Phyl's 5 Phaves from August

Things are usually pretty slow here at Phyl's Quilts and Books. They've been slower than usual of late because I badly pinched a nerve in my lower back in mid-August. Pain, drugs, and physical therapy have dominated my landscape since then. The good news is that I'm way better than I was a month ago. The bad news is that I'm still dealing with some pain, weird nerve activity, and weakness in my right leg. The goal is to avoid back surgery at all costs, so I've been faithful with my exercise routine. I'm glad to be resuming most of my normal activities, including sewing, but at the risk of being repetitive, it's slow. So very slow.

Fortunately I actually wrote a couple of these (#5 and #3) right after I read those books, before the pinched nerve. I read #1 and #4 while I was stuck in bed. Frankly, I'm amazed I remember anything from the "Vicodin is my best friend" days. But here we go:

5. The Chocolate Thief by Laura Florand. I've been lucky enough to visit 49 of the 50 U.S. states (I still need to get to Alaska). I've seen a bit of Canada and once went to Colombia, decades ago when it was probably much safer to visit there. I hope to see more of the rest of the world, but oddly, I've never had much interest in visiting France or Paris. Until I read this book. Florand's words made the city come alive in a whole new way for me. But it wasn't just Paris, it was Sylvain Marquis, a premier chocolatier who clashes with Cade Corey, an American and heiress to a successful chocolate empire (think Hershey). Cade wants to add a line of specialty chocolates to the Corey line, and she wants Sylvain's name and recipes to make up that line. Sylvain is positively horrified by the idea, even as he finds himself strongly attracted to Cade. Cade's frustration and an unlooked-for opportunity lead her to break into Sylvain's shop so she can learn more about him and his chocolate. I like the way Florand develops their relationship. It's both hot and tentative as they act on their attraction, yet hide behind their respective insecurities. This was a fun and funny story that had me totally engrossed, craving gourmet chocolate, and wishing for a chance to go to Paris.

4. My Fair Concubine by Jeannie Lin. Lin's historicals, set in ancient China, have been on my radar for a while and I'm glad I finally picked one up. This is a wonderful story of a man, desperate to restore his family's fortunes, and the young woman who helps him out. Chang Fei Long had promised his sister in marriage as part of a political alliance. When his sister runs away, he tracks her down in a tea house far from home. In the end, unwilling to force her into an unwanted marriage, he lets her go off with her lover. But he still needs a "sister" to marry the foreign prince. The young woman working in the tea house, Yan Ling, ends up going back to Fei Long's home where she learns how to become a princess, suitable for the planned marriage. Lin skillfully weaves in details of ancient Chinese life for those, like myself, who are rather ignorant of the era. Yan Ling and Fei Long are interesting characters who clearly are coming to care for one another. Yet they each owe a duty to those depending upon them. How will they escape the dilemma of Yan Ling's impending marriage? I really liked this and am eager to read more of Lin's books.

3. Untie My Heart by Judith Ivory. I first read this Victorian historical close to 10 years ago. Unfortunately, as the years wore on, I couldn't remember the title or the author. But I always remembered Stuart Aysgarth with his huge greatcoat, and Emma Hotchkiss, a sheep farmer and Stuart's neighbor. When the ebook showed up as a cheap deal for my Kindle I was so excited to buy it and read it again to see if I would like it as much now as I did then. And indeed, this book held up very well. Stuart and Emma appear to be as different as can be, yet they actually have quite a bit in common. The real charm to this book is how Ivory takes Stuart, an aristocrat through-and-through, and matches him to Emma, a commoner and former thief. When Stuart's coach accidentally kills Emma's prized lamb, Emma seeks redress. When she gets creative in seeking restitution, Stuart realizes what she's doing and he coerces her into helping him retrieve some property his uncle had stolen from him. It's wonderful to watch them fall in love with one another. The presumed chasm between them is a significant obstacle to overcome and Ivory brings them together in a way that struck me as very believable. I love this book and am glad to finally own a copy that I can read again and again.

2. A Gentleman Undone by Cecilia Grant. After just two books, Cecilia Grant has become a must-read author for me. Her first book, A Lady Awakened, was a December Phave. Once again, Grant has gone where the genre rarely goes by making a courtesan the heroine. The hero, Will, is the brother of Martha from ALA. He meets Lydia at a gaming house when she wins a small fortune from him. Both Will and Lydia are desperate to win a significant amount of money. Will wants to provide for the widow of one of his fellow soldiers who died at Waterloo. Lydia wants to leave her life of prostitution. Will and Lydia become uneasy partners which of course deepens into something more. There are significant obstacles to their HEA, not the least of which is the scandal of Lydia's former life. I found this book to be deeply romantic as well as believable as Will and Lydia sort through their various issues and begin to trust one another. I loved this and am eagerly awaiting whatever Grant has for us next.

1. Thief of Shadows by Elizabeth Hoyt. It was a tough decision, but this book was my Phave of the month because I really, really liked the way Hoyt wrote the hero of this book, Winter Makepeace. Winter is a complicated man. He is stern, yet affectionate. And he leads a double life as the Ghost of St. Giles, a costumed character who rescues young children from lives of poverty, abuse, and prostitution. He would seem the polar opposite of Lady Isabel, a society matron who is one of the patronesses of Winter's orphanage. Just as there's much more to Winter, there is much more to Lady Isabel, and another appealing part of this book is they way we learn about each of them. I loved Winter's determination to eventually make Isabel his wife, and his assumption it would happen. I loved watching Isabel let go of her fears and hurts. Together they work to save the orphanage and also to save little girls who are being stolen off the streets. This is another great addition in a series I've enjoyed so much.

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