Review of “A Viscount’s Proposal” (The Regency Spies of London #2) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. A Viscount’s Proposal. Grand Haven, MI: Waterfall Press, 2017. 

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503938649 | 279 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Despite liking most of Melanie Dickerson’s books, I had mixed feelings when she launched her Regency series. On the one hand, I was excited, there are only a handful of Christian authors who write Regencies. But I found myself overcome with an unfortunate sense of snobbery when she promoted book one, A Spy’s Devotion, by talking about how she had read Jane Austen, but wanted to write something more approachable to modern readers. I’m just paraphrasing, but this statement and the blandness of the prose of that one led me to DNF that one after one chapter…and subsequently lose track of the book. But as is often the case these days, a book club friend reading these had me considering giving the series another chance.

And I am very glad I did. It is not lost on me that while I had intense (and perhaps unwarranted) prejudice against the first book due to first impressions, that this one ironically grapples with that issue in an incredibly Austen-esque way, along with her criticism of the hypocrisy of high society. I found Edward and Leorah sympathetic and enjoyed watching their relationship with each other evolve from dislike and misunderstanding to compassion and love. A pivotal scene for me was the scene in which they discussed Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, with Leorah seeing it as merely an entertaining story, and Edward as a story with a good message that people can learn from. This reminded me of the discussions that book clubs have today, with different readers each taking something different from the same text, while each enjoying it.

In terms of the mystery, it was obvious who was behind it pretty early on, but I was quite shocked when the motive was revealed. This brought up a very important thing to consider, whether one is religious or not, in terms of whether one ought to cast blame for someone’s actions on their family members, who are completely innocent of wrongdoing.

Review of “Confessions of Little Black Gown” (Bachelor Chronicles #4) by Elizabeth Boyle

Boyle, Elizabeth. Confessions of a Little Black Gown. New York: Avon Books, 2009. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0061373237 | 370 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

This is another great installment in the Bachelor Chronicles series, again showing Boyle’s skill at crafting compelling stories. I did feel this one was a little uneven in terms of the focus shifting away from the central romance quite a bit to focus on the mystery plot surrounding Captain Dashwell to set up for the next book, it is still an enjoyable read and one of my favorites so far.

I love how the differences between the Langley sisters are shown in a different light here, and I enjoyed the full experience I got of reading them both to understand their relationship more. In this one, Felicity is a matchmaking busybody who I probably would have hated if I had no prior knowledge of her, but when put into the context of her own book and her goals, I could at least understand her. However, Thalia is a lot easier to sympathize with, given that she isn’t interested in a marriage for position and security, and the story ends with her doing the exact opposite of what Felicity would like in the department. Larken was equally intriguing, and I liked the way the relationship developed between them, especially as neither was what they initially appeared to be.

 

Review of “Whisper of Scandal” (Scandalous Women of the Ton #1) by Nicola Cornick

Cornick, Nicola. Whisper of Scandal. Don Mills, Ontario: HQN, 2010. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0373774401 | 362 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

This is my first book by Nicola Cornick, and it won’t be my last. With Whisper of Scandal, she creates layered characters who, while not always likable, have depth to them that makes them sympathetic. With Joanna, I enjoyed how she presents the half-truth of being a pleasure-loving, materialistic woman, while also grappling with the hurt from her marriage to her deceased abusive husband, and the fact that she failed to give him a child. I always find it compelling and sad when historicals focus on the stories of women who long for children and have trouble conceiving, especially given the inexact science of the times, and how often the fault lay with the woman, especially if the man proved fertile with someone else. And while the situation is not fully resolved by the end of the book, I hope she is blessed with children in the future.

Alex took a bit longer to like, especially since he did think badly of Joanna, because he believe his best friend’s word that his wife was awful. But over the course of the book, he grew on me, especially as I began to understand his concerns for Joanna making the journey to the Arctic due to his guilt over his first wife’s death while on another expedition.

I thorougly enjoyed the secondary characters, especially Devlin and Purchase, and I can’t wait to read their stories. However, I am unsure about Lottie’s story, given that I found her intolerable at times in this book, but I do look forward to seeing how she can be redeemed.

Review of “No Dukes Allowed” by Kelly Bowen, Grace Burrowes, and Anna Harrington

Bowen, Kelly, et. al. No Dukes Allowed. Hagerstown. MD: Grace Burrowes Publishing, 2018. 

Paperback | $7.46 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1941419632 | 308 pages | Regency Romance

When this anthology was announced, I was excited. As one of the rare romance readers who not only “doesn’t love a duke,” but sometimes loathes their constant presence in romance to the point where they’re invading subgenres and settings that I would normally go to to get away from dukes, it’s refreshing to have a new anthology that not only celebrates good, honest, hardworking Regency men, but portrays what I think would have been the more common archetype of the Regency aristocrat: self-absorbed with their own importance, to contrast with the many romanticized portrayals on the market.

Architect of My Dreams by Grace Burrowes

This story is promising, with a great reversal of the cross-class romance. I enjoyed seeing the development of the relationship between Adam and Eugenia, especially given Adam’s hostile feelings toward dukes for the way one treated his father, and the widowed duchess Eugenia being pursued and blackmailed by that duke’s profligate son. However, I did feel that the relationship between Adam and Eugenia was based on lust, and while I could see what she might find to love about him, I wasn’t sure what he really saw in her.

Pursuit of Honor by Kelly Bowen

My favorite from the collection, I enjoyed this story of friends-to-lovers and the stakes keeping them apart. I loved the conflict that arose from Oliver feeling the need to behave honorably toward his betrothed, even at the expense of his feelings for Diana. I was also pleased with how the situation was resolved, with Oliver not having to do the dishonorable thing, and with his fiancee Hannah’s happiness assured. I also thoroughly enjoyed the subplot that tied Oliver’s search for his sister to Diana’s own closed-minded, scoundrel duke suitor, and I was glad to see a happy resolution there, also with a good man.

The Double Duchess by Anna Harrington stars

I thoroughly enjoyed this second chance romance, and I loved the hero of this one. I love that Max chose to do the difficult thing concerning the woman he loved and let her marry someone else, given that his circumstances were so bad at the time. And while I could relate to Belinda’s feelings on the matter, that Max left her, I did feel like she could be hard to relate to in this matter, especially since she did have a decent life, compared to the hardships that she might have faced as the wife of a minor soldier. However, I did find the intrigues surrounding the debate between their two causes of the hospital for the pensioned officers and academy for the cadets interesting, and I very much enjoyed the way it was resolved.

 

 

 

Review of “A Conjuring of Light” (Shades of Magic #3) by V.E. Schwab

Schwab, V.E. A Conjuring of Light. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2017. 

Hardcover | $25.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765387462 | 624 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

After the cliffhanger ending of the last book, I found myself disappointed with how quickly the dilemma of that setup was quickly resolved within the first several chapters, only to resume the same dreaded pace that I had become familiar with in the series of spending way too long on numerous POV characters, some of whom seem inconsequential, before really building up the action. But once the action commences, it is truly a great conclusion to the series, demonstrating how far the characters have come since the first book, culminating in a bloody and exciting battle.

It’s great to see how Rhy has come into his own, especially since by the end, he has greater responsibility than he has had previously. I enjoyed getting greater insight into Holland’s backstory, which made him a much more sympathetic character. I also loved seeing the romances come to fruition, albeit in a subtle way. And while it was great to see how Kell and Lila ended up, my happiest moment was seeing Alucard and Rhy end up together, especially given their past that was explored in this book and the previous one.

But I did feel that the chapters from anyone beyond Kell, Lila, Rhy, Holland, Alucard, and maybe Ojka, made the story drag a little. While I did enjoy the chapters in Grey London, from Ned Tuttle’s perspective, they don’t add much to the overall plot.

 

Review of “The Night the Lights Went Out” by Karen White

White, Karen. The Night the Lights Went Out. New York: Berkley, 2017. 

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451488381 | 406 pages | Women’s Fiction

5 stars

Most books tend to fall into two categories: light and feel-good or dark and angsty. Some that lean one way might incorporate some aspects of the other, but for the most part, books I’ve read tend to fall into one of these two categories. That is not the case with The Night the Lights Went Out, which presents a atmosphere of a sweet, fun Southern book with its opening pages, but as the book goes on, the sense that there’s a lot more going on beneath the surface, some of it sinister, began to creep up on me. I love how Karen White managed to provide a good balance of both those elements, keeping me in the moment, while also foreshadowing the darkness to come.

Merilee is a character I rooted for, and I like the exploration of the layers of her life, starting with her recent betrayal, and going back into dark past. She is flawed in that she is a bit naive, but her character growth and new understanding of who she can really trust is wonderful to read. I also enjoyed seeing the parallels between her story and Sugar’s. Both of their stories show the strength of the bonds between true friends who go through tough times together.

And once again, White’s gift with words shines through. My favorite moments, much to my surprise, given my initial aversion to Southern fiction, were the delightfully Southern blog entries, which appear throughout the book, dispensing wisdom and humor. These entries contain many great words to live by, regardless of where on Earth you’re located, and my favorite is from the last pages, speaking against the idea of getting revenge: “We shine instead of sparkle, we smile and bless their hearts instead of giving the finger.” (405)

Review of “Rogue in Red Velvet” (The Emperors of London #1) by Lynne Connolly

Connolly, Lynne. Rogue in Red Velvet. New York: Kensington, 2014. 

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1616505875 | 222 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

Lynne Connolly is an author I “met” through one of the many book groups I participate in online, and I became eager to read her books especially due to the fact that she seems incredibly knowledgeable about the Georgian and Regency periods based on what I’ve seen online, and she’s also British, which gives her an additional advantage that not many historical authors have in terms of already being familiar with the language. And if this first book is anything to go by, I will definitely be reading more from her.

Connolly’s characters strike the perfect balance of being of the period and being aware of the social conventions and being sympathetic to the modern reader. Alex is the antithesis the rogue the title suggests him to be, instead being a man of honor in all his interactions with Connie,and he desires to marry for love and nothing less, a refreshing change from the actual rogues that frequently show up, who are far too often jaded by love. Connie is a sympathetic character, and I was moved by how Connolly depicted the problems she faced as a woman in the period, with her first husband being unfaithful to her, and the man she intended as her second husband as a matter of business being a wastrel who betrays her, providing a contrast to Alex.

 

Review of “Nothing Happened” by Molly Booth

Booth, Molly. Nothing Happened. Los Angeles: Hyperion, 2018. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1484753026 | 325 pages | YA Fiction

4 stars

Nothing Happened is a title that sums up the story both very well and not so well. as upon first being exposed to Much Ado About Nothing, the play upon which the story is based in college, I found myself dismissing it as both a story  that is both simultaneously “about nothing” and too confusing to get into, then dubbing it the worst/most boring of Shakespeare’s best known works (judging by what I’ve heard about Coriolanus, I hesitate to call it the worst or most boring, period).

That being said, this modernized, yet faithful retelling charmed me. Yes, it’s still confusing, particularly due to the writing style of having practically everyone have chapters in first person, and this book still simultaneously has a lot happening, yet nothing more than exaggerated melodrama, which makes sense even more due to the young age of the characters. But there is a sense of relatability in the way the story is translated to modern day, keeping some of the same elements of misunderstanding, but adapting it to the setting of twenty-first century teens at summer camp.

My favorite characters were the pairing of Hana and Claudia. I loved seeing that this story showed a different, much more tolerant angle of queer relationships than many stories out there, not differentiating them from heterosexual ones, but showing that they can be faced by similar issues. Aside from a brief remark about homophobia, none of the other characters treat Hana or Claudia any differently because of their sexuality, and aside from Hana saying at one point that she is probably bi- or pansexual, there is no discussion of labels which might further confine them.

 

Review of “I Kissed a Rogue” (Covent Garden Cubs #3) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. I Kise. IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2016. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402298776 | 341 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

While I Kisseed a Rogue is not a bad book, it does suffer from not being nearly as good as the prior books in the series, especially the prior installment, The Rogue You Know. While the mystery element is one of the highlights of the book, culminating in an action-packed climax that I’ve come to expect from Shana Galen’s books, I found the reveal of who was behind Lila’s abduction seemed too predictable and cliche.

While I got off to a rough start with Brook and Lila, as they have such animosity standing between them, I do think their characters and emotions were well-written. I love that Lila looks back on some of her superficial mistakes from her past with new eyes, and has grown up. And while I’m not often a fan of the heroes that are jaded against love, Sir Brook provides a nice twist on this trope, as I truly felt he had good reasons for not believing in love or believing a future with Lila, given how she hurt him. I did find the sex a bit much in this one, especially since they are both convinced, despite their growing feelings and/or desire for one another, that they would be parting, but I feel that there is enough of them baring their souls to one another that it isn’t a case of mistaking lust for love.

I also feel like this book could have gone through another round of edits, perhaps with someone who is an expert at all the intricacies of the British titles and forms of address giving it a look as well. Because there were a ton of inconsistencies. Between Lila’s brother being referred to as both “Lord Granbury” and “Lord Danbury” and the faux pas as to how to address a knight and his wife, the latter of which kept changing, I felt perturbed. I did appreciate that there is a conversation in there about whether she would be addressed as “Lady Derring,” as befits a “Miss Lastname” who married Sir Brook, or “Lady Lila”/”Lady Lillian-Anne,” out of respect for her being the daughter of a duke. But there were also inclusions of the blatantly incorrect “Mrs. Derring,” as well as addressing her husband at times as “Sir Derring,” which made me cringe so much while reading. While I have gotten upset over incorrect forms of address, the inconsistent ones are even worse.

Review of “A Scandalous Deal” (The Four Hundred #2) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Scandalous Deal. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback| $7,99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062678911 | 373 pages | Historical Romance

4 stars

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with the series, given my disappointment with aspects of A Daring Arrangement. The appearance of the phrase “unexpected passionate shipboard encounter” in the blurb for this one also made me uneasy, as, neglible historical accuracy issues aside,  books that begin with one-night stands between the hero and heroine when they’re strangers typically seem to focus more on the sexual chemistry at the expense of a deeper bond. But my interest in the third book in the series and, consequently, my need to read in order, won out. And I wasn’t completely disappointed.

While I don’t typically like high heat early on in romance, I felt Shupe executed this well by preceding it with banter between Eva and Phillip, and by having it not be a fully consummated encounter, saving it for later in the book. And when this occurs, there is a full understanding of the stakes, especially for an independent woman like Eva, both personally and professionally, and even discussion about contraception, which contrasts with what I really didn’t like about the prior book. And to the point, I felt the sexual attraction and the mutual interests between Eva and Phillip were well balanced by the conflict between them, in that she doesn’t want to be eclipsed by a man and wants to be seen as an equal, and he has more traditional views of what women can do. But I did find myself irritated at times when he did disrespect her, like the time when he blamed her for his losing his self-control and forgetting to use a condom, or his assumptions that, because she lied to him about her father’s health, that she was just out to use him just like other women. However, I did think he grew by the end of the book,

And, as was the case with the prior book, I once again lament the fact that Shupe introduced characters that more than likely won’t get their own stories. This time, it’s not so bad, as Becca does find happiness in a sense, but given what is alluded to about where her heart lies, the possibility of a full novel for her that is mass produced is almost nonexistent.  And the returning characters are equally charming. Despite not being fully won over by Nora and Julius in their book, I truly loved them in this one, especially Nora in full overprotective best friend mode, as more often than not, her insights into the Eva’s relationship with Phillip were ones I agreed with.