Review of “No Ordinary Duke” (The Crawfords #1) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. No Ordinary Duke. [United States]: Sophie Barnes, 2018.

Paperback | $11.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1726259309 | 290 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

No Ordinary Duke is another sweet book from Sophie Barnes, and has a lot of promise as a series starter. One of the things I like about her work is that she writes heroes who are more likable rather than the standard alpha-douche. Even her dukes aren’t your typical, lording-over-everyone type, and, as the title suggests, Caleb is no exception. I love that he is working to balance his love for architecture and building things with his new, unexpected responsibilities as duke. And while the deception of hiding who he was did go on a trifle long, especially when he found out about Mary’s connection to his family, I ultimately appreciated how honorable he was.

Mary took a bit longer to get to know and like. However, I did come to warm to her and understand where she was coming from, especially with her past of having faced rejection by a marquess and being tossed out by her family to avoid scandal.

One of the main issues I had was with the pacing. I felt it worked well for the first half, because he was keeping this secret, but they were also falling in love. But once she was reconciled with her family and they started courting officially, it started to move at snail’s pace with nothing going on, which is saying a lot, as it’s not an overly long book, at least page wise. There was no conflict, no “dark” moment and reconciliation…everything seemed to be done too early and with the ending dragged out to fit the length of a novel.

On the whole, this was a good book, and I’ll definitely continue to look forward to more of Sophie Barnes’ work, even if this one wasn’t my favorite. But I would recommend this to fans of historical romance, especially those who love and look for nice guy heroes.

Review of “Empress of All Seasons” by Emiko Jean

Jean, Emiko. Empress of All Seasons. Boston/New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-0544530942 | 375 pages | YA Fantasy

3.5 stars

Empress of All Seasons has a great premise. I love the idea of a marriage competition that focuses on the prospective bride’s skill at facing down challenges, rather than just her superficial assets. Add to that the world-building steeped in Japanese mythology, and I was hooked.

While the story follows three central characters, Mari is the star of the novel and the one I rooted for. I love that the story plays off her yokai powers in the setup of her entering the competition to become the empress, with her being considered the “least attractive” of a type of yokai that entrance men into marriage and run off with their fortune. It was great to see a heroine in YA fantasy who has the right balance of enjoying being feminine, but is also very capable of handling herself and any conflicts that she runs into.

I did also kind of like the development of Akira’s issues with his identity as part-human, part yokai. But I more or less found both male protagonists a bit less interesting than Mari. While the dynamic doesn’t develop into a full-on love triangle, with Mari rejecting Akira, I didn’t feel either was truly a great love interest, or great characters I cared about. Taro in particular just didn’t win me over. I understand the rationale to an extent for their behavior, but I just didn’t get why one of them seemed to be hung up on her despite being rejected and the other was instantly in love with her while barely having known her that long.

This was a pretty solid multicultural YA fantasy effort, but bogged down by its attempts to incorporate romance into the story and share the focus between characters, one of whom was much more interesting than the others. However, there is a lot of promise here, and I would love to read more from this author, especially if she continues on in this world. I would recommend this to others who are interested in trying a diverse YA fantasy.

Review of “Virtue’s Lady” (The Southwark Saga #2) by Jessica Cale (Reread/Throwback Review)

Cale, Jessica. Virtue’s Lady. 2015. [United States]: Corbeau Media, 2017.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1511984263 | 327 pages | Historical Romance

4.5 stars

Original review available here.

After rereading Tyburn, I was eager to revisit the rest of the series. And while if there’s a weakest book in the series, this one might be it for me, it’s still a superb book, and it’s only a few notches below the others.

Once again, as I did with my reread of the prior book, I did find myself feeling a bit more sympathetic to Jane’s plight than I was the first time around, and I began to really take note of her transformation from spoiled brat who disrespects her servants to learning what it’s like to do honest work like them. And while her development still seems a little unrealistic at times, I did feel I was more or less convinced she was in her element in Southwark.

I still don’t find Mark as much to my taste as some of the other heroes in the series, but I do love his relationship with Jane, first respecting the fact that things are impossible between them, then being right by her side as she embraces life in Southwark.

I also really liked seeing the little hints of Meg’s vulnerability a little more in this one. While she definitely had her moments of not being the best person, and I still found it ridiculous that she laid claim to Mark despite not really being “with” him officially for years, I can stil understand her desire for stability when everyone else around her isn’t providing that.

This is a great second book by Jessica Cale, and, like its predecessor, it is just as good upon reread. I enthusiastically recommend this series to anyone looking for something new in historical romance.

Review of “Devil’s Daughter” (Ravenels #5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas, Lisa. Devil’s Daughter. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062890702 | 264 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Devil’s Daughter is a return in a few different ways for Lisa Kleypas: she revisits many of her beloved characters from the Wallflowers series, but on a more personal level for me, it’s a bit of a return to form for her, especially after the divisive misfire that was Hello Stranger, which I would even argue is almost skippable, but for West’s involvement, which is saying a lot as someone who prefers to read in order.

That brings me to one of the major reasons I adored this book. West himself is a character I loved from book one, and is one of the main things I still remember about the series, only having read each book once. And part of it is the way he is a character who has evolved into a better person from the wastrel he was before. West for me strikes the perfect balance between becoming a better person on his own and the needing someone to lean on after having been through such tough times. This can be hard path to walk without it seeming like the woman changes him purely through love, which I’ve often found unrealistic, so I appreciate the way he was written to be different.

I did not know what to expect from Phoebe, given that she was Evie and Sebastian’s daughter, and that’s the main thing that defined her prior to my meeting her as the heroine of this book. But I ended up really warming to her when I saw what Kleypas’ intent with her was. I loved that she was a caring soul, but the situation she’s left in in the wake of her husband’s death has left her a little out of her depth. I find that such an interesting dynamic, especially in terms of how that led to the beginnings of Phoebe and West’s relationship.

The one who stole the show for me, however, was Sebastian, formerly Lord St. Vincent, now Duke of Kingston. I vaguely remember some lovely scenes with him and Evie in their prior appearance in Devil in Spring, but I loved seeing them play a more prominent role, especially given the parallels between Sebastian’sand West’s respective pasts. There’s a lovely scene between Sebastian and West where West makes his claims that he’s not worthy of Phoebe, but Sebastian gives him the most amazing pep talk, and it’s everything I could have asked for and more.

This was, in short, my favorite book of the Ravenels series, capturing the magic both of the returning Wallflower characters and providing a satisfying HEA for my favorite character. This book is a must read for any Lisa Kleypas fan, and I would recommend this (after having read the Wallflowers and the other Ravenels books, with or without Hello Stranger) to anyone who loves a wonderfully nuanced, yet funny historical romance.

Review of “Unmask Me If You Can” (Survivors #4) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Unmask Me If You Can. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2018.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1727153989 | 334 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Each entry in Shana Galen’s Survivors series has struck a great balance between being action-packed and emotionally moving, and Unmask Me If You Can is no exception…in fact, it might be the most beautiful and moving of the entire series, because of the character growth for both hero and heroine.

Jasper was a character who intrigued me from the first book in the series, and I was glad getting to know more about him didn’t disappoint. Galen strikes the right balance with him between him being ashamed of his physical scars while also battling emotional guilt, all without it being overly angsty or heavy-handed. IT was beautiful to see his confidence grow from hiding in the shadows to confidently coming to the light to fight for the woman he loves.

But the real star for me is Olivia. I could empathize with all her fear in the aftermath of her sexual assault, and applauded her courage in facing down her assailant, who was more determined than ever to possess and degrade her, due to the way Society worked in his favor.

I also love the beautiful way consent was emphasized in Jasper and Olivia’s relationship. Some might think it ridiculous, but I feel like, especially given the stories that have come to light in the wake of the #MeToo Movement, there needs to be more discussions around consent and more clarity in terms of what consent is. Given that her assailant uses language that isn’t an unfamiliar defense, or at least it wasn’t not that long ago (” You said no, but inside, you wanted it”), I love that Jasper is such a gentleman, and applaud Galen for writing such a respectful hero.

This was a beautiful story, and one I loved from start to finish. I would recommend this to other fans of historical romances that deal with tough topics.

Review of “The Well of Ascension” (Mistborn #2) by Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson, Brandon. The Well of Ascension. New York: Tor, 2007.

Hardcover | $29.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0765316882 | 590 pages | Fantasy

4.5 (ish?) stars

I went in to The Well of Ascension with similar expectations that I did to the first book, but aware from what I had heard that there was a shift in that this one was much slower, and that while for a lot of people it didn’t work for them, it has become the underrated favorite of the series among the BookTubers I watch. Thus, I did find myself having a lot of mixed feelings, as while I did like, and even love a lot of the book, I did feel like the pacing was more of a negative for me.

That said, I did still enjoy the book for the most part. I was curious to know where the story could go after the defeat of a Great Evil that is built up so much in the first book, and Sanderson delivers, offering twists to the narrative to make it feel fresh. And even if some of the reveals did feel a little obvious, I continue to appreciate that he tries to do something different than a lot of classic, “traditional” epic fantasy.

I enjoyed seeing Vin grow as a character as well. She grows a lot in this one, overcoming quite a few challenges and inner struggles. But I was even more won over by Elend. He was a character I wasn’t really sure about in book one, but he definitely grew on me in this one, especially with the focus on his role as a new king, and all the intrigue that comes with that new role. And while I’m not one hundred percent sold on the romance between them, I think the feelings were conveyed a bit better this time around, especially with both of them being a bit more fleshed out.

And while the cast did grow a bit, an as such it did feel a bit more harder to become invested in everyone as people, I continue to love Sazed as a secondary character. He is such a lovely, sweet character, and seeing him and Tindwyl was heartwarming.

In short, this book was enjoyable, in spite of any pacing issues. But there definitely seems to be a trend of people either loving this one and not being massively wowed by book one, or vice versa, and only a few who love both equally. That being said, I think it’s worth reading if you’ve read the first book, regardless of whether that one worked for you or not stylistically.

Review of “Wicked and the Wallflower” (Bareknuckle Bastards #1) by Sarah MacLean

MacLean, Sarah. Wicked and the Wallflower. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062692061 | 404 pages |
Regency Romance

3 stars

Wicked and the Wallflower was a DNF for me when it first came out, due to a combination of just not liking the tropes (revenge plot at the expense of the heroine, broody alpha hero) and feeling like it was a step back in comparison to some of MacLean’s other recent titles featuring books with more immediately empathetic heroes, like Haven in The Day of the Duchess. But completionist that I am, I fully intended to go back to it sometime between them and the next book’s release, as Beast as a secondary character was intriguing, and I’m kind of a series completionist, unless a book commits real offenses against my sensibilities.

And it turned out taking time away was good for me with this book, as it allowed me to not only gain some perspective that led to me to appreciate the book more, but to muster up the zest to finish the book in a matter of hours. However, I remain conflicted, as the problems I have with this book are still there. But they are not outweighed by the positives. While I did not feel a strong connection to either Devil (I still cringe every time a romance author decides to call her “dangerous” hero that) or Felicity, I did feel that they had believable chemistry, and the banter between them translated well into a romance. While I still find the overall premise of her being a pawn for him to gain his revenge problematic, I felt MacLean navigated a fine line between making him very flawed and showing that he has a stronger character than his brother, the Duke for the most part.

The secondary characters are also pretty good. I quite liked Beast, and look forward to seeing what goes down in his book. And Grace was great, and I hope beyond hope that the series does not go in the direction of pairing off Ewan and Grace, given the hints of their toxic dynamic, and his just awful personality in general.

The real negatives that I have are some areas where the book verges on the absurd. It’s remarked on several times that the name “Felicity Faircloth” has a “fairy-tale” quality to it, and that’s all well and good, but when reading Devil calling her by her full name over got repetitive and annoying. Not to mention the eye-roll-inducing title names given to Felicity’s parents and brother, Marquess and Marchioness of Bumble and Earl Grout. I know coming up with creative title names is hard without using a real one or one another author has already used, but surely the names could have been better than that?

I also felt a bit unsatisfied with the way the “duke competition” aspect was explained, especially in the context of inheritance law in relation to illegitimate children. I am hoping it gets elaborated on better in future books, as it was hinted at, but things did not fully make sense.

On the whole, I had very mixed feelings, but it is an improvement on what I felt upon first putting the book down last summer. I am aware that I am in the minority, and this is a well-loved book, and would recommend that fans of Sarah MacLean’s writing or similar books with broody alpha heroes give this a go if they haven’t.

Review of “The Matchmaker’s List” by Sonya Lalli

Lalli, Sonya. The Matchmaker’s List. 2017. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0451490940 | 352 pages | Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit

3 stars

The Matchmaker’s List was a much more disappointing read than I thought it would be, largely due to making a hash out of what is a good premise. But even so, it does still have some good qualities, most relating to the main setup of the story.

I love getting a look at the dynamics of love, dating, and marriage in different cultures, and this one did that relatively well, especially in terms of demonstrating the extended family’s involvement in an individual’s love life. The relationship between Raina and her grandmother isn’t perfect, and they don’t see eye-to-eye, but I love their slightly dysfunctional relationship all the same, especially when you see how both are affected by Raina’s flake of a mother, who the grandmother failed to rein in. Even when Raina messes up (and boy, does she), it’s obvious she’s doing it out of some form of love for her grandmother, just as the grandmother is doing what she does out of love for her.

That brings me to a discussion of the negative and problematic elements. This book unfortunately suffers from what I have started to call it “the Big Lie Syndrome,” where the plot gets out of control because our protagonist tells one lie that expands into more lies, and delays telling the truth. And what a lie it is. While I admit I wasn’t massively bothered by her lying about being gay, especially as I read on and saw what Lalli was trying to say about the conservative views among Indian immigrant families and breaking down those barriers, it still felt incredibly disingenuous to have this lie forgiven at the end, especially by actual LGBTQ characters, one of whom comes out to her at one point in the book. The grandma, I can understand, but I don’t know if I would have been so forgiving if I was in those other characters’ shoes.

I also found myself annoyed that she spent so much time mooning over a guy who clearly was only available when it was convenient for him, to the point of not even seeing a great guy right in front of her, just because she wasn’t willing to date a non-Indian. While she comes around in the end and I did feel that she had a solid arc, I questioned her intelligence when it came to her choice of an ideal romantic partner at times.

All that being said, this is still a decent book, with great ideas, even if they did get a little lost in execution. I would recommend this to those who are looking for a multicultural romantic comedy, and also don’t mind an incredibly flawed heroine.

Review of “The Lady’s Guard” (Sinful Brides #3) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Lady’s Guard. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017.

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1477848920 | 308 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Lady’s Guard is a wonderful book, and once again demonstrates Christi Caldwell’s skill at crafting emotionally moving stories with beautifully flawed characters.

I didn’t know what to expect from Diana as a heroine going in, given that she didn’t make a massive impression in the last two books, but I ended up loving her character from the very first pages. I could empathize with feeling tainted due to the fact that she feared inheriting her mother’s “madness,” and could also relate to the complex relationship she had with her father, especially given the last two books saw him developing relationships with the illegitimate children he sired with the woman he truly loved.

As for Niall, he has now surpassed Ryker as my favorite hero of the series. While all the brothers have been through a lot, both collectively and individually, I feel like his experience is the one that I found the most emotionally impactful. And despite it seeming unlikely at first, I really liked seeing tough-guy Niall and sweet Diana banter and get under each other’s skin, as it was done in such a beautiful way.

This is a wonderful book in a great series. I would recommend this to fans of historical romance that has deep, layered characters and situations that test them.

Review of “The Clockmaker’s Daughter” by Kate Morton

Morton, Kate. The Clockmaker’s Daughter. New York: Atria Books, 2018.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1451649390 | 485 pages | Historical Fiction

2.5 stars

Kate Morton is an author I enjoyed quite a bit in the past, but found myself having some difficulty getting into her last release, The Lake House. So, when I heard about The Clockmaker’s Daughter, I was interested in picking it up, but not overly eager to do so. And now that I have, I have mixed feelings.

Morton has a beautiful and evocative writing style that always gives me the sense that I’m actually in the places she describes, in this case a stately manor near the Thames. She also manages to capture the voice of the central historical character she’s writing about beautifully, in this case the spirit-character, Birdie. She has such a powerful voice, and even as I waited for it all to come together, I still found myself captivated by those chapters.

However, I did feel like it took a bit too long to come together, and I found myself a bit confused at times, what with all the skipping about through time. And despite there being quite a few characters in these different time periods the only one who really stood out aside from Birdie was Edward, due to the mystery being so focused on him. And while there are obvious connections between the time periods, the book falls into the common problem with multi-timeline stories where we don’t really spend enough time with anyone to see them develop or get attached to them, with a few exceptions.

In general, this wasn’t really for me, although it did have a lot of promise. That being said, I think it’s still worth giving it a shot after looking into the varying opinions on the book, especially if you’ve liked Kate Morton in the past, or are interested in complex, intricate stories.