Lauren Willig, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose
Mary Alsworthy has just endured the humiliation of watching her younger sister, Letty, run off with the man she was supposed to marry (as detailed in The Deception of the Emerald Ring). Now she’s faced with the awful possibility of becoming a spinster dependent on Letty’s charity. Fortunately, the enigmatic Lord Vaughn steps in with an alternative: he’ll fund another Season for Mary if she agrees to become a double agent, infiltrating the network of the French spy known as the Black Tulip. But the lines between business and pleasure blur as she and Vaughn become increasingly attached to one another. I remember this as being one of my favorite books of the series, and upon re-reading I’d definitely agree! Both Vaughn and Mary were “villains” of previous books, portrayed as cold and amoral, so it’s great to get a new perspective on them here. Though the mystery isn’t terribly compelling (the bad guy is easy to spot), the romance more than makes up for it, I think because both Mary and Vaughn experienced real hardships before getting their happy ending. So far, this installment of the series is the one to beat!
Lois McMaster Bujold, The Curse of Chalion
Once an honorable soldier, Cazaril is now physically and mentally broken from long imprisonment, torture and illness. He’s making his way back to the noble household where he once served as a page, hoping the lady of the house can find a small job for him. Instead, she makes him secretary-tutor to the princess Iselle, which thrusts him back into the world of court rivalries and political intrigue. There he encounters powerful enemies and calls on the gods for help — with unexpected results. After loving the Vorkosigan saga so much, I was slightly worried that Bujold’s fantasy novels wouldn’t measure up, but thankfully, I absolutely loved this! Cazaril is the opposite of Miles Vorkosigan in many ways (he’s not arrogant or ambitious, and mainly he just wants to be invisible), but he has a similar snarky internal voice, as well as the same surprising competence in a crisis. I also loved the world of this novel, with its detailed politics, history, and theology. Looking forward to the next book!
Anne Gracie, The Summer Bride
This final book in the Chance Sisters series focuses on Daisy, the Cockney girl who dreams not of marriage but of opening her own dress shop for high-society ladies. Her goal finally seems within reach, but she doesn’t have quite enough money or time to take the next step. Meanwhile, roguish Patrick Flynn may not be an aristocrat, but he’s rich and determined to marry the finest young lady in London. He’s even got a particular earl’s daughter in mind — but for some reason he finds himself drawn to Daisy instead. This book was…fine. I liked that Daisy and Patrick are both outsiders trying to figure out their place in the world. I also really enjoyed their first kiss! But I felt like the obstacles to their relationship (career vs. marriage, kids vs. no kids) were legitimate, and the resolutions were a little too pat. Overall, I enjoyed this series, but The Winter Bride is the only standout for me. Still, Gracie is one of the better Regency authors I’ve encountered lately, so I’ll likely keep exploring her work.
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