baronBaron by Joanna Shupe

Published by: Zebra/Kensington

Format: .mobi ARC

Genre: Historical Romance

Reviewed by: Erin

Buy at: Amazon

What to Expect: Richly detailed descriptions of New York’s Gilded Age, a hot romance with tons of chemistry, and a presidential cameo

Born into one of New York’s most respected families, William Sloane is a railroad baron who has all the right friends in all the right places. But no matter how much success he achieves, he always wants more. Having secured his place atop the city’s highest echelons of society, he’s now setting his sights on a political run. Nothing can distract him from his next pursuit–except, perhaps, the enchanting con artist he never saw coming . . .
Ava Jones has eked out a living the only way she knows how. As “Madam Zolikoff,” she hoodwinks gullible audiences into believing she can communicate with the spirit world. But her carefully crafted persona is nearly destroyed when Will Sloane walks into her life–and lays bare her latest scheme. The charlatan is certain she can seduce the handsome millionaire into keeping her secret and using her skills for his campaign–unless he’s the one who’s already put a spell on her . . .

Baron is the book I’ve been waiting for from Joanna Shupe. Her past books have almost, but not entirely worked for me. I’ve loved her attention to detail and the amazing historical research that goes into her books, but the way she writes dialogue hasn’t quite matched her ability to create setting. This issue is resolved and then some in Baron. I deeply, deeply enjoyed this book. It has everything I enjoy in a historical romance: a beautifully described setting that puts you right in the middle of a specific time and place, a toe-curling romance, and a chance to escape into another world in the space of a book. This book made me a die-hard Joanna Shupe fan.

Cross-class romance is certainly a theme in this series, (though I’d like to see a rich woman/working class man pairing) and this book features the wealthy railroad baron William Sloane and Ava Jones, a woman who has raised herself and her siblings out of abject poverty into…slightly less abject poverty. She is working as the city’s most famous medium, saving money to get her family out of New York and into the country, where her young sisters won’t have to wreck their sight and their bodies working in factories, and her brother won’t be tempted by the local street gangs.

William thinks she’s a faker and a charlatan. Her biggest customer is running for Governor, with William as his Lieutenant Governor. He thinks that Ava’s influence on him will damage their campaign, and sets out to buy her silence. In retrospect, now that it’s been some time since I read it, her reasons for not just taking the money and running off to the country don’t quite hold up, and he drops his persecution of her a little too quickly to be believable.

Ok, so the plot is a little thin, with too many moving parts, but you know what? I didn’t care. The character work is so well-done, the Gilded Age setting so impeccably detailed, and the romance so happy-making, I was swept along in the magic of this book. One of the tropes I love is “we’re just gonna bang and not have feelings and…oh shit, feelings.” Ava and Will are instantly attracted to each other, and once mutual respect is established, they fall into bed together. And surprise, surprise, feelings happen. Their reasons for staying apart are tangled and complicated, involving her siblings, her pride, his messy attempts to fix/understand her poverty, his history with his father, and her very public life as a medium.

(Can I just say, I loved how the situation was resolved Deus ex machina? Sure, but a hell of a satisfying one.)

I like how money is discussed in this book, compared to some other romances. Sure, he has enough money to sweep in and make things better. But Ava rightly recognizes that becoming his mistress isn’t a magical solution, and that a temporary fix might be worse than no fix at all. William doesn’t understand this: He’s well-meaning but privileged, unable to see that a single act of charity can sometimes cause more harm than good. His one right move is when he gives a character the tools to better himself, rather than say, buying extravagant gifts.

If you’re looking for a something new in your historical romance reading, you can’t go wrong with Baron. The Gilded Age is a period of history that is ripe for exploration, with the explosion of new ideas, new technologies, rapid transport, and mass communication. These books are very American in a way that makes me feel genuinely patriotic, something that has seemed impossible during this election cycle. I know that’s odd to say about a book that features political corruption and Tammany Hall, but hey, being an American is complicated.

I can’t end a review talking about the election. It’s too depressing. Go read Baron! It will cheer you out of your election funk, or at least distract you for a little while.

What you might not like: Ava become’s William’s mistress against her better judgement. He doesn’t sleep with her and they magically get together – they have sex for pleasure for some time before feelings are discussed. Not an issue for me, but I know some readers want romance above all.

What you will love: All the history, the excitement, the wonderful, hot, steamy romance, learning about mediums in the Gilded Age, and a take-charge hero almost immediately brought to his knees.

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