I had a hard time leaving Smooth Talking Stranger off the list this month; it was one of several books that nearly made the cut. I also need to give props to two Harlequin Blazes: Anything for You by Sarah Mayberry and His Expectant Ex by Catherine Mann. I don't read Blazes very often, but I saw a good review for Anything for You and I was intrigued by the storyline in His Expectant Ex. The heroines in both of these books make a stand for what they want out of their relationships with the heroes and I really appreciated that. Strong characters made these engaging, fun reads. I also found Anna Campbell's Tempt the Devil extremely compelling. I applaud Campbell for tackling difficult storylines and I think her writing is improving. Still, that book isn't for everyone and I'm not sure I'd call it a "favorite." But I think I would read it again some day. Always a Scoundrel by Suzanne Enoch almost made this list. It was a darn close call. But, well, I just love Carla Kelly....
5. The Surgeon's Lady by Carla Kelly. This is the second in her trilogy about the illegitimate daughters of a rather nasty aristocrat, Lord Ratliff. Laura had been sold into marriage by her father and is now widowed and possessor of a decent fortune. She had not known she has half-sisters and when she finally decides to visit Nana (heroine of Marrying the Captain) she finds herself coming to the assistance of one of the surgeons at the nearby Naval hospital and going to work there. The surgeon, Philemon Brittle has to get past the walls Laura has built after the way she was mistreated by her father and husband. As their romance blooms, we also get another fascinating look at 19th century naval life. Kelly's books are always a treat and this was no exception. I bought this as an ebook May 1. It goes on sale in paper today.
4. Whisper of Warning by Laura Griffin. This is the sequel to Thread of Fear and tells the story of Courtney Glass, sister to Fiona in TOF. Courtney is framed for a murder she didn't commit and it's up to Detective Will Hodges to follow his gut and prove she didn't do it. Courtney is a very different character than her sister and I liked her flamboyant nature. The romance between Courtney and Will unfolds gradually even though they are immediately attracted to one another. There were some details here, such as the fact that Will has a job that requires him to juggle multiple cases that made this book very realistic-sounding. I'm looking forward to reading more by this author.
3. Untamed by Pamela Clare. I have had this one forever, it seems. It was released last November. Ms. Clare's books have been consistent winners for me. The hero and heroine are an unlikely pair. Morgan Mackinnon is a Scot raised in America with a well-developed dislike of the British. He's forced to fight against the French, but is captured by them and tended by the recently orphaned half French/half Indian daughter of a French commander who was recently killed by Morgan's band of Rangers. On the surface it all seems convoluted. And the French and Indian Wars were very brutal. So this might not sound like an inviting read. But if you enjoy history even a little bit, this book was fascinating and the history was clearly presented. The romance develops slowly and naturally and it's possible to believe that Amelie would be able to fall in love with Morgan. One thing that I really, really appreciated about this book is that the French commander who replaces Amelie's father is a decent man and Morgan is genuinely conflicted about being forced to treat him as an enemy. Things are never black and white in war and Clare does an excellent job of reminding us of that fact.
2. Seducing an Angel by Mary Balogh. You know what? I did not expect to like this book. The previous 3 books in the series painted Stephen as an almost perfect young man. Good-looking, good-humored, good-[whatever] just sounded to me as if that could only spell b-o-r-i-n-g. And, well, Stephen is actually pretty perfect in this book. But it turns out that the real interesting character here is Cassandra, a disgraced and destitute widow who comes to London to hire herself out as a courtesan in order to provide for herself and 2 retainers. She puts on a very cold mask, but Stephen is able to see beyond it and he insists on getting to know the real Cassandra. Their story develops over a very short period of time. Almost too short, but at least the author acknowledges the short time span through some of Stephen's inner dialogue. Balogh reveals Cassandra's back story in stages and I liked how it was done. Another thing that made this book different is that it had far less sexual content than her books usually do. It was an interesting experiment by her publisher to release 4 books in quick succession like this. I have some things to say about that, so I'll leave it for a future blog post. Meanwhile, I did end up liking this very much indeed.
1. Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas. Gosh, did I love this book. I had to keep putting it down to google stuff, though. Like maps of Pakistan and India. (I do wish a map could have been printed in book!) And to look up the 3 new words I learned: concupiscence, pellucid, and deodar. But the best part was watching two people put a very broken relationship back together. I love that kind of story and this was done very well. The past was brought into the story in stages. It took a while to get to understand just what had happened and then Bryony and Leo have to work their way through the hurt to get back together. Meanwhile there's a threat to their lives in the form of an uprising, there's hundreds of miles of hostile terrain to traverse, and the walls of their past to break down. This book was on my mind for days after I finished it. Loved it.