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What Kelly’s Been Reading: The “I Survived the Polar Vortex” Edition

This was my one chance to use “Polar Vortex” in a headline, so of course I took advantage. Next month’s installment will be titled “Yes, I’m STILL Coughing Like An 80-Year-Old Smoker And Whining About It Like A Two-Year-Old.” I did manage to read a boatload of books, and a few even made me less of a cranky mess.

Love in a Pawn Shop by Bonnie Edwards

I went on a huge contemporary binge, kicked off by Tamara Morgan’s In the Clear, for which I thank Laura Florand for reviewing here, because holy crap, I love that book. So of course I had to read all of Morgan’s backlist, and most of Florand’s. I also holy-crap-adored Geek with the Cat Tattoo by Theresa Weir, which extended my Good Book Mood enough to dig into the TBR for some Nicole Helm (Flight Risk), Holley Trent (My Nora, Calculated Exposure, Saint and Scholar), and Edie Harris (Stripped, Sparked). I bought a fun one called Love in a Pawn Shop by Bonnie Edwards because kickass heroine + pit bull + sexy cop, and I read ARCs of Amber Lin’s Chance of Rain and Mary Ann Rivers’ upcoming Live. All were in the B/B+ range.

On the historical side, there was just one worth recommending, and a few disappointments….

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle Willingham

To Tempt a Viking by Michelle WillinghamI really liked the first book in this series (To Sin with a Viking), and on re-read I decided to bump the grade up to an A- because of the way Willingham handled the could-have-been-squicky plot device of a married hero. As a follow-up, Tempt just seemed kind of tepid – the heroine’s angst over her barrenness and failed marriage vs. the hero’s I’m-not-worthy-enough unrequited love was a great set-up, but I just didn’t get the same level of emotional intensity. Tempt also had more violence than I was expecting, and the sub-plot with a troubled plot moppet seemed like an add-on. Grade: B-

The Dancing Master by Julie Klassen

The Dancing Master by Julie KlassenI was hoping Klassen would be back up to my rather high expectations, but this one didn’t do it. It’s a Regency story of a young “caper merchant” from a disgraced family attempting to open a dancing academy in a town full of secrets ruled by the heroine’s stiff-necked widowed mother. I managed to avoid any and all Footloose mental imagery through sheer force of will; however, having read it over the holidays, I could NOT dispel the visions of the Mean Widow as the Burgermeister Meisterburger denying toys to all the kids of Sombertown. It’s a decent book, but as with Klassen’s other recent titles, it’s too bland and predictable to keep pace with my favorite inspie authors. Grade: C

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth CamdenSpeaking of my favorite inspie authors…. Whirlwind wasn’t quite as glorious as Camden’s RITA-winning Against the Tide, but it’s a great book that shows off the author’s immersive historical world-building. Set during and after the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, it’s got a kickass Irish heroine who runs her family’s watch-making business with an iron fist, a Polish dockworker-turned-ruthless-attorney, and a diverse supporting cast that actually drives the story instead of dragging it down. A memorable one-sitting book trance. Grade: B+

Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

Safe Passage by Carla Kelly

I am…conflicted…about this book. I really liked what’s there, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. It’s a great historical adventure, highlighting a little-known setting (Mormon refugees during the 1912 Mexican Revolution), with shoot-outs and raids and starvation and rescues, presented by an author who’s one of the best story-tellers I’ve ever read. But my fangirl thing set me up to expect more of the relationship re-building that was promised in the blurb. I wanted Ammon and Addie’s second-chance romance to take center-stage because I believed whole-heartedly in their backstory and wanted to learn how their faith allowed them to forgive and reconnect. Worth reading, but be prepared for more action and less romance. Grade: B

Three Dog Knight by Tori Phillips

Three Dog Knight by Tori PhillipsYes, I paid money for this Harlequin Treasury re-release. Because dogs, duh. And it’s a good thing it had dogs, because I don’t really remember much else about this book. The hero was kind of a Kristoff-from-Frozen type of doofus, the cardboard-ingénue heroine was secretly a princess, the Slutty Evil Widow was a shrieking harpy, and I think the Hired Evil Villain may have actually twirled his moustache at one point. Dog-wise, there was a pregnant greyhound that gave birth on the Evil Widow’s bed, a slobbery mastiff who slobbered a lot, and a yippy terrier that rescued the ingénue from the Clutches of Evil. Too much melodrama, not enough dogs. Grade: D+


I lost my romance-reading virginity with my older sister’s Danielle Steel collection, and Judith Krantz broadened my teenage horizons in ways I’m still recovering from. My bookshelves are overflowing with history and historical fiction, my Kindle is home to everything from preachy inspirationals to extreme kink, and my wishlist is out of control. Thanks to my old-school, cigar-smoking journalism professors, I have a passion for good storytelling and zero tolerance for lazy writing. I’ll forgive nearly anything for a sappy, happy ending – but I'm not afraid to unleash the snark. [And FYI, I work part-time for a GLBTQ publisher, so I do not review any GLBTQ titles to avoid any conflict of interest.]


  1. Leef
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 11:24:31

    How could I resist reading a list with “Polar Vortex” in the heading?
    Into the Whirlwind is on my TBR list because I loved the author’s imagination, voice and language in Against the Tide.

  2. library addict
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 12:35:26

    I have In the Clear and Flight Risk in my TBR. Sounds like I should move them up.

  3. Eliza Evans
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 13:43:18

    How inspie is Into the Whirlwind? I love historicals set in Chicago but I’m pretty allergic to overt inspies.

  4. Emma
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 14:52:17

    How was Saint and Scholar? I’m a sucker for the Irish setting but have been burned much in the past so am wary.

  5. cleo
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 15:45:42

    I came for the polar vortex, but “Too much melodrama, not enough dogs” made me laugh out loud!

    You’ve reminded me about some books that I own – I have In the Clear and To Sin with a Viking (think I bought that when it was on sale partly because of your review). Perhaps time to move them up the TBR. I couldn’t finish Against the Tide, so I’m saved from trying Into the Whirlwind – although the setting is intriguing.

  6. Miss Bates
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 16:05:30

    I read it and it’s great!

  7. Miss Bates
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 16:06:30

    @Eliza Evans: It’s very very mild, almost non-existent, which can also be a criticism, I guess.

  8. Kelly
    Jan 16, 2014 @ 19:07:55

    @Eliza Evans: Agreed with Miss Bates that the Camden is very mild on the inspie scale – characters mention church, God and prayers, but no overt messages or plot devices.

    @Emma: Saint and ScholarCalculated Exposure better – I thought the characters and the conflict were more developed.

  9. Kaetrin
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 03:18:41

    Into the Clear was quite the delight wasn’t it? :)

  10. Kelly
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 08:54:28

    @Kaetrin: Best “Beta Hero Finally Loses His Shit” scene EVER. *swoon*

  11. Kaetrin
    Jan 17, 2014 @ 18:01:29

    @Kelly: LOL!

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