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second chances

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:  Dealing with David by Katriena Knights

REVIEW: Dealing with David by Katriena Knights

“It’s tough to win the game of love if you don’t understand the rules.

Though Tony Mullin agreed to put on a medieval costume, complete with pointy hat, for her best friend’s marriage vow renewal, another round of wedding bells will never be in her own future. Been there, done that, still sifting through the ashes of broken dreams.

Yet she can’t take her eyes off the Armani-clad mystery man among the guests—and no one’s more surprised to learn it’s David Peterson, the erstwhile nerd who mooned over her in high school. He not only grew up to be a hunk, but a rich one as well. Pity she’s sworn off men.

Last David knew, sweet, artistic Tony married the high school quarterback. He made his fortune developing video games, but the torch he carried for her still smolders. His surprise that she’s ditched the jock quickly turns to determination to win her heart at last…though she seems just as determined to play keep-away.

David didn’t become successful by giving up easily. A freak snowstorm plays into his strategy, but debugging a few gigabytes of computer code seems easier than figuring out how to win this wary woman’s love.”

Dear Ms. Knights,

What made me want to try this novel when it’s got elements of blurbs past which didn’t pique my interest? Well, Tony sounds like a steadfast friend who would be willing to endure the ignominy of wearing a costume in order to make a friend happy. And – I could be wrong here but – it seems like a lot of second-chance-at-love plots feature the heroine who “just can’t forget that one passionate kiss 10 years ago and who still pines for the hunky hero” while here it’s the hero who remembers and is determined he won’t lose the girl this time. Plus I love me a nerdy hero.

DealingWithDavid72lgDavid impresses me from the start. He’s a gentleman and a gentleman doesn’t leave a lady stranded in the snow with a dead car battery. This is a Great Guy in action. This is “bring this man home to meet the family” stuff. David is such a sweetie in his love for Tony. He builds her up, his questions and statements always try and encourage her. David wants Tony to dream again… for her own good and happiness. To not be afraid to go after those dreams. He doesn’t hammer at her or try to force her into something she’s not ready for. Yet, as his friend Rich says, he can also be a bit of a lame brain at times. He also isn’t above wanting to show off his success to the people who gave him grief in high school. It’s his form of revenge – which is really the best kind. Not really in a mean way but a “hey, look at my convertible Mercedes” way. He’s well rounded, though not always perfect, as a person and this comes off in the way you’ve written his character. His scenes with his mother are cute too.

David could have been a sap. I get so tired of book plots with one main character who’s loved and pined for a person for ten years. Get real. David had a major crush on Tony, yes, but in the intervening years he’s dated and even thought another woman might have been The One. When he gets the chance to see Tony again, he takes it but doesn’t initially live on the hope that he can get her romantic attention. That would be nice but it’s not truly his goal. Instead he’s not above quietly showing that he’s matured and done damn well for himself. It’s only after he sees her again and learns she’s divorced that he slowly begins to make his moves. Yet, he also stops and thinks about things. He realizes what he had was a crush then and wants to be sure it’s the real thing now and not just braggadocio and “hot damn, she’s into me now!”

Tony has changed and matured too. She is honest with herself about the mess that her marriage was and doesn’t want to fall into that pattern again. At the wedding reception, she takes a good look at the people she hung out with and how shallow she once was for doing so. There’s also the issue of how she sometimes treated David then and I like that she owns up to it and apologizes for it. She’s also horrified at the thought that others could think she’s after his money – to the point that she almost goes overboard in rejecting any assistance from him and any hint that she’s sponging off him. Tony isn’t swearing off all future relationships because of her ex- she’s just going to take her time which seems so much more real to me. She discovers, slowly, that she wants to know David and know more about him. She’s interested in the man and not in his money. He’s also got a wicked, self deprecating sense of humor that appeals to her.

I like the way you show how important they’re becoming to each other and how, underneath it all, they’re in sync by having Tony feel so comfortable that she can tell David anything. Even deep dark, secrets and things about her life that she’s kept from most everyone else.

Their Big Mis actually makes sense given how you’ve written them and their pasts. Tony was controlled and belittled in her marriage and now struggles and fights against that and against it ever happening again. She’s been down that road and ain’t going back again. David wants the best for her and thinks she’ll be happiest as an artist and not as an accountant. But he also knows she wants to make it on her own and not get a job because she’s seeing the co-owner of the company. So, it makes sense that he would let Rich approach Tony first and also that – given how low her self esteem is – he wouldn’t want to raise her hopes by mentioning it beforehand. Then, her negative reaction to what she sees as more manipulation of her life by a man kicks in and we get the teensy separation. Really teensy as Tony does have some common sense and quickly starts to think about this option. Can she trust in herself and can she trust David? The answers to those questions are necessary and vital to their relationship. I also like how the job situation resolves. It’s real life realistic instead of pie in the sky. Tony isn’t ready for a full time graphic artist position but if she’s willing to “go for it” and try for her dream, the company will work with her.

I had fun reading this book because Tony and David are two characters whom I liked spending time with and who I was happy to see get their HEA. Though I actually finished this book a few weeks ago, it’s still fresh enough in my mind that I didn’t have to resort to checking my bookmarks in order to see what I wanted to say about it. That’s a winning story for me. B+