Review of “Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover” (Rules of Scoundrels #4) by Sarah MacLean

MacLean, Sarah. Never Judge a Lady by Her Cover. New York: Avon Books, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-206851-4. $7,99 USD. 

When I originally began reading Sarah MacLean, I stopped after the disappointment of the third installment in her Rules of Scoundrels series, and didn’t make it through that book again upon my reread of her backlist in the lead-up to The Day of the Duchess last year. However, curious about Chase’s story (and already having her identity spoiled for me by reading the blurb, piquing my curiosity), I finally took a chance and picked it up. And in this book, I found myself blown away in a way I wasn’t with much of her other pre-Scandal & Scoundrel work.

Georgiana is a wonderful heroine, and what I loved about her is her determination. MacLean realistically depicts the odds that would be stacked against her, in terms of her tarnished reputation in society, and shows a woman who tries to take command of her own life and destiny. She is a multifaceted character, with multiple distinct, but connected personas, and MacLean fleshes them out perfectly.

Duncan also stands out among the pack of MacLean heroes, being someone who rose up from nothing to wield tremendous influence as a newspaper publisher instead of being her standard duke or nobleman. He does have the trademark dark edges of a MacLean hero, but they only enhance his character. And while many romances where there are deceptions and secrets between the hero and heroine can be annoying, this one feels believable due to the stakes for each of them, and the way these secrets could threaten their relationship.

Another thing I really loved was reading about Caroline. While she did not feel like a typical nine year old, her character was developed in a charming “wise-beyond-her-years” way, and I do find it believable that she is observant enough to know what would make her mother happy. I do hope, that since MacLean’s books are all set in the same world, that we will get an update on her in future books.

Review of “The Captivating Lady Charlotte” (Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace #2) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. The Captivating Lady Charlotte. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-8254-4451-7. $14.99 USD. 

4 stars

Carolyn Miller’s second book, while not as great as the first, is still a wonderful read in offering flawed, but intriguing characters. , in taking two characters who aren’t that likable on the surface and making you sympathize with them.

In the vein of Austen’s Marianne Dashwood, Charlotte is an immature heroine at the beginning who is absorbed only in what she wants, and is blind to the hero’s good qualities because of her fascination with someone else. But the novel shows her come of age, growing out of her youthful infatuation with a highly unsuitable man and growing to respect and love the Duke of Hartington.

William has his own issues, and there are definitely moments when he doesn’t come off as that sympathetic either, but he is a great match for Charlotte. And while occasionally he can seem a bit self-righteous (not to mention the way this book incorporates the Big Misunderstanding), I did enjoy him as a character. And there is a lovely conversation at one point about his interesting in doing charity with the less fortunate, because it’s the right thing to do as a good Christian, that when juxtaposed with the hedonistic behaviors of the ton, this idea resonates even today.

One thing that did bug me was the constant references to his age, when he is mentioned as being at most thirty years old. I know it was a different time, that a decade older can seem like a lot for a woman of around eighteen or nineteen, and that this was meant to draw comparisons to Marianne’s disparaging of Colonel Brandon, which also seems illogical. While life expectancy in those times wasn’t as long as it is today, considering that men married a bit later than women, and widowers were encouraged to marry again if their wife died, especially if they did not yet have an heir (as is addressed in the book), it did feel a bit odd to have the age gap constantly brought up.

On the topic of children, it is a refreshing that we get to see the realities that women faced, both then and now, when it came to the struggle to have children. So many romances end on a happy note, and if it’s a series, a couple from an earlier book will turn up wrapped in marital and parental bliss. To see an author depict a couple dealing with hardship and having to work through it is incredibly inspirational.


Review of “The Elusive Miss Ellison” (Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace #1) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn, The Elusive Miss Ellison. Grand Raprompids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-8254-4450-0. $14,99 USD. 

4.5 stars

The Elusive Miss Ellison is a sweet first romance in the tradition of Austen and Heyer. And while Miller does make some allusions to both authors in her basic plot and characterization, there are other ways in which she develops the story to make it stand out in an incredibly popular genre.

Lavinia and Nicholas are both complex, sympathetic characters. And while the story begins with a tragedy in their past that has led to animosity between them, fueled by their differences in station and ideals, you get a sense that they develop an understanding of each other as the story progresses prior to romance even being a consideration, as they both begin to change and develop a greater understanding of each other.

While Miller is a bit inconsistent with some of the intricacies of the aristocratic world (such as forms of address and courtesy titles), she does manage to surprise even a  seasoned Regency reader like myself with a few unexpected historical tidbits.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who loves a great, sweet Regency romance.


Review of “A Duke in the Night” (The Devils of Dover #1) by Kelly Bowen

Bowen, Kelly. A Duke in the Night. New York: Forever/Grand Central Publishing, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-1-4789-1856-1. $7.99 USD. 

2.5 stars

Kelly Bowen won me over with her past two series, and even if her heroines were a bit anachronistic and forward-thinking, I still found myself adding her to my autobuy list. Sadly, the first book in her new Devils of Dover series is not for me, especially in comparison with some of the books I loved from her, like A Duke to Remember. 

This is a well-written book, and it is easy to get into. However, the problem with the characters and execution of the plot is that they are everything I don’t like crammed into one book.

The hero, August, is the lesser of the two offenders, despite initially bothering me a lot more. Not being a fan of the duke/billionaire trope, I was not impressed to see them rolled into one with this hero. However, I did like that he was driven (sometimes too much so), due to him not having the best upbringing, setting him apart from his peers who were raised in the lap of luxury. I quite liked the development of his relationship with his sister, Anne, and the conflicts that ensue from him wanting her to have the best, but her wanting to pursue her own interests.

Despite initial warm feelings toward Clara, they quickly evaporated when she proved to not be only mildly anachronistic like other Bowen heroines, but someone who would probably a complete scandal if she really had existed. I understand what Bowen was trying to do in imbuing her heroine with relatability to modern readers, but to someone who expects a modicum of historical accuracy in the mores poeticof the period, it just felt out of place. More than once, she argues with August about double standards, a concept that would have been alien in the reputation-conscious upper-class of the Regency period. And even worse, after a passionate interlude, she insists it cannot happen again, due to the risk to her reputation and the potential that she might lose her school, but then sometime later, in the heat of the moment, they jump into bed together on two separate occasions. Not to mention there’s a passing remark that August wasn’t even her first lover, making it even harder to suspend disbelief.

All in all, i feel this is one of those books where, if you don’t mind a book that takes massive poetic license with what was acceptable at the time, you’ll really enjoy it. And despite my disappointment with this book, there were still things I enjoyed, such as the introduction of Clara’s baron/physician brother, which will have me checking out Bowen’s future books.

Review of “At Last Comes Love” (Huxtable Quintet #3) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. At Last Comes Love. New York: Bantam Dell, 2009. ISBN-13: 978-0-440-24424-0. $6.99 USD. 

5 stars

After being disappointed with Then Comes Seduction, I found myself a bit unsure about continuing, but as Meg was the sister I was most eager to see get her HEA, I chose to give it a chance, even though I had some misgivings upon reading the blurb. And it ended up being leagues better than TCS, and perhaps even better than First Comes Marriage. 

A lot of my happiness with this book had to do with Duncan and what a great hero and person he is. So many heroes have this rake persona that is relatively close to the truth, only to have something more underneath, but Balogh bucks tradition here, presenting someone who, in the eyes of society, is a scoundrel, but in truth was incredibly honorable and compassionate, protecting vulnerable people who weren’t protected under the patriarchal laws of the time. And the reveal of what truly happened is incredibly foreshadowed, and it left me gasping as each individual layer of the past was pulled back.

Meg is also just as wonderful as heroine as I thought she would be, and I found her much more relatable than Katherine, the heroine of the second book, in many of the choices she made. And while we see Balogh bringing together two unlikely people as she often does, she once again manages to convey that they have a bond on a deeper level, and depict their love in a realistic way.


Review/Discussion of “Sanditon” by Jane Austen and “Another Lady”

Austen, Jane and “Another Lady (Marie Dobbs). Sanditon. 1975. New Toark: Scribner Paperback Fiction, 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0-684-8432-1. $14.00. 

3-ish stars

One of the worst tragedies is the death of an author with work left unfinished, and Austen had a few such manuscripts, Sanditon being the eleven-chapter fragment of a novel that Austen set aside in the months prior to her death in 1817 (There is one other, The Watsons, written prior to beginning her career as a published author, that has also received a few continuations by later authors). And like the rest of her body of work, and most definitely her published novels, the chapters written by Austen are impeccable, showing her talent as a writer and observer of the human condition. And though it has its drawbacks in that is clearly mostly setup, with the character most scholars and readers (including Dobbs) speculate to be the hero not appearing until the last pages of the fragment, there is clear potential there, with characters that feel familiar with a mix of new ones. For example, Austen introduces the character of Miss Lambe, who represents what life might have been like for some mixed race people in the era.

Where the book begins to drop in quality is, as you might expect, the part where Dobbs takes over. While it is not immeditately obvious if you have not done a lot of research into the fragment and where the cutoff occurs, and the portion written by Dobbs starts off strong, it fails to capture the magic of Austen’s works without borrowing from some of her other novels. There are some bright spots, as we see some of the supporting characters, especially Miss Lambe, get their own happy endings, but, ultimately, it does not compare to what I think we might have gotten from Austen had she lived to see the novel to completion.


Review of “For Love of a Duke” (Heart of a Duke #1/2*) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. For Love of the Duke. 2014. New York: Spencer Hill Press, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-63392-103-0. $12.95 USD. 

*Note on series numbering: Goodreads and retailers like Amazon list this as book one. However, the Heart of a Duke character map lists it as book two, with the digital-exclusive prequel, In Need of a Duke/In Need of a Knight listed as book one.

3.5 stars

The first full-length installment in Christi Caldwell’s Heart of a Duke series shows great potential, and despite a few inconsistencies, it lived up to my expectations. She delivers a story that is at times humorous, and at times emotional, giving readers a full journey with these two characters.

Jasper can be a hard character to like sometimes, but you can sympathize with him to an extent, even if you don’t agree with some of his less-than-kind behavior. There are things about his story arc that don’t add up, however. I can understand him being devastated about the loss of his wife, but given that wives dying in childbirth was a such a common occurrence, I don’t know why he felt the sense of guilt he did. I can understand him being afraid of it happening again, but in a time when it was still considered a “duty” for women to bear children for their husbands, it does seem out of place that he would blame himself for killing her.

Katherine was likable, and I could see why she got under Jasper’s skin. I like that she was well-read and didn’t let him be set in his ways during the time they were living together in part one. I also like that, despite having fallen in love with the good side of him, she has the guts to leave and attempt to move on with her life, setting up for the big climactic hero moment.

As is often the case with self-published books, the quality of the prose can be a weak point, as was evident in the last Caldwell book I read. While the copyright page of the first edition indicates it did receive copy editing and proofreading, I feel like there could have been more work put in to ensure that the book flowed better. Some examples included using a person’s name twice in a sentence when a pronoun could easily been substituted, an inconsistency with a major character’s title, and including titles of later installments in the series on a page alongside a citation of a certain poem. And given the amount of time that this book devoted to discussion of and citation of poetry, it grew tiresome to have Wordsworth’s The Excursion, the book that plays a major role in Jasper and Katherine’s courtship, constantly referred to as “Wordsworth’s work” or “Wordsworth’s volume,” instead of referring to it by its title.


Review of “The Regency Brides Collection”

Griep, Michelle, et. al. The Regency Brides Collection. Uhrichville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 2017. ISBN-13: ISBN-13: 978-1-68322-371. $14.99 USD. 

After a number of years of issuing collections with various other themes and settings, I was excited when I found out that Barbour Publishing was finally doing a Regency collection. And while, like many anthologies, it is a little uneven in terms of the quality, this one is definitely better than most in that respect, providing, for the most part, romances fans of both faith-based fiction and general fiction will love.

First Comes Marriage by Amanda Barratt

5 stars

The first story by Amanda Barratt manages to convey a relationship that starts off contentiously, and show that, with the benefit of years and maturity, as well as a greater understanding of one another, a couple thrust into marriage can fall in love. While sometimes the length does not allow for many challenges to a couple’s happiness, Barratt manages the space she is given well, showing Charity and Luke’s building relationship, and has their relationship tested when a man from her past comes back and causes havoc once again.

Masquerade Melody by Angela Bell

4.5 stars

The wining streak continues with Angela Bell’s story which presents the realities of people in that time period, such as the fate of unmarried women forced to depend on their more distant relatives for support after their parents die, and the effects war can have on those who fought. The latter is presented in contrast with the excesses of the Prince Regent in Brighton, especially as he attributes the victories in the Napoleonic Wars to himself. While the presence of Adelaide’s somewhat stereotypically awful cousin does hinder the story slightly, for the most part both Adelaide and Walter are wonderful characters, and their story is a great one.

Three Little Matchmakers by Susanne Dietze

5 stars

This story was probably my favorite in the collection, mostly due to the fact that it had children in an active role, and they quickly endeared themselves to me, as they often do. And while Henry is a hero is of a type we’ve seen before, in that he is another aristocrat who had a heartless father, Dietze inspires us to feel for him, rooting for him to find love with Caroline, with whom he had long been friends, while also depicting his doubt as to whether he is fit to be a husband and father, due to his fear of becoming like his father. So, it was especially rewarding at the end to see them all become a family at the end.

The Gentleman Smuggler’s Lady by Michele Griep

3 stars

This one was one of my least favorite. While the premise seemed promising, it did not seem engaging, and doesn’t really seem to go anywhere, especially in terms of any real resolution to the plot with the main antagonist. Also, I did not feel like the romance aspect was all that well-done, although the characters themselves were interesting. I did like that Isaac was engaged in smuggling for a good reason, and not out of bad intent, and that Helen cared for her father, but I wasn’t sure that they made a lot of sense together.

When I Saw His Face by Nancy Moser

5 stars

Another favorite in the collection, I liked that Moser’s novella had a sense of the mystery as to who the heroine would end up with, at least initially, keeping the focus entirely on her. And while it is increasingly obvious who Esther’s true love is after we’ve met him, this sense of anticipation as to who she’ll end up with, presenting a nice change from what we commonly see today with dual POV stories. And Moser also makes good use of the space she is given to develop Esther and Henry’s relationship, showing their similarities in their pursuit of intellect and their belief in women’s right to education, contrasting with the simpler beliefs of Esther’s other suitor.

The Highwayman’s Bargain by MaryLu Tyndall

4.5 stars

While other stories in this collection reference and allude to Austen in some respects, this is the one in which the comparison is most obvious, with parallels to Persuasion. Both Sophia and Nash are wonderful characters. Sophia is willing to sacrifice herself to support her family, and while some people would be repulsed upon first finding out about her intended’s true self, she still intends to go through with it out of love for her family. But it is wonderful to see her change and realize that money isn’t as important as love…even though, of course, things work out in that respect anyway. And while the reveal at the end does feel a almost cliche, given that that it was almost an afterthought, with the story pushing a “love over money” moral, I cannot criticize it too much.

Jamie Ever After by Erica Vetsch

2.5 stars

This is one of my least favorites in the collection, although it isn’t a bad story. Most of the good things about it are due to the hero being well-written. William is an immediately interesting character, a injured and scarred in the Napoleonic Wars. While he does have a bit of an inferiority complex, due to his betrothed breaking things off and telling him no one would have him, his charm comes from his love of animals, which plays a significant part. And later, I found myself moved by the way he was affected by what he had gone through.

However, I found the inappropriately named Jamie rather bland. Aside from any historical accuracy issues involving her name, I just didn’t find her all that interesting, And while I like stories where a girl falls in love with her best friend’s brother, and did genuinely feel like they worked well together, but I felt she could have been better-drawn if given a longer book.








































Review of “The Pearl Sister” (The Seven Sisters #4) by Lucinda Riley

Riley, Lucinda. The Pearl Sister. New York: Atria Books, 2018. ISBN-13: 978-1-5011-8003-3. $27.00. 

4.5 stars

Lucinda Riley once again provides a wonderful read with the fourth installment in her Seven Sisters series. As always, there are familiar tropes in the historical time period, with some of the same ones carrying over from the previous book, like forbidden love with a sibling-in-law, among others, but each familiar trope is presented in its own way in both stories, and given the environment of the time, there was a lot in the way of forbidden (and sometimes tragic or ill-fated) love.

Part of what makes this book unique from other works by Riley is that it deals with the Aboriginal culture of Australia, and the history of Western exploitation of them, a thread that plays out in various ways through both the past and present. A frequent theme that comes up is the Western concept of corporate greed, and how it can conflict with truly being a good person. For example, the past arc follows Kitty, who has lost a lot of things, but remains constant in her goodness toward those in need who are ostracized by privileged society that surrounds her. However, it is also touching to see Aborigine people be self-sufficient and concerned about doing what is right in the eyes of society, showing that they do not fit the negative stereotypes that many of the people in Western society associate with them.

I did not know what to think of CeCe, due to the codependent relationship she had with Star in the prior book. But her journey sees her become her own person and someone that you can root for. It was great to see her find her inspiration to paint again along with discovering her past, as well as open up to some new friends, as well as maybe something more.


Review of “Only Beloved” (Survivors’ Club #7) by Mary Balogh

Balogh, Mary. Only Beloved. New York: Signet, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-451-47778-1. $7.99 USD. 

2.5 stars

After becoming reinvigorated with this series again, I was excited for this book. Unfortunately, this proved to be an underwhelming conclusion to a series I had mostly loved.

There was nothing wrong with either of the leads. I liked George and Dora, and there were a lot of moments that I did like when it came to developing the relationship. It is refreshing to see two older people find love amid  a sea of books about younger people, and the relationship for the most part is executed realistically.

However, I feel the book did not have enough going on in it to flesh out a to a full novel, or at least not as long as it was. It is pleasant to see how all the Survivors ended up in the epilogue, with the story of their group ending on a happy note, but I felt that the story  could have been compressed into a much shorter book. The most interesting moments pertain to both Dora and George’s respective pasts, with highlights being Dora building a relationship with her mother, a plot point originally begun in her sister’s book Only Enchanting, and George’s contentious relationship with his former brother-in-law. While seeing each of  these plot threads come to conclusion is satisfying, once these issues are resolved, the story inexplicably continues to go on for almost seventy more pages, losing any momentum that it had.