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Jackie Barbosa

REVIEW:  Hot Under the Collar by Jackie Barbosa (Lords of Lancashire #2)

REVIEW: Hot Under the Collar by Jackie Barbosa (Lords of...

“Despite the old saw about third sons being destined for the church, no one ever expected the rakish, irresponsible Walter Langston to take up the collar, least of all himself. After an accident renders him unfit for military service, however, he has few other options. When he’s given the post of vicar at a parish church in a sleepy, coastal village, he’s convinced he’ll molder in obscurity. Instead, his arrival brings a sudden resurgence in church attendance…or at least, the attendance of female parishioners. As word of the eligible young vicar spreads, every well-heeled family for miles with a marriageable daughter fills his pews, aiming to catch his eye. Unfortunately for these hopeful members of his flock, Walter’s eye has already been caught—by the one woman who doesn’t come to church on Sundays.

Artemisia Finch left a lucrative career as a celebrated member of London’s demimondaine to care for her ailing father. Returning home hasn’t been easy, though, as her past isn’t even a well-kept secret in the village. When the new vicar arrives on her doorstep, Artemisia is determined to send him on his merry, pious way. But Walter Langston is nothing like any man of the cloth she’s ever known—he’s funny, irreverent, handsome, and tempting as sin. Falling in love with a vicar would be a very bad idea for a former courtesan. Why does this one have to be so hot under the collar?”

Dear Ms. Barbosa,

I’ve been reading romance novels for the past 15 years and some, let’s say, ennui has crept into my soul. I’m sad to say that I often don’t even get past the back blurb of many books before deciding that I have no interest in trying it. Oh, a penniless governess – yawn. Let’s see, an outrageously smexy Duke – read it. Bored, bored, bored. The description of the hero as a rake almost caused me to stop reading about “Hot Under the Collar.” But wait! He’s a vicar – okay, I’ll keep reading. And then I hit the second paragraph and – whoa! she’s a kept woman. It didn’t sound as if there was any plot tied-in-pretzel-knots-to-keep-her-a-virgin either. A true member of the demimonde. Well, I’ll be. I immediately told Jane “sign me up for this one.”

As soon as I started reading it, I knew I’d found a winner. The hero, Walter Langston, might have been around the kept women of the London haut ton but as he wryly admits to Artemisia, he did more chasing than catching and she, yes he remembered her from when he was still in the Army, was far above his means. Walter is a delight. He’s handsome but not decadently so. He’s got a good head on his shoulders and is not prone to puff up his consequence. He’s not too bashful yet also not smugly sure of himself. He’s amazed that a woman as intelligent, sophisticated and beautiful as Artemesia is interested in him and joyfully enters into whatever length relationship she’s willing to have with him.

He’s also thoughtful and has a care for her and her feelings. And he’s determined that he’ll make sure she doesn’t regret anything and that he’ll wow her world, so to speak. Walter also realizes that he’s truly found a home at Grange-Over-Sands. To his astonishment, he likes it here. He likes being a vicar and making a difference. Helping people muddle through the issues and problems they bring to him gives him immeasurable satisfaction. Walter is an A-OK guy. And he really does have a lovely sense of humor even if it is at his own expense.

Artemesia is, as advertised, a fallen woman. Walter immediately knows something doesn’t add up in the story which his housekeeper relates about Artemesia’s seduction by a local toff’s son and the subsequent numbers of men who stepped forward claiming to have “known” her too. This is not the woman he heard about in London who was nothing if not discriminating in who had access to her favors. The more he comes to know Artemesia, the more he likes her – and not just for any nooky. Sure, the nookying is better than fine but it’s the woman herself who fascinates and delights him. And who makes him begin to hope that he might just be able to pull off the miracle of the century.

Meanwhile, Artemesia is frank with herself about what she wants. She’s missed the comfort and pleasure of a man. Walter looks mighty fine to her in his stiff, black coat and she instinctively knows he’ll look even better out of it. So she makes it happen. I love this – that Artemesia is the one in charge. Let’s talk about the sex. It’s hot and it’s good. But best of all, it means something. I’m tired unto death of books that cram in the sex in a meaningless way. My eyes glaze. My fingers flip pages. My jaw cracks from yawning. I skim because it’s becoming numbing. Oh, here we go with another 5 page sexathon. Pfffft. Except I didn’t feel that way about Artemesia and Walter’s weekly meetings. You show how the connection they’re making is not just physical but emotional. That what they’re doing together isn’t just tabs and slots and orgasms. It’s caring and joy and “this person means something to me.”

She’s done financially well for herself and knows that she’s actually better off because the marriage her father tried to make happen didn’t. Her fifteen year old self was dazzled by a cad and she knows she would have been miserable as the cad’s wife. Life gave her lemons and she boldly made some damn good lemonade. But she’s also realistic. The fine folk of Grange-Over-Sands don’t spit on her in the street but neither do they welcome her into their homes. She can live with that. She’s determined to keep living with it even after Walter begins to float his crazy idea of them as an item. She’s no martyr, thank God for that, but she’s a pragmatist and there’s no way that the town vicar can expect to marry a whore. Or can he?

I did wonder how you would pull this off. It’s 1803 in a small Cumbrian town and facts are facts. Fall from grace and society is not going to welcome you back with open arms. Plus you added some sprinkles onto the ice cream of problems by having Walter not only be good as a vicar but to find real satisfaction in the job. If things turned ugly, not only would their HEA not occur but the town would have lost a caring man and he would lose something that was making him whole.

People who don’t like inspies or religious themed stories might actually like the way religion plays a role in smoothing the roadblocks to happiness for all. All except the cad, of course, who gets his in a believable and public way. So perhaps it’s a bit fairy-tale-ish to imagine that the outcome as described will take place. I can’t help but remember that Walter’s living is controlled by a member of the aristocracy who might not be pleased at the vicar for not raining hellfire and brimstone on a fallen woman’s head, or that an Earl’s son was publicly shamed – not that he didn’t deserve it – or that Walter himself is the son of a Viscount and could be viewed to be lowering himself. Still, the satisfaction at Walter and Artemesia finding their haven in each other and being accepted is sweet enough for me. B




(This book appears to be free at Kobo)

REVIEW: The Gospel of Love: According to Luke by Jackie Barbosa

REVIEW: The Gospel of Love: According to Luke by Jackie Barbosa

Dear Ms. Barbosa,

A while back you mentioned on Twitter that you were writing a series of four novellas, each written from one of four brothers’ first person POVs. The series is called The Gospel of Love because the brothers’ names are Luke, Mark, Matthew and John.

The Gospel of Love: According to Luke by Jackie BarbosaI asked if these were Christian romances and you said that no, they were erotic romances. I had never read an m/f romance written entirely from the hero’s first person POV, so I was intrigued. When you offered to send me the first two novellas I accepted. The Gospel of Love: According to Luke is the first novella in the series.

Chicago corporate lawyer Luke Finley is a serial monogamist. The story begins with Luke, his three brothers, and his youngest brother John’s best friend Lisa Sullivan having drinks at a pub. Luke is relating the way his girlfriend, Elaine, threw him out of his own condo because he wouldn’t marry her.

Luke and Elaine have just broken up and Luke believes he is not the marrying kind, which is why he is surprised when Lisa follows him outside after he leaves the pub, and tells him that the real problem is that he chooses women who aren’t the type he would marry.

Even more than that, he is surprised to find himself intensely attracted to Lisa, whom he has always thought of as one of the guys. The feeling is mutual, and the two of them spare only a brief thought to how sleeping together would affect Lisa’s friendship with the Finleys, before they go to Luke’s hotel and jump each other’s bones.

At the hotel lobby, Luke starts to feel possessive of Lisa and once they make it to his room he can’t get enough of her. It comes as something of a shock because he has always been drawn to tall brunettes and Lisa is a petite blonde. But he is in for an even greater shock when a tearful Elaine shows up at his door, hoping to mend their relationship.

An unpleasant scene ensues, and Lisa decides they should cool it and take a break from each other for a few months. She does not want to be the other woman in Luke and Elaine’s relationship. The problem for Luke is that he knows the one he wants is Lisa, not Elaine. But how to convince Lisa of that?

I started reading this novella after a long reading slump and it was what broke me out of it. The first person male POV was as much fun as I had thought it would be, especially since fear of commitment was Luke’s big issue. I enjoyed seeing him squirm when his feelings for Lisa exceeded all his rules and preconceptions.

Luke’s narration had a certain degree of bluntness that one would expect of a guy and that was therefore appropriate but it took me some getting used to when it came to some of the sex words. The sex was steamy (Luke and Lisa can hardly keep their hands off each other) but what I enjoyed most was getting to know the characters, so I would have liked one or two more interactions outside the bedroom between Luke and Lisa.

Lisa and Luke were both confident and smart, but at the same time they had their vulnerabilities and hadn’t always led perfect lives. I particularly liked that Lisa’s background included something she recognized had been a big mistake, and one that she didn’t want to repeat.

Luke had good reasons for his fear of commitment and even though I wasn’t 100% on board with the way those feelings were resolved, I had a lot of sympathy for what led to this internal conflict in the first place.

There were one or two points in the story when I wished for more insight into Lisa’s thoughts, but on the whole I thought you did a good job of conveying what Lisa thought and felt through Luke’s interactions with her and his perception of her.

The playful chemistry between Luke and Lisa both in and out of bed really came through, and they were both endearing. I also enjoyed Luke’s relationships with his brothers, especially John. I found myself wondering about John and his ex-boyfriend and interested in their story. Matthew and his ex (a girl in his case) sounded like an interesting couple as well.

I thought it was impressive how much sex and plot you packed into 78 pages and after my long reading slump, I was grateful to enjoy and finish a story. The Gospel of Love: According to Luke was a lot of fun and it earns a B from me.


Janine Ballard

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