Review of “A Conspiracy in Belgravia” (Lady Sherlock #2) by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. A Conspiracy in Belgravia. New York: Berkley, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-28141-3. Print List Price: $15.00.

5 stars

The second installment of the Lady Sherlock series is even better than the first. While the first book was a murder mystery, this one, as the title suggests, follows Charlotte & Co. as they unravel a conspiracy, and uncover secrets that are sure to leave the reader speechless.

One of the things I wondered (and I’m sure others have as well) was the future of Charlotte and Lord Ingram’s relationship. It is addressed in this story, as Charlotte unravels Lady Ingram’s true intentions. And while some books with mystery elements make it fairly obvious what’s going on before the big reveal, I didn’t have much of a clue until Charlotte explained everything to Lord Bancroft at the end.

The revelation of the identity and whereabouts of Charlotte’s half-brother, which Thomas saves for the very last, is another curveball. The cliffhanger ending with them facing each other makes me eager to see where the story picks up in the next installment.

I also love that we get a greater sense of how bad Sir Henry and Lady Holmes are as parents in this book, and how Charlotte wants to use her new independence to help liberate Livia and Bernadine from their parents’ home. The scene where Charlotte faces down her father as he wants to have her locked away shows her strength of character, and his weakness of character.

On that note, another arc I hope we see more of in the next book is if anything happens between Livia and Stephen Marbleton. Their acquaintance does begin with a deception, but as soon as they meet, they seem to have a lot in common, so I hope to see it go somewhere. And as his family was involved in the plot of the last book, I anticipate we will see him again.

Thoughts: Reaction to That Awful New York Times Article

I apologize, as this post on this is somewhat overdue. But it took a while to get my thoughts together, especially with more reactions, and especially response from The New York Times themselves coming out. But I hope you enjoy my analysis and thoughts on Robert Gottlieb’s insulting piece. 

As it is Banned Books Week, this a great time to talk about banned or challenged books. But it is also a great time to reaffirm our freedom to read, and expand our horizons about genres we may not know a lot about, with an open mind.

For many, that includes romance. And, quite ironically, in several days, the old assumption that “romance = trash” has again been resurrected in a public forum, this time in a New York Times article by Robert Gottlieb, the 86 year old writer and editor of Simon & Schuster, Knopf, and The New Yorker. But despite his distinguished pedigree in the literary world, he shows his lack of knowledge of romance novels and their content almost from the first sentence.

First of all, in his summary of The Duke and I (what is a book from 2000 doing in an article with the headline”A Roundup of the Season’s Romance Novels?”, he first refers to Daphne as “Lady Daphne” (despite saying within the same sentence that she’s the daughter of a viscount. A paragraph later, he presents a Cliffs-Notes summary of the book, putting emphasis on the sex, “he ‘squirming with desire,’ she ‘writhing in delight’.”

He continues on in the same vein, with brief (and judgmental) summaries of select titles. At one point he has the audacity to say that, aside from “a few scattered references to racial matters, you’d never know” that the two leads from Deadly Rumors by Cheris Hodges are African American. Ron Hogan, in his rebuttal to Gottlieb, posed the question, “How should African-American characters behave to sufficiently convey their African-Americanness to readers?” He presents the point that, as Gottlieb was Toni Morrison’s former editor, should be aware of the nuances of African-American culture.

Once he is finished with his insulting “He/She/They” summaries, he begins to attack the genre as a whole, first outright alienating several popular subgenres, and then digging into a select number of recent releases, starting in Regency historical (as he blatantly ignores the other historical settings), making fun of the common tropes of the genre as formulaic. But as always, it comes back to sex for him, as he feels the need to point out that classic old school Regency romance author Barbara Cartland’s books are “without benefit of sex” [Emphasis mine].

And while he acknowledges that Nora Roberts writes “sensibly written” books, he returns to turning up his nose at the genre quickly, by bringing up the Fifty Shades phenomenon. And while I have expressed my ambivalence and distaste for some segments of romance in the past, I firmly believe that we should all adhere to the saying, “Don’t yuck on someone else’s yum.” A lesson Mr. Gottlieb appears not likely to take to heart, even considering the statement in the closing lines of his piece, where he questions the whether the violence and danger of James Bond with stories of romance and female empowerment. Especially when he boils down the reading of these books to being “harmless.”

In addition to Hogan’s article, there have been a number of other responses across the Internet.

Author Laura Layne, while a bit late to the party on this issue, delivered a similarly incensed response. And Read-a-Romance Month founder and romance reviewer Bobbi Dumas (who notably had her reviews of romances featured last year in a much more favorable piece showcasing the genre and its current offerings at the time) wrote expressing her exhaustion of having to defend it, but also pointed out that while this article was by a man, it saddens her further when it’s a woman bashing the genre, as it shows how much misogyny is internalized in our society. This piece continued with a piece that showed her knowledge and experience of reading the genre, through picking recent releases, and discussing them based on their merits, without reducing them to the same tired cliches.  

The post of the link to the article on The New York Times Books  Facebook page drew negative comments from many readers, many of whom I recognized from “seeing” them every day in book club chats. And then, sixteen hours ago at the time of this writing, editorial director Radhika Jones posting a feeble apology “thanked” the commenters for their “passionate response.” No mention of any changes being made. No indication that she and other staff there realized their mistake of constantly not showing a prominent, if not the most popular, genre in the fiction market. Are they just happy to be getting clicks?!

This is yet another reminder that even as more things progress, more things stay the same, both politically and socially. We have the power to change that. Encourage anyone who has disparaged a romance novel without having read one to do so. Because at the end of the day, whatever you read, at least you are reading.

Review of “Cinder” (The Lunar Choronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer (THROWBACK)

Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. 2012. New York: Square Fish, 2013. ISBN-13: 9781250007209.  Hardcover List Price: $19.99. Paperback List Price: $9.99.

4.5 stars

This is a book I first read when the paperback came out in 2013, and while I enjoyed it, I did not feel fully invested in the series at the time. Now that all the books are out, however, and thanks to the nudging of a friend of a friend who lent me Scarlet, I picked this up again.

Meyer’s world building is exemplary, establishing a futuristic society that has both critical distance from the present day in terms of the time that has passed and the technology innovations that have occurred, but remains relatable, making one of the central problems a worldwide pandemic comparable to plagues like the Black Death, and issues like racism and classism.

Cinder is a wonderful, unique heroine, particularly for Cinderella retellings. I love that the story focused just as much on giving her a past that fits her into the world in a deeper way, while also incorporating the important elements of the Cinderella tale.


Review of “How to Beguile a Duke” (How To #1) by Ally Broadfield

Broadfield, Ally. How to Beguile a Duke. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, LLC, 2014. ISBN-13: 9781505440683. Print List Price: $16.99.

2 stars

This book is relatively inoffensive, but this book felt much too “trope-y” in the worst ways. The first part is the fact that the heroine is yet another “unconventional” historical woman. I give props to Broadfield for giving Catherine a unique backstory, but I just didn’t find much to like about Catherine.

Nick, Duke of Boulstridge, showed promise, as he is a Darcy-esque hero, complete with the awkward proposal, and the fact that he had up to that point largely looked down on Catherine’s background. But this culminates in one of my least favorite romance tropes, the “historical heroine won’t marry the hero, even though they just slept together, because she wants love” trope. I know that the point of romance is that the heroines deserve an emotionally satisfying relationship, but considering that the two just slept together, you would think there is at least passion between them.

On that note,  I got no indication that they even have chemistry one another. While I generally like closed-door romances, this one just felt awkward, as I had no sense that either of their emotions were involved. Aside from a sudden kiss, the incident in which she is compromised feels clunky and thrown in just for the sake of moving the plot along.

Review of “Stalking Jack the Ripper” (Stalking Jack the Ripper #1) by Kerri Maniscalco

Maniscalco, Kerri. Stalking Jack the Ripper. New York: Jimmy Patterson Books/Little, Brown and Company, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-316-27349-7. Hardcover List Price: $18.99. Paperback List Price: $10.99.

5 stars

This is a book I discovered by accident while in the bookstore, and despite being initially scared away by a one-star Goodreads review critiquing the anachronistic language, I decided to give it a chance, as it otherwise seemed promising, and Jack the Ripper is one of the real historical cases that has fascinated me. Plus, I’ve been binge-watching Bates Motel on Netflix and wanted a good murder mystery with a similar flavor.

And I did get that with this book. Maniscalco approaches the case through the perspective of the protagonist, Audrey Rose Wadsworth, who is, rather unconventionally, interested in forensic science. And as the story unfolded, I really became to identify with all the problems that Audrey dealt with in her family, especially as she started to suspect one or another of them was the Ripper.

The big reveal of who did it truly shocked me, especially as Maniscalco is skilled at misdirection and making you so certain in the moment that who Audrey thinks is the killer actually did it. And I’m not sure if this is a spoiler or not to those who have not read this book, but considering I picked this up to get something in a similar vein to Bates Motel, the bittersweet end and the villains motivations were very similar.

This book is light on the romance, but there are hints of it, with hope of more to come in the next book. Audrey shares some witty banter with the absolutely adorable Thomas Cresswell, and a kiss or two.

Review of “The Laird Takes a Bride” (The Penhallow Dynasty #2) by Lisa Berne

Berne, Lisa. The Laird Takes a Bride. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-03-245181-1. Print List Price: $7.99

3 stars

Despite finding Lisa Berne’s first book, You May Kiss the Bride, lackluster, I picked up the second book in the series. And I found that I had the same reaction to this one. And while it had its good points, the romance wasn’t really “there” for me.

I think the first mistake was having this book be about Alasdair, who I don’t even remember being a big part of the first book, than about Hugo, who interested me much more. And with his character, I didn’t get the sense there was anything new being brought to the table, as he’s just another angsty, broody hero, who won’t fall in love because he was heartbroken over the woman he loved marrying his brother, and then losing his parents, brother, and sister-in-law after they drowned in the loch. And with Fiona, while I did feel bad for her, as she had such a difficult life at home, I had a hard time believing that she would fall in love with Alasdair, especially since these two ADULTS have constant miscommunications.

I did enjoy that Berne endeavored to immerse us more fully in Highland culture than any other book I’ve read before, setting the book entirely in Scotland with an entirely Highland Scottish cast of characters, imbuing what their perspective might have been at the time. And though I don’t know a lot about clan history and relations, I found the concept of the Tome and the laws within intriguing.

And despite my two disappointing experiences reading Berne’s work, I do hope to see what she produces in the future. From what I have heard from her about Hugo and his book, he is someone who is funny and lighthearted, and much more my speed.

Review of “Duke with Benefits” (Studies in Scandal #2) by Manda Collins

Collins, Manda. Duke with Benefits. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-250-10988-0. Print List Price: $7.99.

4.5 stars

Manda Collins was one of few new-to-me authors I tried this year, starting with the fun first installment in her latest series, Studies in Scandal, Ready, Set, Rogue. And while some of the books in her backlist are rather flawed, the mystery aspect is always well executed, and balanced with the romance. Duke with Benefits is no different, as we follow two quirky characters who we were introduced to in the previous book, and a mystery/conspiracy element with a reveal, which while seeming somewhat predictable in hindsight, still kept me on the edge of my seat.

I did not expect to like Daphne as much as I did, due to her tendency toward bluntness. But I quickly came to like her and even identify with her somewhat upon reading this book. Sometimes, historical authors try to write “unconventional” heroines just for the sake for writing modern women in period clothing, but you get a real sense that Daphne is different, and not just “ahead of her time.” And there has been speculation among readers that she might have Aspergers or autism, and if that is the case, I commend Collins for writing such a wonderful addition to disability representation in historical romance.

At first, I wondered how Daphne and Dalton would end up together, as they don’t seem to have much in common. But they play off each other very well, and when they are together, you feel the chemistry between them. Collins scores further points by straying from the “jaded rake, lovesick miss” trope a lot of historicals seem to go for, by having Dalton pursuing her with marriage in mind first, and Daphne initially not being emotionally invested.



Review of “Trusting Miss Trentham” (Baleful Godmother #3) by Emily Larkin

Larkin, Emily. Trusting Miss Trentham. [Place of publication not identified]: Emily Larkin, 2017. ISBN-13: 9781541378414. Print List Price: $18.99.

2 stars

What appears at first to be another intriguing book in this series quickly devolved as I got to know the ignorant heroine. The hero, Icarus’, story is compelling, even if at times he feels a bit too fatalistic in terms of his decision to end his own life, due to what he has been through during the war.

But I seriously questioned Letty’s intelligence at various places. She had the brains to choose a useful gift of distinguishing truth from lies, which has helped her as an heiress who is the target of fortune hunters. But despite her wealth and aristocratic connections, she is incredibly naive when it comes to sex, engaging in “oral congress” with Icarus (while he is unconscious!), because she saw her cousin, Lucas, engaged in the act with his friend and lover, Thomas. While it did not surprise me as much as I thought it would, given the history of old school “bodice rippers” featuring scenes in which the hero sexually assaults the heroine, it still left a bad taste in my mouth, and when she coerces him into letting her do it again, which leads to him doing it to her, I was pretty much done.

I am open to trying more of Larkin’s work in the future, however, especially the next book, which follows Lucas and Thomas’ relationship.

Review of “Resisting Miss Merryweather” (Baleful Godmother #2) by Emily Larkin

Larkin, Emily. Resisting Miss Merryweather. [Place of publication not identified]: Emily Larkin, 2016. ISBN-13: 9781536967739. Print List Price: $5.99.

3 stars

I was skeptical when I found out the second book was a novella, and that Barnaby was the hero, due to the fact that the blurb makes it clear that guilt over his past indiscretion (as recounted in Unmasking Miss Appleby) forms a substantial part of his arc, and a novella means less time to devote to fleshing the story out. And I found myself proved correct, because while I felt that part of Barnaby’s story, including the resolution of the breach between him and Marcus, was resolved, this didn’t have a chance to be a “proper” romance due to the length.

One of the major problems is that the story feels like insta-love, with no real obstacles in the way of their being together, besides the guilt he has over his past mistake, and that is resolved a little too neatly by having Barnaby and Merry trapped together in a cave, with the possibility of it being life-or-death, leading to them getting together.

But Barnaby’s character is well-written, with his arc focusing on his guilt. I love the friendship between Barnaby and Marcus: that Marcus was able to come to terms with what happened, and reach out to Barnaby, and Barnaby found redemption and felt like he deserved to be Marcus’s friend again.


Review of “An Inconvenient Beauty” (Hawthorne House #4) by Kristi Ann Hunter

Hunter, Kristi Ann. An Inconvenient Beauty. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-1827-9. Print List Price: $14.99.

4 stars

This book was somewhat unusual for me, as oftentimes, when a story sets up the idea of there being a love triangle, the heroine often pales in comparison to her much more beautiful rival. But, as you might assume based on the title, that is not the case, as the heroine, Isabella, is stunningly beautiful, while her cousin, Frederica, who the hero, Griffith, plans to marry, is a plain spinster. This set-up could have worked, but I found Isabella a bit too hard to like. I did admire her for wanting to do anything possible to save her family, but I still had no idea what Griffith saw in her by the end, especially given how much we have come to know him over the past three books.

Like her previous release, An Uncommon Courtship, this story also features a rather unlikable parent/guardian. This brings a sense of authenticity to what it was probably like to be an unmarried woman in this time period, as courtship and marriage was still very much about both families’ mutual advantage.

Hunter also interweaves real historical events, from the events leading up to and succeeding the Battle of Waterloo, to the passing of the Apothecary Act. While these are events that we can look up in a history book or on Wikipedia, she brings a sense of immediacy to these events, so even though you know how things will pan out, you are still surprised by how they affect the characters of the Hawthorne House world.