Review of “The Hollow of Fear” (Lady Sherlock #3) by Sherry Thomas

Thomas, Sherry. The Hollow of Fear. New York: Berkley, 2018.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0425281420 | 326 pages | Historical Mystery

4.5 stars

The Hollow of Fear is yet another great installment in the Lady Sherlock mystery series. One of the highlights of this one was the developing relationship between Charlotte and Lord Ingram. Despite the fact that it did start off in an morally problematic place in book one, the circumstances of both the last book and this one clear the way for them to potentially have a future together…although not quite yet.

As for Charlotte herself, I continue to find her an endearing and strong heroine, although I did find her fondness of sweets and the way it was handled this time around grated on me a bit more. Don’t get me wrong, I love a heroine that has an acknowledged vice, but there’s a way to acknowledge them, especially this one, without it feeling like the author is shaming the heroine for them. While this is definitely up for interpretation, and anything concerning the issue of weight and eating habits can be a slippery slope, I did feel it just felt a bit overly emphasized in a negative way.

But the mystery was, like the previous installments, well-crafted, and I enjoyed the revelations that tied the mystery together in a way I did not expect, as well as connecting it to some of the ongoing plotlines, like Moriarty and the Marbletons. While some of this was foreshadowed in the previous books, especially A Conspiracy in Belgravia, I found myself especially shocked about the final plot twist where Lady Ingram was concerned, especially since so little about her family life prior to her marriage was confided in the previous books.

I would recommend this book (and series) to fans who are looking for a new twist on Sherlock Holmes, or to those who are into fun and original historical mysteries. While this series is based on classic characters, it is a great series in its own right.

 

 

 

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Review of “An Affair with a Spare” (Survivors #3) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. An Affair with a Spare. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492638957 | 406 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

An Affair with a Spare is another great installment in what is shaping up to be a fantastic series. And this one is Shana at her best, combining steamy romantic tension with a heart-pounding espionage plot with lives at stake.

While I’m not typically a fan of the rakish-hero-with-a-hidden-vulnerable-side, Galen imbues Rafe with a likability and relatability that is often missing in heroes of this type. He’s incredibly charming, but he’s also intelligent, and is a truly caring person at heart, even if he doesn’t realize it at first. While I had read stories where the hero met the heroine through some kind of investigation before, with this being a secret he kept from her, I truly could feel the evolution from his thinking about her as “just an assignment” to coming to truly see her as a friend, then falling in love with her.

And I love Collette for being different from the standard romance heroine in the best ways. She’s not an innocent, and I love that she is willing to put herself in a dangerous position in order to save her father’s life. Despite the fact that her father does not get a lot of page time, the impact he has clearly had on her life is beautiful, and was another highlight of the novel.

One of the consistent things I continue to love is the banter between the Survivors and how well they work together and influence each other. I loved the interaction between Rafe and Ewan in particular, where they go through a hilarious conversation where Rafe muses about being like Ewan in order to think of new ways to plan his seduction strategy, and Ewan’s response is just relief that Rafe isn’t asking to him to think like him.

I would recommend this book to fans of historicals that are lighthearted, with a mix of both emotional depth and high action. This combination can be hard to pull off, and I think Galen does it magnificently in this book.

Review of “The Lost Girl” (Fear Street Relaunch #3) by R.L. Stine

Stine, R.L. The Lost Girl. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2015. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250051639 | 261 pages | YA Mystery/Horror

3 stars

In antcipation of Halloween (and with the next session of our class on YA materials being on Halloween), I decided to read one of the newer Fear Street books, especially since the older ones, along with Goosebumps, were one of my brief obsessions when I was growing up and I wanted to see if and how the series had changed. And formula-wise, it is pretty much the same, with not a lot to recommend to an older audience. But, given that some in the older audience may also be approaching it with  a sense of nostalgia, there may be some elements that might appeal to them as well.

One of the things I enjoyed was that the original ambiance of the series, with there being creepy things that can’t be explained that are rooted in the dark past of Fear Street was kept, while also trying to maintain a sense of normalcy in terms of what the teenagers were interested in and their priorities. I enjoyed that, even if it does require an extreme suspension of disbelief, this remained consistent, even decades later, despite the fact that Stine probably is one of the authors who probably also employs ghostwriters.

However, I did question some of the structural choices, as it didn’t really work for me. It might work for someone else in its intended audience, but for me, the extended “prologue” section made the plot twists seem a bit lame and anticlimactic. The only one that I thought was well-executed was the reason behind all the “accidents” that befall Michael’s circle of friends, as the reason why leads to a moral quandary that I did not expect from this otherwise lackluster plot.

As I said before, I would say this isn’t really a book that a lot of the older crowd will really enjoy if they’re looking for a story that makes sense. But I think, for something of a nostalgia trip into the world of Fear Street, this isn’t completely terrible.

 

Review of “Wrong to Need You” (Forbidden Hearts #2) by Alisha Rai

Rai, Alisha. Wrong to Need You. New York: Avon Books, 2017. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062566751 | 358 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Wrong to Need You is a yet another wonderful book by Alisha Rai, perhaps even better than the first book in the series. I love how she continues to explore the rich, colorful histories and relationships between her characters and presents the extensive supporting cast as characters to become invested in, while also balancing that with just the right amount of heat and emotion between Jackson and Sadia.

I love the way she wrote Jackson and Sadia’s respective private issues in a way that makes them relatable. A hero with a ton of baggage and a chip on his shoulder can often be unattractive, due to the way they brood constantly, but with Jackson in particular, Rai makes him sympathetic by showing how he managed to build a new life for himself with his talent as a chef, while also showing how reluctant he is to deal with issues from the past. With Sadia, I liked how, in spite of the fact that her character was built around being the black sheep of the family, she also has some of her family’s traits of being uptight, as shown through a panic attack she has and a later discussion with her sisters.

Having now met Sadia’s family, I do hope we haven’t seen the last of them, and that there might be a story in the future for Jia, especially since her choice of an alternate career path is a subplot of this book. Given the nature of her chosen new career and its relevance right now, I would love to see that represented in fiction.

I would recommend this to fans of mulilayered multicultural romance. This book presents a great balance of family/culture and steamy romance, so if anyone is looking for something that expertly combines both with ease, pick this one up.

 

 

Review of “Caught in Time” (Kendra Donovan #3) by Julie McElwain

McElwain, Julie. Caught in Time. New York: Pegasus Books, 2018. C

Hardcover | $25.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1681777665 | 449 pages | Historical Mystery/Time Travel

4.5 stars

Caught in Time is yet another wonderful installment in the Kendra Donovan series. And while there are still some errors in titles and forms of address, to the point where I couldn’t keep straight who a key character who the story was, it’s otherwise a solid book, with a mystery that kept me guessing and great development of the recurring characters and their relationships with one another.

I love that there was not only a great last-minute twist that was incredibly foreshadowed, but that the murderer also connects to the initial incident that brought Kendra back in time as well. While I like that most mystery series often keep the mystery elements self-contained to each individual book, I like that in this case, it provided greater insight into the circumstances that may have brought Kendra back in time, and I hope this is something explored further in the next book.

I have grown to love this wonderful cast of characters over the course of the three books and love the complexities that come from time travel and Kendra having a different worldview from the others. This especially plays a role in her relationship with Alec, which turned into an affair in the last book, and in this one, they discuss their feelings for one another, bringing about the difference in their values. I’m hoping that eventually things will change between them, as I’m really rooting for them to work, regardless of the obstacles.

And I have truly grown to love the Duke of Aldridge, both as a person and a father/mentor figure to Kendra. They have some great interactions in the book, including one where they discuss the injustice that a man can beat his wife. While a lot of other people might be a little awkward around Kendra and her modern ways, I love that the Duke is forward-thinking and that their values align in a lot of ways.

I would recommend this to fans of the Regency setting, murder mysteries, or time travel stories…or all of the above. While it may not be the absolutely perfect story in some aspects, it truly is a unique mash-up of genres, and one that I think would appeal to quite a lot of people.

 

 

Review of “Silk is for Seduction” (The Dressmakers #1) by Loretta Chase

Chase, Loretta. Silk is for Seduction. New York: Avon Books, 2011. 

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0061632686 | 371 pages | Historical Romance

3.5 stars

Loretta Chase is one of the well-known, prolific romance authors who somehow passed me by when I was discovering the genre. But I was motivated to pick this one up after winning a recent giveaway of book four in the series. And while there were things I liked about this one, it felt more lackluster, and hope the series improves as it goes along.

One thing I loved even before diving into the story was the little epigraphs containing from real newspapers and magazines of the day, and, as I read, connecting them to the plot elements of the story. It shows Chase has done extensive research into the period, and sprinkles it in, along with a lot more than I thought I wanted to know about dressmaking in the 1830s.

I also liked that, while the heroine’s family are set up to be swindlers and thieves, instead of following the common trope of making her deviate from them and be unrealistically lily-white and innocent, she is independent, charming, and can be a bit manipulative. I love that she didn’t care about the consequences of pursuing Clevedon to receive his potential future duchess’s patronage, although she did try to keep her distance and set limits when things went beyond business.

As for Clevedon, I found him less inspiring. He wasn’t as bad as I feared, given that he’s presented as a rake, and he’s also an arrogant duke. I did like that he treated her as an equal, not talking down to her, and that he was the one who was trying to persuade her that societal judgment didn’t matter to him, instead of being the one to reject her, but other than that, I really didn’t feel a lot for him, and I didn’t get the sense that their relationship and their reason for being attracted to, and later, in love with, one another was well defined beyond the physical and sexual attraction, and maaaybe the fact that he bonds with her daughter.

However, I am excited to read the other books to see what the supporting characters get up to. I’m hoping that Lady Clara plays a supporting role in future books again leading up to gettting her own, without stealing the show as much as she did this time around, because while I did love her, and can’t wait to read about her journey to HEA, I felt she took over this book a little more than she needed to.

I’m really not sure who to recommend this to, as I’m sure most people who read romance have already read Loretta Chase, and, in retrospect, this is not the one I would have started with. But this might be a good one if you happen to have read her before and somehow missed this one, or if you happen to like dressmakers, dukes, or heroines who are a bit different from the norm.

Review of “Flame in the Mist” (Flame in the Mist #1) by Renee Ahdieh

Ahdieh, Renee. Flame in the Mist. New York: New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2017. 

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399171635 | 392 pages | Young Adult Historical Fantasy

5 stars

Flame in the Mist is yet another example of Renee Ahdieh’s skill as a writer, once again combining elegant prose with compelling characters and a rich cultural setting. I commend Ahdieh for the research she did into the culture and language of Japan, and while there may be things I’m missing due to lack of real familiarity with the culture, I felt she did it justice.

I love Mariko as a heroine, and admired her ability to take action against those who tried to kill her by infiltrating their group. And while I wasn’t sure about it at first, I quickly grew to love Okami, the leader of the gang. Their relationship is one that grows from antagonism to love as her secrets are revealed, and it not only feels like a natural progression, but it shows what a wonderful character he is himself, for admiring her as an equal.

I think fans of Renee Ahdieh’s Wrath and the Dawn duology who somehow haven’t picked this one up yet would enjoy this one. And although I’m aware people’s opinions on multicultural stories can be subjective, I think this would also appeal to fans of well-written, atmospheric multicultural stories in general, because Ahdieh not only shows her knowledge of Japanese history culture, but she shows her respect for it.

Review of “Archer’s Voice” by Mia Sheridan

Sheridan, Mia. Archer’s Voice. Cincinnati, OH: Mia Sheridan, 2014. 

Paperback | $14.99 USD (price of Forever/Grand Central Publishing edition) | ISBN-13: 978-1495390906 | 330 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Archer’s Voice was recommend to me by a friend in one of my book groups, and I dove in as soon as I could. The friend said it was a book with a virgin hero, and I loved the concept of two people who had faced trauma finding hope and healing through each other.

Archer is the standout of the novel. He has been through so much in the way of family drama and violence, which rendered him mute since he was seven years old, and later he became a recluse. There were many times when I just wanted to hug him, because he’s so precious, and he was treated so wrongly by his family, some out of malice and by others out of ignorance.

The relationship that builds between him and Bree is truly beautiful. While it does have its bumps in the road, it never feels like something that happened just because of a lack of communication, and the pacing of their fall into love feels so authentic and not insta-love or based purely on the sexual part of their relationship (although that is a component of the story).

I also have to praise Sheridan for not making the villains in the family drama feel one-note, giving the family a well-drawn backstory that explains their motivations for the surviving members’ antagonistic feelings for one another.

I recommend this book to anyone looking for a deep, emotional contemporary romance that with compelling, relatable characters and a rich, heartbreaking backstory.

 

Review of “No Earls Allowed” (Survivors #2) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. No Earls Allowed. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2018. 

Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492639015 | 377 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

No Earls Allowed was not only an improvement on its predecessor, but checked all the boxes for me when it came to what I look for in a romance. An untitled hero, who also happens to a be virgin? A heroine who isn’t interested in society, engaging in more altruistic, sometimes dangerous, pursuits? A supporting cast of colorful characters, including a rambunctious and lovable group of children? Check, check, and check.

I love how nuanced Neil is as a hero. I love how his upbringing as the illegitimate son impacted some of the moral choices he made, and how it led to his decision to abstain from all sexual intercourse (but not any acts that could be considered precursors to it) to avoid bringing any more unwanted children into the world the way he was. This presents a nice change from the rakish heroes who have had scores of lovers in the past and, more often than not, have very few bastards, if they have any at all. I also liked how he managed to be an efficient army officer without coming off as being too autocratic, striking the balance the children needed between disciplinarian and nurturing father figure. even if the latter came about more reluctantly.

As with Juliana, it could have been easy for her character to come off as yet another rich debutante rebelling against her rich parent(s), but that is not her at all. I love how the loss of both her sister (through death) and subsequently her nephew (when his cruel father chose to take him away) inspired her to do good in the world and help out other children who may be in similar situations to her nephew, being unwanted, or born to parents who aren’t fit to take care of them.

I would recommend this one to fans of Regency romances, especially those that don’t fall into the typical tropes that populate the genre.

Review of “Thirteen Reasons Why” by Jay Asher

Asher, Jay. Thirteen Reasons Why. New York: Penguin, 2007, 

Paperback | 10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1595141880 | 288 pages | YA Fiction

5 stars

I had not read the book prior to watching the Netflix series, which I reviewed some time ago. But a recent school assignment has led to me finally taking the opportunity to read it, and I have to say, it was just as moving as the show, if not more so.

One thing I was surprised I loved was the format. I have often spoken of my difficulty with the first person present tense, especially when there is more than one narrator, but this is a story that could not have been written in any other fashion. Through the cassette tapes detailing her story, Hannah lets us into her life and the “reasons” that contributed to her decision to commit suicide.

But, as I have come to see being the case with narratives of this type, there are often questions about how reliable the narrator is, and I felt it especially in the final chapter when she decides to test Mr. Porter, recording their conversation as she attempts to ask for help. There is the question of whether she could have been more open, and whether she did the right thing by recording her experience “testing” him, and not fully disclosing her issues. On the one hand, there is something ethically unsound in what she does here, and the way she chooses to unleash the sequence of events the novel by having the tapes sent out to the people on the list. But, given the knowledge of what she’s been through and how it impacted her psyche, I cannot see her in a completely bad light.

Having Clay there and getting his thoughts on the tapes as I took them in also helped, as it presented the perspective of someone who didn’t do anything wrong, yet was inexplicably tied to her story too, and he helped in filling in the gaps and providing additional perspective. And through him, I could recognize the poignant portrayal of someone who cared about Hannah, but was pushed away, meaning he didn’t know what she was going through until it was too late.

Given the polarizing nature of both the book and the show and the severity of the subject matter, I think this is a book that everyone should read, and decide for themselves on which side of the spectrum they land, in terms of whether the story brings awareness to the issue and helps prevent suicide, or if it glorifies it and presents the idea of using suicide as a way to get revenge on those who wronged them.