ARC Review: Going Public by Hudson Lin

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

A boss. His employee.

And a scandal that’s about to change everything…


As an operating partner at Jade Harbour, Raymond Chao prides himself in fixing even the most disastrous of portfolio companies—no matter the cost. While his colleagues might not always like his methods, they love his results. But his latest business partner isn’t cooperating, and what’s worse, Raymond’s underhanded tactics have landed him in hot water with the law.  

Elvin Goh has been Raymond’s assistant for years, and he’s been in love with the charming, ruthless playboy for just as long. There’s very little that Elvin won’t do—or hasn’t done—for Raymond. Impossible crush aside, it’s his job. But this time, even Elvin can’t see a way out. 

When long nights in the office lead to whispered confessions and a newfound intimacy, it seems like a dream come true—for both of them. But with the prospect of failure on the horizon, can this dream team beat the odds and come out the victors in the office and in their hearts?  

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I really enjoyed this MM romance. I chose it because I’ve been on a fanfic kick and I needed to get back to reading actual books (nothing wrong with reading fanfic, but I have a lot of arcs publishing soon that I really need to get to). I figured it was kinda like an AU and it was, which definitely helped. It had a lot of things going for it though.

First, the things I loved. Diversity! This was set in Canada and the leads were both asian which was a nice change from the standard white male leads. Also, there were many characters of color. Ray is pansexual (I loved that it made it clear that he included nonbinary folks in his one-night stands, though I do question the wisdom of lumping ‘trans’ in with ‘nonbinary’ and separating it from ‘men and women.’) Elvin is demisexual. There are several other non-straight couples / characters mentioned, though the focus is on Ray and Elvin’s deepening relationship.

The way Elvin and Ray discuss the power imbalance inherent in their relationship and that it gives them both pause was refreshing. As was the way each took care of the other in his own way.

Also I loved that the sex scenes were pretty minimal. Since Elvin is demisexual, it made sense. It was refreshing, as I read romance for the romance rather than the sex anyway. The ones that were there felt earned with their close emotional bond and romantic connection.

As for the things I didn’t love as much, the plot felt rushed at the end and tended to fade into the background. Everything gets swept under the rug and wrapped up far too easily for uncovering a mafia drug-smuggling and money-laundering operation. A lot of things — like how they missed it all when they bought Caron paper in the first place — didn’t really add up or get explained. I didn’t care that much, as I was in it for the romance anyway, but it still would have been nice to have the plot a little more developed.

All in all, it was a lovely afternoon escape that hit all the right fanfic notes and kept me engaged.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Carina Adores for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Love Letters by the Sea by Erica Ridley

Publication Date: April 12, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens when the proprietress of Siren’s Retreat discovers the charming romantic she’s been corresponding with is same villain turning her beloved property into a gaming hell?

When not responding to advice column letters, entrepreneurial widow Mrs. Deborah Cartwright runs bright, beautiful Siren’s Retreat, legendary for helping her lovelorn guests find their perfect match. Deborah experienced love years before, and lightning does not strike twice. Although there might be a light flirtation with a certain anonymous letter-writer she’s definitely not falling for, there’s no time for romance. Not whilst a heartless blackguard is in town to wrest her beloved inn out from under her!

Clever, career-minded Mr. Patrick Gretham is the trusted man-of-business for a powerful lord, who is eager to turn this perfectly situated property wasted on lovebirds into a gambling hell the likes of which no one leaves with their fortunes intact. Over Deborah’s dead body! The beautiful proprietress hates everything Patrick stands for and will fight him every step of the way. Except when they find themselves on opposite sides of a plume. Or falling into each other’s embrace…

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book was so, so delightful. I put off reading it because I’ve been on a fanfic kick, and it was exactly what I needed today.

Erica Ridley absolutely shines at creating characters that jump off the page and make you fall in love with them. The settings aren’t as important, and fade into the background just because the characters shine so bright.

I love that these aren’t your typical regency debutante and rake. Instead we have a widowed proprietress of an inn (and former opera singer) and a man of business with a soft heart, smile lines around his eyes, and silver at his temples. I love that they fall in love anonymously through letters and in person but are kept apart by being adversaries with seemingly nothing in common. I love the way we can’t help but fall with them.

This was short and sweet and brimming with romance and I smiled so much while reading (a feat, as I am coming down with a cold and feel little like smiling). I will definitely be pulling it out again when I need to be cheered up and reminded of how much I love watching people fall in love. This, right here, is why I read romance novels, and why Erica Ridley is always at the top of my list.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Erica Ridley, and WebMotion for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She waited, but he said nothing more. Just gripped her hands and stared at her beseechingly, belligerently, besottedly. As if he were confused and angry and half in love all at the same time and would rather not be any of it.

ARC Review: So This is Ever After by F.T. Lukens

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

Carry On meets Arthurian legend in this funny, subversive young adult fantasy about what happens after the chosen one wins the kingdom and has to get married to keep it…and to stay alive.

Arek hadn’t thought much about what would happen after he completed the prophecy that said he was destined to save the Kingdom of Ere from its evil ruler. So now that he’s finally managed to (somewhat clumsily) behead the evil king (turns out magical swords yanked from bogs don’t come pre-sharpened), he and his rag-tag group of quest companions are at a bit of a loss for what to do next.

As a temporary safeguard, Arek’s best friend and mage, Matt, convinces him to assume the throne until the true heir can be rescued from her tower. Except that she’s dead. Now Arek is stuck as king, a role that comes with a magical catch: choose a spouse by your eighteenth birthday, or wither away into nothing.

With his eighteenth birthday only three months away, and only Matt in on the secret, Arek embarks on a desperate bid to find a spouse to save his life—starting with his quest companions. But his attempts at wooing his friends go painfully and hilariously wrong…until he discovers that love might have been in front of him all along.

My Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was so cute and funny! I love how F. T. Lukens takes the chosen one trope and just plays with it and turns it on its head. You have the chaotic group of questers (chosen one, mage, bard, knight, rogue, guard), but instead of beginning as they are setting out on a quest, the story begins at the end, immediately after the quest has been completed. The moment where everyone looks around at each other and goes, “Now what?”

In some ways, this is a found family story of a reluctant king and his loyal friends getting on their feet and fumbling their way into figuring out how to rule the kingdom they took back from the evil wizard. In many ways, this is a book about pining. Arek is quite obviously pining for his best friend Matt. Matt is pining for Arek. It’s quite obvious from the first pages. Since they’re both oblivious idiots, however, it takes them rather a while to figure things out.

The writing was clever and funny, and it was easy to just let myself flow along with the story and enjoy it. It’s fun. I recommend it when you need to laugh and find yourself craving oblivious idiots pining for each other over hundreds of pages. (What, just me?)

*Thanks to NetGalley and Margaret K. McElderry Books for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I was starting to think that running away from home to follow a vague prophecy hadn’t been a good idea.

“Money won’t buy their loyalty.”

“No, but if we have happy staff, then our lives are going to be much easier.”

“No thank you. None of the above. I don’t need to be rescued, and I don’t need anyone to know me. Everyone knows love is pheromones and proximity. For it to be real for me, I’d have to be struck by lightning.” She snapped her fingers. “Instant attraction.”

ARC Review: How to Be a Wallflower by Eloisa James

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

From New York Times bestseller Eloisa James, a new Regency-set novel in which a heiress with the goal of being a wallflower engages a rugged American in a scorchingly sensual, witty wager that tests whether clothing does indeed make the man—or the wallflower!

Miss Cleopatra Lewis is about to be launched in society by her aristocratic grandfather. But since she has no intention of marrying, she visits a costume emporium specifically to order unflattering dresses guaranteed to put off any prospective suitors.

Powerful and charismatic Jacob Astor Addison is in London, acquiring businesses to add to his theatrical holdings in America—as well as buying an emerald for a young lady back in Boston. He’s furious when a she-devil masquerading as an English lady steals Quimby’s Costume Emporium from under his nose.

Jake strikes a devil’s bargain, offering to design her “wallflower wardrobe” and giving Cleo the chance to design his. Cleo can’t resist the fun of clothing the rough-hewn American in feathers and flowers. And somehow in the middle of their lively competition, Jake becomes her closest friend.

It isn’t until Cleo becomes the toast of all society that Jake realizes she’s stolen his fiercely guarded heart. But unlike the noblemen at her feet, he doesn’t belong in her refined and cultured world.

Caught between the demands of honor and desire, Jake would give up everything to be with the woman he loves—if she’ll have him!

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This was my first book by Eloisa James and it shan’t be my last. It was an amusing and engaging romp and I enjoyed it a lot. The characters were relatable and sympathetic, the side characters quite amusing, and the premise just absurd enough to inject quite a lot of humor and shake up the typical regency romance plot.

I greatly enjoyed hearing about Cleo’s mother and seeing her work through her grief and mixed feelings. I also enjoyed the wardrobes Cleo and Jake created for one another — and especially Byng’s joyful and colorful takeover of the designs. Cleo and Jake’s closeness and respect for one another was also quite wonderful.

The plot at times felt a bit thin, and the ending a bit contrived. Also, Cleo got over her shame and humiliation just a little too fast to be believable. It felt a bit like the story had to hurry up and conclude within a certain page count.

Overall though, a highly enjoyable read and I recommend it. I also look forward to the sequel(s).

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

She loathed stubborn men: they were so often underqualified and overpresumptuous.

They were a wild and undisciplined people who wouldn’t agree to pay taxes, even for tea. They’d rather drink coffee, simply to avoid taxes.

Which said about everything that needed to be said, given that coffee was a vile drink that tasted like fusty beans.

ARC Review: The Marquess Makes His Move by Diana Quincy

Publication Date: March 29, 2022

Synopsis:

Diana Quincy returns with the newest novel in the Clandestine Affairs series with a steamy romance about a half-Arab marquess seeking revenge on—and falling for—London’s most famous mapmaker.

The new footman doesn’t seem to know his place…

London’s most renowned mapmaker is a woman…but nobody knows it. If anyone discovers that Rose Fleming is the power and talent behind the family business, the scandal could ruin them. Rose’s secret is tested by the arrival of a handsome new footman who shows far too much interest in his new mistress. Rose battles an intense attraction to the enigmatic servant, but maintaining a proper distance isn’t easy when you and temptation live under the same roof.

She makes him forget he has a score to settle…

Few have met the reclusive half-Arab Marquess of Brandon, who is rumored to live with a harem of beauties among his mother’s people near Jerusalem. Brandon couldn’t care less what society thinks of him, or that his fellow peers are disdainful of his common blood, but he won’t stand for being robbed. That’s why he’s disguised himself as a footman in the home of a respected mapmaker who cheated Brandon out of his land. But the nobleman’s plans for retribution are complicated by his growing attraction for the secretive lady of the house.

When Brandon uncovers the shocking truth about Rose’s role in his stolen birthright, can a love born of deception really conquer all?

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Where this book really shone was its characters. Especially Alex, who took his job posing as a footman seriously enough to pay an urchin to teach him how to do his duties, as well as provide baskets of food for the other servants when he realized they were going hungry. His haughty demeanor (appropriate for a marquess, not so for a footman) sometimes made the masquerade quite amusing. But there was also an earnestness to him that I appreciated.

Rose, too, was an excellent character. Her life was less than pleasant, but her determination, resilience, and pride in her work made me root for her to find her happy ending.

I also really liked Alex’s Arabian extended family and the way he related to them.

The plot was at times predictable, and at others surprised me. The writing was average and, while not up to my usual standards, there were enough good things to make up for it.

All in all, an enjoyable afternoon’s read.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Avon and Harper Voyager for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Kiss & Tell by Adib Khorram

Publication Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

A smart, sexy YA novel about a boy band star, his first breakup, his first rebound, and what it means to be queer in the public eye, from award-winning author Adib Khorram

Hunter never expected to be a boy band star, but, well, here he is. He and his band Kiss & Tell are on their first major tour of North America, playing arenas all over the United States and Canada (and getting covered by the gossipy press all over North America as well). Hunter is the only gay member of the band, and he just had a very painful breakup with his first boyfriend–leaked sexts, public heartbreak, and all–and now everyone expects him to play the perfect queer role model for teens.

But Hunter isn’t really sure what being the perfect queer kid even means. Does it mean dressing up in whatever The Label tells him to wear for photo shoots and pretending never to have sex? (Unfortunately, yes.) Does it mean finding community among the queer kids at the meet-and-greets after K&T’s shows? (Fortunately, yes.) Does it include a new relationship with Kaivan, the star of the band opening for K&T on tour? (He hopes so.) But when The Label finds out about Hunter and Kaivan, it spells trouble—for their relationship, for the perfect gay boy Hunter plays for the cameras, and, most importantly, for Hunter himself.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This is one of the hardest books to review that I’ve read this year. Because I wasn’t invested in the main character, but I flew through it in 2 days, and a lot of it really hurt (so maybe I was invested in the mc after all?)…

I didn’t connect with the main character or the story / storytelling like I did with Darius the Great, and I prefer the quieter, geekier Darius.

However. This book does a fabulous job of making Hunter flawed and giving him character growth. He’s out as a gay member of a boy band, and he’s being torn apart by it.
a) He cares deeply and wants to do good for his community
b) he’s insecure and lets the Label push him into performing a specific kind of ‘queer’ identity even though he hates it.
c) he knows he has privilege because he is white but he still feels like he’s being attacked – because he is. Both from outside critics and the people at the Label who should be protecting him.
d) he’s hurting and angry and feels like he isn’t allowed to be which leads to resentment and lashing out.

The structure of the book works really well to highlight how unfair it all is. Interspersing the story with snippets from critical articles, text messages, comments, interviews, etc. really drives home how awful it is to be famous and have all these people feeling entitled to weigh in on things that should be private.

I have recently discovered BTS (I know, behind the times) and seeing some of the ways their fans (and detractors) treat them made this book feel very real and also hurt more than it would have, I think.

I do think it all gets resolved too easily at the end, but I am willing to believe that once Hunter opens up to his fellow band members and manager that things will change. We don’t get to see any of that change though, so it ends up being a whole lot of pain without really feeling like things are getting better. It’s like a hurt/comfort story but without the comfort and with a whole lot of hurt.

I also think that Hunter’s fellow band members could have used a lot more fleshing out. I still can’t keep most of them straight and even the ones that feel like their own characters are very cardboard cutout-y.

I have read a couple of other queer boy/girl band books recently and they captured my attention and emotions more easily because they gave POV chapters to more of the band members and so everyone felt more well-rounded.

Despite its flaws, however, this book is worth a read if only as a critique of how we treat famous people in general and boy bands in particular, especially ones with members who are queer and out (or not).

*Thanks to Bookishfirst and Dial Books for providing a copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

I don’t know who it was that woke up one day and decided to strap knives to their feet, but I’m glad they did.

He smiles at me like I’m a camera.

ARC Review: Why Do I Feel So Worried? by Tammi Kirkness

Publication Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

An interactive way to calm kids’ anxiety and promote better mental health with simple illustrated activities
 
Children need mental health days, too. There are lots of stressors in today’s world, from the global pandemic, to economic recession, to global warming, and kids aren’t exempt from the effects that these issues have on our minds and emotions. What’s worse, letting worry and stress get out of hand can turn short-term feelings into long-term states of mind like anxiety and depression. We all need help tackling these issues, but a lot of the time, we just don’t know where to start.
 
Why Do I Feel So Worried? is an interactive book for children ages seven to twelve (and their parents/caretakers) to help them kick anxiety to the curb and create a common language to help both generations understand feelings together. Incorporating evidence-based methods like breathing techniques, visualization, and pattern interruption, Tammi Kirkness helps bring calm into stressful times. This book abounds with illustrations, games, and exercises to empower kids to take control of their emotions, and to teach parents the importance of facing mental challenges head-on.
 
From yoga to psychology, Kirkness educates children on mental health and teaches parents how to set an example for their kids and raise a more mindful generation. Through mutual healing, both parents and children can use this book to acknowledge and conquer their longstanding fears.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This is an excellent guide to helping your kid work through some worries. My kid worries – a LOT – and I will definitely be reading this with them. I can definitely see how some of the exercises could really help them.

The information is presented in a clear, easy-to-understand, and visually appealing way. It is easy to work through the entire book or just the section that is relevant to the child’s current worry. There are incisive questions to ask the child and exercises (meditation, etc) to help deal with each specific type of worry.

*Thanks to NetGalley and The Experiment for providing an e-arc for review.

ARC Review: Alexander von Humboldt by Peter Nys

Publication Date: March 22, 2022

Synopsis:

The Great Minds series introduces young children to the greatest scientists of all time. First up: Alexander von Humboldt, the father of the climate movement. For researchers ages 9 years and up.

Young Alexander von Humboldt’s pockets are always full of treasures from the forest: stones, insects, plants, and fossils. In the second half of the nineteenth century, he grows up to become a science-adventurer and climate genius. His expeditions take him all over the world and lead to many new discoveries.

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Kiddo (2nd grade) and I read this after reading a truly excellent biography of Alexander von Humboldt that was much longer. I was curious about how Humboldt’s story would be presented in this much shorter format, and if the author would choose to highlight the same information.

This is actually quite a good summary of the events covered in more detail in the other book. There is also a greater focus in this book on Humboldt’s role in climate science and activism.

The pictures are colorful and engaging and really draw the reader in. The additional information and activities presented in the sidebars are cool but I wish they’d used a different font. The script font is often difficult to read and did decrease our enjoyment of those sections somewhat – we were tempted to skip them altogether. If I hadn’t been reading this along with my kiddo, they would have skipped them because they would have been unable to read them.

Overall this is a great introduction to Alexander von Humboldt and his love of and contributions to many different branches of science and we enjoyed reading it very much and recommend it.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Clavis Publishing for providing an e-arc for review.

Blog Blitz and Arc Review: The League of Gentlewomen Witches by India Holton

Welcome to my stop on the League of Gentlewomen Witches Blog Blitz with Berkley Publishing. (This is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Publishing Date: March 15, 2022

Synopsis:

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the teahouse. . .

Miss Charlotte Pettifer belongs to a secret league of women skilled in the subtle arts. That is to say—although it must never be said—witchcraft. The League of Gentlewomen Witches strives to improve the world in small ways. Using magic, they tidy, correct, and manipulate according to their notions of what is proper, entirely unlike those reprobates in the Wisteria Society.
 
When the long lost amulet of Black Beryl is discovered, it is up to Charlotte, as the future leader of the League, to make sure the powerful talisman does not fall into the wrong hands. Therefore, it is most unfortunate when she crosses paths with Alex O’Riley, a pirate who is no Mr. Darcy. With all the world scrambling after the amulet, Alex and Charlotte join forces to steal it together. If only they could keep their pickpocketing hands to themselves! If Alex’s not careful, he might just steal something else—such as Charlotte’s heart.

About the Author:

India Holton lives in New Zealand, where she’s enjoyed the typical Kiwi lifestyle of wandering around forests, living barefoot on islands, and messing about in boats. Now she lives in a cottage near the sea, writing books about uppity women and charming rogues, and drinking too much tea.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I didn’t know how India Holton could possibly follow up the zany, madcap delight that was Wisteria Society, but somehow she managed it. I absolutely fell in love with Charlotte and Alex (not to mention the rest of the pirates and witches) as I laughed and swooned along on this romantic adventure.

This was just as hilarious and brilliant as the first. I absolutely love these characters and their adventures. I love the breakneck pace and the images painted in my mind — pirates will now forever be little old ladies wearing ridiculous hats flying houses through the air, drinking tea and shooting their enemies at the same time.

Charlotte learning to be herself was wonderful, as was the cast of Jane Austen heroines inside her head who she relied upon for the proper response to things. Charlotte had such strength, once she let herself use it, and the slow blossoming of her character was absolutely delightful to see.

It was lovely to see under the uncaring mask Alex shows the world and see why he does that, and what he hides underneath, and it was lovely to see him fall for Charlotte.

Cecelia and Opla and Ned were a delight, more so because I wasn’t expecting to encounter them again. I desperately hope there will be more pirate and witch feuding in the future because I can’t imagine ever being done with this world and these characters. I laughed more at this (and Wisteria Society) than anything since Terry Pratchett. It’s wonderfully clever and I loved it more with every page.

Dare I hope for another class of magic users to appear? Governesses, perhaps? Miss Dearlove was unexpected and wonderful and I feel like there’s so much more to her than what we’ve seen. And her exit from the scene gave me major Mary Poppins vibes, so. I am hopeful.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Berkley for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes

“I see. So by contributing to your personal wealth I am helping the poor?”

“Exactly.”

He grinned. “You sure you’re not a pirate?”

She had come to the end of the short queue in front of the counter and was waiting in much the same way a stick of dynamite waits.

Now both men stared at her, their eyes dark, their hard jawlines taut. She felt a sudden, uncharacteristic leap of anxiety, appreciating finally that, in her haste to pursue the amulet, she had entered without a chaperone into the private company of a notorious scoundrel and his assassin-butler. Not even flying a bicycle in public touched upon the scandal this represented.

At that opportune moment, Bixby reappeared, tea towel and grenade in hand. “I beg your pardon, sir. There is a house following us.”

“Not the Dreaded Lightbourne of Leeds? I’ve heard he threw his own house off a cliff because he didn’t like the wallpaper anymore! Pirates, Judith, at our very door! Quick, hide the silver!”

Ned threw Cecilia an exceedingly married look.

“It’s ungentlemanly for you to tell me what to do. Actually, no, I take that back. It’s entirely gentlemanly. You, sir, represent all that is wrong with our patriarchal society.

That they had landed less than a quarter mile from a public house was coincidental only if you forget this was England, where many thousands of pubs thrive around the country. That it had just one bedroom still available will not be surprising to connoisseurs of romance. The sole astonishment was it contained two beds.

Mrs. Rotunder smirked. “Oh well, two beds, you’re quite right — that completely saves your girl’s reputation. Everyone knows two beds ins the best deterrent there is to seduction.”

“Excuse me,” she said, the words bristling with offense. “I am in no way piratic. I am merely hijacking your house, holding you and your servant at gunpoint, and preparing to steal that jewel around your neck.”

The pirates trooped in like a sentence full of adjectives, adverbs, and exclamation marks, punctuated finally by the tiny black full stop of Verisimilitude Jones, who was generally called, or more precisely, screamed, “Millie the Monster.”

She was no heroine, bravely facing whatever life sent her way. She was a witch, capable of inverting the laws of physics to get things done.

She began striding along the road, half-undressed and splashed with blood, her deadly boots clicking against the road like a tsking tongue, her eyes as fiery as the hovering battlehouse overhead.

Alex staggered, reaching for the nearest object to steady himself — a naked marble gentleman. It rocked beneath his hands, thus proving Charlotte, Cecilia, Miss Plim, and probably most women of England correct as to the unreliability of men.

God, but he loved that she didn’t automatically know how to be normal. He longed to fly her away into a wild sky where she’d have the freedom to be a strange and sensual and indescribably wonderful as she wanted to be.

Although, to be fair, they’d make the leap even with that understanding, thus leaving no actual difference between a witch’s arrogance and a pirate’s insanity.

The old stone cottage illuminated the darkening sky like a piratic moon as Bixby steered it one-handedly, a Thackeray novel in his other hand and half an eye on the horizon. He was heading nowhere in particular — “away,” Charlotte had told him, and while he did not approve, he obeyed.

The world beneath was indistinct, like the memory of a story but none of the words.

Excerpt:

THE LEAGUE OF GENTLEWOMEN WITCHES by India Holton

Berkley Trade Paperback Original | On sale March 15, 2022

Excerpt

A policeman’s whistle pierced the clamor of the crowd, and Charlotte winced. Pain from the noise ricocheted along her nerves. If only she could leave London with all its cacophony and retire to Hampshire, birthplace of Jane Austen, where green peace whispered wild yet gentle poetry to one’s heart. It was never to be-duty forced her presence in London, noble duty (and the fact there was not much of value to steal in the countryside)-yet still she dreamed. And occasionally took brief jaunts by train because, truly, there was nothing like leaving home for real comfort.

Thus imagining oak trees and country lanes while behind her the brawl intensified, Charlotte made her way without further impediment toward Almack’s. Its door stood open, a delivery boy’s bicycle leaning on the wall beside it, and the warm interior shadows promised respite from London’s inconveniences-as well as a back door through which she could slip unnoticed by policemen, pumpkin carters, and aggravated briefcase owners. She was almost there when she saw the child.

A mere scrap of humanity, he huddled within torn and filthy clothes, his small hand extended pathetically. Charlotte looked at him and then at Almack’s door. She came to a decisive stop.

“Hello,” she said in the stiff tones of someone unused to conversing with children. “Are you hungry?”

The urchin nodded. Charlotte offered him her wrapped sandwiches but he hesitated, his eyes growing wide and fearful as he glanced over her shoulder. Suddenly, he snatched the food and ran.

Charlotte watched him go. Two cucumber sandwiches would not sustain a boy for long, but no doubt he could sell the linen napkin to good effect. She almost smiled at the thought. Then she drew herself up to her fullest height, lifted her chin, and turned to look at the gentleman now looming over her.

“Good afternoon,” she said, tightening her grip on his briefcase.

In reply, he caught her arm lest she follow the example of the urchin. His expression tumbled through surprise and uncertainty before landing on the hard ground of displeasure; his dark blue eyes smoldered. For the first time, Charlotte noticed he wore high leather boots, strapped and buckled, scarred from interesting use-boots to make a woman’s heart tremble, either in trepidation or delight, depending on her education. A silver hook hung from his left ear; a ruby ring encircled one thumb, and what she had taken for a beard was mere unshaven stubble. Altogether it led to a conclusion Charlotte was appalled not to have reached earlier.

“Pirate,” she said in disgust.

“Thief,” he retorted. “Give me back my briefcase.”

How rude! Not even the suggestion of a please! But what else could one expect from a barbarian who probably flew around in some brick cottage thinking himself a great man just because he could get it up? Pirates really were the lowest of the low, even if-or possibly because-they could go higher than everyone else in their magic-raised battlehouses. Such an unsubtle use of enchantment was a crime against civilization, even before one counted in the piracy. Charlotte allowed her irritation to show, although frowning on the street was dreadfully unladylike.

“Possession is nine-tenths of the law, sir. Kindly unhand me and I will not summon a police officer to charge you with molestation.”

He surprised her by laughing. “I see you are a wit as well as a thief. And an unlikely philanthropist too. If you hadn’t stopped for the boy, you might have gotten away.”

“I still shall.”

“I don’t think so. You may be clever, but I could have you on the ground in an instant.”

“You could,” Charlotte agreed placidly. “However, you may like to note that my shoe is pressed against your foot. If I am so inclined, I can release a poisoned dart from its heel which will penetrate boot and skin to paralyze you within moments.”

He raised an eyebrow. “Ingenious. So you too are a pirate, I take it?”

Charlotte gasped, trying to tug her arm from his grip. “I most certainly am not, sir, and I demand an apology for the insult!”

He shrugged.

Charlotte waited, but apparently that was the extent of his reply. She drew a tight breath, determined to remain calm. What would Jane Austen’s fiercest heroine, Elizabeth Bennet, do in this situation?

“I consider myself a reasonable woman,” she said. “I take pride in not being prejudiced. Although your behavior is disgraceful, and I shall surely have bruises on my arm, I do appreciate this has been a difficult afternoon for you. Therefore, I give you permission to withdraw.”

“How kind,” he said wryly, although he did ease his grip on her arm. “I am going nowhere, however, without my briefcase.”

ARC Review: An Affair By the Sea by Erica Ridley

Publication Date: March 15, 2022

Synopsis:

What happens when a wallflower’s extremely make-believe fake suitor appears in the flesh just in time to ruin all her spinsterly plans?

Orphaned pianist Allegra Brown is a poor relation with nothing much to recommend her, save a minuscule dowry and a very big imagination. She has spent the past several years as governess to her younger cousins, who are now ready for their come out—and want Allegra to marry, too. Specifically, they eagerly await the return of Allegra’s dashing, handsome, swashbuckling, conveniently absent and secretly fictional fiancé, the dread pirate Captain L’Amour.

The only place Mr. John Sharp strikes fear is in the courtroom, where his neat, ordered mind is renowned for winning every case he presents. John loves predictability and longs to be a chef. Unfortunately, every time he puts on an apron, the entire kitchen catches fire. Much like passion burning between him and a certain wildly unpredictable spinster, who seems to have confused him for a dashing, exciting pirate. By fulfilling her fantasies, can his dreams come true…together?

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This novella was, from the very beginning, absolutely ridiculous. Nothing that happened was really even remotely possible — and yet I found myself just enjoying the ride. It’s a testament to Erica Ridley’s writing skills that she can turn a farcical premise like this into something sweet where I was invested in the characters and their romance and holding out hope for a happy-ever-after.

We have John, a former solicitor who dreams of opening his own tea shop and whose previous attempt at being a chef went up in flames. Literally. His catchphrase could be a combination of ‘a place for everything and everything in its place’ and ‘be prepared. No, more prepared than that.’

We have Allegra, the poor ward of her uncle who works as an unpaid servant in his household taking care of her two cousins. She dreams of the day she turns 30 and can claim the money left to her should she remain a spinster. Her catchphrase could be ”But it could be true.’

Allegra has spent years spinning ever more ridiculous tales of her long-lost fiance Captain Hamish L’Amour. Her cousins are delighted (and Allegra horrified) when they run into the Captain on the street. John takes it all in stride, after accidentally confirming that indeed, it is he. He and Allegra then turn the case of mistaken identity into an elaborate fake courtship, while falling in love for real and challenging one another to step out of their comfort zones and seize their dreams.

It was feel-good and sweet and terribly funny. I would definitely recommend it to anyone who needs a good laugh and a dose of happily-ever-after.

*Thanks to NetGalley, Erica Ridley, and WebMotion for providing an e-arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

Operatic…pirate…bards? Who sang vicarious love songs in iambic pentameter on command?

“It may surprise you to learn that ‘love at first sight’ is rather quick,” Portia said. “Instantaneous, even. By definition.”

From their perspective, Allegra had always looked this unfashionable. It was difficult to notice an injustice when the injustice was “just the way things are.”

Rude, to be so casually dashing at this hour of the morning.

Miss Portia clapped her hands. “Reprimanded in tandem! Has there ever been anything more lovely?” She gave a happy sigh. “This must be what it feels like to have two parents.”

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