Review of “A Bride for the Season” (Love’s Grace #3) by Jennifer Delamere

Delamere, Jennifer. A Bride for the Season. New York: Forever, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-1-4555-1891-3. Print List Price: $8.00.

4.5 stars

James is probably one of my favorite characters from this series, and I couldn’t wait for it to be his turn to find romance, and even without looking ahead to the blurbs, Delamere makes it very obvious from book one that she has something in the works for him and Lucinda, even if they don’t know it yet.

Upon getting to know James, my fondness for him did not diminish, though I was surprised given his happy-go-lucky, and often immature, demeanor, to find out that he confirms his age to be thirty-seven (he indicates he was born in July 1816, and the story begins in July 1853).

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Lucinda, but I quickly came to identify with her, due to her awkwardness in society and her love of books and concern for the less fortunate. I also love that she and James are able to bond over photography, and reading about the process that went into taking a photograph back then fascinated me.

The bride-swap that occurs at the end was something I expected, almost as soon as James approached Daniel about courting Lucinda, but the way James and Daniel end up confessing their love was a surprise, and a delightful one, as someone who did a bit of Shakespeare in high school. And while I did want to throw Emily off a cliff (or a number of other “accidental” fatalities) I was happy to see it work out the way it did.

 

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Review of “The Duchess Deal” (Girl Meets Duke #1) by Tessa Dare

Dare, Tessa. The Duchess Deal. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-234906-4. Print List Price: $7.99.

3 stars

Tessa Dare has been an autobuy author for me since her Spindle Cove series, and all of her titles published under Avon have been wonderful, four-to-five star reads, especially her release last year, the riotously funny Do You Want to Start a Scandal. But something about this book, the first in her new series, just fell a bit flat for me.

And it starts with the cover. I know the author doesn’t have a lot of input into the cover, and I will admit that the cover is different in its use of natural lighting, but this cover clearly is one of many continuing the trend of gratuitous shirtless men on romance covers, which are clearly meant to sexually attract female readers. Otherwise, they might have considered the fact that he has scars which make him physically unattractive, and play a significant part in his arc over the course of the story. And unlike fantasy retellings of Beauty and the Beast, he doesn’t magically turn into a handsome prince at the end when he “learns to love.”

But my beef with the cover aside, the romance felt weak. I have no idea what these two people ended up bonding over, or whether I was supposed to root for them or not. There’s no mention of what they have in common, and they just seem to fall for each other amidst all the hanky-panky they’re doing.

Ashbury is another weak spot, and this speaks more to my personal preference for heroes that aren’t total jackasses for over 75% of the book. I didn’t understand how he ended up at Waterloo in the first place, if he was the heir to a dukedom (if he was his father’s only son, wouldn’t he be expected to stay at home, in fear of his mortality?), and his self-pitying behavior started to get on my nerves. The one consolation in all this is that he had a therapist of sorts in his butler, Khan (who I really wish we could see more of, because he’s hilarious).

However, Emma is a compelling character, and her story arc, having been rejected by her father for a past indiscretion, shows both how far we have come as a society in terms of women’s suffrage, but how far we have left to go. The story also inserts a few other subtle nods to the current political climate, that somehow fit seamlessly into the world of Regency England, but will still get a chuckle or a nod of acknowledgement from modern readers.

There was one thing that also bothered me: Alexandra Mountbatten, who is the heroine of the next book. She seems interesting enough, but the problem is that I wonder if Ms. Dare did research into the history of the surname Mountbatten, which was adopted first by a branch of the German Battenberg family during World War I (over a century after the Regency), and later by Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh upon his marriage to the-then Princess Elizabeth in 1947. I always thought it was common practice to avoid using surnames or titles of real-life peers. I’m sure this won’t bother everyone, but this bothered me, especially as her origins are never explicitly explained.

Review of “The Noble Servant” (Medieval Fairy Tale #3) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Noble Servant. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-7180-2660-8. Print List Price: $14.99.

4 stars

I enjoyed this one a bit more than her previous book, and her writing style for her adult medieval fairy tales is just as refined as I remember from a year ago. While I was a bit unsure as to how the story would fit together without feeling arbitrary, as there are similarities between “The Goose Girl” and The Prince and the Pauper, the tales Dickerson chose to adapt and weave together this time around, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed it.

The two leads, Magdalen and Steffan, who first met in the prior book, The Beautiful Pretender, are both compelling, and their growth is a large part of the book. Steffan seems at first a lot like many other heroes in historical romance, so full of their own importance but also with a tragic past that leads them to be set against marrying for love. But we get to see him grow as a person, and you truly root for him to resolve his situation and win his lady. I am unsure what to say about Magdalen. There’s nothing bad about her, but there’s not a lot that really set her apart in my eyes. She was pretty much kind of a bit too perfect throughout, and I see why some people might be turned off by inspirationals for that reason.

The supporting characters are wonderful though, and you see the growth in them as well. I love how Agnes and Alexander are written as characters who you think are irredeemable at the beginning, but as the story goes on, you get the sense that they’ve fallen in love through being thrown together, and these circumstances have changed them. And I have to commend Dickerson on how she wrote Lord Hazen. He is depicted as so ruthless, he will kill anyone, even his own son, if it will achieve his ends, and trying to imagine someone like that is terrifying.

 

Thoughts: Intellectual Freedom, Censorship, & Barnes&Noble

Despite condemning censorship on many occasions in my library school classes, I continue to find it hard to look at cases of censorship within romance from an objective point of view. Despite adopting an “if you enjoy it, read it” attitude toward Jude Deveraux’s The Black Lyon and other classic “bodice-rippers,” I found myself with my foot in my mouth when I expressed an ambivalent opinion on Barnes & Noble/Nook Press removing erotica titles that were reportedly in violation of their new content policy that a fellow member of the Old School Romance Book Club posted. I started off on the wrong foot, expressing my more “conservative” opinions about the content I would like to see. I also expressed that I felt that if a book was glorifying illegal behavior, then a business has a right to remove it. But I also thought that authors should be made aware of the policy changes, instead of being expected to just “be aware.”

I was swiftly crucified for this “Switzerland”-esque response, with the original poster responding with a question of “Where do we draw the line?” bringing up some of the famous classic bodice-rippers and asking if they should be censored as well. Another focused solely on the fact that I expressed conservative reading tastes, and informed me that some people aren’t.

I was perplexed for a bit. I have no objection to erotica, as long as everything is consensual and legal, and adopt a “different strokes for different folks” approach there. And upon reviewing their policy, I did note that one of the types of objectionable content includes “obscene or pornographic material.” If an author is being removed for that reason alone, and it seems that some are, then that reeks of bad taste.

The thornier issue, however, is the one I alluded to previously, concerning “illegal content or offensive material,” which includes incest rape, bestiality, necrophilia, paedophilia or content that encourages hate or violence.” I cannot understand people who would be interested in works which glorify this illegal behavior, but to restrict access to or remove this content is censorship, and as the original poster asked, where do we draw the line?

In looking for clarity on this situation, I referred to the ALA’s Freedom to Read Statement. Nearly every line condemns B&N’s behavior in this situation. At one point, it states that “no group has the right to take the law into its own hands, and to impose its own concept of politics or morality upon other members of a democratic society.”

While the press and complaints about these incidents has led B&N to reinstate these authors’ accounts, as stated in the Publishers’ Weekly article, I do hope that talking about it further will cause them to make some changes to their policy.

Review of “The Duke of Shadows” by Meredith Duran

Duran, Meredith. The Duke of Shadows. New York: Pocket Star Books, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-6703-5. Print List Price: $7.99.

2 stars

I picked this one up due to seeing that one of my book club friends enjoyed Meredith Duran’s work, and wanting to broaden my horizons and look for romances that dealt with more cultural issues. But while I liked the fact that Duran realistically recreated what it might have been like to live through the Indian Rebellion of 1857, I found myself less and less engaged in the romance, especially in part two, until I just gave up.

I did like that Duran interweaves the perspectives people had of mixed-race people in the 19th century, and we see how it affects Julian and his interactions with others. And the heroine is intelligent, and we see that in the years after she returns to England, Emma becomes a painter, taking inspiration from the atrocities she witnessed, which is what reconnects her with Julian after they were initially parted. But I felt that the two parts felt a little too disjointed, and I had a hard time finding anything to like or even empathize with in the “London Julian.”

I still think that some people would like this if they enjoy a slightly darker romance that has a strong focus on a historical event, but at the moment, it just wasn’t for me.

Review of “A Lady Most Lovely” (Love’s Grace #2) by Jennifer Delamere

Delamere, Jennifer. A Lady Most Lovely. New York: Forever, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1-4555-1896-8. Print List Price: $8.00

3 stars

After thoroughly enjoying the first installment of this trilogy, as well as her latest release, I decided to order the other two in the series. And , while I did enjoy this one, and it was a good story, I felt that it wasn’t quite up to par with An Heiress at Heart. 

Tom is a great hero, and very much representative of the times he was living in, where working class people found success, while many of the “old-moneyed” and titled folks simultaneously disdained them and came to see the benefits of marrying them to save their declining estates or cover their debts. We also see especially at the beginning, that he often lets his impulses get him into trouble, such as starting a physical altercation with someone at his own wedding without thinking about how that will be perceived by others in society.

I didn’t dislike Margaret, but I had a hard time finding anything likable or memorable about her, aside from the fact that she’s supposedly beautiful. She does grow up a bit by the end, but I didn’t really understand why Tom ended up falling in love with her.

The plot also felt a bit too easily wrapped up. I expected Denault and/or Spencer to pose more of a threat, especially when they are seen together at the wedding, but the most threatening it gets is that all of Tom’s and his sister’s secrets are exposed, and there isn’t a climactic confrontation.

But I was glad to see that Geoffrey and Lizzie are happy, and that Lizzie gives birth partway through the book. Plus, James continues to be an affable rake, generating a little too much excitement on my part to read his book.

 

Review of “When the Scoundrel Sins” (Keeping the Carlisles #2) by Anna Harrington

Harrington, Anna. When the Scoundrel Sins. New York: Forever, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-4555-9788-4. Print List Price: $7.99.

4 stars

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

While the first book in the series was a disappointment, I still very much anticipated the following installments in the series, due to Quinton and Robert being incredibly hilarious in the first book.

And they did not let me down. The first half especially made me laugh a lot due to the interactions between Quinton and Robert, and even their interactions with Annabelle and Lady Ainsley. The way Harrington works in common tropes of historical romance and gives them new meaning also got a few laughs out of me, like the unfortunate “bodice ripping” scene that appears in the prologue, and how at one point Annabelle, who is constantly referred to as a bluestocking for her love of books, actually dons blue stockings for Quinton. Even the name of the Ainsley, estate, Glenarvon, is an allusion in keeping with the rakish heroes that populate Harrington’s world.

And while the book does take a turn for the somewhat cliche and melodramatic in the second half, with the Quinton being the typical “rake-who-refuses-to-fall-in-love” and Annabelle being incredibly stubborn, this book was still a charming read.

As I previously noted, Annabelle is a book lover, and some of her sentiments about them felt relatable, as someone who also loves to read. But she’s also unconventional in that she can don men’s clothing to help around the estate, and proves that she isn’t willing to just hand over her agency to a man who wants to control her. Quinton proves to be a perfect match for her, as he is very much interested in carving his own path, without help from his family, and it’s obvious that despite the initial deal they both consider regarding a marriage of convenience, that they are much happier when they are both on equal footing and able to be together.

Review of “The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen” (Lady Travelers Guide #1) and “The Proper Way to Stop a Wedding (In Seven Days or Less) (Lady Travelers Guide #0.5)

Alexander, Victoria. The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen. Don Mills, Ontario: HQN, 2017.

The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen 

4.5 stars

This is my first Victoria Alexander book, and I enjoyed every minute of it. It’s a bit slow for the first several chapters, but once the traveling starts, then the plot really picks up, and I found myself become really attached to this cast of characters.

India is the sort of heroine that is progressive for the time, having gotten an education, and is working as a gentleman’s secretary. And while her lack of interest in the wider world and her overly buttoned-up persona may turn some readers off initially, it’s nice to grow with the heroine as she experiences the first real adventure of her life.

Derek is a nice change from the jaded rakes whose past has made them reluctant to fall in love. He is a charming character, who we discover is a romantic, due to his mother’s influence (his mother having married three times, all for love), and he is the one who works to expand India’s horizons. Though they often talk about the fact that India wants to “reform” him (in part due to her belief that he is behind his aunt’s Lady Travelers Society scheme and is defrauding women), it is India who is reformed.

As many great first books in series do, they grab you by introducing you to secondary characters who will likely appear in future installments, sometimes as heroes and heroines. Percival, Lord Brookings, is Derek’s stepbrother,arguably rivaling him in the flirtation department, and I look forward to seeing who will win his heart (perhaps in the next book?). And having set up the hijinks of the Lady Travelers Society so well in this book, I cannot wait to see what the three ladies get up to next time!

The Proper Way to Stop a Wedding (In Seven Days or Less)

3.5 stars

This novella was bonus material at the back of The Lady Travelers Guide to Scoundrels & Other Gentlemen, so I included it in the same review. I am somewhat reluctant to read stories about couples where I know their ending will be less than happy (as it feels like more of a HFN, or happy-for-now, than an HEA) but Alexander made this story, detailing the romance of Derek’s parents’ courtship, work, especially given that I had just read about her when she was older, reflecting on the loves of her life.

As a romance, it wasn’t anything special, but you do see how the knowledge of his parents’ history may have shaped Derek. And you can’t help but see a bit of Derek in his young uncle Edward, something that was alluded to in the main novel.

What I enjoyed the most about it was seeing a bit more of Aunt Guinevere, Mrs. Fitzhew-Wellmore, and Mrs. Higginbotham, as every scene they were in had me laughing hysterically.

 

Review of “The Silent Songbird” (Hagenheim #7) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Silent Songbird. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-7180-2631-8. Print List Price: $14.99.

3.5 stars

This the first Melanie Dickerson book I’ve read since reading The Beautiful Pretender (2016) upon its release, and the first Hagenheim book I read since first falling in love with the series with the first three books, but then becoming slowly less interested in her Young Adult material. And the overly simplistic writing of the first installment her so-called “Austen-inspired” Regency series further turned me off reading anything but her adult medieval books. But as I did grow up with a fascination with Disney’s Little Mermaid, I decided to give her one last chance.

And while I would still classify the writing style as a little too simple for an adult reader, the style would be appropriate for a teenager with an interest in fairy tales. And while it is a part of a series, it is only connected in part to at most two of the other books, with the hero of this one being the son of the hero of The Merchant’s Daughter, with another relation of his making an appearance in The Princess Spy. (See the explanation of the first five books here). As such, this can definitely stand alone, for anyone who loves The Little Mermaid, or fairy tales in general.

As for the characters, they were what kept me from giving up on the story despite the writing style. Evangeline is a heroine who escapes the confinement of the Castle, trading the possibility of a potentially abusive marriage for the life of a servant, despite some people who believed she would give up. I admire that she found the strength to do this, and chose to learn how to defend herself. Westley is someone who, unlike what we think of as the stereotype for medieval lords, has compassion for all people, and even forgives Evangeline for her deception.

The plot itself, while not incorporating any of the magical aspects of the original tale or the Disney version, has some recognizable bits and overarching themes, with the idea of a young woman escaping from the comforts (which she might sometimes see as confines) of home and going to a new, unfamiliar place. However, like many novel-length retellings, the story is fleshed out, and I enjoyed how she incorporated the conspiracy aspects of the medieval time period into the plot.

 

Review of “Prelude for a Lord” (Gentlemen Quartet #1) by Camille Elliot

Elliot, Camille. Prelude for a Lord. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0-310-32035-7. Print List Price: $12.99.

5 stars

This book is another of several books that I added to my TBR following the great July Friends of the Library Book Sale, and I am so happy to have found her. For one, she’s an Asian American from Hawaii, like me (although she now lives on the West Coast). And for another, this book is absolutely amazing.

There have been other books that have dealt with the hero having a traumatic past, with that as the main thing keeping the couple from getting their HEA, and I find those books a bit irritating, especially with the whole “You-shouldn’t-be-with-me-but-I-can’t-stay-away-from-you” vibe those often present. But with this one, Bayard, Lord Dommick goes through mental struggles, but it does not keep him from proving he can be a good partner for Alethea when she needs him, and once they are married, he opens up and trusts her, especially once she tells him about the scars of her own past.

The way she interweaves the romance with the mystery element, through having Bay and Alethea share a love for the violin and music, with the mystery surrounding the violin, is seamless, and I love how she was able to keep me guessing about who was behind it until the Big Reveal.

I most definitely await the (as-yet-unnanounced) remaining books in the Quartet, to find out what Ian, Raven, and David get up to next, as well as any other future Camille Elliot books.