It has been SO LONG since I did a book review. I got far enough behind on writing them that I stopped reading books. Also, I feel guilty for asking for nonfic recommendations, and checking out a bunch of nonfic books, and then not finishing any of them and reading fantasy romance instead.
ANYWAY. I am gonna do some short reviews at least.
Herb Witch & Herb Wife by Elizabeth McCoy
These read more like one long book than two separate books: I bought Herb Wife as soon as I finished the first. The split into two books isn't wholly arbitrary and the end of the first book does signal a shift in focus. But neither volume is meant to stand alone.
I enjoyed the books more as fantasy-slice-of-life than anything else. The setting is well-developed and interesting, and the characters are plausible and nuanced. The magic of the setting -- alchemy and herb-witchery -- is low-key by fantasy standards; it's almost believable as a form of chemistry instead of being magical. The central plot is technically a romance: it's mainly about the relationship between the two protagonists. Still, it reminded me more of Bard Bloom's irromances: it is more about making a relationship work when you're stuck with it than about finding a soulmate or getting swept up by a grand passion. There's also some mystery and adventure elements. Overall, I liked it: I'll give it a 7.5.
The Chocolatier's Wife by Cindy Lynn Speer
This is a rare example of a book that bard_bloom gave a positive review to and which sounded like something I'd enjoy. (Bard's reviews tend not to be very positive, and some of the few endorsements have been books that sounded WAY depressing). So I picked it up, and was not disappointed. It's a lively, quick romance/mystery, with a charming archaic voice that sounds almost fairy tale-like at times. The characters are engaging and likeable; the author has "flashbacks" to letters exchanged before they met, which I found especially sweet. A few times the narrative struck me as a bit off, like the characters might express a feeling which doesn't make a lot of sense and seems to be stuck in purely in an unnecessary effort to add drama or tension. But overall the story is enchanting and I had a lovely time with it. A solid 8.