Review of “Firelight” (Darkest London #1) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Firelight. New York: Forever, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455508594 | 384 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4 stars

Firelight (and by extension the entire Darkest London series) has been on my TBR for a decent amount of time, but it’s only when I started following romance book blogger and BookTuber Elisabeth Lane of Coooking Up Romannce that I was compelled to pick up this series and make a serious go of reading it. And while I went in with what I would consider reasonable expectations, especially considering it was Callihan’s debut, I ended up being blown away.

One of the things I enjoy is when an author can convey the atmosphere of the setting, and that is one of the initial draws to this series, with its dark, gritty, somewhat Gothic feel. She also manages to craft a suspense plot that kept me on the edge of my seat, constantly questioning characters’ intentions, as well as seamlessly interweaving paranormal elements, in this case, immortal demons, with a Victorian world. While it does have a lot of setup, given it is a first book, I won’t hold it against the book too much, given that it still felt very well-paced.

Lord Archer is a compelling hero, and a wonderful twist on the broody alpha hero, a trope that normally drives me insane in the standard historical. I love how, while there is a lot of mystery as to what he truly is for most of the book, there is this sense that he has some real issues and they are not necessarily of this world, not to mention evoking some of what readers love about some other classic broody and/or cursed heroes, like (most obviously) Beast from Beauty and the Beast, as well as Phantom of the Opera and Batman.

I am a bit more conflicted regarding Miranda. On the one hand, I’m glad she proves to have her own strength, and not be a standard damsel in distress, as might be expected in a Gothic-leaning story. But that did not translate to her being overly complex, and while I don’t think that subtracts over-much from the story, given the amount of space devoted to Archer’s issues, she did feel a bit harder to relate to as a result.

I think this book is indicative of a what I hope is a great series. And I would urge anyone who hasn’t picked it up yet to do so, especially if you like romances that cross genres, with a mix of historical, paranormal, and suspense.

Advertisements

Review of “A Notorious Vow” (The Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Notorious Vow. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062678942 | 376 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

4.5 stars

A Notorious Vow is by far my favorite in Joanna Shupe’s Four Hundred series, and perhaps my favorite book of hers since Baron in her previous series. And a lot of it is down to the character development, especially for the hero. Oliver is a great example of a softer, nice hero, but one who is not lacking for depth and complexity. I love the exploration of his life and the struggles he has due to his disability, and feel like Joanna Shupe definitely did her homework when it comes to Deaf culture and portraying it authentically, although I will put a caveat that I am not acquainted with anyone in Oliver’s situation and my knowledge of Deaf culture stems primarily from my own research in college through a few courses. That being said, I truly felt for him and the rejection he faced in society, especially since people were so unwilling to view him as anything other than dumb, even to the point of not accommodating him in the asylum, which I understand was a sad reality for many in asylums.

And in spite of Oliver being the stand-out for me, I also admire Christina, and felt she also grew as a character over the course of the book. This poor girl was emotionally abused and manipulated by her money-hungry parents, and it was sad to see how, even after she was married to Oliver, how the mother would still try to manipulate her and how Christina felt she had little choice but to agree. But it was wonderful to see her growth through her love for Oliver and the new friendships she was forming, to speak publicly in Oliver’s defense in spite of her fears.

My one complaint is that so many of the villains seem so cartoonishly awful. I mean, it made me hate them, and I truly felt horrible for both Oliver and Christina for everything they went through, but it got to the point when it was a little too much, what with Christina’s manipulative ex-fiancee, her greedy parents, and Oliver’s spendthrift cousin. It got to the point where, when it reached the “black moment,” I actually questioned whether Shupe was paying homage to Disney with some of these villains (for reasons that will hopefully make more sense to those who read the book). But I can forgive her for the most part, given how she brought it all together in the end.

This book was pure delight, and I can’t wait to read her next book, as Frank is the hero, and he’s actually been one of my favorite parts of this series, as well as being one of the few connecting threads through all three books thus far. That being said, I think if you want to read a Joanna Shupe book, read this one, as it’s history-rich in such a beautiful and poignant way, while also containing one of the most lovely slow-burn romances I’ve read in a while.

Review of “Remake” (Remake #1) by Ilima Todd (Conflicted Review)

Todd, Ilima. Remake. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2014.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1609079246 | 296 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

3-ish stars

I first heard about Ilima Todd when I heard about her latest release with Shadow Mountain’s Proper Romance line, A Song for the Stars, and was excited to hear about an author born and raised in Hawaii and influenced by her heritage, even though she no longer lives here. And after winning an audio copy of her first book, Remake. from the author, I decided to check it out (although I primarily relied on the physical copy, as that’s my preference).

This book has a compelling concept, but I do feel it’s obvious that Todd comes from a religiously entrenched perspective when it comes to how she handles some of the tough topics in this book. One of the immediately obvious ones is LGBTQ+ issues, namely transgender people and their identity. I like the idea of being able to make choices about who you want to be in theory, but there’s an inherent problem in the very first lines of the book, “Male or female?…How can I decide which to be for the rest of my life? It’s so…permanent.” (5) While I cannot speak from a perspective of authority as a trans person, I do feel that this statement and much of the rhetoric of the book diminsh the concept of gender identity, especially by excluding the idea that it may not be completely binary.

Yet, even with some of these red flags, I still felt the intent carried through in some ways, especially in terms of establishing that freedom and equality aren’t really either of those things, especially when people are stripped not only of things that make them unique, like defining physical characteristics, but they are bred in a manner that is pretty much mechanical, and without love or a family. And while there is some heavy bias toward a more traditional family unit here, I don’t mind it that much, given that we are seeing it from the perspective of someone who hasn’t had a family before, and I do feel like she is given the right to make an informed choice, at least in this matter.

As for one of my more trivial complaints, I found the romance incredibly tepid, and despite knowing it was impossible, felt Nine had a lot more chemistry with Theron than she did with Kai, in part because there was a lot of history conveyed in her friendship with Theron. With Kai, she meets him, and he’s kind of rude to her, and over time things develop, and I didn’t see anything in him to really like, especially since he was one of the characters who was really strong in preaching some of the religious messages. It also just seems like authors, especially in YA, can’t seem to get two unrelated characters of the opposite sex together without there being some sparks. I think it would have been much more rewarding, given the focus on finding a family unit, for him to be like a brother to her and for the story to focus on how much the entire family makes her feel wanted.

Despite finding this book really odd and problematic in places, I do plan to read the sequel, in part because it’s about Theron, and he’s the character I was most interested in by the end of the book, and I’m also curious to see what else Todd can do in this world and system she created.

Review of “Elantris” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Elantris. New York: Tor, 2005.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765350374 | 638 pages | Fantasy

3.5 stars

Full disclosure: I had no intention of reading Elantris virtually right after finishing Oathbringer. I did plan to read it relatively soon, but that fell through when the book I intended to read did not hold my attention and I decided I may as well go back to Elantris, since I had put it off for a long time, due in part to warnings about the difference in Sanderson’s style and the fact that it isn’t quite up to par with his other work.

And it isn’t, but I don’t hold it against him, as it is his first (published) book, and debuts can be hit-or-miss, especially when you go back to them after having read the author’s more recent work. That said, one of the things that remains consistent is his approachable writing style that almost overrides the shortcomings, or at least made them easier to deal with. And it was also interesting to have the action start pretty much right away, and while it does mean there are some laggy moments here and there, it remains engaging, particularly in the second half.

However, I did find the characters took a bit of time to become engaged with. Hrathen was the one who stood out right away, because of the way he adds a complex, somewhat twisted religious aspect in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever seen as the focal point in epic fantasy.

It took a bit longer to get into the arcs for both Sarene and Raoden, as they felt a bit more bland. However, they did grow on me, and they at least were involved in some pretty cool things, like Sarene working to bring down a corrupt monarchy and Raoden working to discover the secret of Elantris’ fall.

This is overall a decent book, and one I think can be built on to explore more of the world, and since he plans to (eventually) release a sequel to this one, I’m curious as to where it can go from here. That said, I think any reluctant Sanderson fan should try this and see what they think for themselves.

Review of “The Undateable” (Librarians in Love #1) by Sarah Title

Title, Sarah. The Undateable. New York: Zebra/Kensington, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420141832 | 310 pages | Contemporary Romance

3.5 stars

I picked up The Undateable originally because I love finding librarians who are also romance authors (or romance authors who used to be librarians, or librarians who love romance in general), and the premise of a stereotypically “Disapproving Librarian” finding love sounded fun. I bumped it up my TBR when the book I originally was going to read proved a bit too much to focus on while reading simultaneously with the final (currently available) Stormlight Archive book, since I craved something a bit more light and fun.

And it is that. Sometimes the humor in books doesn’t translate well for me, but this one definitely did, and I found myself laughing out loud multiple times at the sheer ridiculousness of it all. While a book being devoted to a heroine being set up on multiple dates with other men by the hero might not work for everyone, I enjoyed this setup.

It especially worked in terms of establishing Bernie’s growth. While I was a bit unsure if she was doing it for the right reasons, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, as an undateable recent library and information science graduate on job hunt, and I was very much living vicariously through her, knowing that if I had the resources and especially the courage, I might be doing the same thing. And while it is initially awkward to see her try to negotiate things like makeup and heels and whatnot, by the end, I feel like she finds what works for her.

However, I’m not sure if this plot entirely worked as a romance, as I did not really root for her and Colin at all. I mean, Colin has his moments of growth, like the realization that he has gleaned a lot about what women want through Bernie, but there’s not a lot about him that stands out as being spectacular. But there wasn’t a big “aha!” moment where it really all came together where I felt like they were meant to be a “forever” thing, as it’s presented to be by the end of the book. I could see them start dating, but considering how they don’t even like each other at the beginning, I felt like there was a weak transition between opponents and forever lovers.

This was generally a cute book, but weak in developing the essential selling point of the genre for me. However, it has its moments and with its laugh-out-loud-worthy humor, I would recommend this to anyone who loves a good romantic comedy.

Review of “Memory in Death” (In Death #22) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Memory in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006.

Hardcover | $24.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399153280 | 337 pages | Futuristic Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Memory in Death is another great installment in the In Death series, in part because it shows how Eve navigates negative past feelings with the victim in a case, and also is another book in the series that makes the statement that upholding the law isn’t always black and white, such as in a case like this where the victim is a genuinely bad person, but that doesn’t mean that the perpetrator was justified in doing what they did.

The one (admittedly minor) flaw in the overall execution is that it does pretty quickly become obvious who said perpetrator is, although I did not count on them being quite as crazy and manipulative-bordering-on-psychopathic as the victim was portrayed as being prior to her death and later further described by other characters to be.

And given that this is one of the books where Eve has to deal with her past, I liked Roarke’s support of her at various moments of the story, particularly when he is confronted by Trudy attempting to blackmail them, and epically defended Eve, threatening ruin on Trudy in the process. This is one of those times where I truly adored Roarke and the influence he happens to have in everything. I also love how the case kind of informs why their relationship works, and it’s something that they discuss a couple times in the book: Eve’s not in the relationship for the money, and as much as Roarke loves her, he won’t be manipulated by her. While it is a little on-the-nose, given that this is stuff touched on in prior books, I did like that they discussed it in the context of this case.

All in all, it’s another solid entry in the series, and I’m already excited for the next one, with the aim of hopefully being more consistent and actually catching up on the series this year. And I would recommend fans of romantic suspense with an endearing recurring cast of characters to try this series too.

Review of “The Governess of Penwythe Hall” (The Cornwall Novels #1) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Governess of Penwythe Hall. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223160 | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I received an ARC from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I have very mixed feelings on The Governess of Penwythe Hall. On the one hand, I feel like there is a lot of potential here, some of which it lives up to…and some of which it does not.

And most of the potential that lives up to what I anticipated is in the character development, particularly Jac’s. While his relationships with both Delia and the children do feel at times very much in the vein of the standard governess trope, I feel like Ladd makes it enough of her own with the slight changes to the narrative. I like that Jac is facing financial issues that also impact the children’s future, and he actually finds a creative solution to them that I don’t think I’ve seen before, and, even if the bonding between him and his nephews and nieces, along with Delia becoming necessary in a way that goes beyond the professional, does run a little to the cliche, it is still rather heartwarming.

One thing I didn’t feel properly was fleshed out was Delia and her past, not to mention that the turn of events all felt more convenient for the sake of plot than anything else. I did like the tender moments she has with her own family, but I think the prologue built up some big conflict, and the stakes were further raised later in the book, but it ended up feeling anticlimactic. And the fact that of course it involved smuggling was a bit annoying, especially when it was another thing that didn’t feel like it had a lot of resonance. While I know it’s historically accurate with this location, it just didn’t have the same resonance that she imbued in some of her prior books, like her previous standalone, about the Luddite riots.

Given that this is the first in a planned series, I do hope that the next book is better and follows in the vein of her other series in varying the concepts she chooses to focus on. That being said, I do feel like this book could work for some people, especially those who are looking for a light, sweet historical romance that still has good character development.

Review of “Andrew: Lord of Despair” (Lonely Lords #7, Grace Burrowes Regency Chronological Order #2) by Grace Burrowes

Burrowes, Grace. Andrew: Lord of Despair. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402278662 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

Grace Burrowes is one of those authors I’ve had a complicated relationship with, as she is raved about by many readers, but several things have kept me from reading her interconnected books, following intending to start them with the Windham prequels. I recently made an attempt again with Gareth: Lord of Rakes, a book I had long put off due to difficulty suspending disbelief at the concept, yet unwilling to skip it (or any of the books) entirely due to fear of name-drops (that was why I was actually irrationally annoyed with the inclusion of one of her holiday novellas bundled with the last Kelly Bowen book). much to my surprise, when I recently read it, I found the justification of the concept believable, but almost everything else pertaining to the characters and plot, weak…so much so that I didn’t bother to review it. However, knowing this was an early book and not her best, and liking Andrew and Astrid as secondary characters, I persevered and picked up the second one.

While I feel this book is still much more hero-focused than I normally prefer, giving much more depth to Andrew than Astrid, I did feel like she tried to give Astrid substance in a way she did not to Felicity in the last book. I could empathize with Astrid’s struggles at being a widow of a man who was callous and unfaithful, and having her life sort of hang in the balance as she awaits the birth of his child, especially as she’s being targeted by someone who is out to hurt her and her child.

However, Andrew, despite obviously being Burrowes’ focus, was a harder sell for me at first. I did like that he and Astrid had this established rapport that carried over from the prior book, and that he was devoted to protecting her, but it took me a while to understand his motivations for making certain choices, like why he was so determined to distance himself from Astrid despite the chemistry between them. However, it became clearer later in the book, and I began to understand him more due to his past involvement with a woman who died in the same wreck that killed his father, although I did not like the way he was absolved of guilt by essentially demonizing the woman in question.

The mystery element, surrounding who was threatening Astrid’s life, was decently developed, much more so than the previous book’s mystery subplot. And while it might be easy to infer who the culprit could be, judging by who does and does not have their own book (as noted in the family tree in the opening pages), there is just enough misdirection and the character is written in a way that I still did not think it could be that person based on how they were introduced to me.

On the whole, this is an improvement on the previous book, but I still have some issues with it. From what I’ve been told, she does get better over time, so I will be continuing on with her work. And I would say, if you like historical romance, she’s worth trying, on the off chance you’re like me and are one of the few who have not fully dove into the Burrowes Backlist.

Review of “The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali” by Sabina Khan

Khan, Sabina. The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1338227017 | 326 pages | YA Contemporary

4.5 stars

To preface this review, I am including a content warning. The Love & Lies of Rukhsana Ali deals with and/or portrays the following: racism/colorism, homophobia, Islamophobia, hate crimes, rape and domestic abuse, starvation, drugging, forced marriage, starvation, and sickness and death.

That being said, Sabina Khan does her utmost to portray these issues in the most poignant manner possible, particularly when it comes to the evolving conversation around South Asians and LGBTQ rights. I rooted for Rukhsana from the beginning, in that she had this impossible choice in choosing to be with who she loves and being ostracized by her family and their society, and choosing to do what her parents wanted, and at best only being able to be with her girlfriend in secret as she was forced into a marriage she didn’t want.

I also really enjoyed exploring the family’s perspectives on Rukhsana’s marriage, and it unfolding on how it was such an ingrained tradition that actually had some dark secrets for both her mother and grandmother. This did leave me feeling a bit disconcerted, due to this plot point unfolding through her grandmother’s journal entries which she shares with Rukhsana, and it led to a couple of the graphic, sensitive issues I was not prepared for coming to the forefront. It made sense in the context of their culture and societal structure, but they were still painful to read, and would especially caution potential readers about those. However, as with the other topics, I do feel Khan did her best to depict them as sensitively as possible.

All that being said, this is definitely not a book for the faint of heart. However, it is one that discusses important issues that are important today. And I would recommend anyone who is prepared to engage with this book and the topics it discusses to do so.

Review of “The True Queen” (Sorcerer Royal #2) by Zen Cho

Cho, Zen. The True Queen. New York: Ace, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425283417 | 367 pages | Historical Fantasy

5 stars

I greatly anticipated The True Queen, having enjoyed Zen Cho’s previous book and the prior book in this series, Sorcerer to the Crown. And while I wasn’t sure at first what to think about the shift in focus to new characters, given that I have recently read some seemingly pointless sequels to books with great endings, I felt this was a great move, keeping the characters readers came to know and love from book one involved in the story, while introducing new characters that are the focal point.

I love the concept of Muna and Sakti, and the exploration of their bond as sisters as well as delving into their past that they don’t remember, leading to a big revelation later in the book. Muna was easy to relate to, as she’s left to fend for herself not having magic, but having to pretend to possess it in order to fit in among English magicians, while she figures out what happened to Sakti.

I also like the balance of their storyline and Muna’s perspective with what’s going on with the other characters, like Prunella, who was the heroine of the previous book, and Muna’s friend (and potential love interest), Henrietta. I love the subtle way their relationship is hinted at throughout the story.

This book was pure fun, after a couple of subpar reads, and that is by no means a bad thing, except that now I begin the interminable wait for the next installment. I enthusiastically recommend this book to other fantasy fans who are looking for a fun, colorful read.

Review of “The Artful Match” (London Beginnings #3) by Jennifer Delamere

Delamere, Jennifer. The Artful Match. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764219221 | 361 pages | Victorian Romance/Christian Fiction

4.5 stars

I received a copy from the author in exchange for a fair review.

The Artful Match is a delightful conclusion to a wonderful series. Both upon reading the open-ending conclusion of the prior book and reading the prologue to this one, I wondered how Jennifer Delamere would tie it all together, given this book was about Cara, and Julia was the one making the big revelations in both the previous book and the prologue. However, she did it well, and it met my expectations. That being said, while I do recommend only reading this after having read the other two, as in addition to the resolution to this over-arching plot element, there are things that do make more sense after reading the other two.

As for the story as its own entity, I enjoyed it. I wasn’t sure what to think of Cara, given that she kind of gave me the impression of being a bit immature in the prior books, but I ended up really liking her portrayal as being more idealistic, which is in keeping with what I saw of her in the previous books. And I love how she was able to form a connection with the orphaned Amelia, due to the loss or absence of one’s parents.

I also really liked Henry. I admit I was a bit disappointed to see an aristocratic hero after the prior two having heroes from different levels of society, especially since secular romance is full of aristocrats. However, I did warm to him as the story went on, especially as he is battling between doing what his mother wants and risking it all to follow his heart as he did once before. And while these aren’t unique concepts to historical romance’s aristocrats, they are common themes for an aristocratic character, and I feel that Delamere did them beautifully.

But the best part of the book for me was Langham, and I actually want him to get his own book, even though there are hints that he is somewhat settled into a romantic situation at the end. While I don’t like the out-and-out scoundrel, I have a soft spot for the rake who has indulged a bit too much and made a few stumbles, trying to do better even when those close to him think the worst of him. I love that he starts off looking like a hopeless case, and by the end, is someone with renewed faith and commitment to his vocation.

I really enjoyed this book and series, and hope this isn’t the last I’ve seen of these characters. I would recommend this to fans of slow-burning historical romance.

Review of “Dreadnought” (Nemesis #1) by April Daniels

Daniels, April. Dreadnought. New York: Diversion Books, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1682300688 | 280 pages | Fantasy–Superheroes

5 stars

I’m not the biggest superhero fan, either in comics or movie form, although I did have a brief flirtation with a few volumes of the Teen Titans comics, thanks to the original Cartoon Network show. However, this book, shared by author Mackenzi Lee on the Epic Reads YouTube channel as part of her Pride Month recommendations, sparked my interest, due to my interest in diversifying my reading, and upon hearing it was ownvoices, I became even more excited to pick it up.

Daniels blends the fun, often trod concept of a superhero origin story with that of a transgender teen, and all the issues that come with that, and the result is impeccable. I was particularly drawn to how she clearly drew on her own lived experience, as well as those of people she knows to delve into the transphobia that Danny is subjected to by those in her life. There is a magical element that assists in the transition, but that only amplifies the way both family and friends view her differently. I also like how this new experience of being a superhero puts her in the ranks of some new people, some of whom accept her and some don’t, allowing for a full spectrum of the issue of acceptance of trans people.

One of the relationships that really stands out is between Danny and Calamity. Calamity is incredibly kind to her, helping her to pick out clothes and whatnot, and it’s great to see her being a supportive friend to Danny, with just the slightest hint that there may be something more beneath the surface. The supporting cast in general was pretty, cool, and I liked that, in addition to providing authentic trans rep, the cast was also racially diverse and quirky. One of my other favorite characters was Doc Impossible, especially since he had one of the pivotal moments that shifts Danny’s perception about what it means to be a woman.

This is a book that is equal parts fun and emotionally moving. I would recommend this to anyone interested in a book that discusses trans issues, or anyone who is looking for a superhero story with a twist.

Review of “The Alloy of Law” (Mistborn #4, Alloy Era/Wax and Wayne #1) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Alloy of Law. New York: Tor, 2011.

Paperback | $24.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765330420 | 332 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Upon completing the original Mistborn trilogy, I wasn’t sure about going into the second era, especially given that I had heard it was different in tone from the first trilogy. Therefore, I figured the best thing to do would be to ease my way into that series by alternating them with the larger Stormlight books, which was something that had been suggested as a reading order by a more seasoned Sanderson fan.

But I ended up really appreciating that Sanderson wanted to do something different after finishing the first era of Mistborn. I love how the tone feels a bit lighter, due to it stylistically paying homage to the Western and steampunk genres, something you don’t see often with epic fantasy, much less any progression beyond the medieval tech level. And upon learning his future plans to continue developing the world technologically into a futuristic setting down the road, I am definitely sold on this idea. And now being more intimately aware of how he plans to progress the world and make the characters from previous eras into god-like legends in succeding eras, I now understand his rationale for the Ascension at the end of The Hero of Ages.

The characters themselves were a bit less engaging than the original trilogy, although I do feel like it was meant to be smaller in scope, and the characters do feed into some Western genre stereotypes, which explains them not feeling overly fleshed out. However, Wax and Wayne are intriguing characters to follow, and seem to carry this sub-series well. Wayne in particular was fun to read, as he adds humor that I haven’t seen in any of Sanderson’s other works I’ve read to date, aside from Warbreaker.

While it’s definitely not the best thing Brandon Sanderson has written, it’s obvious that this is something he seems to have fun working on (especially given that there are now three books in this series, with a fourth announced and being worked on), and it is definitely a great example of his process of taking something that’s been done to death and doing something different with it. I would recommend it to anyone who likes Sanderson’s style and process, but may have been reluctant to try it, given what they may have heard about it being drastically different from the first Mistborn trilogy.

Review of “Lost Stars” (Journey to Star Wars: The Force Awakens) by Claudia Gray

Gray, Claudia. Lost Stars. Los Angeles: Disney/Lucasfilm Press, 2015.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1484724989 | 551 pages | YA Science Fiction

5 stars

Amid many of the New Canon novel entries, Lost Stars is one I consistently heard praised by Star Wars fans. And despite my continued reluctance to embrace the new material, especially ones that deviated from the central characters in the films, I was intrigued by the premise. And now having finally read it, I will say I am not disappointed.

I like that this story deviates from the traditional light vs. dark narrative to look at the complexities of why someone would be unconditionally loyal to the Empire, as Ciena is, as well as exploring what might make someone change sides, as explored through Thane’s character. And it’s fascinating to see it all from the perspective of two ordinary soldiers, as opposed to people like Anakin/Vader or Luke, Leia, and Han, who all played instrumental roles in the action.

I love how Thane and Ciena are written, getting their insights into key events of the original trilogy, and I think it’s sad but beautiful how they continue to justify their feelings for one another in spite of them being on opposing sides, right up until the final pages. And it was great to have that twist on their personalities with her having misguided faith in what the reader knows is a corrupt political system and having him being jaded and end up working for the Rebellion, when it is far more common for the jaded person to align with the dark side.

This is a wonderful companion piece to the original trilogy, while also, as the series title indicates, providing more connections between the original and new trilogies. Thus, it might not be the best entry point for a new fan to the saga. However, I will concur with other fans that this is definitely a must read for Star Wars fans, especially if they’re looking for something with a tonal shift that explores the moral ambiguity between light and dark.

Review of “Next Year in Havana” by Chanel Cleeton

Cleeton, Chanel. Next Year in Havana. New York: Berkley, 2018.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399586662 | 382 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

Next Year in Havana was a surprise, considering I wasn’t that interested in the book when it came out, but a year of consistently hearing about it (and Cleeton’s recent visit to one of the online book clubs I’m in) and the impending release of the follow-up led to me giving into my building curiosity. And, having finished it, I’m pleased to have read it.

I love that, in the sea of historical fiction and time-slip books that involve one or both of the World Wars in some way, this one stands out in dealing with an event that isn’t covered much, perhaps due to it still being somewhat recent in some people’s memory. But I love that Cleeton was able to tap into her own family history for this novel and create a unique and moving story focusing quite a bit on Cuban politics, past and present, without it feeling too heavy handed.

This is also one of the rare dual timeline novels that manages to invest me in both past and present equally, both enjoying the parallels in Marisol and Elisa’s lives as well as seeing them as individuals. Elisa’s is definitely more familiar and even tropey in its sense of being ill-fated, which is often the case for the past arc in stories of this type, but the setting along with her and her love interest, Pablo’s, opposing goals give it a unique slant, inspiring belief in that love even if it is not meant to be.

And while the romance for Marisol has its parallels with Elisa and Pablo’s, I didn’t resonate with it nearly as much. What I really liked was this feeling of discovery of a part of her heritage that she did not feel connected with before, as well as some unexpected revelations about her grandmother and her heritage she did not expect. I think that is something that is relatable for a lot of people born and raised in the U.S. or otherwise outside their family’s country of origin, and I love the way Cleeton captures that feeling of connecting with your roots.

This is a wonderful, moving book, and one I think a lot of people can connect to on some level. So, while it is a book I would recommend if you love historical fiction and want to read something in a different time period, I would also recommend it for those who love stories about family histories and reconnecting with one’s roots.

Review of “Origin in Death” (In Death #21) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Origin in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2005.

Hardcover | $24.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399152894 | 339 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

I very much enjoyed Origin in Death, much more than the prior book. Whether it was because I was once again engrossed in the mechanics of the world or because this was one of the cases that grabbed me more than some others, I found it oddly compelling.

On occasion, I have found with this series and its dabbling in futuristic concepts as part of the cases that it lessens my enjoyment somewhat, but it was not so in this case, likely due to the relevance of the issues surrounding cloning that already exist within our discourse because of existing popular culture. The result was a twisty plot with multiple murders and murderers, but one that felt very much in the realm of possibility for me, while also still having enough of that “futuristic” feel.

And it’s fun to see Eve and Peabody’s relationship evolving since they became partners, and I think this book has great examples of them being on equal footing in terms of their dynamic. There is no filter in their relationship, and Peabody can just say what she feels, and Eve will both be receptive of it and have a brilliant comeback of her own. One of my favorite bits was when they were talking about the idea of what would happen if it was a situation where both their own partner and the other person (e.g. for Peabody, it would be McNab and Eve) died, would they go for the other’s partner? That had me rolling, especially with Eve’s response, imagining herself and McNab and pretty much shuddering at the thought.

This was one of the more delightful entries in the series, and definitely has me interested in continuing again, with the hope of being caught up at some point. I would definitely recommend this book (and series) to fans of well-plotted romantic suspense, that also contains wonderful evolving relationships between its cast of characters.

Review of “This Scot of Mine” (The Rogue Files #4) by Sophie Jordan

Jordan, Sophie. This Scot of Mine. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062463661 | 344 pages | Victorian Romance

3 stars

This Scot of Mine has a premise that has a lot of potential…but it was unfortunately not executed well. However, one of the good points was the characterization and the dynamic between Hunt and Clara. While it could have gone all wrong, and even predicted it going wrong, due to the fact that they each had some big secrets that they were keeping from one another, I did like that it didn’t take until the end for it to come to the fore, and that the potential ramifications of the curse was something they tried to navigate together.

However, this resolution of that conflict, and the book sometimes describing long stretches of time passing led to my interest in the book flagging. There just wasn’t much of a plot to speak of in the second half. And I’m not sure if I’m the only one, but I found the wording of the curse, and how it was meant to be broken super confusing. There is an attempt to establish some of the mechanics of how it works, with the mention of the ways his forebears met their end, but I just didnt’ really get how the curse was broken this time. This was only one of the things that was left rather vague, with her ruination not described in detail, beyond the fact that she apparently faked a pregnancy to get away from her awful fiancee.

I’m also beginning to wonder how long this series will go on for, especially as there’s a cliffhanger (in the tradition of this series) setting up the next book, which is about Clara’s uninspiring friend, Marian. I will probably read it to see what happens and if it is any better, especially that since I do hope that Clara’s sister, Enid, will still have a book in the future, and how it will be handled.

However, I feel like this book could have used some improvement in terms of pacing and further clarification in terms of plot elements, as a lot of it felt a little too rushed. I do still think it is worth checking out if you like a fun historical romance, but I’m not sure if it is one I would enthusiastically recommend.

Top 10 Romances by Authors of Color (A Personal List)

Another year, and once again we have more proof how little the romance industry has progressed, first with the release of The Ripped Bodice third annual State of Racial Diversity in Romance survey, and more recently with the release of the RITA finalists, which are, once again overwhelmingly white, and while there are a couple finalists of color, Black authors in particular are once again snubbed. And, as is often the case when race comes up, while some are compassionate allies, others are…not. Claiming not to be racist, they say such things like “I don’t see color,” and I don’t care if someone  is black, red, blue, purple, etc.” (I greatly appreciate Eva Leigh’s takedown of the latter defense in particular).

Therefore, wanting to write about this whole situation, but being aware that I may not have a lot of the information, due to a lot of it being insider Romance Writers of America organizational stuff that I am only getting snippets of secondhand, I made a compromise and decided to shout out my favorite books by authors of color.

So, without further ado, and not (entirely) in any particular order, here are my favorite reads by authors of color:

  1. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang (2018): Obviously, this one would be on the list. And Helen Hoang said on Twitter that she didn’t enter, due to her awareness of the  broken RITAs judging system, and how it favored some POC over others. But regardless, it is still my (and many others’, I’m sure) personal favorite of last year. Despite having a premise that could have easily put me off, it captured the perfect balance of steamy and sweet for me, and Michael and Stella have one of the healthiest, most nurturing relationships in romance I’ve ever read.
  2. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole (2019): I’ve been dying to read more f/f, and despite it being only a novella, this satisfied my craving completely. While the main Reluctant Royals books have fallen a little short of expectations for me, this one was beautiful, and hit all the right notes as a second chance love story.
  3. The Proposal by Jasmine Guillory (2018): I had some issues with the element of miscommunication in her prior book, but The Proposal hit it out of the park for me. I loved the emotional journey that Nik goes on toward letting herself be loved, especially after being with a partner who was emotionally abusive,  and Carlos for being such a great, supportive hero from the beginning.
  4. Her Perfect Affair by Priscilla Oliveras (2018): I was psyched when Priscilla’s first book double finaled last year, and that was part of why I ended up checking out her work. But I personally feel like this one is better than the first, although I may be biased due to the librarian heroine and the adorable hero. It has a situation that I did not expect to love, but
  5. Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins (2016): My first Beverly Jenkins book and my personal favorite of her Old West/“Rhine Trilogy,” I loved Forbidden for its captivating romance while dealing with difficult topics like race relations and Passing.
  6. Let’s Talk About Love by Claire Kann (2018): Asexual representation is lacking, particularly in traditional publishing, and I was glad to see this one get some love last year, especially since I first heard about it through author Mackenzi Lee’s Pride Month recommendations video. I love how it deals  with navigating how to have a relationship as a asexual person, as well as touching on the pressures that Black people in America face, having to work twice as hard to prove themselves academically and professionally.
  7. I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo (2017): This is  an adorable book that put a fun spin on a premise that’s been done before: using tips from Korean dramas to impress the guy you like. And while the romance was cute, “flailures” and all, the best part about this (and a Maurene Goo book, in general) is seeing the parent-child relationships she crafts. The heroine and her father becoming closer through their shared love of K-Dramas is so sweet.  
  8. Pride by Ibi Zoboi (2018): While I’ve seen mixed reviews of this YA Pride and Prejudice retelling, I enjoyed this one. My criteria for an Austen retelling is a mix of capturing the spirit of the book, while adding something new, and Ibi Zoboi does so in transplanting the story to present-day Brooklyn, and discussing the issue of gentrification.
  9. The Forbidden Hearts series by Alisha Rai (2017-18): This series was life changing in the best way. I’m not normally a fan of super-steamy books, but I loved the way the romance in these books was just as much about the characters’ emotional bond with one another as it was about their sexual desire. And the series also beautifully develops family relationships that I could get invested in just as much as the love relationships, and while I can sometimes find that some authors focus too much on one and leave something wanting with the author, I felt Alisha Rai captured the perfect balance of the two here.
  10. The Loyal League series by Alyssa Cole (2016-19): I admit, I’m cheating on this one, as I haven’t read book 3 yet, and I don’t know for sure when I’ll get to it. But the first two books are amazing, and I love the beautiful relationships that arise between the two couples from working together in high-pressure situations.

Review of “Miss Wilton’s Waltz” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. Miss Wilton’s Waltz. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724133 | 342 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I was so excited upon finishing The Vicar’s Daughter to find out that Lenora was getting her own book, but of course, me being me, I didn’t make time to read Miss Wilton’s Waltz when it first came out. But I feel like this is one of those books that I’m glad I waited for the right time for me to soak in and read, as I adored it.

I admittedly loved Lenora a lot more than Cassie in the first book, because I could relate to her social anxiety and some of the choices she made. And I was glad to see her get her story, and how her past experience with Cassie and Evan colored her current experience with Aiden and his fiancee.

I enjoy when a character has a strong moral compass, but their sense of honor and wanting to do the right thing still gets them into trouble, and Aiden did not disappoint in that regard. I like how he is not perfect, in that he is trying to figure out the best thing to do in terms of being a guardian for his troubled niece, and he faces the dilemma of his feelings for Lenora and a fiancee who is both insistent on keeping the engagement intact and taking control of aspects of his life in a manner he is increasingly uncomfortable with, and it had me uncertain as to how he would manage to make it all work out.

And Catherine herself was a surprise. While the child starved of love is a common trope when one of the romantic leads is their guardian, I enjoyed the twist Kilpack put on the trope this time, including discussing dyslexia in both a period appropriate and sensitive way.

I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait to pick up more of Josi S. Kilpack’s books (I have her other 2018 title, Promises and Primroses, in my TBR, and I hope to get to it before book two releases). I would recommend this to all fans of sweet, Traditional Regency romance in the vein of Austen or Heyer.

Review of “Devil’s Daughter” (Ravenels #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas, Lisa. Devil’s Daughter. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062890702 | 264 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Devil’s Daughter is a return in a few different ways for Lisa Kleypas: she revisits many of her beloved characters from the Wallflowers series, but on a more personal level for me, it’s a bit of a return to form for her, especially after the divisive misfire that was Hello Stranger, which I would even argue is almost skippable, but for West’s involvement, which is saying a lot as someone who prefers to read in order.

That brings me to one of the major reasons I adored this book. West himself is a character I loved from book one, and is one of the main things I still remember about the series, only having read each book once. And part of it is the way he is a character who has evolved into a better person from the wastrel he was before. West for me strikes the perfect balance between becoming a better person on his own and the needing someone to lean on after having been through such tough times. This can be hard path to walk without it seeming like the woman changes him purely through love, which I’ve often found unrealistic, so I appreciate the way he was written to be different.

I did not know what to expect from Phoebe, given that she was Evie and Sebastian’s daughter, and that’s the main thing that defined her prior to my meeting her as the heroine of this book. But I ended up really warming to her when I saw what Kleypas’ intent with her was. I loved that she was a caring soul, but the situation she’s left in in the wake of her husband’s death has left her a little out of her depth. I find that such an interesting dynamic, especially in terms of how that led to the beginnings of Phoebe and West’s relationship.

The one who stole the show for me, however, was Sebastian, formerly Lord St. Vincent, now Duke of Kingston. I vaguely remember some lovely scenes with him and Evie in their prior appearance in Devil in Spring, but I loved seeing them play a more prominent role, especially given the parallels between Sebastian’sand West’s respective pasts. There’s a lovely scene between Sebastian and West where West makes his claims that he’s not worthy of Phoebe, but Sebastian gives him the most amazing pep talk, and it’s everything I could have asked for and more.

This was, in short, my favorite book of the Ravenels series, capturing the magic both of the returning Wallflower characters and providing a satisfying HEA for my favorite character. This book is a must read for any Lisa Kleypas fan, and I would recommend this (after having read the Wallflowers and the other Ravenels books, with or without Hello Stranger) to anyone who loves a wonderfully nuanced, yet funny historical romance.

Review of “Unmask Me If You Can” (Survivors #4) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Unmask Me If You Can. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2018.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1727153989 | 334 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Each entry in Shana Galen’s Survivors series has struck a great balance between being action-packed and emotionally moving, and Unmask Me If You Can is no exception…in fact, it might be the most beautiful and moving of the entire series, because of the character growth for both hero and heroine.

Jasper was a character who intrigued me from the first book in the series, and I was glad getting to know more about him didn’t disappoint. Galen strikes the right balance with him between him being ashamed of his physical scars while also battling emotional guilt, all without it being overly angsty or heavy-handed. IT was beautiful to see his confidence grow from hiding in the shadows to confidently coming to the light to fight for the woman he loves.

But the real star for me is Olivia. I could empathize with all her fear in the aftermath of her sexual assault, and applauded her courage in facing down her assailant, who was more determined than ever to possess and degrade her, due to the way Society worked in his favor.

I also love the beautiful way consent was emphasized in Jasper and Olivia’s relationship. Some might think it ridiculous, but I feel like, especially given the stories that have come to light in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, there needs to be more discussions around consent and more clarity in terms of what consent is. Given that her assailant uses language that isn’t an unfamiliar defense, or at least it wasn’t not that long ago (” You said no, but inside, you wanted it”), I love that Jasper is such a gentleman, and applaud Galen for writing such a respectful hero.

This was a beautiful story, and one I loved from start to finish. I would recommend this to other fans of historical romances that deal with tough topics.

Review of “The Matchmaker’s List” by Sonya Lalli

Lalli, Sonya. The Matchmaker’s List. 2017. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451490940 | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3 stars

The Matchmaker’s List was a much more disappointing read than I thought it would be, largely due to making a hash out of what is a good premise. But even so, it does still have some good qualities, most relating to the main setup of the story.

I love getting a look at the dynamics of love, dating, and marriage in different cultures, and this one did that relatively well, especially in terms of demonstrating the extended family’s involvement in an individual’s love life. The relationship between Raina and her grandmother isn’t perfect, and they don’t see eye-to-eye, but I love their slightly dysfunctional relationship all the same, especially when you see how both are affected by Raina’s flake of a mother, who the grandmother failed to rein in. Even when Raina messes up (and boy, does she), it’s obvious she’s doing it out of some form of love for her grandmother, just as the grandmother is doing what she does out of love for her.

That brings me to a discussion of the negative and problematic elements. This book unfortunately suffers from what I have started to call it “the Big Lie Syndrome,” where the plot gets out of control because our protagonist tells one lie that expands into more lies, and delays telling the truth. And what a lie it is. While I admit I wasn’t massively bothered by her lying about being gay, especially as I read on and saw what Lalli was trying to say about the conservative views among Indian immigrant families and breaking down those barriers, it still felt incredibly disingenuous to have this lie forgiven at the end, especially by actual LGBTQ characters, one of whom comes out to her at one point in the book. The grandma, I can understand, but I don’t know if I would have been so forgiving if I was in those other characters’ shoes.

I also found myself annoyed that she spent so much time mooning over a guy who clearly was only available when it was convenient for him, to the point of not even seeing a great guy right in front of her, just because she wasn’t willing to date a non-Indian. While she comes around in the end and I did feel that she had a solid arc, I questioned her intelligence when it came to her choice of an ideal romantic partner at times.

All that being said, this is still a decent book, with great ideas, even if they did get a little lost in execution. I would recommend this to those who are looking for a multicultural romantic comedy, and also don’t mind an incredibly flawed heroine.

Review of “The Lady’s Guard” (Sinful Brides #3) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Lady’s Guard. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017.

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1477848920 | 308 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Lady’s Guard is a wonderful book, and once again demonstrates Christi Caldwell’s skill at crafting emotionally moving stories with beautifully flawed characters.

I didn’t know what to expect from Diana as a heroine going in, given that she didn’t make a massive impression in the last two books, but I ended up loving her character from the very first pages. I could empathize with feeling tainted due to the fact that she feared inheriting her mother’s “madness,” and could also relate to the complex relationship she had with her father, especially given the last two books saw him developing relationships with the illegitimate children he sired with the woman he truly loved.

As for Niall, he has now surpassed Ryker as my favorite hero of the series. While all the brothers have been through a lot, both collectively and individually, I feel like his experience is the one that I found the most emotionally impactful. And despite it seeming unlikely at first, I really liked seeing tough-guy Niall and sweet Diana banter and get under each other’s skin, as it was done in such a beautiful way.

This is a wonderful book in a great series. I would recommend this to fans of historical romance that has deep, layered characters and situations that test them.

Review of “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” by Kate Morton

Morton, Kate. The Clockmaker’s Daughter. New York: Atria Books, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1451649390 | 485 pages | Historical Fiction

2.5 stars

Kate Morton is an author I enjoyed quite a bit in the past, but found myself having some difficulty getting into her last release, The Lake House. So, when I heard about The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I was interested in picking it up, but not overly eager to do so. And now that I have, I have mixed feelings.

Morton has a beautiful and evocative writing style that always gives me the sense that I’m actually in the places she describes, in this case a stately manor near the Thames. She also manages to capture the voice of the central historical character she’s writing about beautifully, in this case the spirit-character, Birdie. She has such a powerful voice, and even as I waited for it all to come together, I still found myself captivated by those chapters.

However, I did feel like it took a bit too long to come together, and I found myself a bit confused at times, what with all the skipping about through time. And despite there being quite a few characters in these different time periods the only one who really stood out aside from Birdie was Edward, due to the mystery being so focused on him. And while there are obvious connections between the time periods, the book falls into the common problem with multi-timeline stories where we don’t really spend enough time with anyone to see them develop or get attached to them, with a few exceptions.

In general, this wasn’t really for me, although it did have a lot of promise. That being said, I think it’s still worth giving it a shot after looking into the varying opinions on the book, especially if you’ve liked Kate Morton in the past, or are interested in complex, intricate stories.

Review of “Shelter in Place” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Shelter in Place. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250161598 | 438 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Shelter in Place is the best in the admittedly short list of books I’ve read from Nora Roberts thus far. But I think what makes it stand out, especially having picked up a number of her romantic suspense novels, both under her own name and as J.D. Robb, is that it shows her at her full potential as a writer. Especially with the last book I read from her, I could not help but wish she had done more to make me care about the characters and their relationships with one another over time, while also developing the suspense plot and perhaps even putting it at at the forefront, and this fulfilled my criteria.

I love the care put into establishing who the main players are through their reactions to this senseless tragedy, especially since it’s an issue that is very relevant right now. I love the development of Simone and Reed and even some of the supporting players due to having gone through this experience, and how the story slowed down to give them time to grow and heal, thus making the romance, which kicks off about halfway through, much more rewarding.

One of the best parts, however, was the development of the perpetrator’s character. There is something bizarrely compelling about a psychopathic killer, and Roberts captures their twisted mind perfectly.

This was a nice breath of fresh air, especially since it does deviate from Roberts’ standard “formula” that I’ve started to notice in many of her books. I would recommend this to both Nora readers and new readers, especially those who love gritty thrillers with timely topics.

Review of “Mistborn: The Final Empire” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Mistborn: The Final Empire. New York: Tor, 2006.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765350381 | 657 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

I was super hyped to finally read Mistborn: The Final Empire (sometimes just called Mistborn) following my enjoyment of Warbreaker. And it is definitely another great book from Brandon Sanderson. One of the strengths is the balance between the use of tropes and the subversion of them. There are some elements that led to the natural progression into the promotion of this series as YA, like the young, emotionally traumatized protagonist, but the overall premise of the series is radical in its approach to the idea that the “bad guy” defeated the hero.

I also like the way the overall structure of the book presents both a full story in and of itself and the first installment of a larger story with some plot threads to wrap up. While I have no issue with cliffhangers or one book’s story feeling merely like one piece of a puzzle, it’s nice to have a story where you end feeling both a sense of satisfaction and a longing for more, rather than frustration that it ended with so much unresolved and you can’t get to the next book fast enough (or in the case of currently running series, you have to wait at least another year for the next book).

Vin herself is an incredibly nuanced character, with the difficulties in her past. I like how it struck the balance between her being competent due to her upbringing, being somewhat slow to trust due to the trauma, and really coming to value the relationships she develops with the others she encounters throughout.

And all the other characters were complex and interesting as well, from the somewhat roguish hero, Kelsier to even the Lord Ruler whose identity presented a twist I did not see coming, and while it has been done before in some ways, provided a measure of amusement for me given the premise.

This was a fabulous book, albeit one where the opinions about it are definitely polarizing, especially when it comes to whether it will appeal to those who read more adult fantasy and aren’t as into the YA-leaning themes. My opinion is, if you’re new to fantasy and looking to ease yourself into the genre (or back in, in my case) this is a great starting point, but wouldn’t dissuade an avid fantasy fan from trying this one either, in spite of the criticisms.

Review of “You Never Forget Your First Earl” (The Worthingtons #5) by Ella Quinn

Quinn, Ella. You Never Forget Your First Earl. New York: Zebra/Kensington, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145182 | 348 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

You Never Forget Your First Earl is unfortunately the weakest entry in the Worthingtons series so far, but the strengths that carry over from the first four books remain intact. Once again, Ella Quinn shows her clear enthusiasm for the the Regency period with a well-researched historical romance, which stands out in a sea of wallpaper historicals. While she admits to taking a few liberties, they were largely for the sake of the flow of the plot, and I think any other reasons outlined in the author’s note provide justification beyond that.

I also liked the setup for both characters. Elizabeth intrigued me from her first appearance in book two, and I’m glad to finally get to know her better, and that she’s not just “the ideal wife” for a gentleman, but she really does want more than that. And while he does factor into some of my problems with the book, I enjoyed Geoff’s charming awkwardness for the most part.

Unfortunately, this is one of those books that has an almost conflict-free beginning-to-middle where they get along great, with the last third or so being bogged down by a Big Misunderstanding that could have been resolved with one conversation. The worst part is is that the two of them keep contemplating wanting to talk about it (or in her case rail at him about it), but pretty much don’t. I like the intent with the conflict about the ways of expressing love, but I just feel like if they were open and honest, there wouldn’t have been so much interminable sulking and assumptions.

On the whole, I did like this, in spite of its flaws in terms of how the conflict was executed. I would probably recommend this to fans of richly detailed historical romance, especially if you don’t mind the Big Misunderstanding trope.

Review of “Warbreaker” by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Warbreaker. New York: Tor/Tom Doherty Associates, 2009.

Hardcover | $34.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765320308 | 592 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

I could not wait to read Warbreaker after seeing the way it was hyped by some of the BookTubers I watched as a good starting point for Sanderson’s Cosmere books. And this is one of those that did not disappoint.

One of the things Sanderson is great at is worldbuilding and establishing a great magic system within that world. And even though much of the story is contained into a smaller landscape geographically than other fantasy books I’ve read in the past, there is still a lot happening. And I loved the intricacies with the magic and how it played into the plot without it ever feeling like it just existed for the sake of plot convenience.

And while there are a bunch of characters and several points of view, I liked that they were more or less distinct from one another, and, even if the story isn’t super high action, I loved how the intrigue of their relationships and interactions really played into the plot.

I also loved the subtle romantic elements embedded into the story without overpowering the fact that it is meant to be a fantasy book. While I obviously often enjoy a more ostentatious passionate love story when I’m picking up a straight-up romance, it’s nice to see a relationship that slowly builds and develops in an organic way without having to be in-your-face about it.

That said, I would enthusiastically recommend this book as a starting point for Sanderson’s Cosmere books, given its fast pace and colorful characters, and smaller scope. But I would also recommend it to all fans of a good fantasy, especially since this in my opinion (and other people’s) an incredibly underrated book.

Review of “Whiskey Beach” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Whiskey Beach. New York: G.P. Putnan’s Sons, 2013.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399159893 | 484 pages | Romantic Suspense

3.5 stars

Following the recent #CopyPasteCris scandal and the way Nora Roberts became one of the leading voices speaking out about it and the problems in the industry, I decided yet again to try another of her books, selecting Whiskey Beach due to it being on the list of plagiarized titles. And while I did find some of similar issues that I have had with Roberts’ work in the past, I did find the story had a lot of promise.

I was drawn to the idea of a plot and setting that had this historic lore to it, and while it was slow to develop in that regard, I did like that the way it was incorporated was intriguing and played well into the resolution of the murder of Eli’s estranged wife. I also liked that, for the most part, Eli was a well-written character. I could feel for him and what he had been through, but I love that he came to find new purpose in his life through this experience.

The more romantic suspense I read, the more I find that this subgenre straddles that weird line of having to balance the plot elements that cater to the suspense plot vs. building a believable romance that I can invest in, and it can be hard for even the most experienced writer to negotiate the two in a way where both are equally interesting. There are exceptions, including Roberts’ own work, but this one seems to be one where there was that difficulty, at least from my perspective.

This leads into my issues with the early development of the relationship between Eli and Abra. It took me ages to become endeared to Abra, especially given how pushy she was initially. Also, while the relationship did start to feel more organic as the book went on, the mostly physical nature of the relationship at first felt a bit forced, and I more or less found the romance less interesting than the resolution to who was behind the murders and why Eli was being targeted.

This was more or less a decent book, and one that did have enjoyable aspects to it. And given the love it has received from friends who love Nora, I do think a newer Nora fan who has been eagerly digging through her backlist or one who somehow missed it would enjoy this a bit more than I did as a casual reader of hers.

Review of “Jane the Quene” (The Seymour Saga #1) by Janet Wertman

Wertman, Janet. Jane the Quene. [Place of publication not identified: Janet Wertman, 2016. 

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0997133813 | 272 pages | Historical Fiction

4.5 stars

I recently picked up the Jane the Quene to further indulge my inner Tudor fangirl/nerd, which is something I don’t do often enough, especially given how much is out there about them in both historical fiction and non-fiction. I also liked that it was one of the few books I’ve seen that focused on Jane Seymour as a central character, with the promise of delving more into her family in the decades following in the next couple books, a prospect that intrigues me, given how often they are relegated to the roles of supporting players.

While a lot of the elements are things we’ve seen before, it’s not really a fault of Wertman herself, given that she is working with the same sources as many other authors of Tudor fiction. I do like that, in addition to providing intrigue from the perspective of someone like Cromwell, who had major influence at the time, it also showed more of how Jane and her family comported themselves once Henry’s attention became obvious, and later when he married her. While I did get the sense of the Seymour brothers being scheming through my knowledge of the way things played out during Henry and Jane’s son, Edward’s, brief reign,

However, the best part is Jane’s more well-rounded character. I liked that Wertman’s narrative provided some element of a schemer to Jane too. Far too often, given that we don’t get Jane’s perspective, she is painted in a study of contrasts to Henry’s other wives, such as being the docile replacement to Anne Boleyn, or being the only one to bear him a living son, whereas the other wives, if they’re not vilified, at least have more nuance in how they’re remembered, at least from my perspective. So I very much appreciated the development of her character into someone who wasn’t this perfect martyr, thus making her easy to sympathize with.

I would recommend this to other Tudor enthusiasts, especially those like myself who are looking for more books about Jane Seymour.

Review of “Gilded Cage” (Dark Gifts #1) by Vic James

James, Vic. Gilded Cage. New York: Del Rey, 2017.

Hardcover | $20.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425284155 | 358 pages | Science Fantasy/Dystopian

4 stars

I picked up Gilded Cage on a whim purely based on the promise of the blurb. Having flirted with the YA dystopian genre when it was at its peak, and become recently reinvigorated with fantasy, I was intrigued at the possibility of a book that perhaps offered a new take, given it seemed to be mixing the two for a slightly darker feel.

And it more or less did that. While I did find that, as is often the case with multi-POV books, that I liked more than others, being massively interested in Luke’s chapters as he goes through brutal enslavement and all the trouble he gets into, but I did like that within the POV characters provided a nice well-rounded look at the contrasting lives of the aristocratic Equals and the commoners, helping to establishing the world building through these characters living out their lives.

The plot is complex and multi-layered, and while there were some bits where I felt a little less personally invested, I am overall impressed with how it turned out, especially in terms of how it sets up a great conflict for a series going forward.

I would recommend this to fans of dystopian fiction who are looking for a slightly different take on it.

Review of “Lady Rogue” (Royal Rewards #3) by Theresa Romain

Romain, Theresa. Lady Rogue. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145434 | 277 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Lady Rogue is definitely the best in the Royal Rewards series yet, containing both Theresa Romain’s signature relatable characters with a much more cohesive plot than the other two, likely helped by the fact that it did have the foundations of those books to build on.

The setup for Isabel and Callum’s relationship takes some suspension of disbelief, but in this case, I’ll take it, as I love stories where the heroine is the aristocrat and the hero is the commoner. And Callum’s background does touch on his humble origins without it tending toward the bleak, which has been used as justification for the lack of commoner heroes in historical romance. And I love how they have a dynamic that works, even if I did find myself initially forgetting a bit from prior books concerning them if I had met them before and whether their prior relationship had been hinted at in the other books.

The heist plot had some great twists and turns, and I liked that it involved classic art, one of the things I always love to read about in fiction, especially in a somewhat suspenseful vein (blame The Da Vinci Code and its readalikes). And I love how the sinister nature of what Isabel’s late husband may have been involved in was hinted at, culminating in a shocking revelation.

This was a delightful Regency romance, and one that hit many of the rights spots for me character and plot wise. I would recommend this for fans of romances with a touch of suspense, as well as those who love sympathetic and different historical romance characters.

Review of “The Duke That I Marry” (Spinster Heiresses #3) by Cathy Maxwell

Maxwell, Cathy. The Duke That I Marry. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062655783 | 339 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

The Duke That I Marry was an enjoyable conclusion to the Spinster Heiresses trilogy, and one that made up for the lack of real substance in book two by matching book one in its handling of real, relatable issues in a historical context.

Matt’s and Willa’s desires from marriage are very much shaped by observing their parents and, on Matt’s part, his rash mistakes in conducting a prior attachment. I love how the two of them were able to overcome these initial marital difficulties in a mature way, and come to see that a marriage of convenience can become a love match.

There’s been much talk in the reviews regarding a scene of dubious consent, and if that’s a trigger for you, then I’d advise perhaps approaching with caution, but also thinking deeper outside the context of the scene itself. As someone who isn’t a fan of consent issues, who avoids books with callous rapist heroes, I love how this was handled in the context of both their own insecurities and also the time period. Some took issue with the remark that “a man cannot rape one’s wife,” but the fact is, it was accepted as a fact of life back then. I acknowledge that the ethical line of what is considered acceptable. I also feel like, even though Matt did lose control, it was never meant to be a moment of romanticized rape, but a stark look at one of the hurdles they must get through. In the chapters preceding this scene and afterward, Matt deals with the ramifications of his affair with a married woman and the lingering guilt of it all, which led him to believe that denying his passion was the right course. In one of the scenes preceding this one, Willa and her mother, who is herself in a loveless marriage, have “the Talk,” and it paints all the wrong expectations of what to expect, and that along with the inauspicious start to their relationship, is one that could easily sow distrust. But in the scenes following, you see how repentant Matt is for his loss of control, as well as his growth as a person. Kudos to Cathy Maxwell for including this scene, controversial as it is, and managing to create a hero who was believable in his growth from these dark moments.

I did find the blackmail subplot a bit poorly developed, and the person behind it incredibly obvious. However, I did like the root of the blackmail plot and its roots in real historical prejudices against homosexuals, as discussed in her author’s note.

All that being said, I really enjoyed the effort to immerse the reader into an near-authentic Regency world, while also providing sympathetic, relatable characters and a happy ending. I would recommend this to other fans of historicals who also love that as well.

Review of “Once Ghosted, Twice Shy” (Renegade Royals 2.5) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062931870 | 144 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Despite not being massively wowed by the Reluctant Royals series to date, I was super excited for the release of this novella, in part because I really enjoyed Likotsi’s character, but also because I was happy to see more f/f romance from a traditional publisher. And I was truly blown away. While I could definitely see ways that this story could have been fleshed out to be a bit longer (and definitely wanted it, because Fab and Likotsi’s relationship is amazing), I did like that it portrayed a beautiful love story between two black queer women, providing some intersectionality as well.

While I was initially skeptical when I saw the dual timeline setup, given that I had seen this attempted in novellas before (and even full novels) with mixed results, I really liked it in this one, getting a sense for how their past fling had potential and the reason it ended in the past, and seeing them reunite and address their lingering feelings and the reason Fab ended up breaking it off in the present. Both of them are incredibly sympathetic, and I enjoyed that they had a dynamic where, even though things did end on a bad note, when they reunited, they did not try to deny the feelings that still existed between them.

And while it is more subtle, I did like how the story touched on some of the issues facing black people today, through the explanation of Fab’s family situation. And I found it wonderful that Likotsi offered to help, regardless of how things worked out between them in the end.

This was a delightful palate cleansing novella, and one that has me anticipating more in the series. I would recommend this book to fans of black and/or queer romance.

Review of “Now I Rise” (The Conqueror’s Saga #2) by Kiersten White

White, Kiersten. Now I Rise. New York: Delacorte Press, 2017. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0553522358 | 470 pages | YA Historical Fiction

5 stars

Despite my conflicting feelings regarding historical and cultural/linguistic accuracy in And I Darken, I still had a lingering desire to continue on with this series, especially since the characters and their complex, if toxic, relationships continued to mystify me. And I’m now glad I gave Now I Rise a shot, as I enjoyed it even more than I thought I would, given that I now went in knowing a little more about what to expect.

The troubled sibling dynamic between Lada and Radu remains at the forefront, and I was intrigued at seeing how the rift between them started to grow wider, in large part due to their contrasting natures and choices. Despite the fact that Lada is very much a brutal, merciless warrior character in this one, she is written in such a way where I feel like her motivations are still easy to understand, even without having been in that specific set of circumstances.

I also love seeing Radu’s conflict throughout these political maneuverings on both Lada’s side and Mehmed’s, in terms of the conquest of Constantinople. Despite the fact that the historical fact of who won out is known, the way he has to examine his loyalties in this matter is a truly touching one, especially given his difficult relationship with his sister and forbidden feelings for Mehmed.

This was in general a wonderful sequel that outdid the first in its storyline and characterizations. I would recommend this to other fans of unique takes on historical fiction.

Review of “To Woo a Wicked Widow” (The Widows’ Club #1) by Jenna Jaxon

Jaxon, Jenna. To Woo a Wicked Widow. New York: Kensington, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1516103250 | 363 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

To Woo a Wicked Widow was a promising story, with a great premise, and while it fell a little short of expectations, it was a decent book overall. What captured my attention was the blurb and how it characterized that the heroine Charlotte had been through some difficult experiences that shaped her world view, while the hero, Nash, was marriage-minded and very much interested in a long-term commitment with Charlotte, which makes a nice change to the traditional tropes.

And for the most part, I really like the way Charlotte was executed as a character. She made a rash choice for love, and paid for it by being trapped in a loveless, passionless marriage to an older man, and even now that her husband is dead, she is continually bullied by her stepson and her husband’s heir. I loved the nuances of her wanting to experience passion for the first time, since it was denied her, while being reluctant to trust another man by marrying again.

Nash was…fine. He definitely did exactly what the blurb promised, in terms of being interested in Charlotte, and I did come to warm up to them as a couple eventually, but initially, I did find myself questioning what it was that made him so interested in marrying her right away. And while he is definitely a nice guy and someone I wouldn’t mind encountering in real life, I did find him a little lacking in the depth that made Charlotte so compelling.

And while I did find myself overwhelmed with the many characters being introduced, I did really like the dynamic between Charlotte and Jane as friends, and did find the concept of a club for widows quite an engaging concept for the series overall.

I may read the other books in the series to see how things develop. But it didn’t necessarily “wow” me. However, I do think fans who are interested in historical romance may enjoy this, given that many others have rated this one relatively favorably, so if you’re interested, pick this one up.

#CopyPasteCris and the Amazon Algorithm

It’s been a while since I posted about book community drama and issues, and while I could have posed about #CockyGate or The Blood Heir, or some of the other controversies that have come up in the past year, I resisted, out of a sense of either not knowing the subject well enough, feeling it was explained better by others, or just not knowing what my voice contributed to the matter. But while those two aforementioned scandals were rather single-minded, if a bit divisive (particularly in the second case), this one is multilayered in a way I did not expect it to be, bringing to light issues that have long lurked in the underbelly of the book world.  

Context

By now, you’ve probably heard about #copypastecris from other sources, whether it be when it trended on Twitter, when author Courtney Milan posted about it on her blog, or when Nora Roberts made three killer blog posts of her own. But in case you have not, in summary, a person calling themselves Cristiane Serruya (it’s debatable whether it’s one person working alone or part of a larger group of scammers, or whether she is who she claims she is), publicly lauded as a USA Today Bestselling author, has been revealed to have copied and pasted passages from a multitude of sources, with the current totals adding up to fifty-one books by thirty-four authors (Milan and Roberts having multiple titles among this number, with other prominent names including Tessa Dare, Christi Caldwell, and, most recently, Julia Quinn and Diana Gabaldon), three articles from web and magazine sources (including one called, quite ironically, “Law, Grace and Redemption in Les Miserables”), two recipes, a Wikipedia article, and a Wattpad story across her backlist, all of which were compiled into a growing list by the amazing @CaffeinatedFae on Twitter on the #copypastecrislist hashtag as more and more are uncovered.

In short, the fact that she copied and pasted passages from others should make this an easy, black-and-white situation with little to debate upon. However, in the last several days, more and more layers have been brought to light about the issue, which has made it more complex and divisive.

The first is the use of ghostwriters when writing fiction. This came about when Serruya, in a tweet on her now-deleted Twitter account, cast the blame on a ghostwriter she hired on Fiverr (it should be noted, for those few that are unfamiliar with the story, that this came out when only a few authors, such as Milan and Tessa Dare, were revealed to have been plagiarized and the only work of Serruya’s in question at the time was Royal Love, so this tweet was written in the context of it being a one-time thing that she could blame on a shoddy ghostwriter). However, two ghostwriters subsequently reached out to Milan, independent of one another, stating that they were given bits and pieces by Serruya for them to rework, thus making them at worst only irresponsible for not confirming the words not plagiarized.

However, in reaction to Serruya, many authors began to post the affirmation that they “write their own books.” And I don’t disagree with this response, given the way that many in the community, some of whom are legitimately fast writers and put out a book every few months, or even a book a month because of their writing speed, get shamed and subjected to false accusations.

But it does also feed into this anti-ghostwriter narrative. And while I do feel that, much like any other profession, if you can’t write fiction, you probably shouldn’t do it, I also see where ghostwriters are coming from when they talk about the reasons they ghostwrite, like it pays the bills, or they don’t want to deal with the business aspects of writing. But there should be some acknowledgment of the contributor’s hard work, whether it be on the cover, as is often the case with many works “co-authored” by James Patterson, or at least a mention of them within the acknowledgments. More transparency is needed to ensure readers aren’t being duped, especially as readers today crave that connection to their favorite authors, and the feeling that they are real people they can connect with. That, does, of course, bring about its own issues, meaning authors need to be mindful of the personas they curate online, but that is another topic for another post. Now, onto the most polarizing aspect of the issue that gradually has come to be discussed more frankly.

The Readers, the Authors, and the Algorithms

Another issue that has come up is one concerning Amazon’s broken algorithms. I have numerous issues with Amazon, like the way they’re a huge conglomerate and authors depend on reviews for promotional purposes, yet limit those who can post reviews of their products to those who make purchases of $50 or more with a credit or debit card, thus making it impossible for people who don’t have consistent access to that to help their favorites in this way, among other reasons I may go into later.

Admittedly, because of my lack of experience with Amazon, I’m a little out of my depth in terms of describing the specific scams some readers have been discussing, both in this case, and in previous cases, like #CockyGate, but I do understand the implications of something like a click farm could be used to game the already imperfect Kindle Unlimited program, thus meaning that scammers gain more money from the “pot” allotted to be distributed among authors with books in the program.

And it’s also an issue of the reader’s perspective, and what they are willing to pay for a book, especially by an author that’s new to them. Several people took issue with a statement in Roberts’ second blog post:

“And to readers, those of you who keep pushing for more and cheaper books, just stop it. Writing, real writing, is work, it takes time and talent and effort. By snapping up a book just because it’s ninety-nine cents on line, you’re encouraging this. The creator and the content they work so hard to produce is devalued.

Pay the artist, for God’s sake, or the artist can’t create. What you end up with is rushed from a desperate writer struggling to keep up to pay the bills. Or mass-produced crap thrown together by scammers.”

I had mixed feelings upon reading this passage. I could understand why people were a little hurt, as the way she worded it felt like she was putting part of the blame for this on the readers, believing all they care about is free books, and not considering they may not always have the money to purchase a book, because it’s often either that or the basic necessities. There was also an argument that Roberts was a hypocrite, due to the fact that her publisher advertised some of her early “In Death” titles for $1.99, never mind that this, like many an eBook sale, was done for promotional reasons, and might entice readers to shell out more on future titles.

Bit I could also see where she was coming from, as an injured party in this awful mess. And I understand, from what she states elsewhere, both in this post and her previous one, that she understands her place of privilege as a bestselling author who has not only a lengthy backlist, but funds and clout enough to defend not only herself, but can take on the fight for others who may not as well.

And readers do have the power of choice of authors to invest their time in, and I believe that is why Roberts puts so much responsibility at their door. There is a difference between promoting a quality product through a sale with hopes of hooking the reader, which is the intent of a legitimate author or publisher’s goal in marking down a book’s price either temporarily or permanently, and there is enticing the reader purely through the price point to consume cheap crap, which is usually the domain of a scammer so they can profit off it. And if all a legit author, whether it be Nora Roberts or Courtney Milan or anyone else,  cared about was making more money, why would so many authors promote libraries, with many of them that I’ve spoken to being excited to see their work represented in library collections? In fact, the library came up as a valid, legal alternative to purchasing books in the comments section of this blog post, including from Roberts herself, when responding to a commenter of the mindset to clap back at her for criticizing people who pick up books for free or on sale, and essentially that because Roberts has a “fortune,” it should not be something she should lecture readers about, especially if they are on a budget, among other claims, which Roberts refuted splendidly. Given that this is also a sore spot for her, with readers taking issue with the prices of her books (something she does not control, as she works with a publisher), I can understand her outrage here, regardless of any initial (albeit slight) agreement I may have had with the opposing arguments without thinking about it within the context of this situation.

And this sense of entitlement feeds it to the bigger issue in our Internet-saturated culture that has allowed scammy, illegal behavior to thrive. When watching all this play out, I could not help but be reminded of Taylor Swift taking issue with streaming services, who I also recall being criticized for being overly money-grubbing in spite of her vast fortune when she pulled her catalog from Spotify. In both cases, there was a sense of entitlement on the part of the consumer, that because they were on a fixed budget, they should not be obliged support the creators they enjoyed in a fair and legitimate way, essentially devaluing the art the creators create. And while yes, both Roberts and Swift are successful in their respective fields, this entitlement creates an problems for the struggling up-and-coming author or musician, who genuinely loves to write or perform, and would love to make a full-time career of it, but is denied this dream due to the fact that their career isn’t profitable.

Roberts then made a third blog post earlier today as of this writing, confirming all of my suppositions that I posited earlier and shutting down her detractors in the best way. Unfortunately, in subsequent keyword searches on Twitter for people talking about “Nora Roberts,” I saw that the post either did not alter their opinion that books should have value, or they did not bother to read it.

“Trashy Books?”: The Widening Debate Between Quality and Quantity

Upon reflection, however, I did find this a strange conversation to come to light in the romance community, especially when so many readers and authors are champions for the genre and its place as equally important to any other work of fiction. This debate around the idea of “quality” is at the root of several romance aficionados’ forays into academic studies of the genre. Author Maya Rodale wrote of the long history of the dismissal of romance novels in her book, Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained. She  spoke about the romance industry as being very focused as being a system where “high volume = low cost = less risk,” (71) writing of the promotional tactics of a series, hooking a reader with book one at lower price, thus making it more likely they may buy the second (and the third and so on), which is a very familiar model that has already been discussed, and unfortunately, exploited, in this discussion on cheap books. But the argument for cheap books dismisses Rodale’s other claim of the close bond formed between an author and a reader, as well as the ways the genre has been dismissed to no avail throughout history due to its presentation, in a similar way that these readers are ironically devaluing a genre they claim to love.  

The lack of perceived lasting value of romance novels in society is one that other scholars have also confronted, like Australian Library and Information Science (LIS) scholar Vassiliki Veros. In an article, “A Matter of Meta: Category Romance Fiction and the Interplay of Paratext and Library Metadata” (2015), Veros wrote about the contrasting values of libraries and librarians toward books with cultural capital (which also can be symbolized by any intellectual romance detractor who views romance as “trash”) and the vast economic capital generated in the romance industry. While her argument pertains more specifically to the way in which libraries devalue romance novels, especially category romance, and don’t catalog them correctly, the general gist of her explanation surrounding economic vs. cultural capital is how I assumed it stood prior to the explosion of this scandal. But to have people so firmly in the economic capital camp that they think of books of any type as disposable and not worth paying for at any point is crazy to me, especially since scamming has become such a prevalent thing in the book industry.

Final Thoughts

As this situation continues to develop on all sides of the issue, I don’t know what the outcome will be, or if it’s possible for their to be one that will end peacefully for everyone who’s since gotten involved. The main hope that I hope to see materialize is that Cristiane Serruya is fully taken down and the lengthy list of authors, both notable and unknown, get some recompense for this. But as many have noted it’s not just a problem of just one scammer messing with the system, but many who are taking advantage of algorithms to get ahead and crush legitimate authors, many of whom are working hard for little reward. Contrary to what some readers believe, we can and should do better to stop this and show that this won’t be tolerated. And hopefully, if all our voices are loud enough, Amazon may finally listen.

Sources:

#copypastecris and #copypastecrislist on Twitter (special shout-out to @CaffeinatedFae)

Various tweets and Twitter threads

Courtney Milan’s blog post: http://www.courtneymilan.com/ramblings/2019/02/18/cristiane-serruya-is-a-copyright-infringer-a-plagiarist-and-an-idiot/

Nora’s first blog post: http://fallintothestory.com/plagiarism-then-and-now/

Nora’s second blog post: http://fallintothestory.com/not-a-rant-but-a-promise/

Nora’s third blog post: http://fallintothestory.com/let-me-address-this/

Article on Taylor Swift and streaming services for context: https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/9/15767986/taylor-swift-apple-music-spotify-statements-timeline

Maya Rodale, Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained (2015)

Vassiliki Veros, “A Matter of Meta: Category Romance Fiction and the Interplay of Paratext and Library Metadata,” In the Journal of Popular Romance Studies, 5.1 (2015), 1-13

Review of “A Hope Divided” (Loyal League #2) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Hope Divided. New York: Kensington, 2017.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1496707468 | 266 pages | Historical Romance 

4.5 stars

A Hope Divided is another utterly delightful installment in the Loyal League series, and I’m now even more excited for the release of book three in just a few days. I love how Alyssa Cole is once again stripping back the layers of what we know about the Civil War, and focusing on the roles people played as spies for the Union.

Marlie and Ewan are such wonderful characters. I love how the precarious position of a free black woman during this time period was conveyed through Marlie, as well as Ewan’s compassion for those who are enslaved. I loved that, even though there were dangers to them being together, what bonded them was their shared love of science and philosophy, and their dedication to the Union Cause.

My one complaint that it was a bit too short, and I felt like the ending could have been fleshed out a bit more. I also just really wanted more story, because I was sad when it was over, because I basically devoured the book.

I would definitely recommend this to someone who wants something a little different in terms of historical romance. Rich in historical detail and with compelling, relatable characters, it is truly a great read.

Review of “Brave New Earl” (The Way to a Lord’s Heart #1) by Jane Ashford

Ashford, Jane. Brave New Earl. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492663355 | 352 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

Brave New Earl is a fun, fluffy Regency romance, even if it did feel a bit too light given the issues the characters claim to tackle. However, having read several of Ashford’s reprinted Traditional Regencies with plans to get to more of her newer titles one day, I was glad to see that her style still feels very similar to those, even in a market that does favor the more sensual stories.

For at least the first half, the characters and their development were engaging, and the setup was great, even if it does demand some suspension of disbelief. I found Benjamin and Jean very likable and their motivations incredibly solid, in addition to the tension between them feeling believable.

However, as the story went on, it did start to feel a little tedious in terms of the pacing, and I didn’t really find the backstories of either Jean or Benjamin were written in a way that had any emotional weight, and I ended the book feeling the story lacked something, and that things ended a bit too quickly.

I did quite like the initial setup for what I assume will be further books in the series, with Benjamin’s uncle setting up a sort of grief counseling group of noblemen, and even if some other elements of this book felt a little lackluster, I am still curious as to how each man’s story will play out, and may check out further installments.

Generally, this was an ok Regency romance, and while it’s not among the best I’ve read, it’s definitely still something I would recommend to an avid Regency romance fan.

Review of “Searching for You” (Orphan Train #3) by Jody Hedlund

Hedlund, Jody. Searching For You. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2018.

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764232749 | 341 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

4 stars

For the most part, enjoyed Searching for You as a conclusion to the Orphan Train series. While I did initially feel it was a little slow in developing, especially with Reinhold and Sophie not interacting in the book until over a hundred pages in, although their prior acquaintance keeps the relationship from feeling too rushed.

And once I did get past the slow bits, I could appreciate what it did in terms of further establishing who they were beyond what I knew about them from prior books. Both Reinhold and Sophie are flawed, and have made mistakes in their past, including the one that was the inciting incident on Sophie’s part, but their hearts are both in the right place, and I loved seeing them find out that the right paths for each of them might not be what they initially anticipated. I also very much enjoyed seeing Elise and Marianne again and getting an update on them as well to close out the series.

And, as has consistently been the case with this series, I love how the story touches on aspects of a historical movement I knew very little about, this time focusing very heavily on the orphan’s perspective. This shined through the portrayal of various characters, including Sophie, as well as Nicholas and Olivia, the children she has helped to raise.

I am quite sad to see this series come to a close, but quite satisfied that with the way it turned out. I would recommend this to other fans of well-researched historical fiction/romance.

Review of “Breathless” (Old West #2) by Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins, Beverly. Breathless. New York: Avon Books, 2017. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062389022 |376 pages | Historical Romance

3 stars

Breathless was something of a disappointment in comparison to its predecessor. However, it does still have a few high points. The main one is the characters. Kent and Portia are both well-written, likable characters. I like the way Portia’s backstory was developed, with her reluctance to trust men due to her upbringing with her mother. And Kent was a great hero who has made a few mistakes in life, but has grown as a person and I loved how he worked to prove himself a worthy partner for Portia.

And while the historical issues were a bit less pronounced, I did like the allusions to historical figures and events which helped to build the rich atmosphere of the period in my mind.

However, the story lacked any real conflict. While there is nothing wrong with a fluffier story, there was nothing standing in the way of Portia and Kent being together other than her own reticence, and that did not provide a strong enough plot to keep me engaged.

Despite this one being a bit of a disappointment, it does set up what I hope will be a promising third installment for Regan. And I would still recommend this to fans of diverse historicals.

Review of “Children of Blood and Bone” (Legacy of Orisha #1) by Tomi Adeyemi

Adeyemi, Tomi. Children of Blood and Bone. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2018. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250170972 | 531 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Children of Blood and Bone is a book that I swore off initially upon seeing the writing style (first person present tense from multiple perspectives). However, after returning it to the library, checking it out and returning it again, I decided it was finally time to try it again and give it a fair chance.

And I am so happy I did. One of the pluses, as is often the case with a well-written fantasy, is the world building, and I love its influences from Nigerian culture, setting it apart from much of what is out there in fantasy. And as she reveals from the author’s note, she also takes influence from modern issues affecting black people in the United States, such as police brutality, and these elements are all woven together into a wonderfully moving story.

I love how she managed to give Zelie, Amari, and Inan such distinct voices, so, along with getting their name as a chapter heading, you would always know instinctively whose head you’re in. I particularly loved Inan’s chapters and how they charted his evolution from someone who believed wholeheartedly in his father’s quest to stamp out magic (to the point of being an antagonist) to someone who would fight to defend it. And Zelie and Amari are both so well-drawn as well, with Zelie being a warrior, and Amari’s story arc following her growth through her journey.

The one thing I found a little off-putting was the romance subplot. While I am aware romance is a common feature in YA, including YA fantasy, it just seemed out of place considering the respective arcs of those two characters, not to mention the execution felt clunky and awkward. It didn’t add much in terms of emotional resonance for me, and it just seemed to be there because it’s what’s expected from the genre.

However, aside from that, this really is a great debut novel, although given all the buzz it’s received, I’m likely preaching to the choir. But I would still recommend this to those who haven’t read it yet, particularly if you’re looking for more diverse, unique fantasy.

Review of “The Making of Mrs. Hale (Regency Brides: A Promise of Hope) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. The Making of Mrs. Hale. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2018. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD |ISBN-13: 978-0825445354 | 336 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

The Making of Mrs. Hale is another wonderful Regency romance by Carolyn Miller, perhaps her best yet for its complexity. It can take a lot to make me root for a hero who is tremendously flawed and has made mistakes the way Thomas Hale has, not to mention keeping me invested in a relationship where the couple don’t spend a lot of page time together physically. But Miller somehow manages to accomplish both of these feats masterfully.

Thomas is a hero who reminds me of what Pride and Prejudice‘s Wickham could have been, had he been a much more selfless person. He has his less-than-honorable moments, for sure, including the inciting incident that precedes this novel, but he almost always tries to conduct himself with the best of intentions, in spite of people thinking the worst of him due to his past behavior.

He is complemented well by Julia, who despite her rash behavior in eloping with him, grows through her experiences as they test the strength of her love for her husband and her capacity to forgive him, in spite of the fact that he abandoned her, albeit unintentionally.

I also enjoyed the elements of suspense threaded throughout the book, and while some of it did feel a little predictable, it worked in relation to providing a believable addition to the conflict for Thomas and Julia to work through.

I would recommend this to fans of Regency romances who want something a little bit different from the norm.

Review of “The Viscount Can Wait” (Reluctant Brides #2) by Marie Tremayne (Rant)

Tremayne, Marie. The Viscount Can Wait. New York: Avon Impulse, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062747402 | 387 pages | Victorian Romance

[No Rating]

Perhaps, the viscount can wait, but how long do I have to wait before it gets good?

That was my main thought while reading this book. Granted, I know rakes and playboys are all the rage in romances across subgenres, but it just felt like the trope was turned up to the extreme here, and without the great character development that is necessary for me to believe a rake like Thomas can reform.

To start with, the scene in the prologue just turned me off him almost entirely. While I was able to somewhat filter it through the lens of the times, it still seemed incredibly off-putting to me that a self-respecting man would kiss Eliza on the eve of her wedding to another man, just because he felt like it, without consulting her about it, later making the lofty claims that he won’t kiss her again until it is “at her behest,” and that he has “never force himself on a woman” (the latter statement given to Eliza’s brother and his best friend, William).

And while there are little things that show his potential for growth, like the fact that he develops a good relationship with Eliza’s daughter, this is far outweighed by the fact that, despite the claim that he’s in love with Eliza, he still lacks emotional maturity to make a lasting relationship seem believable. Not only is the fact that he has this rakish reputation incredibly apparent and well-referenced, there is more than one instance of him being wasted, including one where he is in the presence of “women of ill-repute” and is attacked, culminating the “black moment” of the story, where another character claims he has been close to such a thing happening before. Being close to someone who dealt with the consequences of similar excesses as a symptom of her struggles with mental illness, I was disappointed at the way this was more or less brushed aside once Eliza came to his side.

Add to that that I really didn’t find much about Eliza that was all that interesting. I couldn’t see what there was to be attracted to about her, even if I believed Thomas’s love was genuine.

Granted, I know my tastes will differ from a lot of other readers’. I recommend everyone who enjoys a good “redeemed rake” romance to pick this one up to judge it for themselves. And I have not given up on Marie Tremayne. Writing is a learning curve, especially with your first few published books, and while this one, and even her prior book, may have embraced tropes a bit too much without adding anything new to the genre, I do see promise in her writing and will continue to read her works to see how she grows.

Review of “Forbidden” (Old West #1) by Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins, Beverly. Forbidden. New York: Avon Books, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062389008 | 370 pages | Western Romance

5 stars

Forbidden was an unexpected surprise for me, given the fact I actually DNFed it ages ago. However, it should not have surprised me, given how much more open-minded of a reader I have become in terms of genres and settings since then. That said, this is one book that is definitely worth the hype, and one I pinch myself for not seeing its worth sooner, considering its a romance I love for its substantiveness in tackling real world issues within the context of the historical period, that also still feel very relevant today.

Rhine’s story arc gripped me, in spite of not having read the book where he initially appears, because I’m so fascinated by the complex and controversial phenomenon of passing. Jenkins managed to portray his reasons for doing so in his past, while also showing that he still has compassion for the Black and African American people in his community when many of the White people he associates with still think Blacks beneath them. And through the development of his bond with Eddy, I felt like the stakes were convincing in terms of him being compelled to make a choice that might have negative consequences. And I love the strength of Eddy herself, having gone through her own difficulties in the past, showing courage in various moments of the story, like the decision to go out into the great unknown to pursue her dream to begin with, and her choice to fight off an assailant, which leads to her being stranded in the desert.

I also liked the way the secondary characters were active parts of the story without being too overwhelming. Sylvia and Doc Randolph’s romantic arc was a subtle subplot that allowed me to root for them without them stealing page time from Rhine and Eddy. I am also anxious to continue the series and see how things pan out for Portia and Regan, especially considering Portia’s observations concerning relationships with men gleaned from living with her mother.

I would recommend this to fans who love historical romances, especially those who love stories with depth and just as much history as there is romance.

Review of “The Elusive Earl” (Saints and Scoundrels #2) by Maddison Michaels

Michaels, Maddison. The Elusive Earl. Fort Collins, CO; Entangled Publishing, 2018. 

Paperback | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1724796332 | 399 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

The Elusive Earl is another decent effort from Maddison Michaels. It isn’t as compelling overall as the first book in the series, but it does have its own strengths, one of which is her ability to interweave fun little nuggets of history, politics, and medicine into the story in such an entertaining way. I loved all the things she touched on, especially how she built up the environment of her fictional Italian principality, and the resulting political intrigue and danger that came along with it.

Daniel and Brianna are interesting characters. I loved Brianna’s spunk and love for adventure, and how in spite of their initial perceived incompatibility, she and the more icy, cautious Daniel do work as a couple and care for one another. I did feel like the revelation in this regard did take a little longer than I would have liked, however, as the villain who was out to see Brianna harmed was defeated and still it took a few more chapters for things to be settled between them.

I would recommend this to fans of historical romances with mystery and adventure elements.

Review of “The Locksmith’s Daughter” by Karen Brooks

Brooks, Karen. The Locksmith’s Daughter. 2016. New York: William Morrow, 2018. 

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-006286572 | 565 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

I picked up The Locksmith’s Daughter by Karen Brooks on a whim, because the premise sounded intriguing, especially with its Tudor/Elizabethan setting, something I don’t see a lot of, apart from the occasional book about one of the monarchs or their consorts. And for the most part, it was a pretty solid read. My one complaint is that it is a little slow in places, and Brooks is a little heavy handed with the use of language, but on the whole, it contributed to an accurate reading experience that immersed me in the period.

I love the layers of Mallory’s story, especially the more I learned about the traumas and abuse she dealt with as a result of making one rash choice. Even though the environment was much more biased against women than today’s world is, I was moved by the way her reactions to what she suffered and felt that part of her character was incredibly well written. And in general, I love the other ways in which she proved her strength and intelligence as a lock-pick and a spy.

I was sure I wouldn’t like Nathaniel as a love interest at first, but his development over the course of the book changed my mind. He goes from being a bit nasty and boorish to Mallory to being one of the few people she can trust when Sir Francis comes to see her as a threat.

I would recommend this to people who are fans of richly researched historical novels.

Review of “Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis” by Patti Callahan

Callahan, Patti. Becoming Mrs. Lewis: The Improbable Love Story of Joy Davidman and C.S. Lewis. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785224501 | 416 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

Becoming Mrs. Lewis was a wonderful surprise. I knew vague details about C.S. Lewis’ marriage to Joy Davidman from the basic research I did into Lewis upon reading the Narnia books years ago, but did not realize Joy was a talented writer in her own right, not to mention the role she played in inspiring some of Lewis’ major works in the last decade of his life.

Callahan brings Joy to life beautifully, capturing a woman who grows in faith, even while her life continues to throw trials at her, both professional and personal. I loved the way her relationship with C.S. Lewis developed, beginning first as one concerning spiritual similarities, then beginning to grow into a deeper friendship, and eventually, love. And I love that, even though she was very much his muse for his later work, I like that the story conveys that they were also equals, in the same way that he would have been with his fellow “Inklings.”

And while “Jack” and Joy were the focus, I love how well-drawn and complex some of the secondary characters were, even if we do see them from a limited perspective. Warren “Warnie” Lewis is someone I’m now curious to know more about, because I love the snapshot I got of his relationship with his brother, with them essentially being two bachelor scholars for most of their lives and living together for decades.

I would recommend this book to pretty much anyone, especially historical/biographical fiction lovers, whether they’ve read a book by C.S. Lewis and/or Joy Davidman or not.

Review of “The Girl From the Savoy” by Hazel Gaynor

Gaynor, Hazel. The Girl from the Savoy. New York: William Morrow, 2016.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062403476 | 419 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

The Girl from the Savoy is definitely Hazel Gaynor’s weakest book, in my opinion, not to mention the one I kept putting off, since the writing style was told from multiple perspectives all in first person present tense. But surprisingly, the prose itself isn’t a massive issue, despite the fact that the voices of the characters aren’t always easy to distinguish from one another. In fact, once I got into it, I became absorbed in the drama of Dolly and Loretta’s lives, and how they mirror each other, as well as offering contrasts to one another. I love that this book was at its core about two women’s growth and finding of themselves, with one at the start of a promising acting career and another at her peak and dealing with a dark secret that threatens that.

That being said, this book is something of a mess at times, and I felt unsure of what it was trying to accomplish. I can understand wanting to convey something from Dolly’s past, but while I appreciated the way it delved into her past with another character, Teddy, and their troubled romance, due to World War I, I found myself confused as to why chapters from Teddy’s POV were included, and dating back several years before the start of the main action of the book. It also presented me a kind of false hope, as while Gaynor isn’t writing a romance, the way this relationship between Teddy and Dolly was built up felt not only like a first love but something where they would eventually come back to one another. So when it did not work out that way, while I could respect that Dolly was shown as a strong heroine, I was upset that this possibility had been suggested, at least from my interpretation of it.

While I definitely enjoyed this one a bit less than Gaynor’s other work, I did still feel like it was a decent book to pass the time, and deals with deep topics, even if I feel like it tries to take on more than it can handle. I would recommend this book to someone who is looking for a decent historical novel with depth, but it also fairly easy to get into.

Review of “Private Arrangements” (London Trilogy #2) by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. Private Arrangements. New York: Bantam Books, 2008. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0440344318 | 351 pages | Victorian Romance

3 stars

Private Arrangements is one of those books that I would describe as “tepid.” Not horrible in that it commits serious offenses in my eyes, but it does lack the magic I went in expecting.

That being said, it is still a decent book, with the writing and intricacy of the plot being strong points, especially since this happens to have been her debut novel. Thomas’ writing style can be a little jarring at first even if you’re familiar with her work, but it still managed to keep me invested, even with the occasional hop between the present storyline and the past, which can be hard to execute well, and was one of the things I felt was done poorly in a later book of hers, My Beautiful Enemy, which I didn’t finish.

The hero and heroine are…ok. Independent of one another, I like that both Camden and Gigi are both intelligent people, as well as being flawed and having made some mistakes in their past, especially Gigi in her quest to end up married to Camden. But I found myself a little underwhelmed with the trajectory of their romance in the present, given all the baggage. While I understand feeling betrayed, I just had a hard time sympathizing with either of them, especially when Camden comes back and they essentially have what boils down to “hate sex,” as part of their deal. I feel like this book was meant to be contemplative and reflective in the lead-up to them getting back together, but I just didn’t feel the sparks at all, and was actually rooting for them to divorce, even though I didn’t know it would happen.

But while the main plot and relationship is at least passably interesting, I found the subplot concerning Gigi’s mother and the Duke of Perrin completely pointless and failed to interest me at all. I can understand the reason for it being there, being rooted in the ambitions touched on in the chapters set in the past that Gigi be married to a duke, and through a turn of events, the mother is the one married to a duke, while Camden is still merely a duke’s heir, but the more I read about the mother, the more frustrated I became.

While I did not enjoy this, I still feel like it has its good points, as well as being well-reviewed by many others. That said, I would recommend giving it a chance if you like historical romance that is a bit heavier on the angst and has a unique writing style.

Review of “A Song for the Stars” by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. A Song for the Stars. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725284 | 296 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

While it can often be true that hype can kill enjoyment of a book, this is not one of those times. A Song for the Stars is nothing short of amazing. And in part it may be due to finally being able to apply some of my own long-neglected (albeit elementary) knowledge of Hawaiian language and history, and see the setting highlighted in a mainstream published historical romance of all places.

But it’s also due to Ilima Todd’s clear enthusiasm for what she calls “the book of my heart,” (286) inspired by her fourth great-grandparents. And while her passion for Hawaii and the Pacific were already evident in her depictions of setting in her prior books, I love how she clearly showed care in ensuring that, while certain historical events and customs had to be modified for fiction, she represented them in a way that ultimately respects Native Hawaiian readers, and educates those who may not be familiar with Hawaiian history and culture while entertaining them with a beautiful love story.

I really liked the structure of this story, with Maile’s perspective being conveyed through “standard” prose and John’s through journal entries, and it’s wonderful to see their evolving relationship and their growing understanding of each other’s cultural differences through both of their perspectives, especially since things start off between them with a somewhat tense situation. And I wasn’t sure at first how I would feel about their growing romance, since Maile is depicted as being very committed to someone else at the beginning, but I feel like it was handled in as delicate a way as it could be, given the timeframe the story takes place in, with a believable transfer of her affections to John.

Upon finishing, I cannot help but hope that this isn’t the last Hawaiian historical Todd will write, given her clear passion for the subject, as unlikely as writing historical fiction seemed to her at first. And while I have some reservations about recommending her other work to people, I enthusiastically recommend this one to anyone looking for a richly detailed and compelling historical.

Review of “Resist” (Remake #2) by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. Resist. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2016.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629721040 | 347 pages | YA Science Fiction–Dystopian

4 stars

I enjoyed Resist marginally more than Remake, and a large part of that was due to the shift in protagonist. I had nothing against Nine as a heroine, but I felt Theron stole the show, and I was glad to hear that the Ilima Todd felt the same. He has a lot of spirit in him, and I like him finding something that is worth fighting for, and how it helps him grow as a person.

I also liked that, because of this change in protagonist, the story definitely felt more like what I had come to expect from my prior forays into the YA dystopian genre, while still feeling uniquely its own. There were some hints about the villain and their intentions in the prior book, and I enjoyed seeing it come to fruition in a dark and twisted way.

The religious, exclusionary undertones remain, and it is still a bit disconcerting, but I do still try to give Todd some benefit of the doubt in this regard, given that it is about the idea of giving people choices at the heart of this, and that Freedom isn’t truly freedom.

And while the romance did take a backseat in this one to an extent, it was still present, and still incredibly awkward. Theron spends a good portion of the book dealing with his unrequited feelings for Nine, and the fact that’s she’s with someone else, and while he does interact with Pua from relatively early in the book, it doesn’t feel natural that he would choose her so suddenly. And while I do like that Theron is at least given a father figure in Catcher, emphasizing the family element that Todd seems to be pushing in this book, I’m once again disappointed that there’s no way for a guy and girl who are both unattached to be just friends or like family, especially since one of the things Theron discovers over the course of the book is the different kinds of love. I guess it’s done relatively well in terms of the evolution of his feelings for Nine, but I still did not get him moving onto Pua almost instantly.

On the whole, I’m not sure I’ll be continuing with the series if book three ever does come out, although I do plan on read Todd’s new release, to see how it compares, and it was the impetus for picking up Todd’s work in the first place.

Review of “The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding” by Jennifer Robson

Robson, Jennifer. The Gown: A Novel of the Royal Wedding. New York: William Morrow, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062674951 | 387 pages | Historical Ficition

4 stars

The Gown is a unique book for our Royals-obsessed society in that it focuses only peripherally on the Royals themselves, putting the then-Princess Elizabeth’s iconic wedding gown in center stage, and giving voices not only to the women seamstresses who worked on it, but also to women in the postwar period in a more general sense with poignant detail.

I loved how both Ann and Miriam were shaped by their past tragedies, and that’s what brings them together in the book. Both face difficulties, Miriam due to her Jewish heritage and as a survivor of the Holocaust and Ann due to having lost her parents and in the narrative itself by being duped by a man she believed had an interest in her. And I thought it was powerful that, even though circumstances led the two women to part, the friendship clearly had a deep impact on them, forming the motivation for the modern story follwing Ann’s granddaughter, Heather.

I wasn’t as invested in Heather’s story, although I did feel that some of her emotions were relatable, if a bit cliche for this type of book: finding out your grandmother kept a secret from you and feeling compelled to explore it. However, I did like when she finally met with Miriam, re-forging the connection broken off decades earlier.

The Gown is a history-rich book not just about Elizabeth II’s wedding gown, but about post-World War II life, particularly for women. It is a must-read that I recommend not just for the Royal watchers to whom I suspect it’s been promoted to (given its release on the heels of the 2018 weddings of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle and Princess Eugenie and Jack Brooksbank, respectively, and the brief mentions of various Royal Family members throughout the text itself, but to any reader of historical fiction looking for something new and slightly different.

Review of “The Bands of Mourning” (Mistborn #6, The Alloy Era/Wax and Wayne #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Bands of Mourning. New York: Tor, 2016.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765378576 | 446 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

The Bands of Mourning once again leaves me a bit conflicted regarding this era of Mistborn. Like with my recent read of Elantris, in spite of any shortcomings, I found the writing consistently engaging, to the point where I actually binge read it from early afternoon into the evening, but the flaws with some other aspects still felt a little lacking.

That’s not to say there aren’t other good consistent elements, and some improvements from the last two books. I still adore Wayne and his quirkiness, and it’s a shame that he’s so well-developed, only to essentially be playing second fiddle.

One of the things I also enjoyed was seeing greater development to Steris’s character, and I like that the development does feel natural in the sense of stripping away the layers of the stiff, somewhat bland character we were initially introduced to and seeing some of her awkwardness, which is balanced perfectly by her loyalty to those she’s close to.

And while there were some connections to Era One established in the prior two books, I think it was great to kind of see the way characters like Vin and Elend have entered the mythos of Scadrial hundreds of years later, especially as this is something that the characters talk about more openly in this one.

I do still feel like Waxilium isn’t that well fleshed-out, still adhering very much to very specific Western stereotypes for his character, which, even without really being exposed to that genre, still feels a bit much three books in.

On the whole, this is still a fun adventure in the world of Mistborn, albeit flawed, and I hope that, given the way Sanderson has worked to develop Steris this time around, he will make some effort to give some greater originality and depth to Waxilium in the final book. However, I do continue to recommend era two to fans of Sanderson who are looking for a fun Western-esque fantasy adventure.

Review of “Born in Death” (In Death #23) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Born in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2006.

Hardcover | $24.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399153471 | 342 pages | Romantic Suspense

4.5 stars

I was somewhat skeptical when I read the premise of Born in Death, but still hopeful, as I wasn’t sure if the two seemingly unconnected plotlines would come together, especially with an extended amount of time put into setting up the murder while simultaneously getting us acquainted with Mavis’s friend, who is the kidnapping victim in question in the blurb. But surprisingly, it pulls it together in a satisfying way, and once the plot kicks into high gear, it had some satisfying twists and turns.

And because of the central focus for birth, with Mavis’ due date coming up, I felt the camaraderie was one of the high points with this one, with many fun, laugh-out-loud moments. And I love how Eve is so in her element around a dead body, but can’t stand the idea of pregnancy classes, as well as how this again hints at the issues both she and Roarke have with the idea of children of their own, due to their respective dysfunctional families.

In general, this was one of the more fun installments, although balanced out with an intricate and compelling double case that took its time to come to fruition, but was incredibly satisfying once it did.

Review of “Oathbringer” (The Stormlight Archive #3) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. Oathbringer. New York: Tor, 2017.

Hardcover | $34.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765326379 | 1242 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Oathbringer‘s premise excited me quite a bit, given that Dalinar is this book’s focal point, and there was a lot hinted about his past, and this is where it all comes to the forefront. And I think it’s fabulous how his background is written, especially given that it shows how dynamic his character is, given that a lot of the problems he dealt with happened in his past.

There were a couple things that did keep me from enjoying it quite as much as the prior books. One of them was the POV changes for the final battle, something I’ve noticed others also didn’t like. While I’ve managed to kind of work with some of the POV changes in the prior books and even earlier in this one, especially with the more minor characters, as their relevance quickly demonstrated itself, it was quite jarring to jump from head to head in that moment.

I also feel like the romantic element was not well developed, and I hope that at least part of it was intentional with it being addressed in the next book. While I’m not always the biggest fan of a love triangle, I expected there to be more payoff than Kaladin saying that he didn’t really love Shallan by the end of this book. And while I do feel the relationship development thus far for Shallan and Adolin was compelling, I was shocked that they were married already by the end of this one, given that it’s increasingly obvious that they both have personal issues, especially Shallan with the increased hints of mental illness.

However, Sanderson continues to develop the world in such a compelling way, especially in this book as we get more insight into the past of not just Dalinar but of some of the major events that have influenced the present storyline. I also recommend anyone who loves an epic fantasy with depth pick this one up.