Review of “Witchmark” (The Kingston Cycle #1) by C.L. Polk

Polk, C.L. Witchmark. New York: Tor.com/Tom Doherty and Associates, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250162687 | 318 pages | Historical Fantasy

5 stars

Witchmark came highly recommended by a book club friend or two as a romance-adjacent fantasy with an m/m romance, and some recent conversation on Twitter in response to some hostile reviews for the forthcoming sequel regarding the shift in protagonist (despite said book not even finished and available to reviewers yet) inspired me to pick up the book even sooner than I originally planned.

This book had such an engaging plot, and was so fast-paced. I also liked that, while it’s not the most complicated fantasy in terms of worldbuilding and magic, it feels both easy to comprehend due to the historical influences and also well-drawn enough to be distinct at the same time.

Miles and Tristan are both fabulous characters, and especially Miles, given that he’s the protagonist and narrator. I loved the exploration of his conflicts as far as his family is concerned. And their romance…there are some pretty cute moments between them, and it balances out the darker atmosphere of the mystery plot and the world war.

This book was utterly enjoyable, and I will definitely be reading the sequel. I would recommend this to fans of great historically-inspired fantasy.

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Review of “What a Lord Wants” (Capturing the Carlisles #5) by Anna Harrington

Harrington, Anna. What a Lord Wants. New York: NYLA, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1798484678 | 309 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

What a Lord Wants is a nice conclusion(?) to the Carlisles’ series, although I admit at first I completely forgot how this was meant to be a Carlisles’ book in the first place. Thankfully, this is explained for the most part, and, due to having the loosest connection to the other books (with the exception of book 3, with this book’s heroine and that one being sisters), it can more or less stand alone.

This book felt oddly paced to me at first, and I found myself boggled at my lack of investment in comparison to others’ glowing reviews for it. I could feel the romantic tension right away, but I wasn’t sure I connected with Dom or Eve until at least halfway through the book. There were things I enjoyed, like being enmeshed in the world of art at the time, and I liked that Eve, in spite of being enveloped in scandal, was unafraid of risking another when she found herself in one, but still, I was fully prepared to drag my way through it, which would not do any favors toward my perspective on the current stale state of the genre.

But somewhere after that halfway point, it got better for me, and I started to formulate what was wrong, along with seeing things be solved for me. And the crux of the issue was Dom’s dual persona. I’m not the biggest fan of heroes who put up walls for whatever reason, and while I found it to be a new take, it did not endear me to him, especially since I felt the solution to his problems of lacking inspiration so obvious. But as things progressed, I found myself warming to him somewhat, and a pivotal moment concerning a letter he receives from a past love moved me and showed a moment of revelation and growth, particularly as it’s revealed that the woman’s father (also his former mentor who instilled the “art before all else” way of thinking) also eventually found love that altered his perspective,c and I found that beautiful and poetic.

While I did not find it as enjjoyable as I had hoped, having really liked or even loved quite a few of Harrington’s other books, I feel it’s mostly me and my funk with historicals lately, and I would not dissuade anyone from picking it up, especially if they have consistently loved Harrington’s work in the past and also really love historicals.

Review of “Believe in Me” (The Worthingtons #6) by Ella Quinn

Quinn, Ella. Believe in Me. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145205 | 374 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I admit I sadly did not have high hopes for Believe in Me, after having difficulties with its predecessor. And while this one also fell a little flat, I do feel like this one is marginally better.

Once again, I must give praise to Quinn’s dedication to getting the details of the period correct, and also introducing readers to lesser known facts about the Regency era in a fun and engaging way. The concept and overall execution of the idea of a woman who is more interested in pursuing higher education is a unique one for the time period, but it is great to know that it was not outside the realm of possibility for those with connections and the means to travel, as Augusta did.

And the situation led to some great development of her as a character in the context of the extended Worthington family as well. It was great to see the determined Augusta appealing alternately to her more traditionally minded mother, who hopes to see her married off, and her brother Matt, who is slightly more open to the idea. It led to some great moments of development to see how everyone progressed in the three-year time jump since the last book’s events.

The romance felt a little more lackluster to me, which is unfortunate, as on paper, it seemed like it could easily have been one of my favorites, due to the slightly slow-burn nature of the relationship and how things start off with Phinn and Augusta being friends first, and them being well-suited to each other due to both being intelligent. But it was one of those books where I felt like the conflicts were resolved a bit too quickly, and then there was a lot of slow-moving travel scenes. It helped to illustrate the scenery and what it would have been like to actually make the trip, but it did little else but make me wonder how much longer it would be until something happened.

On the whole it is a fairly decent entry, although it does make me question whether this series has gone on a bit too long. There are numerous other family members left, so we’ll see if Ella Quinn can write something a bit more engaging for the next family member. And in the meantime, I do still feel it’s worth reading, even if primarily for the heroine’s arc alone. As I noted previously, Ella Quinn’s adherence to accuracy is pretty much unrivaled, and she is an author I would recommend for those looking for a historical that will both entertain and educate, this one is for you.

Review of “Red Seas Under Red Skies” (Gentlemen Bastards #2) by Scott Lynch

Lynch, Scott. Red Seas Under Red Skies. New York: Bantam, 2007.

Hardcover | $23.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0553804683 | 558 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Red Seas Under Red Skies is a great second entry in the Gentlemen Bastards series, once again standing out for its terrific character and relationship development. If the book has any flaws, the plot didn’t feel as engaging or as high-stakes as the first one. But it is still more or less solid and enjoyable. And I admire Scott Lynch for trying to take his characters and world in a bit of a different direction, while keeping them recognizable to the reader.

Locke and Jean remain a fabulous pair to follow, focusing on the ins and outs of their friendship, from the more light-hearted banter to the more heartwarming “friendship” moments, like an interaction that perfectly encapsulates the meaning of a true friend that has become like family.

It was also refreshing to see the introduction of some strong, but well-drawn female characters in Ezri and Zamira, and I was even more floored when I did a bit of digging into this book (mostly just perusing reviews on Goodreads to see others’ opinions) and found a link to a post with Scott Lynch’s fabulous response to “fans” regarding “political correctness” by the inclusion of these characters. Even independent of the post itself, it’s great to see him including women in prominent roles, especially in a pirate setting, as that not only felt a little lacking in the last book, but women pirates are an element of pirate lore that has long fascinated me.

I once again think it’s a great book that fantasy fans will enjoy, even if it isn’t your standard high-magic, large world story. If you love great character depth and relationships, it’s definitely worth giving these books a try.

Review of “The Accidental Beauty Queen” by Teri Wilson

Wilson, Teri. The Accidental Beauty Queen. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501197604 | 293 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

4 stars

The Accidental Beauty Queen was a random find while perusing my library’s catalog, looking for other books with librarian characters. Upon reading the blurb and some reviews, I was intrigued and thought it had a fun premise.

It ended up being a fun read, with a combination of a lot of fun things. While it is a little on-the-nose at times, and the author clearly wears her influences very close to her chest, from Miss Congeniality and beauty pageants to Harry Potter and Jane Austen geek-dom, to the point of borrowing elements from all of the above, some to a greater degree than others, it’s still a great read if you go in prepared for a light read and nothing particularly groundbreaking.

What I absolutely adored was seeing these two sisters grow through observing something of the other, whether it be a facet of the other’s life or their behavior. Charlotte shares the popular opinion that pageants are vapid and dumb, and is very much a stereotype of brains over beauty, but I love how she sees how much good those in the pageant circuit are doing and how hard some (like Ginny) are working to better themselves through trying to earn money for higher education through these competitions. And Ginny learns what it is to be a good person and sister through observing Charlotte.

This is an absolutely adorable book, full of humor and heart. I would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a light-hearted romantic comedy, especially if you love book nerd culture or beauty pageants…or, as the book’s underlying message suggests, both.

Review of “Brentwood’s Ward” (Bow Street Runners #1) by Michelle Griep

Griep, Michelle. Brentwood’s Ward. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2015.

Paperback | $13.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1630586799 | 314 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I won Brentwood’s Ward and the next book in the series, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, in a giveaway from the author around the time of the latter book’s release, and I was excited, as I had just read one of her novellas at the time and Julie Klassen, my gateway author to Christian historical fiction, has long recommended her highly. So, I was a bit disappointed to find that I wasn’t a bit more wowed by this.

I didn’t hate the book. It’s well-paced and fairly original, focusing on Bow Street Runners, and while I’ve seen those before on occasion in historicals, I haven’t seen it nearly enough. And Brentwood is definitely the better of the two main characters in the book. I loved that, in addition to the action-oriented stuff that comes with the profession, Brentwood has concern for taking care of his ailing sister, which motivates him to take on the assignment as Emily’s guardian.

I didn’t really know what to think about Emily. I could kind of empathize with her situation to an extent, but I also found her a bit too spoiled, and while there were moments over the course of the story that led her to grow on me, I never fully warmed up to her.

But I think my real issue was the fact that the romance wasn’t well executed. I didn’t really get the sense, particularly on Brentwood’s end, that he fell in love with her, especially when he declares it out-of-the-blue without convincing romantic buildup. There’s some semblance of tension there, but I didn’t get a real sense that there was a ton of chemistry, and the feelings didn’t feel super genuine. And while the suspense plot was developed reasonably well throughout, towards the end, I found my investment flagging, especially when I started to see it wrapping up a little too easily.

I will definitely be reading the next book to give this author a second chance and decide then if it’s worth it to continue with the forthcoming final (?) book in the series. But I did see this book did get a lot of positive praise from other readers, so I would still recommend it to those who like similar authors like Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd.

Review of “For Real” by Alexis Hall

Hall, Alexis. For Real. Hillsborough, NJ: Riptide Publishing, 2015.

Paperback | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1626492806 | 339 pages | Erotic Romance

4.5 stars

I never would have anticipated prior to this year that I would ever pick up a book like For Real, given my complaints in the past about books with sex scenes (or allusions to sex) too early in the book for my taste. But this one came highly recommended, and I was even encouraged to put some of my qualms about BDSM aside (although admittedly most were fostered by the negative response to the portrayal of BDSM in other, more notable works, like the Fifty Shades series).

So, I was incredibly surprised to find how much I enjoyed this one. And while some of those other books failed to invest me in the sexy bits due to lack of character depth or overall likability, this book was different. Laurie and Toby are both compelling and well-rounded, and neither feels like a stereotype of what a dominant or a submissive is…in large part due to this book completely flipping the roles, and having younger Toby be dominant in the kinky bits.

However, it’s the emotional connection that stands out here. I love those little moments , such as how after spending the night together, Toby makes Laurie breakfast, and you genuinely feel them falling for one another, even if there is this fear, especially on Laurie’s side, that it won’t last.

I do have some minor quibbles with the way the dual first person narrative ended up being executed. You can more or less follow who’s narrating for most of the book, but there’s one chapter when the feelings are super heightened where both perspectives are given, and it felt a little jarring to read a passage from one person’s head, then guess that we’re hopping to the other person’s, and back and forth.

This is, however, for the most part a wonderfully subversive book that I think most romance fans should read, regardless of whether they think they are a fan of BDSM or not

Review of “Diary of an Accidental Wallflower” (The Seduction Diaries #1) by Jennifer McQuiston

McQuiston, Jennifer. Diary of an Accidental Wallflower. New York: Avon Books, 2015.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062335012 | 370 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

As of late, I haven’t felt particularly excited for recent historical romance releases, and while there are many from the last year that I have to catch up on and there will be some in the coming months that have me excited, the state of the subgenre with the shortage of releases from go-to authors has been feeling a little stale at this present moment. This led to me seek out an author I had once tried when she debuted, only to inexplicably not pick up another book from her: Jennifer McQuiston. And Diary of an Accidental Wallflower seemed to fit my requirements, as I wanted a hero who was different from the deluge of rakish aristocrats, and was even getting tired of the “relatable” bluestocking heroines, particularly when paired with the former.

And I found myself enjoying this book and cursing myself for not picking it up when it first came out, particularly for the adorable hero, Daniel. While he does have one or two less flattering moments, I love his devotion to his work and how he is confident in who he is and his standing, even when others — even the heroine at first — look down on him. It’s so awesome to see a hero actually doing something with his life rather than wasting his life away.

I had some slight concern as to how Clare might be handled, as she could easily come off as unlikable. And to some, she might be. But I feel like, while she’s cold and snobbish at the beginning, this is very much a story of her growth: finding out the truth about who she is and who her true friends are. And I think it’s unfortunate that in cases where the roles are reversed, and we have ass of a duke (for an example) with a wallflower, people are much more forgiving when he reaches his epiphany (and usually not until the end of the book). With Clare, her transformation felt natural and I could feel her feelings change as she started to fall for Daniel and had the desire to fight to be with him.

The supporting cast is lovely, and I love how it reinforces this idea of family and togetherness, regardless of blood ties and any other domestic difficulties faced over time is conveyed. I was particularly drawn to the connection between Clare and her long-lost relative, and think it’s a shame that the author is currently not writing, as I would love to see his story, much more so than either of the Westmore siblings, especially the brother, as his portrayal here and a sneak peek at the blurb suggests it’s yet another wastrel aristocrat story.

This was a sweet and unexpected historical romance, of a type I wish we saw more of. And I would recommend it to any other historical romance lover who missed it, especially if you love working heroes or stories focusing on the heroine’s journey.

Review of “The Lieutenant’s Nurse” by Sara Ackerman

Ackerman, Sara. The Lieutenant’s Nurse. Toronto, Ontario: Mira Books, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778307914 | 335 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I was super excited for The Lieutenant’s Nurse, given how much I adored Sara Ackerman’s previous book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, so much so that I didn’t even bother to investigate what the story was about before adding it to my TBR. But once I did take the time to find out, I was even more excited, given the untapped potential (at least in historical fiction books) of the storyline focusing largely on the days leading up to and following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

And Ackerman remains consistent in building on a sheer breadth of research to craft an engaging story rife with history, drama, romance, and even friendship. While the setup suggested that the love triangle would overwhelm everything else, instead of being just one part of the story, I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Eva and Clark do have evident feelings for one another, but it doesn’t feel like it overwhelms the plot or the stakes of the book, especially with so much else going on.

I was especially intrigued by Eva, since she seems to have left a dark secret behind her in Michigan, and I felt these flashbacks to her past were interweaved into the story in a great way, as well as leading up to a great conclusion. And on Clark’s side, it was fascinating to have the question explored of whether the Americans knew about the attack beforehand.

All in all, this is a wonderfully lush book with a compelling story and rich detail. It’s a definite must-read for all fans of historical fiction.

Review of “The Infamous Duchess” (Diamounds in the Rough #4) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. The Infamous Duchess. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062849748 | 376 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

The Infamous Duchess is a great book by a highly underrated author. Sophie Barnes once again delivers something I wish we saw more of in romance: a unique and fresh storyline with two compelling and unique characters. And while at least one of the prior books in the series may have been a little hit-or-miss for me, and the start of this series came at the expense of the premature end of her prior series, overall, I feel she really showed her true potential with this book.

Viola intrigued me as a character in the prior book, The Illegitimate Duke, and I was pleased to get to know more about her, especially since she does have, as the title suggests, an infamous reputation. But learning about her background and what led her to make the choices she did led me to understand her. And what I loved was it made even more sense that she and Florian were working together, considering his own dark past that was revealed, but I am glad that Barnes went the route she did to establish that there were never romantic feelings between them, in this book or the prior one.

Henry was a surprise to me, as I kind of expected him to be your standard rakish aristocrat, and, while he is definitely no virgin (as he makes clear in-conversation), I liked that his thing was that he just wanted to be spared the attention of the debutantes and their matchmaking mothers. It’s not a wholly original concept there, as that is ultimately what a lot of heroes in historicals want until they meet “the One,” but I thought it was great nonetheless. And once he was invested in helping Viola, his subsequent injuries (plural) at the hands of Viola’s villainous stepson had me chuckling at how often Viola seemed to have to care for him.

One of the hallmarks of Barnes’ romances is that she’s great at slowing things down and letting things develop outside the bedroom. So, while you won’t find super steamy sex scenes here, there is a lot of great sexual tension, with the push-and-pull between Viola and Henry, as she resists getting involved (for the most part) and he pursues her (but in a totally respectful way). It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I personally loved it.

This was such a sweet book with such fun, unconventional characters, and believable stakes that I enjoyed seeing Henry and Viola work together to work through. I would recommend this to other fans of sweet, fun historicals.

Review of “The Girl He Used to Know” by Tracey Garvis Graves

Garvis Graves, Tracey. The Girl He Used to Know. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250200358 | 291 pages | Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

I had randomly added The Girl He Used to Know to my TBR without even really thinking about it or even bothering to read much of the blurb, because I’m a sucker for the illustrated cover trend. It was only later when I actually went back to look at it that I saw what a happy coincidence it was that the heroine was not only a librarian who had gotten her Bachelor’s in English (although, now that I think of it, the heroine does look like your stereotypical librarian on the cover), but was also socially awkward, meaning that prior to even starting the book, I already felt I related to her.

Therefore, much like with last year’s The Kiss Quotient, I was deeply moved as I went on Annika’s journey to finding out about herself and becoming more confident in her skin. And while Garvis Graves is not on the autism spectrum or intimately acquainted with anyone who is, I felt like she took the proper care with writing Annika in a way that made her struggles resonate with someone like me.

Jonathan is also exactly the kind of hero I would want someone like Annika to be with, and I thought it was beautiful to watch their past relationship and present one unfolding simultaneously. I love that he nurtures her and sees her in the past arc, and I love the way it informs Annika wanting to be more confident and capable as she pursues a relationship with him again years later, especially given how her own fears held her back the first time.

I also thought it was an…interesting…choice to set the final crisis towards the end around 9/11, and I wish I had put all the pieces together sooner, given that it was all there, from him having a job that is based in New York to the fact that the “present” day arc begins in August 2001. While I did feel like this could have been substituted with any major crisis, perhaps a more recent one or a fictional one, it still accomplished the intent of the whole situation, which was to compel Annika out of her comfort zone and have her taking risks to be there for him for once.

On the whole, this is a solid book about hope and growth of character. I definitely recommend for those looking for a heartwarming contemporary romance.

Review of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch

Lynch, Scott. The Lies of Locke Lamora. New York: Bantam Books, 2006.

Hardcover | $23.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0553804676 | 499 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

I read The Lies of Locke Lamora after receiving recommendations for it from the same BookTubers who recommended Brandon Sanderson. In spite of it being pitched as being rather different in terms of scope, I was intrigued. And for the most part, while I did feel like it felt a little slow at first, and even disconcerting with the frequent flashbacks, I ended up really enjoying it.

One of the best things about the book is the focus on the characters and the friendships that develops between this group of thieves, but especially Locke and Jean. And Locke as a character is really fun to read about, and really epitomizes the balance between a gentleman with his heart in the right place and a bastard of a thief.

And while this book does veer into somewhat darker territory than I often prefer, and it definitely had some intense moments, I think it was executed well, especially with a good balance of the bleak moments with some great moments of humor that had me laughing out loud.

This is a delightfully original fantasy book, and one that I recommend to fantasy fans, especially those who are looking for stories with morally gray characters.

Review of “Innocent in Death” (In Death #24) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Innocent in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 2007.

Hardcover | $25.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154010 | 385 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Innocent in Death is another great entry in the In Death series, and I love the way that, even after twenty-four books, and and another twenty-plus more left to go that are currently published (not to mention the others that are surely forthcoming), this series still feels fresh and exciting, with Robb/Roberts constantly reworking the formula to find new ways for her perps to kill people, and presenting new situations for this endearing cast of characters.

I love the way the killer was foreshadowed in this one, and while I kind of had a feeling who it was, I almost didn’t want to believe it, due to the certain factors of who the person presents themselves as. But this is one of the great examples of Robb/Roberts showing she can truly get into the mind of a ruthless and unrepentant killer that doesn’t care who they hurt, as long as they can get what they want.

I also love that we got a significant amout of Eve and Roarke’s relationship development in this one. While I rolled my eyes reading the blurb to see involvement from another of Roarke’s former flames, I felt it tested them in a very intriguing way. I loved seeing Eve punch out the sickeningly sweet Magdalena, and while he was a little slow on the uptake, I like that Roarke came to his senses and realized what Magdalena was really up to, giving her an epic set-down of his own.

While this series has had some more subpar entries so far, it’s entries like this with such solid cases, plus the dynamic between Eve and Roarke and everyone else that keeps me coming back for more (even if it sometimes takes a bit longer than I’d like for me to get around to the next book).

Review of “Unmasked by the Marquess” (Regency Impostors #1) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. Unmasked by the Marquess. New York: Avon Impulse, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062821607 | 306 pages | Regency Romance4

5 stars

Cat Sebastian is one of those authors I haven’t read nearly enough of, and this is (hopefully) the year that I fix that. Despite having read one of her m/m books before, and having another in my TBR, I was intrigued as to how she would handle writing a non-binary character, and I was pleased both with this (small) expansion of LGBTQ+ representation in traditional publishing beyond just “gay romance.” I also love that she clearly did her homework on what it means to be non-binary, consulting with non-binary romance authors who she shouts out in her acknowledgments, not to mention speaking sensitively about pronouns in relation to the evolution of the character of Robin (alternatively known both as Robert and Charity) in her historical note.

Robin is a character I rooted for throughout the book, even if it is pointed out that she is essentially conning people with her charade. But I understood her reasons, especially given the way women had so few rights during the Regency period, especially concerning inheritance.

Alistair was a surprise to me. At first, he seemed like yet another stuffy aristocrat, and I was just waiting for the moment where he would act like a jerk, especially if that served as the Black Moment. But he surprised me by being very much the opposite. I mean, he does have to do quite a bit of growing to recognize that there are more important things than fortune and reputation. And probably the most important thing was how things progressed in his relationship with Robin, and he isn’t repulsed by the idea of an attraction to her when he thinks she’s male, and he’s willing to pursue a marriage to her after the reveal in spite of her humble origins. In terms of the former, I can think of a couple books (even ones I otherwise enjoyed) where the girl-dressed-as-a-boy trope led to some implications of homophobia, and while it would not be inaccurate in a historical setting, it’s not something I want to read in a romance published today. As a result, I was glad Alistair was enlightened in that regard.

This book is delightful, and perfectly straddles that line between being light and fun while also delving into the tougher issues concerning one’s identity and not fitting into little boxes society is compelled to assign to everyone. I would recommend this to people looking for a different sort of historical romance.

Review of “Forevermore” (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Forevermore. New York: Forever, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455581702 | 318 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romace

4.5 stars

Forevermore concludes the Darkest London series on a high note. I admit I was rather worried about how Callihan would conclude the series, given how massive the world had become, but the overall arc of the series left me feeling satisfied.

I was surprised at how well having supporting players Augustus and Lena as a secondary hero and heroine worked. They did steal the show a bit from Sin and Layla, but I really enjoyed their storyline and how these characters working behind the scenes in the prior books finally got the spotlight somewhat.

I really like the dynamic that Sin and Layla have, given their past. I feel like some of the other couples have pasts together that have a lot of negative connotations, so it was nice to have a good balance of internal struggles that test each of them with a more loving and believable buildup of the romance between them.

I was generally satisfied with this final entry in the series and am frantically looking for something that can compare. And I will once again recommend pretty much everyone read this series, because even at its less interesting moments, it’s still a great, fast-paced series with quite a bit of character depth.

Review of “Evernight” (Darkest London #5) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Evernight. New York: Forever, 2014.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455581641 | 411 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4.5 stars

Evernight was much more enjoyable than its predecessor (although I don’t know if anything can top the sweetness of Winston and Poppy in Winterblaze), and I think a lot of it has to do with the history and conflict between Holly and Will. And while some of the ingredients of the book were there that surely meant I could have disliked this book, primarily the fact that even Callihan considers Will an “antihero” (408), and that’s most definitely not my thing, I felt it genuinely worked within the context of this story.

Yet, oddly the trope of an assassin falling for his target is one that worked well for me once before, and Callihan makes it work with equal ease. There is great chemistry between Holly and Will, and while their relationship in this book doesn’t start off in the most auspicious circumstances, I could feel their relationship grow in an authentic way, which I did not feel with Jack and Mary in the prior book. I also like that once again Callihan gives her characters complexity, from Will with the way his dark past is explored to the different facets of Holly’s personality, with her being somewhat cold and distant, but opening up over time.

And now, five books in, I love that the world gets more and more intricate and there are more and more hints for the direction of the last two books, and I’m super excited to get to them. And I will repeat my recommendation from the last few reviews of this series that I recommend these for everyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal.

Review of “Meet Cute” by Helena Hunting

Hunting, Helena. Meet Cute. New York: Forever, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1538760185 | 370 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Meet Cute was a wonderful breath of fresh air following a DNF of another hotly anticipated April release. While it is a fairly predictable combination of rom-com-meets-family-drama, I found it incredibly charming, especially in its balance of the family aspect and the romance, and will definitely be picking up more Helena Hunting as the opportunity arises, as she was an author I took a chance on based on the cute cover, as well as the compelling blurb.

What stood out for me for Kailyn was her relatability in the blurb of being able to meet her teen idol, and acting like a huge fangirl, and how it develops from there, to friendship to betrayal to them ending up having to work together on a professional basis.

Dax was also interesting, as I liked the idea of looking at a retired child star, and not only his motivations for stepping back from the spotlight, but his present relationship with his family, especially since it plays such a crucial role in the book. His relationship with Emme stood out to me as the best part, because it’s obvious he’s trying to be a good brother and guardian, but there are some things he’s a little out of his depth with, like menstruation. While some might find the handling of the situation from his perspective a bit awkward, I felt for the most part it did feel relatable, even if it did fall into a stereotype of men not really understanding those things.

My only major complaint is that the villain, while feeling like she had great motivations at first, devolved into something somewhat cartoonish by the end, especially with the train of events in the second half where Emme is framed for something she didn’t do. It all just seemed so overdone and predictable without any attempt to shake it up.

That said, this is still a relatively fun contemporary, and if this is an indicator of her writing, I will definitely at least be reading a few more of Helena Hunting’s books. And I would recommend this to other fans of contemporary romances with a good (if cliche) balance of humor and heart.

Review of “Shadowdance” (Darkest London #4) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Shadowdance. New York: Forever, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455520817 | 446 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

3.5 stars

Shadowdance is, unfortunately, at least in my opinion, the weakest in the series so far. I will give Callihan some props, however, as her plotting remains engaging and kept me turning pages, finishing the book within hours of starting it, in spite of some of the lackluster elements, and I love the growing intricacy of the world of the series.

What I am more conflicted on is the hero and heroine. I feel like Jack and Mary both had a lot of potential, but did not live up to expectations. I feel like they were decently fleshed out, particularly Jack with his own dark past, but I just didn’t personally care for either of them, or find that trajectory of their relationship worth rooting for, given some of their past baggage, not to mention that it just didn’t feel like a natural progression from them being at each other’s throats to falling into lasting love. Passion, I can buy, but I don’t know if I see them lasting in the long-term.

In spite of the slightly weaker entry, I do still feel like the series is progressing in a great way overall. And while I’m not sure I’d recommend this one specifically, at this point, given how much is set up book by book, I discourage any newcomers to the series to skip this one (or any) books, and will repeat my recommendation of the series for anyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal.

Review of “Winterblaze” (Darkest London #3) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Winterblaze. New York: Forever, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455520794 | 430 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

5 stars

When I first started the series, Poppy and Winston’s book was the one I was looking forward to, because it had the most compelling conflict to me, at least of the series thus far. And it did not disappoint, making it my favorite in the series so far.

“Marriage in trouble” is a trope that can go either way for me, because of how it is navigated, and I feel like Callihan does it with grace, showing that, in spite of the challenges Winston and Poppy faced that tore them apart at the end of the prior book, there is still a love between them, and they’re willing to fight to be together, and I love that. Their personalities were also both wonderful. While Poppy, much like Daisy in the prior book, was a character I was unsure about, I loved seeing her dedication to her work with the SOS, and how she defies the expectations of the time for women. And while Winston initially feels betrayed and worries for her, I love how he ends up being unconditionally loving and supportive.

I also love how there are some deeper secrets about both Winston’s past and the Ellis family that have to be negotiated, and I enjoyed getting insight into both. I also loved seeing the little flashbacks to when Winston and Poppy first fell in love, even though there were obstacles against them.

I now can’t wait to grab the rest of the books in the series, as there seems to be a lot of setup for those in this one. And, so far, I would recommend anyone interested in trying the series to at least try this one.

Review of “Lady Smoke” (Ash Princess #2) by Laura Sebastian

Sebastian, Laura. Lady Smoke. New York: Delacorte Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524767105 | 496 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

Lady Smoke is somewhat better than its predecessor. While some of the flaws of the first book are still evident, mainly the somewhat forced love triangle, I feel like Laura Sebastian improves on the story by giving the story more depth overall. For example, while I would never make the mistake of calling this an overly political book in the sense some adult fantasy tends to be, I like that these elements are touched on, especially as Theodosia is considering an arranged marriage for the sake of helping her people and her cause.

As a result, while she does clearly still have feelings for both Soren and Blaise, and I still found the love triangle somewhat forced and awkward, I did like that it shattered the stereotype of YA love triangles, and focuses instead on Theodosia doing what she thinks is right for her cause, instead of brooding over which boy she likes better.

I also like that Sebastian is not afraid of shifting expectations regarding who the major threat is. The prior book and the beginning of this one suggests that it’s leading up to a confrontation with the Kaiser, in standard fantasy fashion. And while Sebastian embraces some other tropes in this series, particularly the lost heir fighting to reclaim her crown, I like that she worked to subvert our expectations regarding who the ultimate villain is.

This was a great sequel, and now I can’t wait to see what’s in store for book three. And I would recommend this series to other YA fantasy fans.

Review of “Firelight” (Darkest London #1) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Firelight. New York: Forever, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455508594 | 384 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4 stars

Firelight (and by extension the entire Darkest London series) has been on my TBR for a decent amount of time, but it’s only when I started following romance book blogger and BookTuber Elisabeth Lane of Coooking Up Romannce that I was compelled to pick up this series and make a serious go of reading it. And while I went in with what I would consider reasonable expectations, especially considering it was Callihan’s debut, I ended up being blown away.

One of the things I enjoy is when an author can convey the atmosphere of the setting, and that is one of the initial draws to this series, with its dark, gritty, somewhat Gothic feel. She also manages to craft a suspense plot that kept me on the edge of my seat, constantly questioning characters’ intentions, as well as seamlessly interweaving paranormal elements, in this case, immortal demons, with a Victorian world. While it does have a lot of setup, given it is a first book, I won’t hold it against the book too much, given that it still felt very well-paced.

Lord Archer is a compelling hero, and a wonderful twist on the broody alpha hero, a trope that normally drives me insane in the standard historical. I love how, while there is a lot of mystery as to what he truly is for most of the book, there is this sense that he has some real issues and they are not necessarily of this world, not to mention evoking some of what readers love about some other classic broody and/or cursed heroes, like (most obviously) Beast from Beauty and the Beast, as well as Phantom of the Opera and Batman.

I am a bit more conflicted regarding Miranda. On the one hand, I’m glad she proves to have her own strength, and not be a standard damsel in distress, as might be expected in a Gothic-leaning story. But that did not translate to her being overly complex, and while I don’t think that subtracts over-much from the story, given the amount of space devoted to Archer’s issues, she did feel a bit harder to relate to as a result.

I think this book is indicative of a what I hope is a great series. And I would urge anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet to do so, especially if you like romances that cross genres, with a mix of historical, paranormal, and suspense.

Review of “A Notorious Vow” (The Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Notorious Vow. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062678942 | 376 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

4.5 stars

A Notorious Vow is by far my favorite in Joanna Shupe’s Four Hundred series, and perhaps my favorite book of hers since Baron in her previous series. And a lot of it is down to the character development, especially for the hero. Oliver is a great example of a softer, nice hero, but one who is not lacking for depth and complexity. I love the exploration of his life and the struggles he has due to his disability, and feel like Joanna Shupe definitely did her homework when it comes to Deaf culture and portraying it authentically, although I will put a caveat that I am not acquainted with anyone in Oliver’s situation and my knowledge of Deaf culture stems primarily from my own research in college through a few courses. That being said, I truly felt for him and the rejection he faced in society, especially since people were so unwilling to view him as anything other than dumb, even to the point of not accommodating him in the asylum, which I understand was a sad reality for many in asylums.

And in spite of Oliver being the stand-out for me, I also admire Christina, and felt she also grew as a character over the course of the book. This poor girl was emotionally abused and manipulated by her money-hungry parents, and it was sad to see how, even after she was married to Oliver, how the mother would still try to manipulate her and how Christina felt she had little choice but to agree. But it was wonderful to see her growth through her love for Oliver and the new friendships she was forming, to speak publicly in Oliver’s defense in spite of her fears.

My one complaint is that so many of the villains seem so cartoonishly awful. I mean, it made me hate them, and I truly felt horrible for both Oliver and Christina for everything they went through, but it got to the point when it was a little too much, what with Christina’s manipulative ex-fiancee, her greedy parents, and Oliver’s spendthrift cousin. It got to the point where, when it reached the “black moment,” I actually questioned whether Shupe was paying homage to Disney with some of these villains (for reasons that will hopefully make more sense to those who read the book). But I can forgive her for the most part, given how she brought it all together in the end.

This book was pure delight, and I can’t wait to read her next book, as Frank is the hero, and he’s actually been one of my favorite parts of this series, as well as being one of the few connecting threads through all three books thus far. That being said, I think if you want to read a Joanna Shupe book, read this one, as it’s history-rich in such a beautiful and poignant way, while also containing one of the most lovely slow-burn romances I’ve read in a while.

Review of “Remake” (Remake #1) by Ilima Todd (Conflicted Review)

Todd, Ilima. Remake. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2014.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1609079246 | 296 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

3-ish stars

I first heard about Ilima Todd when I heard about her latest release with Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance line, A Song for the Stars, and was excited to hear about an author born and raised in Hawaii and influenced by her heritage, even though she no longer lives here. And after winning an audio copy of her first book, Remake. from the author, I decided to check it out (although I primarily relied on the physical copy, as that’s my preference).

This book has a compelling concept, but I do feel it’s obvious that Todd comes from a religiously entrenched perspective when it comes to how she handles some of the tough topics in this book. One of the immediately obvious ones is LGBTQ+ issues, namely transgender people and their identity. I like the idea of being able to make choices about who you want to be in theory, but there’s an inherent problem in the very first lines of the book, “Male or female?…How can I decide which to be for the rest of my life? It’s so…permanent.” (5) While I cannot speak from a perspective of authority as a trans person, I do feel that this statement and much of the rhetoric of the book diminsh the concept of gender identity, especially by excluding the idea that it may not be completely binary.

Yet, even with some of these red flags, I still felt the intent carried through in some ways, especially in terms of establishing that freedom and equality aren’t really either of those things, especially when people are stripped not only of things that make them unique, like defining physical characteristics, but they are bred in a manner that is pretty much mechanical, and without love or a family. And while there is some heavy bias toward a more traditional family unit here, I don’t mind it that much, given that we are seeing it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t had a family before, and I do feel like she is given the right to make an informed choice, at least in this matter.

As for one of my more trivial complaints, I found the romance incredibly tepid, and despite knowing it was impossible, felt Nine had a lot more chemistry with Theron than she did with Kai, in part because there was a lot of history conveyed in her friendship with Theron. With Kai, she meets him, and he’s kind of rude to her, and over time things develop, and I didn’t see anything in him to really like, especially since he was one of the characters who was really strong in preaching some of the religious messages. It also just seems like authors, especially in YA, can’t seem to get two unrelated characters of the opposite sex together without there being some sparks. I think it would have been much more rewarding, given the focus on finding a family unit, for him to be like a brother to her and for the story to focus on how much the entire family makes her feel wanted.

Despite finding this book really odd and problematic in places, I do plan to read the sequel, in part because it’s about Theron, and he’s the character I was most interested in by the end of the book, and I’m also curious to see what else Todd can do in this world and system she created.

Review of “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tor, 2005.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765350374 | 638 pages | Fantasy

3.5 stars

Full disclosure: I had no intention of reading Elantris virtually right after finishing Oathbringer. I did plan to read it relatively soon, but that fell through when the book I intended to read did not hold my attention and I decided I may as well go back to Elantris, since I had put it off for a long time, due in part to warnings about the difference in Sanderson’s style and the fact that it isn’t quite up to par with his other work.

And it isn’t, but I don’t hold it against him, as it is his first (published) book, and debuts can be hit-or-miss, especially when you go back to them after having read the author’s more recent work. That said, one of the things that remains consistent is his approachable writing style that almost overrides the shortcomings, or at least made them easier to deal with. And it was also interesting to have the action start pretty much right away, and while it does mean there are some laggy moments here and there, it remains engaging, particularly in the second half.

However, I did find the characters took a bit of time to become engaged with. Hrathen was the one who stood out right away, because of the way he adds a complex, somewhat twisted religious aspect in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen as the focal point in epic fantasy.

It took a bit longer to get into the arcs for both Sarene and Raoden, as they felt a bit more bland. However, they did grow on me, and they at least were involved in some pretty cool things, like Sarene working to bring down a corrupt monarchy and Raoden working to discover the secret of Elantris’ fall.

This is overall a decent book, and one I think can be built on to explore more of the world, and since he plans to (eventually) release a sequel to this one, I’m curious as to where it can go from here. That said, I think any reluctant Sanderson fan should try this and see what they think for themselves.

Review of “The Undateable” (Librarians in Love #1) by Sarah Title

Title, Sarah. The Undateable. New York: Zebra/Kensington, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420141832 | 310 pages | Contemporary Romance

3.5 stars

I picked up The Undateable originally because I love finding librarians who are also romance authors (or romance authors who used to be librarians, or librarians who love romance in general), and the premise of a stereotypically “Disapproving Librarian” finding love sounded fun. I bumped it up my TBR when the book I originally was going to read proved a bit too much to focus on while reading simultaneously with the final (currently available) Stormlight Archive book, since I craved something a bit more light and fun.

And it is that. Sometimes the humor in books doesn’t translate well for me, but this one definitely did, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. While a book being devoted to a heroine being set up on multiple dates with other men by the hero might not work for everyone, I enjoyed this setup.

It especially worked in terms of establishing Bernie’s growth. While I was a bit unsure if she was doing it for the right reasons, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, as an undateable recent library and information science graduate on job hunt, and I was very much living vicariously through her, knowing that if I had the resources and especially the courage, I might be doing the same thing. And while it is initially awkward to see her try to negotiate things like makeup and heels and whatnot, by the end, I feel like she finds what works for her.

However, I’m not sure if this plot entirely worked as a romance, as I did not really root for her and Colin at all. I mean, Colin has his moments of growth, like the realization that he has gleaned a lot about what women want through Bernie, but there’s not a lot about him that stands out as being spectacular. But there wasn’t a big “aha!” moment where it really all came together where I felt like they were meant to be a “forever” thing, as it’s presented to be by the end of the book. I could see them start dating, but considering how they don’t even like each other at the beginning, I felt like there was a weak transition between opponents and forever lovers.

This was generally a cute book, but weak in developing the essential selling point of the genre for me. However, it has its moments and with its laugh-out-loud-worthy humor, I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good romantic comedy.

Review of “Memory in Death” (In Death #22) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Memory in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006.

Hardcover | $24.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399153280 | 337 pages | Futuristic Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Memory in Death is another great installment in the In Death series, in part because it shows how Eve navigates negative past feelings with the victim in a case, and also is another book in the series that makes the statement that upholding the law isn’t always black and white, such as in a case like this where the victim is a genuinely bad person, but that doesn’t mean that the perpetrator was justified in doing what they did.

The one (admittedly minor) flaw in the overall execution is that it does pretty quickly become obvious who said perpetrator is, although I did not count on them being quite as crazy and manipulative-bordering-on-psychopathic as the victim was portrayed as being prior to her death and later further described by other characters to be.

And given that this is one of the books where Eve has to deal with her past, I liked Roarke’s support of her at various moments of the story, particularly when he is confronted by Trudy attempting to blackmail them, and epically defended Eve, threatening ruin on Trudy in the process. This is one of those times where I truly adored Roarke and the influence he happens to have in everything. I also love how the case kind of informs why their relationship works, and it’s something that they discuss a couple times in the book: Eve’s not in the relationship for the money, and as much as Roarke loves her, he won’t be manipulated by her. While it is a little on-the-nose, given that this is stuff touched on in prior books, I did like that they discussed it in the context of this case.

All in all, it’s another solid entry in the series, and I’m already excited for the next one, with the aim of hopefully being more consistent and actually catching up on the series this year. And I would recommend fans of romantic suspense with an endearing recurring cast of characters to try this series too.

Review of “The Governess of Penwythe Hall” (The Cornwall Novels #1) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Governess of Penwythe Hall. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223160 | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I received an ARC from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I have very mixed feelings on The Governess of Penwythe Hall. On the one hand, I feel like there is a lot of potential here, some of which it lives up to…and some of which it does not.

And most of the potential that lives up to what I anticipated is in the character development, particularly Jac’s. While his relationships with both Delia and the children do feel at times very much in the vein of the standard governess trope, I feel like Ladd makes it enough of her own with the slight changes to the narrative. I like that Jac is facing financial issues that also impact the children’s future, and he actually finds a creative solution to them that I don’t think I’ve seen before, and, even if the bonding between him and his nephews and nieces, along with Delia becoming necessary in a way that goes beyond the professional, does run a little to the cliche, it is still rather heartwarming.

One thing I didn’t feel properly was fleshed out was Delia and her past, not to mention that the turn of events all felt more convenient for the sake of plot than anything else. I did like the tender moments she has with her own family, but I think the prologue built up some big conflict, and the stakes were further raised later in the book, but it ended up feeling anticlimactic. And the fact that of course it involved smuggling was a bit annoying, especially when it was another thing that didn’t feel like it had a lot of resonance. While I know it’s historically accurate with this location, it just didn’t have the same resonance that she imbued in some of her prior books, like her previous standalone, about the Luddite riots.

Given that this is the first in a planned series, I do hope that the next book is better and follows in the vein of her other series in varying the concepts she chooses to focus on. That being said, I do feel like this book could work for some people, especially those who are looking for a light, sweet historical romance that still has good character development.

Review of “Andrew: Lord of Despair” (Lonely Lords #7, Grace Burrowes Regency Chronological Order #2) by Grace Burrowes

Burrowes, Grace. Andrew: Lord of Despair. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402278662 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

Grace Burrowes is one of those authors I’ve had a complicated relationship with, as she is raved about by many readers, but several things have kept me from reading her interconnected books, following intending to start them with the Windham prequels. I recently made an attempt again with Gareth: Lord of Rakes, a book I had long put off due to difficulty suspending disbelief at the concept, yet unwilling to skip it (or any of the books) entirely due to fear of name-drops (that was why I was actually irrationally annoyed with the inclusion of one of her holiday novellas bundled with the last Kelly Bowen book). much to my surprise, when I recently read it, I found the justification of the concept believable, but almost everything else pertaining to the characters and plot, weak…so much so that I didn’t bother to review it. However, knowing this was an early book and not her best, and liking Andrew and Astrid as secondary characters, I persevered and picked up the second one.

While I feel this book is still much more hero-focused than I normally prefer, giving much more depth to Andrew than Astrid, I did feel like she tried to give Astrid substance in a way she did not to Felicity in the last book. I could empathize with Astrid’s struggles at being a widow of a man who was callous and unfaithful, and having her life sort of hang in the balance as she awaits the birth of his child, especially as she’s being targeted by someone who is out to hurt her and her child.

However, Andrew, despite obviously being Burrowes’ focus, was a harder sell for me at first. I did like that he and Astrid had this established rapport that carried over from the prior book, and that he was devoted to protecting her, but it took me a while to understand his motivations for making certain choices, like why he was so determined to distance himself from Astrid despite the chemistry between them. However, it became clearer later in the book, and I began to understand him more due to his past involvement with a woman who died in the same wreck that killed his father, although I did not like the way he was absolved of guilt by essentially demonizing the woman in question.

The mystery element, surrounding who was threatening Astrid’s life, was decently developed, much more so than the previous book’s mystery subplot. And while it might be easy to infer who the culprit could be, judging by who does and does not have their own book (as noted in the family tree in the opening pages), there is just enough misdirection and the character is written in a way that I still did not think it could be that person based on how they were introduced to me.

On the whole, this is an improvement on the previous book, but I still have some issues with it. From what I’ve been told, she does get better over time, so I will be continuing on with her work. And I would say, if you like historical romance, she’s worth trying, on the off chance you’re like me and are one of the few who have not fully dove into the Burrowes Backlist.

Review of “The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali” by Sabina Khan

Khan, Sabina. The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1338227017 | 326 pages | YA Contemporary

4.5 stars

To preface this review, I am including a content warning. The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali deals with and/or portrays the following: racism/colorism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate crimes, rape and domestic abuse, starvation, drugging, forced marriage, starvation, and sickness and death.

That being said, Sabina Khan does her utmost to portray these issues in the most poignant manner possible, particularly when it comes to the evolving conversation around South Asians and LGBTQ rights. I rooted for Rukhsana from the beginning, in that she had this impossible choice in choosing to be with who she loves and being ostracized by her family and their society, and choosing to do what her parents wanted, and at best only being able to be with her girlfriend in secret as she was forced into a marriage she didn’t want.

I also really enjoyed exploring the family’s perspectives on Rukhsana’s marriage, and it unfolding on how it was such an ingrained tradition that actually had some dark secrets for both her mother and grandmother. This did leave me feeling a bit disconcerted, due to this plot point unfolding through her grandmother’s journal entries which she shares with Rukhsana, and it led to a couple of the graphic, sensitive issues I was not prepared for coming to the forefront. It made sense in the context of their culture and societal structure, but they were still painful to read, and would especially caution potential readers about those. However, as with the other topics, I do feel Khan did her best to depict them as sensitively as possible.

All that being said, this is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. However, it is one that discusses important issues that are important today. And I would recommend anyone who is prepared to engage with this book and the topics it discusses to do so.

Review of “The True Queen” (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho

Cho, Zen. The True Queen. New York: Ace, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425283417 | 367 pages | Historical Fantasy

5 stars

I greatly anticipated The True Queen, having enjoyed Zen Cho’s previous book and the prior book in this series, Sorcerer to the Crown. And while I wasn’t sure at first what to think about the shift in focus to new characters, given that I have recently read some seemingly pointless sequels to books with great endings, I felt this was a great move, keeping the characters readers came to know and love from book one involved in the story, while introducing new characters that are the focal point.

I love the concept of Muna and Sakti, and the exploration of their bond as sisters as well as delving into their past that they don’t remember, leading to a big revelation later in the book. Muna was easy to relate to, as she’s left to fend for herself not having magic, but having to pretend to possess it in order to fit in among English magicians, while she figures out what happened to Sakti.

I also like the balance of their storyline and Muna’s perspective with what’s going on with the other characters, like Prunella, who was the heroine of the previous book, and Muna’s friend (and potential love interest), Henrietta. I love the subtle way their relationship is hinted at throughout the story.

This book was pure fun, after a couple of subpar reads, and that is by no means a bad thing, except that now I begin the interminable wait for the next installment. I enthusiastically recommend this book to other fantasy fans who are looking for a fun, colorful read.

Review of “The Artful Match” (London Beginnings #3) by Jennifer Delamere

Delamere, Jennifer. The Artful Match. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764219221 | 361 pages | Victorian Romance/Christian Fiction

4.5 stars

I received a copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

The Artful Match is a delightful conclusion to a wonderful series. Both upon reading the open-ending conclusion of the prior book and reading the prologue to this one, I wondered how Jennifer Delamere would tie it all together, given this book was about Cara, and Julia was the one making the big revelations in both the previous book and the prologue. However, she did it well, and it met my expectations. That being said, while I do recommend only reading this after having read the other two, as in addition to the resolution to this over-arching plot element, there are things that do make more sense after reading the other two.

As for the story as its own entity, I enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure what to think of Cara, given that she kind of gave me the impression of being a bit immature in the prior books, but I ended up really liking her portrayal as being more idealistic, which is in keeping with what I saw of her in the previous books. And I love how she was able to form a connection with the orphaned Amelia, due to the loss or absence of one’s parents.

I also really liked Henry. I admit I was a bit disappointed to see an aristocratic hero after the prior two having heroes from different levels of society, especially since secular romance is full of aristocrats. However, I did warm to him as the story went on, especially as he is battling between doing what his mother wants and risking it all to follow his heart as he did once before. And while these aren’t unique concepts to historical romance’s aristocrats, they are common themes for an aristocratic character, and I feel that Delamere did them beautifully.

But the best part of the book for me was Langham, and I actually want him to get his own book, even though there are hints that he is somewhat settled into a romantic situation at the end. While I don’t like the out-and-out scoundrel, I have a soft spot for the rake who has indulged a bit too much and made a few stumbles, trying to do better even when those close to him think the worst of him. I love that he starts off looking like a hopeless case, and by the end, is someone with renewed faith and commitment to his vocation.

I really enjoyed this book and series, and hope this isn’t the last I’ve seen of these characters. I would recommend this to fans of slow-burning historical romance.

Review of “Dreadnought” (Nemesis #1) by April Daniels

Daniels, April. Dreadnought. New York: Diversion Books, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1682300688 | 280 pages | Fantasy–Superheroes

5 stars

I’m not the biggest superhero fan, either in comics or movie form, although I did have a brief flirtation with a few volumes of the Teen Titans comics, thanks to the original Cartoon Network show. However, this book, shared by author Mackenzi Lee on the Epic Reads YouTube channel as part of her Pride Month recommendations, sparked my interest, due to my interest in diversifying my reading, and upon hearing it was ownvoices, I became even more excited to pick it up.

Daniels blends the fun, often trod concept of a superhero origin story with that of a transgender teen, and all the issues that come with that, and the result is impeccable. I was particularly drawn to how she clearly drew on her own lived experience, as well as those of people she knows to delve into the transphobia that Danny is subjected to by those in her life. There is a magical element that assists in the transition, but that only amplifies the way both family and friends view her differently. I also like how this new experience of being a superhero puts her in the ranks of some new people, some of whom accept her and some don’t, allowing for a full spectrum of the issue of acceptance of trans people.

One of the relationships that really stands out is between Danny and Calamity. Calamity is incredibly kind to her, helping her to pick out clothes and whatnot, and it’s great to see her being a supportive friend to Danny, with just the slightest hint that there may be something more beneath the surface. The supporting cast in general was pretty, cool, and I liked that, in addition to providing authentic trans rep, the cast was also racially diverse and quirky. One of my other favorite characters was Doc Impossible, especially since he had one of the pivotal moments that shifts Danny’s perception about what it means to be a woman.

This is a book that is equal parts fun and emotionally moving. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a book that discusses trans issues, or anyone who is looking for a superhero story with a twist.

Review of “The Alloy of Law” (Mistborn #4, Alloy Era/Wax and Wayne #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law. New York: Tor, 2011.

Paperback | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765330420 | 332 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Upon completing the original Mistborn trilogy, I wasn’t sure about going into the second era, especially given that I had heard it was different in tone from the first trilogy. Therefore, I figured the best thing to do would be to ease my way into that series by alternating them with the larger Stormlight books, which was something that had been suggested as a reading order by a more seasoned Sanderson fan.

But I ended up really appreciating that Sanderson wanted to do something different after finishing the first era of Mistborn. I love how the tone feels a bit lighter, due to it stylistically paying homage to the Western and steampunk genres, something you don’t see often with epic fantasy, much less any progression beyond the medieval tech level. And upon learning his future plans to continue developing the world technologically into a futuristic setting down the road, I am definitely sold on this idea. And now being more intimately aware of how he plans to progress the world and make the characters from previous eras into god-like legends in succeding eras, I now understand his rationale for the Ascension at the end of The Hero of Ages.

The characters themselves were a bit less engaging than the original trilogy, although I do feel like it was meant to be smaller in scope, and the characters do feed into some Western genre stereotypes, which explains them not feeling overly fleshed out. However, Wax and Wayne are intriguing characters to follow, and seem to carry this sub-series well. Wayne in particular was fun to read, as he adds humor that I haven’t seen in any of Sanderson’s other works I’ve read to date, aside from Warbreaker.

While it’s definitely not the best thing Brandon Sanderson has written, it’s obvious that this is something he seems to have fun working on (especially given that there are now three books in this series, with a fourth announced and being worked on), and it is definitely a great example of his process of taking something that’s been done to death and doing something different with it. I would recommend it to anyone who likes Sanderson’s style and process, but may have been reluctant to try it, given what they may have heard about it being drastically different from the first Mistborn trilogy.

Review of “Lost Stars” (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens) by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Lost Stars. Los Angeles: Disney/Lucasfilm Press, 2015.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1484724989 | 551 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

Amid many of the New Canon novel entries, Lost Stars is one I consistently heard praised by Star Wars fans. And despite my continued reluctance to embrace the new material, especially ones that deviated from the central characters in the films, I was intrigued by the premise. And now having finally read it, I will say I am not disappointed.

I like that this story deviates from the traditional light vs. dark narrative to look at the complexities of why someone would be unconditionally loyal to the Empire, as Ciena is, as well as exploring what might make someone change sides, as explored through Thane’s character. And it’s fascinating to see it all from the perspective of two ordinary soldiers, as opposed to people like Anakin/Vader or Luke, Leia, and Han, who all played instrumental roles in the action.

I love how Thane and Ciena are written, getting their insights into key events of the original trilogy, and I think it’s sad but beautiful how they continue to justify their feelings for one another in spite of them being on opposing sides, right up until the final pages. And it was great to have that twist on their personalities with her having misguided faith in what the reader knows is a corrupt political system and having him being jaded and end up working for the Rebellion, when it is far more common for the jaded person to align with the dark side.

This is a wonderful companion piece to the original trilogy, while also, as the series title indicates, providing more connections between the original and new trilogies. Thus, it might not be the best entry point for a new fan to the saga. However, I will concur with other fans that this is definitely a must read for Star Wars fans, especially if they’re looking for something with a tonal shift that explores the moral ambiguity between light and dark.

Review of “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton

Cleeton, Chanel. Next Year in Havana. New York: Berkley, 2018.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586662 | 382 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

Next Year in Havana was a surprise, considering I wasn’t that interested in the book when it came out, but a year of consistently hearing about it (and Cleeton’s recent visit to one of the online book clubs I’m in) and the impending release of the follow-up led to me giving into my building curiosity. And, having finished it, I’m pleased to have read it.

I love that, in the sea of historical fiction and time-slip books that involve one or both of the World Wars in some way, this one stands out in dealing with an event that isn’t covered much, perhaps due to it still being somewhat recent in some people’s memory. But I love that Cleeton was able to tap into her own family history for this novel and create a unique and moving story focusing quite a bit on Cuban politics, past and present, without it feeling too heavy handed.

This is also one of the rare dual timeline novels that manages to invest me in both past and present equally, both enjoying the parallels in Marisol and Elisa’s lives as well as seeing them as individuals. Elisa’s is definitely more familiar and even tropey in its sense of being ill-fated, which is often the case for the past arc in stories of this type, but the setting along with her and her love interest, Pablo’s, opposing goals give it a unique slant, inspiring belief in that love even if it is not meant to be.

And while the romance for Marisol has its parallels with Elisa and Pablo’s, I didn’t resonate with it nearly as much. What I really liked was this feeling of discovery of a part of her heritage that she did not feel connected with before, as well as some unexpected revelations about her grandmother and her heritage she did not expect. I think that is something that is relatable for a lot of people born and raised in the U.S. or otherwise outside their family’s country of origin, and I love the way Cleeton captures that feeling of connecting with your roots.

This is a wonderful, moving book, and one I think a lot of people can connect to on some level. So, while it is a book I would recommend if you love historical fiction and want to read something in a different time period, I would also recommend it for those who love stories about family histories and reconnecting with one’s roots.

Review of “Origin in Death” (In Death #21) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Origin in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005.

Hardcover | $24.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399152894 | 339 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

I very much enjoyed Origin in Death, much more than the prior book. Whether it was because I was once again engrossed in the mechanics of the world or because this was one of the cases that grabbed me more than some others, I found it oddly compelling.

On occasion, I have found with this series and its dabbling in futuristic concepts as part of the cases that it lessens my enjoyment somewhat, but it was not so in this case, likely due to the relevance of the issues surrounding cloning that already exist within our discourse because of existing popular culture. The result was a twisty plot with multiple murders and murderers, but one that felt very much in the realm of possibility for me, while also still having enough of that “futuristic” feel.

And it’s fun to see Eve and Peabody’s relationship evolving since they became partners, and I think this book has great examples of them being on equal footing in terms of their dynamic. There is no filter in their relationship, and Peabody can just say what she feels, and Eve will both be receptive of it and have a brilliant comeback of her own. One of my favorite bits was when they were talking about the idea of what would happen if it was a situation where both their own partner and the other person (e.g. for Peabody, it would be McNab and Eve) died, would they go for the other’s partner? That had me rolling, especially with Eve’s response, imagining herself and McNab and pretty much shuddering at the thought.

This was one of the more delightful entries in the series, and definitely has me interested in continuing again, with the hope of being caught up at some point. I would definitely recommend this book (and series) to fans of well-plotted romantic suspense, that also contains wonderful evolving relationships between its cast of characters.

Review of “This Scot of Mine” (The Rogue Files #4) by Sophie Jordan

Jordan, Sophie. This Scot of Mine. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062463661 | 344 pages | Victorian Romance

3 stars

This Scot of Mine has a premise that has a lot of potential…but it was unfortunately not executed well. However, one of the good points was the characterization and the dynamic between Hunt and Clara. While it could have gone all wrong, and even predicted it going wrong, due to the fact that they each had some big secrets that they were keeping from one another, I did like that it didn’t take until the end for it to come to the fore, and that the potential ramifications of the curse was something they tried to navigate together.

However, this resolution of that conflict, and the book sometimes describing long stretches of time passing led to my interest in the book flagging. There just wasn’t much of a plot to speak of in the second half. And I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I found the wording of the curse, and how it was meant to be broken super confusing. There is an attempt to establish some of the mechanics of how it works, with the mention of the ways his forebears met their end, but I just didnt’ really get how the curse was broken this time. This was only one of the things that was left rather vague, with her ruination not described in detail, beyond the fact that she apparently faked a pregnancy to get away from her awful fiancee.

I’m also beginning to wonder how long this series will go on for, especially as there’s a cliffhanger (in the tradition of this series) setting up the next book, which is about Clara’s uninspiring friend, Marian. I will probably read it to see what happens and if it is any better, especially that since I do hope that Clara’s sister, Enid, will still have a book in the future, and how it will be handled.

However, I feel like this book could have used some improvement in terms of pacing and further clarification in terms of plot elements, as a lot of it felt a little too rushed. I do still think it is worth checking out if you like a fun historical romance, but I’m not sure if it is one I would enthusiastically recommend.

Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

Review of “Miss Wilton’s Waltz” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. Miss Wilton’s Waltz. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724133 | 342 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I was so excited upon finishing The Vicar’s Daughter to find out that Lenora was getting her own book, but of course, me being me, I didn’t make time to read Miss Wilton’s Waltz when it first came out. But I feel like this is one of those books that I’m glad I waited for the right time for me to soak in and read, as I adored it.

I admittedly loved Lenora a lot more than Cassie in the first book, because I could relate to her social anxiety and some of the choices she made. And I was glad to see her get her story, and how her past experience with Cassie and Evan colored her current experience with Aiden and his fiancee.

I enjoy when a character has a strong moral compass, but their sense of honor and wanting to do the right thing still gets them into trouble, and Aiden did not disappoint in that regard. I like how he is not perfect, in that he is trying to figure out the best thing to do in terms of being a guardian for his troubled niece, and he faces the dilemma of his feelings for Lenora and a fiancee who is both insistent on keeping the engagement intact and taking control of aspects of his life in a manner he is increasingly uncomfortable with, and it had me uncertain as to how he would manage to make it all work out.

And Catherine herself was a surprise. While the child starved of love is a common trope when one of the romantic leads is their guardian, I enjoyed the twist Kilpack put on the trope this time, including discussing dyslexia in both a period appropriate and sensitive way.

I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait to pick up more of Josi S. Kilpack’s books (I have her other 2018 title, Promises and Primroses, in my TBR, and I hope to get to it before book two releases). I would recommend this to all fans of sweet, Traditional Regency romance in the vein of Austen or Heyer.

Review of “Devil’s Daughter” (Ravenels #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas, Lisa. Devil’s Daughter. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062890702 | 264 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Devil’s Daughter is a return in a few different ways for Lisa Kleypas: she revisits many of her beloved characters from the Wallflowers series, but on a more personal level for me, it’s a bit of a return to form for her, especially after the divisive misfire that was Hello Stranger, which I would even argue is almost skippable, but for West’s involvement, which is saying a lot as someone who prefers to read in order.

That brings me to one of the major reasons I adored this book. West himself is a character I loved from book one, and is one of the main things I still remember about the series, only having read each book once. And part of it is the way he is a character who has evolved into a better person from the wastrel he was before. West for me strikes the perfect balance between becoming a better person on his own and the needing someone to lean on after having been through such tough times. This can be hard path to walk without it seeming like the woman changes him purely through love, which I’ve often found unrealistic, so I appreciate the way he was written to be different.

I did not know what to expect from Phoebe, given that she was Evie and Sebastian’s daughter, and that’s the main thing that defined her prior to my meeting her as the heroine of this book. But I ended up really warming to her when I saw what Kleypas’ intent with her was. I loved that she was a caring soul, but the situation she’s left in in the wake of her husband’s death has left her a little out of her depth. I find that such an interesting dynamic, especially in terms of how that led to the beginnings of Phoebe and West’s relationship.

The one who stole the show for me, however, was Sebastian, formerly Lord St. Vincent, now Duke of Kingston. I vaguely remember some lovely scenes with him and Evie in their prior appearance in Devil in Spring, but I loved seeing them play a more prominent role, especially given the parallels between Sebastian’sand West’s respective pasts. There’s a lovely scene between Sebastian and West where West makes his claims that he’s not worthy of Phoebe, but Sebastian gives him the most amazing pep talk, and it’s everything I could have asked for and more.

This was, in short, my favorite book of the Ravenels series, capturing the magic both of the returning Wallflower characters and providing a satisfying HEA for my favorite character. This book is a must read for any Lisa Kleypas fan, and I would recommend this (after having read the Wallflowers and the other Ravenels books, with or without Hello Stranger) to anyone who loves a wonderfully nuanced, yet funny historical romance.

Review of “Unmask Me If You Can” (Survivors #4) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Unmask Me If You Can. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2018.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1727153989 | 334 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Each entry in Shana Galen’s Survivors series has struck a great balance between being action-packed and emotionally moving, and Unmask Me If You Can is no exception…in fact, it might be the most beautiful and moving of the entire series, because of the character growth for both hero and heroine.

Jasper was a character who intrigued me from the first book in the series, and I was glad getting to know more about him didn’t disappoint. Galen strikes the right balance with him between him being ashamed of his physical scars while also battling emotional guilt, all without it being overly angsty or heavy-handed. IT was beautiful to see his confidence grow from hiding in the shadows to confidently coming to the light to fight for the woman he loves.

But the real star for me is Olivia. I could empathize with all her fear in the aftermath of her sexual assault, and applauded her courage in facing down her assailant, who was more determined than ever to possess and degrade her, due to the way Society worked in his favor.

I also love the beautiful way consent was emphasized in Jasper and Olivia’s relationship. Some might think it ridiculous, but I feel like, especially given the stories that have come to light in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, there needs to be more discussions around consent and more clarity in terms of what consent is. Given that her assailant uses language that isn’t an unfamiliar defense, or at least it wasn’t not that long ago (” You said no, but inside, you wanted it”), I love that Jasper is such a gentleman, and applaud Galen for writing such a respectful hero.

This was a beautiful story, and one I loved from start to finish. I would recommend this to other fans of historical romances that deal with tough topics.

Review of “The Matchmaker’s List” by Sonya Lalli

Lalli, Sonya. The Matchmaker’s List. 2017. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451490940 | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3 stars

The Matchmaker’s List was a much more disappointing read than I thought it would be, largely due to making a hash out of what is a good premise. But even so, it does still have some good qualities, most relating to the main setup of the story.

I love getting a look at the dynamics of love, dating, and marriage in different cultures, and this one did that relatively well, especially in terms of demonstrating the extended family’s involvement in an individual’s love life. The relationship between Raina and her grandmother isn’t perfect, and they don’t see eye-to-eye, but I love their slightly dysfunctional relationship all the same, especially when you see how both are affected by Raina’s flake of a mother, who the grandmother failed to rein in. Even when Raina messes up (and boy, does she), it’s obvious she’s doing it out of some form of love for her grandmother, just as the grandmother is doing what she does out of love for her.

That brings me to a discussion of the negative and problematic elements. This book unfortunately suffers from what I have started to call it “the Big Lie Syndrome,” where the plot gets out of control because our protagonist tells one lie that expands into more lies, and delays telling the truth. And what a lie it is. While I admit I wasn’t massively bothered by her lying about being gay, especially as I read on and saw what Lalli was trying to say about the conservative views among Indian immigrant families and breaking down those barriers, it still felt incredibly disingenuous to have this lie forgiven at the end, especially by actual LGBTQ characters, one of whom comes out to her at one point in the book. The grandma, I can understand, but I don’t know if I would have been so forgiving if I was in those other characters’ shoes.

I also found myself annoyed that she spent so much time mooning over a guy who clearly was only available when it was convenient for him, to the point of not even seeing a great guy right in front of her, just because she wasn’t willing to date a non-Indian. While she comes around in the end and I did feel that she had a solid arc, I questioned her intelligence when it came to her choice of an ideal romantic partner at times.

All that being said, this is still a decent book, with great ideas, even if they did get a little lost in execution. I would recommend this to those who are looking for a multicultural romantic comedy, and also don’t mind an incredibly flawed heroine.

Review of “The Lady’s Guard” (Sinful Brides #3) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Lady’s Guard. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017.

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1477848920 | 308 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Lady’s Guard is a wonderful book, and once again demonstrates Christi Caldwell’s skill at crafting emotionally moving stories with beautifully flawed characters.

I didn’t know what to expect from Diana as a heroine going in, given that she didn’t make a massive impression in the last two books, but I ended up loving her character from the very first pages. I could empathize with feeling tainted due to the fact that she feared inheriting her mother’s “madness,” and could also relate to the complex relationship she had with her father, especially given the last two books saw him developing relationships with the illegitimate children he sired with the woman he truly loved.

As for Niall, he has now surpassed Ryker as my favorite hero of the series. While all the brothers have been through a lot, both collectively and individually, I feel like his experience is the one that I found the most emotionally impactful. And despite it seeming unlikely at first, I really liked seeing tough-guy Niall and sweet Diana banter and get under each other’s skin, as it was done in such a beautiful way.

This is a wonderful book in a great series. I would recommend this to fans of historical romance that has deep, layered characters and situations that test them.

Review of “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” by Kate Morton

Morton, Kate. The Clockmaker’s Daughter. New York: Atria Books, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1451649390 | 485 pages | Historical Fiction

2.5 stars

Kate Morton is an author I enjoyed quite a bit in the past, but found myself having some difficulty getting into her last release, The Lake House. So, when I heard about The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I was interested in picking it up, but not overly eager to do so. And now that I have, I have mixed feelings.

Morton has a beautiful and evocative writing style that always gives me the sense that I’m actually in the places she describes, in this case a stately manor near the Thames. She also manages to capture the voice of the central historical character she’s writing about beautifully, in this case the spirit-character, Birdie. She has such a powerful voice, and even as I waited for it all to come together, I still found myself captivated by those chapters.

However, I did feel like it took a bit too long to come together, and I found myself a bit confused at times, what with all the skipping about through time. And despite there being quite a few characters in these different time periods the only one who really stood out aside from Birdie was Edward, due to the mystery being so focused on him. And while there are obvious connections between the time periods, the book falls into the common problem with multi-timeline stories where we don’t really spend enough time with anyone to see them develop or get attached to them, with a few exceptions.

In general, this wasn’t really for me, although it did have a lot of promise. That being said, I think it’s still worth giving it a shot after looking into the varying opinions on the book, especially if you’ve liked Kate Morton in the past, or are interested in complex, intricate stories.

Review of “Shelter in Place” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Shelter in Place. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250161598 | 438 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Shelter in Place is the best in the admittedly short list of books I’ve read from Nora Roberts thus far. But I think what makes it stand out, especially having picked up a number of her romantic suspense novels, both under her own name and as J.D. Robb, is that it shows her at her full potential as a writer. Especially with the last book I read from her, I could not help but wish she had done more to make me care about the characters and their relationships with one another over time, while also developing the suspense plot and perhaps even putting it at at the forefront, and this fulfilled my criteria.

I love the care put into establishing who the main players are through their reactions to this senseless tragedy, especially since it’s an issue that is very relevant right now. I love the development of Simone and Reed and even some of the supporting players due to having gone through this experience, and how the story slowed down to give them time to grow and heal, thus making the romance, which kicks off about halfway through, much more rewarding.

One of the best parts, however, was the development of the perpetrator’s character. There is something bizarrely compelling about a psychopathic killer, and Roberts captures their twisted mind perfectly.

This was a nice breath of fresh air, especially since it does deviate from Roberts’ standard “formula” that I’ve started to notice in many of her books. I would recommend this to both Nora readers and new readers, especially those who love gritty thrillers with timely topics.

Review of “Mistborn: The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn: The Final Empire. New York: Tor, 2006.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765350381 | 657 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

I was super hyped to finally read Mistborn: The Final Empire (sometimes just called Mistborn) following my enjoyment of Warbreaker. And it is definitely another great book from Brandon Sanderson. One of the strengths is the balance between the use of tropes and the subversion of them. There are some elements that led to the natural progression into the promotion of this series as YA, like the young, emotionally traumatized protagonist, but the overall premise of the series is radical in its approach to the idea that the “bad guy” defeated the hero.

I also like the way the overall structure of the book presents both a full story in and of itself and the first installment of a larger story with some plot threads to wrap up. While I have no issue with cliffhangers or one book’s story feeling merely like one piece of a puzzle, it’s nice to have a story where you end feeling both a sense of satisfaction and a longing for more, rather than frustration that it ended with so much unresolved and you can’t get to the next book fast enough (or in the case of currently running series, you have to wait at least another year for the next book).

Vin herself is an incredibly nuanced character, with the difficulties in her past. I like how it struck the balance between her being competent due to her upbringing, being somewhat slow to trust due to the trauma, and really coming to value the relationships she develops with the others she encounters throughout.

And all the other characters were complex and interesting as well, from the somewhat roguish hero, Kelsier to even the Lord Ruler whose identity presented a twist I did not see coming, and while it has been done before in some ways, provided a measure of amusement for me given the premise.

This was a fabulous book, albeit one where the opinions about it are definitely polarizing, especially when it comes to whether it will appeal to those who read more adult fantasy and aren’t as into the YA-leaning themes. My opinion is, if you’re new to fantasy and looking to ease yourself into the genre (or back in, in my case) this is a great starting point, but wouldn’t dissuade an avid fantasy fan from trying this one either, in spite of the criticisms.

Review of “You Never Forget Your First Earl” (The Worthingtons #5) by Ella Quinn

Quinn, Ella. You Never Forget Your First Earl. New York: Zebra/Kensington, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145182 | 348 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

You Never Forget Your First Earl is unfortunately the weakest entry in the Worthingtons series so far, but the strengths that carry over from the first four books remain intact. Once again, Ella Quinn shows her clear enthusiasm for the the Regency period with a well-researched historical romance, which stands out in a sea of wallpaper historicals. While she admits to taking a few liberties, they were largely for the sake of the flow of the plot, and I think any other reasons outlined in the author’s note provide justification beyond that.

I also liked the setup for both characters. Elizabeth intrigued me from her first appearance in book two, and I’m glad to finally get to know her better, and that she’s not just “the ideal wife” for a gentleman, but she really does want more than that. And while he does factor into some of my problems with the book, I enjoyed Geoff’s charming awkwardness for the most part.

Unfortunately, this is one of those books that has an almost conflict-free beginning-to-middle where they get along great, with the last third or so being bogged down by a Big Misunderstanding that could have been resolved with one conversation. The worst part is is that the two of them keep contemplating wanting to talk about it (or in her case rail at him about it), but pretty much don’t. I like the intent with the conflict about the ways of expressing love, but I just feel like if they were open and honest, there wouldn’t have been so much interminable sulking and assumptions.

On the whole, I did like this, in spite of its flaws in terms of how the conflict was executed. I would probably recommend this to fans of richly detailed historical romance, especially if you don’t mind the Big Misunderstanding trope.

Review of “Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Warbreaker. New York: Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, 2009.

Hardcover | $34.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765320308 | 592 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

I could not wait to read Warbreaker after seeing the way it was hyped by some of the BookTubers I watched as a good starting point for Sanderson’s Cosmere books. And this is one of those that did not disappoint.

One of the things Sanderson is great at is worldbuilding and establishing a great magic system within that world. And even though much of the story is contained into a smaller landscape geographically than other fantasy books I’ve read in the past, there is still a lot happening. And I loved the intricacies with the magic and how it played into the plot without it ever feeling like it just existed for the sake of plot convenience.

And while there are a bunch of characters and several points of view, I liked that they were more or less distinct from one another, and, even if the story isn’t super high action, I loved how the intrigue of their relationships and interactions really played into the plot.

I also loved the subtle romantic elements embedded into the story without overpowering the fact that it is meant to be a fantasy book. While I obviously often enjoy a more ostentatious passionate love story when I’m picking up a straight-up romance, it’s nice to see a relationship that slowly builds and develops in an organic way without having to be in-your-face about it.

That said, I would enthusiastically recommend this book as a starting point for Sanderson’s Cosmere books, given its fast pace and colorful characters, and smaller scope. But I would also recommend it to all fans of a good fantasy, especially since this in my opinion (and other people’s) an incredibly underrated book.

Review of “Whiskey Beach” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Whiskey Beach. New York: G.P. Putnan’s Sons, 2013.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399159893 | 484 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

Following the recent #CopyPasteCris scandal and the way Nora Roberts became one of the leading voices speaking out about it and the problems in the industry, I decided yet again to try another of her books, selecting Whiskey Beach due to it being on the list of plagiarized titles. And while I did find some of similar issues that I have had with Roberts’ work in the past, I did find the story had a lot of promise.

I was drawn to the idea of a plot and setting that had this historic lore to it, and while it was slow to develop in that regard, I did like that the way it was incorporated was intriguing and played well into the resolution of the murder of Eli’s estranged wife. I also liked that, for the most part, Eli was a well-written character. I could feel for him and what he had been through, but I love that he came to find new purpose in his life through this experience.

The more romantic suspense I read, the more I find that this subgenre straddles that weird line of having to balance the plot elements that cater to the suspense plot vs. building a believable romance that I can invest in, and it can be hard for even the most experienced writer to negotiate the two in a way where both are equally interesting. There are exceptions, including Roberts’ own work, but this one seems to be one where there was that difficulty, at least from my perspective.

This leads into my issues with the early development of the relationship between Eli and Abra. It took me ages to become endeared to Abra, especially given how pushy she was initially. Also, while the relationship did start to feel more organic as the book went on, the mostly physical nature of the relationship at first felt a bit forced, and I more or less found the romance less interesting than the resolution to who was behind the murders and why Eli was being targeted.

This was more or less a decent book, and one that did have enjoyable aspects to it. And given the love it has received from friends who love Nora, I do think a newer Nora fan who has been eagerly digging through her backlist or one who somehow missed it would enjoy this a bit more than I did as a casual reader of hers.

Review of “Jane the Quene” (The Seymour Saga #1) by Janet Wertman

Wertman, Janet. Jane the Quene. [Place of publication not identified: Janet Wertman, 2016. 

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0997133813 | 272 pages | Historical Fiction

4.5 stars

I recently picked up the Jane the Quene to further indulge my inner Tudor fangirl/nerd, which is something I don’t do often enough, especially given how much is out there about them in both historical fiction and non-fiction. I also liked that it was one of the few books I’ve seen that focused on Jane Seymour as a central character, with the promise of delving more into her family in the decades following in the next couple books, a prospect that intrigues me, given how often they are relegated to the roles of supporting players.

While a lot of the elements are things we’ve seen before, it’s not really a fault of Wertman herself, given that she is working with the same sources as many other authors of Tudor fiction. I do like that, in addition to providing intrigue from the perspective of someone like Cromwell, who had major influence at the time, it also showed more of how Jane and her family comported themselves once Henry’s attention became obvious, and later when he married her. While I did get the sense of the Seymour brothers being scheming through my knowledge of the way things played out during Henry and Jane’s son, Edward’s, brief reign,

However, the best part is Jane’s more well-rounded character. I liked that Wertman’s narrative provided some element of a schemer to Jane too. Far too often, given that we don’t get Jane’s perspective, she is painted in a study of contrasts to Henry’s other wives, such as being the docile replacement to Anne Boleyn, or being the only one to bear him a living son, whereas the other wives, if they’re not vilified, at least have more nuance in how they’re remembered, at least from my perspective. So I very much appreciated the development of her character into someone who wasn’t this perfect martyr, thus making her easy to sympathize with.

I would recommend this to other Tudor enthusiasts, especially those like myself who are looking for more books about Jane Seymour.

Review of “Duchess by Design” (The Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale

Rodale, Maya. Duchess by Design. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062838803 | 371 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

I was a little unsure what to think when I first heard about Duchess by Design, because on the one hand, I am all for more Gilded Age-set historicals, but at the same time, I was dismayed that it was still about a duke and a working class girl. But taking into account the historical background, I bought it, held onto it (like many other books for the past year), and when I finally did pick it up, I went into it with an open mind.

And it just blew me away. I tend to be way more wary of books with a hero with a ton of privilege, and a heroine with almost none, but it seems like Rodale, whether intentionally or not, took this into account when crafting the characters. Kingston in particular impressed me, and how she created a character who is a bit out-of-touch with modern ideas and the plight of the lower classes, but not only gives him a believable character arc, but manages to make him endearing from page one. Sure, he has his dense moments, but they only make him a more sympathetic character.

And Adeline is also compelling. While there is a little of “the lower class heroine puts the aristocratic hero in his place,” I didn’t doubt for a second that Adeline lacked agency, even if she did have a lot to lose if things went south. And the chemistry between Adeline and Kingston developed so beautifully in spite of all the obstacles.

I also love the strong focus on female friendship and support of one another as a major subplot in this novel, which I anticipate will be a standout part of the series as a whole. I found it fascinating seeing how the ringleader, Harriet, and the other Ladies of Liberty helped to fund Adeline’s shop when she ended up in a tough spot. And the fact that the trend of dresses with pockets played a somewhat significant role didn’t hurt either.

On the whole, I love this new direction Rodale is taking, and from her authors’ notes and the resources she lists on her website, as well as just the sheer depth of the text itself, it’s clear she embedded a lot of real history into the book. I recommend this to all historical romance readers, especially those hankering for more of the Gilded Age.

Review of “Isle of Blood and Stone” (Tower of Winds #1) by Makiia Lucier

Lucier: Makiia. Isle of Blood and Stone. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0544968478 | 390 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

I randomly heard about Isle of Blood and Stone mentioned on BookTube, and it’s been on my radar ever since, and once I heard it was a nominee for the YALSA Top Ten, I was even more interested. And upon finishing it, I definitely feel it’s worth the hype. I love that it’s a YA fantasy with a somewhat original concept and a rich, historically inspired setting, and while it does have subtle romance, it doesn’t overwhelm the plot or feel shoehorned in just for the sake of it.

While there were quite a few characters, and it did take a little bit to get to know them, I ended up really becoming invested in them through the adventures they went on and the revelations uncovered along the way.

The character bonds are what stand out. The aforementioned friendship/possible romance between Elias and Mercedes is beautiful, and I love how she’s often the one saving him! It’s so nice to see a healthy relationship highlighted in YA once in a while, since it seems like the most notable ones are somewhat toxic.

This is definitely a great example of a YA fantasy done right, and would love to see more in the same vein. And I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a good fantasy novel, regardless of whether they like YA or not.

Review of “Creation in Death” (In Death #25) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Creation in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2007.

Hardcover | $25.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154362 | 337 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

Creation in Death was one of the installments in the series I felt a bit more mixed on, once again due more to my own personal investment in the case and all its layers. But it did not detract from the things I love about the series, which is seeing the cast alternately working together and clashing as they try to crack the case, although there did seem to be a bit of a tonal shift on both fronts.

And on that front, I think it was great to see something of Eve and Feeney’s past working together on a case when the same killer strikes again. The series has shown wonderful growth and depth for a lot of character bonds even as they’re being tested, and this was no different, and it was one of the standout parts of the book.

The case felt a little scattered, and I didn’t feel too invested at first, especially since I didn’t really get a sense of where it was going, with obvious suspects. But I do feel like Robb/Roberts brought it all together at the end in a satisfying way, and it felt a bit less predictable than some of the prior entries in a sense due to the style change.

Despite it being one of the less enjoyable installments from my perspective, I still think it’s a great fast-paced ride, and well worth reading for any fan of the series who is still working their way through them.