Review: The Spinster’s Swindle by Catherine Stein (2021)

Arcane Tales, Book #2

Heat Factor: Sex in the moonlight

Character Chemistry: I absolutely believed that they liked each other.

Plot: She wants to destroy his dad, but maybe he also kinda wants to destroy his dad?

Overall: The plot doesn’t always make sense, but I really enjoyed it anyways.

File this one under: protagonists with unusual jobs. Our heroine, Lydia Weaver, is a spiritualist. Now, for those of you who aren’t obsessed with late 19th-century religious movements, spiritualism involved communicating with the dearly departed, usually at seances. Professional spiritualists are interesting because they’re one part con artists, one part entertainers, and one part people who maybe really have the gift of communing with the dead. Lydia (aka Madame Xyla) is very clear—at least with the reader—that she is purely an entertainer. She uses her knowledge of human nature to guide clients to find the answers they want to hear; the ghost stuff is just for show. We can, as readers, choose to take her at her word on this one—and I think, honestly, it’s better not to look too deeply into her work, because a lot of people who were really into spiritualism were mourning dead loved ones and desperately searching for connection and closure. Under that light, her work seems much less innocent than she might have us believe. 

Lydia does admittedly have a bit of the con artist in her. When our hero, Maxwell, shows up in her salon asking for a reading, Lydia sees an opportunity and stacks the tarot deck. See, Maxwell’s Terrible Romance Dad(™) destroyed her family’s livelihood when she was a child, and now she wants revenge. She will destroy his gaming club and end that Terrible Romance Dad(™) once and for all! The plan is a bit convoluted and involves her dressing up like a prostitute and winning a bunch of card games at said club, but whatever, let’s go with it. 

Anyways, so Max and Lydia are going to his dad’s club to play cards and unwrap mummies but also going on dates to the theater, and honestly they are pretty cute together. There’s a subtext throughout the book of letting all the parts of yourself shine together, which is nice for these two, who both work under assumed names (Maxwell writes plays under a pseudonym) and come to want to claim their alter-egos as their own. 

Of course, since we have a deception plot, there’s a black moment, but I thought it was handled well. It’s not so black that the main characters can’t come back from it, and the way it resolves works well with Max’s own ambivalence about his father.

Overall, this was a fun read. If you’re looking for a historical romance with a touch of adventure that doesn’t go too deep, this might be the ticket. 

I voluntarily read and reviewed a complimentary copy of this book. All thoughts and opinions are my own. We disclose this in accordance with 16 CFR §255.

Buy Now: Amazon

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