Review of “The Rogue You Know” (Covent Garden Cubs #2) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. The Rogue You Know. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2015. 

Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402298745 | 345 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

This may be my favorite of Shana Galen’s books so far. While there is a balance of the same elements that are signature to Galen’s work, such as the meeting of the glittering ton with the darker elements of life, the characters of Susanna and Gideon are some of the most interesting I have read.

I can’t recall many romances where the heroine truly comes of age, as she is usually pretty self-sufficient already, so I found this one refreshing. Susanna’s naivete could have been annoying if executed poorly, but all of her desires and actions were consistent with her character and motivations. And in a genre that is so often focused on the love between the couple, often in defiance of the cold, disapproving parental figures who end up alienated from them by the end of the book, it was wonderful to read about Susanna’s relationship with her mother and how that evolved, with Lady Dane going from keeping her daughter a prisoner of her gilded cage to encouraging her to be happy, as well as pursue a second chance with the man she loved.

I also loved Gideon’s growth. He has shown potential to be more than a thief in both this book and the prior one, and despite his outward devil-may-care attitude, he shows he really does care for Susanna.And it was refreshing, after reading a number of Galen’s books where the power dynamic was largely skewed in the favor of the heroes to see a hero who had a life without a lot of advantages, and how he managed to turn it around, even when I thought it might be impossible.

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Review of “A Dangerous Legacy” (Empire State #1) by Elizabeth Camden

Camden, Elizabeth. A Dangerous Legacy. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764218811 | 339 pages | Christian Historical Romance

5 stars

This is the best book I’ve read by Elizabeth Camden so far. It is a wonderful story with compelling characters, and it interweaves messages and concepts that are relevant today, despite the historical setting.

Both Colin and Lucy are fantastic. I am fairly certain that every hero named Colin must be an amazing character by default (this could very well be wrong as I haven’t read that many books with a hero named Colin, but thus far heroes by that name have brightened even the most “meh” of books), and this Colin is no exception. I love how he is a hero caught between upholding the older, traditional ways of the aristocracy concerning lineage and legacy and the new ideas of carving out one’s own path outside of all that. So many Englishmen in the decades prior to the story’s setting were marrying heiresses much like he initially sets out to do, and I was glad to see that he ended up choosing a different path, in large part out of his love for Lucy.

Lucy is equally compelling in terms of her journey, and I admire that she has a sense of selflessness and integrity. One of the pivotal moments is when she decides to agree to be institutionalized in order to help weed out the conspiracy her uncle and cousin are involved in. I love her bravery and growth as a character through those scenes in particular, as it says a lot about the poor state of mental health care and how low the standards were back then.

 

Review of “Love Letters from a Duke” (Bachelor Chronicles #3) by Elizabeth Boyle

Boyle, Elizabeth. Love Letters From a Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2007. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0060784034 | 370 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

Love Letters From a Duke is a far better book than the first in the series, especially in terms of establishing a convincing romance between the hero and heroine. The developing relationship between Thatcher and Felicity, especially given their differing desires and the deception between them, leads to a much more compelling plot. While I’m not usually a fan of romances where one half of the couple deceives the other, I felt it was well-executed here.

Felicity is a character who can be hard to write convincingly, given her primary goal in life is to marry a duke. But I like that she is concerned about her future, and that of her sister and cousin, given that is something many women would have faced, given that they were basically the property of their fathers, and then their husbands, so choosing poorly rarely ends well.

I also liked Thatcher, and I liked that he was one of those dukes who had no interest in his family’s (particularly his grandfather’s) machinations, and that, once he met Felicity, he wanted her to want to marry him for himself, and not just the security his title could bring her. That is something that is so rare among historicals with duke heroes, who are typically so conscious of their title and its expectations, that I appreciated this aspect.

I did start to find the story a little too out there at times, especially the bits involving Tally and Pippin and the extended gang of their relatives and friends. I can only hope that this is toned down in future books, as I have heard great things about the next couple books in the series in particular.

Review of “A Gentleman for All Seasons” by Shana Galen, Vanessa Kelly, Kate Noble, and Theresa Romain

Galen, Shana, et. al. A Gentleman For All Seasons. [United States]: [self-published], 2015. 

Paperback  | No price available/book out of print/stories available individually in ebook | ISBN-13: 978-1518798672 | 375 pages | Regency Romance

This is a great anthology, featuring a mix of author I enjoyed and authors I was new to, and provides a great sampling of their work. While it does suffer from some of the typical anthology/novella shortcomings, as a whole this book is wonderful, making me upset that this edition was taken off the market, as you gain a lot more from reading the stories together. It is also one of those rare Regencies that, in addition to focusing on heroes without titles, has a style that is reminiscent of Austen without being too pretentious about it.

A Madness in Spring by Kate Noble

3 stars

This story had a lot of promise, with the exploration of the relationship between Adam and Belinda and why they hate each other. But I could not help but think that, since this was the novella that sets the stage for the setting and who most of the other major players are, that it is bogged down by characters. This made it hard to feel a connection to Belinda and Adam, especially when Bertram and Georgie seemed so much more interesting. The story also features an incredibly silly misunderstanding near the end, which I felt the story could have done without.

The Summer of Wine and Scandal by Shana Galen

5 stars

This one was my favorite in the entire anthology. Shana Galen once again deals with tough topics, this time looking at the poignant story of how Caroline was duped into entering a life of disrepute against her will. Given how easily a woman lost her reputation at the time, it would have been understandable for no one to want to associate with her, but I love that she had a father who supported her unconditionally, and that Peregrine was non-judgmental, pointing out that he and everyone else have also sinned in their own ways.

Those Autumn Nights by Theresa Romain

4 stars

Considering the way Bertram won me over early on in the prior novellas, I was excited when I got to his story, and was excited to find out his story was one that had some comparisons to Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Eliza was sometimes hard to like, but given her background, I think she was well-written. And I truly enjoyed seeing Bertram grapple with his feelings for Eliza.

The Season for Loving by Vanessa Kelly

5 stars

This one was also incredibly charming, and I loved the musing about how circumstance has made both Fergus and Georgie outsiders in their own way, and that, among other things, creates a path toward a bond. This was also the one where the stakes felt the most believable, especially given her past health issues, his reasoning for why he doesn’t want to marry, and the climactic moment that brought it all together.

Review of “A Gathering of Shadows” (Shades of Magic) by V.E. Schwab

Schwab, V.E. A Gathering of Shadows. New York: Tom Doherty and Associates, 2016. 

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765376473 | 512 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

A Gathering of Shadows is just as good as the first book in the series, although it does still have some of the same issues, the main one being the time it takes to really establish the current flow of the story. But like the first book, it does become engrossing after you get into it once again, only to end with a dreaded cliffhanger, making me question why I didn’t make the decision to acquire the next book sooner. And despite Schwab’s claim that she never ended a book with a cliffhanger before, it does not diminish my mild annoyance with her for doing so with this book.

The continued world building is fantastic. I loved absorbing more about the culture of the worlds, especially watching everything surrounding the Element Games in Red London.

The  character development also continues to be wonderful. Though there are some slightly annoying YA-esque story cliches, like Lila not being “like most girls,” I still enjoyed the evolution of the characters and the increasing complications of their relationships with one another, from the development of Lila’s relationships with both Alucard and Kell, to hints of Alucard’s past relationship with Rhy, and Kell’s acrimonious relationship with Alucard.

 

Review of “Bygone Badass Broads” by Mackenzi Lee

Lee, Mackenzi. Bygone Badass Broads: 52 Forgotten Women Who Changed the World. New York; Abrams Image, 2018. 

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1419729256 | 174 pages |Women’s History

5 stars

When it comes to a lot of historical romances published today, there are two dominant, divergent schools of thought: “accuracy is unimportant, because history is boring and I read to escape dry historical facts” and “this book is unrealistic because women in history could never have done that.” While I tend to be guilty of falling into the latter camp on occasion, Bygone Badass Broads is a book that has completely altered my thoughts on what was possible for women to do back then, and is a book I would recommend to both groups of readers, as well as to anyone interested in women’s history.

Lee’s biographies of each woman, or in a few cases group of women, are brief, but this readable format still manages to convey the sheer badassery of each woman, highlighting many uncelebrated figures, especially those of color and who were LGBTQ, going as far back 2700 BC. Some of my favorites include Queen Arawelo, the first century Somalian queen who championed gender equality; Lady Margaret Cavendish, who was a woman of science and was an early pioneer of the science fiction genre in the seventeeth century; Alice Ball, who developed a treatment for leprosy and, perhaps most significant to me, was both an alumna and former professor of my alma mater, University of Hawaii; and the Mirabal sisters, who were among the few women I knew about prior to reading this book, and remembered for their work to bring down the dictatorship of Rafael Trujillo in Argentina. However, each woman is badass and worthy of note in their own way, and I hope that books like this continue to bring women who have achieved great things throughout history, but have gone unlauded, to light.

Review of “The Lady of Bolton Hill” by Elizabeth Camden

Camden, Elizabeth. The Lady of Bolton Hill. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2011. 

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764208942 | 334 pages | Christian Historical Romance

3 stars

The Lady of Bolton Hill was Elizabeth Camden’s debut, and it is a good effort, but, having read one of her later books first and found it much more polished, there are areas that could use improvement here. However, thi sbook, like many a first book, shows her promise as a writer.

The story has a lot of promise conceptually, but has mixed results in the execution. I feel like she developed Daniel’s character well, portraying nuances of his character as a result of the hardships he had to face in life, and his gut reaction being to retaliate with a quest for vengeance. And I enjoyed his transformation from someone so singularly focused on that, to someone who finds his faith again. I also enjoyed Bane, who is the antagonist of the book, and is also redeemed. While his “conversion” does feel a bit rushed and unrealistic, I like that, ultimately, there is a sense of goodness in him, and he has further adventures that play out in subsequent book, which I look forward to reading.

However, I found Clara to be a bit hard to like at times. Even keeping in mind that this is a Christian fiction book, I felt her manner to be overly preachy at times, including the conversion scene. Even keeping in mind the intended audience, this felt like a bit much.

I also found the romance a bit underwhelming, especially given that the blurb promises “a romance neither of them thought possible.” While again, I knew it would be mostly chaste because of the genre, I didn’t really feel much beyond friendship with perhaps  teenage crush between Clara and Daniel, and the revelations of their feelings for one another towards the end took me off guard. And even taking into account how unrealistic the conversion was, I actually felt more between Bane and Clara, which is strange, considering that he was also her kidnapper.

Review of “The Rose and the Dagger” (The Wrath and the Dawn #2) by Renee Ahdieh)

Ahdieh, Renee. The Rose and the Dagger. New York: G.P, Putnam’s Sons, 2016. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13; 978-0399171628 | 416 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

The first time I picked up this book, shortly after reading and loving The Wrath and the Dawn, I had difficulty getting into the story, so I set it aside. But I soon regretted it, as I enjoyed the world Ahdieh created and the characters (for the most part), so I finally decided to give it another chance. I found it a much better experience this time around, feeling the mix of emotions as things that were established in the first book began to really come to fruition.

Given the way book one ended, I was anxious to see how Shahrzad and Khalid would reunite, and their first, secret reunion was incredibly bittersweet, and the events that followed only showed the greater strength of their bond, especially when they both fight to protect each other from an attempt on Khalid’s life.

And that brings me to Tariq. He annoyed me for most of the prior book, and for the first part of this one, but following the assassination attempt with disastrous consequences, I like that a talk between him and Khalid inspires a change in the dynamic between them, and this evolution of their relationship and how it impacted later events in the plot in Khalid’s favor made me less upset about the fact that this was yet another YA series that included a predictable love triangle. And one thing that I did enjoy, despite it being cliche and PG, is that the book ended with everyone getting what they deserved, with some growing and evolving to gain a resolution that I did not initially want or expect for them.

Review of “Sapphires Are an Earl’s Best Friend” (Jewels of the Ton #3) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Sapphires Are an Earl’s Best Friend. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2014. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402269790 | 340 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

This is a wonderful conclusion to the series, providing an action-packed close to the mystery element that carried over through all three books, and a great romance between two compelling characters.

One thing I love about both Lily and Andrew is how they are so relatable in the sense that they each hide their insecurities or the pain of their pasts behind a charming facade, making them well-liked. I truly felt for them as they revealed their private hurts to one another, and how they each supported the other. While they do get off on the wrong foot, and Andrew does display some of the backwards notions of society and he is a bit rude to her at first, but given the initial misunderstanding I can kind of see where he’s coming from, and he does end up coming to her aid when he finds out what she’s really up to.

The entire series has teased Lucifer the crime lord as a major big bad, and after being MIA for most of the series, he finally shows up for the climax in a big way, but not without some twists about Andrew’s family this time, to make it personal, going beyond the speculation about his father which set the main events of this book in motion in the first place. And I truly felt for Andrew when he realized someone else in his family who he had also dearly loved was involved in nefarious dealings.

I continue to admire Galen’s inclusion of real issues people, especially women, faced in Regency times, in her books, especially as it portrays how limited the options were for women who had been cast out of their home for becoming with child, and the true depths of despair they could reach, while also providing some hope for the future through Lily’s story.

 

Review of “If You Give a Rake a Ruby” (Jewels of the Ton #2) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. If You Give a Rake a Ruby. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2013. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1-4022-6976-9 | 341 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

If You Give a Rake a Ruby is much better than its predecessor. While there are still some minor flaws, I much preferred the dynamic between Fallon and Warrick.

I think part of it was the fact that Warrick didn’t have a title, and worked as a spy, making him instantly more appealing. He is also upfront about what his desires, and his private guilt and nerosis about his actions during the war served to add more layers to his character, rather than as a device to attempt to generate sympathy for an otherwise mostly intolerable character. And while some of his behavior is a bit questionable, like literally picking Fallon up and carrying her off, coming into her bedroom uninvited after she had booted out another man who tried to get handsy with her, and pushing the idea of marriage on her despite her own misgivings, I found I was able to forgive him for these things to an extent, as they displayed his character, and felt authentic to what a man of the time would think is appropriate, without crossing any truly unethical lines. And while other readers might see it differently, I never saw Fallon as without agency within the relationship, as she does clash with Warrick at times, and is an active participant, both in their romance and the mystery that brought them together in the first place.

I did enjoy the development of the mystery this time around, and am anxious to see how it gets resolved, with further revelations building on those in the prior book, as well as setting up more for the final intallment. And while one of my complaints was that the introduction of a figure from the heroine’s past threatening her life seemed to go nowhere in the last book, I was glad to see Fallon’s relationship with her father playing a role in the mystery, which portrayed another facet to the darkness facing the lower classes that is a common feature in Galen’s books.