Review of “My Dear Hamilton” by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Dray, Stephanie, & Laura Kamoie. My Dear Hamilton. New York: William Morrow, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062819826 | 641 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I enjoyed My Dear Hamilton perhaps more than Dray and Kamoie’s previous effort, because while Patsy Jefferson was interesting as a woman who worked to preserve her father’s legacy, Eliza did so much more than that, being as much in the thick of all the political machinations of the founding of America as it was possible to be for a woman of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. It was fascinating getting reasonably faithful insights into the all in-fighting going on between all the Founding Fathers, with the book even beginning with Eliza about to confront James Monroe again after all these years.

I like that it also acknowledges Eliza as her own person, in a way that many biographers, including Ron Chernow, and and other media commemorating Hamilton, like the Hamilton musical, do not. I was particularly struck by her responses to many of the key historical events later in the book, like how her emotional turmoil regarding the Reynolds affair and later her questions about Hamilton and Angelica’s relationship, as well as the way she ended up working to preserve his name and his ideas in spite of all of that, while also highlighting her own charitable contributions, especially later in life.

I enjoyed this one, and am now eagerly looking for more historical fiction set around the lives of the Founding Fathers. I recommend this to other fans of historical fiction, especially if you’re interested in women who contributed a lot more than they are given credit for and are left more to the margins of the stories of their famous partners.

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Review of “The Lady and the Highwayman” by Sarah M. Eden

Eden, Sarah M. The Lady and the Highwayman. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629726052 | 344 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

I have long been interested in reading Sarah M. Eden, but the premise of the The Lady and the Highwayman, along with a recommendation from a friend, was the one that finally caught my interest in a serious way. And given my recent interest in the Victorian Gothic literary characters, this seemed like a perfect follow-up to some of my other recent reads.

And it truly is a delightful romance, building from Fletcher and Elizabeth being somewhat rivals in the penny dreadful business to them falling for each other in a beautiful way, while also exploring how each of them, despite their different class backgrounds, has a common goal in helping the less fortunate.

I love how their narrative is juxtaposed against the installments of their respective penny dreadful stories, and how they each reveal something about the writer’s character and thoughts. Fletcher’s story is very much motivated by his past as a street urchin, while we get insights into Elizabeth’s head about how her growing feelings for Fletcher interfere with her writing.

This is a delightful and fun historical, peppered with insights into the world of publishing both silver-fork novels and Penny dreadfuls in Victorian England. I would recommend this to love sweet historical romances.

Review of “European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #2) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. New York: Saga Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481466530 | 708 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

I enjoyed the previous installment, The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, so much, I was glad that I had the foresight to also pick up the second book, European Travel for the Monstrous Gentlewoman. I was a bit concerned about it being nearly double the length of book one, and upon reading, did find some areas where I felt the story did lag a bit, particularly toward the end, with the moment that felt like the climax being succeeded by a rather long and drawn-out conclusion.

The book also does feel a little slower than the previous one, with the action being split into two parts: London to Vienna, then Vienna to Budapest, instead of confining the action to a single location. While that did lend itself to some of the pacing issues, I feel the characters and their growing dynamics within one another more than made up for it, with a lot of humor (particularly in the interstitial conversations) to keep me laughing and a reasonable amount of action to keep the pages turning.

There are also more interesting introductions of literary characters, particular Mina Murray Harker and Count Dracula, the former of whom was already pretty interesting in the context of the original due to the way she was described, but is given a much more satisfying fate, especially for those who love the romanticized depictions of her relationship with the Count. There are also hints of romantic interests for the main Athena Club ladies, and while they are still subtle, I am excited to see how they develop, especially given that this topic elicited some great commentary on the part of the ladies amongst each other.

While this one has more flaws in terms of the mechanics than the previous book, it is still an enjoyable book purely for the excellent characterization and the continued tribute to Gothic literature. I once again recommend this series to fans of Victorian Gothic literature, or lovers of historical fantasy.

Review of “The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter” (The Extraordinary Adventures of the Athena Club #1) by Theodora Goss

Goss, Theodora. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter. New York: Saga Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481466509 | 402 pages | Fantasy

4.5

I randomly heard about The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter through an advertisement at the end of another book, something that hasn’t happened in a while, but I was immediately intrigued by the idea of the daughters/creations of famous Victorian Gothic literary figures, not to mention Sherlock and Watson. And while I have not read all the books the characters come from, I appreciated how well each major character’s backstory was explained, while also showing some recognizable differences in the narrative arcs to give the characters more agency.

And this is just pure fun. Given the mystery and monster elements, it does get a bit gritty, but it was ultimately a fun ride that I zipped through in a matter of hours, with lots of questions left open that kept me intrigued to immediately pick up the next one.

The writing style does take a bit of getting used to, because, in between the actual narrative and plot, there will consistently be interruptions from the characters, commenting on the text itself, uner the pretext that the book itself is one they’re collaboratively writing, which is made even odder by third person for most of the book, and the revelation of an external narrator making themselves fully known at the end. However, it is such a fun and quirky book, I just kind of went with it after a while. But I can see why some might find the style a little jarring.

This is a delightful homage to 19th century Gothic literature, and meshed together in such a natural way too. I’m sure other fans of those clssics who are looking for a new take on them would love them.

Review of “The Dare and the Doctor” (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

Noble, Kate. The Dare and the Doctor. New York: Pocket Books, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-476749402 | 355 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was more or less an avid fan of Kate Noble’s first series, not to mention her work as a writer for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and their tie-in books under the name Kate Rorick, in the past. However, with Winner Takes All, while I loved book one, I was soured by book two due to the unlikability due to both main characters. Yet, I still had a lingering interest to at least give The Dare and the Doctor a try, given the character dynamic appealed to me.

The characters themselves were the strength of the book. I loved the friends/correspondents dynamic between Margaret and Rhys, and how it led to love. I love the insights into Margaret’s passion for horticulture, and how Rhys nurtured this interest and her desire to pursue it. I also love tht Rhys was essentially the head of his family, and that he was trying to do what was best for them.

However, there were several plot threads, and I found myself confused at how they all came to nothing, especially the way his engagement to another woman, which plays a role in the big crisis, is essentially solved at the last second without much fuss. I was taken aback when it just…ended the way it did, and suddenly the path was clear for him and Margaret to be happy.

As saddened as I am that Kate Noble has left her historical romance career on hold (at least for the moment, I haven’t seen any updates on new historical projects) after the release of a more subpar title, I am interested to check out of the contemporary/women’s fiction Kate Rorick projects she’s been working on, and hope that, like some of her other mult-genre writing romance peers (Lisa Kleypas?), she comes back with a fresh perspective and new and exciting historicals. But, if by chance, you haven’t read her up to this point, I would recommend this one (as well as book one, The Game and the Governess, and maaaybe book two if you like more difficult characters), if you’re looking for more historical romances with humor in the vein of Julia Quinn.

Review of “Miss Leslie’s Secret” by Jennifer Moore

Moore, Jennifer. Miss Leslie’s Secret. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524404154 | 218 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

I was delighted to win a copy of Miss Leslie’s Secret and another Jennifer Moore title from fellow LDS author, Josi S. Kilpack, in one of her weekly ARC Thursday giveaways, and having wanted to try Jennifer Moore for a long time, I almost immediately dove into this one.

This is on the very short list of books that makes me love Scotland. And part of that is due to the hero. While other books from secular publishers highlight the sensuality of the kilt and his muscles, not to mention his broody alpha persona (if that’s your thing, that’s great, but I just don’t get the appeal), I love the idea of a more outwardly compassionate hero like Conall who cares for both Aileen and Jamie.

Aileen’s love for Jamie, and when the titular “secret” concerning her past and Jamie’s father’s identity were revealed, and truly felt for her in this situation, especially given the father’s involvement in criminal activity.

I did find the use of Scots dialect, even outside of the dialogue, a bit jarring at first, especially since the story was written in third person, so it wasn’t like we were getting the characters’ thoughts directly from them, as we would with first person. But I applaud Moore for committing to this sense of immersion with both the language and the culture, engrossing me fully in the setting.

This is a delightful, short, and sweet Regency read, with a good dose of emotional depth. I would recommend this to other fans of sweet Regency romances.

Review of “An Unkindness of Magicians” by Kat Howard

Howard, Kat. An Unkindness of Magicians. 2017. New York: Saga Press: 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481451208 | 354 pages | Fantasy

4.5 stars

I heard about An Unkindness of Magicians through BookTuber Merphy Napier, and while I was a little hesitant due to the urban fantasy setting, Merphy also seems to favor more high fantasy and still praised this one highly, and given that she pitched it as an “adult Harry Potter” of sorts, I decided it was worth at least keeping an open mind.

And I found all my preconceptons about urban fantasy going out the window without this one. There is still intricate world building and, while there isn’t a lot of hand-holding where the explanation of of the magic is concerned, I found I enjoyed learning about things as I went along. I love that it is a little darker, and delving into the mysteries of the Shadows, juxtaposed against the lavish Houses.

I enjoyed the characters for the most part, some more than others. Sydney particularly was pretty badass and kept me intrigued by who she was meant to be, especially with her uncertain origins.

While very much a story in itself, the ending does leave something to be desired, something which I hope will be rectified in the forthcoming sequel. I recommend this to other fantasy fans looking for a slightly less popular book to check out, especially if they also love Harry Potter.

Review of “America’s First Daughter” by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

Dray, Stephanie, & Laura Kamoie. America’s First Daughter. New York: William Morrow, 2016.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062347268 | 590 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s collaborations have been on my radar for a while, due to my desire to read more historical fiction about the Revolutionary War and the Founding Fathers, but the slightly larger page count, particularly relative to other historical fiction books, intimidated me for a while. However, I finally gave America’s First Daughter a chance, and found that I was flying through the pages, not because it was particularly fast-paced, but because I was so invested in the story.

Thomas Jefferson is a complicated man, with recent years especially bringing about discussion of his hypocrisies, and I love the way these were handled. Through Patsy’s eyes, we see a flawed man, yet he is still a great politician and a father to whose legacy she was devoted…to the point of shaping the narrative through careful curation of his letters, which serves as the central framing device of the book, with excerpts from his letters peppered throughout to signal passage of time, and her comments about them in relation to her own recollections of how it happened.

And while Dray and Kamoie do admit to taking some liberties, such as romanticizing the relationship between Patsy and William Short based on some of the vague hints provided in the historical record, I love how they are otherwise unflinching in providing an accurate look at the reality of the times, including in the portrayal of the Jeffersons in relation to slavery and the ways in which the women of the family were at the mercy of their husbands, whether it be the circumstances surrounding Patsy’s son-in-law causing the death of his wife/one of her daughters due to his abuse, and the deterioration of her own marriage to Thomas Mann Randolph, which also turned abusive, due to the financial losses and alcoholism.

This is a truly beautiful historical novel that also taught me a lot about the domestic lives of the Jefferson family, and how important Patsy was in shaping who Thomas Jefferson became, even if she wasn’t important in her own right. I recommend this to historical fiction lovers, especially those who love reading about the “power behind the throne,” so to speak, or the women who played influential roles behind the scenes in the lives of their fathers, husbands, or brothers.

Review of “Star Wars: Bloodline” by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Bloodline. New York: Del Rey, 2016.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425284784 | 341 pages | Science Fiction

4 stars

I held off on reading Bloodline for a while, despite liking some of Claudia Gray’s other offerings in the Star Wars New Canon, particularly her book on young Leia. But I finally decided to give this one a go, especially as we’re coming up on The Rise of Skywalker’s release at the end of the year, and I wanted to further explore the Star Wars Universe again, and I do like Claudia Gray as a storyteller.

And I love the way Gray is able to flesh out Leia as older, battle-hardened politician, just as much as she does in her YA book as a hopeful futurre leader. The exploration of the trauma from her imprisonment in A New Hope, which was only alluded to there, is poignant, and explains her more complicated feelings toward Anakin/Vader as her father compared to Luke’s. I could understand why she would want to keep this a secret from the public, and especially her son, Ben, and was torn to see how it all backfired, even though I knew it would, based on the sequel movies thus far.

The one drawback is that this story is kind of politics-heavy. I’m actually one of the people who didn’t mind the politics in the prequels, and I do like that this book is trying to highlight that history is repeating itself, but a lot of it was quite dry. I don’t hold that against Gray, as a writer commissioned to write based on the overall direction of the canon information, but more as one of the flaws in the direction of the new era of Star Wars material itself.

This is a great book in the Star Wars universe,in spite of any of these flaws. I recommend this to any Star Wars fan who loves Leia.

Review of “Becoming Josephine” by Heather Webb

Webb, Heather. Becoming Josephine. New York: Plume, 2014.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0142180655 | 310 pages | Historical Fiction

I won Becoming Josephine in a giveaway from Heather Webb, and while I put off reading it for a while, I had a desire to finally read it after finishing Meet Me in Monaco and coming to the realization that while I had read everything Hazel Gaynor had written, I had yet to truly experience Webb’s work. I also was excited to get a more intimate portraste of the marriage of Napoleon and Josephine, especially since I didn’t know much about either of them except what I had learned in history books.

And Webb perfectly captures Josephine’s life, with all its troubles, with her loveless mariage to her first husband, his execution in the Revolution and the uncertainty of her position during the Reign of Terror, and the ups and downs of her passionate, turbulent marriage to Napoleon. I truly felt for her in the second half, with Napoleon’s family being cruel to her, the very kingly hypocrisy that he can take lovers, because “they mean nothing,” but he forbids her from doing the same, and the ultimate breakdown of their union due to her inability to give him an heir.

If there is one criticism of the book, it’s that the language isn’t always one hundred percent accurate, and in my subsequent research, I found some others were concerned with some of the historical liberties taken as well. I can understand why Webb made some of the decisions she did to appeal to a very specific audience of historical fiction readers, and, being that I don’t know very much about Josephine, I wasn’t too bothered, but can understand why others might be.

That said, I think this is a great historical fiction read for those newer to the genre or to Napoleon and Josephine’s love story.

Review of “You Belong With Me” (Restoring Heritage #1) by Tari Faris

Faris, Tari. You Belong With Me. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800736477 | 360 pages | Contemporary Romance/Christian Fiction

4 stars

I received a free copy in exchange for a review, as pat of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program. All opinions are my own.

As has been the case with the other books I’ve requested through Revell Reads, I was primarily drawn to You Belong With Me due to the promise of the blurb, with the idea of the book (and likely the series as well) about preserving the historic aspects of the small town of Heritage. And while I’m still fairly new to small-town contemporaries, this is one of the most interesting I have read thus far, given the restoration element. And while it’s not the only part of the book, I found it wasn’t the only part I enjoyed either.

Faris manages to include two romances running parallel with each other, giving them equal page time, so while the blurb did not indicate this, I was not bothered when it would divert from Hannah or Luke to focus on Hannah’s brother Thomas and his ex, Janie, who he still has feelings for. I loved the exploration into the complications that led to said breakup, which turn out to be somewhat heartbreaking, and the conversation where it all comes out that brought the two of them back together.

I found Hannah and Luke’s relationship building a little underwhelming by comparison, but I did like the arc that Luke went on to figure out who his biological parents were, and was incredibly excited when he found them.

This is a delightful, sweet small town contemporary, and given that it is a debut, I’m quite impressed to see where Tari Faris goes from here. I would recommend this to those who love contemporaries with a lot of heart, with just as much focus on family and community as there is on romance.

Review of “Meet Me in Monaco” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb

Gaynor, Hazel, and Heather Webb. Meet Me in Monaco. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062885364 | 358 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Meet Me in Monaco was one of my most anticipated books of the year, after ranking Gaynor and Webb’s previous collaboration, Last Christmas in Paris, as the best read of 2017 (and possibly one of the best of all time), and while I was unfortunately not brought to tears in any of the tense moments of uncertainty or when the inevitable moments of the characters grieving hit this time, I did find myself just as invested, devouring this one, once again, like Last Christmas, in a single afternoon.

Gaynor and Webb once again manage to recreate the historical atmosphere beautifully, transporting the reader this time to the media circus of Grace Kelly’s wedding to Prince Rainier. I was in awe of all the details and how public it all was, especially given that I knew only the bare-bones facts that attract the average person to her narrative, as the authors make note of in their historical note in the parallels between Grace and both Princess Diana and Meghan Markle. But, as the story is told through the eyes of fairly normal people, I love how it allows Grace’s personality to show through in a way that isn’t clouded by pretense, since both James and Sophie have such unique interactions with her, even while it is juxtaposed by the occasional headline from the self-professed Grace fangirl reporter.

Sophie and James’ relationship is compelling, and it’s beautiful to see how they went from meeting in a rather inauspicious way to falling in love. And while there are odds stacked against them, I could not help but root for them. And ultimately, while this is a romance with a happy ending, I like how it also allowed for character growth and acknowledgment of the problems keeping them apart, before Grace once again (in a way) brought them back together.

Ultimately, I finished this book satisfied, yet longing to know if Gaynor and Webb would release another collaboration, because there’s something about their work together that is just pure magic, and the best romantic historical fiction I’ve ever read. I heartily recommend this one to pretty much everyone, but especially historical fiction fans and lovers of royalty and Hollywood stories.

Review of “Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune” by Roselle Lim

Lim, Roselle. Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984803252 | 299 pages | Women’s Fiction/Magical Realism

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted upon finishing Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. On the one hand, I really liked the exploration of the complex family dynamics in a Chinese family, and how, through three generations of women, each was fraught with discord between mother and daughter.

And I really enjoyed Natalie’s growing understanding of her mother’s mental health, especially what it means in the context of Asian traditions, where mental health care and Western medicine in general often isn’t given much consideration, with their preference toward more holistic methods like acupuncture.

And given the book’s title, there are many inclusions of recipes from Natalie’s grandmother’s recipe book, along with other lush descriptions of various dishes, leaving me salivating. While I don’t cook myself, I felt the urge to make copies of some of these for further reference, as they all sound amazing.

But the despite the lush food descriptions and the engaging family drama, complete with a climactic “I-am-your-father”-esque (but more bittersweet than dramatic) reveal, there was just something missing that kept me from fully engaging in the story. Perhaps it was the heroine…I just wasn’t fully invested in her life as a person, other than in connection with her mother and grandmother, who were far more interesting, even though they never appear in the flesh.

This one was a bit of a miss for me, but I still found it a good read to take in the elements I did enjoy. And anyone who loves multicultural family dramas with a generous helping of food porn should give this one a try as well, to see if it works better for them.

Review of “Underestimating Miss Cecilia” (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #2) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Underestimating Miss Cecilia. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445903 | 340 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I found myself rather underwhelmed by Underestimating Miss Cecilia, in comparison to Carolyn Miller’s previous books, which were all solid. There are still some of the recognizable hallmarks of Miller’s previous books that made me enjoy them, in particular her interweaving of historical events to provide greater context for the era. In this case, I loved reading about a hero and heroine who are interested in being more active politically and pushing for social change, whether it be to help the poor throughout England or to stop the prejudice against marginalized groups like the gypsies.

And the setup for the characters wasn’t bad, especially Edward’s. I love when an author can convince me that the hero truly wants to turn over a new leaf and leave his wild ways behind, and that is what she did with Edward. And I loved seeing Cecilia come to harness her inner strength, where she used to be more passive and pining.

But despite it essentially being one of my favorite tropes, friends-to-lovers, I felt like the execution didn’t really work. It could be because I read another book that did the trope of unrequited love between friends so much better recently, so I’m a bit jaded, but I just didn’t believe the love between the two, especially when Edward, after taking her for granted for so long, notices her once something bad happens to her.

I still enjoyed this book for what it is, especially for Miller’s constant focus on building an authentic feeling Regency world. I recommend this book to fans of sweet, spiritually driven (but not overly preachy) Regency romances.

Review of “Life and Other Inconveniences” by Kristan Higgins

Higgins, Kristan. Life and Other Inconveniences. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451489425 | 428 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Kristan Higgins has quickly become an author I anticipate new releases from, even if I have yet to truly delve into her backlist. And despite not knowing much about Life and Other Inconveniences beforehand, I was quickly intrigued by the layers of family drama, and upon finishing, struck by how she managed to piece it all together.

The relationship between Emma and Genevieve is the central source of conflict, and I loved how both their respective losses and how they failed to connect with each other, leading to their estrangement, was delved into.

I also appreciate that Emma is trying to provide a more stable environment for Riley, in a similar way to how Genevieve did for her, to the point of even confronting the baby’s father, Jason, and his family in the best way (shame his heartless mother is called Courtney!) And while, in the style of Higgins’ newer books, the romance is not the focus, I liked that Miller, Jason’s cousin, provides a foil for the life of privilege his cousin leads, still spoiled by his parents, and also proves to be a great partner for the more mature Emma as they are both in different stages of the hard road of single parenthood.

There are a complex set of supporting characters, a few of which also get chapters from their perspective. And I found myself surprised by some of the turns the story took when it shifted to these secondary characters, Clive (Emma’s father and Genevieve’s son) in particular. At first, he seems like the standard deadbeat dad and wastrel son who can’t compare to his perfect (presumed dead) brother, so when I found out the secret of Clive’s role in it, I found myself feeling sympathy for him, even if I did not fully forgive him.

This is a beautifully emotional book with such wonderful, well-rounded characters. I recommend this to those who like heart-wrenching contemporaries.

Review of “The Wallflower Wager” (Girl Meets Duke #3) by Tessa Dare

Dare, Tessa. The Wallflower Wager. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062672162 | 353 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Wallflower Wager may just be Tessa Dare’s best book in years, and I can’t believe I’m saying that now, given how much anxiety I had about this one. But after the failure I had in meshing with The Duchess Deal, I still found myself unsure how to feel about a hero promoted as the “Duke of Ruin,” even though I’d already experienced how poorly some of the cliche taglines sum up the substance of the book in The Governess Game, with its so-called “bad, bad rake (Please, publishers, stop doing this…I’m sure I’m not the only reader tired of every hero being described as a rake, rogue or scoundrel, when there’s so much more to them).

But I found myself actually really liking Gabe. I’m a sucker for a self-made hero, and while he was ruthless in his path to gain wealth, I like that he’s at least honest about it, even noting the hypocrisy of how many of the aristocratic people he ruined made their wealth off people like him, as well as through colonialism and slavery, and yet that’s acceptable. It’s refreshing to finally see a Regency romance aside from those by Vanessa Riley which confronts the fact that aristocrats profited off slave labor.

And his growth into a person worthy of Penny also felt wonderful and authentic as well. While he does have a moment of succumbing back to his old ways, he doesn’t and admits he wanted to ruin her family out of his own insecurity. But I like how that sets up Penny’s journey as well, as she also deals with private pain from childhood abuse.

The supporting cast is also wonderful, both returning characters and new ones. The bromance is the best part of the book, with former rivals Ash and Chase now tag-teaming to protect Penny, then later teaming up with Gabe in some of the most hilarious hi-jinks of the book, like delivering a baby goat and arguing over the positions of second and third in a duel. Also, while Ash’s Shakespearean swears do make an appearance, he’s now outranked as the most crude character in this series by the crass parrot rescued from a brothel who imitates sex noises and propositions people for a good portion of the book.

This truly is the most delightful book, and I deeply regret letting the memory of one misfire (which she’d already made up for with book two) and marketing which she may not have had much to do with lower my expectations. I recommend this for anyone looking for a witty historical romance that also deals with tough topics in a beautiful and compassionate way.

Review of “Marriage Vacation” by Pauline Turner Brooks

Brooks, Pauline Turner. Marriage Vacation. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1982100209 | 240 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3.5 stars

I recently binged Seasons 1-5 of Younger on Hulu, and given the amount of intrigue around the separation of the character Charles Brooks from his wife, Pauline, and the book telling her perspective, I was excited to find out that the book was published in real life as a tie-in with the show. However, given how her character and their relationship was painted from Charles’ side on the show, I was also a bit skeptical.

But for what it is, it’s not bad. Though obviously the words is done by a ghostwriter, the words and storyline feel authentic to what I think Pauline’s perspective was from the brief glimpses of her we were given on the show. And as a book in its own right, it endeavors to talk about the issue of self-discovery and the idea that we might actually be the ones holding ourselves back, and not any external forces, as it appears at the outset.

However, in keeping with Pauline’s worldview for much of her arc on the show, the book culminates idealistically, which is inconsistent with the difficult marital problems addressed earlier on, exacerbated by her leaving. And as a fan of the show, knowing where Charles’ feelings actually lie at the present time, it was awkward to read such a rosy, happy ending.

This presents an interesting catch-22: the book probably won’t mean much to you if you haven’t watched Younger, but it’s much easier to be disillusioned by it if you have. That’s not to say this couldn’t work as a work independent of the show, but I feel like either way, the flaws are there in different degrees.

Review of “The Widow of Rose House” by Diana Biller

Biller, Diana. The Widow of Rose House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250297853 | 252 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

I received an ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

The Widow of Rose House is a pleasant surprise to me in a number of wayss. It’s a engaging debut novel set in a period that is shamefully not explored enough for my liking, and hopefully finally puts an end to the string of subpar reads and DNFs I’ve had more or less in a row. While the focus is much more on developing the romantic relationship and the mystery plot over any period detail beyond what is needed to set the scene, it’s nonetheless an incredibly delightful book that intrigued me almost immediately and did not let me go.

The setup with the widow who was in an abusive marriage is a familiar one, but I loved it was handled here, especially with his family determined to cast blame on Alva in the aftermath, and the scars that leaves on her. There are moments where she is jarred by her brother-in-law’s appearance both for his threatening nature in his own right and for his resemblance to his brother, and I think that helped to amp up the suspense factor.

However, she meets the perfect counterpart in Sam, an inventor, who is as intelligent as she is and compassionate where her former husband was not. It was beautiful seeing the walls come down between them, first giving into passion, and then lasting love.

I was a little nervous at how the “ghosts” element would play out, but it’s done in an incredibly plausible way, and one where I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that particular character. I also appreciate the statement it made about poor nineteenth century mental health care, and that it led to Alva resolving to do her part to make things better for people still living with mental illnesses.

This is a delightful historical, and one I recommend picking up when it comes out especially if you like your historicals with a bit of suspense and a touch of the paranormal.

Review of “The Only Woman in the Room” by Marie Benedict

Benedict, Marie. The Only Woman in the Room. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2019.

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492666868 | 254 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

Having liked Marie Benedict’s prior book, Carnegie’s Maid, and also being intrigued by Hedy Lamarr as a person who defied expectations of women at the time and invented the technology that would eventually make cell phones possible, I was excited about The Only Woman in the Room. With such an exciting life, showcasing two such distinct talents, I was sure I would love this book and getting to know Hedy a bit better.

And I found Hedy a decent heroine, who made the most of her circumstances at first, then had the bravery to escape and form a new life for herself in America in increasingly turbulent times as Hitler rose to power and World War II began.

But while Benedict convincingly evokes Hedy’s voice, I found myself losing interest at various points, because the story is a lot of day-by-day stuff, especially early on. While it does pick up eventually, only some parts of the book really engaged me, while others felt rather dull by comparison. This is yet another book I found myself reading recently that I found felt much too long due to the pace being so slow, yet the book was less than 300 pages.

However, I think Benedict did the best she could to convey a cohesive narrative, and while it’s not her best book, I still enjoyed it for introducing me to Hedy in greater detail. I recommend fans of historical fiction give it a try.

Review of “Dread Nation” (Dread Nation #1) by Justina Ireland

Ireland, Justina. Dread Nation. 2018. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2019.

Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062570611 | 451 pages | Historical Fiction/Horror

5 stars

Dread Nation saved me from falling deep into a massive slump, when I found that some of the other books I tried weren’t keeping my attention. However, despite my general dislike of zombie stories, this story captured me due to the way it took that and combined it with such dark historical events with such skill, that it kept me enthralled the whole way through. While there are some stylistic things that I often dislike, I felt they worked well in terms of engaging me in the narrative.

Jane is a great narrator and protagonist, and while she can be a little unlikable at times, I found her compelling, and her growth throughout the story only makes her more so. I think it’s great to see her genuine reactions to the issues going on, whether it be the racial tensions or the heightened threat to their lives.

This is an incredibly unique book, bringing a fun twist to two very distinct genres and delivers messages that are incredibly relevant and timely. I recommend this to historical fiction fans and zombie lovers alike.

Review of “Red, White & Royal Blue” by Casey McQuiston (+ Rant on the Fetishism of All Things British)

McQuiston, Casey. Red, White and Royal Blue. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250316776 | 421 pages | Contemporary Romance

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Americans love all things British, to the point of fetishization, as YouTuber Dominic Noble observed on Twitter recently. And the existence of Red, White and Royal Blue confirms this is true the romance reading community, if the thousands of romances, mostly historical with a few contemporary sprinkled in, didn’t already cement it. However, while American authors do try for the most part to be accurate to at least the basic nuances of British culture (with a few notable exceptions).this book does not. This book demonstrates that the author has no awareness about the distinction between the terms of “England” and Britain. If I were a drinker who had alcohol on hand, I could have had a drinking game as to the amount of times Henry is referred to as a “Prince of England.” Not to mention the election of the “Prime Minster of England.” But then, every so often, something is described as British.

Don’t get me wrong, I know it’s an AU. I’m fine with fictional royals, even if I feel this story would have been better served by going the Alyssa Cole route and making up a fictional country, as the fact that Prince Henry is from Britain has little bearing on the plot, as some of the elements with Alex revealing to his mother who he’s dating lead to discussions of the ramifications don’t necessarily depend on where the prince is from. But given that it is described as “political fantasy,” but the royals within the story are stil within the House Windsor, not to mention the name-drop of a surname seeming a bit too similar to the real life Mountbatten-Windsor that many of the real life British Royals use, I wanted more explanation for how all this worked in the context of British history.

There are a few minor saving graces to this book. The relationship between Alex and Henry is great and got a lot of laughs from me, especially the flirty emails. And I think, had it been handled a little bit better, it could have made a statement about how difficult navigating one’s sexuality when you’re in such an important political family is. I know Prince William recently said he’d be accepting if his children came out as gay, but there’s no denying it would still be difficult for them if they were, as depicted here.

I also think it’s also great that McQuiston wasn’t afraid to confront American politics, especially when it’s such a polarizing topic, providing an alternative ending to the 2016 election and looking forward to what I anticipate to be an equally contentious 2020 presidential race. All art is political, and I think it’s great to see a romance author who not only recognizes that but channels that in her characters with not only a female president, but a son who is also interested in politics, even while still getting his education.

For the most part, I just feel like this book was on the whole not for me, due to the inaccuracies and inconsistencies. If the things I described are a problem for you, I would skip this book. However, given it is much beloved by other romance readers, if you are looking for an idealistic political fantasy romance and aren’t massively bothered by all the errors I mentioned, then by all means, pick it up.

Review of “Daisies and Devotion” (Mayfield Family #2) by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi. Daisies and Devotion. Salt Lake City, Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725529 | 285 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Daisies and Devotion is a great second installment in the Mayfield Family series. While the overall plot elements do more or less stand on their own, there is a lot of setup for the overall arc of the series in the first book, so I definitely recommend reading both, even if you don’t necessarily read in order.

And like the first book, it does take a little bit to warm up to the young couple to see their potential. There’s nothing initially off-putting about Timothy, but it’s hard having experienced unrequited affection, to see him act like dense, and even tactless, toward Maryann for a decent part of the book.

But they do have a strong basis of friendship, with Maryann tempering Timothy’s heightened expectations of a marriage partner from the beginning and Timothy somewhat returning the favor by helping out by working to improve her own dismal marriage prospects. And as I read on, I became more invested in their respective growth, with Maryann beginning to contemplate life as an independently wealthy woman within a few years if she does not marry, and Timothy slowly awakening to the idea that perhaps his perfect woman isn’t so much about the superficial things, but something a lot deeper.

This is a wonderfully deep friends-to-lovers story, with great character growth and relationship development, and the series shows a lot of potential to go in a lot of interesting directions, especially since, unlike the members who received their happy endings so far, there are some legitimate hell-raisers in the bunch. I would recommend this to fans of sweet historical romance.

Review of “Tribute” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Tribute. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154911 | 451 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

I found myself picking up Tribute after finding myself in one of those rare situations where I wasn’t one hundred percent sure what I wanted to read next, and only knew that it should have a contemporary setting. I also wanted to give Roberts’ stand-alone romantic suspense another shot, since I’m feeling some withdrawal from the In Death series, and I haven’t found a suitable series to read while I await the next book’s release and subsequent processing at the library.

In retrospect, this may have been a poor choice to start with, but it was one of a bunch I had on hand, and I think it is conceptually interesting and gets a few things right. I liked the idea of a granddaughter exploring what happened to her movie-star grandmother, especially since there’s something so fascinating about the tragic personal lives of classic Hollywood stars. And while the execution of some of the elements feels a little rough, and the reveal a little underwhelming, I enjoyed the dream-sequence moments where Cilla and Janet interact, transporting Cilla to various points in Janet’s life.

It also allowed for great development for Cilla in her relationships with other characters, particularly her relationship with her mother, given that the relationship is somewhat strained because of their differing desires where Janet’s house is concerned. But it was great that this digging into the past ultimately provided closure, as that was the root for a lot of familial issues.

I also felt like the romance was quite enjoyable for what it was. Ford is an example, along with Carter from Vision in White, of a well-written Roberts hero. I love that he’s a graphic novelist, which is a profession I don’t recall ever seeing in a romance novel before. He’s also incredibly funny and intelligent, and just all-around a great person. It also doesn’t hurt that he has an equally quirky dog, Spock, who I would argue, almost steals the show.

This is definitely not the best Roberts I’ve read, especially in terms of its advertised subgenre, but there are plenty of things it does well that will appeal to new-ish readers exploring Roberts’ backlist for the first time.

Review of “Lady Notorious” (Royal Rewards #4) by Theresa Romain

Romain, Theresa. Lady Notorious. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145458 | 281 pages | Regency Romance

2.5 stars

Theresa Romain is one of the authors that I have…complex…feelings about when it comes to their work. There are some where I feel like I don’t gel with their characters, and thus am less inclined to read more of them. But Romain is one of those that I consistently want to love, and have enjoyed a few of her books in the past, but find myself a bit at a loss with not only Lady Notorious itself, but almost the entire Royal Rewards series.

The main thing that maintains my interest is her characters, particularly the heroes, and how they tend to be more beta than alpha. That is the case here, with George, Lord Northbrook. He is a charming and intelligent hero, and while he has some demons, they are handled in a way that I really enjoyed, not allowing these things from his past to fully dominate him in the present. I also love that he has a unique hobby concerning camera obscurae. And while Cassandra is a somewhat anachronistic historical heroine, I also found her reasonably likable as well, and I felt like they had pretty good chemistry with one another.

However, while there is a claim to a mystery plot here, I found myself at a loss to figure out what the point of it all was, except that it somehow involved a threat to the life of Nortbrook’s father, the Duke of Ardmore. The pacing of this dragged (an amazing feat, given that it’s less than 300 pages), and I didn’t feel any trace of the suspense that I was led to expect from the blurb. I almost wish she had tightened the plot a bit of this one (and perhaps even the others in the series as well) to novella length, as I found her recent novellas far superior in quality than this series, and there didn’t seem to be enough of interest going on to stretch out to four full novels.

I am massively disappointed in Romain after concluding this series, but I hope this is just a minor misfire, as I know she is still capable of writing great stories (not to mention I still have her other recent series, Romance of the Turf, in my TBR, and it sounds very different tone-wise). If anything, I would not suggest a newbie to Romain start here, but with one of her earlier works.

Review of “Vision in White” (Bride Quartet #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Vision in White. New York: Berkley Books, 2009.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425227510 | 343 pages | Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

Vision in White is arguably one of the best books I’ve read by Nora Roberts so far. Whether it is her best book ever is debatable, given how I haven’t read much from her due to a few negative experiences, but she is at the top of her game here, creating a story that not only has engaging leads with a compelling romance, but also the friendships that she also does incredibly well.

I mostly picked this one up because of what I heard about the hero, Carter. The book club friend who not only recommended this to me several times, but gifted me a copy among other Nora titles, noted that he’s exactly the type of hero I’d like, and she wasn’t wrong. I love that he’s more on the geeky side, and a bit awkward. While I’ve heard his type is a Roberts staple, I still felt there was something unique and likable about him, although this may be my inexperience with her work coming into play here.

I also really liked the emotional depth given to Mac, and like that Roberts tends to go against the norm (or at least what’s considered more popular) by having her heroines dealing with trauma. I really enjoyed the central focus of the series being that she comes together with her best friends to develop a wedding planning business, with the irony being that, even though she had participated in pretend weddings as a kid, her dysfunctional family has soured her to the idea of marriage. I loved seeing how her trust issues were explored, and while she isn’t always the most likable character, I could understand where she was coming from, and her development felt natural.

My one minor quibble is that this book makes extensive use of acronyms, and while they are explained in the book, some are so uncommon, it was a chore to remember them. MOH for “Maid of Honor” or MOB for “Mother of the Bride” makes some sense, particularly after being told what it means once, but there was also this weird mini-plot point that led to the best man in one of the wedding parties they’re planning for being called the CBBM, or “cheating bastard best man” (at least I think that’s what it was?), and there were a couple more that sound clever on paper, but just don’t stick out in my mind. I hope the rest of the series isn’t so bogged down with shorthand like this.

On the whole, I really enjoyed this one, and will be continuing the series and seeking out more of Roberts’ contemporaries that catch my interest, since that seems to be genre she writes in that works the best for me. I would recommend anyone new (or new-ish) to Roberts’ work pick this one up, since it really is a gem, and not to be missed.

Review of “The Fifth Season” (The Broken Earth Trilogy #1) by N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin, N.K. The Fifth Season. New York: Orbit Books, 2015.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316229296 | 468 pages | Science Fantasy

5 stars

I held off on reading The Fifth Season for a long time, mostly because there are portions in second person, which threw me off in my first half-hearted attempt to get into the book ages ago. But this is the book I constantly heard raved about where N.K. Jemisin was concerned, and there’s been buzz around it recently on Book Twitter and BookTube. And despite everything, I found myself really enjoying it this time.

To start with, the world building is wonderful, feeling both fantastical and startlingly current, with its focus on intense climate changes. I also loved the deeper lore demonstrating that somewhat cyclical nature of these “fifth seasons.”

As for the characters themselves, it is deeply moving reading about how each of them, in their own unique circumstances makes their way through the Stillness. And despite the fact that it also contains one of my least favorite elements of fantasy, the inclusion of several different POV characters with only vaguely connected plot threads, I found I appreciated it more this time around due to the purpose of the book, demonstrating how these women managed to survive in spite of their bleak situations. Surprisingly, given my initial reticence, I found myself most drawn to Essun, the character whose POV is written in second person, and her journey to find her husband after he ran off after killing their son. Jemisin demonstrates a truly great use of second person here, managing to engross me deeply in her narrative. However, I also enjoyed Damaya’s journey of self-discovery as an orogene and Syenite’s training at the Fulcrum, and felt like the book balanced all of these perspectives.

I really enjoyed this book, much more than I thought I would, and I think it’s because of the way it manages to do a lot right, including some of the stylistic things that typically get on my nerves. I would recommend it to sci-fi/fantasy fans, especially those who want to try something a little different and more experimental than the norm.

Review of “The Bluest Eye” by Toni Morrison

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. 1970. New York: Vintage Books, 2007.

Paperback | $14.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0307278449 | 206 pages | African-American literature/Historical Fiction

4 stars

I would like to preface this review with a brief summary of my prior experience with Toni Morrison. I was first introduced to her work upon beginning my major-focused coursework for my Bachelor of Arts in English in Spring 2012 when the professor, a well-intentioned woman, assigned Beloved. That book so traumatized me, and along with a few other books assigned while in the program, like The Things They Carried, soured me toward what the average literature professor thought of as “quality” literature and moved me further toward embracing genre fiction. And based on a quick perusal of the syllabi for this coming fall semester, Morrison is not only a continued staple of the curriculum, but Beloved itself remains that same professor’s book of choice for teaching her work.

Thus, I decided that, even if Morrison was a key figure in the history of African American fiction, that she just wasn’t for me, like many influential classic writers before her. But in the wake of her death, African American historical romance author and literature professor Piper Huguley presented a more approachable alternative, called “the hierarchy,” that allows the reader ” to get the best understanding of the richness of her prose.” Wanting to give Morrison another chance, I snapped up a copy of The Bluest Eye.

And while it’s still much more stylistic than I prefer, and there are some sudden narrator changes that I didn’t even notices until I was looking at some analyses and plot summaries online, I found that the broad themes it deals with made it worth the read for me. I think the central theme of race connected with beauty is especially profound, especially given how it continues to dominate pop culture, even if we try to deny that it’s there. It also blatantly confronts the issue concerning the racial divide in America, something that is as bad an issue now as it was then, even if people like to chock it up to “race-baiting.”

If I have one complaint, it’s that the book doesn’t shy away from the graphic sexual violence, and the graphic content is something that also turned me off Beloved. But reading it with greater respect for it in context of the African American experience shows me how necessary it is. However, I know is something that could be a trigger for some people, so keep that in mind.

That being said, I find myself unsure of who to recommend this to, given the bleakness of it. I suppose if you’ve felt even the smallest urge to give Morrison her fair chance, follow Piper Huguley’s advice and start here.

Review of “The Bluestocking” (Wicked Wallflowers #4) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Bluestocking. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2019.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503904071 | 339 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I want to start by giving a caveat that The Bluestocking, like many of Caldwell’s others, regardless of what some others will tell you, makes most sense read after both the prior books in the Wicked Wallflowers series and at least the previous series to this one, the Sinful Brides. That was my issue when I read The Vixen, and it remains an issue, primarily because I wound up more or less skipping The Governess because I failed to become fully invested, due to not being able to truly like the characters (especially Broderick). This played a small role in my diminished enjoyment.

However, I did like Gertrude from the glimpses I got of her in the other books, so I decided to still give it a try, even with some of those aforementioned considerations in mind. I have a disability similar to hers, and I found it inspiring how she went from being the one who is generally in the shadows and underestimated by the others to actively fighting to ensure her adoptive brother’s well-being.

I also found I could understand Edwin’s perspective too, given the amount of loss he’s faced. And while he’s not “mad” as he’s often made out to be, I like that it’s reflective of the habit in the period of characterizing anyone who didn’t fit a certain mold as “mad.”

However, the romance itself failed to win me over. Part of it is the whole family feud, “your family took my son,” “but he was raised as my brother and we loved him” angle, which seemed like insurmountable odds to me for love to defy. Even taking into account the Gertrude was more or less blameless in the actual kidnapping, and Edwin was doing what he thought was right, I still did not find the development well-handled, and I definitely felt there could have been a bit more emotional depth to both of them, given their respective pasts, which Caldwell has done much better in some of her previous books.

That said, others have enjoyed this book, and I think their more consistent consumption of Caldwell’s books plays at least a small role in that, as they get a greater sense of the relationship dynamics, which while evident in this one as more or less a stand-alone, would likely feel richer in terms of the wider scope if you read more of them and in order.

Review of “The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein” by Kiersten White

White, The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein. New York: Delacorte Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0525577942 | 292 pages | YA Historical Fiction

4.5 stars

I had seen some good reviews for The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein on BookTube, so this book has been on my radar for a while. And while I did read Frankenstein in school, and it’s one of the required readings I have fonder feelings about, I was excited at the prospect of a story from Elizabeth’s perspective, especially since I heard it further amplifies some of the twisted stuff that happens in the original.

And I was not disappointed. While a few of the plot beats are predictable and the first hundred or so pages takes a bit to get into, there is still enough new elements that there were still moments of surprise, particularly the jaw-dropping ending.

I also love the contrast between Elizabeth and Victor in terms of how their arcs run both parallel and in reverse to one another. While she starts out somewhat manipulative in order to ingratiate herself with Victor, she softens in a believable way as Victor goes down a dark path of murder for the sake of his experiments.

This book forms the perfect complement to Frankenstein, and while I think you could read this without having read the original, it is helpful to have at least have a basic grasp of the central themes, as this serves to fill in the gaps more than to fully retell the story.

Review of “Of Blood and Bone” (Chronicles of the One #2) by Nora Robertsp

Roberts, Nora. Of Blood and Bone. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122995 | 453 pages | Science Fiction/Paranormal

4 stars

After really enjoying the initial setup of Year One, I really liked seeing the further development of the characters and the world in Of Blood and Bone, especially focusing on the One of the series title, Fallon.

I enjoyed seeing Fallon coming into her own and mastering her gifts, and that for me was the best part of the book, as it allowed me to really get to know her, especially since the last book and the first part of this one got me invested in her unique family situation in the midst of the Doom.

The one weak spot, which seems to be the case for me with much of Roberts’ work, is the poor, somewhat sudden development of the romance between Fallon and Duncan. I can understand it in theory, given they do have some common ground, but it just felt out of place after spending so much time with Fallon during her training with Mallick, and I wished it focused just on her development. I also felt that the familial and romantic bonds in Fallon’s family were much more interesting, whether it be the magickal scenes between Fallon and her birth father, Max, the sweet moments at the beginning between her and Simon, the father who raised her, or the descriptions in both books of Lana’s love for both Max and Simon.

I really liked this one overall, even if it does suffer a bit from being a middle book, expanding on the story, but still feeling a little open-ended. I still feel it’s worth picking up if you enjoyed the first one.

Review of “Betrayal in Time” (Kendra Donovan #4) by Julie McElwain

McElwain, Julie. Betrayal in Time. New York: Pegasus Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $25.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1643130743 | 388 pages | Historical Fiction/Time Travel/Mystery

5 stars

I am always excited for more Kendra Donovan time travel Regency mysteries, and Betrayal in Time is no exception. Once again, the hodgepodge of genres comes together seamlessly to create a fun, suspenseful, and subtly romantic tale.

I continue to love seeing Kendra trying to adapt to her surroundings, and while it’s noted that certain superficial things have changed, like she’s gotten used to lack of modern conveniences like electricity, and her hair has grown out so it can accommodate the latest styles, she is still very much an oddity in the sense that she doesn’t fully grasp the mores of the time period, even while it is growing more obvious to her that her parents’ raising of her to be the best has some parallels with the very pedigree-focused English high society.

And while her romance with Alec is still more of a subplot, and isn’t even as present as it was in some of the previous books, I like how McElwain somehow manages to make the push-and-pull created by the difference in their respective values interesting. And while many mystery series do a “will-they-won’t-they,” it seems like almost a foregone conclusion that Kendra and Alec will end up together in some form, especially given the risks present for women of the station she’s presenting as in high society, it’s just a matter of when.

It’s also wonderful to see the deepening bonds between the secondary characters. My favorite is still between Kendra and the Duke, and their surrogate father-daughter relationship. But I also liked getting further insights into Lady Rebecca, and how she’s in such an odd position of being cast aside by society due to her appearance, but unable to embrace the more radical ideas she’s been learning about from the writings of Wollstonecraft and de Gouges, due to the impropriety of it.

The mystery this time around is also quite interesting, once again with a twist I did not see coming, and ultimately a rather bittersweet ending when all was revealed, given the killer’s identity and motives.

I really enjoyed this one, and I already can’t wait for the next one, even if there is no information, except the fact that McElwain has confirmed that there will be a book 5. And I wholeheartedly recommend this series to all fans of Regency romances and crime thrillers.

Review of “Sorcery of Thorns” by Margaret Rogerson

Rogerson, Margaret. Sorcery of Thorns. New York: Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1481497619 | 456 pages | YA Fantasy

4.5 stars

I was excited about about the buzz around Sorcery of Thorns, especially since it is one of those rare fantasy stand-alones, which I found refreshing, since I was getting a little annoyed with the structure of especially YA fantasy series, and getting invested then having to wait a year. And while I heard mixed things about Rogerson’s first book, An Enchantment of Ravens, I felt like I would click with the concept of this immediately, especially given it focuses on a magical library.

And I found myself blown away, especially by the quirky concept of the books themselves, with them actually being alive in a sense, comparable, as author Katherine Arden said in her blurb for the book, to the Hogwarts Library. And there is a dark, sometimes Gothic atmosphere to the setting which had me intrigued fairly early on.

As for Elisabeth herself, I felt like she’s a pretty great character to follow. She is a bit naive and trusting, but this is a case where it works with her background and, while it often led to some predictable moments, I still found her more or less relatable and likable in her motivations and desires.

While there are some familiar elements, I like that Rogerson does enough of her own thing that it doesn’t feel like too predictable, and I finished it feeling both satisfied and also longing for more in this fun world, even if not necessarily following the same characters. I would recommend this to other YA fantasy fans who are looking for another author to read.

Review of “Brazen and the Beast” (Bareknuckle Bastards #2) by Sarah MacLean

MacLean, Sarah. Brazen and the Beast. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | 978-0062692078 | 382 pages | Victorian Romance

3-ish stars

Brazen and the Beast signals my breakup with (or at least my second extended break from) Sarah MacLean’s work. Because while I became reinvigorated with her with her fun and subversive Scandal and Scoundrel series, and thought she was moving beyond the standard broody alpha who either a) majorly screws up and has to grovel at the end, b) has a major case of self-loathing, or c) both, with The Day of the Duchess, both installments in this series have proved me wrong thus far, and both her hints about the forthcoming book about Grace and the antagonistic Ewan don’t inspire me to hysterics like everyone else.

Granted, given it took me two tries to get into Wicked and the Wallflower, I did like this one a tad bit more, even if the plot did feel a little stagnant at times. The “hero,” Whit/Beast, in spite of being full of self-loathing and concerns he’s not good enough for a woman who’s clearly interested in him, has slightly more appeal than Devil, in particular his refined reading tastes, with a peek at his “library” showing that a stack of books by women. However, I did not feel particularly moved by him in any emotional way, and his repetitive grunts may be the annoying thing that drove me insane in this book.

But the most talked-about part of the book in promotion is Hattie, and I found her a much more appealing heroine than Felicity (not just because I was spared the constant repetition of her full name, but that helped). I love her determination to take her life into her own hands with the Year of Hattie, and the promotion it’s inspired among readers with the “Year of You,” with some discussion about what we might do to take command of our own lives. While I may obviously not like a lot of things when it comes to the heroes MacLean’s writes, she (usually) creates great heroines, and I think Hattie is one of her best, so it’s a shame that she’s one of the sole consistently good parts of a somewhat lackluster story.

That being said, I will probably wait a while to read the next book when it does come out next year, given my concerns, and read a balance of reviews ahead of time before making my decision instead of buying into the hype again. But that said, with any book, to each their own. If you haven’t yet read Sarah MacLean and you’re a fan of a broody alpha hero and an independent heroine, this is the book and author for you.

Review of “Dark in Death” (in Death #46) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Dark in Death. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250161536 | 372 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Life imitates art imitating life in this one, with documented cases of Roberts being the victim of plagiarism by other authors both before and since the publication of this book, not to mention the alleged use of ghostwriters ( a claim she’s denied) and overly enthusiastic involvement from fans.

The case itself for its own sake was great as well, and definitely one of the more solid of the series. It’s well-paced and had enough going on to keep me invested, without being too complex to the point where I felt lost. I found myself anxious to find out who the overzealous fan was elaborately recreated crime scenes from a book series, while also going after its author with accusations of plagiarism, and I found myself satisfied as things came together.

And given that the theme of this book is, well, books, I liked that there was also a comment on the whole eBook vs. paper debate, with equal use of both by the characters, thus demonstrating that both have continued value, even in this futuristic setting. While there are mentions of some using eReaders, I like that we have people like Roarke who still adore paper books, and he has a large library. Every time I think he can’t surprise me with more ways to love him, he does something else that seals the deal.

I really enjoyed this installment, especially given its feeling of personal commentary on what it’s like to be an author, especially one of Nora Roberts’ level of success.

Review of “To Tempt a Rebel” (The Scarlet Chronicles #4) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. To Tempt a Rebel. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1090208668 | 404 pages | Historical Romance–French Revolution

‘4.5 stars

Shana Galen’s talent for blending fact and fiction once again shines in To Tempt a Rebel. And it contains all the strengths that made the previous book, Taken by the Rake, such a great read, in particular adding some nuance to the French Revolution, in balancing both the revolutionary and Royalist perspectives, perhaps even more so this time around, what with the fact that the hero and heroine start off on opposing sides.

Once again, the hero is the one who goes through the major growth, and that is not a bad thing, especially given the situation. I loved seeing his transition from someone who embraced the Revolution and its ideals to coming to see it had become too dark and bloodthirsty, especially when he began to consider the life of the young Louis Charles, now considered King by the Royalists and thus a threat to the revolutionaries, who abuse him in prison, in spite of him having done nothing but be born the son of a king.

While the heroine, Alex, like Honoria, does feel a bit like the standard strong historical heroine, I did like that the Revolution and their initial reluctant partnership allowed for some tough conversations, like about how the revolutionaries are all about liberty and equality for men, but there is still a lack of consideration for giving women the same rights.

This is a delightful final book in the Scarlet Chronicles series, and it checks all the boxes of excellent setting, action, and romance. I would recommend this to all historical romance lovers.

Review of “Year One” (Chronicles of the One #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Year One. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122957 |419 pages | Science Fiction–Post Apocalyptic

4 stars

Despite my my varied past experience with Nora Roberts’ work, her paranormal series in particular, I was drawn to trying Year One due to hearing it was slightly different from her other series, and given that what I liked was her skill as a world builder (or in this case, on occasion, world destroyer) when it comes to developing her paranormals, but found the romances rather shallow and unbearable to read, with only one exception so far, this one seemed promising, and I’m glad that with this series and Shelter in Place, she’s begun to dive into grittier territory, which I knew she had the potential for.

And while it is by no means perfect, I still found it engaging, and I enjoyed observing how characters survived a terrible tragedy like the Doom then went through trying to figure out how you rebuild in the aftermath. While there are several characters that we are introduced to, it was easy to become invested in their respective narratives.

And I like that she also brings her roots in the paranormal to this new series, so it stands out from the pack of post apocalyptic and dystopian novels, which lean more toward the science oriented, even if there are some parallels, particularly one that other readers have noted with The Stand by Stephen King (which I have not read, so I cannot pass judgment either way).

I really liked this one, in spite of its somewhat polarizing reception among readers, if the Goodreads reviews are anything to go on. And I think anyone who is interested in a post apocalyptic story should give this one a try, whether they’ve read Nora Roberts in the past or not.

Review of “The Light Over London” by Julia Kelly

Kelly, Julia. The Light Over London. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501196416 | 293 pages | Historical Fiction

2 stars

The Light Over London was recommended by Theresa Romain in her readers’ group around the time of publication, and my interest was piqued, because I’m always looking for more World War I and II books. But once I got into the book, I found myself disappointed, as, were it not for the ending, I would call it another casulty of romance readers’ rejection of the World Wars as a time period, consigning them to historical fiction.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I obviously love historical romance, and there are plenty of historically rich historical romance books out there, even if historical accuracy and sense of place are not universally demanded within historical romance. But it is an expectation in historical fiction, as well as adding some substance and something new to help readers feel like they’re learning, and perhaps leave some resources for them to get more accurate information at the end. While Kelly does endeavor to provide some context for the experience of a gunner girl during the war, I felt it was largely overshadowed by the ill-fated romance.

I think this would make a good book for someone who is just starting to learn about the World War II period, because, bizarre twist ending notwithstanding, it does decently depict the stakes of love during World War II. However, it lacks any real originality to make it worth reading for anyone who is more well-read in the period.

Review of “Taken by the Rake” (The Scarlet Chronicles #3) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Taken by a Rake. [United States] Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1796607147 | 459 pages | Historical Romance–French Revolution

4 stars

I admit, prior to reading both Taken by a Rake and the novella prequel, I was a bit concerned, that due to the weird intricacies of publishing rights, book two, Traitor in Her Arms, was only available in eBook, so I worried about skipping it, even if the same intricacies led to a somewhat odd sequence to the publishing order of the series. However, upon starting this one, my fears were completely assuaged, as it seems each book focuses more on developing its connection to the original Scarlet Pimpernel books, featuring major players I recognized from my recent read of the series, as well as establishing the atmosphere of the Revolutionary France, as opposed to developing any camaraderie between the heroes and heroines across the series in the traditional sense that most romance series do. As such, this book works as a standalone, just as, I assume, the others do as well.

That being said, Galen’s depiction of the period is excellent, feeling well-researched and giving you a sense that you are there in Revolutionary France. And while they’re not major characters by any means, I loved how she captured a sense of humanity to the French Royal Family, to add some credence to the rescue missions the League were undertaking.

While I was already aware that King Louis, Marie Antoinette, and the children weren’t all ignorant spendthrifts, it was nice to see from the perspective of someone like Laurent who knew they cared for the less fortunate, and also saw the goodness in the children as well. It was a time period where it seemed like all aristocrats had to be punished, so it was great that Laurent comes to recognize his privilege and begins to do something to make a difference by joining the cause.

I found myself rather unimpressed with the heroine, Honoria, by contrast. She is everything a great romance heroine is: intelligent, practical, and doesn’t fall at the aristocratic hero’s feet right away. But that’s kind of the problem; so many heroines are like that, and there’s nothing that distinguishes her, especially when Laurent goes through such an amazing arc that outshines her.

This was a more or less enjoyable historical romance, although more so for the hero’s development and the depiction of the setting than the romance itself. However, it’s still beautifully written, and one of Shana Galen’s better books (with the exception of her Survivors series, but I may be biased there). I would recommend this to all historical romance fans, especially those interested in the French Revolution.

Review of “The Doctor’s Secret” (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan

Cullinan, Heidi. The Doctor’s Secret. Tallahassee, FL: Dreamspinner Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1641081009 | 337 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Heidi Cullinan was recommended to me back when I read another m/m contemporary and was looking for similar books, and while I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything, it so happened the library was purchasing a copy of The Doctor’s Secret, and I was immediately drawn to the hospital setting and the Asian hero.

And while I can’t say for certain if the depiction of the medical profession was done well (although a quick perusal of other reviews indicates that, it was, as well as the acknowledgment that she clearly relied on her husband for a lot of medical information), I really enjoyed the usage of culture, both in defining Hong-wei as a character and forming a bonding point for him with Simon. While I did feel like their relationship moved bizarrely fast from attraction to “I love you, I want to spend my life with you,” I found their bond quite sweet, especially once I reached the end.

I also liked that, while the issue of being LGBTQ+ in itself isn’t a problem in this fictional town, with the series clearly set up to have several LGBTQ+ characters, it subtly highlights the issue of them having to keep their relationship a secret in a different way, due to the fact that they work together, and the hospital has a policy against co-workers dating. It’s a very interesting concept to work with, especially in the era of #MeToo, with new awareness around the treatment of workplace relationships in romance, especially between people in unequal positions as Hong-wei and Simon are, and I feel like it was well-executed.

I really enjoyed this one, and will hopefully read the others in the series. I recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, yet heartwarming LGBTQ+ read.

Review of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy

Orczy, Baroness Emmuska. The Scarlet Pimpernel. 1905. New York: Signet Classics/New American Library, 2000.

Paperback | $4.95 USD | ISBN-13: 9780451527622 | 267 pages | Classics/Historical Fiction

4 stars

One of my favorite series of all time is the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig, and this was how I first heard about the Scarlet Pimpernel, who plays a minor role in the first book, and I’ve wanted to read the original classic ever since, but never really got around to it until now, despite hearing good things about it. However, as I’m now getting into another series about the Scarlet Pimpernel, this one by Shana Galen, I thought it would be a good time to finally read the original and see what it was really about.

And it’s more or less enjoyable in its own right. While it’s not as much of a swashbuckler as I may have initially come to expect, with much of the book focusing on his wife, Margeurite’s, perspective, there’s still a lot of intrigue, especially given her own position throughout the book as a Frenchwoman, and interacting with the villain of the story.

And with both “secret identity” trope and what descriptions of spy escapades there are, it’s easy to see how this book was so pivotal in inspiring heroes in the decades that followed, like James Bond or numerous comic book superheroes like Superman and Batman. While there are some minor elements that don’t hold up in a modern context, that is the case with many enduring works of literature, and given its legacy, I feel that the The Scarlet Pimpernel is an enjoyable book, and one I would recommend to fans of adventure and romance, especially if they’re looking to learn more about the literary history that may have inspired some of their modern favorites.

Review of “Echoes in Death” (In Death #44) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Echoes in Death. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250123114 | 371 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

I chose not to post a review for the previous book in the In Death series, because, upon reflection, it’s started to get old saying the same things over and over, and while I love gushing about the cast interactions, with so few books left in the series that are currently out, I’m thinking I may choose to only unpack the ones I find particularly memorable, which will hopefully be all of them, but we’ll see.

That being said, this one definitely merits a review, because it’s probably one of my favorite cases. And while I’m not sure everyone will agree with me, I like that it focuses on a singular crime with a singular perp without too much complexity. Not to mention some of the procedural elements feeling reminiscent of Law and Order: SVU, which I have just recently got sucked back into, plus the participation from this world’s SVU squad, given the nature of the case. While some of the books, especially lately, have had their moments where my attention does waver a bit, this one had me on the edge of my seat, wanting to know who was behind it all.

And to add just a tiny note on the cast and their banter, I felt like some of the jokes here were pretty funny, especially the “Oedipus/Edison” conversation, which spun off from the assertion of the rapist’s predilections. I love that there are these small moments of levity that lighten up otherwise intense books.

This one is on my list of favorite books of the series. And while I do still feel that the series is worth the full investment, this is the one I’d probably recommend to fans of other police procedurals, like SVU.

Review of “The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” (Feminine Pursuits #1) by Olivia Waite

Waite, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062931795 | 322 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was super excited when The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was announced, due to my excitement about Avon releasing an f/f historical. And it definitely sounded appealing, what with Lucy being an astronomer, setting it apart from a lot of historicals I’ve read.

And I really enjoyed it for the characters and the development of the relationship between the two heroines. The tension between them was so well-crafted, with me anticipating each step they took toward intimacy with one another. And even when there were questions about whether the relationship would work, due to issues fostered by their pasts and the larger societal issues, I still rooted for them to find some way to make it work.

However, Lucy’s passion for astronomy, which brings her into contact with Catherine, led to some mixed feelings for me in terms of enjoyment when the science and math were involved. While I enjoyed seeing the work as a part of the story on principle, as we need more historicals about working women confronting the patriarchy, I personally didn’t engage with the portions of the book that dealt heavily with it quite as much as I did the portions that developed the romance.

That being said, I do still enjoy this book for the fact that it’s helping to bring LGBTQ+ historical romance (and particularly f/f) into the mainstream. And given its heavy focus on science, I would recommend this to readers who are more educated in astronomy. But it is still a great read that I think is worth taking a chance on if you’re the average historical romance reader as well, to see if things resonate better with you than it did with me.

Review of “The Other Alcott” by Elise Hooper

Hooper, Elise. The Other Alcott. New York: William Morrow, 2017. gen

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062645333 | 408 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

I picked up The Other Alcott out of interest in Little Women and Louisa May Alcott, particularly in gleaning some insight into both her relationship with her sister May, and how being connected with a character so many readers hate impacted May.

And, using the primary and secondary sources available and adding embellishments of her own, I feel Hooper did a decent job at both. May’s resentment at being portrayed so negatively, even if it was just fiction, really resonated, and I could also empathize with her struggles with being considered for most of her life to be the “other Alcott sister,” not accomplished in art the same way Louisa was with writing.

However, while I did admire May at various points, I feel like she as a whole makes a much less compelling protagonist that Louisa, even if explorations of Louisa’s life have been done to death. I was much more interested in Louisa’s complicated relationship with her Little Women fame (I love her response to the readers clamoring to see all the sisters married in the second installment…God only knows what she would make of the Jo/Laurie shippers and Amy haters today) than in the day-to-day stuff with May traveling, studying art, and improving her craft. And that is a shame, since May’s perception of inferiority to her sister is such a key plot point, but I just didn’t feel like there was enough there to make me care.

I am glad this book exists, to provide a new take on Little Women and the Alcotts, even if, unfortunately, the most compelling moments are the ones more directly related to Louisa. However, I think this is still a solid read, and one I think any fan of Louisa May Alcott looking to find out more about her family could start with.

Review of “A Prince on Paper” (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Prince on Paper. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062685582 | 377 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

A Prince on Paper has a lot of great ideas, but it is one of those books where it feels like the ideas all got jumbled up in execution. I found the setup appealing, with its setup that feels just slightly reminiscent of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (whether that was Cole’s intent is uncertain, since the characters first made appeared in book one of the series, A Princess in Theory, which came out in 2017, and was likely in development for a while prior).

And the characters themselves are very likable and complex. Nya is dealing with a lot with her father in prison following his traitorous actions in A Princess in Theory, and Johan, behind his playboy facade, is deeply concerned about his younger brother and also dealt with loss in his past due to his mother’s death.

However, while the two of them being thrown together provided amusement at first, I found my investment in their potential as a couple flagging as the story grew more and more confusing. Ultimately, I found myself skimming more than actually reading, because the romance, especially once it hit the Big Misunderstanding, did not feel well executed.

However, I really appreciated the subplot surrounding Johan’s sibling, Lukas coming out as non-binary, and especially the discussion around the issue of proper pronouns not just in English but in other languages too, as well as promoting awareness and compassion for non-binary people. I hope that, given that Cole has announced plans for a spinoff series set in the same world, that that means Lukas will get their own book.

In summary, this book seems to have the same issue that the other two novels in the series had, of being poor executions of promising ideas, as well as trying to do a little too much, to the point of neglecting to make the central romance convincing, a problem which did not plague the novellas, due to their shorter length. However, this series is still fun and has great characters (the strongest part of the series overall), and I would still recommend them to those looking for diverse and fun contemporaries.

Review of “There’s Something About Sweetie” (Dimple and Rishi #2) by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. New York: Simon Pulse, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534416789 | 378 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I was so excited to hear that Sandhya Menon was returning to the Dimple and Rishi-verse with this book, even if I wasn’t sure where she would take the world next, since it didn’t seem (at first) like there were characters with loose ends. And while I expected it to be great, since I really enjoyed Menon’s past two books, nothing really prepared me for how personally connected I’d feel with There’s Something About Sweetie. And that was because of the beautiful characterization of Sweetie herself.

As the world grapples with fat shaming, authors have tried to address it, to some extent in their books and to a greater extent in recent months on social media, to somewhat polarizing results (see: the debate surrounding Kristan Higgins’ 2018 release, Good Luck With That). But I feel like with this one, while Sweetie’s characterization still may not please everyone, I personally felt it was a wonderful depiction of body positivity, amid the wider societal stereotyping of fat people, unfortunately perpetuated in this one largely by Sweetie’s own mother. But I love that she has this confidence in herself and what she is capable of, leading to her willingness to confront any challenge, especially when it comes to showing her skill as a runner. While my own experience as a fat person is very different from hers, it’s nice to have a story that is life affirming and promoting self-love.

Despite more or less liking Ashish in his previous appearance, he didn’t immediately strike me as that compelling on meeting him again, in comparison to Sweetie, given that he’s presented at first as the standard jock character. But I liked that exploration of his character, going deeper into the fact that he was always made to feel less than Rishi, which I admit was my thought about him prior to getting know him. But there is so much that makes him the perfect counterpart for Sweetie. While their shared love for sports is a given, I love that he sees her as beautiful from the beginning, even if he isn’t sure at first about their relationship becoming something serious, since he’s still recovering from a breakup. And, like with Dimple and Rishi, I liked seeing how they each provided some sense of closure to their respective inner conflicts, with each of them being able to see and love the other for who they are, even if it’s implied that their families wish they could be someone else, or something different.

This book is absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad to see a book that, along with dealing with cultural issues of Indian American families, also tackles body image in such a refreshing and positive way. This is definitely recommended reading for uplifting fat representation.

Review of “The Claiming of the Shrew” (The Survivors #5) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. The Claiming in Shrew. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1094814841 | 378 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

After finishing the previous book, I was excited to hear that the next book, The Claiming of the Shrew, would follow Colonel Draven and his estranged wife, Catarina, especially since, once I started it, I saw it both began with and was building off her initial introductory short story, previously a perk only for newsletters subscribers that I actually did not read at the time, so I’m glad it was included.

One of the first things that shocked me, not having read the short before and only relying on context clues in Catarina’s brief appearance in Unmask Me If You Can, is that she’s actually significantly younger than Draven, being around twenty in the short, while Draven is about forty. And while May-December couples aren’t necessarily my favorite, I felt it worked with the dynamic here, and I enjoyed it throughout, especially as it really played into the problems they had to work through. She initially proposes a marriage of convenience due to needing protection, but later, they end up butting heads, due to her feeling imprisoned, and him trying to protect her from a man trying to do her harm, but going about it more like an autocrat and giving orders, as opposed to demonstrating his concern for her safety and love for her.

But in spite of the problems they worked through, I loved that they both were holding out for each other during their separation, even if Catarina felt forced to seek an annulment to appease the bad guys. And Draven remaining celibate out of respect for his wife is the sexiest thing. I feel it’s far too common in this setup where the couple is separated for an extended period, for whatever reason, for one (usually the man) or both to be with other people before something brings them back together, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially the latter. But I love a hero who is so devoted to someone, even if he doesn’t know he’ll see her again, that he can’t contemplate being with anyone else.

This is my favorite in the Survivors series, and while it’s not as emotionally intense in the issues it tackles in comparison to the last book, it’ makes up for it by being a beautiful, heartwarming love story that triumphs in spite of the danger the couple are in and the factors that could tear them apart. I would recommend it to all Regency romance fans.

Review of “Brotherhood in Death” (In Death #42) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Brotherhookd in Death. New York: Berkley Books, 2016.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170898 | 388 pages | Romanti Suspense

5 stars

Brotherhood in Death is one of the most masterfully crafted in the series since New York to Dallas, and it’s also one of the most personally appealing, because it’s another one that personally impacts someone in the recurring cast of characters. I really love Eve’s relationship with not just Dr. Charlotte Mira, but also Charlotte’s husband, Dennis, so seeing him as a key witness and potential victim and exploring more of the dynamic he has with Eve is incredibly sweet.

The case was also another of those that delved into the issues of morality and justice, and how, once again, when you’re a cop, it shouldn’t matter to you the type of character the victim or victims had, and even if they committed genuine wrongs to the perpetrator, that still doesn’t make it less of a crime. It’s also interesting how, to parallel between brotherhood and sisterhood bonds playing a role in the murders as well.

It’s also great to see Eve continue to be fleshed out as a character, further expanding on her vulnerabilities. Most obviously, the case impacts her, due t the appearance of one of the victims in a dream she has of her father, drawing the parallels between the two men. I also was moved by her discussing with Roarke that she’s not fully ready for change after having an argument with him after he invites an interior decorator into her home office without telling her first. While there are some moments when I kind of wish she would give a little more and try a little harder (like her constantly complaining about party planning), this is one of those moments that felt so genuine and real, especially since she was so taken off guard, even with Roarke’s protests that he wouldn’t do anything without her approval (yet he invited the woman in the first place without telling her?).

This installment continues to solidify my belief that, in spite of any subpar installments, this series still has its gems and is still great overall.

Review of “One Fine Duke” (School for Dukes #3) by Lenora Bell

Bell, Lenora. One Fine Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062692504 | 376 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

One Fine Duke is easily one of my most hyped books of the year, even if it took ages for me to get around to reading the next book in the series. However, I was determined not to let this one just sit and wait, starting it almost as soon as I got it (after finishing the previous book I was reading, of course).

And like all of Lenora Bell’s books, this one lives up to the hype, standing out in the crowd of duke books, by feeling fresh even while retreading some familiar tropes. In this case, it’s “opposites attract,” and while it can be executed poorly, with the couple not having enough in common to make the HEA believable, that is not the case here. While Mina and Drew seem like opposites, with Drew being closed-off due to the scars from his past and Mina being eager to experience life after being cooped up all her life, I loved how they grew over the course of their relationship, ultimately figuring out how to compromise for each other.

I also commend how Drew’s PTSD from his adolescent kidnapping was dealt with, and how it doesn’t just go away because he’s found love (and the fabled “magic vagina”), by his own admission. While Mina has been a help to him starting on the process of healing and growth, he still needs time to change at his own pace.

I also really related to Mina’s crisis about what she was meant to do. While I can appreciate a fearless heroine, like India, who knew who she was and what she wanted, it’s nice to have a heroine who wants adventure, but also contends with her very human emotions when it comes to the possibility of taking a life.

This is another winner from Lenora Bell, and it’s not to be missed, especially (but not exclusively) if you love historical romances with sexy dukes, strong heroines, and spy escapades.