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.
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
I 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
I 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
Speaking 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
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
Yes, 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+