Review of “Bellewether” by Susanna Kearsley

Kearsley, Susanna. Bellewether. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2018. 

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492637134 | 434 pages | Historical Fiction

2 stars

Bellewether was a disappointment, which is unfortunate, as I’ve loved much of Susanna Kearsley’s other work, like Mariana and The Winter Sea, and even her previous effort, A Desperate Fortune. That being said, there were a few things I did like about the story.

Conceptually, it has a great premise, exploring the French and Indian War, which not a lot of writers tackle. She has a great way of creating that atmosphere, exploring the tensions between the two sides, juxtaposing it with modern characters looking back. I also have to commend her for her sensitivity in handling the incorporation of people of color, consulting with researchers of Black/African American history concerning the issue of slavery.

However, the execution of the premise is where it failed for me. Both the blurb and the discussions among the modern characters promise that the romance between the daughter of the house and her French soldier was pretty epic, and I also may have done a bit of further building up of the romance in my mind when comparing it to some of Kearsley’s previous books with forbidden love. But I just didn’t feel like there was anything there. Not to mention, both arcs moved at a snail’s pace, and once things finally did get interesting in the past arc, the book was over. Not to mention, there was exhuastive detail concerning the professional concerns of curating the Wilde House Museum, and while I appreciate that she does know her stuff in that regard, I did not feel like all of these details were necessary.

But all this is just my opinion, and I’ve seen opinions on both sides with this book. I think, if you don’t mind a book with an slow-burning plot, then pick this up. But it may not be the best book to try as an intro to Kearsley’s work, if you’ve never read her before.

Advertisements

Review of “The Heart of Christmas” by Mary Balogh, Nicola Cornick, and Courtney Milan

Balogh, Mary, et. al. The Heart of Christmas. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin Enterprises Limited, 2009. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0373774272 | 378 pages | Regency Romance

In my continued reading of holiday romances this December, I stumbled on this older anthology that featured reprints of stories from Mary Balogh and Nicola Cornick, and more importantly, an early Harlequin publication from Courtney Milan, an author I’d longed to read, but books on her extensive backlist are surprisingly hard to come by through my normal channels of finding books. And in general, I found a wonderful collection of stories by both new (to me) authors and familiar ones as well.

A Handful of Gold (1998) by Mary Balogh

4.5 stars

This novella surprised me in a number of ways, in that I tend to dislike both rakish heroes and heroines who are courtesans, but both were handled in such a way that I did not have any issues. Despite the shorter length, I liked that Julian genuinely grew over the course of the story. And Verity had the noblest of intentions for making the choices she did, with her family’s survival in mind (something I’m often coming to see is often the case in situations like that, at least in historical romance, as it likely was in real life).

The Season for Suitors (Tallants 3.5, 2005) by Nicola Cornick

3 stars

This one ok, but largely unmemorable, in comparison to the other two. The premise is interesting enough, with Sebastian helping Clara with the virtual plague of other rakes that have been trying to seduce her, but given that I didn’t feel overly connected to either character, there’s not much I can say about it.

His Wicked Gift (Carhart #0.5, 2009) by Courtney Milan

5 stars

This is yet another one with tropes I typically dislike, especially in novellas, that surprisingly endeared itself to me, in that it balanced out the somewhat odd concept of using sex to settle a debt by not only showing that Lavinia and William have genuine feelings for one another, but also not making the power imbalance more uneven than it had to be. I love stories where both the hero and heroine both work for their living, and I love the way it informed William’s slightly negative outlook during the holiday season in particular, and thus making it a new take on what I thought was a tired trope, what with it done endlessly with broody aristocrats and starry-eyed debutantes.

Review of “Pride” by Ibi Zoboi

Zoboi, Ibi. Pride. New York: Balzer + Bray, 2018. 

Hardcover | 17.99 USD | | ISBN-13; 978-0062564047 | 289 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

Pride is a lovely Austen retelling, capturing the right balance of feeling close enough to the original while also providing a new spin that justifies its existence. It’s wonderful to see yet again how flexible some of the characters and scenarios Austen wrote still are today from a completely fresh perspective, which captures the essence of class and race struggles in such a beautiful way.

Zuri is a sympathetic character, although I don’t think her perspective will be understandable unless you are familiar with Elizabeth Bennet, and know that the whole point of that character is that she’s hypocritical in having issues with others while not seeing her own flaws and the ways she needs to grow as a person. This is conveyed wonderfully, not only through her evolving relationship with Darius, but the connection she has to her home, culminating in a powerful college entrance essay she writes about her pride in her roots and how that connects to what she feels the school is for her.

In terms of the secondary characters and translation of major plot elements, I thought these were all more or less pretty well done as well. While I did kind of want more from the Ainsley/Janae relationship than the way it’s just casually brought up that they’re worki, ng things out at the end, I guess it was the only way for it work with the perspective confined to Zuri.

I would recommend this to fans of Austen retellings, primarily. As I said before, basic familiarity might help in terms of understanding character motivations and references, but considering I’m something of “purist” myself, I’m unsure of whether all fans of Austen will also be fans of this.

Review of “The Christmas Wish” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. The Christmas Wish. New York: Silhouette Books, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335005083 | 346 pages | Contemporary Romance

All I Want for Christmas (1994)

4 stars

This one is cute and exactly the sort of story I was looking for during the holidays. I love romances that involve children at any time of year, so to have one that features two young boys who so adamantly believe that their teacher is meant to be part of the plan to make their (and by extension, their father’s) Christmas wishes come true, I knew I was in for a treat. Despite being something of a cliche in romance, I love the way Zeke and Zach were so directly involved in pulling for the romance to work out, even when things fall apart. And despite any misunderstandings, Mac and Nell really do work well together. This is one that I dearly wish had been longer, to see what else it could have been, but for what it is, it’s a sweet story.

First Impressions (1984)

3 stars

This one, by comparison, felt like it dragged a lot in places, which is a shame, since it has a promising premise, with reclusive Vance butting heads with the more outspoken Shane. And Vance’s characterization was really one of the best parts of the book, given that it explores the bad things he’s been through without endless pages of brooding on his part. However, the middle of the book suffered from a lack of anything interesting in the way of plot, so the book felt a little uneven. However, it did still end on a good note.

Review of “Last Night with the Earl” (Devils of Dover #2) by Kelly Bowen

Bowen, Kelly. Last Night with the Earl. New York: Forever, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1478918592 | 442 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Last Night with the Earl is a much better book than its predecessor, although I will admit I may have been a bit too unfair in my review concerning the historical accuracy thing. That being said the characters this time around were much more relatable and sympathetic.

I love Rose’s character, and how she lifts up other people and makes them see the beauty in themselves, but she has this shame due to the way her former fiancee humiliated her years ago, that triggers genuine anxiety attacks when she goes out in society. This not only provides greater context for her situation as it was upon meeting her in the first book, but allows for a connection with Eli, who is radically changed following his experiences in the war, scarring him physically and emotionally. I did feel like the story was a bit inconsistent in terms of the past between them, with it sometimes seeming like they were meant to be old friends, and at other times feeling like they didn’t know each other that well, but other than that, everything else worked for me.

And as for the Grace Burrowes novella, I found that it was hard to get into, so I ended up skipping it. While I am intrigued by the idea that Forever/Grand Central Publishing has come up with to introduce us to another author “we may love,” I found my issues with Grace Burrowes’ writing coming to the fore as I read this one, as her work in general is very hit-or-miss for me, and I very much would have preferred if the publisher had bundled one of Bowen’s e-novellas with this one, like “The Lady in Red,” since I think that one matches the Christmas theme they were going for.

However, speaking purely on the novel itself, I would recommend it to fans of light historical romance that also has an impactful message within it.

Review of “Christmas With You” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Christmas with You. New York: Silhouette Books, 2015. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0373281930 | 345 pages | Contemporary Romance

Nora Roberts has been one of those authors whose recent works have tended to be more hit-or-miss. But somewhat recent events have inspired me to go deeper into her backlist, starting with the holiday ones, given the timing. And while I wouldn’t exactly call these two shorter books exemplary, they are sweet and perfect for  the holiday season.

Gabriel’s Angel (1989)

4 stars

While not immediately relevant to Christmas, this story is sweet. I loved the way it introduced two lovely characters in the form of the sweet and reclusive artist Gabriel and the battered wife Laura. While I can already tell abusive husbands frequently make their appearance in Roberts’ work, she always writes these battered women with such sensitivity and also gives them an underlying strength, and Laura is no different. I also love that Gabriel provided support for Laura through everything she was going through.

My main complaint is with the way the custody issue with Laura’s son is used as a plot point. It’s brought up as a threat early on prior to his birth, and it comes to pass with her former mother-in-law coming to sue for custody, but abruptly in the last pages, it just neatly resolves itself with little drama. Despite knowing the original format of publication as a category romance, I couldn’t help but want more from this aspect.

Home for Christmas (1986)

This was a promising second chance romance that I really wish had been fleshed out into a full novel. I mean, for the length it is, it did what it needed to. But given the issues it handles, like the reason for Jason leaving, the relationship between him and Faith prior to him leaving, and the consequences of that, I couldn’t help but wanting a bit more.

 

Review of “How the Dukes Stole Christmas” by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe

Dare, Tessa, et. al. How the Dukes Stole Christmas. [United States]: Rakes Rogues & Scoundrels LLC, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0999192337 | 409 pages | Historical Romance

I was excited by the prospect of four great authors teaming up to work on a holiday anthology together, but also a bit reticent due to the fact that it was yet another historical romance book adding to the endless duke train, especially since the blurbs applied the common adjectives like “surly” and “heartless,” which are catnip for many readers but instead lead me to roll my eyes. However, I was willing to give it a chance, especially since what I heard about it was generally good.

Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare

4.5 stars

Tessa’s contribution was definitely better than I expected, given that this is one that blatantly uses the word “heartless” to describe the hero. But to my relief, he’s not, that’s more an assumption on Louisa’s part, since he’s evicting her family from their home. In fact, I like that James does care for the less fortunate due to his background as a younger son and not expecting to gain the title, and being raised in the country, thus having more sympathy for his tenants there. I liked how neither of them being the bad guy gave Louisa and James an opportunity to see from each other’s point of view more quickly. While there were still misunderstandings (and groveling), I liked that story was sweet and fun, and stressed the message of togetherness with one’s family during the holidays.

The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean

5 stars

People have been saying this story is the standout of the collection, and I have to agree. Novellas have a limited space to truly make the reader believe in love, and this is one of those that truly did it for me. Eben and Jacqueline have a believable love and good conflict, and it was beautiful watching them get their second chance to be together, given the things that stood in their way the first time.

Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan

3 stars

This one was my least favorite in the collection, as while it had great ideas, the execution didn’t work well for me. Part of it may have to do with the fact that it’s “based” on Home Alone, one of my favorite holiday films, and it just didn’t live up to the spirit of that (I may be judging this one unfairly for that reason, since I didn’t see any of the other films that directly inspired the other novellas). I wasn’t expecting it to match up scene-for-scene, but I just felt like it was an odd fit, and I felt the humor of that film was missing in this story.

The characters were interesting enough. Calder was nice in that he cared for his servants and for the welfare of a young woman he just met. I also didn’t mind Annis, at least initially.  The story also felt like it relied a bit more on lust than love, and after a while it just felt a bit hard to engage with them, and I ended up skimming a bit towards the end.

Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe

4 stars

This one seems to be the weak link for a lot people, and while it isn’t perfect, I don’t think it’s that bad. To be fair, part of it may be due to the fact that the hero is just called Duke, and he’s a New York newpaper tycoon in the Gilded Age, providing a nice change of pace after the first three. While he is kind of haughty, I like how Shupe explored why he was like this, due to his father being controlling and instilling that work ethic in him. And I love the comparison it evokes with Rose, who has few opportunities due to her class, but needs to work for her livelihood.

The romance itself is a bit rushed, as it progresses from them being employer and employee to a brief affair, then to him firing her, then to him groveling and proposing, and the plot is rife with deception and misunderstandings. That being said, the story was more or less believable in all other aspects. And given the way some in this group of authors have often been involved in speaking out about romance as a denigrated genre, I was glad to see an interaction highlighting how men and the public in general often undervalue women’s writing, and romance in particular.

***

I would recommend this anthology to fans of historical romances — especially those who love dukes. Even as someone who doesn’t like them, I found this collection enjoyable and would love to see these authors team up again to do another one.

Review of “The Cuckoo’s Calling” (Cormoran Strike #1) by Robert Galbraith

Galbraith, Robert. The Cuckoo’s Calling. New York: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2013. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316206846 | 455 pages | Mystery

4 stars

J.K. Rowling is one of those authors who, especially in the last few years, has been stuck in this weird position of being criticized for her decision to expand the Wizarding World (or perhaps, more accurately, for her decisions in terms of how she chose to expand the world), while also having any non-Potter work being compared to her phenomenally bestselling series, thus likely being the reason she chose to adopt the pen name and temporary anonymity to begin with for this series. And while it is a definite change of pace in many ways, judging it on its own merits, I enjoyed this book, even despite its minor pacing issues.

Cormoran Strike is a great protagonist, and I like how the layers of his character are explored throughout the story, in terms of him being a veteran and an amputee, while also having family drama that parallels with the drama in the Landry-Bristow family, but which I also hope will be explored in greater detail later in the series.

I love the contrast that Robin offers. While Strike has a lot of negative factors at play in his life, Robin is a great source of positivity, and I loved seeing their relationship grow as colleagues, and having had it teased that there is potential for it to grow into something more over the course of the next few books, I’m definitely excited to see where it goes.

Due to the slow pacing, I did find myself going a little bit in and out of the story a bit, although I was still invested in finding out who was behind Lula’s death, especially as more and more of her life was revealed. And ultmately, the reveal was so well done and excellently foreshadowed, I have to commend Rowling/Galbraith for keeping me guessing, especially since it ended up being the last person I thought would have done it.

This is a book that will appeal to fans of crime fiction most definitely. I would be reluctant to recommend Harry Potter fans read it just because it happens to be by Rowling, but it might be worth their time if they can approach it with an open mind.

Review of “How the Earl Entices” (Capturing the Carlisles #4) by Anna Harrington

Harrington, Anna. How the Earl Entices. New York: NYLA Publishing, 2018. 

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1721620654 | 316 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

How the Earl Entices is yet another great book from Anna Harrington, and this one has one of the best premises yet — and a great execution of said premise. And part of it is the way Harrington incorporated a broad sense of the politics and legal protocols of the period and how they impact both Ross’ and Grace’s lives, making it feel much deeper than the increasingly common wallpaper historical.

Grace is a heroine that I immediately rooted for, given her dire situation of being on the run from a brother-in-law who would be more than happy to see both her and her son dead in order to solidify his claim to his brother’s title. I admired her strength and determination to prove that her son’s claim, despite the fact that suspicion was cast on it. Ross may also be my favorite member of the  Carlisle family, because of his sense of purpose in terms of his mission, and how easily his priorities evolve when it comes to helping and protecting Grace, and eventually, being open to spending his life with her, even if things did not initially get off to as auspicious a start between them.

I would recommend this for fans of historical romance who both like the sense of escapism and fantasy, but also like stories with depth and heart. And while it is fourth in the series, and characters from both this series and her prior one appear, it is also a great book to start with for new fans, as aside from brief appearances from these characters, it stands alone.

 

Review of “The Proposal” (The Wedding Date #2) by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. The Proposal. New York: Berkley, 2018. 

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399587689 | 325 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

The Proposal is just as fabulous as The Wedding Date, perhaps even more so. It’s a delightfully funny book that had me laughing out loud, while also rooting for Carlos and Nikole to work toward their happy ending, even when things ended badly between them.

One of my few complaints about The Wedding Date was that Drew was a commitment phobic playboy without it really being explained, not that it would have mattered much to me. Thus, I was glad this book went in a different direction, with Carlos wanting something casual in the beginning, but being the one to declare his feelings first, and with Nik having issues with relationships that were much better explained, due to being burned once so severely it impacted how she viewed romance. But it was rewarding to watch her growth, especially since one of the best moments was seeing her punch her more recent ex in the face for humiliating her.

The book introduces us to a bunch of new colorful and fun characters, and I enjoyed seeing the role female friendship played, with Courtney and Dana both being alternately the biggest cheerleaders for Nik’s relationship and her biggest supporters when she believes it’s fallen apart. I also enjoyed meeting Natalie, especially as her journey from battered wife to proud, independent strong woman parallels Nik’s own.

This is definitely a must-read for those who love fun diverse romantic comedies.