Demeter, Rachel. Beauty of the Beast. [United States]: Rachel L. Demeter, 2017. ISBN-13: 9781542972567. $13.95 USD.
As a longtime lover of both the original “Beauty and the Beast” tale and both of the Disney films, I was excited to find this book. And while my excitement dimmed somewhat when I noticed that this one did not have the magical elements, as some of the other historical romances that have attempted to adapt the tale have fallen flat, I found I took a chance on this book, and fell in love. This has enough of both the original story and the Disney version to please fans of both iterations, but it is different enough to be original and worth the read.
I am normally not a fan of broody heroes, but Adam is a rare exception. He is such a wonderful person, and despite all that he has been through, and his urge at first to punish Isabelle and her father, you see him feel remorse, especially as things take a tragic turn and he is reminded of his own losses and how they impacted him. And Isabelle is a great partner for him, inspiring him to feel again, and opening him up to the world.
Demeter also should receive props for her development of the villain character, Claude Dumont, crafting someone who, while we hate for his behavior, can understand to an extent. As there has been some discussion in the Disney theory community regarding the way nature and nurture played a role in the way Gaston and the Beast with similar personalities going down two different paths, I like how she took this concept and fleshed it out by giving us more insight into who Dumont is, and how despite both of them dealing with darkness in their lives, we see Dumont and Adam making drastically different choices, due to the influences in their lives.
Chiaverini, Jennifer. Enchantress of Numbers. New York: Dutton, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-101-98520-5. $27.00 USD.
This book seems to be very hit-or-miss with readers, the reason being that this book is a bit overly long, and some people might only be interested in one aspect of her life, whether it be the way she was impacted by the legacy of her father Lord Byron, or (the more common reason) her contributions to science. But this book presents both, in the form of a memoir, pastiching the style of writing at the time. And while the style lends itself to some odd quirks, like descriptions of events from her early life and even before she was born, I still found the book a compelling read.
Ada is a wonderful heroine and historical figure, who spent her life alternately being molded by and at loggerheads with her bitter, controlling mother, and you can’t help but feel for her throughout as you find out the way her story turned out. While not every mundane detail of her life is interesting, Chiaverini immerses the reader into Ada’s full story, presenting a woman who both dealt with a darkness she inherited from her father, as well as her dream of being known as her own person separate from her father’s poetic legacy.
Gaynor, Hazel. A Memory of Violets. New York: William Morrow, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-231689-9. $14.99 USD.
This is yet another wonderful, compulsively readable book from Hazel Gaynor. This book, like many of her other works, has memorable characters woven into a wonderful historical concept, which shines new light on something that isn’t really talked about in the history books, with issues like children living in poverty and the way people with disabilities were often ostracized.
And once again, she also juggles two, interconnected timelines with ease, and the way Tilly was connected to Flora/Florrie was not what I initially expected. My one complaint comes from the writing style, which differs slightly from her other dual timeline books in that the sections from Florrie’s perspective are written in first person, while sections from Tilly, Margeurite, and Rosie/Violette’s POV are in third person. This is not immediately objectionable, as Florrie’s journal is the historical artifiact at the center of the book, but the full chapters written from her perspective are written in present tense, while the extracts of the journal that Tilly reads are written in past tense, presenting some confusion as to whether Florrie’s chapters were meant to be part of the narrative of the journal or not.
However, once I adapted to the flow of the writing style, I was able to more easily focus on some of the parallels between the two stories, dealing with contrasting relationships between adoptive parents and daughters, and different, but evolving, relationships between sisters. Despite some of the odd writing choices, this is still a beautiful book, that, like Gaynor’s other work, culminates in an ending that will leave the reader satisfied.
Benson, Jessica. Lord Stanhope’s Proposal. New York: Kensington, 2000. ISBN-13: 978-0821778012. $5.99 USD (currently out of print)
When you pick up an older title, it can be hard to know what to expect, and it’s hard to tell whether it holds up to the ever-evolving standards of publishing. But this one, but an author who is a lot more well-known in the romance community than I realized given her short backlist, shows an author with talent for crafting an enduring story. And while there are some quirks that make it seem a bit too absurd at times, and it’s definitely not at all deep, it is still a wonderful, sweet, and well-written read.
Tristan, Lord Stanhope is relatively similar to many historical romance heroes in that it pushes the “reformed rake” narrative, and the pairing of him with a bluestocking spinster feels like something that we have seen done to death by this point. But Benson imbues the characters and their developing relationship with enough charm that, even though this trope has been told a billion times before, it still feels fresh.
One of the shortcomings comes from the story being bogged down by minor characters that can be hard to keep track of. The ones who are most immediately relevant to the plot are easy to remember, but I did find it easy to forget who certain others were. But it is only a minor detriment, and the story, with all of its tangled love affairs, while being a bit out there, is focused on enough that I understood the main gist of what was going on.
If you happen to stumble on a copy of this book, I would definitely recommend giving it a chance, especially if you like the works of the likes of Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer.
White, Roseanna. A Song Unheard. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-1927-6. $15.99 USD.
What a wonderful, unique book, and perhaps even better than the prior book. While all of Roseanna White’s previous historicals have largely focused on the years leading up to the war, this one distinguishes itself even from its predecessor by the amount of historical detail we get about the early days of the war, especially its impact of the Belgian people, a story that doesn’t get talked about when looking at the history of the First World War.
At the center of it are two compelling leads. Willa was introduced in the first book, and while she could have easily been hard to like, given her stubbornness and prickly nature, White makes us root for her. And what I also loved was that she didn’t focus on having Willa reunite with either parent who abandoned her, as some other books of this type have done, as Willa has found a surrogate family that loves her in the form of Rosemary, Barclay, Pauly, and the others…and now Lukas.
Lukas is also refreshing hero to read about. I already approved of White’s choice to focus on non-aristocratic characters for this series, but with Lukas we also have a hero with a rakish past whose transformation into a more sober individual feels realistic. It can often be hard to believe that just falling in love will alter a rake’s trajectory in life, but White gives Lukas a very sympathetic transformation, affected by many factors of the environment that he was going through, and I respect that.
Fowlkes, Frances. The Earl’s New Bride. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2015. ISBN-13: 9781943892525. $13.99 USD.
This is an utterly delightful book, and I enjoyed it much more than I thought I would, after reading the premise. Oftentimes, with novellas and shorter novels, I find myself lamenting the shorter length, but this time it works in its favor, as some of the things I expected that normally come along with what was described in the plot were condensed, such as the focus on Simon’s “beastly” appearance and how he is impacted by his past, in favor of focusing on the angle of him trying to change how people perceive him. Simon, as a result, is an incredibly likable hero. And Henrietta proves herself to be an equally interesting character, with a unique skill that sets her apart from the other women around her.
The plot also brings about the opportunity for some truly Austen-esque secondary characters in the form of the sometimes-annoying sisters and mother, and the factor of them losing their home to the hero. The one drawback of this is that I found the two younger sisters to be almost indistinguishable, and despite knowing they already had books written about them, I am not sure how they can be fleshed out to be individuals, as well as to be less annoying. However, as I did enjoy this one, and will be giving the follow-ups a try.
Gaynor, Hazel. The Cottingley Secret. New York: William Morrow, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-249984-4. $15.99 USD.
I approached this book with a mix of skepticism and excitement, especially when a sneaky peek at the author’s notes and a quick Google search confirmed that this bizarre story was indeed based on real events, and for a while I questioned how something like this could happen. But this book and its characters have a way of convincing you that it is within the realm of possibility, even if the media circus surrounding the event came to light due to a hoax. From the general atmosphere brought on by the war to the more intimate story Gaynor invents about a mother who lost her child in mysterious circumstances, these characters don’t come off as crazy, the way I initially thought they would, but more like people of any type of religious of spiritual belief, who have faith in something unknown.
The book also interweaves the past and present seamlessly, giving us the sense that we are reading and learning about the past along with the present-day character, Olivia. herself is a compelling character, we feel that she is also affected by what she has learned through the decisions she makes throughout the book as she represents the legacy of her elders. In that vein, I also found her work with rare books fascinating, both as a bookbinder and a bookseller. There is a moment where she laments that “people don’t value old books anymore,” and she is told that she should “remind them what it’s like to hold a real book in their hands,” and the “magic” of a bookshop. (132) She herself both brings magic to the bookshop and finds it through her display of the fairies, as they see her forming a connection with a widowed writer and his young daughter. And while the relationship does not receive a proper happy ending where they end up together, it is implied that they have a future together, providing yet another happy note to the new life that Olivia is building.
Balogh, Mary. Then Comes Seduction. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-440-24423-3. $6.99 USD.
Despite a promising premise, Then Comes Seduction does not provide as much magic as the first book, with a promising premise that was poorly executed. And a major part of where the story falls flat is with the hero and heroine. For the bulk of the book, Katherine is bland and uninteresting, and does not possess the same endearing qualities that made her sister a compelling heroine. While she has her moments of gumption, and she gets props for caring deeply about her family, I did not care find much reason to care about her.
Jasper is slightly better-drawn, especially initially, as some speck of conscience keeps him from following through with his plan to ruin Katherine and win the wager, and later, we see him try his best to be a good brother. But I also found myself rolling my eyes when we find out the “tragic past” that was likely the impetus for his rakish behavior, as it felt cliche and like it had been done before. And the chemistry between Jasper and Katherine feels lacking, especially in comparison to Elliot and Vanessa, and some of Balogh’s other couples.
However, where it fails as a romance, it does work to further develop the story of the Huxtable family. It is incredibly fun to see Con take up a sort of “older brother” role, warning his cousins to stay away from the rakes and reprobates of the ton. And I am eager to see what adventures await the family next, especially as Margaret’s book is next, and she has already sacrificed so much in terms of romance for the sake of her family.
Caldwell, Christi. Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride. [United States]: Christi Caldwell, 2013. ISBN-13: 9781944240080. $11.90 USD.
Christi Caldwell is an incredibly prolific self-published author, and despite reading one book from her last year, I was not able at the time to read more of her work until now. And going back to her earliest published full-length novel, her promise as a storyteller is evident, although it is obvious she was still getting to grips with the more technical side of the trade, as there are copious punctuation errors and some typos and misusage of words.
But this does not detract from what is an otherwise pleasurable read, which offers up a generous mix of both the humorous and the heart-wrenching. The interactions between the characters present a number of moments that will have you laughing out loud, while also grip your emotions when it comes to the tougher stuff, such as the Drake’s experience dealing with what we know today to be PTSD. And while you may not always approve of everything the hero does, you can at least understand where he’s coming from, even if he is a bit misguided. And despite seeming very naive at the beginning, we do see Emmaline grow throughout the story, and she provides the anchor and support that Drake needs.
My one complaint as far as the trajectory of the story is concerned is the focus depicting sex scenes in some detail in the latter part of the book, as there are several, almost back-to-back. and after the initial one, they don’t seem to add much to the growth of the relationship. Even if it is true that newly wed people spend the initial, say, months of their marriage in bed, I feel this is something that might have been handled with more subtlety. However, it is still a charming read, both for newcomers to Caldwell’s work and to those who have tried several of her books already.
Cale, Jessica. Broken Things. [Place of publication not identified]: Corbeau Media, 2017. ISBN-13: 9781545121160. $12.99.
Not finding Meg to be an entirely endearing character in the prior books, I did not have the highest of expectations going into this one. However, despite a bit of a slow start, over time, I did find myself empathizing with her. She has been used and exploited all her life, and to finally get a greater understanding of her, and watch her open herself up to the possibility that someone might want her unconditionally is a beautiful experience.
After such great heroes like Nick and Jack, and even Mark to an extent, I was unsure what to think of Jake at first. But he also won me over through his determination to protect Meg, especially when he beats up her abusive ex-lover. And through him, we also see a rare example of religious issues, which Cale handles beautifully. You can tell she took the time to understand Jewish people.
And as Meg is a mother, it is nice to see her relationship with her children and how that has changed since we last heard about them in Virtue’s Lady. Tommy particularly is a wonderful, and I would love to know how he ends up (does he follow Jake’s footsteps and become a boxer like he says he wishes to at one point?). It was also nice to get an update on how everyone, especially Mark and Jane, were doing after not seeing them for almost an entire book. I do hope that Cale isn’t done with this world of characters, even if the arc for the current generation is done.