Monday, December 30, 2019

The Lady and the Highwaymen by Sarah M. Eden

The Lady and the Highwayman

Such a fascinating book!

Let’s begin with the summary:

Elizabeth Black is the headmistress of a girls’ school in 1865 Victorian London. She is also a well-respected author of “silver-fork” novels, stories written both for and about the upper-class ladies of Victorian society. But by night, she writes very different kinds of stories—the Penny Dreadfuls that are all the rage among the working-class men. Under the pseudonym Mr. King, Elizabeth has written about dashing heroes fighting supernatural threats, intelligent detectives solving grisly murders, and dangerous outlaws romancing helpless women. They contain all the adventure and mystery that her real life lacks.

Fletcher Walker began life as a street urchin but is now the most successful author in the Penny Dreadful market, that is until Mr. King started taking all his readers. No one knows who King is, including Fletcher’s fellow members of the Dread Penny Society, a fraternity of authors dedicated to secretly fighting for the social and political causes of their working-class readers. The group knows King could be an asset with his obvious monetary success, or he could be the group’s undoing as King’s readership continues to cut into their profits.

Determined to find the elusive Mr. King, Fletcher approaches Miss Black. As a fellow-author, she is well-known among the high-class writers; perhaps she could be persuaded to make some inquiries as to Mr. King’s whereabouts? Elizabeth agrees to help Fletcher, if only to ensure her secret identity is never discovered. What neither author anticipated was the instant attraction, even though their social positions dictate the impossibility of a relationship.

For the first time Elizabeth experiences the thrill of a cat-and-mouse adventure reminiscent of one of her own novels as she tries to throw Fletcher off her scent. But the more time they spend together, the more she loses her heart. Its upper-class against working-class, author against author where readers, reputations, and romance are all on the line.

And now, my review:

I loved learning more about penny dreadfuls in this book. Our heroine is writing under her pseudonym (see summary), which was also fun. In a time when women couldn’t as easily compete for market space as authoresses, this let her have a means of earning an income while writing and expressing her creativity. She has a noble position caring for needy children as well.

The hero is also noble as he’s a member of the Penny Dreadful Society, and he helps rescue endangered children.

Each character in this populated novel has a unique voice, which I love. The author uses great prose, which I’ve come expect from her. She’s one of my favorites.

Every now and then we got to read the penny dreadfuls along with the characters. This was fascinating, but I admit I skimmed some of the less desirable passages. With their inclusion, we got to see this author write speculative fiction into her historicals.

Both of our MCs are writers of these serials, so we get to see inside their writerly minds. I loved when their “real lives” would cross over into their fiction. So much fun!

Because we read the extra stories within this story, I felt we missed a bit of the romantic thread development in favor of a reasonable overall word count. Sarah’s a master at writing tender romance, and we had that here, but I’d have loved to see that thread developed more. That said, the romance we had was delightful.

Another area where Sarah always shines is her humor. (Which is why I devour her work!) And this story never disappointed in that arena.

Such an enjoyable read! 4.5 stars. Highly recommended!

Friday, December 27, 2019

Lake Season by Denise Hunter

Lake Season by Denise Hunter

I already miss these characters and this setting! Lake Season is book one in Denise's new Bluebell Inn Romance series.

Here’s the summary:

When their parents die in a tragic accident, Molly Bennett and her siblings pull together to fulfill their parents’ dream of turning their historic Bluebell, North Carolina, home back into an inn. Staying in town would be temporary—three years at most—then they plan to sell the inn, and Molly can get back to chasing her own dreams.

Adam Bradford (aka bestselling author Nathaniel Quinn) is a reclusive novelist with a bad case of writer’s block. Desperate for inspiration as his deadline approaches, he travels to the setting of his next book, a North Carolina lake town. There, he meets his muse, a young innkeeper who fancies herself in love with his alter ego.

Molly and Adam strike up an instant friendship. When Molly finds a long-lost letter in the walls of her inn, she and Adam embark on a mission to find the star-crossed lovers and bring them the closure they deserve. But Adam has secrets he isn’t ready to share. Past and present collide as truths surface, and Molly and Adam will have to decide if love is worth trusting.

And now, my review:

I’m looking forward to reading this whole series. This first book was delightful. It read fast and kept me interested. Here we meet the cast: a sibling trio who run an inn on a lake in North Carolina. This is a getaway setting to help readers escape. First, we get to experience Molly’s story. She’s has a crush on her favorite author, who just happens to stay at her inn incognito. I loved that premise.

The hero is a best-selling novelist, which was super fun to read about. I wonder if Denise let us in on her own writing process a bit. She has had several of her novels made into TV movies, which has been a delight for this fan. Perhaps this one will be a movie one day too.

The lost-letter aspect kept me intrigued. Their inn used to be a post office. This semi-historical element served as the B story and kept me hooked.

The hero is a nerdy bookish type. I loved him! He’s relatable in a few ways, and I instantly sympathized with him. He’s insecure about disappointing people, so we get why he’s hiding his true identity from his fans. I liked how awkward he was in social situations and how romantic he was. He doesn’t see his own lie, of course, which is his inner journey. I liked that he’s learned, a man of words in more than one language.

The heroine doesn’t know she’s his muse (see summary above), even while they grow closer. Denise is a master at writing romance. Every. Single. Book. Reading these two characters’ romance was delightful. The heroine is bookish too, which draws these two together.

One area that I’d hoped to read and that wasn’t included was around the revelations of their secrets. I would have loved to see a stronger reaction in their romantic relationship when the truth came out. I need to be vague here so I don’t spoil anything, but this felt like a missed opportunity.

The heroine has surprises for Adam, and he has his big secret. It was fun watching this unfold.
The heroine is paranoid of leaving things unsaid between her and her loved ones. She has been wounded by loss and is anxious and insecure, even though she’s surrounded by loving family and friends. This will be relatable to anyone who has suffered similar losses without warning.

Well done! Highly recommended!