A Quickie: The Guilty Pleasures of Amanda Quick

Amanda Quick’s romances are a favorite guilty pleasure of mine. Like a Lauren Willig novel, Quick writes romances with just enough action and mystery in the plot to make them an overall fun read. Her heroines are independent women for their time (usually Regency or Victorian eras) and the men often have some flaws to keep them from being too perfect. Also, unlike so many romances, the conflict always comes from an outside force, not frustrating miscommunication between the main characters. For a little break from reading for work, I recently read two Quick romances. One was good, the other not so much.

The first Quick novel I read was The Mystery Woman and I slugged through it. What was supposed to be a quick read (see what I did there), took months because I put it down- something I have never done with any of her books. The mystery plot was weak and relied too much on one character’s “psychical talent”. I was also really disappointed in the lack of chemistry between the main characters. I made myself finish out of principle, but do yourself a favor and skip it. For the record though, I would recommend Crystal Gardens, the first of the Ladies of Lantern Street series if you like supernatural romances.

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Onto Otherwise Engaged! I didn’t realize it, but it’s been YEARS since Quick has written a non-supernatural romance. I kind of missed ones like this.

Amity Doncaster is an independent, world traveling woman of the world (well, by Victorian standards). On a boat trip through the Caribbean, she happens on a wounded man in an alley. Benedict Stanbridge hands her a letter and tells her to make sure it makes it off the island as he believes he has been fatally wounded. Amity, the daughter of a doctor, does not give up on Benedict so easily and safely transports both the letter and him to the ship. Over the next couple weeks while sailing to New York, Amity nurses him back to health and they grow closer. Once they reach port, Benedict leaves for California with a promise to find her again in London- her final destination.

Weeks go by and Amity still has no word from Benedict, but those who move in polite society have a lot to say about them. Somehow word of the time they spent alone together on the ship is making the rounds among the town gossips. Though not bothered by her slightly tarnished reputation, Amity is worried about Benedict. Her fears for him are only put aside when she is attacked in a carriage. Benedict arrives in London just after the attempt on her life and wonders if it is connected to what happened in the Caribbean. They decide to investigate together under the guise of an engaged couple to excuse all the time they will spend together. Of course, Amity and Benedict have great chemistry so maybe it isn’t just pretend. Before they can really explore their feelings though, they need to figure out who wants them dead.

Otherwise Engaged was a fun way to burn a couple hours. If you enjoy romances or even light thrillers (think creepy killers, but maybe not the most literary fare) check this one out.

Haunting Reads: An Inquiry Into Love and Death

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Autumn is my favorite season. While I miss the long days, I do love the excuse to curl up earlier in the evening with a good book. Summer here has lasted well into September in recent years and winter has started pretty early in November, making for a very short fall. This summer has been quite cool, so once the calendar rolled to September I jumped into seasonal reads with abandon.

Last year around this time, my book club read Simone St. James’ The Haunting of Maddy Clare. While I really liked the suspenseful ghost story featured, the main characters were really flat and not very appealing. Despite a lackluster first read, I decided to give St. James’ ghost stories another try with An Inquiry Into Love and Death. This time I was not disappointed.

Jillian Leigh is an usual woman for the 1920s- a dedicated female student at Oxford. One day she is called out of class and informed her estranged Uncle Toby, a professional ghost hunter, has died unexpectedly. Jillian is more put out than grief stricken when the solicitor explains she needs to go identify his body and collect his belongings from the small, coastal town of Rothewell.

Upon arrival, Jillian begins to suspect her uncle’s death might not have been an accidental fall and makes inquiries into what he was working on before he died. She is not the only one. Scotland Yard Inspector Drew Merriken is also in town with suspicions of his own about Toby’s death. Soon after her arrival, Jillian has reason to believe Walking John, the ghost her uncle was hunting, might be more than the imaginings of an eccentric man. Inspector Merriken most certainly thinks whatever is not right in Rothewell has a logical explanation. They both are about to be tested.

Lovecraft she is not, but St. James knows how to set a creepy scene and build suspense. More than a few times I stopped what I was doing and sat on edge waiting to find out what would happen next. The romance between Jillian and Drew had just the right amount of chemistry. It is part of the plot, but does not detract in any way from the eerie feeling of the tale. An Inquiry Into Love and Death is very much in the vein of dimestore novels, suspense movies, and radio programs (especially thanks to Rosalyn Landor’s narration) of the ’20s and ’30s- a ghost, buried secrets, and a budding romance. Pick this up for a fun, spooky read.