Offbeat Romance

Melinda Metz’s Talk to the Paw is a purrfectly charming romance featuring an (actual feline) cat burglar named MacGyver and a not-overly-bright dog named Diogee. Mac’s human, Jamie, is taking a year off from teaching high school history (thanks to an inheritance from her mother) and hoping to discover what she really wants to do with the rest of her life. She’s moved across the country and landed in a small LA neighborhood called Storybook Court, where all the houses look like settings for some Disney movie. Mac knows she is lonely—he can smell it. She needs a human pack mate.

Diogee’s human, David, is a baker, happy enough with his job, but tired of his best friend pushing him to get on with his life. A widower of three years, he’s not so sure he’s ready for that. He’s pretty much forgotten how to talk to a woman about anything but cupcakes.

When Mac decides that David is lonely, too (despite that big, stupid dog), he begins to steal things from David to leave on Jamie’s doorstep, and vice versa. Pretty soon he’s playing matchmaker, and causing chaos, all over Storybook Court.

I very much enjoyed Jamie and David, Mac and Diogee, and the variety of amusing supporting characters, all the TV and movie references, and the LA landmarks. Even more, I enjoyed a romance that follows two people getting to know one another and gradually building a relationship.

Till Demon Do Us Part is the final installment in AE Jones’ Paranormal Wedding Planner series, following the tale of the last two series characters in need of a mate (whether they’ll admit that or not): Darcinda the fairly healer, and McHenry, the cranky demon metal worker.

When McHenry and his nephew, Andrew, are the victims of a magical attack in McHenry’s workshop, the team of paranormal investigators jumps into action, with Darcinda there to tend to McHenry’s very serious (and magic-infused) injuries. Darcinda and McHenry have never gotten along well (Darcinda shies away from relationships; McHenry shies away from nearly everyone, fairies most of all), but suddenly they’re having trouble keeping one another at arms’ length.

When Roderick, the Demon King, appears to be the main suspect in the attack on McHenry, the leaders of the paranormal species gather to pass judgment. But the real mystery goes back three generations, to a conflict the two demons “remember” quite differently.

I’m sorry to see the series end, but this is a fine wrap up, with all the familiar series characters receiving the rewards they have earned.

Two from Cheryl Bolen

Cheryl Bolen brings us two charming Regency romances this season, Once Upon a Time in Bath, and A Proposal of Marriage.

When wide-eyed country girl Dorothea Pankhurst arrives in Bath with her four cats and her widowed father, she has few plans beyond convincing Mr. Pankhurst that the waters may improve his health. Mr. Pankhurst, however, harbors thoughts of launching his only child into society. Neither of them expect that Dot, who considers herself rather plain, and definitely out of touch with current fashion, will attract a titled suitor.

When Viscount Appleton strikes up an acquaintance with Dot on the street (aided by one of her cats), it’s not the coincidence it appears to be. For Mr. Pankhurst is a very wealthy man, and Dot is his only heiress—and Appleton is in dire need of an heiress’s dowry to rescue his family fortunes.

Appleton is not entirely sure what happened that night at Mrs. Starr’s gaming establishment, only that before the night was over he had bet—and lost—nearly everything he owned. Even worse, his enemy Henry Wolf now holds the IOUs. To save his family fortune—and to save his sister Annie from marriage to Wolf—Appleton needs to marry an heiress, and fast.

Appleton is sure he doesn’t love Miss Pankhurst, although he finds her increasingly interesting (in spite of the cats), while Dot worries that Lord Appleton is only interested in her dowry (and worse than that, she knows, thanks to the gossipy Bath Chronicle, that he keeps a mistress).

When the two unlikely partners team up to solve a murder mystery, they begin to realize how much they truly have in common.

Once Upon a Time in Bath will delight Bolen’s longtime fans with visits from several characters from her previous books, but first time readers will have no problems jumping in.

In A Proposal of Marriage, Rebecca Peabody is a woman with a mission. Bespectacled, American born, and the 20-year-old younger sister of the Countess of Warwick, she feels every restriction placed upon young unmarried women in Regency London. No one knows that she has a secret career as the essayist P. Corpus, and she means to keep it that way. How better than to marry someone who will free her from those restrictions and let her live her own life.

She sets her sights on John Compton, the Earl of Aynsley, a 43-year-old widower with seven children and estates in Shropshire. Surely such a man could use a wife with organizational skills (Rebecca once cataloged the largest private library in Britain) to manage his household, without expecting much in the way of those unpleasant physical intimacies Rebecca has only heard about. And one day she marches right into his London house and proposes a marriage of convenience.

Aynsley, a good-hearted soul, lets this strange (but clearly intelligent and passionate) young woman down as gently as he can. It’s only after she leaves his house that he associates the name Peabody with P. Corpus, an essayist he reads faithfully in the Edinburgh Review and greatly admires. Intelligent indeed, and rather pretty, and so very young . . .

It doesn’t take long for Aynsley to realize this marriage might be a really good idea, and a solution to several problems. Before she can quite realize what she’s gotten herself into, Rebecca is the new Countess of Aynsley (despite her American dislike of titles), settling into Aynsley’s Shropshire estates.

Only four of Aynsley’s children remain at home, but they are indeed a handful. Spencer, age 8, Alex, age 6, and Chuckie, age 3, miss having a mother and welcome Rebecca (although that doesn’t stop some creative misbehavior), but 18-year-old Emily, losing her place as mistress of the house, is another matter entirely.

Throw in a slightly deaf uncle who likes to garden in the nude, a moon-struck cousin who won’t find steady work because he can’t bear to be away from Emily, and that portrait of the previous countess hanging over the dining room table, and Rebecca has almost more than she can deal with. And then she realizes that she’s falling in love with her husband.

A Proposal of Marriage combines humor, politics, likeable characters, and growing romance into a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Random Reading

Here are three books I have enjoyed recently, with absolutely no connection to one another.

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Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid is a terrific novel. If you remember the 70s (although some say that if you think you remember that era you weren’t really there), you will recognize the time of sex, drugs, and rock’n’roll, and Daisy Jones pretty much exemplifies all that.

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The story covers the formation of the band called The Six, the tension, conflict, and success brought about by the addition of singer Daisy Jones, and the eventual sudden and unexplained (until now) break up of the band.

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Although Daisy was a spoiled brat in many ways, and a hard core addict, I was still pulling for her to somehow survive it all. Billy Dunne, leader of The Six, also deep into the drug scene (as was pretty much everyone in the cast) had enough redeeming qualities, and made enough good choices (Daisy rarely did) that I was pulling for him, too. And Karen, and Graham.

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The story is told in the form of bits of interviews, arranged by the nameless (until the end) Author; none of the characters are together through the interviews, but their versions of the story and their reactions to one another are skillfully braided together, in a sort of modern version of the old epistolary novel.

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It took me a while to find this book, but I’m so glad I did. Now I’ll have to keep an eye out for Reid’s other novels.

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A friend recommended Lyssa Kay Adams’ The Bromance Book Club, a book that might not otherwise have been on my reading radar, and I enjoyed it thoroughly. The premise, a group of men (most of them professional athletes) who read romance novels and regard them as “manuals” for puzzling out what the women in their lives really want, is as humorous as it sounds. The newest member of the club is baseball player Gavin Scott, whose wife of three years has thrown him out, for reasons he really doesn’t want to share with his friends. But he loves his wife, Thea, and he’s willing to take advice from his friends, as humiliating as that might be. If following the path to true love laid out in a paperback Regency romance called Courting the Countess (yes, there are excerpts) will get him back into Thea’s good graces, he’s willing to try. What could possibly go wrong?

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Well, it’s a funny, entertaining, heart-warming story, and of course all sorts of things go wrong. But Gavin and Thea are likable characters, clearly meant for each other, and worth rooting for. Adams also does an excellent job of showing how the hurts in their respective pasts cause problems in the present, and how sharing those buried secrets help to solve those problems.

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Thea and Gavin’s three-year-old twin daughters talk and sometimes act like six-year-old girls, and now and then Gavin’s male friends break into feminist rhetoric (if this was a movie they might break into song), but these are minor problems. On the whole The Bromance Book Club is funny and touching and optimistic, and well worth reading. My friend just picked up the sequel, Undercover Bromance.

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Not long ago I ran across an article listing good science fiction romances and thought that Finders Keepers by Linnea Sinclair looked particularly interesting. So I clicked on the Amazon link, only to learn that I had bought the book in June, 2016 — those little notices are definitely a blessing for bookaholics like me!

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So I located the book in my Kindle library, and a few days later I jumped in. I’ve been a science fiction fan all my reading life (and that goes back a long time), and I suspect Sinclair has been as well, because the science fiction aspects of Finders Keepers are as solid as the romance.

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Trilby Elliot is the captain and sole human crew member of an antiquated and beat up freighter called the Careless Venture. She and her android crewman Dezi are making repairs to the ship at her little hideaway on a rather inhospitable uninhabited planet when another space craft crashes nearby. Trilby rescues the pilot and brings him back to her rudimentary sick bay, where the equipment has a bit of trouble reading him.

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Trilby’s medical bay may be old and somewhat unreliable, but the truth is that Rhis Vanur really isn’t quite what—or who—he appears to be. By the time Trilby finds out the truth, she’s too far involved in galactic politics to get out. And she’s finding out the truth about far more than Rhis.

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Finders Keepers is just the ticket if you’re in the mood for a rousing space opera with a good (but never very graphic) romance running through it. My only complaint is that the ending seemed rather abrupt—and that Sinclair apparently never wrote a sequel (although she has written numerous other novels). I really wanted to know what happened next to Trilby, Rhis, and several of their colleagues.

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Now that I think about it, there is a connection: they all have love stories. That probably says something about my taste in books. I do like a happy ending.

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