Lauren Willig, Ivy and Intrigue
This story (or short novella?) in the Pink Carnation series revisits Richard and Amy from the first book. They’ve now been married several months and are enjoying life together in the English countryside, but they both sometimes miss their active spying days in France. Espionage finds them again, however, just as Richard’s first love re-enters his life. Can Richard and Amy learn to recognize and communicate their true desires, all while thwarting yet more Bonapartist shenanigans? This is a cute but unnecessary interlude in the series…it’s nice to see a bit more of Richard and Amy (as well as Miles and Henrietta), but the plot is negligible and there’s no character development to speak of. It’s a decent, quick little read, but definitely not necessary even for fans of the series.
Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Wild-Built
Sibling Dex, a monk who serves the god of small comforts, suddenly decides to change their life, abandoning the city to travel among rural villages as an itinerant tea monk. But eventually even this makes them restless, and they travel into the wilderness, where they meet a robot named Mosscap. This shocks Dex, since robots retreated to uninhabited portions of the planet after they gained sentience, and they haven’t interacted with humans since. This charming short novel has very low stakes, but it’s quite poignant and philosophical if you’re into that kind of thing. I liked the relationship between Dex and Mosscap, especially their conversation about humans’ desire for purpose. If the premise intrigues you, I think you’ll like this one.
Cecilia Grant, A Lady Awakened
Martha Russell is a recent widow, and she’ll be forced to leave her late husband’s estate when his brother, the heir, takes possession. But the heir is a terrible person who raped two maids, so Martha is determined to prevent him from inheriting somehow. The only option is for her to give birth to an heir herself, which is impossible . . . but if she can convince her neighbor, Theo Mirkwood, to have sex with her until she conceives, she can pass off the baby as a legitimate heir. She has no intention of enjoying their illicit relationship, but the lighthearted, charming Theo is determined to change her mind.
Admittedly, this plot is completely nonsensical, but I didn’t mind because the book is so good! Martha is dismissive, detached, and cold, which makes her a challenging but very interesting heroine. It’s wonderful to watch her grow throughout the book as Theo helps her become less guarded. Meanwhile, Theo also improves as Martha teaches him how to manage his estate. There are a lot of sex scenes in the book, which I’m normally not a fan of, but in this case they wonderfully reveal the progress of the romance. The early scenes are awkward and deeply unsexy, which is so counterintuitive for a genre that tends to idealize sexual relationships. I highly recommend this one to fans of historical romance, especially if you’re interested in a twist on the usual formula.