Review of “The Memory of Us” by Camille Di Maio

Di Maio, Camille. The Memory of Us. Seattle: Lake Union Publishing, 2016. 

Paperback | $14.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503934757 | 391 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

The Memory of Us is a book that piqued my curiosity, as I heard it was inspired by “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles. But sadly, while the book had a lot of promise, especially in the first half, the execution, especially to bring the heroine from her old life to her new life as we see her in the prologue, is underwhelming.

I loved the first half, because it presented a fresh twist on the forbidden romance, not only with Julianne dealing with the choice between her fractured family life and the man she loves, but with Kyle dealing with his forbidden feelings as he prepares to become a priest. And my love for Kyle endured to the end, as I felt his story arc went through a natural progression from what I could tell, going back to the priesthood once he believed he lost the love of his life.

However, I found it difficult to understand Julianne’s perspective and her decisions. While I can’t fully blame her, as her parents were both terrible and made poor decisions themselves, the decision that ultimately sent her on the path she ends up on lacked impact. To my understanding, she loses her best friend and her looks in a bombing, and then she suddenly decides she’s unfit to be her newborn daughter’s mother and then she pretends to be dead, which made no sense. By the end of the book, I really didn’t have much sympathy for her.

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Review of “True Spies” (Lord and Lady Spy #2) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. True Spies. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2013. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402276026 | 346 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

True Spies is another fun Regency twist on a contemporary spy movie, in this case, True Lies, and despite not being familiar with the film in question, it did not impair my enjoyment of the book. Like its predecessor, I like that it once again tackles the strained relationship between a married couple who are reunited through one’s involvement in espionage, but with a different twist this time around.

I really felt for Elinor, as she felt abandoned by her husband and trapped in a boring life consisting of endless balls and domestic duties. And while I could understand the importance of Winn keeping his secret agent activities a secret, I found I could relate to Elinor’s plight much more when it’s shown how focused Winn is with his work, with time for nothing else. As a result, it took a while for me to really warm up to him. However, I could understand his reluctance to Elinor’s continued involvement, especially since it isn’t so much an issue with her gender this time around, but the result of having lost someone else he cared about during a mission.

Review of “Throne of Glass” (Throne of Glass #1) by Sarah J. Maas

Maas, Sarah J. Throne of Glass. New York: Bloomsbury, 2012. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1599906959 | 406 pages | YA Fantasy 

3 stars

Despte falling in love with Sarah J. Maas with her Court of Thorns and Roses series, I had previously tried this book when she was fairly new to publishing when Throne of Glass first came out, and then once again in between one of the ACOTAR books. Both times, I DNFed the book. But now, with the upcoming publication of the final book in that series, and the promotional read-along of all the previous books going on (I did read The Asssassin’s Blade, but did not find it substantial enough to merit a review) I finally finished it, and while I liked it much more this time around, although it is hardly up to the standards of any of the ACOTAR books.

There are some good things about this book, however. The world building is great, and I think Maas does a great job of introducing concepts that will play a role in later books in the series, like the disappearance of magic at the hands of the King, and its resurgence through Celaena. And while I wish it was a greater presence in the book, I liked getting a sense of the political landscape, especially as the premise revolves around a competition among criminals to become the King’s Champion.

However, the characters lacked substance. With the secondary  characters I didn’t really get the sense they were really anything beyond what their role demanded that they be, so there was nothing really unexpected, despite some semblance of a mystery surrounding the competition. And my main issue, like many other people’s, is with Celaena herself. While I don’t hate her as a character, there was no reason to root for her either. She is built up to be this awesome assassin, but there really is no sense of that conveyed in this book. I enjoyed the attempt to diversify her interest by giving her an interest in reading, but it wasn’t enough to compel me to take an interest in her. However. having heard that the series improves, I do plan to continue with it, as Maas has proved with her later work that she is more than capable of writing a good book.

Review of “A Strange Scottish Shore” (Emmaline Truelove #2) by Juliana Gray

Gray, Juliana. A Strange Scottish Shore. New York: Berkley, 2017. 

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425277089 | 400 pages | Historical Mystery

4.5 stars

Despite not being that into the concept of the first book, and not really getting into this one the first time around, I decided to give this one another chance. And once I did, I found I enjoyed it a lot more than the first book in the series. There are still some the same odd elements that made it a bit of strange read for me, like Emmaline’s conversations with figments of her imagination, but with the world more fully established, I felt it was easier to make sense of this time around.

I found this take on time travel, intersecting with folklore and legend. Far too often, the story follows a familiar formula, of two people from different time periods meeting when one is thrust back into the other’s time, and while there is nothing wrong with that, I loved an exploration of a world where the hero or heroine isn’t an anomaly, and there are others who came to that same time period, including their love interest, and as a result, were faced with consequences of traveling through time and abandoning their old life for a new one, whether it be having to learn how to adapt to the new culture surrounding them, or being faced with a figure from their other life coming to find them, and being fixated on revenge.

And while I wasn’t a fan of Silverton as a love interest for Emmaline in the first book, I love how he evolved into someone who is a good life partner for her through their shared experience. Away from the comforts of his aristocratic life, he has made something of himself and found a focus he very much needed. And given Emmaline’s status of being on the precipice between Victorian and modern in her values, I enjoyed seeing how Silverton helped her to acclimate to their new life in the 1300s.

Review of “Secrets of a Wedding Night” (Secret Brides #1) by Valerie Bowman

Bowman, Valerie. Secrets of a Wedding Night. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2012. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7/99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250008954 | 340 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

This is my first book by Valerie Bowman, and it will not be my last. She manages to take some tired tropes, like the virgin widow and a couple with deception between them, and make them into something entirely her own. Big Misunderstandings can make or break a book, and Bowman does it with the right touch so there is an understanding of both characters’ perspectives of the situation.

I love that Devon, despite having a bit of a wild youth, is presented as a mature hero who actually cares about others, unlike many of his peers who start off the book as self-concerned ne’er-do-well rakes. But I could also understand why he presented that facade and the lie about being poorer than he was, as he didn’t want to be pursued just for his money.

Lily is someone who I liked and sympathized with sometimes, but I do feel that her backstory could have been fleshed out more, especially since she presents herself as being so cold and sometimes overly controlling. It is understanding why she urges her sister against making the same mistakes she almost did, but I felt like there wasn’t a lot of consistency with her past to justify her ending up in her current situation. I would have liked to get more than just her basic descriptions of her father’s or husband’s behavior, as I don’t think either was described well enough to justify her cynicism.

Review of “Ash Princess” (Ash Princess Trilogy #1) by Laura Sebastian

Sebastian, Laura. Ash Princess. New York: Delacorte Press, 2018. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524767068 | 437 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

Ash Princess is the start to a great fantasy series that takes some of the dark elements of historical political intrigue and warfare and interweaves it with great world building. Given that there are direct depictions of some sensitive issues, and allusions to others, I felt they were all handled well within the context of the story.

Despite my initial qualms about the first person present tense, I felt it worked well in terms of establishing both Theodosia’s character as someone who has become so detached due to the trauma she has faced, and the uneasiness of the environment in which she lives.

However, this is one YA book where I could have done without the pretense of there being a love triangle, as it felt so disingenuous. The romance with one of her love interests that turns sour makes sense, because of the stakes between them, but I didn’t get why there had to be romantic history with the other one, especially since, aside from being one of her allies, he’s really not as well-developed as her other love interest.

That being said, I would definitely recommend this to other YA fantasy lovers, especially those who don’t mind stories that are a bit darker and those where the heroine is a bit more layered and not completely lily-white.

Review of “The Bride Takes a Groom” (The Penhallow Dynasty #3) by Lisa Berne

Berne, Lisa. The Bride Takes a Groom. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062451828 | 354 pages | Regency Romance 

4.5  stars

Despite her first two books being lackluster, I was willing to give Lisa Berne at least one more chance, as not only did she make her debut last year, but I was excited at the prospect of Hugo’s book, and the fact that she’s an author who gravitated toward untitled heroes, still finding a way to give them influence in society and make them appealing. And that is definitely the case with Hugo, who is also the antithesis of the typical brooding hero that stars in way too many romances. I love that, despite being injured in the war, and then dealing with setbacks throughout the book, he has a sense of optimism when approaching situations, that things can be dealt with. And of course, given he does have a reasonably large family, I do love that he is dedicated to taking care of them.

Instead, it’s Katherine who has more of the troubled past, and I like her character development as she finds a way out of her awful situation with her parents and finds a purpose in life. I especially love the way the crisis at the end finally sees Katherine’s walls crumble, and how these scenes are written as if an unconscious Hugo is hearing her speak them.

There are quite a few characters to keep track of, but the relationships between them are charming and made me interested in learning more about them, while not detracting from the journey these characters take together. I also enjoyed spending some time with familiar chatacters again, and of course we get another English-vs.-Scottish jab, a running joke that never fails to delight, and makes me wonder if, sometime down the line, we will see the two sides of the family together.

The story did lag in places, but for the most part it was an enjoyable and engaging read. Above all, I enjoyed Berne’s tribute both to letters as an art form, and to words in general through the large presence of works of literature, as it demonstrates how, even in our digital age, these things continue to be valued, and in some cases, looked back on with a sense of nostalgia.

Review of “The Captive Maiden” (Hagenheim #4) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Captive Maiden. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013. 

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13; 978-0310724414 | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance 

3 stars

My interest in her Hagenheim series tapered off after initially reading the first three ages ago, particularly as a Cinderella retelling seemed odd coming directly after a Snow White retelling (a similarity that the characters in the book acknowledge). But Melanie Dickerson never left my radar completely, and my interest (and skepticism) was piqued with the release of her Aladdin retelling, which compelled me to go back and read this one, as that one also follows the family of Willhelm and Rose, unlike the prior installment, The Silent Songbird, which was a stand alone.

And like many of Dickerson’s books, I find myself liking some things, but finding some of the same issues as before. On the plus side, I enjoyed seeing Valten as the hero. He is the opposite of his charming brother Gabe, and I find it refreshing to read about a hero who isn’t so sure of himself with women, but has his heart in the right place. I also loved his interactions with his family, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the next few books.

However, Gisela is one of those heroines who I often hear about in Christian fiction who seem a bit too perfect. She’s beautiful, kind, and brave in the face of adversity, but I didn’t find that her personality was rounded out with many discernible flaws, other than the fact that she’s a bit too trusting of people she really shouldn’t trust to begin with. And I honestly felt if some of the Cinderella aspects were toned down, it wouldn’t have made much difference, as the stepmother and stepsisters just seemed to go through the motions of being bad, especially since they were secondary to the main villain.

However, I did enjoy the writing of Ruexner and how his backstory was revealed. At first, he seemed like a standard villain without much in the way of layers or substance, but I liked the subtle hints that built up to the big reveal of his fixation with Gisela, rooted in deep personal issues. While it is not exactly an original background for the villain, I did feel like it added more substance to him in a way I did not expect, especially given the revelation.

Review of “When Harry Met Molly” (Impossible Bachelors #1) by Kieran Kramer

Kramer, Kieran. When Harry Met Molly. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2010. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0312611644 | 420 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

Kieran Kramer is another new-to-me author, and despite some of the weird elements of the story, this was a book I enjoyed, and I will be reading more from her. One of Kramer’s strengths is developing likable characters. Molly has a lot of gumption, especially considering she is essentially a fish out of water as a sheltered young lady thrust into the position of false mistress. I liked that she challenged the men’s treatment of their mistresses, especially when it came to demeaning competitions like a sack race where the deciding factor in who won was who had the bounciest breasts, or when she was instrumental in helping one of the other women sneak out for a few hours to visit her child, who was staying nearby at her sister’s house.

Harry took a bit longer to like, considering at first he is the epitome of the boorish rake. But over time, he does evolve into someone who not only cares for Molly’s well-being, but for the other women’s as well, defending one of the other women when her protector is being abusive. And by the end of the book, there are more revelations that prove him to be much more honorable than I initially thought.

However, the entire premise of this novel requires an extreme suspension of disbelief. When the truth about the scheme came out, I found myself asking, “What did Harry and Molly think would happen?,” even if the exact circumstances of how it was all revealed was still something of a surprise. I found Molly in particular to be incredibly naive, as she contemplates at one point becoming Harry’s real mistress, although nothing comes of this.

 

Review of “I Believe in a Thing Called Love” by Maurene Goo

Goo, Maurene. I Believe in a Thing Called Love. New York: Farrar Straus Giroux Books for Young Readers, 2017. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | 978-0374304041 | 325 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

I picked up this book primarily because in doing research for the Ripped Bodice’s Summer Bingo, it came up as a suggestion for a soccer-related romance, and not being a fan of sports, my curiosity was piqued at the book’s main subject matter being Korean dramas, as years before discovering romance novels, I had a passing interest in some of these. And while, like the dramas themselves, this book is a little out there at times, especially when you combine it with the sometimes overly dramatic mindset of teenagers, this was a charming and lovable book.

I love that even though Desi is shown to be good at a lot of things, the focus on her quirks makes her a more likable character instead of being someone who is completely unrelatable. I could empathize with her unorthodox method of getting the attention of and pursuing a relationship with Luca, given her lack of experience with dating, and her antics provided me with a lot of laughs along the way. And I also agree with Ellen Oh, the founder of We Need Diverse Books, when she says that relationship between Desi and her father is “my absolute favorite part.” I loved seeing the dynamic between a single-parent father and his daughter, and how they grow even closer through their shared love of K dramas.

Luca also blew me away as a love interest. In the early chapters of the book, I was uncertain about him, given that he seemed to be the typical romance bad boy with a dark past. But as the story went on, and his problems were addressed, even resolved, like his difficult relationship with his father, I found myself happy that Goo defied some of the more troubling romance tropes. And through it all, even when he is hurt by her plan, he truly does care about Desi, given the way he not only appreciates her quirks, but the number of times he risks his life for her.