Greetings, reader friends! Adam and I just got back from a whirlwind trip around the UK. Part of me still can’t believe I’ve actually set foot in the country I’ve read so much about since childhood. And if you know me, you won’t be surprised that I used our trip as an excuse to read some books set in England and Scotland to get into a British frame of mind.
These are the books I read before, during, and after our sojourn across the pond. I stayed away from weighty themes and dense prose—when I travel I tend to read in short bursts in places with lots of distractions, so I always go for attention-grabbing genre fiction. These reads kept me riveted from plane to train to coffee shop to pub!
A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole
I knew this one would be high on my British travel reading list because I could not resist a romance between a self-identified hot mess American and a Scottish swordmaker/blacksmith. Portia comes to Edinburgh to apprentice with Tavish, but with her social media savvy, she quickly makes herself indispensable as the armory’s PR guru. I love romances where the characters have full lives outside of their relationship and realistic challenges along the way, and Portia and Tavish have plenty of that going on, what with him running a business and her dealing with family baggage. I didn’t realize I would be into a slightly-older-man thing, but I totally got Portia’s attraction to silver fox Tavish. (One note: this is the second in a series, but I haven’t read the first book and didn’t feel like I missed anything, for what that’s worth!)
How the Duke Was Won by Lenora Bell
This is exactly what I want in historical romance—funny and sweet, with characters who challenge the strictures of their time. Charlene is decidedly not a proper lady—as the bastard daughter of an earl whose mother runs a bawdy house, her choices in life are limited. That is, until the mother of her half-sister, the legitimate daughter of the earl, approaches her with a bargain: impersonate her half-sister just long enough to hook a duke, and then disappear forever while her half-sister marries the ill-gotten man. Charlene needs the money, so she says yes—but as you might expect, the plan is all going to fall apart if she falls for the duke for real. And it turns out the duke isn’t exactly proper himself…
Lethal White by Robert Galbraith
JK Rowling writes mysteries under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, and when this fourth book in her series came out the same month as our trip, I knew it had to be on my list. I was a little hesitant when I saw the page count (656! Egads!), but of course with Rowling you’re always in good hands. Cormoran Strike is a PI, and along with Robin, who started as a temp but is now a partner in the business, he investigates cases all over London. The mysteries are all serviceable, but what keeps me coming back to this series is the complicated relationship between Strike and Robin. Their once-easy rapport has been strained by Robin’s marriage, and they work through their issues as they work through their latest case. The balance between the twisty, turny plot and the development of the two investigators as characters is just right.
It gave me a special thrill to read a few pages of this book while sitting at the Elephant House, a coffee shop in Edinburgh where Rowling reportedly wrote the Harry Potter books. We got a great table—you can see Edinburgh Castle outside the window! If you ever go, make sure to take a bathroom break, as the layers of graffiti left by passionate nerds is not to be missed. My favorite: “Longing for some bottom #ilyneville.” I made sure to wear my Hermione Granger shirt that day too. #nerdalert
A Double Life by Flynn Berry
The only way for me to get through an 8+ hour flight is to have plenty of distractions on hand, and this book proved quite distracting, as I read the whole thing on our travel day home. Claire is the daughter of a man accused of murder, but her father was rich and well-connected and his friends helped him escape. He’s been a fugitive from justice ever since, and Claire has lived her whole life in his shadow, constantly looking over her shoulder, wondering where he is and whether the father she once loved could have done what he’s accused of doing. This is as much a character study as it is a thriller, going deep into Claire’s troubled mind as she struggles to remember the night of the murder and looks for clues as to her father’s current whereabouts. I especially loved the setting, which alternates between London and Scotland, and after being in both places I could so clearly picture Claire walking the sidewalks and trying to hold her crumbling life together.
The Princess Trap by Talia Hibbert
How could I NOT read a book subtitled “Dirty British Romance” while on a trip to the UK? After loving A Duke by Default, I couldn’t resist squeezing in one more title about accidental or unexpected royalty. Which, as we all know, is the best kind! Cherry catches Ruben’s eye when he takes a tour of her workplace, but she doesn’t know he’s a Scandinavian prince until they’re caught in flagrante by paparazzi. Ruben’s reputation can’t take another scandal, so they strike a deal: she pretends to be his fiancée for a year in return for cold, hard cash—enough to cover her sister’s tuition, medical expenses, and a lot more besides. Cherry is furious at Ruben’s lack of transparency and the total upheaval of her life, but she can’t deny the attraction that initially drew her to him and Ruben doesn’t want her to. I love how Talia Hibbert’s characters feel like real people who grow in all kinds of ways, not just romantically.
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