Review of “The Obsession” by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. The Obsession. New York: Berkley Books, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-0-399-17516-9. $28.00 USD. 

4.5 stars

The Obsession is a wonderful work of romantic suspense, exploring how trauma of the past can continue to haunt us in the present, both physically and mentally. And much like the other Roberts romantic suspense I read, the heroine’s backstory is fleshed out in great detail in the early chapters of the book, and I found those chapters to be the strongest, in terms of the dark things Roberts puts her young heroines through.

That’s not to say that the rest of the story is less compelling, and in fact I enjoyed this one much more than The Witness as it didn’t seem to drag on as much with other subplots, keeping the focus on Naomi and her story. She is an incredibly relatable character, as her rationale feels believable in light of what she’s been through. I was a bit ambivalent toward Xander, as it kind of felt like he was written to be everything that was supposed to be cool, like he’s a mechanic, but he’s also in a band, and he reads and has an impressive book collection. While I know that in real life people are multifaceted, I just felt like he was hard to connect to.

aThe culprit of the killings in the latter half are a bit too obvious to call this a romantic suspense or mystery/thriller novel in the traditional sense. But I don’t think this is too much to the book’s detriment, as the title and the clues leading up to it implies an “obsession” with Naomi and knowing her reasonably well, so it feels more like a novel that explores what it was that led the killer to that point, including providing a perspective into the age-old nature vs. nurture argument.

 

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Review of “Discovering Miss Dalrymple” (Baleful Godmother #4.5)

Larkin, Emily. Discovering Miss Dalrymple. [Place of publication not identified\: Emily Larkin, 2017. ISBN-13: 9780994144393. $8.99 USD. 

4 stars

This is yet another charming book in Emily Larkin’s Baleful Godmother series. And while it has its flaws, it is on the whole, a charming, fast read that left me feeling emotional by its conclusion.

Its strengths come from the development of the mystery behind Alexander’s real identity, as each layer of his past is unraveled. And in the absence of modern conveniences like DNA testing, Larkin creates a fun way for him and other characters to delve into his family history. And ultimately, the way he comes to embrace his two identities by the end of the book is touching, showing that, in some cases, you can have it all.

However, as a romance, the story falls a bit flat. Part of this is due to the shorter length of the book, and the greater focus on developing Alexander as a character. But this left me wondering what it was he saw in Georgiana, as aside from her gift, there isn’t much that defines her. However, I’m also unsure if a full novel would have benefited this story, even if it did make her a more rounded character, as it would delay some of the reveals that made the plot so good and such a fast-paced read.

 

Review of “Conspiracy in Death” (In Death #8) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Conspiracy in Death. New York: Berkley Books, 1999. ISBN-13: 978-0425168134. $7.99 USD. 

5 stars

Conspiracy in Death continues the winning streak of the past few books in the In Death series, being perhaps one of the most intense yet, due to the way the case impacts Eve. While previous cases have put her in conflict with those in her inner circle, we’ve never seen her as anything but a strong woman and cop, and to have her be a suspect with not only her career, but the primary facet of her identity and what makes her feel confident,  stripped away is incredibly moving to read. And while I found myself warming toward Roarke over the past few books, I grew to love him during this one due to the support he showed Eve when she was depressed, helping her pick up the pieces again and, along with her friends, complete her investigation.

The case in itself is also fascinating, with its allusions to the literary figures of men who wanted to play God like Dr. Frankenstein and the concept of a person’s dual natures of good and evil, as explored through Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. And while some prior books provide insight into the perpetrator’s mindset, these segments were particularly dark this time around in the way they were presented, with a sense of immediacy through the creative use of POV and verb tense, setting it apart from the rest of the book.

Review of “A Beauty So Rare” (Belmont Mansion #2) by Tamera Alexander

Alexander, Tamera. A Beauty So Rare. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2014. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-0623-8. $14.99 USD. 

5 stars

A Beauty So Rare is just as wonderful as the first in the series in terms of providing a sense of time and place, but it does expand on the changing world in the Reconstruction years beyond the issues with rights for freed slaves and the tenuous relations between the North and South, looking more intimately at the losses among the war widows and their families, as well as issues among immigrants and the possibility of more opportunities for women in the future.

It is the vision of the latter that makes the heroine, Eleanor, so compelling. Despite being told that it is not proper for someone of her status to work, she is determined to pursue that path and put her talent as a cook to good use, especially when she finds there are others who are less fortunate that are in need.

Marcus is a very different hero that I would have expected from a novel from this subgenre, but I love that through him and his family, we also get a sense of the equally intriguing and dramatic events going on in Austria at the time, under the second-to-last Austrian emperor, and how disenchanted he becomes with the expectations placed upon him. He evolves into a much more humble person throughout the book, whereas before, he might have been more inclined to give into the pleasures that his title would have offered.

A central part of the book is its focus on different types of beauty. While the perception of one’s physical beauty is discussed in the book, the beautiful things that stand out are descriptions of both Marcus’ and Eleanor’s creations. Marcus’ work with architecture and especially the gardens are so beautifully described, and there are equally as many descriptions of Eleanor’s food, which left me craving the things she was making, especially strudel, which she makes frequently for Marcus in the book.

Review of “Face the Fire” (Three Sisters Island Trilogy #3) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Face the Fire. New York: Jove Books, 2002. ISBN-13: 978-0515132878. $7.99 USD. 

3 stars

While at first, I was most interested in Mia, and felt like there was a lot of potential for a second chance love story, I found this to be the weakest in the series in terms of the execution of the romance. While I could understand her motives for not wanting to lose her heart to Sam again, due to their past, this plotline quickly grew tiresome, especially when she assumed it would be ok to sleep with him.

My initial impression of Sam was that of an arrogant rich boy, and almost nothing he did throughout the book altered my opinion. While I can’t deny that he does show some signs of maturity, I don’t get the sense that he would be a stable life partner, the way Zack and Mac do, especially given their checkered history.

However, I do love the sense of camaraderie that has been a staple throughout the trilogy. Nell and Ripley being defensive of Mia around Sam at the beginning is so sweet, after the amount of support she gave them in the previous books. And it is wonderful to see them really settling into married life and starting families of their own.

 

Review of “Heaven and Earth” (Three Sisters Island Trilogy #2)

Roberts, Nora. Heaven and Earth. New York: Jove, 2001. ISBN-13: 978-0739417058. $17.00 USD (price is for the 2015 reprint, as the price for the edition I read — the original hardcover edition — is unavailable and that edition is out of print).

4.5 stars

The second installment in the Three Sisters Island trilogy, while not as great as great as the first, still had some of the same magic — literal and figurative — that made me love that one. And part of that had to do with the complexity of Ripley’s character. While I found myself reluctant to read her book at first, I found myself understanding her and her reasons for rejecting her powers, as well as being moved by how the history of the island informed her decision to become a police officer. While she is as prickly as she was in the first book, I think she is a great heroine.

Mac was a character who I did not expect to like either. His name, Mac Booke, is incredibly hilarious on its own, and it was somehow even funnier when he was interacting with the staff of Cafe Book. But once I got past the admittedly petty name thing, I found myself being drawn to how multifaceted he was, especially in comparison to some of the other Roberts heroes in other series I tried (and dropped). I love that he’s kind of a geek, and there are lots of jokes about that, but you can see that he’s a great match for Ripley, being able to handle her toughness, but also being able to take care of her in her vulnerable moments. And while it seems to be a thing for Roberts to have every hero and heroine in the trilogy be connected to the magical element somehow, his introduction and bond with the others felt organic rather than forced as were some of her later works I tried, with the relationships feeling just as much, if not more, about their actual feelings, than about the workings of fate.

The villain of this one was a bit of disappointment as well, with him starting off as a bit of an opportunist, and not really becoming a real threat until he became possessed. However, I love that this gave the Three the chance to team up and use their powers to vanquish evil again in a way that felt unique, as well as provide more insight into what happened to Evan following the end of the last book.

Review of “The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey” (Regency Brides: A Legacy of Grace #3) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-8254-4452-4. $14.99 USD. 

4.5 stars

It can be hard to make an antagonist from a prior book likable, even sympathetic, but Carolyn Miller does just that with The Dishonorable Miss DeLancey. While it was evident in the prior books that a lot of the machinations were due to her mother, I got a greater isense of how her mother’s plans for her and the events of the past two books affected her, to the point of being at her lowest when we meet her in the opening pages of this book. I loved seeing her grow from someone who was lost and didn’t really have a purpose to someone who had a new appreciation for life.

I loved Benjamin as a character almost immediately, because I felt that he loved his family, and he had a great sense of what was the right thing to do, as displayed by his actions in the Navy. And while he is given the cliche reward of title and money at the end, meaning he is a suitable marriage partner for Clara, it is not as important as the fact that they’re both good people who have grown and changed, and love each other.

I must also commend Miller on writing wonderful supporting characters. I was rooting for the romance between Lord Featherington and Tessa to work out, and I’m glad it did, even though it did feel a bit unrealistic for the times.  And as Miller has been compared to Jane Austen (and rightly so), and I feel like the comparison remains justified, with her writing commentary regarding the importance of a person’s character over their material goods, which sets it apart from the many rich, alpha-duke romances on the market today.

 

Review of “The Weaver’s Daughter” by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Weaver’s Daughter. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. ISBN-13: 9780718011888. $15.99 USD. 

5 stars

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Weaver’s Daughter might be one of Sarah E. Ladd’s best books yet. This story takes a trope that we have seen in fiction countless times and crafts a story with a strong historical context and compelling characters. I was immediately drawn to the hero and heroine, Henry and Kate, and how they are caught between loyalty to their family business and the growing attraction and understanding of each other’s opposing point of view. Ladd also crafts wonderful supporting characters who are the forces keeping the two apart, as well as recreating the conflicts at the center of the Luddite uprisings in the early 1810s.

Much like Ladd’s other work, there is a thread of mystery, and the reveal of who really did it is one of those moments where, while this person’s behavior was not the most honorable up to that point, you may find it hard to fathom why he would have done these things, especially considering the way he was presenting himself to the other characters.

While most of the threads were wrapped up to my satisfaction, I found myself curious to know what comes next for Henry’s sister Mollie, given the way her predicament plays out. She still has some secrets she has not divulged at the end of the book, and while I know this was not an uncommon thing for women in her situation to do, at that she has her brother’s support, she is still vulnerable, and I would like to see her also get a happy ending.

Review of “Holiday in Death” (In Death #7) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Holiday in Death. New York: Berkley Books, 1998. ISBN-13: 978-0-425-16371-9. $7.99 USD. 

5 stars

This is yet another amazing installment in the In Death series. And I found this one particularly creepy given the subject matter of crimes perpetrated against users of an online dating site and the way the killer tied his murders into the typically happy holiday of Christmas for his own psychotic reasons. I was incredibly stunned with how the twists played out, with the ultimate reveal of the killer being someone no one would have expected.

And as is typical of the series, I love seeing more of the relationships between the characters, including their conflicts, of which there are a few in this one. One of my favorite bits is the elevating romantic tension and little squabbles between Peabody and McNab, and I look forward to seeing where that goes in future installments. And I also love the little asides while Eve is doing her investigation in which she somehow stumbles on what would be the perfect gifts for some of her friends, as well as the moment when she is trying to procure a rare first edition of a book for Roarke, and Feeney later ribbing her about going for “quantity” instead of quality. It’s these fun bits of banter between the group of longtime friends and colleagues that not only sets it apart from a lot of other series out there, but also manages to keep readers invested.

Review of “Ruining Miss Wrotham” (Baleful Godmother #5) by Emily Larkin

Larkin, Emily. Ruining Miss Wrotham. [Place of publication not identified]: Emily Larkin, 2017. ISBN-13: 9780994144379. $12.99 USD. 

3.5 stars

Emily Larkin once again writes a great story full of magic, humor, drama, and romance. And while there are some flaws in characterization, I found the story as a whole engaging and charming with some great plot twists.

Mordecai is a wonderful hero, showing that his reputation is not always as bad as society paints it, but also that he really doesn’t care what they expect of him, given the circumstances of his birth and upbringing. I love the study of contrasts between him and his legitimate cousin, Roger, in terms of their attitudes toward sex: while Roger pursues sex indiscriminately with “women of a lower class,” even accosting his own servants, Mordecai looks for partners with whom he can find companionship with beyond what goes on in the bedroom.

And this is definitely the case with his relationship with Nell, although for much of the book, I struggled to see what he saw in her, given how dim she was, even in comparison to Letty, the heroine of the last full-length book in this series, Trusting Miss Trentham. While we can argue that Letty’s shortcomings come more from her sexual naivete which was common in the upbringing of young women during the Regency, Nell’s ignorance goes beyond that. She chafes at being “treated like a child” by the hero because she’s dealt with domineering people all her life, even when he tries to protect her. I know women in this time period often would not have awareness of what the outside world was like, but surely they would be told what might befall them?! I found it especially annoying that after she started softening to him and they began compromising, with them having an arrangement that she would be his mistress (which he intends as a means to seduce her into marriage, and she thinks, rather ignorantly is just something she can do because, well, she’s already ruined because of what her sister did), she then began to reconsider her feelings because he told her to get to safety in what was an obviously dangerous situation.

My feelings did soften toward her when they first began to deal with Mordecai coming to grips with the “gift” thing that runs in her family (complete with reappearances from characters from previous books) and we finally found out what happened to the sister she was looking for, showing that not all stories have the happiest of endings, but there is always a ray of hope, which is what brings them back together.