Review of “The Summer Wives” by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. The Summer Wives. New York: William Morrow, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062660343 | 367 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

The Summer Wives is Beatriz Williams at her best: she excels in crafting multilayered stories that sometimes may seem a little disjointed initially, but come together in a haunting way as the story unfolds.

And this is exactly what happens in this suspenseful tale, combining the perspectives of young Bianca in the 1930s, falling in love with Hugh Fisher, who is engaged to another woman with the past and present of Miranda, whose mother marries Hugh when she’s a teenager. I love how Williams, through the split timelines, builds the suspense surrounding Hugh’s murder, and whether Joseph, who entered a star crossed love affair with Miranda in the 1951 arc, reignited after his escape from prison in 1969.

I enjoyed how well it reflected the issues of the eras the story was set in as well, especially the portion in 1969, given its continued relevance to conversations being had in pop culture today. Miranda discusses how, as an actress, she gets pigeonholed into certain roles, and her estranged director husband played a large role in this.

I would recommend this book to fans of multilayered, multi-timeline historical fiction.

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Review of “The Highwayman” (Victorian Rebels #1) by Kerrigan Byrne

Byrne, Kerrigan. The Highwayman. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2015. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250076052 | 370 pages | Historical Romance

3.5 stars

The Highwayman is not my normal type of book. While I had heard numerous people rave about this book (and this series), noting how its emotional depth made them cry, I was reluctant, based on the tagline that included the words “rebels,” “scoundrels,” and “blackguards,” the reviews that were more on the negative side, highlighting some of Dorian’s more toxic behavior. But due to suffering from severe FOMO, and wanting to finally see what the fuss was about, I took the plunge and picked this one up.

One of the first things I noticed was Byrne’s writing. She depicts the dark, gritty world of Victorian Britain with such poise from the very first pages, sucking me in and not letting me go, aided by the fast pace and constant twists and turns.

Farah is a great heroine. I liked that she had a strength of will that made her Dorian’s equal in the relationship, more or less, particularly when it came to negotiating the terms of their union.

I was less taken with Dorian, for obvious reasons, as while some maybe into anti-heroes, or even outright villains, as the heroes of their romance novels, I’m not one of those people. I did feel sympathy for him, but he made it difficult with the massive chip on his shoulder, and his propensity to emotionally push Farah away while also being overly possessive and jealous of her, including accusing her of considering being with another man right after rescuing her from the clutches of a conniving villain who wants to murder her. Considering his issues, I found the idyllic ending that flashes forward several years a bit too optimistic. For romance readers who can suspend disbelief and believe in the fantasy, I think it would work, but as someone who could not help but compare this to a real life toxic relationship, I could not help but poke holes in this much-too-happy-ending.

The supporting cast who live with Dorian are wonderful, and I love their contributions to the story. Frank brought a welcome dose of levity to an otherwise dark story, and I hope to see more of him going forward. And, in conjunction with Dorian’s own experiences in Newgate, I was deeply moved by Murdoch’s story, being a homosexual man imprisoned for his “crimes,” which touched on another facet of the dark reality of life during the Victorian era that I knew little about previously.

Review of “Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating” by Christina Lauren

Lauren, Christina. Josh and Hazel’s Guide to Not Dating. New York: Gallery Books, 2018.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501165856 | 309 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Every time I think Christina Lauren can’t top themselves, I seem to find myself proved wrong with every new book of theirs I pick up. And while the other books I’ve read from them have each been wonderful and special in their own ways, there were quite a few reasons I enjoyed this one.

For one, this is one of the most fun friends-to-lovers books I’ve ever read. I love how well Josh and Hazel play off each other, with a firm foundation of a genuine friendship that includes seeing each other at their worst, that easily translates into something more…even if they don’t realize it initially, due to their perceived incompatibility.

Josh as a hero is really special to me, as while romance novels often fall into the standard formula of the hero typically being the one I want to fall in love with, and the heroine being the one I’d like to be like or be friends with, I found Josh filled both roles well. Part of it had to do with his family and Korean heritage, which resonated with me as I’m part Korean. I also have immense respect for the authors and their depiction of Josh and his family, making his ethnic background part of him without fetishizing him or making him a stereotype, and instead making him a fully fleshed out person.

That’s not to say that Hazel didn’t resonate with me as well. I can relate to her awkwardness, and while she is zany and quirky, it’s never to the point of being annoying.  And as I’m fascinated with books that don’t fall into standard romance archetypes, I like that she’s the one that had a lot of casual sexual experience, stemming from the drama of an intense on-and-off past relationship, contrasting with Josh, who is known as a “serial monogamist.”

I would recommend this book to anyone who loves laugh-out-loud romantic comedies with quirky heroines.

Review of “Empire of Storms” (Throne of Glass #5) by Sarah J. Maas

Maas, Sarah J. Empire of Storms. New York: Bloomsbury Children’s Books, 2016. 

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1619636071 | 693 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Empire of Storms is another decent installment of the Throne of Glass series. While some of the flaws from the last installment or two do carry over, it does also improve on some of them, as some of the bits that felt disjointed in terms of the different characters in different locations finally coming to interact with one another. And despite being longer than the prior two books, it does feel a lot faster paced, in part due to this development, and in part due to there being a lot more going on. And I found Manon and Elide a lot more interesting this time around as well, knowing how their arcs fit in with the others.

And despite my initial dissatisfaction with the progression of Aelin and Rowan’s relationship from friends and colleagues to lovers, their relationship grew on me this time around, as I saw how much they cared for each other. And given the uncertainty of her fate by the end of the book, I felt this provided proof of the depth of their feelings for one another. However, it did start to feel a little much after the first few books of being relatively tame in terms of content, to have them (but especially Rowan) be all over each other. While it is somewhat familiar to readers of  the ACOTAR books, it’s something that might be a bit worrying for a younger reader who expected the series to remain more consistent in terms of the sexual content.

I think fans of the series or readers who stuck it out through some of the previous books, despite the subpar moments, as I did, would probably like this one, and much more than the previous installments. But as I said for the previous book, it is really only worth it if you have the investment with the series and the characters, and if you’re reading them “just because” and you find yourself hating them, it might not be worth it to keep going.

 

 

Review of “The Glass Ocean” by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

Williams, Beatriz, et. al. The Glass Ocean. New York: William Morrow, 2018. 

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062642455 | 408 pages | Historical Fiction

4.5 stars

The second Willig, White, and Williams collaboration, The Glass Ocean, once again shows the writing talents of all three authors, as well as their remarkable ability to write a novel that flows well together in a seamless manner, just as they did with their previous effort. And once again, I was delighted with the characters and the twists and turns the interweaving narratives brought along the way.

My investment with the past storyline on the Lusitania evolved over time. At first, when I thought this was going to be a love triangle story where one of the participants was also married, and the husband is not a part of the triangle (perhaps it’s a love square instead?) I was skeptical. And while that is a plot point, I enjoyed that it panned out in a way I didn’t expect, especially given the fact that, while Caroline does have passionate feelings for Robert from their long acquaintance, she also does love her husband. And despite Robert’s lingering feelings for Caroline, he does establish a relationship with Tess as well, although for some reason, I still did not expect things to turn out the way it did. I am happy with the somewhat unconventional happy ending, however.

The present day storyline with Sarah and John, was fun, although I enjoyed it more for the aspect of connecting the dots of what eventually happened with Robert Langford and the others than most of the plot elements of that arc itself. But that’s not to say these elements weren’t worth reading at times. I did like the early scene where Sarah discovers she’s visiting a book club who pirated her book, as it’s something a lot of authors can relate to, and more readers should be aware of its impact on authors, not to mention the difference between a legitimate library that paid for the book and a pirate site.

I was also once again mystified as to who wrote what, as initially, the setup for Sarah’s arc felt reminiscent of Willig’s Pink Carnation series. Will they ever reveal who wrote what for either of their books, especially since some of the readers more well-versed in their backlists may have figured it out? I have a few of my own educated guesses, based on what I’ve read from all three of them, although I’d still love to know sometime down the road.

Regardless, it is a wonderful collaboration, and I think fans of any of their books, or fans of multi-timeline historical fiction will love it.

Review of “Third Son’s a Charm” (Survivors #1) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Third Son’s a Charm. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2017. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492657033 | 408 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Third Son’s a Charm and the Survivors series in general was what originally inspired me to start reading Shana Galen’s books, as I was looking for traditionally published authors who frequently wrote about heroes who weren’t titled. And despite taking a lot longer than I intended to to finally read this one, I very much enjoyed it.

One of the major strengths of the book, is, of course, the hero. My heart truly hurt for Ewan when I read about his struggles dealing with “word blindness” (what we now know as dyslexia), and the abuse and rejection he faced from his father and others because of it. Yet, I also love that he didn’t lose the capacity form other attachments, as while he does have difficulty understanding what it is to love when thinking about his feelings for Lorraine, he has a close bond with his comrades that he served with as a soldier.

Lorraine grated on me a little bit, as she is somewhat TSTL in taking so long to grasp that Francis doesn’t care about her. But, when I put it in context with the fact that she was pretty sheltered, in combination with being incredibly headstrong, I did understand where she was coming from a little more. And as she bonded with Ewan, another side to her came out that was nurturing of him and his potential to learn to read.

I also liked how, while initially, the scenes between her parents just seemed like a subplot that could go either way in terms of being good or being one of the duller parts of the book, it did tie together in the end. I loved how the parents worked out their differences and worked to make sure that their daughter was sure of what she wanted, so she wouldn’t be in a similar situation to theirs a few decades down the road.

I think fans of fun historical romances will enjoy this, especially if they love quirky heroines and brooding, but good-hearted heroes.

 

Review of “Tiffany Blues” by M.J. Rose

Rose, M.J. Tiffany Blues. New York: Atria Books, 2018

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501173592 | 316 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

I went into Tiffany Blues knowing almost nothing about the subject matter, aside from the name, but as is often the case with historical fiction, I find myself astonished to learn more. I loved learning about Louis Comfort Tiffany and his interest in fostering the talent of young burgeoning artists, including Jenny, the heroine of the book, which surprised me, as while there is the presence of jewelry in the book, it was interesting to learn more about what the Tiffany family were known for. Either way, the subject matter of the novel presents plenty of opportunities for vivid colors and art, just as the cover promises.

I for the most part enjoyed Jenny as a protagonist, and how she is determined to put the dark past of what happened with her mother and stepfather behind her. And when the past comes back to haunt her, I felt that this is one of the cases where it was pretty obvious who was trying to get back at her, and in addition, I wasn’t fully certain of what the culprit who was trying blackmail her actually wanted, what with it being resolved a bit too neatly. However, I did think the reveal of how he was connected to her was unexpected.

And despite some of the romantic bits with Oliver feeling a little awkward in places, I did like how it was eventually resolved, with the acknowledgment of the Tiffany family’s expectations and not wanting to be brought down by someone who was more questionable, and then an epilogue years later that brings the best, belated ending for the relationship, while also showing the lives they lived in the meantime.

I would recommend this to any fan of historical fiction, especially those who are interested in vibrant early twentieth century art and jewelry.

Review of “The Love Letter” by Rachel Hauck

Hauck, Rachel. The Love Letter. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018. 

Paperback | $15,99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310351009 | 342 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Fiction/Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

The Love Letter is another great book by Rachel Hauck, about a time period I had long wanted to read about, and from a perspective that isn’t often talked about when the Revolutionary War is taught in schools. While I did note a few errors, chiefly when it came to editorial issues concerning persons from “across the pond” in England, it was the only flaw in what was otherwise a fun and entertaining book.

What I enjoyed most about the present day storyline was seeing how Chloe and Jesse navigated not only their personal woes, but issues with the film industry as well. As an outsider looking in, being a movie star or director looks so glamorous, but having to deal with all of those production issues along with all of that personal baggage sounds terrible. But I enjoyed living it through Chloe and Jesse’s eyes, and exploring how they let go of some of their difficulties in the past to finally pursue of a relationship with each other.

Inevitably, I did enjoy the past storyline involving Hamilton and Esther more, and the new perspective it brings by focusing on the doomed love between a Patriot and a Loyalist in the South. And while fate does conspire against them having their own happy ending, I love the way their story connects to the present storyline, so Chloe and Jesse can, in some way, be a fulfillment of the happy ending that Hamilton and Esther were meant to have.

This is a great read for those who love stories with dual timelines. It would also be worth reading for someone who wants to read about an aspect of the Revolutionary War that isn’t often discussed outside of more serious academic research.

Review of “Accursed Abbey” (Nobles & Necromancy #1) by Tessa Candle

Candle, Tessa.  Accursed Abbey. [United States]: Winding Path Books, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13:on  978-1772650174 | 320 pages | Gothic Regency Romance

4 stars

Tessa Candle is a new-to-me author, and I picked up Accursed Abbey on a whim, being drawn to the idea of a Gothic romance and intrigued by the blurb. And I definitely enjoyed myself, and will pick up more of her books in the future.

As befitting the Gothic atmosphere, Candle crafted a fast-paced story rife with twists and turns. While I admit I was much more drawn to the dark, sometimes supernatural, elements of the story than either of the main characters, especially the heroine, who seemed like a mere damsel in distress, I assume it’s par for the course for books in this subgenre (although I admit I could be wrong, not having the nostalgia that many other readers have, who grew up reading authors like Victoria Holt and her ilk might have).

I did enjoy the rest of the cast, like the honorable, Lord Maximilian “Mill” Canterbourne, and especially the great villain, Lord Orefados. While he is something of a cliche, the conventions of the genre make his character work.

I would recommend this to anyone who wants to read a fresh, new take on the Gothic subgenre, especially if they were a fan of books from the past written in the same vein. It might also appeal to readers of solely “modern” historicals like myself who are on the lookout for something a little different.

Review of “How to School Your Scoundrel” (Princesses in Hiding #3) by Juliana Gray

Gray, Juliana. How to School Your Scoundrel. New York: Berkley, 2014. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425265680 | 307 pages | Historical Romance

2.5 stars

Not having been overly enchanted with the prior book in the series, How to Master Your Marquis, I held off a long time before reading this. But I did want to come back to it, as, even though the execution of the plot and romance didn’t work, I liked Beatriz Williams’ style under both her own name and as Juliana Gray. Unfortunately, this one failed to deliver as  a stand alone romance, although it was slightly better at first at establishing some continuity with the intrigue built up in the prior two books, especially How to Tame Your Duke, my favorite of her books as JG.

I liked Luisa, but I didn’t feel the same connection with her that  I did with her sisters. But when it comes to the couple, she was the much better half, at least prior to the issue with the marriage of convenience. While I didn’t read the book in her prior series about Somerton’s wife and her lover, I could never really understand why she made Somerton the hero of this book. He’s not even a “scoundrel,” as the title suggests. And while I can understand your wife betraying you with another man must sting, I still felt that it made him hard to endure. And this also put a severe damper on any romantic potential early on, causing the book to draaag, and when things finally do pick up, it didn’t feel genuine. While I can respect that, even if his wife betrayed him, infidelity is not going to be something readers will always be comfortable with, that and the fact that he goes from not realizing Luisa’s a man to being content to marry her once he finds out, put a damper on any chemistry they might have had.

With that said, I now appreciate the author’s decision to move away from historical romances, as she did with her Emmaline Truelove series and focus more on the mystery and paranormal aspects, with a smattering of romance that feels more natural. She seems to have great ideas, but they’re not the sort that a romance reader might always be open to, although I can’t fully be certain, given that I haven’t read her other series yet. It might be worth reading if you like her writing style and you’re interested in different romances, but it was one of those books from this author that just didn’t work for me.