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A Romance Novel That Doesn’t Need the Love Story

Wow. It's been quite a while since I nattered on about romance here. Part of the hiatus was due to a busy, busy summer, and part was due to the fact that nothing I read had really knocked my socks off. Oh, I read a lot of books that were good, and some were even really good, but I didn't come across anything that stuck with me for days and made me want to shove it into other people's hands.

Until this week.

The book that finally broke the meh streak was Almost a Scandal by Elizabeth Essex. I'll be honest and admit that the heroine, Sally, was a bit too good to be true (but not quite into Mary Sue territory), which was occasionally annoying. But there was so much that I liked about the book that I was willing to let some things slide that, in other books, might have made me stop reading. What really, really, really worked for me was that the book was set almost entirely on a naval ship, and there was a big, climactic action scene set during the Battle of Trafalgar. All of the scenes and details of shipboard life were so skillfully rendered that I could hear the clang of the watch bell and smell the salty tang of the sea air (and the funky musk of dozens of men with limited bathing opportunities living in close quarters). At times, the romance between Sally and Col took a backseat to the day-to-day events of life aboard the Audacious — and I was totally OK with that. Ms. Essex had obviously done her research, and it made the story that much richer and more textured.

But, OK, I didn't pick up a historical romance to learn about life in the Royal Navy during the early 19th Century (that was just a bonus). I picked it up for a love story. And there was one. And it was a friends-into-lovers story, which I always enjoy. But you know what? I would have been perfectly content with this book if it had only been all of the ship stuff, and Col and Sally had just remained friends. The ship plotline was amazing and totally engrossing, and I even managed to kinda-sorta believe that the crew didn't recognize Sally as a girl (even though it's revealed at the end that a lot of them did, but let her stay on board because she had been pretty much raised on a ship and was super-fantastic at all sailor-y activities). I picked up this book for the love story but fell in love (or at least really deep like) with its glimpse of seagoing life. It's the shipboard parts that will send me back to read the book again, which is something I almost never do.

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Billie Bloebaum is a bona fide romance reader and would be reading romance novels even if she weren't reviewing them. She is also a new convert to eBooks, thanks to the writers of the blog Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, who kindly loaned her a Sony Reader. However, since Billie has a deep and abiding love for the traditional book, she attempts to review books that are available in both formats.

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