October 25, 2016

Blog Tour Review + Giveaway | A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Today, I'm excited to be participating in the blog tour for Sherry Thomas' brand new Victorian mystery A Study in Scarlet Women. As you can likely tell from the title, this is the first installment in Thomas' Lady Sherlock series—a gender-swapped retelling of Sherlock Holmes. So basically, my catnip. We are living in an excellent age when it comes to Holmes retellings. From Laurie King's Mary Russell books to Ellie Marney's Every series to the BBC's Sherlock, it's a feast of delights. And since I have been a Sherry Thomas fan for awhile now, I could hardly contain my excitement when I heard she was working on a female Holmes. The glowing cover blurb from Deanna Raybourn certainly didn't hurt. 

Charlotte Holmes has taken the mother of all calculated risks and successfully gotten herself thrown out. It all started . . . well, ages ago, really. The youngest of four daughters, with parents who seem to hold nothing but disdain for one another, Charlotte isn't precisely the oddest one in the family. But that's not saying much. She is, however, the most determined to leave her parents' (and society's) expectations behind and embark on the kind of life she has always wanted. The devil, of course, is in the details. And it isn't long before the grim reality of life as a woman alone on the streets of London and in search of respectable work begins to take its toll, particularly as Charlotte is determined to support not only herself but her two sisters as well. However, her sharp intellect and dispassionate approach to humans in general see her in good stead. And if an old friend (and longtime sparring partner) occasionally has her followed for his own reasons, Charlotte can handle it. But when a series of mysterious deaths begin to resemble a connection of sorts, and when her beloved sister Livia's name gets dragged into the mix, Charlotte immediately steps in to clear her sister's name and solve the mystery. Woven through the hunt for the killer are the enigmatic Mrs. Watson, the dogged Inspector Treadles, and the old friend who is never far from her thoughts. 

I'll just go ahead and start by saying A Study in Scarlet Women was not at all what I expected! And that is by no means a bad thing. I enjoyed every bit of this twisty, dense, and unconventional tale. I think I just happened to go in with certain assumed parameters, and Sherry Thomas happily conformed to none of them. The story's timeline is quite fluid, and the reader is definitely expected to keep up on several levels. The narrative hops around at will from one point of view to the next, and it is up to Charlotte (when we are with her) and the reader to tease apart and piece back together the many tangled threads. Charlotte herself was a revelation, if an incredibly self-contained one:
Charlotte left her seat and walked to a window. It gave onto the same street where Miss Hartford's carriage had been parked, waiting for her return. The carriage was gone, but in its place, a man stood underneath a streetlamp, reading a newspaper.

At first, she thought he was the man from the carriage. Instead, she recognized him as the one who had waited out the rain across the street from her earlier in the afternoon.

The one she'd suspected of following her.

She was not alarmed. Whoever had commissioned the man's service had not done so with the intention of harming her, but to keep an eye on her.

This did not make her happy—she did not care to be closely monitored. She wasn't angry at the person responsible for this surveillance—in his place she might have done the same. Nevertheless, she wished her secret guardian hadn't felt compelled to be so positioned as to be able to effect a rescue at any moment.

It implied that such a rescue was not only necessary, but imminent.

That she couldn't in good conscience—or cold logic—disagree with the assessment made it feel as if the air was slowly leaking from her lungs.
And that's it right there—perhaps the most affecting aspect of this winding novel—the honest way that it portrays the realities of the lives of the many different women that walk its pages. Like air slowly leaking from their lungs. I was fascinated by (and sympathetic to) each one. Charlotte herself is so quiet. Brisk and concise when she is rattling off a litany of her deductions, yes. But quiet. And quietly perplexed by the injustices and inanities perpetrated by and inherent in the people around her. I loved her for that perplexity, for her fierce loyalty to her sisters, for her continual expectations of fairness and opportunity, and for her adamant refusal to leave a certain distant someone well enough alone. We are treated to a few precious, and yes, quiet, exchanges between Charlotte and her old friend. They are enigmatic in the extreme and endlessly complicated, even if we only have the merest sliver of the whole picture at this point in time.
She had very much looked forward to a word in private with him. But she forgot, as she usually did, the silence that always came between them in these latter years, whenever they found themselves alone.

The queer sensation in her chest, however, was all too familiar, that mix of pleasure and pain, never one without the other.

She could have done without those feelings. She would have happily gone her entire life never experiencing the pangs of longing and the futility of regret. He made her human—or as human as she was capable of being. And being human was possibly her least favorite aspect of life.
These two. I have to hold myself back from despairing of them. For how little page time they're actually together, I love them rather a lot. And I don't even really know him. But I hold out hope for more ever-so-gradual unraveling in the coming tales. In the end, this is the most unusual of beginnings—an introduction that requires every ounce of focus its readers have to give, even as it grudgingly reveals a paltry few of its own secrets. My kind of mystery.

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository

The Irregular Reader - "Thomas has made a story, and a character, completely separate from the original Holmes and his stories, yet bearing enough nods to the original to please a hardcore fan (like me)."
SBTB - "I haven’t shut up about this book since I finished it. My outbound text messages are mostly hollering, squeeing, and long strings of vowels about this book."
Smexy Books - "I find myself more than ever eager to see what manner of business Charlotte Holmes engages in the future."


And now for the giveaway! Berkley has kindly offered up a brand new copy to one lucky reader. The giveaway is open to U.S. addresses only and will run through Tuesday, November 1st. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter. Good luck, and happy reading!

October 19, 2016

Review | The Q by Beth Brower

I'm feeling very possessive when it comes to this one, guys. I finished it a few days ago, and it has been a bit touch and go emotionally since then. You try to find other characters and other places to fill the void, but the truth is—it's not your first rodeo. And you know very well you're not going to simply be able to will the ability to move forward with your life. That you're just going to have to wait it out and mourn having been with Quincy and Arch, er, those characters, as steadily and for as long as you were and then learn to live on a day-to-day basis not being with them. And, yes, I do know they're sitting right there on the shelf whenever I need them. But you know what I mean. You have to somehow get past the end having happened to you, too. And not just to them. The Q is a lovely little (actually gratifyingly thick) standalone historical fiction (with a twist) novel and instant entry on my Best Books of 2016 list. Oh, and lest I forget, that cover. It is everything. With the newsprint? And the crease? And that very particular Q? Everything, I say.

It's worth mentioning that Beth Brower and I are friends. And that while I've talked about and spotlighted her work several times on the blog, I haven't reviewed her first three novels because of the close nature of our friendship. But this one, you guys. No power in the 'Verse could stop me from spreading the word. It's that good.

Quincy St. Claire makes time for nothing and no one not intimately involved in the day-to-day machinations of her beloved printing press—The Q. Since being taken in off the streets by her Great Uncle Ezekiel (along with her friend and fellow foundling Fisher), she has harnessed every ounce of her formidable energies and poured them into making Ezekiel's unusual press run like clockwork. And if it is true that Quincy's name is spoken far and wide throughout the lower streets and upper parlors of Rhysdon, it is also true that no one, with the possible exception of Fisher, truly knows the girl who sits on the high stool behind the counter. The girl who writes down the questions that pour in from the denizens of the city, each on an individual Q slip, and who then prints them to be sent out into the world to find their answers. Within the confines of The Q, it is Quincy's world. And it follows her rules. Until one night the heretofore laid back, if quite elderly, Ezekiel throws the hitch of all hitches into her plans. He is to die, he tells her. Imminently. And he has set her a task in the wake of his passing. Twelve of them, to be exact. Not only is she not to be informed what the tasks are, she is to be monitored in her efforts by none other than the bane of her existence—Mr. James Arch—The Q's solicitor and general disapproving stick-in-the-mud. If she fails, The Q will fall into other hands. Ezekiel proves immovable, as well as a man of his word, and so it is up to Quincy to go against every one of her grains and divert some of those well-harnessed energies to accomplishing the mysterious tasks. The alternative, after all, is unthinkable.
Quincy unwound her scarf and laid it over a matchstick chair. Removing her jacket, she opened her creaking armoire and hung it back in its place. Rolling up her shirt sleeves, Quincy walked to her window—a single window that looked down on Gainsford Street—and frowned at the snow.

The Q was to be given away.

If she could not fulfill her uncle's obscure requirements, The Q was to be given away.

On either side of Quincy's window stood two bureaus, tall, with five drawers each, large enough to fit clothing, papers, and what few possessions Quincy found worth keeping. She liked them not for the plebeian practicality they offered, but rather for the way that, when she pulled herself up on one and rested her feet on the edge of the other, Quincy found herself perched high in her window, watching whatever was passing on the street below. She did so now, feeling the gears of her mind catching, too disjointed by her uncle's words for their usually smooth, oiled rotation.
This early passage was the first moment I felt in perfect sympathy with our heroine. As she felt her mind strain to accommodate an unforeseen, wholly unwelcome shift in her well-ordered world. An old and solitary soul tucked economically inside the body of an eccentric young slip of a girl, Quincy is all that is analytical and stubborn, prone to excellence and disdain in equal quantities. In short, I loved her to pieces. From her dogged taunting of the self-righteous Mr. Arch to her single minded passion for the business that gave her life a reliable shape and purpose. To say nothing of her quiet, unwavering loyalty to her oldest (and only) friend Fisher and her uncharacteristic (some might say) fondness for a certain disreputable smuggler who drops into her domain from time to time. Oh, yes, I understood Quincy. And because I understood and loved her, I felt keenly her fierce determination and resolve to hold onto The Q at all costs. And so the pages flew by, full of eloquent and visceral descriptions of the workings of the press. I fell in love with not just Quincy, but with the intricate hierarchy of Rhysdon society, and especially with the people from all walks of life who found themselves drawn to this fanciful, yet precise location where they might quietly voice their questions, knowing that they will be heard, set in careful type, and perhaps someday answered. For a young woman with little use for demonstrative affections, she manages to provide rather a lot of hope for a city in need of just that.
Quincy and Fisher walked through all this in silence. Silence was the most common stock-in-trade between them, and the portfolio of their friendship was thick with it. So, without words, they stepped across the streets, their feet pressing the pavement with the same sounds, their toes turned just so; they knew what life was like at each other's side. Sometimes he would speak, or she would, small offerings on the altar of their joint survival.
This beautiful friendship was one of the most affecting aspects of the novel—for its solidity, its history, and its ardent portrayal. Bound together, are Quincy and Fisher, and we get to see them continue to chase survival on all its levels. And while we are speaking of ardency, I would be remiss if I didn't express my wholehearted devotion to the romantic vein that wends its way through the tale. I so appreciate that readers are given just as many pages as they might want to witness that particular relationship develop in the organic, stumbling, messy, and magnetic way that it does. Even more, I admire the way the two of them don't alter their essential chemistry to fit the other's expectations. They rage when they should rage, but they also see beyond the surface when the light glances off the other person in just the right way. Most importantly, they don't forget what they've seen and just how valuable it is. As I said, days later, I still can't get them out of my head. They're in there, striding down alleys and scarfing down buns, and generally making it impossible to get anything else done, so badly do I want to just sit back and watch them push and support each other and question wildly whether or not they will ever be able to make it come out right. I loved them so. The experience of reading The Q was an impossibly charming one. It repeatedly put me in mind of a few time-honored favorites, from a little Westmark here to a little Spindle's End there, to say nothing of a healthy dash of Dickens just for good measure. In the end, one thing is certain—The Q has room for you.

The Q is out today!


October 7, 2016

Thick as Thieves + New Queen's Thief Covers

I'm sure by now you've heard the amazing news that we have not only a release date, but a title and cover as well for the incomparable Megan Whalen Turner's fifth Queen's Thief book—Thick as Thieves. It's due out in hardcover May 16th of next year. So definitely what feels like a ways off yet, but it's been six years, people. This is huge progress from where we fans have been. And, if you trot on over to the description on Goodreads, you'll note that our new POV character is none other than Kamet (!), which thing filleth me with joy. I can say that having worked through my initial emotions at coming to The King of Attolia and finding out the narrator was some unknown by the name of Costis and, of course, subsequently recognizing the error of my ways. Costis, I love you! Kamet, I am  one hundred percent ready for your adventure!

So. As for my feelings. We're back to a version of the word thief in the title, and I really love that. And they've finally branded the series officially as the "Queen's Thief" series, which has always been the perfect title and is therefore very gratifying. There will also be, yes, a map! More than one, I believe. As well as extras, including short stories and cast lists. For more, check out the Publisher's Weekly interview with Ms. Turner about the new book here

As you can see, they've also given the entire series cover redesigns (in paperback, of course) to be released February 28th. And here's where my emotions get a bit sticky. And it's no fault of the publisher's. Longtime readers (and confirmed book collectors) will persist in getting attached to certain covers and cover artists, won't we? We will always want our sets to match. Or at least have matching be within the realm of possibility when our bank accounts allow such indulgences. To be fair, this move is standard operating procedure in publishing. There's been a gap of a number of years between books, enough that the old covers probably don't feel as fresh as they once did. Enough that it would be excellent to reach a wider, newer audience with updated, possibly more broadly appealing covers. And, hey, it would be superb to potentially reach a somewhat older young adult audience as well, particularly given the sophistication and beautiful complexity that characterizes this astounding series. 

I get it. I really do. It's just also true that my heart broke a little that we wouldn't be getting the final two books wrapped up in Vince Natale's perfect, perfect covers. And that this was such a radical shift from those. I'm still getting used to them, of course. So far, the cover for the new one is my favorite. But it's my misfortune to believe that the Vince Natale cover of The King of Attolia is quite possibly the best book cover to have ever graced a book in the history of books. I mean, the original covers of The Scorpio Races and Sunshine are right up there with it. Do not get me wrong. But that cover? With that Gen who is so precisely my Gen? With Attolia's hand? The rings, the sword, the cloak? Well, as I said. Too attached for my own good. For the record, Aaron took one look at the new covers and loved them. Our personal experiences with novels certainly inform our cover emotions/desires/hopes/fears. Ahem.

All of this said, I require your thoughts on the matter. Please share (and celebrate) with me. 

October 5, 2016

Foreign Edition Pretties

Today's pretties post comes to you courtesy of three foreign editions I've been lusting over. But seriously, why can these not be available in my country. Or, you know, my language? And, yes, I'm aware of what a first world problem I'm dealing with here. Not enough pretty editions at your beck and call, Ms. Thompson? I do know. But the book collector in me just started vibrating with longing when I ran across these lovely editions.

You've all seen my battered and beloved copy of Daughter of the Forest. I feel like you feel me when I see this completely different and beautiful monochromatic UK version and know that it has to be mine. I always need a lender copy! Particularly as my original hardback is no longer capable of limping out the door, what with the loose pages and the limp tape some obliging borrower stuck in for good measure.

As for the Italian edition of Cath Crowley's Graffiti Moon, all I can say is this is the cover I'd been waiting for. I never much fell in love with either the Australian or the U.S. editions. They were fine. Serviceable. But they didn't quite catch up to the loveliness that is that special novel. This cover on the other hand? This one does Shadow and Poet and Lucy and Ed and Leo the justice they deserve. Sigh.

When it comes to Six of Crows, I have no compunction whatsoever at buying a lender copy (at present, I only own one copy of the book—behold, the restraint). And this French edition is just it. Such great renderings of all six of them! I mean, Kaz looks a bit like an undead serial killer. But Nina? Jesper? Matthias' handcuffs? Wylan's rose? So, so good.

September 13, 2016

Bibliocrack Review | Gemina by Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

I somehow neglected to write a review of Illuminae when I read it last year. It may have had something to do with my response to the novel, which was complex. I was completely riveted to the page throughout. In fact, I swallowed it in a single night. However, I wasn't sure if it would prove to be a re-read for me, primarily because I felt a distance between myself and the characters. The separation enforced by the epistolary format, on top of the protagonists' themselves separation for the majority of the novel combined to make me feel a bit wistful. I suppose I just wished I felt a level of closeness to them that matched the level of commitment I felt to the unfolding story. Which was to say complete and utter. There was, interestingly, no question of whether or not I would be picking up the sequel. Also somewhat interesting was how I felt nothing but excitement that the sequel would follow a new couple. And so it was that Gemina fell into my lap and swallowed me whole.

Hanna Donnelly has essentially made Jump Station Heimdall her playground. No matter that her extravagant exploits have become more a way of surviving the tight confines of her life as the only daughter of the exacting station captain than anything else. No matter that they involves the occasional rendezvous with her own personal dealer—himself a member of the notorious House of Knives crime family. No matter that her model (if slightly milquetoast) boyfriend disapproves wholeheartedly of said dealer and has to sneak around to meet her so as not to raise the wrath of her father. Nik Malikov has a thing for the privileged princess who occasionally patronizes his "establishment," and he takes plenty of flak over that fact from the various and sundry cast of cutthroat characters that comprise his family. No matter that the tattoos on his skin tell a story that may or may not be more complex than they at first appear. No matter that their whisperNET repartee is fast becoming the best part of every single one of his days. No matter that each successive requirement from his family takes him farther and farther away from the kind of person who might actually stand a chance with a girl like Hanna. What neither of them knows is their "home" is about to be thrown into chaos and violence the likes of which even the notorious Malikov's have yet to see. And their connection, limited and superficial as it has heretofore been, may prove the only link to survival either of them have.
First relevant point of contact between Hanna Donnelly and Jackson Merrick on Heimdall's whisperNET system. For full effect, read everything Merrick says in a loin-stirringly deep, uppercrust accent while listening to smooth jazz.
The sly, staccato wit in this series is just so on. Set as it is against a near constant threat of death, dismemberment, or worse, this wit is sometimes a lifeline, for both the characters and the readers, I suspect. As with its predecessor, the entirety of Gemina is told in the form of found footage, including an impressive and fabulously inventive assortment of documents, all of which are being presented as evidence in the tribunal addressing BeiTech Industries' involvement in the "alleged" attack on Jump Station Heimdall. A number of familiar (and terrifying) faces make appearances upfront before we are hurled into making the acquaintance of a whole host of new personages who each play a pivotal role in the horrific events that went down on Heimdall. One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading Gemina is getting to see exactly what was going on at the jump station while the events of Illuminae were taking place. The two timelines overlap, and I found it heightened my experience with Hanna and Nik knowing just what was happening with Kady and Ezra at the same time. And, yes, this overlap means we get to spend some much-coveted time with a certain AI that I'll confess I've been missing something fierce. It's passages are among my very favorite (and are some of the most unsettling, of course). And, yes, I'll go ahead and say that I found my emotions knit tightly with Hanna and Nik in a very short time, partly because they do spend more (though still not much) time in the actual vicinity of one another, and partly because I'm just a sucker for the particular quality of banter you get when you pair up a crime lord's son with a military captain's daughter.

Which leads me to the most excellent of all the elements of this novel—Hanna Donnelly. Quite simply, she is stone cold awesome. Raised by her father to master any number of forms of combat, her princess persona is a very thin facade indeed. The relentless pressure and pace of the novel reveal the core of steel underneath the facade and it was a viciously satisfying pleasure to watch her tear her way through the fabric of her nightmare and never, not ever give in or give up. And perhaps just as importantly, she does all of this without sacrificing a shred of her humanity, with all its attendant vulnerability and desires. She blew me, Nik, and the entire population of Heimdall away. And I can say that allowing that I am nursing a pretty healthy crush on Nik Malikov. They are right together. But Hanna. Hanna is whole in a way that resonated with me profoundly. She is the reason Gemina is the force that it is. She is the reason you simply have to read it.

Gemina is due out October 18th

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository

September 2, 2016

Review | A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

So the truth is I had a feeling about A Promise of Fire from the moment I clapped eyes on it. And the funny thing is, I was drawn to the girl on the cover because she reminded me immediately of Kate Daniels—only one of my favorite urban fantasy heroines of all time. Little did I know, so much more than just the cover of this book would go on to remind me of the fabulous Ilona Andrews series. Though the Kingmaker Chronicles are epic fantasy romance with a Greek mythology bent, they share that certain brand of high octane banter and impossibly high stakes that make the Kate Daniels books so fabulous. This is the first volume (as well as Amanda Bouchet's debut novel), and I find myself so looking forward to getting my hands on the next one.

Catalia Fisa has hidden herself as well as she knows how. Having successfully attached herself to a troupe of traveling circus performers, she cautiously employs a mere fraction of her actual ability to tell fortunes (and keep an eye out for anyone who might be looking for her). Trouble strides up to her soothsaying table in the form of Beta Sinta—a warlord in search of the fabled Kingmaker, the one rumored to possess the power to solidify control for the Alpha (or warlord) determined (or ruthless) enough to catch her. And before she knows it, Cat is literally tied to Griffin's side and carted off to the southern wilds of Sinta entirely against her will. Fortunately, she's had a lifetime of "training" in resisting force, and she will not go quietly no matter how loudly he and his band of loyal henchmen growl. But the farther they travel together, the larger the secrets Cat's holding onto loom, and the more difficult it becomes to justify abandoning this warlord who doesn't seem to want to go to war and somehow holds her nightmares at bay, to say nothing of his astoundingly naïve (if disarmingly charming) family.

This epic adventure was entirely too fun to put down. I'm a huge fan of Greek mythology, and Ms. Bouchet infuses her tale with bits and bobs and huge heaping globs of all the familiar gods and goddesses (as well as various terrifying creatures). The whole thing plays fairly fast and loose with these deities, which is admittedly appropriate, even if a couple of times her versions made my hackles rise. But on the whole the world-building is expansive and inventive and I loved traversing it with Cat and Griffin. Because those two. They are wild forces to be reckoned with, and I loved watching them snipe and bat at each other every step of the way. Cat's power is revealed in as infinitesimal chunks as possible, reluctant as she is to involve any other being in the gargantuan nightmare that is her past and the impending doom that represents her future. And having spent a lifetime being used by those more powerful than she, she refuses to go back to a place of vulnerability. While the reader is privy to quite a few of these internal struggles, Griffin is not. And he, for all his insisting on assuming the Beta role in his kingdom, does not deal well with obfuscation or dismissal. The result is a host of sparks. An early exchange:
Beta Sinta stops, his mouth flattening in obvious irritation. "Help me, Cat. Or at least tell me the truth. I know when you're lying."

"Oh?" My heart trips over its next beat.

"Your eyes get twitchy."

"My eyes do not get twitchy!"

"This one gets narrower." He touches the tip of his finger to the corner of my right eye, and a little jolt zips through me. "It's as if you're expecting the lie to hurt, but it doesn't because it's your own."
As I said, the banter (or, in this case, my favorite kind of quiet tension) between these two just carries the day throughout the story. Cat's ability to tell when people are lying is a skill of such magnitude that Griffin finds himself unable to let her out of his sight. The pain that it simultaneously causes her, though, is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to answering the questions of why Cat is the way she is. But Griffin didn't battle his way to placing his sister on the throne without amassing the persistence and indefatigable will it takes to reach whatever goal he sets himself. What I love about Griffin is how he learns to make space for Cat, how clearly he recognizes and admires her abilities, and how his plan to use her morphs into a desire and a need to support and aid her in her own troubled journey. Just what that journey will entail remains nebulous to everyone involved, clearly to be unraveled in future volumes, though it is pretty clear to the reader exactly who and what is gunning for her. Cat herself is a wriggling ball of sarcasm, frustration, repressed affection, and leashed power. She elicits the wide gamut of emotions in both the reader and her supporting characters. But it's clear she's got charisma to spare and energy and guts enough to carry us all through any number of wild romps.

Barnes & Noble | Amazon | The Book Depository

The Bookpushers - "I adored the romance between Griffin and Cat and the world-building was memorable, vivid and well thought out."
Dear Author - "The worldbuilding is complex but not overwhelming, with insights being doled out as needed for the most part, rather than in a massive info-dump."
Fiction Vixen - "I was engaged from the moment I read the first word right up until the wee hours of the night when I, bleary eyed and tired, read the last."
Ivy Book Bindings - "
For lovers of YA Fantasy, A Promise of Fire is better than fantasy-lite, and for those who adore a healthy dose of romance, Bouchet's debut can't disappoint."

SBTB - "I will also go on record to say that, so far, this is the best book I’ve read in 2016."

August 30, 2016

Review + Giveaway | A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

Let's just start by acknowledging that I am woefully behind on reviewing the Sarah MacLean books I have read and loved, which is to say all of them. The thing is, I am simply not overstating things when I say that reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake changed my life. And it is a truth universally acknowledged that both A Rogue by Any Other Name and One Girl Earl Deserves a Lover hold pivotal places of honor on my Beloved Bookshelf. As such, I'm beginning to think that her books are so important to me that when it comes to articulating precisely why, I can run into a bit of a struggle. But. I am going to attempt to begin to rectify the situation by reviewing her latest novel and the second installment in the wonderful Scandal & Scoundrel series. I reread the first book in the series in preparation for the sequel, and I am happy to report it was just as delightful the second time around.

Lillian Hargrove's world has just been shattered, and by the one person she trusted the most. On top of that, when the man she loves chooses to ruin her, he does it on the most public of stages and on the most epic of scales—as he is about to reveal his latest masterwork, of which she is the subject. While she was a willing model for the painting, she in no way gave consent to it being shared with the entire population of London. Fully cognizant of the enormity of her mistake, Lily retires to the town home where she lives alone and begins preparations to leave London (and her scandal) behind for good. What she does not count on is her latest guardian swooping down from Scotland, determined to marry her off yesterday and rid himself of the unwanted burden she embodies. Alec, Duke of Warnick, never wanted any of the nonsense he's inherited along with his dratted title, least of all a troublesome ward who seems bent on self-destruction. Once he sees her, he deems it only a matter of days before he is able to marry her off and be on his way back to Scotland. What he doesn't count on is Lily herself and just how magnificently she will change the course of his life.

I think everyone who read The Rogue Not Taken was hoping the larger than life Duke of Warnick would be the hero of the next book, and I was no exception. Lily Hargrove, however, was the surprise. And what a lovely one at that. I immediately felt a huge amount of sympathy for her awful plight, even as I (along with Alec) questioned just how blind she had to have been to have trusted the detestable Derek Hawkins or to think that the portrait would somehow never see the light of day. That said, the self-possession and ruthless honesty with which she handles her ruination were admirable to behold, and I was rooting hugely for both of them throughout their tale. An early encounter (taken from my uncorrected ARC):
"Shall we discuss the scandal?"


Her cheeks burned. She didn't like it. "Is there a scandal?"

He turned to look at her. "You tell me."

"Well, I imagine the news that you broke down the door in broad daylight will get around."

Something flashed in his eyes. Something like amusement. She didn't like that, either. "Is it true, lass?" And, in that moment, in the four, simple words, spoken in his rolling Scottish brogue, warm and rough and almost kinder than she could bear, she wished herself anywhere but there.

Because it was the first time anyone had asked the question.

And it was the millionth time that she'd wished the answer were different.
The way she handles herself alongside the imposing Scot, set against the truths we glean from her inner dialogue, is why I immediately found Lillian endearing. And we gain enough insight into her less-than-charmed upbringing to understand a little of why she makes the mistake she did and to fully admire (once more, along with Alec) the intelligent and organic way that she conducts and asserts herself throughout the ensuing ordeal. Fortunately, she is helped along the way by a few fellow scandalous (and gleefully familiar) faces. Each of the glorious Talbot sisters make their entrances, and they prove to be even more witty and outrageous than in the previous volume. I could do nothing but cheer silently as they surrounded Lily with their patent (and I suspect, hard-won) unconcern for the ton's censure. And I look forward meeting them again in forthcoming tales. 

The humor in the book is not confined only to scenes involving the Talbot sisters. Lily and Alec, when they're not scheming desperately to rid themselves of the other, develop a disarming level of shared amusement. They've both endured painful moments in their past. They both see the follies of society and long to escape them. They both have long been solitary creatures, and in such they find a kinship. The long line of deceased dukes that so affect their lives, in particular, carries a delightful thread of levity throughout the novel. For example:
There was a long moment of silence before he changed the subject. "Which one owned this odious place?"

She didn't hesitate. "Number Thirteen."

"Ah. The one killed by a sheep, allegedly."


"What happened to him, really?"

She blinked. "That is what happened to him. He was killed by a sheep."

His brow furrowed. "You are joking."

"I am not. He fell off a cliff."

"Number Thirteen?"

"The sheep. The duke was out for his daily constitutional. Below." She clapped her hands together. "Quite smashed."

His lips twitched. "No."

She raised one hand. "I swear it is true."
And on they roll. Alec and Lily's story is a quieter and more contained affair, in many ways, than Sophie and King's. Their movement and growth is more internal, as they wrestle with issues of shame, privacy, gender standards, and intrinsic self worth. My one complaint was a certain mounting impatience I felt near the end (with Alec, in particular) with what seemed to me to be an overly zealous (at times hurtful) pursuit of misconception. This dovetailed somewhat with the difficulty I had believing how quickly he changes gears. But then I reminded myself of the relatively short time period the story covers. And by the time myself accepted the reminder, I had moved on to the quite lovely conclusion, in which Alec (like myself) sees and remembers not to forget Lily exactly as she is. Which is to say—splendid.

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Fiction Fare - "I found myself so enthralled with their story and it was an such a wonderful touch to add and provide interactions with some of the characters from the previous stories in this series!"
The Girl with the Happily Ever Afters - "This author continues to impress me with just how talented she is and I can't wait to read more from the Scandal & Scoundrel series."


And now for the giveaway! To celebrate today's release of A Scot in the Dark, Avon has kindly offered up a brand new copy to one lucky reader. This giveaway is open internationally and will run through Tuesday, September 6th. To enter, simply fill out the Rafflecopter. Good luck, and happy reading!