Review of “The Silent Songbird” (Hagenheim #7) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Silent Songbird. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-7180-2631-8. Print List Price: $14.99.

3.5 stars

This the first Melanie Dickerson book I’ve read since reading The Beautiful Pretender (2016) upon its release, and the first Hagenheim book I read since first falling in love with the series with the first three books, but then becoming slowly less interested in her Young Adult material. And the overly simplistic writing of the first installment her so-called “Austen-inspired” Regency series further turned me off reading anything but her adult medieval books. But as I did grow up with a fascination with Disney’s Little Mermaid, I decided to give her one last chance.

And while I would still classify the writing style as a little too simple for an adult reader, the style would be appropriate for a teenager with an interest in fairy tales. And while it is a part of a series, it is only connected in part to at most two of the other books, with the hero of this one being the son of the hero of The Merchant’s Daughter, with another relation of his making an appearance in The Princess Spy. (See the explanation of the first five books here). As such, this can definitely stand alone, for anyone who loves The Little Mermaid, or fairy tales in general.

As for the characters, they were what kept me from giving up on the story despite the writing style. Evangeline is a heroine who escapes the confinement of the Castle, trading the possibility of a potentially abusive marriage for the life of a servant, despite some people who believed she would give up. I admire that she found the strength to do this, and chose to learn how to defend herself. Westley is someone who, unlike what we think of as the stereotype for medieval lords, has compassion for all people, and even forgives Evangeline for her deception.

The plot itself, while not incorporating any of the magical aspects of the original tale or the Disney version, has some recognizable bits and overarching themes, with the idea of a young woman escaping from the comforts (which she might sometimes see as confines) of home and going to a new, unfamiliar place. However, like many novel-length retellings, the story is fleshed out, and I enjoyed how she incorporated the conspiracy aspects of the medieval time period into the plot.

 

Review of “Prelude for a Lord” (Gentlemen Quartet #1) by Camille Elliot

Elliot, Camille. Prelude for a Lord. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0-310-32035-7. Print List Price: $12.99.

5 stars

This book is another of several books that I added to my TBR following the great July Friends of the Library Book Sale, and I am so happy to have found her. For one, she’s an Asian American from Hawaii, like me (although she now lives on the West Coast). And for another, this book is absolutely amazing.

There have been other books that have dealt with the hero having a traumatic past, with that as the main thing keeping the couple from getting their HEA, and I find those books a bit irritating, especially with the whole “You-shouldn’t-be-with-me-but-I-can’t-stay-away-from-you” vibe those often present. But with this one, Bayard, Lord Dommick goes through mental struggles, but it does not keep him from proving he can be a good partner for Alethea when she needs him, and once they are married, he opens up and trusts her, especially once she tells him about the scars of her own past.

The way she interweaves the romance with the mystery element, through having Bay and Alethea share a love for the violin and music, with the mystery surrounding the violin, is seamless, and I love how she was able to keep me guessing about who was behind it until the Big Reveal.

I most definitely await the (as-yet-unnanounced) remaining books in the Quartet, to find out what Ian, Raven, and David get up to next, as well as any other future Camille Elliot books.

Review “13 Reasons Why” (The Netflix Show)

5 stars

This is a slightly different review, as I’m not talking about a book I enjoyed. I didn’t even read the book that this show is based on. But having both been in similar situations to some of the characters in the show, having a history of mental health issues, and knowing a few people who have gone through what Hannah experienced, I decided I needed to review it, even if it is not a romance that has a neat, happy ending.

I had seen a number of reactions to the show: some praising it, others bashing it for their depictions of issues like suicide and rape, and still more questioning Hannah’s motives (whether she did it for “revenge”). As for the latter two opinions, while I found some aspects of the show difficult to take in, I admired them for not sugarcoating anything, so we can feel the full impact of what these characters go through.

As for Hannah’s motives, while others may have found her a bit overdramatic, I agreed with one of the points the creators and actors made in Beyond the Reasons, about the young mind not fully being developed yet, and not being able to rationalize in the same way an adult might, especially when they feel such intense emotional pain. And while the concept of the tapes do present a sort of revenge plot, there is obviously some baggage that many of these characters have that is not directly related to Hannah, and the tapes make them confront that.

As actors, there wasn’t one person who did not impress me, especially as all of them had to play such nuanced and multifaceted characters, and the opinion you have of them in episode one will change between episodes one and thirteen. Dylan Minnette and Katherine Langford are stunning as leads Clay and Hannah, and their friendship which could have grown to be something more is one of the highlights of the series. But one of the real standouts to me is Justin Prentice as Bryce. It is hard to imagine being able to get into the mindset of someone who sees others (especially those of the opposite sex) as objects they can violate in any perverse way they want, but Prentice was able to bring this loathsome character to life and make him believable.

One of the key themes I took from the show was the importance of being kind. While we do mess up on occasion, and we might not always be able to do the right thing in the moment (as this show depicts at various points with both Clay and Hannah), we should always make the effort.

And as a final note, suicide should never be the answer. There are ways to get help. If you or someone you know need help, please don’t be afraid to consult any of the resources here, or with someone you trust.

Review of “A Name Unknown” (Shadows Over England #1) by Roseanna M. White

White, Roseanna. A Name Unknown. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-1926-9. Print List Price: $15.99.

4 stars

Picking up this book made me so happy, for a few different reasons. For one, I loved her previous series, and this one definitely showed that she was going in a different direction in terms of the types of characters she was writing, while still keeping the elements I fell in love with, that being the seamless blend of romance and mystery. And for more superficial reasons, which I expect I will go into in a post sometime in the future, I was delighted to see a book that surpassed 400 pages, when it's rare to see books that make it to the 300 page mark, particularly in the romance genre, without padding with annoying and deceiving excerpts. But I digress.

One of the best features of this book is the main characters. While the leads of her Ladies of the Manor series could be somewhat hit-or-miss, both Rosemary and Peter are likable, but still flawed, characters. Rosemary's upbringing has caused her to be the token character who struggles with her faith, a common feature of many inspirational romances, but I don't begrudge White for using this trope, as she fleshes Rosemary out with traits that make her strong, like her love for her rag-tag family, and the way she is able to stand up for herself and for others when she sees a wrong being done. Peter is also a wonderful character who I gravitated toward instantly, because I love shy, awkward bookworm/secret-author heroes.

The story also has a colorful supporting cast, who I anticipate that I will love to see in the next installment, particularly Willa, Barclay, and the rest. I hope they all get their chances at happiness. And all the insights into what the Royal Family was like at the time provided a way of situating the story within the time period.

But while I enjoyed this book, at points I did find the plot a bit uninteresting, especially towards the end when the mystery is being wrapped up. I don't think it detracts from the benefits of the length of the book, however, as it may be because I was just not that interested in all the political goings-on that led up to World War I. But if that is something you enjoy, then you will enjoy those aspects more than I did.

 

Review of “The Lady of the Lakes” by Josi S. Kilpack

-Kilpack, Josi S. The Lady of the Lakes. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-226-9. Print List Price: $15.99.

5 stars

Having not read anything by Sir Walter Scott before, I was somewhat hesitant going into this book. But I found that not knowing much about him ahead of time meant that I could be much more swept up in the story, with there being some mystery for me as to how these characters would all end up.

I admire Kilpack for the amount of effort she put into working with historical records and developing an engaging story. In the chapter notes, she discusses the parts where she had to take poetic license, especially in cases where there just isn’t enough information available to know for sure what happened.

One of the aspects that I love that Kilpack developed a bit more was the obvious signs that Walter and Mina would not make a good match, and later contrasting it with the signs that Walter and Charlotte would make a good match, such as Mina’s disinterest in the theater and in riding, and making Charlotte’s love of the theater more fervent. And while Walter and Charlotte do not share all the same interests, I love that it’s obvious they are willing to accept the same type of lifestyle, whereas Mina’s station in life being all she’s used to is a small factor in her acceptance of William Forbes.

Review of “The More I See You” (de Piaget #7; de Piaget/MacLeod #6)

Kurland, Lynn. The More I See You. New York: Berkley, 1999. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-17107-3. Print List Price: $7.99.

3.5 stars

This is the first of Kurland’s de Piaget books I read, and I found that while it did have some of the same magic and worldbuilding as the MacLeod book I read, I found myself a bit confused at some points, due to the fact that the de Piagets started off as a much less linear/chronological than the MacLeods, and her helpful family tree only assisted in confusing me a bit more. And at various points in the book, I found the story dragging and becoming tedious, to the point where I almost gave up on it once or twice.

Jessica didn’t really grab me as a heroine. I never really understood what there was about her to like, other than the fact that, to medieval lords, she’s something of a novelty, with her ideas for human rights and such. Plus, she spent quite a lot of the book getting injured or captured.

But Richard is a redeeming feature in a novel that could have otherwise been rather forgettable. I love how complex he is as a character, especially the fact that Kurland didn’t try to make him into an anachronistic feminist, the way some historical heroes are. He is chivalrous, yes, and he is never physically violent towards women, but prior to falling for Jessica, he has very traditional values about women’s roles in society, and it takes meeting Jessica to accept that women don’t have to be limited to activities like cooking and sewing.

I also found myself wondering if there was any further resolution between Richard and Hugh. After Hugh’s final confrontation with Richard where he tried and failed to kill Jessica, they seem to just part ways and Hugh is never heard from again. And how does Lord Henry de Galtres, who one would assume is a modern descendant of one of them, fit in? Was Jessica being invited in the present time in the beginning by her own descendant?

 

Review of “The Vicar’s Daughter” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. The Vicar’s Daughter. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-280-1. Print List Price: $15.99.

4.5 stars

I picked up this book on impulse, in large part due to wanting to try more books in the Proper Romance series, but also because one of the characters mentioned in the back cover blurb was called Lenora (and I am a massive Lenora Bell fangirl). This put me at something of a disadvantage, however, as the blurb also makes it obvious that this book is not Lenora’s story, but that of her younger sister Cassie.

At the beginning, and at points throughout the book, I found Cassie a bit annoying, as she was somewhat self-centered, and had no concern for her sister’s limitations or how she could help, but more how the circumstances of her sister’s lack of suitors affected her. She does change over the course of the book, and I understand that is why she was written that way in the beginning, so we could see this personal growth. But as someone like Lenora, who deal with anxiety in social situations, I found her sister’s lack of concern prior to realizing what she might get out of helping her insensitive.

By the end of the story, Lenora has grown as well due to the experience, and while nothing to my knowledge has been announced concerning her own story, I feel like she should have a chance for her own happy ending, to give others like me with similar struggles with anxiety hope that they can grow more confident and possibly even find love.

Review of “Catch a Falling Heiress” (An American Heiress in London #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke

Guhrke, Laura Lee. Catch a Falling Heiress. New York: Avon Books, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-233465-7. Print List Price: $7.99.

3.5 stars

As a whole, this book was probably the weakest in the series so far. The plot had some promise, but as the story played out, I could not help but wonder what it was that would make the relationship last. The two of them spend a lot of the book clashing due to Linnet’s perceptions of Jack as a fortune hunter, and Jack tries to win her over because he’s attracted to her, not to mention he compromised her while trying to save her from someone else. And once they do get together, there really isn’t a lot that I saw that they shared, and there were a lot of lies that he told her that just seem to get forgiven a bit too easily by the end.

The characters individually are somewhat charming, however. I did not know what to think of Jack, given the fact that he’s the brother of Belinda’s ne’er-do-well first husband, but I am glad that his backstory and his relationship with his family was fleshed out, showing that despite being a Featherstone, he doesn’t want to marry a wealthy wife just so she can fund his hedonistic exploits, the way his father and brother did. And while Linnet’s independent streak did get a bit annoying at times, I thought it admirable that she did want to choose for herself.

I was pleased to see the plot threads with Frederick Van Hausen, carried over from the previous book, resolved, after only getting only vague hints as to what happened in How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days. As such, I would recommend any newcomers to this series to read them in order, if possible, at least these two, although this book does an decent job of at least explaining the blackmail aspect, which is how Jack ends up in Newport at the beginning of this book.

Review of “How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days” (An American Heiress in London #2) by Laura Lee Guhrke

Guhrke, Laura Lee. How to Lose a Duke in Ten Days. New York: Avon Books, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-21189-6. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

Upon reading the synopsis for this one, I thought it would be similar to Sarah MacLean’s recent release The Day of the Duchess, with the basic plot of a husband wanting to win back his estranged wife. But as is often the case with fiction, this is a case where there is a similar premise, but the two stories go in two completely different directions in terms of plot and character development.

The circumstances that led to Edie making the choice to approach Stuart with the marriage of convenience are laid out in greater detail, and they highlight a problem with victim blaming in situations of sexual assault that persists today.

As a result, the romance between the two is very much slow-burn, and their first sexual encounter, despite happening late in the novel (past the 300 page mark) isn’t all sunshine and roses, the way it often is when a couple in a romance have sex for the first time, giving it an essence of realism that you don’t often see in the genre.

The hero and heroine are both wonderful characters. I love that Stuart is patient and understanding of Edie and how her past affected her. And while Edie was not always the most likable, particularly at the beginning when she had her walls up, I found it refreshing to have a woman who dealt with trauma in her past that was keeping her from finding happiness in the future, after reading too many books with brooding alpha heroes.

Review of “Beauty and the Clockwork Beast: A Steampunk Proper Romance” by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Beauty and the Clockwork Beast. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-175-0. Print List Price: $15.99.

5 stars

I was leery of the Proper Romance series when I first heard about it. While I’m definitely all for romance novels without sex on occasion, the idea that these books were being released by an imprint of LDS publisher/chain bookstore Deseret Book made me uneasy, due to my (most likely inaccurate) preconceived notions about LDS people. Not to mention I resisted picking up this one in particular, because I was writing a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and feared that it would influence my own work. But as I finally gave in and picked it up.

And I enjoyed every second of it. This was the first steampunk novel I read, so I fully expected to be bothered by some of the weird anachronistic, yet imaginary technologies and fashions. But once I adjusted to the concept of the genre, I became more and more engrossed in the possibilities of a world where these concepts were possible.

The book is much less of a straight retelling than some of the others, although there are some aspects that you might recognize from the original story and the more popular Disney adaptations. The book is preceded by a quote from the original tale which discusses the Beast’s goodness despite his monstrous exterior, in comparison to others, “who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.” This quote is reflected in the narrative, with Miles not being the “beast” society believes him to be, whereas another in the story who presents a friendly facade turns out to be the real villain of the tale.

I was surprised how much I loved Miles by the end. He is standoffish at the beginning, which is very typical of the “Beast” character, but as the story unfolded, and we saw how he protected Lucy, even to the point of getting into fight with his boorish cousin who kissed her at one point, I was in love. I don’t normally like the overly protective or broody heroes, but he is written in a way that works. And Lucy’s a wonderful heroine as, well, being determined to be involved in all the action and save her cousin, even when it leads to her getting a number of injuries.