Review of “The Duke and His Duchess/The Courtship” (Windhams 0.5 and 0.6) by Grace Burrowes

Burrowes, Grace. The Duke and His Duchess/The Courtship. Naperville: Sourcebooks Casabalanca, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-4926-2617-6. Print List Price: $6.99.

Note: This is a compilation edition of The Courtship (2012) and The Duke and His Duchess (2013), which were previously ebook-exclusive.

The Courtship

3 stars

This was an enjoyable read about, as the title suggests, the courtship between Percival Windham and Esther Himmelfarb who become of the parents of the Windhams, Grace Burrowes’s most well-known fictional family. While charming, it didn’t feel original, in that common tropes are present throughout, including falling in love at a house party, and the concept of a man of lofty status falling for a woman of a slightly lower class, not to mention the whole “virgin heroine who wows the sexually experienced hero into forgetting about his  experienced former paramours.” But it is a fast read, that sets the stage for the follow-up novella.

The Duke and His Duchess 

5 stars

It’s very rare that we see a a couple encounter new significant problems after finding their HEA, but it is more realistic to real life, and considering there weren’t a lot of obstacles to Percival and Esther’s love in the first novella, we see their love truly tested here, with different problems facing them, like Esther’s health, the possibility of Percival inheriting the dukedom if both his father and sickly elder brother die, and the reappearance of both of his former mistresses, both of whom have children by him.

I love how Burrowes showed how difficult life could be for women who are forced into the position of selling their bodies to survive, and shows how it can affect women differently. I also admire that how she had Esther behave about it, visiting one of the women as well as she and Percival agreeing to raise both of them children, despite the fact that this is not something that most historical wives would have done.

 

Review of “The Dream Thief” (Drakon #2) by Shana Abe

Abe, Shana. The Dream Thief. 2006. New York: Bantam Books, 2007. ISBN-13: 978-0-553-58805. Print List Price: $6.99.

4.5 stars

One complaint about the prior book, The Dream Thief (which I forgot to put in my review) was that the chapters (particularly the prologue) establishing the mythos of the drakon felt a bit disjointed from the main story. But upon reading this book, I found a lot of these chapters made things a lot clearer, with Abe expanding on the world she built in the first book, and while she did time jump to show the Rue and Kit from the first book older with their children fully grown and prepared for romance and adventure of their own, it is still very much just the second part of a larger story.

And while the chemistry between Rue and Kit didn’t work at times, I thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between Lia and Zane. Zane was a fun character in the first book, and I like that he isn’t a conventional historical romance hero, in the fact that he was raised as a street urchin, and has rougher ways than his aristocrat counterparts, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t truly care about Lia.

Some of the bits with her dream sequences of the future were a bit odd to read, but it shows that despite the feeling of Giftlessness she has compared to her siblings, especially in the beginning, that she does have her own unique powers.

 

 

Review of “The Smoke Thief” (Drakon #1) by Shana Abe

Abe, Shana. The Smoke Thief. 2005. New York: Bantam Books, 2006. ISBN: 0-553-58804-4. Print List Price: $6.99.

3.5 stars

Shana Abe is an author that has been on my radar for a while, but it was not until I found this book at a recent used book sale that I took the effort to try her work. And this book is enjoyable as a fantasy, even if it is somewhat awkward as a romance.

Abe puts effort into worldbuilding, seamlessly melding the fantasy aspects of her shapeshifter dragon world of the north with 1730s-50s England. This might not appeal to everyone who likes either fantasy/shifter romance or historicals, but if you enjoy stories that merge the two, I would recommend this book.

I really enjoyed Rue, who always felt like an outsider, due to being a "halfling," and grows up to become a thief, after faking her own death. There were some moments, however, where I felt like Kit was rather annoying. The dragon possessiveness stuff is somewhat believable, but there are mentions on two separate occasions that he would be fine with raping Rue. He doesn't, but these bits did leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Review of “The Scandal of it All” (The Rogue Files #2) by Sophie Jordan

Jordan, Sophie. The Scandal of it All. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-246362-3. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

Many historical romances require some suspension of disbelief, due to the pairing of virgin heroines experienced men, with most heroines being under 30, and the heroes often being at least a few years older than them. But Sophie Jordan’s latest is charming in that in features a widowed heroine, Graciela, who is 35 (almost 36) at the beginning of the novel, and is six years her junior. And in doing so, Jordan is allowed to tackle topics that not many historicals do, such as fertility struggles.

I’ve always been a sucker for the friends-to-lovers trope, and this is a great variation of that. While in other stories, I might question whether the characters have anything beyond passion that bind them together, the shared history between the two, with Colin being Graciela’s stepson’s best friend, works.

Having read the first book, While the Duke was Sleeping, I was already familiar with many of the characters, and only grew to love them more, including Enid and Clara, who I hope will have their own books sometime soon. One character I was not prepared to want to see more of the Duke himself (in part due to the fact that this ducal infestation of historical romance is incredibly tiresome, and also in part that some of his actions in this book made him come off as a bit off a jerk), but by the time I reached the end, I definitely wanted to know what would happen with him.

Review of “A Perilous Undertaking” (Veronica Speedwell #2) by Deanna Raybourn

Raybourn, Deanna. A Perilous Undertaking. New York: Berkley, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-451-47615-9. Print List Price: $26.00.

4 stars

The second Veronica Speedwell book is enjoyable, but the mystery itself doesn’t hold as much surprises this time around. The culprits in the murder are pretty much exactly who you would expect, given the motives that are presented, and it did not have the same deeper conspiracy aspect as the first book.

But while the mystery itself is predictable, the character development makes up for it. We get to see how Veronica and Stoker’s relationship as friends and colleagues, with the potential for more, develops, even if they don’t always see eye-to-eye in the romance department. One of the things that grated on me is that Veronica pestered Stoker about the fact that he needed to relieve his sexual urges with a housemaid or something, and he (very rightly) got upset with her about it. I know that she meant to be a modern woman in her attitudes on sex, but if she were really modern, she would respect that people have the ability to make their own choices, and control their desires. It also indicates (along with the fact that there are two more books planned after next year’s release) that we’ll have a lot more of the “will-they-or-won’t-they” in the future.

 

 

 

Review of “A Curious Beginning” (Veronica Speedwell #1) by Deanna Raybourn

Raybourn, Deanna. A Curious Beginning. New York: New American Library, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-451-47601-2. Hardcover List Price: $25.95. Paperback List Price: $15.00.

4.5 stars

A curious beginning indeed. This is my first Deanna Raybourn book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I fully expected a more traditional “whodunnit” type of story, with a historical setting, but was amazed to find a story that links Veronica to a royal conspiracy to either eliminate her or use her to their advantage. And while the resolution does feel a bit cliched, it is still a wonderful mystery that will keep readers on their toes, with a side dish of Victorian history.

The character of Veronica herself is also wonderful. I love heroines who “do things,” and while women like her might not have been viewed in the most positive light in the real Victorian era, which championed middle-class ideas of chastity, morality, and family (ideas that do come into play in some way in this book), it is still inaccurate to say that women like her did not exist, especially with the suffragette movement on the rise at this time, and the fact that women would come to embrace greater freedom in the matter of a few decades.

While the book is not a romance, this book as the first in a series of Veronica Speedwell adventures, sets up the possibility of one with Veronica teaming up with Stoker, who shares her interest in natural history. The witty banter between them throughout the book is one of the things I loved, as it kept the story from being too dark, despite the fact that a murder has brought them together.

 

Review of Cocoa Beach” by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. Cocoa Beach. New York: William Morrow, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-240498-5. Print List Price: $27.99.

5 stars

As I said in my last review of her most recent Juliana Gray book, I have had a complex relationship with Beatriz Williams up to this point, some books being absolutely amazing, some being more “meh,” and as with her previous release, The Wicked City, so uninspiring I couldn’t get far enough into it to justify writing a review.

But this one may be one of her best to date. Something I’ve always found unusual about her is how she loves to play with POV and verb tense, which can be somewhat jarring, even with her prompts as to which character’s eyes we’re seeing it through, or which arc of the story it is. But, with this story following Virginia Fitzwilliam (nee Fortescue, who first appeared in A Certain Age) both in the 1922 timeline when she comes to Florida, and the 1917-19 timeline, which follows her romance gone wrong with her husband, I felt this one flowed much better, with a much greater sense of being in the moment with the present tense, and reliving the past with the use of the past tense.

But like quite a few of her previous books, there’s quite a lot that goes on beneath the surface. Having recently read Rebecca, I found the way different characters had varying perspectives of both Simon and Lydia and their motivations very similar, and I had no idea what to believe, until the truth all came out at the end.

Review of “A Most Extraordinary Pursuit” (Emmeline Truelove #1) by Juliana Gray

Gray, Juliana. A Most Extraordinary Pursuit. New York: Berkley Books, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-27707-2. Print List Price: $15.00.

3 stars

This was a book that I was unsure if I wanted to read at all. I had liked some of her previous Juliana Gray historicals, so I was a bit taken aback to hear that she was one of several authors who was changing genres. And when I picked it up to attempt to read it the first time, and found not only that it was written in first person (something I associate more with her Beatriz Williams persona), but that it felt more like one of her BW books but with characters from the Juliana Gray world (not to mention that the prequel novella saw one of her JG characters marry a widow of one of the members of BW’s famous Schuyler family), and her books have always been very much hit-or-miss with me.

But with the upcoming sequel coming out, I decided to give it another shot, and found that while I didn’t absolutely love it, it has its charms. Emmeline is an unusual heroine, very much a study of contrasts between the values of the departing Victorian era and the new modern age. She is in a traditionally male position as a duke’s secretary, but she still has traditional views as well.

The book seems to suggest the possibility that a romance could develop between Emmeline and Freddie, Lord Silverton. However, it took me a long time to like him at all, and I don’t think romance between them can happen at the moment, as it is made clear that he is something of a rake, who won’t be able to remain faithful. Although, having previously met him as a teenager in How to Tame Your Duke, it was nice to see how he turned out and to have something of an update on his father and stepmother.

I am much more hopeful of the possibility of a romance developing between Emmeline and Max Haywood, who becomes the new Duke of Olympia in this book. Even though he doesn’t show up until late in the book, I was charmed by the idea of a scholarly hero, and he is definitely an intriguing character, who I anticipate will feature more prominently in the sequel.

Review of “Rebecca” by Daphne Du Maurier (and the 1940 Hitchcock adaptation)

Du Maurier, Daphne. Rebecca. 1938. New York: Avon Books, 1997. ISBN-13: 978-0380730407. ISBN-10:  0380730405. Print List Price: $15.99 (price of the 2006 HarperCollins reprint).

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Rebecca. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, performances by Laurence Olivier, Joan Fontaine, George Sanders, and Judith  Anderson, United Artists, 1940.

Book rating: 4.5 stars

Film rating: 5 stars

I did the  read the book, watch the film, read/watch a review or two process completely out of order for this one, so that may have colored my perception of the book. As YouTube film/adaptation critic The Dom says in his review/comparison of the book and the film, the book relies heavily on a balance between the tension and the plot twists for its appeal. Yet, being a fan of his insights into books and films, I watched it, then watched the film, and then finally picked up the book. So, this is just as much a review of both as it is a response to his review.

This is the second problematic book I’ve covered, but it’s problematic in a slightly different way. The narrator remains unnamed, because the Du Maurier “could not think of one, and it became a challenge in technique, the easier because I was writing in the first person.” (388) The Don alternatively suggests that it is due to the lead having “no sense of her own identity,” which fits well with the concept of jealousy and the concept of the phantom of Rebecca so completely oppressing the lead.

Which brings me to another point: she has these weird fantasies all the time, and seems to be a textbook case of psychological issues, which miraculously go away when she finds out her husband, who she loves for no apparent reason (at least in the book), loves her and never loved Rebecca.

The other major characters are hardly any better in that respect, especially Maxim. The Dom goes into the massive changes that were worked into Maxim’s character, to make him a more sympathetic character, as in the book he is “a total wanker,” who is distant from the lead, and has no interest in doing romantic gestures for her, due to the way his first marriage so quickly went sour. And I am unsure if I was meant to feel sympathy for Maxim at all after finding out he killed Rebecca, even once I knew she goaded him into unknowingly assisting her suicide. But to be fair, in the coming decades, so-called “heroes” in romance novels would do awful things to the heroine for no reason, so by comparison, Maxim’s past behavior is pretty tame, and regardless of the political reasons Hitchcock had to change Rebecca’s manner of death in the film, the book’s version is much simpler.

The one character who I was surprised to like more in the book was Mrs. Danvers. Due to more of the politics of Hollywood, her behavior in the film is whittled down to her obsession with Rebecca (with the lack of explanation of their history together), with her meeting a grisly death of her own making in the end. But the inclusion of the backstory of their relationship made me feel for her and her loss.

 

 

Review of “A Lady Unrivaled” (Ladies of the Manor #3) by Roseanna M. White

White, Roseanna M. A Lady Unrivaled. Minneapolis: 2016. ISBN-13:  978-0764213526. Print List Price: $14.99.

4 stars

The third and final book in the Ladies of the Manor trilogy was a great conclusion to the mystery, but as a romance I did not find it as memorable as the other two. Lady Ella is a quirky heroine, but she is nowhere near as interesting as Brook or Rowena, who both went on their own personal journeys in the previous books. I did like Cayton, as he is a character who has really changed due to the loss he has faced.

The supporting characters were much more interesting. Lady Pratt, who was one of the villains for the previous two books, has also been much altered by her losses, and I found myself feeling sorry for her, especially when I saw the extent of her brother’s obsession with the diamonds and what it drove him to.