and ambitions. In the end his loss of confidence and surety is what finally opens his eyes to what really matters and what is being asked of him. There are no easy solutions to dilemmas faced by John and Lily and people are hurt and they all have to face that.

I enjoyed the prose, the conflict and the characters in this story, but I do feel the ending and resolution  dragged on a bit too long after the climax. Satie takes her time after the major conflicts are resolved to unwind the emotional conflicts. I admire how careful she is to not slap too pat of a happy ending on before the dust is settled but it takes some getting use to.

The Orphan Pearl is a story rich in historical detail & emotional drama. Enticement, manipulation, extortion and orienteering games!

I received a review copy of The Orphan Pearl from the author, Erin Satie.

 

 


A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

Wpefa6f380_05_06In A Desperate Fortune, Kearsley interweaves two distinctive love stories, separated by time and place into one beautiful narrative about hope and longing and the power of love to upend our expectations and re-write sad endings.

In A Desperate Fortune, Sara Thomas is an amateur cryptologist asked to decode the diary of  a young French-Scottish Jacobite. The novel follows both Sara and the diary writer, Mary Dundas as they begin new chapters in their lives and find unexpected love and acceptance.

Sara is a computer programmer by trade. But she loves cracking codes and playing with numbers often using them as way to re-focus when she is in social situations that tax her (She has Asperger’s). Her cousin Jacqui, a literary agent, convinces her to put her deciphering skills to use and accept a lucrative job offer from one of her clients, Alistair Scott, a celebrity historian.  In order to decode the diary, Sara has to move to a beautiful old house in small town outside of Paris, where the owner of diary and Alistair’s old friend, Claudine resides. Sara slowly becomes part of the household, building relationships with her host, Claudine, Claudine’s house keeper Denise, Denise’s son Noah and ex-husband Luc.

Mary Dundas grew up forgotten by her family, left to be raised by her French relatives after her mother’s death. In her aunt’s household she grew up loved but still an outsider, not quite French not quite Scottish. When one of her older brother’s writes to invite her to join him and his family at  the Jacobean court in Saint-Germain, she is thrilled.  But she never makes it there for it turns out her brother has volunteered her to help with a covert mission to protect Jacobite operative fleeing from the English. Mary must deal with the disappointment of not being reunited with her family or sought after for herself while at the same time embracing the adventure and opportunity to remake herself in a new environment. Thrust into the company of strangers, who are even more skilled than she is at wearing masks to hide their true nature, Mary must learn to recognize friend from foe and learn to discern people’s true agendas and motivations if she is to survive long enough to make her own choices.

Kearsley shows considerable skill in structuring this story. She flips between Sara and Mary’s stories at just the right times, building suspense, while giving us satisfying chunks of narrative to digest. As the dual stories unfolded. The stories are complementary rather than parallel. In the diary Mary writes down fairy-tales that she is reinterpreting and re-telling in ways that are aspirational and contemplative.  Her stories inspire, clarify issues and allow her to express issues she can’t talk about openly. While they can be read and appreciated outside by listeners and readers ignorant of her inner life, they have fuller meaning when read in the context of her life as expressed in her diary.  In the same way Sara and Mary’s stories while distinct and whole, create a more expansive view of love when presented together.

I loved that Sara’s story is about learning that she can be loved and treasured for who she is.  She has to let go of long-held expectations of rejection and inadequacy. Through the relationships she builds she learns that is capable of more than she ever imagined.  Luc’s gentle persistent understanding helps her recognize love and accept it. Mary’s story is about finding her voice and creating a future for herself rather than waiting on others to want or remember her. She becomes the hero of her her story, claiming Hugh, when he unable a picture a future for them.  

Although this is only my second Kearsley novel (My first was The Winter Sea), Kearsley has shot up to the top of my favorite author list.  As a history lover, I appreciate the effort Kearsley takes in crafting her story. The historical and geographic research show in her ability to craft novels that grounded by their sense of time and place. Kearsley’s descriptions of locales, dress and customs lend her characters solidity without bogging down the narrative. Whether it is Luc and Sara wandering around street fair in Paris together or Mary tromping through a wilderness in the south of France before finding shelter with a farm family, Kearsley gives me enough for me to believe in and recognize those places in a way that lets me believe in the stories.  

My only caution to someone who hasn't read Kearsley before is that while her heroes are not under-developed in anyway, they are not the focus of the story. The stories are not told from the POV, so we are not privy to their private thoughts and struggles  the same way we are with the heroines.

I am eager to dive into Kearsley’s backlist and discover other heroines and romances worth my time and attention. 

I received a review copy of this novel from Sourcebooks Landmark via Edelweiss


The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley #TBR Challenge Book

Last year I was talking about Canadian authors on Twitter with one my favorite bloggers and twitters friends, Kay from Miss Bates Reads Romance. She confessed to not liking Margaret Atwood, and I asked her what Canadian authors she loved. She recommended I read some Susanna Kearsley, and suggested I start with the Winter Sea. Not long after that, I saw The Winter Sea on sale, and I snatched it up. While Kay and I don't always like the same tropes, I trust her to know a good book. Due to the often overwhelming number of ARCs on my kindle, and review commitments, I often don't get around to reading books I actually bought for months and months. Thankfully Wendy's TBR challenge gives me a monthly "excuse" to read those books.

 

I absolutely loved The Winter Sea. It stood out in so many ways from the kinds of books I usually read, that it was felt like a vacation. The book is about wandering away from the prescribed paths and pacing was unlike any romance I've read recently.

 

The Winter Sea is the story of Carrie McClellands, a nomadic Canadian writer of historical fiction. She has just spent a month in France trying to start writing her newest novel. She hoped to write about one of the failed Jacobean invasion of Scotland in 1708. On her drive north to visit her agent, she takes a detour along the Scottish coast and come up to a ruined castle, which turns out to be one of the places her protagonist was supposed to be visit.

 

Slains Castle remains in her thoughts all through her visit with her agent and friend, so Jane encourages her to visit it again. Together they go back and explore, and soon Carrie has decided to take a cottage close to Slains as her winter writing quarters.

 

The novel is really two interconnected love stories. Kearsley moves the narrative back and forth in time, alternating between Carrie in present day Slains and Sophia, a distant ancestor of Carrie, and the new heroine of Carrie's book in the early 18th century. In the current day Carrie wrestle with her novel, that feels less and less like a work of her imagination, as the little details & additions she has guessed at keep being confirmed by historical documents. Sophia meanwhile falls in love with a wanted man and is soon deep in a conspiracy to return King James II to the Scottish throne.


Early on I preferred the present day chapters because I so enjoyed Carrie and her struggled to understand where her books was coming from while the historical chapters were so full of tension and uncertainty I wanted to skip to the end to see what happened. I was drawn in to Sophia's story, as she blossomed at Slains frist as she falls in love and then as she grows when her lover has to leave her behind. I loved the contrast between Carrie's and Sophia's romances. Carrie's is gentle, patient and comfortable while Sophia's is dangerous, passionate and fraught. I loved how different Carrie & Sophia were as women, which gave such richness to the story.


I think The Winter Sea is a excellent book to recommend to non-romance readers, as it has strong crossover potential, and I think the rich historical and political detail would appeal to readers of historical fiction. But I would highly recommend this book to all romance readers. Thank you Kay, for suggesting I read such a great book.