Review of “Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord” (Love by Numbers #2) by Sarah MacLean (Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. Ten Ways to Be Adored When Landing a Lord. New York: Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-185206-0. Print List Price: $7.99.

4 stars

When reading Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake, I found I was much more curious about Nick, Ralston’s less rakish, but no less attractive twin. And this book did not leave me disappointed in that regard. Nick not only went through the same abandonment by their mother as Ralston, but he dealt with a further romantic betrayal which soured him toward the idea of romance and marriage. I love that he isn’t overly cynical the way his brother was, and he is the one who actually confesses his feelings first, creating conflict between him and Isabel, as she grapples with trauma from her own past.

Isabel is a self-sufficient heroine, who cannot seem to acknowledge that sometimes she might benefit from the help of others. I admire her independence, and her interest in helping other women who found themselves in precarious situations, especially in such a patriarchal society. But I found her reluctance to trust Nick a bit annoying after a while, especially after he confesses his love.

While this book largely takes place in Yorkshire, so we don’t get a lot of the St. John/Fiori sibling banter that made the first book so much fun, this one does not lack for interesting family members, what with all the girls of the house, Nick’s Turkish friend Rock, and James, Isabel’s younger brother, who I hope gets his own book sometime in the future.

 

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Review of “Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake” (Love by Numbers #1) by Sarah MacLean (Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

 

In honor of the release of Sarah MacLean’s tenth adult historical romance (and eleventh book in general), The Day of the Duchess, I have decided to revisit all of the books in her backlist and review them. Let the MacLean-a-thon begin!

MacLean, Sarah. Nine Rules to Break When Romancing a Rake. New York: Avon Books, 2010. ISBN-13: 978-0006-185205-3. Print List Price: $7.99.

3 stars

This was a book that I first  read around the time ~2012/2013, around the time her Rules of Scoundrels series started. At the time, this was a book I adored. I loved the heroine, and the hero, while not exactly my cup of tea (I never did like big alpha rake heroes), didn’t completely turn me off.

Fast forward several years, and I don’t have the same opinion of the book. As a first foray into adult historical romance, it is remains a fine effort, but I don’t think this book is as polished as some of her later work. Nonetheless, it is a fun book, originating with the heroine making a list of potentially scandalous things she wants to accomplish.

One of the things that endeared this story to me on my first reading was the idea that the wallflower could capture the attention of a rakish nobleman. When I originally read it, I saw a lot of myself in Callie, and this story was a sort of wish-fulfillment. I don’t really see it that way anymore, and there are some aspects about Callie that I found incredibly annoying. I didn’t get why she refused Ralston, even when he full-on compromised her. I do admire her to an extent for holding out for love, but I think that becomes of less importance when you get into bed with him.

Which brings me to my next point. I forgot how much sex was in this book. I have no problem with sex in historical  romances, as long as it’s depicted in a convincing way. But it just seemed weird how Ralston would go from pleasuring her, but it doesn’t count as compromising her for some reason, because they didn’t have intercourse. Plus, those times were in public places, where someone could have walked in on them. There are other historicals where people walk in on couples not even that close to doing the deed, and yet they have to get married.

Something I did love is the rapport between Ralston, Nicholas, and Juliana. I love romance series where it’s built around families, and given their family history, it was fun to see how their relationship evolves over the course of the book.

Review of “Merely a Marriage” by Jo Beverley

Beverley, Jo. Merely a Marriage. New York: Jove, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-58353-7. Print List Price: $7.99.

2 stars

As much as I consider myself a romance lover, especially of historical romance, I have committed the egregious sin of not reading Jo Beverley until over a year after her death. But I chose to end my procrastination when I visited the bookstore the other day, picking up this book, along with Anne Gracie’s Marry in Haste, both of which I quickly noticed drew from more of the classic, traditional romances. And I thought I’d start on a stand-alone with loose connections to her series, before struggling to track them all down at the library.

But while Gracie made the classic style work, I found Beverley’s book less than impressive. The main characters are largely not well-defined, and the book is bogged down with multiple plot lines, and waaay too many characters, that sometimes I would be confused. I don’t think I missed out by not reading the Rogues’ books first, as who they were in those books doesn’t seem to have much bearing on this book.

One aspect I did like was the focus on the impact of death and how it affects those who are grieving and their views on the mortality of their loved ones. Since this book was posthumously published, it is quite poetic for readers to have a book that deal with this topic, relating it to a true crisis in the Regency era where George III’s only legitimate grandchild died in childbirth. It is the catalyst that pushes Ariana to persuade her brother to start looking for a wife to produce an heir, while Kynaston deals with the grief of his own wife’s death in childbirth. I think if the book had focused much more on the two of them, and less on her trying to avoid him, due to their past, I would have enjoyed it a bit more.

Review of “Marry in Haste” (Marriage of Convenience #1) by Anne Gracie

Gracie, Anne. Marry in Haste. New York: Berkley Sensation, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-28381-3. Print List Price: $7.99.

4.5 stars

I enjoyed some of Anne Gracie’s previous works, especially her Chance Sisters series, so when I heard about this one, I was excited for it. And it largely did not disappoint. My one complaint is that it is a little slow, with the first 130-odd pages being devoted to establishing the characters in the situations that motivate them to consider a marriage of convenience. Slightly slower romances may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I found that this one was well-written enough to keep me invested. This style also reflects a somewhat older, classic romance writing style, influenced by the likes of Austen and Heyer, where the romance is only part of the story. And while there is some sexual intimacy between the hero and heroine, it is fairly tame compared to other books I have read.

This book also appealed to my love of stories where a woman marries into an established, but somewhat fractured family, and transforms them for the better. I love that Emm, influenced by her own past, is determined to give the Rose, Lily, and George choices, even when Cal wanted to just “fire them off” as quickly as possible so he could resume his duties. And as Aunt Agatha says a few times, “she has spine,” which comes in handy when facing down rumors about her past.

Cal is a great example of an alpha hero done right. He is used to being in command, directing soldiers and having them follow his orders, so of course he doesn’t know the proper way to deal with young ladies. But as the story unfolds, we see he does care about his sisters and niece, even though he either did not show it.

In looking over reviews to see others’ impressions, I noticed that one person took issue with Cal’s “rude and pedantic” behavior in insisting his wild niece wear a dress, otherwise she won’t receive dinner. (101) I feel this person completely misunderstood what he was trying to do, as the reasoning is explained later on in the book. Women in the Regency period who behaved like George would have been viewed as hoydens, and this can reflect badly on the family. (211-212) Reading that, and looking at the way this book approaches slut-shaming, reminded me of a recent article in which historical author Hilary Mantel said that historical authors should stop “rewriting history to make their female characters falsely ’empowered.'” And while I do disagree with her, as there are several examples of empowered women in history, I don’t think it gives historical novelists a pass to write about a woman being scandalous and not discussing the consequences of her standing in society.  Romance markets itself so heavily to modern women, I think some people forget that with historical romance, many readers expect the society their reading about to be as accurate as possible, even if the heroes and/or heroines of the novel are forward-thinking.

 

The Bridgertons-Ranked: A Response to Heroes and Heartbreakers

Today’s visual media is saturated with remakes and reboots trying (and often failing) to cater to a sense of nostalgia. But the same cannot be said for the romance industry, which frequently has authors have books spin off into one another into series, and sometimes series that spin off into each other.

Julia Quinn is famous for this, with each of the stories she writes set in the same world, where you may often see a familiar name dropped in passing. But she is arguably most well-known for the Bridgerton series, which she returned to last year, with the first in her prequel series, the Rokesbys, Because of Miss Bridgerton, following that up with the recent The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband. But as great as every book is, favorites remain debatable, as I found out when I read this post on HeroesandHeartbreakers.com. As such, I was inspired to create my own ranking. And despite my initial gut instincts regarding certain books in the series, after serious thought, I ended up rearranging my ranking a few times. Yes, it is hard to rank your favorite books.

8. When He Was Wicked: I was shocked to see this one rated at second on the list, as I find I cannot think of much that is memorable about it. JQ did her homework regarding malaria research, but I found this romance a bit off-putting. I’m not certain if it’s because Michael is a brooding hero, or he loved Francesca for so long, even while she was married, or if there is some other reason that I can’t quite identify, but I just didn’t gel with this one.

7. The Duke and I: This one gets credit for being the first in the series, as the original poster notes. And even though some aspects of the Bridgertons, like Violet, are not as developed as they would eventually become, it is a solid book. But again, we have a brooding and tortured hero, which is a trope that seems to have become way more popular than it should. In all fairness to JQ, she does write Simon in a way that makes him at least somewhat empathetic, but it does still fall into the trope of matching a tortured alpha with a naive young woman.

6, It’s in His Kiss: Hyacinth’s story is interesting, in which she is helping Gareth translate a diary from Italian. What I find most memorable, however, is her humor, especially in the scenes with Lady Danbury. However, as a romance, it is lower on the scale for me.

5. On the Way to the Wedding: This is a sweet book, although, as the blog post says, it does lack some of the familial banter that made the others so much fun. I do not think it needs it, as we can see how Gregory is shaped by having had his parents and siblings’ love stories as examples, yet not being able to escape his own romantic woes in the process.

4. To Sir Philip, With Love: Like the original poster, I loved Eloise in Romancing Mister Bridgerton, and was curious as to what was going on with her. I found myself pleasantly surprised when reading about the scandalous thing she did, going off to meet Sir Philip. I adore a story about how a second marriage can transform the lives of both the father and the children, and this one met my expectations in that regard.

3. The Viscount Who Loved Me: I adore this one more for the family banter than for the actual romance, although Anthony and Kate make compelling characters who work well together. The Pall Mall scene is unforgettable, both in terms of establishing the rapport between family members and amping up the romantic tension between the hero and heroine (and also spawning a rematch in the 2nd Epilogue).

2. An Offer from a Gentleman: This was my first JQ, and the book that got me hooked on historical romance, so this may just be my nostalgia talking. But I’m a sucker for a good fairy tale retelling, and I adored this one, even though there were some times when I wanted to hit Benedict over the head for being a bit stupid. But Sophie is a great heroine, and I love that it’s not a straight Cinderella retelling, but adds something new to the story.

1.  Romancing Mister Bridgerton: This is the one where we are in complete agreement. I adore this book, and the characters, Colin, who is struggling to find his place but hides behind the facade of a happy-go-lucky rake, and Penelope, who struggles with trying to figure out how to express who she truly is publicly, are both relatable, and represent the best of JQ. Also, this represents a turning point in the series, as the article notes this book contains the unmasking of Lady Whistledown. Plus, if they ever to a television or movie series, I have the perfect Colin in mind. 

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Review of “The Sport of Baronets” (Romance of the Turf #0.5) by Theresa Romain

Romain, Theresa. The Sport of Baronets. Naperville: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1492613800. Digital List Price: $2.99.

3.5 stars

Under ordinary circumstances, I do not review digital-exclusive works. But I won a print copy from the author recently, so I chose to post a review.

Novellas are harder to review, as there is a lot less space to flesh out the characters. But Romain did a fine job of writing a compelling read that works as both a stand-alone novella and a teaser for the series.

Something that appealed to me about this book was the fact that the concept was different. I was excited by the fact that the hero was a baronet, a title that we don’t often see in modern historicals, and a series revolving around horse-mad people is an intriguing concept that I had not seen before as a central part of the story. It is refreshing to see a heroine who is not defined by her marriageability, but by her passion for horses and racing.

The chemistry did fall a little flat in certain places, however. I found myself much more interested in how the “missing-horse” plot would be resolved than whether these two would get together. I feel like this one of the aspects which might have benefited from a fuller novel, especially with the detail she puts into other aspects of the story. But it is a decent read, and well worth checking out if you’re interested in trying out her work.

Review of “A Certain Age” by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. A Certain Age. New York: William Morrow, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-240495-4. Hardcover List Price: $26.99. Paperback List Price: $15.99.

5 stars

My initial impression of this novel was that it resembled a comedy of manners, and that turned out to be somewhat correct, as this novel takes inspiration from the comic opera Der Rosenkavalier by Richard Strauss, with some of the character names lifted almost exactly from the play, only with a shift in setting from 1740s Vienna to 1920s New York.

One thing that Williams is known for is her unique and ever-changing writing style, with the way she lays out the novel changing from book to book. This one is much more linear than her previous books, as she writes about events more or less chronologically, but she has two POV characters, one an older woman, Theresa, and a girl just coming of age, Sophie. We see how the issues of age play out, both in terms of human age and the struggle between tradition and modernism, which was a central one to the Roaring Twenties, as indicated by the historical note. (326)

As always, you can expect some reappearances of characters from previous books, as well as other fun references to her body of work. One of my favorites is the inclusion of a young Julie Schuyler. I have yearned for a book about her since A Hundred Summers, and her appearance in this book is the next best thing.

Speaking of Schuylers…some of the others make appearances as well, including Julie’s sister Christina, and her daughter, Lily (the heroine of A Hundred Summers). I was also   happy to see Phillip and Lucy,  who were main characters in one of the arcs of the first Willig, White and Williams book, The Forgotten Room, also published in 2016 (and speaking of Willig and White…there’s a passing reference to them as a firm one of the characters works for. That got a chuckle out of me).

As usual, Williams delivers a great book, with an engaging storyline, which has me eager for her release at the end of this month, when we find out more about Sophie sister Virginia in Cocoa Beach. 

 

Review of “Along the Infinite Sea” (Schuyler Sisters #3) by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. Along the Infinite Sea. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-17131-4. Hardcover List Price: $26.95. Paperback List Price: $16.00.

5 stars

Beatriz Williams concludes her Schuyler Sisters trilogy with the story of arguably the most interesting and unconventional sister, Pepper. And I found I enjoyed this one a lot more than the previous book, with the two narratives, despite the distance of time, flowing well together.

The romance in Pepper’s arc is much more subtle, as not much actually happens between her and Florian, with her main focus being on the baby, but the chemistry and potential between them is there. I did like that there wasn’t a big reveal of who the father of Pepper’s baby was, as he really isn’t that important to the story.

In Annabelle’s arc, there is a lot more romantic drama, and I like that she doesn’t paint the husband, Johann, as villain or a total blackguard (because she already wrote about a bad husband in The Secret Life of Violet Grant), and made him more nuanced, portraying the conflict that some people in 1930s Germany must have faced. Her lover, Stefan, arguably, had a more controversial past, as he was separated from his wife, and he did not confide what was going on to Annabelle, so she had to learn about what was going on through a friend.

Much like some of her other books, Williams throws a curveball towards the end, and with the identity of the late Mr. Dommerich, who the older Annabelle refers to in 1966 not being who the story led me to believe he was, and the emotional final chapter.

And much like her previous books, Williams established time and place in very subtle (and sometimes humorous) ways. In a scene where Pepper and Annabelle are driving, they turn on the radio. “The static resolves into music. The Beatles. ‘Yesterday.’ So far away. Annabelle pauses, hand on the dial, and then lets it be.” (84)

 

Review of “Tiny Little Thing” (Schuyler Sisters #2) by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. Tiny Little Thing. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-171307. Hardcover List Price: $26.95. Paperback List Price: $16.00.

3 stars

This books spins off from an offhand comment about Vivian’s “perfect” sister, Tiny in the previous book, The Secret Life of Violet Grant, and while your reading experience may be enhanced by reading that one first, each story does stand alone.

In some of her interviews for this book, Beatriz Williams highlighted her prior belief that this era was too modern, as she had previously largely written about the first half of the twentieth century. But this book does discuss an interesting aspect of the 1960s, with the dawn of “television politics.” And as someone who has read extensively in earlier time periods, I assumed it was more common for women in the 60s to be working, instead of being housewives and subject to scandal and double standards. But I found myself in shock at a conversation between Tiny and her father-in-law regarding the supposed differences between a man having an affair and a woman doing the same thing (198-200). However, I recalled the fact that there is a certain Kennedy-esque nature to the relationship between Tiny and Frank, and both JFK and RFK were known for their affairs, and their wives tolerated it for the sake of appearances.

Despite the nice period touches in this book, I found myself having a hard time becoming attached to any of the characters. I didn’t really feel much sympathy for Tiny, as she seemed to fit the “poor little rich girl” archetype, and there wasn’t anything about Caspian that drew me to him, the way some of Williams’ other romantic interests did. However, I found myself feeling for Frank toward the end, when his true romantic interests were revealed, and how it could affect his reputation in that time period.

On the whole, this is a solid historical novel, but not as enjoyable as some of Williams’ others.

 

Review of “The Secret Life of Violet Grant” (Schuyler Sisters #1) by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. The Secret Life of Violet Grant. New York: Berkley Books, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-28383-7. Paperback List Price: $16.00.

5 stars

I bought this book at Target back when the paperback originally came out, and never got around to reading it. But I ended up really enjoying this one, and this might be my favorite so far.

Much like her other books, this one has two timelines, but this time, it follows two different people, Vivian Schuyler in 1960s New York as she unravels the mystery of her missing great-aunt Violet, and Violet living through the events that lead up to the start of the First World War in 1914. It’s a lovely read, with lots of twists and turns, especially at the end, with a twist I did not see coming.

Something else I loved was that she brought back some of the characters from A Hundred Summers. Lily, the heroine of that book, is Vivian’s second cousin, and Aunt Julie also makes another appearance. While each book can definitely stand alone, it is fun for readers who are familiar with the characters to see them again, especially as she would go on to write more Schuyler books after this one.

One aspect I was unsure of at first was the love triangle bit, between Vivian, Doctor Paul, and Gogo, as it is somewhat reminiscent of a major aspect of the plot of A Hundred Summers. And I even expected Vivian to talk to Lily about it at one point, and for Lily to end up giving her advice. But the two stories go in radically different directions from one another, and Gogo is a much better friend than AHS‘ Budgie.