Jayne’s Best of 2017
Yeah, I have 11 books in my top ten list. Math has never been my forte. 2017 was more of a mixed reading year for me with some non-romance, non-fiction books layered in. I was also pleasantly surprised at how many A and B range reads I had.
When Major Gryffth Hockaday is called to the front lines of the Civil War, his new bride is left to care for her husband’s three-hundred-acre farm and infant son. Placidia, a mere teenager herself living far from her family and completely unprepared to run a farm or raise a child, must endure the darkest days of the war on her own. By the time Major Hockaday returns two years later, Placidia is bound for jail, accused of having borne a child in his absence and murdering it. What really transpired in the two years he was away? To what extremes can war and violence push a woman who is left to fend for herself?
Told through letters, court inquests, and journal entries, this saga, inspired by a true incident, unfolds with gripping intensity, conjuring the era with uncanny immediacy. Amid the desperation of wartime, Placidia sees the social order of her Southern homeland unravel. As she comes to understand how her own history is linked to one runaway slave, her perspective on race and family are upended. A love story, a story of racial divide, and a story of the South as it fell in the war, The Second Mrs. Hockaday reveals how this generation—and the next—began to see their world anew.
So why did I keep reading this sensing the flames of hell licking closer with each page? The writing is that good. For the time I was reading it, I was there. I could hear these people’s voices, see them, feel what they felt and experience what they went through. I gulped 75-100 pages at a time and almost couldn’t put it down. I felt I came back into my world when I finished and emotionally wrung dry. I was subsumed by the story and just had to know what happened next. The writing is great as is the ear for dialog and the story telling sublime. It is a story with characters who will haunt me. Read the triggers but don’t cheat yourselves by reading ahead or looking for spoilers. It is not a book for the faint of heart but it is one that will richly reward. A
The play’s the fling
It’s not actress Lily Lamprey’s fault that she’s all curves and has the kind of voice that can fog up a camera lens. She wants to prove where her real talents lie—and that’s not on a casting couch, thank you. When she hears esteemed director Luc Savage is renovating a legendary West End theater for a lofty new production, she knows it could be her chance—if only Luc wasn’t so dictatorial, so bad-tempered and so incredibly sexy.
Luc Savage has respect, integrity and experience. He also has it bad for Lily. He’d be willing to dismiss it as a midlife crisis, but this exasperating, irresistible woman is actually a very talented actress. Unfortunately, their romance is not only raising questions about Lily’s suddenly rising career, it’s threatening Luc’s professional reputation. The course of true love never did run smooth. But if they’re not careful, it could bring down the curtain on both their careers…
The conflict is germane and believable and not, thank God, about things which a five minute talk could sort out. The person to pull back surprised me as well as the clearly thought out and level headed reason why. They both know it’s love, though not voiced yet, but Lily’s got long standing trust issues courtesy of her parents. It hurts like hell nearly killing them both but some time is needed to work through things. The aftermath of the fireball that strikes Lily allows for her to finally come to terms with some things, release some past hurts and discover a few things as well. The in-ghastly-taste item that Luc gives her as an opening night prezzie also tells her truly how much he loves her. A
It has been six years since army nurse Jenny Bennett’s heart was broken by a dashing naval officer. Now Lieutenant Ryan Gallagher has abruptly reappeared in her life at the Presidio army base but refuses to discuss the inexplicable behavior that destroyed their happiness.
Ryan is in an impossible situation. One of the few men in the world qualified to carry out a daring assignment, he accepted a government mission overseas that caused his reputation to be destroyed and broke the heart of the only woman he ever loved. Honor bound never to reveal where he had been during those six years, he can’t tell Jenny the truth or it will endanger an ongoing mission and put thousands of lives at risk.
Although Ryan thinks he may have finally found a solution, he can’t pull it off on his own. Loyalty to her country compels Jenny to help, but she never could have imagined the intrigue she and Ryan will have to face or the lengths to which they will have to go to succeed.
Brava that these aren’t “five minute conversation” conflicts and that the foundation for them is laid and carefully constructed on the background information built all through the story. Just having Jenny and Ryan acknowledge that they’re still in love doesn’t solve things either. They have to believe in a future and in each other for that. Watching them work for that, painful as it was at times, was all worth it in the end. I finished this book with a satisfied smile and a hope that some of the fascinating secondary characters will show up in future books. A-
After a modest wedding ceremony, Bow Street Runner John Pickett and his bride Julia, the former Lady Fieldhurst, set out for a wedding trip to Somersetshire, where Pickett must face his greatest challenge yet: meeting his in-laws.
Sir Thaddeus and Lady Runyon are shocked at their daughter’s hasty remarriage—and appalled by her choice of a second husband. Pickett, for his part, is surprised to learn that Julia once had an elder sister: Claudia, Lady Buckleigh, disappeared thirteen years earlier, leaving no trace beyond a blood-soaked shawl. When Sir Thaddeus confides that his wife is convinced Claudia’s spirit now haunts her childhood home, Pickett sees a chance to redeem himself in the eyes of Julia’s family. He agrees to investigate and, hopefully, lay the Runyon “ghost,” whoever—or whatever—it is.
Matters take a grisly turn when Sir Thaddeus’s groom is discovered with his throat slit. The timing could hardly be worse, for the whole village is aflutter with the news that Lord Buckleigh has brought home a new bride, just when Major James Pennington, the vicar’s son who was Claudia’s childhood sweetheart, has returned on leave from war in the Peninsula. The major was apparently the last person to see Claudia alive, and Pickett is convinced he knows more about her disappearance than he’s telling. Suddenly it seems the distant past is not so distant, after all. It may not even be past . . .
The motive for the murder makes sense and the way the clues are uncovered – yay, Julia assists in this and John is proud of her! – is natural. John is, after all, one of the best at his job as several persons doing various things soon discover. Just as it looks like the villain might escape scot free, ultimate desserts are served up from an unlikely but also believable source.
Respect earned, justice rendered, and family harmony restored, John and Julia are headed back to London and their new married life. Will something happen that I hope will happen? Hmmm, we’ll have to wait for the next book – yippie – to see. A-
Secrets, lies, carrot cake – and an owl called Skrillex!
Amy Knowles has always been the plain sidekick to her pretty best friend Jules. And whilst the tearoom they both work in on the Monkpark Hall estate in Yorkshire is not exactly awash with eligible bachelors, it’s obvious where the male attention is concentrated – and it’s not just on the cakes!
There is one man who notices Amy. Joshua Wilson also works at Monkpark, where he flies his birds of prey for visitor entertainment. He lives a lonely existence but he has reasons for choosing isolation – and, in Amy, he may have found somebody who understands.
Then a management change brings slick and well-spoken Edmund Evershott to Monkpark. He’s interested in Amy too, but for what reason? Josh suspects the new manager is up to no good – but will Amy? Because Edmund could leave her with much worse than a broken heart …
The romance here is definitely two steps forward and one back. At times I held my breath and wanted to urge them on but that would never work for these two. Josh is like his birds in that his trust must be gained, little by little, and he often returns to “bloke silence” rather than saying much even in the face of seeing a lot. Amy won’t believe flowery promises and won’t let the wool be pulled over her eyes by anyone. Finding love in the face of past betrayals takes courage and that, they discover, they both have underneath it all. I wanted them to pull this off, I wanted happy and better than that, I got hope as well. Watching the – three dimensional – people in their lives stand behind them when it counts was a cherry on the top. A
A stylish, illustrated gift book from an award-winning artist that profiles notable cat-loving men throughout history in words and pictures.
Of Cats and Men presents a fresh approach to cat entertainment that’s smart, sweet, and driven by beautiful art (instead of tacky photography, as many cat books are). Appealing to both men and women, the “cat men” approach is a fun twist on the “cat lady” stereotype and makes for a highly giftable book. The 30 men profiled range from writers and artists such as Haruki Murakami, T.S. Eliot, William S. Burroughs, and Ai Weiwei, to historical luminaries such as Sir Winston Churchill, Nikola Tesla, and Sir Issac Newton. In addition to the portraits, the book features beautifully hand-lettered quotes about cats by some of the men, including Twain’s “When a man loves cats, I am his friend and comrade, without further introduction.”
Though I have had, and loved, dogs in my life, I am by nature a cat person. Except for my college dorm room years when having one was impossible, there have been cats around me for as long as I remember and since I’m getting up there in age, that’s a long time. With my current number, I’m flirting with “Cat Lady” status – though I categorically refuse the adjective “crazy.” I saw the title of this book and thought, “Right, it’s about time we heard about men and cats.” And so I requested it to read and was thrilled to learn more about fellow cat lovers as well as charmed by your delightful illustrations. A
Meet one super-spy’s greatest weakness – a woman who thinks he’s full of it.
It should have just been a routine mission, the kind of thing spies normally take care of on their lunch break – find who turned the payment app into a terrorist funding plan, and shut them down. But the meek little programmer he’d targeted turns out to not be so meek, and none of his usual spy tricks are enough to get him the information he needs. Will a little honesty, and a woman who knows her coding, be enough to save the mission?
I was laughing at the attempt to get Thea to believe in a little spy agency outside of regular channels that can do whatever it wants. This sounds like so many Black Ops/covert super secret groups that I see in book blurbs and I always roll my eyes too. “Dom” finds himself engaged and on point while flirt talking with Thea. She’s worthy of his best efforts and he enjoys this repartee enough that he (momentarily) loses sight of the ball in this mission. Her choice of what to call him when he won’t reveal his real name amuses me if not him. When the bullets start flying – and BTW I love and was snickering over the title of that chapter – Thea quickly figures out the reason for witty spy type quips. Which also impresses the hell out of “Dom.” A-
When one thinks of women in the Middle Ages, the images that often come to mind are those of damsels in distress, mystics in convents, female laborers in the field, and even women of ill repute. In reality, however, medieval conceptions of womanhood were multifaceted, and women’s roles were varied and nuanced. Female stereotypes existed in the medieval world, but so too did women of power and influence. The pages of illuminated manuscripts reveal to us the many facets of medieval womanhood and slices of medieval life—from preoccupations with biblical heroines and saints to courtship, childbirth, and motherhood. While men dominated artistic production, this volume demonstrates the ways in which female artists, authors, and patrons were instrumental in the creation of illuminated manuscripts.
Featuring over one hundred illuminations depicting medieval women from England to Ethiopia, this book provides a lively and accessible introduction to the lives of women in the medieval world.
This is a beautiful book packed with gorgeously reproduced images that shows a bit more about how women truly lived, worked and were viewed in their own time. Men might have dominated most aspects of life but here are women, taking their place in society and proving their worth and importance. A-
Welcome to Willoughby Close… a charming cluster of cozy cottages, each with a story to tell and a happy ending to deliver…
Alice James has been a drifter her whole life, working her way through several foster homes before ending up in Wychwood-on-Lea, feeling anchorless and invisible. When a chance encounter leads to Alice accepting a position as a caretaker and companion to Lady Stokeley, she starts to feel as if she might finally be able to put down some roots and live the way other people do.
Then, Lady Stokeley’s nephew, city banker Henry Trent, storms into Willoughby Manor, seeming to find fault with everything, including Alice. As the next in line to the manor and title, he threatens to upturn everything she’s started to build. But Henry is hiding his own secret fears and weaknesses, ones he’s desperate for no one to discover. A surprising and inconvenient attraction that simmers between them leaves Alice feeling more confused than ever, and Henry torn between duty and desire, fear and love.
When circumstances become even more difficult, both Alice and Henry must decide who they really are, and what they are willing to fight for. Could Alice possibly be the next Lady of Willoughby Manor?
I so desperately want to do justice to this wonderful book. One of the joys is watching the changes in the characters and not just “oh, because the plot needs it right now” but what feels like genuine “this has really happened because of the events in the book” changes. Seeing Alice come into her own and stand up for herself or Henry slowly thaw and yearn for something more in his life, or getting to know Dorothy’s briskness and emotions hidden for decades beneath a calm façade was a treat. None of them lets it all hang out but the slow reveal after delicate hints spoke volumes. Underneath the growing romantic relationship is one of friendship between Dorothy and Alice. The reality of Dorothy’s choices are stark and clear from the beginning but I was like all the others in coming to believe she was indomitable, a fixture. When the decline became more rapid as her life neared its end, I felt as if I were losing a dear friend too. Yes, there were tears being rapidly blinked away as I read this part. We all hide hurts and pain but what we do with our fears makes the difference. Alice wrestles hers down and her final act of bravery takes all her courage to reach for but she had Dorothy’s urging to back her up and her prize – Henry – is well worth the effort. And he, well he’s gobsmacked that someone as wonderful as Alice actually wants him and yes, his change is totally believable. A-
Houston, Texas, 1965
Margie Dunsford relishes her role as the leader of the astronaut wives. With her children away and her guests canceling, she faces a terrifying prospect: an entire Thanksgiving weekend alone with her husband.
Mitch knows the fire has gone out in his marriage, but he fears if he attempts to reignite it, Margie will freeze him out forever. Now he’s determined to use the distraction-free weekend to win her back.
Twenty years of resentments can’t be erased in a few fevered days, and Margie and Mitch will have to learn how to speak with their hearts instead of their hurts if they are going to save their marriage.
Yet even with all the pain, it was clear that these two once loved passionately and that some feeling remained. But was it enough? The resolution doesn’t come easily nor are their issues fixed over night. They both have to do some soul searching and admissions of mistakes before tentatively stepping back from the edge. It’s all so believable and a text book but still readable example of what can shrivel a marriage and why communication is so vital. I felt I was headed down the road to disaster along with them and getting a front row seat to their pain and frustrations.
Will it be a book for everyone? Honestly, probably not as it’s more fun to read about a couple headed towards their “I love you’s” rather than seeing them claw their way back to a HEA but it’s real and heartfelt and when they regain the love that once sustained them, I got all happy. And I like the new covers too. A-
On a cold winter night, Garn Coburn watches from shadows as two lawmen rough up a woman and leave her lying in the dirt looking like a pile of rags in the moonlight. Garn lives by his gun and by a set of rules he hopes will keep him alive. Checking to see if the woman is badly hurt breaks the first rule. Never mind anyone’s business but your own. Helping Edie Thorne shatters most of the rest.
The bank served Edie notice of foreclosure on her ranch soon after her husband’s death, but she expected a final notice telling her when to vacate, not two lawmen bursting through her front door, dragging her from the house, and beating her for resisting.
Surprised by the gunman leaning over her in the night, weakened by injuries and desperation, Edie struggles to her feet and lets Garn lure her into going to town with him. So begins a partnership between a man breaking the rules he lives by and a woman determined to get back a decent life any way she can….
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Garn – yeah, I can see why he goes by this instead of his full name – is a man with sisters, lots of them, and he knows when to speak and at least some of the time when it’s better to hold his peace. He immediately admires Edie’s strength and spirit – even if it comes with stubbornness – while it takes her a little while to push past her initial impression of him –
“Pushy, arrogant – ”
“Despicable. Don’t forget despicable.”
“I won’t, thank you.”
– and discover the man he is. Well, it’s not that he hides behind a wall to conceal an inner softness, he can be a shit, but he does take care of animals and is tough when he needs to be.
I had a blast with Edie and Garn and I love that he lets – no, make that demands – that Edie be as tough as she can and independent as she wants to be. A-