Review of “The Night the Lights Went Out” by Karen White

White, Karen. The Night the Lights Went Out. New York: Berkley, 2017. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451488381 | 406 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Most books tend to fall into two categories: light and feel-good or dark and angsty. Some that lean one way might incorporate some aspects of the other, but for the most part, books I’ve read tend to fall into one of these two categories. That is not the case with The Night the Lights Went Out, which presents a atmosphere of a sweet, fun Southern book with its opening pages, but as the book goes on, the sense that there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface, some of it sinister, began to creep up on me. I love how Karen White managed to provide a good balance of both those elements, keeping me in the moment, while also foreshadowing the darkness to come.

Merilee is a character I rooted for, and I like the exploration of the layers of her life, starting with her recent betrayal, and going back into dark past. She is flawed in that she is a bit naive, but her character growth and new understanding of who she can really trust is wonderful to read. I also enjoyed seeing the parallels between her story and Sugar’s. Both of their stories show the strength of the bonds between true friends who go through tough times together.

And once again, White’s gift with words shines through. My favorite moments, much to my surprise, given my initial aversion to Southern fiction, were the delightfully Southern blog entries, which appear throughout the book, dispensing wisdom and humor. These entries contain many great words to live by, regardless of where on Earth you’re located, and my favorite is from the last pages, speaking against the idea of getting revenge: “We shine instead of sparkle, we smile and bless their hearts instead of giving the finger.” (405)

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Review of “Rogue in Red Velvet” (The Emperors of London #1) by Lynne Connolly

Connolly, Lynne. Rogue in Red Velvet. New York: Kensington, 2014. 

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1616505875 | 222 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

Lynne Connolly is an author I “met” through one of the many book groups I participate in online, and I became eager to read her books especially due to the fact that she seems incredibly knowledgeable about the Georgian and Regency periods based on what I’ve seen online, and she’s also British, which gives her an additional advantage that not many historical authors have in terms of already being familiar with the language. And if this first book is anything to go by, I will definitely be reading more from her.

Connolly’s characters strike the perfect balance of being of the period and being aware of the social conventions and being sympathetic to the modern reader. Alex is the antithesis the rogue the title suggests him to be, instead being a man of honor in all his interactions with Connie,and he desires to marry for love and nothing less, a refreshing change from the actual rogues that frequently show up, who are far too often jaded by love. Connie is a sympathetic character, and I was moved by how Connolly depicted the problems she faced as a woman in the period, with her first husband being unfaithful to her, and the man she intended as her second husband as a matter of business being a wastrel who betrays her, providing a contrast to Alex.

 

Review of “Nothing Happened” by Molly Booth

Booth, Molly. Nothing Happened. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2018. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1484753026 | 325 pages | YA Fiction

4 stars

Nothing Happened is a title that sums up the story both very well and not so well. as upon first being exposed to Much Ado About Nothing, the play upon which the story is based in college, I found myself dismissing it as both a story  that is both simultaneously “about nothing” and too confusing to get into, then dubbing it the worst/most boring of Shakespeare’s best known works (judging by what I’ve heard about Coriolanus, I hesitate to call it the worst or most boring, period).

That being said, this modernized, yet faithful retelling charmed me. Yes, it’s still confusing, particularly due to the writing style of having practically everyone have chapters in first person, and this book still simultaneously has a lot happening, yet nothing more than exaggerated melodrama, which makes sense even more due to the young age of the characters. But there is a sense of relatability in the way the story is translated to modern day, keeping some of the same elements of misunderstanding, but adapting it to the setting of twenty-first century teens at summer camp.

My favorite characters were the pairing of Hana and Claudia. I loved seeing that this story showed a different, much more tolerant angle of queer relationships than many stories out there, not differentiating them from heterosexual ones, but showing that they can be faced by similar issues. Aside from a brief remark about homophobia, none of the other characters treat Hana or Claudia any differently because of their sexuality, and aside from Hana saying at one point that she is probably bi- or pansexual, there is no discussion of labels which might further confine them.

 

Review of “I Kissed a Rogue” (Covent Garden Cubs #3) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. I Kise. IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2016. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402298776 | 341 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

While I Kisseed a Rogue is not a bad book, it does suffer from not being nearly as good as the prior books in the series, especially the prior installment, The Rogue You Know. While the mystery element is one of the highlights of the book, culminating in an action-packed climax that I’ve come to expect from Shana Galen’s books, I found the reveal of who was behind Lila’s abduction seemed too predictable and cliche.

While I got off to a rough start with Brook and Lila, as they have such animosity standing between them, I do think their characters and emotions were well-written. I love that Lila looks back on some of her superficial mistakes from her past with new eyes, and has grown up. And while I’m not often a fan of the heroes that are jaded against love, Sir Brook provides a nice twist on this trope, as I truly felt he had good reasons for not believing in love or believing a future with Lila, given how she hurt him. I did find the sex a bit much in this one, especially since they are both convinced, despite their growing feelings and/or desire for one another, that they would be parting, but I feel that there is enough of them baring their souls to one another that it isn’t a case of mistaking lust for love.

I also feel like this book could have gone through another round of edits, perhaps with someone who is an expert at all the intricacies of the British titles and forms of address giving it a look as well. Because there were a ton of inconsistencies. Between Lila’s brother being referred to as both “Lord Granbury” and “Lord Danbury” and the faux pas as to how to address a knight and his wife, the latter of which kept changing, I felt perturbed. I did appreciate that there is a conversation in there about whether she would be addressed as “Lady Derring,” as befits a “Miss Lastname” who married Sir Brook, or “Lady Lila”/”Lady Lillian-Anne,” out of respect for her being the daughter of a duke. But there were also inclusions of the blatantly incorrect “Mrs. Derring,” as well as addressing her husband at times as “Sir Derring,” which made me cringe so much while reading. While I have gotten upset over incorrect forms of address, the inconsistent ones are even worse.

Review of “A Scandalous Deal” (The Four Hundred #2) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Scandalous Deal. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback| $7,99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062678911 | 373 pages | Historical Romance

4 stars

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with the series, given my disappointment with aspects of A Daring Arrangement. The appearance of the phrase “unexpected passionate shipboard encounter” in the blurb for this one also made me uneasy, as, neglible historical accuracy issues aside,  books that begin with one-night stands between the hero and heroine when they’re strangers typically seem to focus more on the sexual chemistry at the expense of a deeper bond. But my interest in the third book in the series and, consequently, my need to read in order, won out. And I wasn’t completely disappointed.

While I don’t typically like high heat early on in romance, I felt Shupe executed this well by preceding it with banter between Eva and Phillip, and by having it not be a fully consummated encounter, saving it for later in the book. And when this occurs, there is a full understanding of the stakes, especially for an independent woman like Eva, both personally and professionally, and even discussion about contraception, which contrasts with what I really didn’t like about the prior book. And to the point, I felt the sexual attraction and the mutual interests between Eva and Phillip were well balanced by the conflict between them, in that she doesn’t want to be eclipsed by a man and wants to be seen as an equal, and he has more traditional views of what women can do. But I did find myself irritated at times when he did disrespect her, like the time when he blamed her for his losing his self-control and forgetting to use a condom, or his assumptions that, because she lied to him about her father’s health, that she was just out to use him just like other women. However, I did think he grew by the end of the book,

And, as was the case with the prior book, I once again lament the fact that Shupe introduced characters that more than likely won’t get their own stories. This time, it’s not so bad, as Becca does find happiness in a sense, but given what is alluded to about where her heart lies, the possibility of a full novel for her that is mass produced is almost nonexistent.  And the returning characters are equally charming. Despite not being fully won over by Nora and Julius in their book, I truly loved them in this one, especially Nora in full overprotective best friend mode, as more often than not, her insights into the Eva’s relationship with Phillip were ones I agreed with.

Review of “Dreams of Falling” by Karen White

White, Karen. Dreams of Falling. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451488411 | 404 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Despite having fallen in love with the Willig, White, and Williams collaboration, The Forgotten Room, and devouring much of the other two Ws’ backlists, I have long found myself reluctant to try Karen White, as she, of the three is the one who writes in more modern times, and also the South, and I have only recently overcome my mistaken prejudices against Southern fiction. But once I made peace with these factors and picked up her most recent release, I quickly fell in love, finding myself in a very similar book to ones I had adored from the other authors, rife with multigenerational family drama, mystery, and romance.

It is rare that I pay close attention to the author’s prose style, other than to note when certain POV and tense styles annoy me, but with White, her style is worthy of praise. While (of course) she does utilize multiple POV and tense styles, switching between present and past tense, or first and third, this adds to each character’s voice, and I actually found myself enjoying the first person present tense chapters the most, as they are told from the perspective of a character in a coma. This creates a sense of immediacy and I truly felt the purpose of this particular form. However, the passages in the other tenses are no different, with many passages being incredibly memorable and quotable, especially the closing lines that sum up the novel’s title in connection to the themes of the story.

I also loved the examination of the different relationships between the characters, with the different parallels between the choices made by the women across three generations, and how each previous generation’s choices had an impact on the next. But I love how, even though there is a lot of drama between Larkin and Ivy, Ivy and CeeCee, or CeeCee and Margaret, there is a sense of closure and peace brought to each of these relationships by the end, making way for future happiness.

Review of “Song of Blood and Stone” (Earthsinger Chronicles #1) by L. Penelope

Penelope, L. Song of Blood and Stone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250148070 | 372 pages | Fantasy Romance

4 starsin

L. Penelope is yet another author I discovered through a book group, and given that epic fantasy romance  set in other worlds for adults is incredibly hard to find aside from a handful authors, I was excited for this new addition. But while a lot of the fantasy and world elements were wonderful, I found the romance a bit “meh” at times.

I love the extensive sense of lore and legends associated with the world, from the illustrations included, like the map and chart, and the folktales that unfold at the beginning of each chapter, accompanied by a related illustration. I love how the geography of the world as depicted on the map has a deeper significance to the turmoil that is unfolding between Elsira and Lagrimar throughout the book, and the epic way Jasminda and Jack play roles in resolving this conflict. I also enjoyed the parts of the story relating to issues of racism that feel equally relevant to our lives in the real world as they do to the people of this fictional world.

However, despite a promising beginning, where Jasminda is the one who saves Jack, I found myself unhappy with the revelations that, without all the trappings, this was just another rich guy-poor girl romance, where she’s seen as nothing but a distraction by people of his world. And the way they get together in the end feels a little too much like a fairy tale, without any real substance to indicate to me why they belong together or whether things will last once the sparks inevitably fade. However, Jack and Jasminda as characters independent of each other are both compelling, Jasminda in particular with her connection to the lore of the Queen Who Sleeps. Jack, despite not fully winning me over, does however seem to have the best interests of his people at heart, and I can admire that he wants to do what is right, even though he did not expect to take on his position.

Review of “As Bright as Heaven” by Susan Meissner

Meissner, Susan. As Bright as Heaven. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | 978-0399585968 | 400 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

As Bright as Heaven is a wonderful book that depicts the bleak nature of the last year of World War I and the year of the Spanish flu pandemic, and the lingering legacy both had on a family and their circle of acquaintances in a poignant way. It is a moving book, and one that definitely surprised me in how much I enjoyed it.

While it did take a little while to get into the flow of the story, given the fact that it alternates between multiple first person viewpoints, as soon as I was invested in this family’s plight, I wanted to see them come out of this with a happy outcome, and was dismayed with each tragedy and setback. And I love how the threads of the story, while being vaguely connected through the girls being sisters, come together in a deeper way toward the end to answer a lingering question throughout the book.

However, I did feel at times that the narrative style of first person with a mix of present and past tenses (often feeling a bit like a journal) meant I had to suspend my disbelief as the girls could be unreliable narrators. While this works in the case of Maggie and the secret of Alex’s family, it made me feel uneasy as the hints of romance between Evie and Conrad became more obvious, given that Conrad is, for most of the time Evie knows him, married to a mentally incompetent woman who the reader is given little information about. Given the standards for mental health care at the time this story is set, I am a bit suspicious, and regardless of the former wife’s state of health, it is technically infidelity, which doesn’t sit well with me.

 

Review of “The Secret of the India Orchid” by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Secret of the India Orchid. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629722931 | 314 pages | Regency Romance

2 stars

I worried quite a bit when I first picked up this book, because despite the connection not being advertised by the publisher, reviews noted the connection between this and one of Nancy Campbell Allen’s prior Proper Romances, My Fair Gentleman. However, not having read that book played no role in my impressions of this one, as the plot of that book and relationships between the characters are satisfactorily explained to provide proper context without overwhelming the story.

However, I did feel that the overabundance of characters with their own issues did no favors to this story. There is an endless list of characters who I found impossible to keep straight or distinguish, especially since so many of them are young women of marriageable age. And despite them being the lead characters, I didn’t get a sense that Anthony or Sophia felt fully fleshed out or alive either. Allen and/or her publisher also show a lack of understanding of the semantics of titles and forms of address, given the number of mistakes that appear throughout the text.

The only reasonably interesting part of the book is the mystery element, which provides a sense of intrigue to the otherwise bland setup. However, considering the general lack of investment I felt while reading with the characters, the reveal that wrapped up the mystery at the end was underwhelming.

 

Review of “The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue” (Guide #1) by Mackenzi Lee

Lee, Mackenzi. The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue. New York: Katherine Tegen Books, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062382801 | 513 pages | New Adult Historical Fiction

5 stars

I had heard a lot of about this book, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to try it, given that while I don’t see anything wrong with m/m romance, those books seem to dominate the market, particularly of adult romance, leaving the other identities, and especially women who identify as queer, unrepresented. But the recommendations for this book and finding myself with limited options for the LGBTQ historical square for the Ripped Bodice Bingo, led to me taking a chance on it, as well as Mackenzi Lee’s demonstration that she truly does care about representation across the board, as shown through her nonfiction book and her videos on EpicReads.

And I found myself blown away by this book. And a good part of it has to do with the characters. Monty is a character who is not always likable, given that he is often concerned with himself and what would make him happy, but he is a sympathetic character, and by the end of the book, I loved him, especially as he did evolve as a character. And despite the fact that I normally dislike the first person present tense narration, this is one of those books where it really worked for me.

Another strength this book has is the fact that in addition to openly discussing the difficulties faced by homosexual men who chose to pursue relationships with each other during the eighteenth century, there is also a focus on racial issues and the plight for people with disabilities, in this case epilepsy. Given the harsh realities for all of these populations throughout history, and how selectively romances seem to focus on these issues, it is refreshing to read a book that is unafraid to talk about them, while also being an entertaining adventure-romance story.