Review of “The Reluctant Duchess” (Ladies of the Manor #2) by Roseanna M. White

White, Roseanna M. The Reluctant Duchess. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-1351-9. Print List Price: $14.99.

4 stars

I enjoyed this one, though it was not as good as the first one. Part of that may have been due to some of the religious aspects in the book. I have no problem with most of the Christian fiction I’ve read in the past, but as something of a skeptic, I found it odd that we have God actually speaking to Brice several times in this one. But it’s still a solid read.

I had high expectations of this book, as it had to not only deal with bringing together Brice and Rowena, and resolving the conflicts that she is dealing with in her family, but continue the story with the Fire Eyes.

There’s a new, ever-evolving plot for the diamonds, presenting enemies both old and new, proving that if you play with fire, you really do get burned.

I didn’t know how much I would like Rowena, as characters with shattered confidence are hard to write in a sympathetic way. But she was written well, and I understood why she was the way she was, though I did find her a little annoying when she would assume that Brice was still interested in Brook, or perhaps even  having an affair with her. I also found it incredibly annoying when she tried to see herself in Lady Pratt, to make her more sympathetic, when the it’s obvious to everyone who has read the first book what Lady Pratt is really like. But after a while, I did realize it was misguided to hold those things against her, as she wasn’t there for the events of the first book.

 

 

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Review of “The Lost Heiress” (Ladies of the Manor #1) by Roseanna M. White

White, Roseanna. The Lost Heiress. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-1350-2. Print List Price: $14.99.

5 stars

This is a wonderful book, but the story of how it came to be, originating from a novel young teenage Roseanna White wrote, querying Bethany House at fourteen, then coming full circle after having published several other books by submitting it once again and actually being published by them, is just as heartwarming, and gives hope to me, and hopefully every other aspiring writer out there to never give up. In the closing lines of her author’s note, she also states how she views this book as “a symbol of determination,” and how “we should never cling to the way we think our goals should play out…but we should never give up on those loves the Lord has given us.” (439)

And in telling a story with this message, she also gives us compelling and memorable characters. Brook and Justin are by no means perfect people…in fact they are flawed, and their conflicting natures are part of what keeps them apart for much of the book. But they are both very sympathetic characters, especially given what they go through over the course of the book, so I was never too frustrated with them. And I love how it comes out that Justin would have found a way to be with Brook, regardless of her parentage, because it shows he really does love her.

Another fascinating part of this book was incorporating the Royal Family of Monaco, having Brook be passed off at the beginning as the illegitimate daughter of Prince Louis, and referring to Prince Albert I as her grand-pere. As a result, the copyright page includes some text I had never seen before, regarding this work being a “historical reconstruction,” due to the appearances of actual historical figures, a term I had not heard used before.

The mystery aspect surprised me by being a lot more intricate than I expected. I went in believing I knew who was behind, but found that by the end, despite being partially right, that there was much more to it than that, which carries over to the next book. I am definitely excited to see what hi-jinks the jewels bring to Brice!

Review of “The Hidden Blade” (Heart of Blade Duology #1) by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. The Hidden Blade. Austin: Sherry Thomas, 2014. ISBN-13: 9781631280085. Print List Price: $12.99.

4.5 stars

As I have discussed previously, I have a marked bias to British historicals, and despite my Southeast Asian background, I was never really interested in anything that had to do with, say, China. But this book, by China native Sherry Thomas, has a good balance of both England and China, telling the parallel stories of the childhoods of her two protagonists for the follow-up novel, My Beautiful Enemy. Leighton also travels to a number of other locations while on the run, and near the end of the book is with his mother and brother in Honolulu (my hometown), with plans for the trip including a visit to the very familiar Manoa Falls. I love that this author gave me a new appreciation for where I live and a new fascination with my own heritage.

This book isn’t really a romance, as it is all set-up of the characters’ backstories, but this is an intriguing way to be introduced to new characters. In many books, writers will either reveal bits of the characters’ pasts throughout the book using flashbacks, dropping it into conversation, or a prologue, or some mix of all three. But this method allows for more development of the characters, and I hope to see it pay off in the next book.

Herb was one of my favorite characters, and the one that connects the two plotlines together. His story highlights the injustice of the way homosexuals were treated, back when it was illegal.

Review of “A Study in Scarlet Women” (Lady Sherlock #1) by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. A Study in Scarlet Women. New York: Berkley, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-28140-6. Print List Price: $15.00.

4 stars

Rebooting certain form of media to be more female-centric has become something of a trend recently, what with the recent Ghostbusters, announcements of other female reboots of popular film franchises, and the speculation over the possibility of a female Doctor, although these decisions have been met with mixed responses. But I don’t know if it’s due to my lack of familiarity with the original Sherlock Holmes books, or just my love for a detective story with a female in the leading role, but I enjoyed this book, and think it did a worthy job in recasting the original. It even goes somewhat meta at the end by having Charlotte and her sister Livia talk about writing down the story of the case.

The mystery aspect is well-plotted, and while I found myself being a bit confused at the beginning, as I got into the flow of the story, I started to understand more and more. One aspect I enjoyed about this was that I actually felt sympathy for the culprits, once their reasoning for their elaborate plot came out, something that I did not expect to feel going in.

One thing that did feel a bit off was the romantic aspect. It’s not at the forefront of the story, but we see throughout that there is something between Charlotte and Lord Ingram, which I thought was weird, because he’s married, albeit unhappily, and judging by the blurb for the next book, his wife’s heart is elsewhere as well.

Rant/Review of “The Black Lyon” (Montgomery/Taggert #1) by Jude Deveraux

Deveraux, Jude. The Black Lyon. 1980. New York: Avon Books, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0-380-75911-8. Print List Price: $7.99.

0 stars

This is not a book I would have normally picked up. But I recently joined the Old School Romance Book Club, and this book was selected as are read of the month, and I wanted to try to participate . Also, this book was apparently author (and I assume club founder) Sarah MacLean’s first romance, at 13, and she provided a cover blurb for the 2011 reissue.

It is my understanding that if a work is reprinted due to the continued readership over a number of decades, that is one of the factors that makes it a classic, if not in literary canon, at least within its own genre. Romance has many so-called “classics” from the 1970s and ’80s, by the likes of Kathleen Woodiwiss, Johanna Lindsey, and Judith McNaught, many of which depict rape and domestic abuse (as well as other problematic themes), yet continued to be praised in the romance community. Deveraux’s The Black Lyon is in a similar vein, although to my understanding, she is still writing and has since changed her style. Yet all these books receive many glowing reviews on Goodreads, Amazon, and other sites (along with the occasional bad one, highlighting the troubling aspects). At one time, I considered anyone who revered these classics a bit messed up, due to the fact that these books perpetuate such awful messages. But a video about problematic media, as well as reaffirming my nonjudgmental stance as both a romance reader and a librarian-in-training, persuaded me to at least give this book a chance.

And I don’t know if this book deserved it. Some people might say that it being a medieval romance means that rape should be acceptable, as it happened all the time. But it felt more like I was reading something out of Game of Thrones than a romance novel, and I think Ranulf, the hero of this book deserves a grandiose GoT-style death, something you should not want for your romance heroes or heroines. His actions are apparently excusable because he fears (without reason) that Lyonene will betray him like his first wife, Isabel did, so in the part of the book I read, he flips out over her having contact with any man, including her childhood friend, Giles, (who is also kind of a prick), and rapes her twice. There’s also a part after the rapey bits where it states that he notices that “she was no longer eager for him, nor did she seem happy, as she had once had at her father’s house.” He blames it on the fact that she’s a fortune hunting social climber, instead of the fact that he has been a total asshole. (105)

And I didn’t get too far into the book, so I don’t know how it happens, but the tagline is just awful: “A classic love story of a fearless lord and the woman who tamed him…” For one thing, he is not fearless. He may be fearless on the battlefield, and present that impenetrable facade, but he clearly is afraid of abandonment. And seriously, “the woman who tamed him?” This just screams unrealistic. I know that the sensible reader won’t take his or her cues for how love works from romance novels, but there’s a difference between a man sowing wild oats and settling upon getting married and being a controlling and abusive partner, as the  Fifty Shades series demonstrates.

In conclusion, I would just like to state I don’t have anything against Jude Deveraux or readers who love this book or any of the classic bodice rippers. If it is something you like, or are fascinated by, then more power to you. This is just something that has mystified me for a while, and I had to get it off my chest.

 

 

 

Review of “The Mystery Woman” (Ladies of Lantern Street #2) by Amanda Quick

Quick, Amanda. The Mystery Woman. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-15909-1. Hardcover List Price: $26.95. Paperback List Price: $7.99

3 stars

This book lacked some of the magic that made the first book in this duology, Crystal Gardens,  work. The book seemed to drag, especially at around the 75% mark. I had a hard time caring for either of the main characters, or even any of the supporting characters, because while they did not possess any truly objectionable qualities, there was nothing about them that made me think them memorable or sympathetic in any way.

The mystery of what was going on with the murders was what kept me semi-invested, but after the revelation regarding Josh’s sometimes- employer, my investment in the story started to wane. The romance was decent, but given that I had no interest in either Josh or Beatrice, I was not impressed.

Something else I found weird was the fact that the text would go from referring to the Flint and Marsh proprietors as Mrs. Flint and Mrs. Marsh, and their first names, Abigail and Sara, without explaining who was who until several chapters later, when a chapter from Josh’s perspective refers to Mrs. Flint as “Abigail Flint.” I understand that sometimes different characters would refer to people differently, based on how well they know them, but I was so confused trying to figure out which woman was which.

Review of “An Heiress at Heart” (Love’s Grace #1) by Jennifer Delamere

Delamere, Jennifer. An Heiress at Heart. New York: Forever, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-1-4555-1893-7. Print List Price: $5.99

5 stars

This is a book that I had wanted to read for a while, in part due to the simple fact that it was an inspirational, clean romance that released with a secular publisher, which I had until recently viewed as a bit of an oxymoron, at least these days. And based on some of the reviews I perused on Goodreads, the author or her agent’s choice to submit this series for publication with Forever/Grand Central Publishing led to this author reaching an audience that she would not have normally reached, those who are used to the often pejoratively named “bodice-ripper.” However, Delamere has since switched to the inspirational publisher Bethany House with her new series, a decision which  might be more ideal for the intended target audience for her books, but again leaves a void for those who are looking for sweet romances at a cheap price in mass-market paperback.

As for the story itself, I adored it. Lizzie is a wonderful heroine, who despite her past mistakes, has a good heart. All she really wants is to have a family, since her indiscretion separated her from parents when she had to flee to Australia, and they have since died. But what really won me over was the hero. For a start, I think we need more clergymen heroes in romance, as well as more baron heroes, and he is both. But more than that, he is an honorable man who “refused to take up the dissolute and careless lifestyle that many of his peers were living.” (48)

It seems like way too many historical romances present the idea that a dangerous rake can be reformed, but this book is more realistic in the fact that that is rarely the case. James is a rake, but he is a charming one with at least some semblance of a moral code. Meanwhile, we have his old friend, Freddie, who is described as “ungentlemanly and dangerous,” (188) and meets a bad fate in the end, due in part due to this excessive living.

 

Review of “Crystal Gardens” (Ladies of Lantern Street #1) by Amanda Quick

Quick, Amanda. Crystal Gardens. 2012. New York: Jove, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0-515-15299.  Hardcover List Price: $25.95 Paperback List Price: $7.99

4 stars

Combining elements of different subgenres of romance doesn’t always work, but Krentz/Quick made it work in this novel, which pairs two people with “psychical” abilities, seamlessly combining historical, romantic suspense, and paranormal.

In contrast to some of the other romantic suspense books I have read in the past, the hero and heroine both have distinct and separate problems which do not connect, other than the fact that they each assist each other in unraveling their respective predicaments. Evangeline faces someone who wants to kill her, and this is what brings her almost literally to Lucas’ doorstep, but Lucas is also unraveling the circumstances of his uncle’s mysterious death and the disappearance of the former housekeeper, who was his uncle’s lover. I did feel the resolution to the Evangeline murder plot was a bit hastily concluded, especially after forgetting about it for quite a lot of the book to focus on the Gardens and the treasure, which I felt could have been a much more interesting conclusion.

Lucas and Evangeline had much more chemistry than the couple from the previous AQ book I read, and the intimate scenes between them were much more believable, with or without them being under the influence of the Gardens’ magic. And of course, we again meet another great cast of characters. Beatrice, Evangeline’s friend, who works with her at the private inquiry agency is the only other character to my knowledge who has a book, but I would love to see her expand on these characters a bit more. Does Judith get a second chance at love? And I would love to see more of Tony and Beth.

Review of “‘Til Death Do Us Part” by Amanda Quick

Quick, Amanda. ‘Til Death Do Us Part. New York: Berkley, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-17446-9. Hardcover List Price: $27.00. Paperback List Price: $7.99.

3.5 stars

I had heard a lot about Amanda Quick (one of the main alter-egos of author Jayne Ann Krentz) over the years, but I was not tempted to try her work until a recent trip to the library, where I found myself looking for new authors. I used to enjoy thrillers, like The Da Vinci Code, and I was intrigued by the premise of this one.

As a mystery, it did not disappoint. Despite mostly reading romance these days, I have a weird fascination with stories that deal with jealousy, obsession, and murder. I thought initially that the first chapter made it incredibly obvious that one of the first two characters we meet would be the culprit, only to be proven wrong as the story unfolded. and I began to piece together all the evidence along with the characters.

However, as a romance, I found it a bit lacking. I didn’t sense much chemistry between Trent and Calista, and despite the scenes where they make love not being described too explicitly, they feel awkward and out of place.

However, they each have intriguing qualities on their own. I sense that Krentz/Quick channeled her own experience from her career as an author when writing Trent, as he often talks about how “everyone’s a critic,” and other comments along similar lines. Calista is a career woman in a rather unconventional profession.

Despite this being a stand alone, I would be interested if she wrote another book about Andrew, following some of his detective adventures, which begin at the conclusion of this one, or Eudora, as she continues to pursue her relationship with Mr. Tazewell.

 

 

Review of “You May Kiss the Bride” (Penhallow Dynasty #1) by Lisa Berne

Berne, Lisa. You May Kiss the Bride. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-245178-1. Print List Price: $7.99

2.5 stars

Lisa Berne’s bio name-drops Georgette Heyer as her introduction to the historical romance genre in her bio at the back of the book, and the influence is obvious, with the story feeling in some ways like an older traditional romance. But while the setup of the story was great, the execution could use some work.

Some of the best moments between the couple happen initially, when they butt heads, yet find themselves drawn to each other. But as I continued reading, I found I didn’t understand what Gabriel and Livia had in common that would make for a lasting relationship, besides passion. And they really don’t spend that much time together, especially once they leave Bath. But then, he suddenly gets jealous and screws things up, and we’re supposed to root for him to get her back?

But there is a wonderful supporting cast, who I hope we get to see more of, despite the fact that the next book is apparently about Alasdair, some sort of Scottish cousin of the Penhallows (not Hugo, who appears in this one). The grandmother was one of my particular favorites. She is a bit hard around the edges, but she’s quite lovely once you get to know her.