Review of “Heir of Fire” (Throne of Glass #3) by Sarah J. Maas

Maas, Sarah J. Heira of Fire. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2014. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1619630659 | 565 pages | Young Adult Fantasy

3.5 stars

Heir of Fire is a great third installment in the Throne of Glass series. While not as compelling as Crown of Midnight, I thoroughly enjoyed the way stakes as they were left in the previous book were raised, and there was a deeper exploration both into Celaena/Aelin’s past and the lore of the world of Erilea.

Celaena/Aelin’s story arc is great in this one, and I love the more raw and real take on her than in past installments, as she confronts the truth of her past and forms new connections, including with her aunt. And while there were a few new characters introduced in this one, Rowan, who becomes one of her new allies, is my favorite. I love the shift in his interactions with Celaena from one full of animosity to a genuine friendship.

I found the other arcs a bit lacking, however. Chaol’s wasn’t bad, as the alliance of sorts he forms with Aedion over the course of the book connects to Celaena’s. But I found Dorian’s and Manon’s POVs a chore to get through. Dorian becomes romantically involved with a healer named Sorscha, who despite appearing in Crown of Midnight, was not a character I was invested in. Thus, while I felt her demise at the end of the book had an impact in showing how brutal the King of Adarlan can be, I did not feel any sense of loss at this death.

With Manon, it felt like a lot of unnecessary filler to set up for a character who, based on what I have heard, becomes important to Celaena’s/Aelin’s cause in later books. Her chapters were the most difficult to get through, as while I could appreciate them giving a wider context to the world, I was largely uninterested in her as a character.

 

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Review of “Breathless” by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan

Bradley, Celeste, and Susan Donovan. Breathless. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018. 

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250008060 | 377 pages | Historical Fiction/Contemporary Romance

3 stars

This is my first book by either Celeste Bradley or Susan Donovan, and while I liked the book at points, it was definitely a little different than I first anticipated, given the little I know about each of these authors write independently, and what I inferred from the minor details peppered in that alluded to the characters in their last collaboration, A Courtesan’s Guide to Getting Your Man (republished as Unbound), which I did not realize was related to this one prior to reading the book.

Being different, however, is not a bad thing. The historical portion of the book does not end happily, but it was beautiful nonetheless. Despite not getting a lot of details about the characters’ identities beyond what was told to us by the narrator (the Swan) throughout, I was gripped by her experience and how she ended up finding love with her Artist after going through so many trials.

The modern arc, aside from those bits where they were researching the past that featured excerpts of letters from the Swan, fell a little flat for me. I liked Brenna and Fitch well enough as characters, but once I was invested in the historical storyline, I was annoyed with the futile attempts to bring the two of them together, as their chemistry wasn’t really there for me.

I will likely check out Bradley and Donovan’s other book, and their individual backlists. I feel that fans of one or both authors’ writing will love this, especially if they are familiar with their last collaboration, and prepared for something slightly different. This might also appeal to some time-slip mystery fans.

Review of “Kiss of the Spindle” (Steampunk Proper Romance #2) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Kiss of the Spi, ndle. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724140 | 370 pages |Romance/Steampunk

5 stars

After reading and loving Beauty and the Clockwork Beast, I was excited soon after to find out there would be a sequel of sorts, and that it would be based on “Sleeping Beauty,” which despite not being one of my favorite fairy tales, was a refreshing change due to being one of the fairy tales that gets retold less often, especially outside the straight-up fantasy genre. And I loved Allen’s take on the story, making it her own, while imbuing it with just enough from the original tale (and the Disney version) to please fans of fairy tale retellings.

I love that Isla is a strong heroine, in spite of the curse being placed on her, and I love seeing the way she takes initiative in working to solve the problem, and I love that the curse leaves her vulnerable in a unique way. And she is complemented perfectly by Daniel, who is able to watch out for her, but also has his own vulnerability. The unique cast of characters, consisting of shifters and witches, make for some great twists and turns. I especially liked Nigel as he developed as a character, especially when his past with the witch who cursed Isla was revealed.

I would recommend this book to those who love refreshing new takes on fairy tales, whether they are familiar with the Proper Romance line or not. It is truly a treat that is not to be missed.

 

 

 

Review of “The Wedding Date” by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. The Wedding Date. New York: Berkley, 2018.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399587665 | 310 pages | Contemporary Romance

3.5 stars

The Wedding Date is a sweet and fun story that I more or less enjoyed. Something that I liked from the outset was the fact that in some ways that the relationship between the characters isn’t defined by an imbalance of power in terms of where they are in their careers, as is very popular across subgenres, but instead depicts both Drew and Alexa as established and proficient in their careers. And while their fields of work are different, I like that it shows they both have a great concern for the people they help in their respective careers.

Related to her career choice, I also liked the subtle ways it highlighted racial issues, without overwhelming the story. It’s obvious helping at-risk youth is a passion of hers, and learning her personal reason why only makes it more heartwarming. And I also like how it briefly opens up a dialogue between her and Drew about how similar delinquent behaviors can be looked at differently based on race, due to white privilege. I commend her for discussing that, given how difficult it can be for some people to acknowledge.

I admit I was a bit skeptical as the story played out at the relationship turned sexual immediately, leading to my fears that this would be yet another book where the bond would be entirely based on sex, but between the aforementioned similarities in their interests and the fact that they do have a natural chemistry outside the bedroom as well, this fear was (mostly) put to rest.

What did worry me much more was that this book seemed to be working on the premise that it would show the pitfalls of a long distance relationship, when other evidence suggests this is not the case. I mean, sure, they have misunderstandings due to the distance and Alexa not being able to find the right time to articulate her concerns to him, but I found myself on her side more often than not, given Drew’s behavior. What is she supposed to think when she knows he hasn’t dated seriously in years, and then finds out the manner in which he breaks it off with each of his hookups “while they’re still friendly?” I wasn’t sure how to feel about that, as the exes seem to act like he was such a good guy, but I’d rather be dumped callously and never see him again, rather than remain “friends” and have him dangle his next hookup in my face.

Hiwever, I did still find it an enjoyable read overall, and Drew does grow up at the end. I would recommend it to those who are interested in romances with characters of color, especially if they are interested in subtle undertones of racial issues, with the caveat that it might be more enjoyable to them if they don’t mind that the hero take a while to grow up emotionally.

Review of “Love and Let Spy” (Lord and Lady Spy #3) by Shana Galen

Galen. Shana. Love and Let Spy. Napervile, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2014. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978–1-4022-9173-9 | 367 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

Love and Let Spy is much weaker than the first two books in the Lord and Lady Spy series. It still had its good points, but for at least the first half of the book, I found the cbaracters and their relationship uninteresting. My opinion did change, however, at least regarding the hero. Initially, I didn’t like Dominic at all, but as the secrets of his past were revealed, I felt for him much more, and felt that, given the abuse he endured in his past, his development as a character felt authentic, while also giving him a happy ending that not everyone in his situation gets.

Jane was a different story. I like how she comforted Dominic and made him feel at ease with her, but I just didn’t warm up to her. I can’t deny that she’s a good spy, but I just didn’t care for her.

But I did enjoy the way the over-arching external plot wrapped up, along with its revelations about Fonce’s past. And over the course of the book, I enjoyed getting updates on what the other couples from the past books had gotten up to since they got their happy endings.

This book is a cute historical romance, recommended for Shana Galen fans, fans of spy books, and those who want to read a new twist on the James Bond story.

 

Review of “The Princess Spy” (Hagenheim #5) by Melanie Dickerson

Dickerson, Melanie. The Princess Spy. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014. 

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310730989 | 293 pages | YA Historical Romance

2.5 stars

Melanie Dickerson’s Hagenheim books have a tendency to be okay at best, and very much marketed either to the Christian and/or teen demographic. And this one is much the same in that regard, although even by those standards, it is unfortunately the worst.

I have mixed feelings on her choice of fairy tale for this story, and how she diverged from it. While I can’t say it is the best retelling of “the Frog Prince,” in that, unlike other books in the series, it sheds many of the plot elements of the story, and the story itself is pretty contingent on the presence of magic, which the series does not have, I did not find it a huge negative. It definitely gave the Margaretha and Colin more to do, although I find myself, much like I did with The Captive Maiden. wishing she hadn’t set up the precedent of having each book based on a classic fairy tale, as I once again found the plot elements that were original to Dickerson much more interesting than her half-hearted attempts to include references to the original, this time even more so. I could have done without the attempt to tie in Colin being a frog by dressing him up in green clothing while he is in disguise in Hagenheim, or him rescuing Margaretha’s bracelet, because both had little bearing on the actual story.

The characters are also typical Dickerson in that there isn’t a lot of depth to them, and they are generally perfect. I could deal with that for the most part, as I want characters who are competent if the story is going to be heavy on action. But there are no internal flaws, and it is even worse in this case by the over-emphasis on a somewhat petty flaw of Margaretha’s: talking too much. While a discussion question at the end seems to suggest this might have been an issue in a historical context, this isn’t well substantiated in the text, aside from Colin calling her a “flibbertigibbet.”

And this segues into another issue I had with the book: the silly misunderstandings and resulting angst over feelings, indicating the audience it is likely meant for is definitely on the younger side. While I can understand leaving home is not an easy decision, in any time period, this was the only issue I felt there was any grounds for a misunderstanding, and even then, it could have been resolved through communication, instead of obsessing over it.

That being said, I have for the most part enjoyed most of Dickerson’s work, and will be continuing with the remaining books in the series to see where she takes it next. I would recommend it to Dickerson fans, especially those who can overlook some of the issues I brought up.

Review of “Clockwork Samurai” (The Gunpowder Chronicles #2) by Jeannie Lin

Lin, Jeannie. Clockwork Samurai. 2015. [United States]: Jeannie Lin, 2017. 

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0990946250 | 228 pages | Steampunk

5 stars

Having loved the first book in the series, I was eager to see where it would go next. And Clockwork Samurai did not disappoint, offering a similar blend of the historical and the fantastical. And I must commend Jeannie Lin for tackling a new setting, as she notes there was “very little overlap” (225) between the new research about Japan and her previous research about China, which she wrote about in all her other books. But she takes on the new cultural elements with ease, composing a gripping story about Chinese-Japanese relations during the Opium Wars, as well as each country’s relations with the wider world, directly leading up to Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan which would end their seclusion policy.

Soling remains a compelling heroine, and I love how the sequence of events causes her and Chang-wei to further explore the intricacies of their relationship, while not dominating the story, allowing the other issues to take center stage. I also like that we see more of Soling’s development, taking on the role of physician and the complications that come from that.

This book (and the previous book) are definite must reads for people looking for a new perspective on steampunk, or those who have an interest in Asian history. Lin has crafted such a well-drawn world and such great characters, it is definitely worth the read, especially as there are plans for further installments in the series.

Review of “Memoirs of a Scandalous Red Dress”

Boyle, Elizabeth. Memoirs of a Scandalous Red Dress. New York: Avon Books, 2009. 

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0061373244 | 369 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

When I started the series this was the book I had heard so much about and looked forward to. The fact that Elizabeth Boyle appeared to be once again trying something new, illustrating the love, loss, and reunion between Dash and Pippin through sections alternating between past (1814) and present (1837) had me skeptical, but I felt she pulled it off very well and made it simple enough to follow.

I love how she showed the development of the characters. Dash in particular is in not so great of a place when we meet him in 1837, contrasting drastically with the charming rogue in the 1814 sections. And despite the fact that long separation books might not work for everyone, I felt like the reasons behind it were well-defined both in this book and in the prior one, making it all the more rewarding when they can get past their past mistakes and find a way to be together.

I think fans of the series and Elizabeth Boyle’s work will enjoy this book. I would also recommend this one to anyone looking for a heart-wrenching historical where the couple ultimately — albeit after a much longer period in terms of time than most fictional couples — triumphs over their obstacles and gets their HEA.

 

Review of “Boracay Vows” (Carpe Diem Chronicles #1) by Maida Malby

Malby, Maida. Boracay Vows. San Antonio, TX(?): EOT Publications, 2017.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0999543214 | 234 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I received this book as a gift from the author. All opinions are my own.

When an author is a friend, especially the longer I know them, I often worry about their book possibly disappointing me, as tastes can differ widely, as I have found from my experience as a member of a number of book groups. But my fears with Maida Malby’s debut were unfounded. In fact, her book is one of those rare debut novels that not only shows the promise of the writer, but will instantly suck you in.

She strikes a great balance between an authentic exploration of Filipino culture, including language and cuisine, as well as family values, with which she is obviously familiar, and presenting the characters as people you can relate to regardless of ethnic or religious background. I don’t have the same religious beliefs as Krista, but I could immediately relate to her desire to live a little, and we share the common trait of NBSB (No Boyfriend Since Birth) at an age when people in our age group have gone through at least a few relationships.

And while Blake could easily have annoyed me, being yet another rich playboy ruined for everyone else after being with a virgin, the way he was so patient with Krista as she figured out what she wanted out of their relationship, and the role his family plays in his life, which I expect plays a role in the series going forward, won me over.

I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a refreshingly different romance that focuses on an ethnic group and locale that doesn’t have much of a presence in the current market, which has only started to have conversations around diversity in mainstream publishing.

Review of “Secrets of a Runaway Bride” (Secret Brides #2) by Valerie Bowman

Bowman, Valerie. Secrets of a Runaway Bride. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2013. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250008961 | 375 pages | Regency Romance

2 stars

Compared to the first book in the series, which I loved for its redefining of common romance tropes, this one embraces and flaunts some of the tropes I like the least wholeheartedly: the historical heroine who borders on TSTL and is ignorant about the consequences of risking her virtue for love repeatedly (first with another man, then with the hero), and the hero who has closed himself off to love because of an adolescent infatuation, becoming a seasoned rake, only to become unrealistically weak in the knees (and other parts of his anatomy) for an innocent in close proximity to him. The former is a shame, especially considering I thought I saw some character development and maturity in Annie in the prior book, only to have that not be reflected at all in this book.

I did find Jordan slightly more tolerable than Annie, as despite his lack of self-control, he does have something of a conscience, and by the end, he does right by her. But I couldn’t really see what the attraction was, aside from the physical, especially considering the fact that his good looks are referred to at least a dozen times.

However, I did enjoy the presence of the supporting cast. As annoying as Eggleston’s presence was, I wanted to know what was going on with him, considering how hot-and-cold he was toward Annie throughout the book. I don’t know if I could handle a book with him as the hero, but I would have liked greater clarity about why he led her on. I also continue to love Medford and the role he plays both as friend of the family and pamphlet publisher, and can’t wait to get my hands on his book to see how he finds his HEA.