Review of “The Golden Hour” by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. The Golden Hour. New York: William Morrow, 2019. H

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062834751 | 468 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted about The Golden Hour, as I often do when it comes to Beatriz Williams books. I love that she writes books with complex, interwoven plots that can take a while to come together, but sometimes it works better than others. And this is a case where some of the more minute things worked, but I found that while there was some payoff, given the fact that it doesn’t really pick up until the last one hundred pages, I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of her prior books.

Conceptually, the book is great, highlighting a topic I knew nothing about: when the Duke of Windsor served as Governor of the Bahamas during World War II. I had heard about some of his and the Duchess’ more questionable connections during the World War II period and the years preceding it (which are alluded to, but not discussed heavily, in the book), but it was fascinating to find out that he was given another political appointment following his abdication. And the fact that there’s an unsolved murder that occurred during his tenure, which formed one of the more interesting elements of the book once it FINALLY kicked into high gear surely did not help his reputation in that regard.

Because of all this, I found the 1940s chapters compelling, even if there was an incredibly slow build up to the excitement discussed in the blurb, and, adding to my frustration, there were two narratives, a sort of “Before” and and “After” following that period’s heroine, Lulu, which aided in suggesting what would happen on her end, but did not help the pacing.

And while I did like the tie-in with the early 1900s/World War I heroine, Elfriede (who, in typical fashion, also serves as the connection to another of Williams’ books), the ending both confused me and let me down, as if it was meant to be two books. Her narrative prior to that was compelling in its own right, with her own love affair with some tragic undertones and questions revolving around the whereabouts of her beloved, who went off to war. But, aside from the initial familial connection between the two arcs, with Lulu falling in love with Elfriede’s son, I felt the ending which purports to bring it all together was a little too confusing.

This is still a great read, and there were things I really enjoyed, like the historical context and some elements of both story arcs, but perhaps I just picked it up at the wrong time for me when I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for a read like this one. But I would still recommend it, especially to readers who have more consistently enjoyed Williams’ past work, or those who are in the mood for a more complex, multi-layered historical fiction read.

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Review of “The Lacemaker” by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. The Lacemaker. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800726638 | 413 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance–Revolutionary War

5 stars

I had never read Laura Frantz before, but I purchased The Lacemaker a while ago due to my interest in more historicals set during the American Revolution, and now finding myself in the mood for the period again after having one of those “I don’t know what to read” moments, I finally picked it up.

And I’m impressed by Frantz’s style. She perfectly captures what I already knew was a tense period and brings it to life, giving me a deeper look at the tense, day-by-day conflicts between the Tories and Patriots, as it built up from a rebellion into all-out war.

This is seen through the eyes of the heroine, Liberty, the daughter of a Tory politician who ends up in the middle of it all. While she is never fully disdainful of the Patriot cause, I loved seeing her grow from being more trusting that the life her father has carved out for her is the best to becoming more disillusioned, leading her to the Patriots.

While the names (given at birth or adopted over the course of the story) for both hero and heroine are a little on the nose, with Noble, it is very appropriate. He is not only dedicated to the cause, providing a fresh lens to explore the side of the Patriots through, but I love his “noble” behavior toward Liberty throughout the book, leading me to fall in love with him just as Liberty did, swooning every time he referred to her as “anwylyd,” the Welsh term for “beloved.”

This book is so richly detailed, but it never feels overwhelming, with it being more about the characters’ growth and the growth of their love for each other first and foremost. It is a must-read for anyone who loves a great historical that sweeps you away, leaving you satisfied at completing a wonderful story, yet still yearning for more.

Review of “Governess Gone Rogue” (Dear Lady Truelove #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke

Guhrke, Laura Lee. Governess Gone Rogue. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062853691 | 372 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Governess Gone Rogue is probably my new favorite in the Dear Lady Truelove series so far, due to the skilled combination of two tropes that I thought had been done to death: the nanny/governess trope a la Mary Poppins, and the woman-disguised-as-a-man trope. And while there are shades of the familiar with both aspects, Guhrke injects something new into the story, making it her own.

Amanda is a wonderful heroine, and I could not help but feel for her when the secrets from her past came out, but admire her determination to continue to persevere, even when confronted with the man from her past who runs into her again and is once again making lewd offers. I love how Guhrke highlighted how uncertain women still were during this time period, especially once their reputations were compromised, along with the double standard of how it had no impact on the man, even if he pursued her.

Jamie is a great counterpart for Amanda, given his own wild past and current efforts to carve a political career for himself. While there is the obligatory bit of character growth when he begins to really spend time with his sons and consider what they really need. While he is still grieving for his wife at the beginning of the book, I feel like it was a natural progression to him falling for Amanda and seeing her important as not just a nanny, but as someone he loves and wants to spend his life with.

There are also a few great scenes from the boys’ perspective, and it just helped me to love them even more, especially given the parallels, with them originally writing to Lady Truelove seeking a new mother, and later visiting the newspaper’s offices to seek her out in person to seek help in getting Amanda back. And their antics in between, while often naughty, are incredibly endearing.

This is a delightful, slow-burning historical romance, with a great mix of humor and heart. I would recommend this to other historical romance fans, even if you haven’t picked up a Laura Lee Guhrke book before.

Review of “Festive in Death” (In Death #39) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Festive in Death. New York: G.P. Putam’s Sons, 2014.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-0399164446 | 389 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Festive in Death is another enjoyable installment in the In Death series, with a reasonably interesting case. It’s always fascinating when it’s not so black-and-white, and the victim is kind of a awful person as well, leading to the uncovering of much more complex and deep motivations behind the killing, as well as exemplifying the true nature of the job of being in the police force of doing your best work to solve a case, no matter who the victim is.

And of course, an In Death book is not complete without some great interactions between the cast, this time surrounding the holiday season. There’s a tender moment near the end between Eve and Roarke with a callback to their first Christmas together that elicited an “awww!” from me, and more “fun” surrounding the holiday season, including some silliness with a mall Santa. Not to mention Eve once again out of her element planning a huge Christmas party…

This was a more or less enjoyable installment, although Eve being Eve with her awkwardness does start to wear a little thin after so many books, and I feel like she could use more character growth. But other than that, it continues to be great and I continue to attest that it’s worth it to take the plunge and pick up the series if you haven’t.

Review of “Rogue Most Wanted” (Cavensham Heiresses #5) by Janna MacGregor

MacGregor, Janna. Rogue Most Wanted. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250295996 | 371 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect from Rogue Most Wanted, since Lord Will Cavensham did not make the strongest impression in prior books, aside from one particularly fiery scene between him and Emma in The Bride Who Got Lucky. But I was pleasantly surprised with him in this one. While he is in no way a “rogue” as the title suggests, that only makes him even easier to fall for, especially as he finds himself falling in love again while still recovering from the damage wrought by a long-ago heartbreak.

But Thea is who really had me excited, given that I was aware of some female peeresses, but hadn’t seen many of them represented in historical romance. I wholeheartedly rooted for her to succeed in claiming the earldom and taking charge of the estate she loved so much, and my heart broke for her when she contemplated marriage to her rival to not only preserve her claim, but save her tenants as well.

On that note, I love that MacGregor really did her homework when it came to the nuances of inheritance law. I feel like lots of writers shirk doing serious research, and readers don’t care, because they are under the impression that history is boring. However, MacGregor manages to blend history and fiction masterfully, leaving me, a Regency reader who had thought she had studied the period extensively and as a result came to view some Regency romances with cynicism, learning something new not only about that, but about the more minute societal details as well.

This series just gets better and better, and I can’t wait for the next book (or two?) for what’s coming next. I know Avalon and Devan’s book has already been announced, and the way they interact with each other in this one already gives me high hopes (“Lady Warlock!” xD) I also hope that the writer of the Midnight Cryer gets what’s coming to him soon, given that all his ridiculous scribblings made me wish some sort of suit for slander would be in his future…and MacGregor has announced he’ll have his own book, so I’m equally excited there!

Review of “Rebel” (Women Who Dare #1) by Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins, Beverly. Rebel. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062861689 | 373 pages | Historical Romance–Reconstruction

5 stars

After finally reading some Beverly Jenkins books earlier this year, I was excited to see what she would bring to the table with this new release, Rebel, especially given the very bold series title, “Women Who Dare,” and an incredibly exciting premise.

And, of course, Jenkins delivers, presenting two compelling leads. Valinda is the standout of Rebel, who is teaching a class of freedmen and women, placing her in a position that subjects her to the injustices that are rife against Black people in Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Drake LeVeq is a worthy counterpart for her, in his own work for the Freedmen’s Bureau. And while their relationship is one that is kind of insta-lust-y, it is still such a beautiful story, and one where I found myself rooting for them every step of the way.

I also continue to love how dedicated Jenkins is to her research, recreating the tense atmosphere of the times in a way that left me feeling like I had learned a lot more about it than I ever had in any classroom lecture.

This novel is a gem, and Beverly Jenkins continues to prove why she’s essentially a rock star in the romance community, solidifying my desire to read more of her books in the future. And I recommend anyone who hasn’t read this one (or any Jenkins books) to pick this one or any of her historicals up if they want a good blend of education and entertainment.

Review of “Concealed in Death” (In Death #38) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Concealed in Death. New York: G.P. Putam’s Sons, 2014.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399164439 | 402 pages | Romantic Susoense

4 stars

Concealed in Death is another great book in the In Death series, and I was immediately intrigued at how this one was set apart from the others with the discovery of a long-concealed set of bodies, a setup that has never been seen before in the series. And the additional layer that ties them to a home for troubled teens added a connection to both Eve and Roarke’s pasts that I thought was great.

It was also nice to see a deeper side to Mavis, who I often forget led a bit of an unconventional lifestyle prior to becoming friends with Eve. Other cases have touched the cast in such beautiful ways, and to see how Mavis was connected to this one shows how much she also struggled, providing a greater sense of satisfaction to her current state of happiness, in a similar way that Eve’s current life with Roarke does for her.

While this one is a bit slower and more contemplative than the average book in the series, it suits the type of case they’re working with this time around, although ultimately it left the conclusion feeling a bit anticlimactic, wrapping up a little too quickly. However, it is still a fairly solid book, with plenty of great moments.

Review of “The Wedding Party” (The Wedding Date #3) by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. The Wedding Party. New York: Berkley Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984802194 | 352 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

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

I enjoyed Jasmine Guillory’s prior books, so I was incredibly excited to win an advance copy of The Wedding Party, even without really looking to see what it was about, beyond knowing it was Maddie and Theo’s story. The excitement was tempered slightly by the knowledge that not only was it enemies to lovers, but it was also a book that essentially starts with a one-night stand, which is one of my pet peeves in romance, as it rarely leads to a well-executed book overall.

But, for the most part, while I found the chapters with the initial one-night stand and follow-up encounter clunky in comparison to the rest of the book, especially with the time jumps before getting the “meat” of the story, once it gets there, it picks up and I feel like that’s when it really starts to work and show what compelling characters Theo and Maddie are, and the underlying feelings they have for each other, that they continue to be in denial about, a trend I have a love-hate relationship with over the course of the series so far.

But it does lend itself to some adorable moments, both humorous and heartwarming, like the time when Alexa almost walked in them, so Theo hid in Maddie’s kitchen (naked, I might add) and, out of boredom, alphapbetized her spice rack, or when he comforts her when she gets teary-eyed over an emotional episode of Say Yes to the Dress…and, in one of the pivotal moments of their relationship development, she takes care of him after he’s attacked.

However, this denial of their feelings in spite evidence to the contrary and the pretense of a casual nature to their relationship almost throughout leads to almost an echo of the Big Misunderstanding that plagued The Wedding Date, made even worse due to the initial setup that they seem to hate each other. As much as I love Jasmine Guillory’s writing style, I kind of wish her characters wouldn’t all enter into casual relationships, then get burned due to one partner’s perception of the other’s lack of commitment beyond the physical aspects, or at the very least have solid, non-cliche reasons for not wanting commitment, which is one of the things that made this setup work better in The Proposal.

On the whole, this was a mishmash of some tropes I don’t really like that were executed in a way that did not endear me to them, but redeemed slightly by the sweet moments in the middle. I think it’s still worth taking a chance on if you loved the previous books and don’t mind some of the tropes I mentioned, as the characters themselves are the best part of the book overall and that aspect alone means I’m glad to have read it. It just wasn’t entirely for me.

Review of “Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon” (The Embraced #3) by Kerrelyn Sparks

Sparks, Kerrelyn. Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250108258 | 429 pages | Paranormal/Fantasy Romance

4 stars

Given the news that came out not too long ago about the change in publisher for the remainder of the Embraced series and the resulting delay in release till early 2020, I’m glad my habit of delaying books led me to put off reading Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon until now, just a tad bit closer to release date, although upon finishing, I now find myself unable to wait to return to the world of the series again, and can’t wait for it to be February already.

Because this book, like the prior books in the series, is nothing short of charming. There are some predictable plot elements, but they are executed in such a fun way, that I don’t mind that much. The only one that really bothered me was that Gwennore took that long to figure out who the dragon was. I mean, the promotional material makes it pretty obvious to readers, but given that she can communicate telepathically with the dragon, wouldn’t his voice give it away?

The romance also didn’t feel as compelling this time around, with it definitely being a case of insta-love, but I did find enjoy the characters on their own, particularly Silas. I loved getting a peek into his motivations as his secret connection to everything going on was slowly revealed, and he is one of those protective alpha males who I actually found easy to root for.fAnd Gwennore, in spite of the aforementioned faults(?), was a great heroine, as I enjoyed seeing how she came to develop the strength to help the people of Norveshka with her gifts, as well as learning the secrets of her origins.

This is a delightfully fun paranormal/fantasy romance, and as I said before, I can’t wait for more. I would recommend this to fans of paranormal (especially shifter) and/or fantasy romance.

Colorblind Casting, Racism, and “Historical Accuracy”: Unpacking the Bridgerton Casting “Controversy”

Last week, casting news for  The Little Mermaid live-action remake began making waves (hehe) on the Internet, and it was followed up this week by the casting announcement for Shonda Rhimes Bridgerton  Netflix series. And while both pieces of news had me excited, due to Little Mermaid being my childhood favorite and the Bridgertons being my all-time favorite historical romance series…other people weren’t so happy. And setting aside the understandable reservations that some have about the casting of the Bridgertons series, such as the implied changes and new characters, many of the worst comments shared a similar theme with The Little Mermaid’s casting reactions in being focused on the race of some of the actors. 

Among the cast, we have Regé-Jean Page playing Simon and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, those being the choices that have been the targets of the biggest race-related comments, due to the characters’ prominence in the book series. 

Most, like with the Ariel comments, chose to make it about “historical accuracy,” accusing Shonda of “changing [history] to fit her narrative,” with others questioning why the change was done when Julia Quinn did not make them POC in the first place, pulling the “create original stories” card, which are very familiar to anyone who was following the insanity from the Ariel casting last week. 

` And I just find it laughable and sickening at the same time. Laughable because historical accuracy is their excuse, but neither Disney nor JQ are necessarily known for their strict adherence to historical accuracy. And it’s even funny for historical romance readers to cry about that stuff, because they’re totally fine with thousands of young, virile dukes (a complete fiction), not to mention some of the anachronistic shenanigans of historical romance books, but an aristocratic historical romance hero (or heroine)  portrayed as a person of color? Pitchforks! 

Also, I’ve seen the claim touted that if black people existed at all during the Regency, they were servants or slaves. Vanessa Riley (and many serious historians) would beg to differ, having written a number of books set in the period, with black people in different walks of life, from servant to aristocrat, and featuring a wealth of information about Black people in the Regency on her website. 

For the most part, it all goes back to colorblind casting and each of the people chosen being who they felt captured the spirit of the role. The main  defense given for Halle Bailey as Ariel is her killer pipes, and I have to agree, especially given the fact that some people’s ideal casting choices don’t come close to hitting her range vocally. And while I’m not familiar with any of the cast for the Bridgertons series, I don’t think it’s out of character for Shonda Rhimes, who has produced diverse series like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, to cast people of color here either, and am open to giving all of the cast a chance to prove what they can do, instead of passing judgment prematurely. 

But regardless of who’s in charge, it’s just disheartening to see so much hatred over the casting of fictional characters, especially since the accusations are the same every time (like, legitimately, I heard the same things come up in response to both Ariel and the Bridgertons, and every other colorblind re-casting)? Becoming “too PC?” Heard that one before. “Black people should make their own show?” What do you think they’ve been trying to do for decades? “Not historically accurate?” See above. 

It’s sad that we still have people who hold these antiquated beliefs in 2019. I understand having a love for a childhood classic film or a beloved book series, and dreading changes when a remake or new adaptation comes around. But that’s no reason to be hateful and exclusionary to others, especially to entire groups of people who have put up with decades of not being represented in media, due to systemic barriers in their way.

Review of “The Rogue of Fifth Avenue” (Uptown Girls #1) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062906816 | 382 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue just might be one of my favorite Joanna Shupe books. A large part of it is the compelling hero, Frank Tripp, who was a supporting character in Shupe’s previous series, the Four Hundred, inspiring many readers to demand for his book.

And she definitely delivered, fleshing him out in a beautiful way. I’m a sucker for a self-made hero, and I love the conflict that is explored through his wanting to fit in with the upper crust and in the process losing a bit of his past, then spending the book working to find it again. In an era rife with self-made men, like Andrew Carnegie (who is name-dropped in this book, of course), it seemed like a beautiful and appropriate journey for him to go on.

I also love how he’s complemented in the characterization of Mamie, a society woman who values helping the less fortunate. It’s kind of an interesting twist on the class dynamic, to have someone who comes from privilege with more awareness of the world, and someone who came from nothing having to re-attune himself to it.

Also, the banter between them is on point, and I think I finally grasp the meaning of a sensual scene that doesn’t involve sexual acts now that I’ve read that amazing billiard scene (granted, it is a lead-in for some sexy times).

This is a beautiful Gilded Age-set romance and Joanna Shupe at (arguably) her best. I would definitely recommend to other historical romance fans and Gilded Age fans.

Review of “Dragonshadow” (Heartstone #2) by Elle Katharine White

White, Elle Katharine. Dragonshadow. New York: Harper Voyager, 2018.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062747969 | 383 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

A direct sequel to what seems like an already-concluded story can be risky, especially if that story is inspired by Pride and Prejudice, which itself has some hit-or-miss sequels. But it appears that Elle Katharine White has managed it, and while the plot itself isn’t necessarily the most engaging now that she isn’t sticking to the frame of Austen’s narrative, there are still things to love about Dragonshadow.

The main thing I enjoyed is seeing more of the world White created, which was one of the standout features of Heartstone. While dragons still feature prominently, I loved getting a wider sense of the scope, including the other creatures, and while many will be familiar to fantasy readers, like trolls and merpeople, they are included in such a fun and unique way.

I also really liked White’s perspective on Aliza and Daired after they’ve gotten together, and how, even though they did come to terms with some of the issues keeping them apart in the prior book, there are still hurdles they are negotiating, especially as Aliza is attempting to adjust to her new role as a Dragonrider’s wife, and him wanting to shield her from it, while she’s determined to be a part of it.

I think fans of the first book who are interested in seeing more of the world and how the major characters progress from the first book will enjoy this one, and would recommend they do so, in spite of any preconceived notions.

Review of “That Churchill Woman” by Stephanie Barron

Barron, Stephanie.dind That Churchill Woman. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524799564 | 387 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I picked up That Churchill Woman in my continued pursuit of more books about the Gilded Age and the “Dollar Princesses,” and was also intrigued at the connection to Winston Churchill, who I had heard about in connection to British history, especially World War II, but didn’t know much about beyond that.

While Jennie is by no means a woman with a perfect reputation, engaging in affairs with other men in high places, including with an Austrian nobleman, Charles Kinsky, she also had an awareness of what was considered acceptable at the time in society, supporting her husband’s political ambitions and staying with him in spite of any setbacks. And while Winston himself doesn’t play a major role, given that at the time the story is set, he is still growing up and getting his education, by the end of the book, it is wonderful to see that not only is he about to follow in his father’s footsteps by going into politics (which of course he does), but Jennie is prepared to support him in the same way she supported her husband.

This is a rich historical novel about a remarkable woman who I think should be discussed more in the context of Winston Churchill’s life and work. And it is definitely a treat I would recommend to other fans of historical fiction.

Review of “The Look of Love” (The Sullivans/San Francisco Sullivans #1) by Bella Andre

Andre, Bella. The Look of Love. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin MIRA, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778315568 | 379 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I received The Look of Love and several other of the Harlequin editions of the Bella Andre’s Sullivans books as part of a haul of books from a friend who was moving recently. And despite not knowing much about Bella Andre, I was intrigued, especially since the setup sounded a bit like a contemporary equivalent to Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, at least in the sense of the broad setup.

And as a whole, this is a delightful start to the series, introducing or at least mentioning all of the family members, while also not taking away the spotlight from the couple of this book, Chase and Chloe, who are such well-written, compelling characters. I should warn some people that there are some moments that may feel a bit info-dump-y, sorting out who each sibling is, how old they are, and what each of them does for a living, but I quite liked this, as with such a large family, I knew I would need to make a “cheat sheet” of sorts to keep everyone straight.

While Bella Andre definitely writes alpha heroes, she writes the sort that are more protective rather than overbearing, which suits the dynamic here to a tee. Almost from page one, Chase was endearing to me, with the care he showed toward Chloe and the amount of love he clearly expressed toward his family. While he doesn’t categorize himself as a saint, and he (like all his brothers) definitely has a playboy past which comes into play in subtle ways in this one, I liked that he felt like a normal person that I would like to spend time with in real life, thus making it easier to fall in love with him as Chloe did (and him being more forward with his feelings when she was unsure doesn’t hurt either!)

Chloe is also a great character, and I love how Andre delved into the nuances of what it feels like to have been in an abusive relationship in a believable way. While her reluctance to fully commit may be an issue for some, I found it worked within the context of her situation.

This is a great introductory book by an author I’m so excited to have discovered, and I will definitely be reading more from her in the near future. I recommend this to others who love a great family-oriented romance series.

Review of “Shadow of the Fox” (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Kagawa, Julie. Shadow of the Fox. Toronto, Ontario: HarlequinTeen, 2018.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335145161 | 409 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Shadow of the Fox was recommended to me a while back, but I never got around to it at the time, and finally decided to give a go. My conclusion is that, while it does suffer from some structural and personal preference things that do lead me to mark it down a bit, it is a fairly solid story.

I felt incredibly silly once I got several chapters into this book, and realized that not only was there the occasional chapter from a secondary character, Suki (written in third person), but there were also two first person narrators, Yumeko and Tatsumi. I partly blame myself for being dense and not noticing, especially in the initial chapters, but it’s just something I find super jarring, particularly when there’s no indicator the narrator changes at the beginning of the chapter, and while it does follow a reasonably predictable rhythm that I picked up on after a while, it was annoying to have to figure out who was who, and only knowing for sure once they were together and each referred to the other person consistently. Your mileage may vary on this, but I’m going to b e the dissenting voice and say that, especially if Suki grows more important in future books, this could easily have been written entirely in third person, to make it less confusing. Or chapter headers could have also helped. Granted, other people seem to have no issue with this style, so it could just be me.

The characters themselves, once I got over that problem, were intriguing to me, with the occasional glimpses of Suki and her plight serving an awful mistress being something I’m hoping we get more of in the next two books. And while initially Yumeko and Tatsumi fall into familiar cliches, those being the naive damsel and the emotionally closed-off hero, they both still had depth that made them feel real beyond that, and I think Yumeko is one of those heroines who, despite not being super kickass like some of the other YA heroines of late, actually does try her best in her own way, and ends up making an impact.

I also love how Kagawa infused her world with Japanese influences, with it being most obvious in part one’s world building, although it continues throughout the book. It feels so rich with lore, and I felt like I learned a lot about aspects of my heritage that I didn’t really know about before (or care to seek out through other means).

This is a solid, if slightly predictable, YA fantasy, although that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable for what it is. And I would definitely recommend it to other fans, with the warning about the weird narrative choices to those like me who aren’t huge fans of it.

Review of “Ayesha at Last” by Uzma Jalaluddin

Jalaluddin, Uzma. Ayesha at Last. 2018. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984802798 | 351 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Ayesha at Last is yet another Pride and Prejudice retelling published in 2019, but it is by far my favorite of the three, with both its subtle take on the Austen classic and the way it chooses to handle the issues it does, including arranged marriage, workplace discrimination, and characters defining their identity within a Muslim community in Toronto.

I love that this take allowed for a fresh and unique conflict between the two main characters, and one that led to me learn a lot more about Muslims and the differences in their belief systems that exist. And I found it interesting the way Jalaluddin played with reader expectations, having Khalid, the one raised in Toronto, being more conservative and adopting the very traditional look for the majority of the novel, as well as believing his mother knows what is best, including in marriage, while Ayesha, who lived in India before immigrating following her father’s death, is also religious, but has more progressive ideas, including about marriage.

And while the Elizabeth/Darcy parallels are there, what with them clashing, yet having feelings for each other, and especially that memorable awkward proposal scene (fixed with an adorable letter!), this is one of the ways in which Jalaluddin makes the characters and their relationship truly her own, and I love that.

The other characters also were incredibly fun, the villains being the exception to this, and I like how there was just as much focus on the importance of family in spite of everything as there was on the relationship. I did really want more Zareena, as the hints given about how she fell in love with Iqram were so beautiful, and he doesn’t even appear on the page? That’s a crime.

I really enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed the positive and nuanced perspective that it presents about Muslim and South Asian people/communities, especially when there isn’t a ton of other media (and definitely not many other romances) that are doing the same thing. I would recommend it to all rom-com fans, whether you’re familiar with Pride and Prejudice or not.

Review of “For the Duke’s Eyes Only” (School For Dukes #2) by Lenora Bell

Bell, Lenora. For the Duke’s Eyes Only. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062692498 | 368 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

For the Duke’s Eyes Only is yet another book that got sadly lost in my TBR over the past several months, and it’s really a shame, because Lenora Bell is one of the handful of authors in historical romance who continues to give me absolute pleasure. And it’s no different this time around, with her blend of the treasure hunting exploits of Indiana Jones with the espionage of James Bond.

India is an absolutely lovable, feisty heroine. I love her independence and daring, and she’s absolutely someone I’d love as a best friend. And while I wasn’t completely sure about Daniel at first, given that he seemed cut from a similar cloth from some other roguish dukes, it mostly being a cover notwithstanding, I really admired that the reason he chose the life he did was in an attempt to right the wrongs done to his father. And as much as I hate the trend of pairing a domineering duke with a heroine with a ton of spine, I do admit that this is a case where I feel the balance actually works, and I love that they have a dynamic that highlights how they’re equals in spite of any societal inequalities based on gender, a topic which is tackled wonderfully here.

This is yet further proof that Lenora Bell is a great author, and despite still being fairly new to the game, an author well worth reading. I would recommend her and this book especially to any historical romance fans who haven’t tried her yet.

Review of “Lost and Found Sisters” (Wildstone #1) by Jill Shalvis

Shalvis, Jill. Lost and Found Sisters. New York: William Morrow, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062448118 | 371 pages | Women’s Fiction

4 stars

I had never read Jill Shalvis before, but had heard good things about her as an author from many of my romance reader friends. Being a bit at a loss as to where to start and wanting to start with a slightly less daunting series, I picked up Lost and Found Sisters, the first in a series that represents her foray into Women’s Fiction territory. As such, I did not expect to get a full sense of how she crafts a romance, and I did not, given that it is the weakest part of this book, in my opinion. However, she did draw me in with a compelling story with relatable characters and a fun small-town setting.

As the title suggests, the relationship between newly discovered sisters is at the heart of the novel, and I felt their building relationship was conveyed beautifully. I love the way Quinn, who has recently faced the loss of the sister she grew up with, tries to reach out to Tilly, who is initially closed off. And while Tilly is troubled by her mother’s death, I loved seeing her walls come down and come to rely on Quinn and worry about her leaving.

And while I wasn’t the biggest fan of the romance, I didn’t mind Mick as a character, especially the greater sense of the community perspective he brought to Wildstone, the way he really loves his mom, and (of course!) his dog, Cooper, who definitely needed more page time.

This is a nice funny book that’s perfect for the idyllic, hot summer days, and one I would recommend to fans of small-town contemporaries, be they in contemporary romance or women’s fiction.

Review of “Thankless in Death” (In Death #37) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Thankless in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2014.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399164422 | 402 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Thankless in Death has a lot of elements we’ve seen before in the In Death series, including a psychopathic killer on a manhunt, but it is that very thing that made it one of the better ones for me. While some of the books tend to complicate the cases a bit with different technologies and fictional advancements, my favorites are the ones that delve into the traditional and timeless cold-blooded murder and the quest to find him.

It also shows off Robb/Roberts’ eerie talent of truly getting into the mind of a psycho once again, and as much as I loved seeing Eve and the gang trying to catch him, my favorite parts were the portions from his perspective, delving into the reasons he chose each of his victims, and how he felt they wronged him, something no rational person would let escalate to these heinous acts, even if someone upset them. I would love to pick Roberts’ brain on the writing of these scenes, as they are pure dark, morbid perfection.

Given that those violent moments, it’s a welcome relief to have them juxtaposed with scenes of a the lead-up to and the carrying-out of Thanksgiving dinner, with an absolutely beautiful final scene featuring recurring characters, like little orphaned Nixie and her new adoptive family, the DeBlasses. Given that these are among the characters over the course of the series who’ve faced monumental losses, it is heartwarming to see them focusing on the positive and being thankful for what they have, especially Nixie, who expresses her gratitude toward Eve in the sweetest way.

This is one of the installments that I really enjoyed for its balance of the gritty and the emotional, and its interweaving of a great, if somewhat cliche, message.

Review of “Some Like it Scandalous” (Gilded Age Girls’ Club #2) by Maya Rodale

Rodale, Maya. Some Like it Scandalous. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062838834 | 355 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

Some Like it Scandalous is just as much of a delight as the first book in the series, once again taking inspiration from a pioneering late 19th century American female entrepreneur, this time delving into the fascinating and radical world of cosmetics, and like with the discussions surrounding fashion in the prior book, I love how Rodale managed to discuss the historical attitudes toward them, especially since cosmetics have a much more sordid reputation historically, along with being linked often with vapidness, and highlight the truly revolutionary message of freedom behind the makeup industry.

Daisy is also an incredibly charming heroine, and one that I found easy to root for. It’s beautiful seeing how she became inspired to create some of her different subversive projects, from the original complexion balm, to the lip paint which we concocts later in the story. I also love the continued centrality of female empowerment and friendship as a major facet of the book, with a memorable scene in Delmonico’s, which, as implied in the author’s note, was inspired by the real trailblazers of the period doing something similar.

I wasn’t sure about Theo at first, given that his past included being a bully, so I could see it following in the trend of the growing subset of bully romances, and his present consisted of being a good-for-nothing playboy. However, I should not have doubted Rodale for a second where he was concerned, as not only does he show regret for his actions and come to Daisy’s defense against the others making fun of her, but he is one of the few who, once he begins to see things from her perspective, actually embraces it wholeheartedly, in contrast to both their parents, who are determined to hold onto their expectations for their respective offspring.

This is one of the few historical series that has really made me happy recently, and I can’t wait till next year (why can’t it come faster?) for the next one! I would recommend this to all historical romance fans.

Review of “Calculated in Death” (In Death #36) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Calculated in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399158827 | 386 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

Calculated in Death was another installment in the In Death series with a concept that did feel a little too…much…for me, what with the focus being on the accounting world. I think one of the best parts is that Roarke’s connections and expertise actually play a significant role in a way that I felt added to the story and made me enjoy it just a little bit more, instead of making me go, “Oh, here we go again,” like I often did, particularly in earlier installments when an all-too-convenient connection to the case came up.

I also didn’t feel like there was as much action that kept me invested, and the villain (and his minion) felt rather underwhelming in comparison to perps from prior books.

And in spite of the case going over my head to some extent, the characters are true to form like always, with a consistent blend of badassery and banter. And I like that as she introduces new supporting characters, she doesn’t forget about them, which is the case this time with the reappearance of actress Marlo Durn from Celebrity in Death, and the preparation for the gang to attend the premiere of the movie being filmed in that book.

While this is another slightly underwhelming entry, it still has the hallmarks that make the series as a whole work.

Review of “The Library of Lost and Found” by Phaedra Patrick

Patrick, Phaedra. The Library of Lost and Found. Toronto, Ontario: Park Row Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778369356 | 348 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

The Library of Lost and Found was another book I found on happenstance through looking through the library catalog for more books about librarians, so I was sold even before I knew what it was about. But once I actually picked it up and read the blurb, I was even more intrigued, a sentiment which compounded as the story unfolded.

I love the impact books and stories play within the narrative in connecting and reconnecting people, a phenomenon I experience daily, although not in quite the same way as explored in the book. And the little fairy stories interspersed throughout provide a sense of youth and wonder to an otherwise rather serious and emotional narrative, demonstrating that we’re never too ol for fairy tales.

One of the other central themes, however, was family, and the conflicts within it, and I love how each of the family members was so well-drawn and nuanced. I felt I related a lot to Martha in the sense that she kind of tries to keep her head down, even though she is a bit overworked and underpaid, and you can kind of see why due to the glimpses of her domineering father, and how hurt she was when her grandmother Zelda, who she was closer to, apparently died, especially as Zelda was (and is, when she resurfaces in the present narrative) so full of life. But I also love that there were portions that explored Martha’s parents’ marriage and what led to the estrangement, and further revelations suggesting that her father did have more substance and more of a connection to her than she originally thought.

This is a delightful comfort read, and one I would definitely recommend to other bibliophiles, as well as to other fans of heartfelt family-centric women’s fiction.

Review of “In the Shadow of Croft Towers” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. In the Shadow of Croft Towers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223665 | 324 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

I bought In the Shadow of Croft Towers on a whim after seeing an ad for it on Facebook, and looking to try another new Christian Regency author…although of course, it did inevitably end up sitting on my TBR shelf a bit longer than I am proud of, something which I now regret. Abigail Wilson crafts a strong Christian Regency mystery that could easily rival her read-alike authors, Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd (the latter of whom also provided a blurb for the book, describing it as “mysterious and wonderfully atmospheric…full of danger, intrigue, and secrets.”

And that pretty much sums up this book to a tee. Wilson perfectly captures the landscape of the mysterious Croft Towers, making it come to life as a character in its own right, rife with many secrets. And as the back cover blurb suggests, there is a sense of unease throughout, as I was left feeling incredibly unsure of who to trust as I (and Sybil) encountered them, although there were some I became attached to as she did, and began to root for. And while the villains have done bad things, I like that they aren’t cardboard cutout bad, and that there is a way to kind of see things from their perspective to an extent, even if their actions are morally wrong.

Sybil also has a great character arc that fits both with the context of the period and her circumstances and the conventions of the semi-Gothic narrative, starting more naive and then growing more brave over time as revelations are uncovered, and she’s faced with some pivotal choices.

This was an enjoyable debut historical, and I am excited to pick up her next one in just a few more days to see what she does next. And as I mentioned prior, I would recommend this to Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd fans looking for another solid read-alike, or to romantic Regency mystery fans.

Review of “Delusion in Death” (In Death #35) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Delusion in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399158810 | 388 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars (maybe light 4?)

I had somewhat mixed feelings about Delusion in Death. On the one hand, I think it’s great that Robb/Roberts isn’t afraid to try new things when it comes to crafting cases, and this time, with the introduction of a chemical weapon at the root of the killings, I could feel the sense that there were higher stakes with a greater number of lives lost and a weapon that can’t easily be diffused in a one-on-on situation.

On the other hand, I’ve found some of the books that got a little more technical with the methods and a little less…intimate…to be my least favorite when it comes to keeping me interested overall. The solving of the case was great as always, but this one ranks a bit lower on the scale for me due to my feelings on the case.

However, the characters remain great, and I really enjoyed the delving into Eve’s trauma in the aftermath of what went down in Dallas a couple books ago, particularly when it comes to the unresolved issues with her long estranged mother who failed to recognize her upon their confrontation. I truly felt for her, and think it’s wonderful that she has such great people like Roarke and Dr. Mira in her corner to provide emotional support, which they do at different points of this book.

While again not a favorite, I think it has just enough of the consistently good things that made me love the series that I feel like it’s still not getting old, even at almost three dozen books in.

Review of “The Memory House” by Rachel Hauck

Hauck, Rachel. The Memory House. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310250965 | 374 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction

5 stars

The Memory House is another poignant dual timeline novel from Rachel Hauck, and I loved the exploration of grief and the differing reactions to the tragic loss of a loved one explored through the interwoven narratives, whether it be memory loss or holding onto memories, both of which prevent the person from moving forward and growing.

And this is one of the rare times where I found the contemporary arc as compelling as the past one, if not more so. While I have not faced loss in the same way Beck has, I could empathize with her struggles and how her mind essentially shut out memories of that time due to her grief, and I found it poignant how this grief manifested in her present life, with her choosing a career as a police officer in the NYPD. I also loved how there were some parallels and contradictions with her childhood friend and love interest Bruno’s life, as he faces some discoveries about the fate of his own father.

It juxtaposes very well with Everleigh and Don’s story, and how she is holding onto the memory of her late husband, even as she’s developing feelings for someone else, and I also love the reveal of the blood ties between the two women, which is at the center of why Everleigh left the house to her, along with the deeper spiritual connection.

This a deeply emotional book, one that deals with the struggle to move on after a monumental loss. I would recommend it to readers of deep, introspective multi-generational novels.

Review of “His Majesty’s Dragon” (Temeraire #1) by Naomi Novik

Novik, Naomi. His Majesty’s Dragon. New York: Del Rey, 2006.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.50 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0345481283 | 356 pages | Historical Fantasy

5 stars

I had long heard good things about Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series, and with a combination of historical fiction (and set in the Regency period!) and fantasy elements sounded right up my alley. And it ended up being a nice fun read, with and engaging plot and characters, as well as being grounded enough in both the manners and politics of the Regency period while also adding an intriguing new element with the dragons.

I love the central relationship between Will Laurence and Temeraire, and how well they play off each other as this kind of serious naval officer whose life has been upended and this childish, and sometimes funny, young dragon.

I also like how well the lore around dragons is integrated into the world, especially with the exploration of certain dragons that only bond with women, and that leading to an exploration of the gender politics of the period to an extent, with them seen more as exceptions to the rule than as truly groundbreaking. And I also really enjoyed the inclusion of some excerpts from an in-universe text at the end, providing more context for the history of dragons, as well as further discussing different breeds.

This is a delightful book, and one that manages to seamlessly incorporate elements of both historical fiction and fantasy. I would recommend it to fans of either genre, and I would definitely recommend it to those who like blends of both (on the off chance you haven’t read it yet of course).

Review of “Celebrity in Death” (In Death #34) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Celebrity in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2012.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399158308 | 389 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Celebrity in Death is yet another fairly solid In Death book, although I did feel like the return to the standard formula did feel a bit jarring after the epicness of the prior book, in that it’s more or less a return to the predictable.

However, I still did like it conceptually, especially the setup surrounds a movie being filmed based on one of Eve’s prior cases, and the initial amusement surrounding meeting “themselves,” including the fact that Peabody’s actress is incredibly hostile…to put it nicely. And this did still lead to some fabulous moments of banter between the cast, especially with Eve and Peabody discussing how much of an awful person the Peabody actress is.

I also liked seeing more emotional moments, with Peabody and McNab getting some time to reaffirm their love for one another, as we see McNab panicked over seeing the corpse of fake Peabody, imagining the worst that could happen to the real one that he loves. And while I acknowledge along with them that they’re not ready to get married yet, I love seeing a rare example of the depth of their feelings for one another.

The case itself was interesting and had great twists as the case unfolded, even if it was one of the more by-the-numbers entries in the series, with whodunnit being fairly obvious…although observing Eve get down to the “how” and the “why” was entertaining.

I can’t really blame this book for being more of the same from the series, as it did have a big act to follow with New York to Dallas, and I still don’t know if anything in the series will be able to top it. However, by the standards of the series, it is still one of the better entries, even if it doesn’t rank among my absolute favorites.

Review of “Crown of Feathers” by Nicki Pau Preto

Pau Preto, Nicki. Crown of Feathers. New York: Simon Pulse, 2019.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534424623 | 486 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Crown of Feathers was one of several 2019 YA fantasy books on my radar due to the fact that it seemed to be doing things that set it apart from the crowd within its age range and subgenre, without feeling a bit too old to be YA (while also having enough going on that an adult reader would likely still be entertained by it). While the worldbuilding did lead to the book feeling a bit slow at times, once it picked up, I found myself engaged with the story.

I liked the focus on phoenixes, a creature I haven’t seen in a prominent fantasy release for any age group since the Harry Potter books. And the wider world building is also great. While it initially felt a little disjointed from the main story, I love how there were little hints of how everything fit together, culminating in the big reveal at the end.

Speaking of big reveals, I really enjoyed the centrality of the relationship between the two sisters, Veronyka and Val, and Val’s actions come between them, as well as how it plays into Val’s past. The insighting incident had me unsure what to think of Val, and how she would ever be redeemed, but by the end, I actually felt for her and really hope to see them reconcile in the sequel.

I found the two other characters a bit less engaging, but I think Tristan’s perspective did provide additional insight into the inner workings of the Phoenix Riders, and Sev’s did provide greater context for the world around them, which becomes more pivotal as the story goes on and the pieces begin to come together. And while I liked the friendship that developed between Tristan and Veronyka, and that while a romance is hinted at as a possibility, it’s not a huge (and usually somewhat problematic) world-ending passion that takes over the plot that has slowly come to annoy me in other YA fantasy titles, given how little variation there is between character archetypes, but rather one built on mutual respect.

This is a delightful YA fantasy debut that is doing a few fresh things within the genre. I think fans of fantasy who read YA will enjoy this for these things, and recommend that they check it out.

Review of “When You Are Near” (Brookstone Brides #1) by Tracie Peterson

Peterson, Tracie. When You Are Near. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764219023 | 311 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance

3 stars

I received a copy of When You Are Near in a Goodreads giveaway a while ago, and am just getting around to reading it to prepare to read book two, which recently came out. And while this is my first Tracie Peterson book, I’m reasonably impressed enough to read more from her.

The concept of this series as a whole is fun, surrounding a traveling Wild West Extravaganza with a cast of women performers. And I think it made the most of this concept, while also exploring the characters’ inner struggles, both with faith and and with life in general.

However, it does suffer from “first-in-series” syndrome, where it’s doing double duty of setting up the roles protagonists in future books will play, while also working to juggle that with the romance between Lizzy and Wesley (and by extension the love triangle including them and Jason). In fact, despite them appearing to be the focus on the book, I didn’t find either of them to be all that compelling. I found their respective struggles relatable enough on a surface level, but in comparison to Ella, who was dealing with a father and fiancee trying to force her into a marriage which is detestable to her and the fact that they might be up to some nefarious deeds, they paled by comparison.

But Ella’s storyline, and the connected mystery element were incredibly well-done, and I found the way it was resolved to be the most satisfying part of the book, even if the her father and fiancee are so cartoonishly irredeemable. And Mary, who is also somewhat connected to the mystery is one of my other favorite characters, giving me hope that there is some potential in continuing with the series.

This was a somewhat short, fun read, although I did feel like the length did it a disservice in terms of all the things it tried to accomplish. But I think it shows a lot of promise, and given what I’ve heard about Peterson’s standing as a respected and top selling Christian fiction author, I would recommend this to other fans of the genre who haven’t tried her work yet, as I feel (at leas at the moment) that this is a solid entry point, in spite of its shortcomings.

Review of “New York to Dallas” (In Death #33) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. New York to Dallas. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399157783 | 402 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

While I’ve often repeated that each of the In Death books that catches my fancy is my favorite, or at least one of my favorites, New York to Dallas is a serious contender for the crown of best of the series overall. And Eve is largely the reason for it. The complexities of her past have always been a facet to her character that surfaced now and then, but I liked that this one, transplanting much of the action to Dallas, really showed her grappling with the trauma of her childhood in a raw and real way.

The particular case also brings her into contact with her long estranged mother, and while her mother is a figure who hasn’t loomed quite as large in Eve’s past up to this point, at least not as much as her father, it’s incredibly emotional when this woman has no real connection to the daughter abandoned, to the point of not even recognizing her.

And while there have been a couple other In Death stories following a killer from one or another of the characters’ pasts, that added emotional resonance, along with the killer’s connection to Eve’s mother made it one of the most compelling cases yet.

And while the action moving to Dallas means there aren’t as many fun cast interactions, the way Roarke supports Eve in her vulnerable moments in this one continues to firmly cement my belief that, despite my minor gripes with him, which were more prominent in earlier books, that they truly are a solid match for each other.

I loved this book, due to the best character exploration of the series. And I once again enthusiastically recommend these books to pretty much everyone.

Review of “A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh” (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #1) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445897 | 316 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4 stars

A Hero for Miss Hatherleigh is a great start to Carolyn Miller’s latest Regency Brides sub-series. And while it’s not my favorite of Miller’s books, it has all the hallmarks of her work, including rich period detail and examination of deeper issues in a historical context.

Caroline and Gideon are both interesting characters. I really enjoyed the exploration of Gideon’s love and science and how he negotiated that alongside his faith, a topic which Miller noted she had in mind when working on the book. And while Caroline was a bit less interesting to me at first, I was somewhat moved by her spiritual growth.

One of my favorite aspects, however, was the subplot around Emma and domestic violence. It’s handled delicately although I did kind of want it to be resolved a bit differently to give her her own story sometime down the road with the person she ended up with, although I understand that it might not work with Miller’s series as outlined, and delaying it to the next one (if another spinoff is in the pipeline once this one finishes) might not work for other reasons.

This is a heartwarming Regency romance, and one that I would recommend to all Regency fans.

Review of “Stepsister” by Jennifer Donnelly

Donnelly, Jennifer. Stepsister. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1338268461 | 342 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

I was intrigued at the idea of a story from Cinderella’s stepsister’s perspective that seemed to subvert our expectations that we had from the original tale, in spite it following in a trend of rewriting fairy tales that has been constant for the last several years in various forms of media.

One of the things I appreciated was it went back to the roots of the original stories, combining elements of both the Perrault and Grimm versions, and also added some much-needed historical context to re-examine these characters and flesh them out, to understand the perceived importance of marriage for all the characters, before working to subverting it.

It was also an interesting choice to see Isabelle as the adventurous one, who didn’t really fit the mold of a proper lady, when some of the other progressive adaptations of Cinderella, like Ever After (which I do still love) paint the Cinderella character as the tomboy.

On that note, I really loved the exploration of Ella’s relationship with Isabelle and Octavia, and how things ended up not being a one-sided jealousy after all. While it is a bit cliche, it was nice to see that Ella is flawed and prone to jealousy too, in spite of her outward beauty and appearance to have it all physically, and this complemented Isabelle’s own journey going from wanting to be pretty to finding out what really matters to her.

This is a wonderful retelling that expands and reworks elements of Cinderella in just the right ways. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Treachery in Death” (In Death #32) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Treachery in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2011.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399157035 | 375 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Treachery in Death is a great entry in the In Death series, due to it featuring one of my favorite elements that has recurred on occasion in prior books: a dirty cop. But I love that this dirty cop is very much a match for Eve in nearly every way, leading to one of the most epic climactic showdowns I can remember throughout my read through of the series thus far.

I also liked seeing a bit more of Peabody in a primary role early on with the initial minor case before the real intrigue begins. It’s wonderful to see her growth over the course of the last thirty-plus books, and while it does feel like the growth is a little limited at times for this group of characters, it’s nice to see her getting a bit more to do.

There’s not much else to say that I don’t keep saying in all of these reviews, that it feels rather redundant. Eve and Roarke’s development remains pretty solid, and I love the emotional support of the rest of the cast toward Eve, and Eve toward them. However, I will keep on raving about this series either until I’ve caught up and/or until I finally lose steam with these books (which I pray does not happen, because these books are amazing and anyone who hasn’t read them should read them).

Review of “The Unhoneymooners” by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. The Unhoneymooners. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501128035 | 400 pages | Contemporary Romance

3.5 stars

The Unhoneymooners is the weakest of the Christina Lauren stand-alone rom-coms, to the point where I had incredibly mixed feelings. On the one hand, it does have some of their signature elements, the primary one being the banter between the hero and heroine that kept me amused as I watched them fall in love.

And on the whole, the characters were pretty solid. Olive is incredibly relatable, what with her feelings of imperfection in spite of her accomplishments, and I feel like it wasn’t helped by some of the issues going on around her, which I will get into in a bit. I wasn’t too sure about Ethan at first, especially given that it was meant to be an enemies-to-lovers romance, but I was quickly won over by his good qualities, although he does have a fatal flaw which I will also get into momentarily that I’m not 100% over. But it’s nice to continue to see nice solid normal men in Chistina Lauren books, and ones with fun quirks, like Ethan’s fear of flying, which is quite ironic in this scenario.

And I did really enjoy their description of the setting. I was a bit nervous when I heard it was set in Hawaii, although mildly assuaged when I saw it was set on Maui. And while it is from a tourist’s perspective, with the view of it being a paradise and vacation away from real life, I did feel like the environment described more or less rang true.

Now for my issues with the book: I was unprepared for so much familial dysfunction, some of it resolved to my liking, some of it feeling a little too neatly resolved. I did appreciate that, once everyone else knew what a scumbag Dane was, he was cut out of all their lives, but I feel like the boiling point for Olive’s relationship with her twin Ami was only a small indicator of larger issues, and while she did grow into a better person over the course of the story to the point of these flaws Ami pointed out in the heat of the moment feeling somewhat resolved, I did feel like Olive forgave her a bit too easily, given her prior feelings of inadequacy.

I still feel like this is worth the read for the high points, but the low points resulted in the dampening of my enjoyment somewhat. However, given those high points, I still recommend this to any diehard CLo readers who haven’t gotten to this yet or to fans of rom-coms, in hopes that you might have a more positive experience than I did.

Review of “The Summer Country” by Lauren Willig

Willig, Lauren. The Summer Country. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062839022 | 464 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

Lauren Willig has always been one of my favorite authors when it comes to dual-timeline novels, and one of the few who consistently does them right. And The Summer Country is another winner in that regard. With two distinct, well-drawn and interconnected arcs that lead into each other so well that you never feel like you are left hanging in either, and compelling characters on both sides, I found myself initially confused as to how it would all fit together, only to find myself floored as I finished and it all came together in such a beautiful way.

One of the highlights of the 1810s story arc for me was the exploration of slavery and race relations, a topic which Willig definitely seems to have done a lot of research on, if her author’s note is any indication, along with providing some interesting research books for further reading. Given that I expressed interest recent scholarship surrounding the analysis of master-slave relationships in a previous review, I was impressed both to see Willig to depict it so sensitively in Charles and Jenny’s relationship, the consequences of it, and the lengths they went to to keep their own offspring from being born into slavery and discuss her inspiration for their relationship as well as addressing the doubt as to whether the relationship was one of love or “whether she merely submitted to him” (450) It adds a lot of necessary nuance to the conversation surrounding race relations in this regard.

I don’t have as strong sentiments to express about the 1854 arc. I felt Emily was an interesting enough character to follow, but given the nature of the book’s structure, the standout elements for me were seeing if I could figure out how the two arcs were connected, and it fulfilled that incredibly well.

This is a compelling historical fiction read that kept me entertained and guessing as to how it all fit together. I would recommend it to other historical fans, especially those who love multi-timeline stories.

Review of “The Affair of the Mysterious Letter” by Alexis Hall

Hall, Alexis. The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. New York: Ace, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0440001331 | 352 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

I received an ARC of this book through a Goodreads giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

I was so excited to win a copy of The Affair of the Mysterious Letter, especially since at the time I originally found out I won, I was still coming down from the high of the awesomeness of one of the author’s other books, For Real, and was curious to see what Alexis Hall could bring to the fantasy genre.

And I think the results are great. I love both the fun LGBTQ twist on Sherlock Holmes (although I admit I have not actually read the original novels) and the pastiche of the 19th century writing style. While the narrative relies heavily on exposition and telling as opposed showing in a lot of places and there is a lot of purposeful in-narrative editing and censoring, I felt it worked for the style he was going for, although I can see why it may bother some people.

Wyndham (the Watson of this novel) is an incredibly charming narrator, and incredibly deadpan at time, which serves as a great balance to the somewhat bizarre events and world building that happen. I’m not always the biggest fan of books that feel this absurd in terms of its world, one of the reasons I haven’t read that much steampunk, but I could not help but be charmed by it due to the incredibly humorous delivery.

In spite of my lack of real knowledge of the original Holmes stories, I knew enough that the mystery grew to feel more and more in the vein of something I would expect from a Sherlock-inspired story given what I did know, right down to the use of deductive logic to figure out the culprit. That element was so cleverly done, and while it was pretty obvious in hindsight given the evidence presented, Hall employed clever use of misdirection to imply otherwise.

This is a fun take on Sherlock Holmes and the classic “episodic” novel with a fantasy twist that I think most fans who love both historical fiction and the classics as well as fantasy will adore.

Review of “A Duke in Disguise” (Regency Impostors #2) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. A Duke in Disguise. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062821614 | 291 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Cat Sebastian strikes again, returning to form with another solid read with A Duke in Disguise, after the near-miss of her last release, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. And admittedly, a lot of it has to do with the heroine, Verity, one of the most personally compelling Sebastian characters I’ve read about to date. She was a nice surprise, and hearing about her being bisexual in some of the promotional material led me to go from “maybe I’ll check it out if I like Unmasked by the Marquess” to “OMG, I’m so excited to finally see more bi rep, especially in the context of the fact that ending up with someone of the opposite sex not erasing the fact that this person is bi.”

And it completely blew away my expectations in my regard. I feel like there’s such different expectations for queer women than there are for queer men in socially conscious historicals, because of the fact that men were more frequently criminalized in those days. Still, it’s so fascinating to see someone who isn’t confused about who she is or who she’s attracted to, even to the point of assuming everyone else feels the same way, but just goes with the opposite sex due to societal pressure. And it’s great that Verity is a woman with a sexual past, making her stand out from the flock of virginal heroines, and her past lover is someone that readers of UbtM will recognize (although there are no connections to that book other than that, so this is for all intents and purposes a standalone).

Another factor in my adoring the book is the friends-to-lovers dynamic, and how it’s shaken up by Ash’s discoveries about his origins. Ash is one of those heroes I love, who is incredibly sweet, and I loved the genuine bond that he and Verity share, and I genuinely felt for them when it seemed impossible for them to be together without there being some consequences.

The book also feels like one of the most “historical” of Sebastian’s books, if that makes any sense, dealing with topics of the day that would be relevant to the characters like the gothic novel craze and issues surrounding equal rights. It’s so refreshing to read a historical romance that is well-grounded in its era and aims to provide the reader with some enlightenment, as well as provide an escape, as the former is becoming all to rare these days.

I do have some minor quibbles with the climax and the way the villain was built up to not be much of a threat in the end. It all wrapped up a little too quickly, and I felt he had been built up too much to just go out without really having some kind of final showdown with Ash.

Otherwise, this was a great book, and a great blend of discussing more complex issues in the context of a sweet and gripping romance. I would recommend this to fans of a more unique take on historical romance.

Review of “Indulgence in Death” (In Death #31) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Indulgence in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399156878 | 373 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Indulgence in Death provides something of a divergence from the typical whodunnit formula, something that has only been done once or twice before in the series, but it provides a nice breath of fresh air this time around. And despite the shakeup, there was still no shortage of Eve and the gang crime solving and butt kicking, so it’s still a solid installment overall.

But once again, the character relationships are what make each story memorable and what leaves me eager to pick up the next installment (even at the risk of running out of books before the next release). It’s great to see Eve and Roarke continue to both work together and be in marital and social situations together, the latter of which, of course leads to many laughs on my part.

Speaking of laughs, this one continued the trend from the last book of having great dirty jokes. A particularly memorable exchange revolving around the double meaning of the word “cock” had me rolling.

This installment is another great one for the series, with all the elements that make it great out in full force.

Review of “The Bride of Ivy Green” (Tales from Ivy Hill #3) by Julie Klassen

Klassen, Julie. The Bride of Ivy Green. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764218170 | 444 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

Sometimes you just need a comfort read, and this was one of those times, with some stressful real life stuff going on, and feeling agitated with some of the other things I attempted to pick up for various reasons. So, I finally decided to soak into Julie Klassen’s most recent book and the conclusion of her Tales from Ivy Hill series, The Bride of Ivy Green.

And I received just the comfort and escape I craved. Despite it being over a year since I’ve spent time with these characters and I did find myself a bit fuzzy on some of the details of the last two books, I quickly was able to engross myself in their lives again. And I remembered why I looked forward to this one, because Mercy was a character I had rooted for since the beginning, and I was excited to see how she would overcome some of the obstacles in her way.

And she did so beautifully, especially in the face of an incredibly antagonistic sister-in-law, who along with her brother, played a major role in destroying the livelihood she had been so proud of in the last two books. And to see her become fulfilled again not just professionally, but also romantically was beautiful.

And Klassen once again crafts a love triangle that is so endearing in the fact that the characters are all such good people, or if they have made mistakes in the past, are working to atone for them. As with the prior books in the series, I had a feeling about who I wanted Mercy to end up with, but I could also see the merits in her other love interest as well.

And I loved the focus on reunited families in this book as well. Jane, for one, is on the verge of marrying Gabriel Locke, when she is reunited with her father, and it was great to see how things played out with the secrets of his other life coming out. And given his involvement in India and having formed a whole other life there, I appreciated that Klassen did her research, and wrote what (to my perspective at least) feels like well-rounded portrayals of Indian people and the complex relationship they had with England at the time.

There was also another instance of reunited family which was foreshadowed from the first book, coming to fruition with a story arc around a new arrival in Ivy Hill. I enjoyed seeing it play out, trying to figure out this newcomer’s connection to it all, although admittedly I would have figured it out a little faster if I had more recently read the other books and had the other puzzle pieces fresh in my mind.

This was a great conclusion to the series, concluding all the most relevant plot threads, but still leaving me feeling sad to leave them behind. And it definitely filled the void I was feeling for something that was heartwarming, but also featured a dash of intrigue. I would enthusiastically recommend this to other Regency and period piece fans, especially if you happy to love some of the works Klassen has compared this to, like Cranford,. Larkrise to Candleford, or Thrush Green.

Review of “Fantasy in Death” (In Death #30) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Fantasy in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2010.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399156243 | 356 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Fantasy in Death is a particularly interesting one, due to the video game component, leading to some fun moments in discussions about both tech and nerd culture.

This case was a bit hard to fully invest in at times, mostly due to not really caring about the video game industry beyond the more obvious references, but one of the things that I actually appreciated for once in the series was how Roarke’s connection to it all worked in terms of the overall arc of the story. It led to some real stakes toward the end, and I for once wasn’t like, “Oh here we go, of course he knows everyone.”

Plus, while I may be a bit of a broken record in this regard, I continue to love the great banter between the characters, and there are always such memorable little exchanges that get a chuckle out of me, like Eve and Peabody discussing penises at one point and whether it gets tired xD

My love for this series definitely endures as I continue on to the next book, and I will continue to parrot my recommendation of these to anyone who loves a great romantic suspense story.

Review of “An Unconditional Freedom” (Loyal League #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. An Unconditonal Freedom. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Paperback | $15.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496707482 | 270 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

Alyssa Cole concludes her Loyal Leagues series as strongly as she began it with An Unconditonal Freedom. And from a personal standpoint, I find this one to be my favorite of the series, due to the personal growth of both hero and heroine.

Daniel intrigued me from his initial appearance in book one, and I was moved by the exploration of his trauma of being sold into slavery and vengeance motivating his actions. Cole also demonstrates the poignant parallels between the dark experiences of slaves in this era and the modern day crimes against African Americans which she spoke about as influences in her author’s note.

As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for writing a heroine with such an interesting conflict. Amid a lot of the recent discourse about historical slave/master “relationships” (like that of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings), it’s fascinating to have a story that looks at the complex experience of a child of such a union, being brainwashed to believe that slavery for others is right and that she and her mother are the exception (while also experiencing a phenomenon of not truly belonging), then progressing through her experiences working with the Loyal League.

Cole’s historical research is on point as always, and I came away from this book intrigued at the role Europe played in the Civil War. It is usually talked about as purely a conflict that impacted the U.S., so it was cool to see it in context of the wider world as well.

This conclusion to the series is, in short, absolutely wonderful. I would recommend it to any fan of historical romances rich in both historical research and a message that resonates today.

Review of “Carnegie’s Maid” by Marie Benedict

Benedict, Marie. Carnegie’s Maid. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2018.

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492646617 | 281 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Carnegie’s Maid caught my attention almost immediately, although I admit I took a while to actually pick it up, given I had only a passing interest in Andrew Carnegie as a major financial supporter of libraries, and perhaps a vague idea of him as a Gilded Age and early 20th century industrialist. However, again seeking more books set in this time period, I decided to finally give it a go.

I was intrigued by Benedict’s approach to Carnegie as a character, as it really showed a juxtaposition of his humble origins (which I wasn’t aware of beforehand) and his lofty ambitions. While it’s something I had seen before in some of the other novels I had read, I loved seeing the way the seeds were sown for him to go from being just another rags-to-riches snob to someone who actually reflects on his origins and works to fund resources to help immigrants coming to America for a better life.

But Clara is definitely the star of the book, and I love how her situation as an immigrant herself draws on more than just being a fictional character who spends most of the book in the sphere of Carnegie and his family, but also looks at the day-to-day existence of many immigrant women during the period. Benedict’s remarks on the personal connection she drew on in her own family history to create Clara was wonderful.

And while it’s only briefly touched on at the end, it’s wonderful to see a woman like Clara find success that doesn’t necessarily involve marriage and the domestic sphere, and also alluding to the role that Carnegie Libraries played in helping provide other immigrants (and the general public overall) with access to education, a legacy which continues today.

This is a wonderful book that highlights the poignant story of coming to America and working to better oneself. I would recommend this to anyone who loves a great historical fiction story.

Review of “Promises In Death” (In Death #28) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Promises in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2009.

Hardcover | $26.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-399155482 | 342 pages | Romantic Suspense

4.5  stars

Promises in Death delivers one of my favorite types of plots in the In Death series: the sort where the case gets a bit personal, especially when it’s one of their own being taken down, along with the fact that said officer also happened to be pursuing a relationship with recurring character ME Morris at the time.

It’s great when a case allows you to see a bit more of a vulnerable side of a supporting character seen primarily in a professional capacity in prior books. Morris is such a great character that I feel is a bit underrated, so it was great to see him get the spotlight and see how the death impacted him emotionally.

The reveal of the culprit itself was a bit more sad than shocking, especially given it is one of those cases where there is puppet-master revealed earlier on, and then the minion and her tragic circumstances revealed toward the end.

I was glad to see there was still time for some fun hijinks among the extended cast as well, what with Charles and Louise prepping to get married, and Louise having her bridal shower. It presents such great opportunities for awkwardness and humor with Eve as the reluctant host. And Drunk Peabody! But the best part has to be how Eve wanted to go with Roarke to Vegas when he was going with the guys…that led to a hilarious exchange.

This installment was an absolute delight, and I continue to look forward to coninuing. I also will continue to recommend these books to anyone who loves a good mystery with a strong romantic arc (or several).

Review of “The Lady Hellion” (Wicked Deceptions #3) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Lady Hellion. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2015.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420135565 | 338 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

Joanna Shupe is an author I admired for her choice to go in a different direction with her Gilded Age romances, but I waited a while to get into her first series set in the Regency for a couple reasons, the chief one being the way some reviewers described the heroes of books one and two made them seem less than flattering, so therefore, even this book, which sounded promising, ended up falling by the wayside due to my determination to rarely read out of order. However, in my search for exciting historicals to read, I finally picked up The Lady Hellion, and feel happy that I did so.

It definitely has a bit of an odd premise, even in the context of my limited understanding of the series pitch as a whole. But it’s one of those books that seems improbable, yet charming. I loved seeing Sophie’s dedication to helping the poor, with a special interest in the prostitutes in a brothel, especially as misfortune begins befalling them. It was fun to see a heroine wearing trousers who could shoot a gun, but also had insecurities and vulnerabilities from her past that get explored in the most beautiful and heartbreaking way.

However, Quint was the real draw for me, as he was pitched in some of the reviews I’ve read as dealing with some sort of anxiety disorder, which I always find fascinating to see translated into a historical context, before more correct medical terms were assigned to different psychological conditions. He’s a recluse often characterized as being insane, and I could identify with his fears regarding the possibility that he would go mad in a similar manner to his father, especially given that he was a witness to his father’s descent into madness.

And the relationship between the two is just beautiful, hitting all the elements I love in a romance, and more. I love that they had this history of friendship that turned to love, and that I truly felt there were obstacles in the way of their happiness that they had to work through together. And one of the things that I’ve really grown to appreciate recently was the sex positivity. It’s not something that is completely alien to the historical romance genre where a woman has been violated sexually or betrayed following the act itself (as was the case here), but I loved having Quint show Sophie that she is desirable to a man for more than her virtue, and that she is allowed to feel passion.

This book was a wonderful read that has a lot of heart, yet doesn’t feel overly intense, and has lovely characters at the forefront. It’s definitely a book that any historical romance fans should consider picking it up if they have not already.

Review of “Markswoman” (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra

Mehrotra, Rati. Markswoman. New York: Harper Voyager, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062564542 | 368 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Markswoman has a great premise and setup. I did feel like the pacing and plot did kind of waver here and there, and the conclusion did not feel that satisfying (something I hope will be rectified in book two), but there are still some great elements here, especially since it seems to be author’s first book.

I loved the Asian influences in the development of the world-building. And while I did feel like the magic system wasn’t that present in the book, it does have a lot of potential, and that’s something else I hope is built on more in book two.

What really stands out is the protagonist, Kyra. Fantasy is full of “strong female characters,” but the problem is that they often lack depth, especially in YA (or, in this case, YA-leaning,) stories. I like how, while she is the titular Markswoman of the book, she strikes the perfect balance of not being great at everything all the time while also not being the standard damsel in distress.

This is yet another great multicultural fantasy book, and one I would recommend to other fans of diverse fantasy.

Review of “Salvation in Death” (In Death #27) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Salvation in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2008.

Hardcover | $25.95 | ISBN-13: 978-978-0399155222 | 353 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

I was intrigued by the premise for the case of Salvation in Death, and wondered what turns the story would take, especially given the obvious connotations stories about the Catholic Church have had in the past decade or two. But I was pleased that the story did not take the expected turn in diving into some of the deeper internal controversies, and discussed spiritual issues in the most broad, yet delicate way possible that does not, from my perspective, alienate a non-Catholic reader.

The revelation about the reasoning behind the death of the priest that kicked off the book led to some great twists and turns that I did not see coming, and while it did end up being one of the books in the series with a larger cast and multiple deaths (including several occurring pre-book) and multiple perpetrators, it was one of the more interesting of this type.

If I had anything major to complain about, it was that it lacked some of the signature banter between characters. However, I did feel like there were some moments that still stood out. I feel like Mavis is one of those characters I rarely take seriously and almost never mention in connection to my favorite moments, but I did like the discussion of her own past when Eve’s trying to figure out whether victim in the case would have engaged in such a long con. And it was great how the Catholic connection also led to further discussions of Roarke’s past, culminating in a great discussion between Eve, Roarke, and another priest at the end.

This was another fairly solid entry in the series, and I’m excited to see where the series goes next.

Review of “The Key to Happily Ever After” by Tif Marcelo

Marcelo, Tif. The Key to Happily Ever After. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501197581 | 314 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

2.5 stars

I really wanted to love The Key to Happily Ever After, since not only did it offer great rep for a population that is not often seen in romantic fiction, it also was a story about the relationship between sisters, which is something that really intrigued me.

And, in principle, the setup is great, The one flaw with it is not giving the middle sister, Jane, the spotlight, feeding into the “overlooked middle child” stereotype, but I did feel like there was an effort made to establish the bonds these sisters had with one another in this unique situation of running a wedding shop.

However, I wasn’t truly invested in the story or the characters where it mattered. It felt more like meandering through a sequence of events that I didn’t care about with characters that did not overly engage me. I didn’t care about these apparent romantic entanglements the sisters got involved in, or care when things went south, or feel like there was some kind of payoff to there being any kind of “happily ever after” (romantic or otherwise). I’m aware this could be more of a “me” thing than anything else, but I just didn’t feel like there was a ton going for it, aside from the brilliant cultural elements.

This is a book that I don’t think I would personally recommend to anyone, but that is just my opinion, and take it with a grain of salt. I do feel like the things it does well, as I said before, are the Filipino representation, and the basic setup for the family element, so if you are interested in those things, you may enjoy it more than I did.

Review of “Beautiful Player” (Beautiful Bastard #3) by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. Beautiful Player. New York: Gallery Books, 2013.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1476751405 | 406 pages | Erotic Romance

3 stars

To this point, I have loved all of Christina Lauren’s stand-alone books, but largely resisted picking up their erotic series. However, I was looking to try another erotic romance with this series being one I was considerimg, and on the advice of book club friends regarding a mix of quality and my own preferences for more egalitarian power dynamics, I skipped to book 3.

And Beautiful Player is more or less a pretty solid, if rather flawed book. Older brother best friend/best friend’s little sister is one of my favorite tropes, being sort of friends-to-lovers-esque, and I felt like the relationship between Hanna and Will was some pretty well. It starts out with them hanging out due to her needing to get out more, and I loved that, along with the buildup to more.

I did feel a bit more mixed about the characters themselves, and it may be a bit more of a personal preference thing than anything else. Despite Hanna not being a virgin, she’s still naive to the point of annoyance about sex. While it’s possible she just never really found someone who gave her real pleasure up to this point, I found it grating that someone who has done it before would be so inexperienced. And coupled with that, I did have some minor quibbles going in about Will’s playboy past, and they were not assuaged. While it’s not a dealbreaker like the alphahole hero, the playboy/rake ruined for all others by the naive heroine is so overdone.

But it isn’t a bad book by any means, and it definitely kept me invested in the fate of the relationship, despite its casual nature for most of the book. And I think if you’re more of a fan of conventional romance tropes like the naive heroine and playboy hero, this one might work a bit better for you.

Review of “The Bride Test” (The Kiss Quotient #2) by Helen Hoang

Hoang, Helen. The Bride Test. New York: Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451490827 | 300 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I started The Bride Test, feeling both excited and uncertain: the premise sounded awesome and I love Helen Hoang’s style, but I wasn’t sure anything could quite live up to the instantly relatable Stella and the surprisingly supportibe Michael in The Kiss Quotient. And while it did take a little longer to acquaint myself with these characters, I ended up loving them just as much, if not more, given the realness and depth to the story.

Esme as a character is one that breaks new ground for what we think of as a romance heroine in an romance novel published in the U.S. and this is something Hoang discusses to an extent in her author’s note. I love how she went from using Esme as a side character/rival to challenging the notions of what makes a believable heroine, which is at the center of so much discourse on diversity in romance today. She comes from less-than-perfect origins, but epitomizes the ideal of the American Dream of the immigrant coming over to America and finding a way to thrive. And the fact that Hoang was inspired by her mother’s experience made this all the more beautiful.

Khai as a character took a little longer to grow on me. I did admire that Hoang managed to navigate writing the experience of a male character with autism, given the differences in how it manifests depending on gender, but I did not immediately find him endearing. However, he grew on me over the course of the book, due to the fact that, in spite of him appearing somewhat closed-off and professing to be incapable of feeling, he does feel and express emotion in his own way, and that made me first appreciate him more, then fall in love with him along with Esme. Not to mention, his relationships with his family are adorable, especially in moments where Quan (and at one point Michael) help him navigate the world of love and sex.

This is definitely a must-read for anyone who loves a great diverse contemporary romance, although I would encourage even those who don’t typically read the genre to try it as well. Hoang once again crafts a wonderful story, full of humor heat, and heart, and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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

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

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

5 stars

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

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

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

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

Review of “Obsession in Death” (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Obsession in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170874 | 404 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

40 books in with the prospect of only eight more, then having to wait for the next two, and I can still say I am obsessed with this series, in spite of all its shortcomings. So, it is quite fitting in a sense that this one is called Obsession in Death.

And while this wasn’t one of my favorites in the series, it was still great, especially as it presented a new personal challenge for Eve, with the case being concerned with an obsessed fan of hers who takes it upon themselves to make misguided attempts to avenge her to prove her “friendship.” Ultimately, even if the reveal wasn’t that exciting for me, I found the psychology of the killer, in the snippets we got from their perspective the most interesting, which is not surprising, given ho w I’ve often expressed my admiration for how Nora Roberts gets into these twisted people’s heads.

I also really liked seeing the team work together, bringing up people from past cases. Admittedly, I didn’t remember quite a few of them, but it is nice to see more consistency in terms of the connectedness of the series and the characters beyond the core group.

And Eve and Roarke…I fall in love with them more and more as a couple from book to book. And it’s really those little intimate moments, like them having a meal together or their casual banter in between all the intense case-cracking, that make me so happy.

This was a pretty interesting one in the series, and while it wasn’t mind-blowing by any means, reaching book 40 only increases my hype for the books to come.

Review of “Their Perfect Melody” (Matched to Perfection #3) by Priscilla Oliveras

Oliveras, Priscilla. Their Perfect Melody. New York: Zebra/Kensington, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420144307 | 328 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Priscilla Oliveras is one of the new authors who I absolutely came to adore last year, so it’s a shame I left Their Perfect Melody, her last release in her Matched to Perfection series, unread for so long. But I’m so happy to be back in her world again, following compelling family-oriented Latinx characters.

I really did not expect Lili to end up where she is now, based on the prior two books, since she always felt like something of a wild-card to me, with nothing really defining her outside the fact that she’s a part of this close-knit family. But it’s clear that experiences that took place in the years since the last two books ended have impacted her, and this conveyed well, and I really liked seeing how that translated into her growth into the victim’s advocate she is at the present time.

And she meets her match in Diego, a police officer, who shares her passion not only for helping others, but also helps to reignite the love of music that has lain dormant inside her for years. They have such a great relationship, and while it’s not without its bumps in the road, especially as Diego’s family situation isn’t nearly as idyllic as that of the Fernandez sisters’, ultimately, there is hope there too.

Oliveras handles some heavy issues with sensitivity, perfectly balancing those topics with the more lighthearted moments. And this is a can’t-miss contemporary romance for those who love multicultural romances focused on family and full of heart.

Review of “Midnight on the River Grey” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. Midnight on the River Grey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785224129 | 323 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4 stars

I was excited to get around to Midnight on the River Grey, given that I really enjoyed Abigail Wilson’s debut novel. And while I enjoyed this one marginally less than the first, I still found it a pretty solid read overall.

The characters took a bit longer to grow on me this time around, especially Rebecca, since I wasn’t really sure what to think of her. But she and Lewis endeared themselves to me over the course of the book, as both let their walls come down. Lewis admittedly took a bit less time for me to get attached to, which is funny, as we’re never in his head, but despite the doubts sowed by other characters, he is always presented in his interactions with Rebecca as a good person who is trying to do the best he can.

As a heroine, Rebecca was much more immature than Wilson’s prior book’s naive heroine, and while her motivations for not wanting to marry had interesting, due to a perception of inherited madness, the reveal of the true source of her mother’s madness further highlights this. I mean, I know it was common for women to be kept somewhat ignorant in that period, but even the way the reveal was addressed suggested that she should have known. Nevertheless, I still admired her for her bravery and determination to solve the murders.

On that note, kudos to Wilson for a well-crafted mystery with an ending that I did not see coming. Like her previous effort, she had me suspecting everyone, and when the answers were revealed, my jaw dropped at the unexpected nature of it, yet how it all made sense with the clues planted earlier in the book.

This was a delightfully fast-paced and suspenseful read, only further cementing Abigail Wilson as one of my new favorite authors. And I once again recommend this to fans of romantic historical mysteries.