My Beautiful Enemy, Sherry Thomas
Description: Hidden beneath Catherine Blade’s uncommon beauty is a daring that matches any man’s. Although this has taken her far in the world, she still doesn’t have the one thing she craves: the freedom to live life as she chooses. Finally given the chance to earn her independence, who should be standing in her way but the only man she’s ever loved, the only person to ever betray her.
Despite the scars Catherine left him, Captain Leighton Atwood has never been able to forget the mysterious girl who once so thoroughly captivated him. When she unexpectedly reappears in his life, he refuses to get close to her. But he cannot deny the yearning she reignites in his heart. Their reunion, however, plunges them into a web of espionage, treachery, and deadly foes. With everything at stake, Leighton and Catherine are forced to work together to find a way out. If they are ever to find safety and happiness, they must first forgive and learn to trust each other again…
The description of this book doesn’t really do it justice. This book, which takes the reader back to 1880s Chinese Turkestan, then to 1890s Victorian England, is a thrilling romance between these two unlikely lovers. Catherine is half-Chinese, masterfully trained in martial arts, and one of the more larger-than-life heroines I’ve had the pleasure to encounter in any novel. Her lover, Leighton, a British spy disguised as a Turkish merchant, is such a strong hero not because he can outmatch Catherine, but because he’s man enough to recognize his superior and lovingly admire her rather than feel threatened by her.
I deeply appreciated the opportunity to leave my customary Euro-centric settings and characters to get acquainted with central Asia during this particularly fascinating period of its history. Britain, Russia, and China each wanted to rule this region, and the degree of espionage and imperial politics between them gave this period its name – The Great Game. The lovers found themselves on opposites sides of this game when they encountered each other, adding to the tension of the story. They had much deeper concerns than fashion and social ranking on their minds.
Thomas herself was born in China, and I loved experiencing her culture through her perspective. My only real criticism was that some of the ways the martial arts were portrayed seemed implausibly over the top (as in, “Nobody can really do that, can they?”). In fact, I probably wouldn’t customarily even read a story with martial arts, or spies, for that matter. But I’m certainly glad I made an exception here, and I’m looking forward to reading the prequel to this story.
You can find more information on Sherry Thomas at her website: sherrythomas.com
An Unpracticed Heart, Quenby Olson
Description: Charlotte Claridge lives a life dictated by her stepmother’s whims. Sent to live with one family member and then another, she finally arrives in Scotland, on the doorstep of a crumbling estate abandoned by its owner. With her aunt, she spends her days mending curtains and peeling potatoes, a quiet existence that changes with the appearance of a carriage bearing a coat of arms. From out of the carriage falls Hartley, also known as Lord Cowden. Drunk, unconscious, and bleeding, Charlotte and her aunt carry him into his ancestral home. As he recovers in Charlotte’s care, Hartley confesses to a crime that nearly sent him spiraling towards his grave. But can she entrust him with her own secrets while coaxing him back from the dead?
This is simply a lovely book. Olson uses beautifully evocative language that transports readers back to the early nineteenth century as she tells emotional, character-driven romances. This story in particular, as the title suggests, tells of two people who have not had an opportunity to find or practice love.
Charlotte is put in the situation of caretaker for Hartley, where she shows her strength of character that he is naturally drawn to. But she, too, has her baggage, and will need to turn to him. The question, then, is whether these two flawed people can find a way to build each other up. The tender way Olson peels back the layers of each of these characters builds tension while making them entirely engaging to us. They struck me deeply realistic and well-rounded, and I was anxious to see if they could make their romance work despite so many obstacles.
If you like this book, be sure to look at her other Regency novels, especially The Firstborn and The Bride Price, both of which I also enjoyed. (And will review at some point, I promise!)
Find Quenby on her Amazon author page:
Soulless Creatures, Katharine Grubb
Being a kid from the 80s (Class of 1984, to be exact), I couldn’t help but love Soulless Creatures. The story premise is clever and original — Roy Castleberry, a disadvantaged kid who is blessed with tremendous charisma, must prove to his well-off, Thoreau-obsessed dorm-mate Jonathan that he has a soul. At stake, a car Jonathan received for his graduation gift. Also at stake is the attention of a sweet girl named Abby who is experiencing life outside her parents’ overprotection for the first time.
The three experience the madness of freshman year at University of Oklahoma in 1986, interspersed with tender moments of friendship, complicated relationships, and Roy’s soul-proving essays that are profound in a way only an 18-year-old boy can make them. Grubb is a little rough on us Texas Longhorn fans here in Austin, I suppose, but it’s okay–the rivalry is real, people. Nevertheless, I’m left feeling charmed and sentimental by this story and these characters she has built. A fun read!
(NB, I am acquainted with the author via social media and received a copy of the ebook in exchange for an honest review. And I honestly loved it!)