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Blog Tour & ARC Review: The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

Publishing Date: October 11, 2022

Welcome to the Belle of Belgrave Square book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

A London heiress rides out to the wilds of the English countryside to honor a marriage of convenience with a mysterious and reclusive stranger.

Tall, dark, and dour, the notorious Captain Jasper Blunt was once hailed a military hero, but tales abound of his bastard children and his haunted estate in Yorkshire. What he requires now is a rich wife to ornament his isolated ruin, and he has set his sights on the enchanting Julia Wychwood.
 
For Julia, an incurable romantic cursed with a crippling social anxiety, navigating a London ballroom is absolute torture. The only time Julia feels any degree of confidence is when she’s on her horse. Unfortunately, a young lady can’t spend the whole of her life in the saddle, so Julia makes an impetuous decision to take her future by the reins—she proposes to Captain Blunt.
 
In exchange for her dowry and her hand, Jasper must promise to grant her freedom to do as she pleases. To ride—and to read—as much as she likes without masculine interference. He readily agrees to her conditions, with one provision of his own: Julia is forbidden from going into the tower rooms of his estate and snooping around in his affairs. But the more she learns of the beastly former hero, the more intrigued she becomes….

Author Bio:

USA Today bestselling author Mimi Matthews writes both historical nonfiction and award-winning proper Victorian romances. Her novels have received starred reviews in Library JournalPublishers Weekly, and Kirkus, and her articles have been featured on the Victorian Web, the Journal of Victorian Culture, and in syndication at BUST Magazine. In her other life, Mimi is an attorney. She resides in California with her family, which includes a retired Andalusian dressage horse, a Sheltie, and two Siamese cats. Learn more online at mimimatthews.com.

Author Photo by Vicki Hahn 2021

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I loved this so much. I loved the first as well but I had reservations about it – not so here. Everything about this story was historical romance perfection. I had a smile on my face the entire time I was reading.

The romance was swoony, the characters beautifully written, the struggles and misunderstandings relatable, and the closed-door romance a big plus for me. I also really loved the use of the Bluebeard story – and the way the expectations arising from that were flipped. It was also really well-written – I had no problems at all with the writing like I often do with romances.

The plot felt familiar to me but I think this was a combination of having read the preview at the end of the previous book and also that it just hits every historical romance beat to perfection. This makes it somewhat predictable but isn’t that one of the main selling points of romances? I like that they’re cozy and predictable and follow a familiar pattern. I also am a huge fan of almost all of the tropes used in this book so that probably contributed as well.

The children were adorable in their wildness and reluctance to open up, and also in the sweet way they responded to Julia. Captain Blunt was broody and cold for a reason and as he opened up and showed his true self I couldn’t help but love him. I was SO happy to see Julia learn to stand up for herself and believe in herself and her worth. I also really appreciated seeing her anxiety – I really felt for her because I, too, have extreme anxiety and would generally prefer to be reading a book. Every part of this novel just made me so happy, I was reluctant to put it down and wanted the story to go on forever.

I highly recommend this.

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

Favorite Quotes:

In a novel she was safe. Her throat didn’t close up and her palms didn’t grow damp. She could experience things in a way that didn’t overwhelm her.

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

“Laws are made by men and, therefore, fallible. Justice is something greater. Most of us—the poorest and the weakest—won’t see it on this side of the grave. But sometimes, on rare occasions, someone manages to balance the scales. It can be difficult to reconcile it with the law. That doesn’t negate the rightness of it.”

The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews

Non-exclusive Excerpt:

Cossack tossed his head at something in the distance.

Julia’s gloved hands tightened reflexively on the reins. She squinted down the length of the Row at the rider coming toward them. “Easy,” she murmured to Cossack. “It’s just another horse.”

An enormous horse. Bigger and blacker than Cossack himself.

But it wasn’t the horse that made Julia tense in her sidesaddle. It was the gentleman astride him: a stern-faced, battle-scarred ex-military man.

Captain Blunt, the Hero of the Crimea.

Her mouth went dry as he approached. She was half-tempted to bolt. But there was no escaping him. She brought Cossack down to a trot and then to a walk.

She’d met the captain once before. It had been at Lady Arundell’s spring ball. Viscount Ridgeway, a mutual acquaintance of theirs, had introduced him to Julia as a worthy partner. In other circumstances, the interaction might have been the veriest commonplace-a few polite words exchanged and a turn about the polished wood dance floor.

Instead, Julia had gawped at Captain Blunt like a stricken nitwit. Her breath had stopped and her pulse had roared in her ears. Afraid she might faint, she’d fled the ballroom before the introduction had been completed, leaving Captain Blunt standing there, his granite-hewn features frozen in a mask of displeasure.

It had been one of the most mortifying experiences of Julia’s life.

And that was saying something.

For a lady prone to panicking in company, mortifications were a daily occurrence. At the advanced age of two-and-twenty, she’d nearly grown accustomed to them. But even for her, the incident at Lady Arundell’s ball had marked a new low.

No doubt Captain Blunt thought her actions had had something to do with his appearance.

He was powerfully made. Tall, strong, and impossibly broad shouldered. Already a physically intimidating gentleman, he was made even more so by the scar on his face. The deep, gruesome slash bisected his right eyebrow and ran all the way down to his mouth, notching into the flesh of his lip. It gave the impression of a permanent sneer.

Rather ironic that he was hailed as a hero. In looks, there seemed nothing heroic about him. Indeed, he appeared in every way a villain.

“Miss Wychwood.” He removed his beaver hat, inclining his head in a bow. His hair was a lustrous raven black. Cut short to his collar, it was complemented by a pair of similarly short sideburns edging the harsh lines of his jaw. “Good morning.”

She scarcely dared look him in the face. “Good morning.”

He didn’t reply. Not immediately. He was studying her. She could feel the weight of his stare. It set off a storm of butterflies in her stomach.

Ride on, she wanted to say. Please, ride on.

He didn’t ride on. He seemed intent on making her squirm.

She suspected she knew why. She’d never apologized to him for her behavior at the ball. There’d been no opportunity.

Perhaps he wanted her to suffer for embarrassing him?

If that was the case, Julia was resigned to take her medicine. Heaven knew she deserved it.

She forced herself to meet his gaze. The butterflies in her stomach threatened to revolt. Goodness. His eyes were the color of hoarfrost-a gray so cold and stark it sent an icy shiver tracing down the curve of her spine. Every feminine instinct within her rose up in warning. Run, it said. Flee.

But this wasn’t Lady Arundell’s ballroom.

This was Hyde Park. Here in the open air, mounted on Cossack, she wasn’t the same person she was at a ball or a dinner dance. For one thing, she wasn’t alone. She had a partner-and an imposing one, at that. Cossack lent her his strength and his stature. Made her feel nearly as formidable as he was. It’s why she was more confident on horseback.

At least, she’d always been so before.

“How do you do?” she asked.

“Very well.” His voice was deep and commanding, with a growl at the edge of it. A soldier’s voice. The kind that, when necessary, could be heard across a battlefield. “And yourself?”

“I’m enjoying our spell of fine weather,” she said. “It’s excellent for riding.”

He flicked a glance over her habit. Made of faded black wool, it did nothing to emphasize the contours of her figure. Rather the opposite. It obscured her shape, much as the net veil on her short-brimmed riding hat obscured her face. His black brows notched into a frown.

She suppressed a flicker of self-consciousness. Her clothing wasn’t meant to attract attention. It was meant to render her invisible. But it hadn’t-not to him.

The way he looked at her . . . Hades might have regarded Persephone thus before dragging her down to hell to be his unwilling bride.

And everyone knew Captain Blunt was looking for a wife.

If one believed the prevailing rumors, it was the sole reason he’d come to town. He was on the hunt for a vulnerable heiress he could spirit back to his isolated Yorkshire estate. An estate that was said to be haunted.

“You ride often at this time of day?” he asked.

“Whenever I can,” she said. “Cossack is glad for the exercise.”

“You handle him well.”

Some of the tightness in her chest eased at the compliment. “It’s not difficult.” She stroked Cossack’s neck. “He may look imposing, but he’s a lamb underneath. The biggest creatures often are in my experience.”

Captain Blunt’s own mount stamped his gigantic hooves as if in objection to her statement.

She gave the great beast an interested look. He was built like a medieval warhorse, with a broad chest, heavy fetlocks, and a thickly waving mane and tail. “What do you call him?”

“Quintus.”

“And is he-“

“A brute through and through,” Captain Blunt said. “Sometimes, Miss Wychwood, what you see is precisely what you get.”

Excerpted from The Belle of Belgrave Square by Mimi Matthews Copyright © 2022 by Mimi Matthews. Excerpted by permission of Berkley. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Blog Tour & Arc Review: Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Publishing Date: September 6, 2022

Welcome to the Killers of a Certain Age book tour with Berkley Publishing Group. (This blog tour post is also posted on my Tumblr book, art, & fandom blog Whimsical Dragonette.)

Synopsis:

Older women often feel invisible, but sometimes that’s their secret weapon.

They’ve spent their lives as the deadliest assassins in a clandestine international organization, but now that they’re sixty years old, four women friends can’t just retire – it’s kill or be killed in this action-packed thriller.

Billie, Mary Alice, Helen, and Natalie have worked for the Museum, an elite network of assassins, for forty years. Now their talents are considered old-school and no one appreciates what they have to offer in an age that relies more on technology than people skills.

When the foursome is sent on an all-expenses paid vacation to mark their retirement, they are targeted by one of their own. Only the Board, the top-level members of the Museum, can order the termination of field agents, and the women realize they’ve been marked for death.

Now to get out alive they have to turn against their own organization, relying on experience and each other to get the job done, knowing that working together is the secret to their survival. They’re about to teach the Board what it really means to be a woman–and a killer–of a certain age.

Author Bio:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn is a 6th-generation native Texan. She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio. Married to her college sweetheart and the mother of one, Raybourn makes her home in Virginia. Her novels have been nominated for numerous awards including two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, three du Mauriers, and most recently the 2019 Edgar Award for Best Novel. She launched a new Victorian mystery series with the 2015 release of A CURIOUS BEGINNING, featuring intrepid butterfly-hunter and amateur sleuth, Veronica Speedwell. Veronica has returned in several more adventures, most recently AN IMPOSSIBLE IMPOSTOR, book seven, which released in early 2022. Deanna’s first contemporary novel, KILLERS OF A CERTAIN AGE, about four female assassins on the cusp of retirement publishes in September 2022.

Author Photo taken from Goodreads

My Review:

Rating: 4 out of 5.

This book was very good. I wasn’t sure what to expect, having never read a Deanna Raybourn book, and I was pleasantly surprised. The story whizzed along at a good clip, the characters were for the most part well-developed and interesting. The pacing was breathless as they raced against time to carry out heists and murder the men who are trying to murder them.

I came to really appreciate Billie, as it was in her POV for the most part, but I did feel that the other three women blurred together a bit and weren’t as distinct as I would have liked.

I very much approve of the casual inclusion of LGBT+ characters and relationships. That always makes a book feel much more friendly, and it was done so naturally that I barely even registered it.

I also really really appreciate that the main characters were ‘women of a certain age’ and (despite being expert assassins) they felt very authentic. There were many mentions of the plans having to be adapted to their older bodies. Despite it, they still kicked ass. They were competent and capable AND dealing with things like hot flashes and muscles and stamina that weren’t what they once were. It made for such a nice contrast to the usual teenagers/twenty-something protagonists I usually read about.

I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to like it. There were a few issues I had with it:

The placement of the ‘past’ sections was sometimes jarring and I occasionally got confused about where and when they were. I did become more used to this as I went along, but it took me out of the flow of the story on more than one occasion.

The action scenes – which, to be fair, were a large chunk of the book – were just a tad too clinical. They read almost like newspaper reports. I don’t know if this is just a style common to thrillers – I haven’t read many of them. I feel like the simple language and not-flowery writing are a staple of the genre, but I’m not sure about the descriptions of fight scenes. As the book progressed this bothered me less and less, however, so it might have improved or I might have gotten used to it.

One thing that did bother me consistently through the book was that it was a tad vulgar for my tastes. I do appreciate the bluntness with which things not normally talked about are discussed among the women, but there were so many instances of descriptions of sexual harassment from their targets (which they had to put up with with a smile which definitely made the targets unsympathetic very quickly). Even more off-putting to me (and more common within the story) was the way that the (many) murders were described. Not just how they looked, but how they felt, how they sounded, how they smelled… I get that they are assassins and yes, they do kill a lot of people over the course of the book, but I just didn’t want that much familiarity with the deaths.

I did appreciate the very feminist slant to it all, and the way the men’s casual sexism was used to increase support for the women. Also the way that the four of them used the ‘old women are invisible’ idea to their advantage in order to further their schemes.

The story was very compelling and I found it difficult to put down. I would also probably read it again and will definitely be recommending it to others.

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

Favorite Quotes

And every job was a chance to prove Darwin’s simple maxim. Adapt or die. We adapted; they died.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Three old women, nodding their heads like the witches in Macbeth. I’d known them for two-thirds of my life, those impossible old bitches. And I would save them or die trying.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn

Women are every bit as capable of killing as men.

Killers of a Certain Age by Deanna Raybourn