Review of “A Prince on Paper” (Reluctant Royals #3) by Alyssa Cole

Cole, Alyssa. A Prince on Paper. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062685582 | 377 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

A Prince on Paper has a lot of great ideas, but it is one of those books where it feels like the ideas all got jumbled up in execution. I found the setup appealing, with its setup that feels just slightly reminiscent of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle (whether that was Cole’s intent is uncertain, since the characters first made appeared in book one of the series, A Princess in Theory, which came out in 2017, and was likely in development for a while prior).

And the characters themselves are very likable and complex. Nya is dealing with a lot with her father in prison following his traitorous actions in A Princess in Theory, and Johan, behind his playboy facade, is deeply concerned about his younger brother and also dealt with loss in his past due to his mother’s death.

However, while the two of them being thrown together provided amusement at first, I found my investment in their potential as a couple flagging as the story grew more and more confusing. Ultimately, I found myself skimming more than actually reading, because the romance, especially once it hit the Big Misunderstanding, did not feel well executed.

However, I really appreciated the subplot surrounding Johan’s sibling, Lukas coming out as non-binary, and especially the discussion around the issue of proper pronouns not just in English but in other languages too, as well as promoting awareness and compassion for non-binary people. I hope that, given that Cole has announced plans for a spinoff series set in the same world, that that means Lukas will get their own book.

In summary, this book seems to have the same issue that the other two novels in the series had, of being poor executions of promising ideas, as well as trying to do a little too much, to the point of neglecting to make the central romance convincing, a problem which did not plague the novellas, due to their shorter length. However, this series is still fun and has great characters (the strongest part of the series overall), and I would still recommend them to those looking for diverse and fun contemporaries.

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Review of “There’s Something About Sweetie” (Dimple and Rishi #2) by Sandhya Menon

Menon, Sandhya. There’s Something About Sweetie. New York: Simon Pulse, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1534416789 | 378 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I was so excited to hear that Sandhya Menon was returning to the Dimple and Rishi-verse with this book, even if I wasn’t sure where she would take the world next, since it didn’t seem (at first) like there were characters with loose ends. And while I expected it to be great, since I really enjoyed Menon’s past two books, nothing really prepared me for how personally connected I’d feel with There’s Something About Sweetie. And that was because of the beautiful characterization of Sweetie herself.

As the world grapples with fat shaming, authors have tried to address it, to some extent in their books and to a greater extent in recent months on social media, to somewhat polarizing results (see: the debate surrounding Kristan Higgins’ 2018 release, Good Luck With That). But I feel like with this one, while Sweetie’s characterization still may not please everyone, I personally felt it was a wonderful depiction of body positivity, amid the wider societal stereotyping of fat people, unfortunately perpetuated in this one largely by Sweetie’s own mother. But I love that she has this confidence in herself and what she is capable of, leading to her willingness to confront any challenge, especially when it comes to showing her skill as a runner. While my own experience as a fat person is very different from hers, it’s nice to have a story that is life affirming and promoting self-love.

Despite more or less liking Ashish in his previous appearance, he didn’t immediately strike me as that compelling on meeting him again, in comparison to Sweetie, given that he’s presented at first as the standard jock character. But I liked that exploration of his character, going deeper into the fact that he was always made to feel less than Rishi, which I admit was my thought about him prior to getting know him. But there is so much that makes him the perfect counterpart for Sweetie. While their shared love for sports is a given, I love that he sees her as beautiful from the beginning, even if he isn’t sure at first about their relationship becoming something serious, since he’s still recovering from a breakup. And, like with Dimple and Rishi, I liked seeing how they each provided some sense of closure to their respective inner conflicts, with each of them being able to see and love the other for who they are, even if it’s implied that their families wish they could be someone else, or something different.

This book is absolutely amazing, and I’m so glad to see a book that, along with dealing with cultural issues of Indian American families, also tackles body image in such a refreshing and positive way. This is definitely recommended reading for uplifting fat representation.

Review of “The Claiming of the Shrew” (The Survivors #5) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. The Claiming in Shrew. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1094814841 | 378 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

After finishing the previous book, I was excited to hear that the next book, The Claiming of the Shrew, would follow Colonel Draven and his estranged wife, Catarina, especially since, once I started it, I saw it both began with and was building off her initial introductory short story, previously a perk only for newsletters subscribers that I actually did not read at the time, so I’m glad it was included.

One of the first things that shocked me, not having read the short before and only relying on context clues in Catarina’s brief appearance in Unmask Me If You Can, is that she’s actually significantly younger than Draven, being around twenty in the short, while Draven is about forty. And while May-December couples aren’t necessarily my favorite, I felt it worked with the dynamic here, and I enjoyed it throughout, especially as it really played into the problems they had to work through. She initially proposes a marriage of convenience due to needing protection, but later, they end up butting heads, due to her feeling imprisoned, and him trying to protect her from a man trying to do her harm, but going about it more like an autocrat and giving orders, as opposed to demonstrating his concern for her safety and love for her.

But in spite of the problems they worked through, I loved that they both were holding out for each other during their separation, even if Catarina felt forced to seek an annulment to appease the bad guys. And Draven remaining celibate out of respect for his wife is the sexiest thing. I feel it’s far too common in this setup where the couple is separated for an extended period, for whatever reason, for one (usually the man) or both to be with other people before something brings them back together, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially the latter. But I love a hero who is so devoted to someone, even if he doesn’t know he’ll see her again, that he can’t contemplate being with anyone else.

This is my favorite in the Survivors series, and while it’s not as emotionally intense in the issues it tackles in comparison to the last book, it’ makes up for it by being a beautiful, heartwarming love story that triumphs in spite of the danger the couple are in and the factors that could tear them apart. I would recommend it to all Regency romance fans.

Review of “Brotherhood in Death” (In Death #42) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Brotherhookd in Death. New York: Berkley Books, 2016.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170898 | 388 pages | Romanti Suspense

5 stars

Brotherhood in Death is one of the most masterfully crafted in the series since New York to Dallas, and it’s also one of the most personally appealing, because it’s another one that personally impacts someone in the recurring cast of characters. I really love Eve’s relationship with not just Dr. Charlotte Mira, but also Charlotte’s husband, Dennis, so seeing him as a key witness and potential victim and exploring more of the dynamic he has with Eve is incredibly sweet.

The case was also another of those that delved into the issues of morality and justice, and how, once again, when you’re a cop, it shouldn’t matter to you the type of character the victim or victims had, and even if they committed genuine wrongs to the perpetrator, that still doesn’t make it less of a crime. It’s also interesting how, to parallel between brotherhood and sisterhood bonds playing a role in the murders as well.

It’s also great to see Eve continue to be fleshed out as a character, further expanding on her vulnerabilities. Most obviously, the case impacts her, due t the appearance of one of the victims in a dream she has of her father, drawing the parallels between the two men. I also was moved by her discussing with Roarke that she’s not fully ready for change after having an argument with him after he invites an interior decorator into her home office without telling her first. While there are some moments when I kind of wish she would give a little more and try a little harder (like her constantly complaining about party planning), this is one of those moments that felt so genuine and real, especially since she was so taken off guard, even with Roarke’s protests that he wouldn’t do anything without her approval (yet he invited the woman in the first place without telling her?).

This installment continues to solidify my belief that, in spite of any subpar installments, this series still has its gems and is still great overall.

Review of “One Fine Duke” (School for Dukes #3) by Lenora Bell

Bell, Lenora. One Fine Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062692504 | 376 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

One Fine Duke is easily one of my most hyped books of the year, even if it took ages for me to get around to reading the next book in the series. However, I was determined not to let this one just sit and wait, starting it almost as soon as I got it (after finishing the previous book I was reading, of course).

And like all of Lenora Bell’s books, this one lives up to the hype, standing out in the crowd of duke books, by feeling fresh even while retreading some familiar tropes. In this case, it’s “opposites attract,” and while it can be executed poorly, with the couple not having enough in common to make the HEA believable, that is not the case here. While Mina and Drew seem like opposites, with Drew being closed-off due to the scars from his past and Mina being eager to experience life after being cooped up all her life, I loved how they grew over the course of their relationship, ultimately figuring out how to compromise for each other.

I also commend how Drew’s PTSD from his adolescent kidnapping was dealt with, and how it doesn’t just go away because he’s found love (and the fabled “magic vagina”), by his own admission. While Mina has been a help to him starting on the process of healing and growth, he still needs time to change at his own pace.

I also really related to Mina’s crisis about what she was meant to do. While I can appreciate a fearless heroine, like India, who knew who she was and what she wanted, it’s nice to have a heroine who wants adventure, but also contends with her very human emotions when it comes to the possibility of taking a life.

This is another winner from Lenora Bell, and it’s not to be missed, especially (but not exclusively) if you love historical romances with sexy dukes, strong heroines, and spy escapades.

Review of “Devoted in Death” (In Death #41) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Devoted in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170881 | 374 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

Devoted in Death evokes the real life dynamic of Bonnie and Clyde and other such killer couples throughout history, and that alone makes it a compelling read. Once again, we’re given insight into the perspectives of the killers, and while they are slightly different from the other killers who are given passages from their perspective, in that there is an element of passion for one another in these parts of the book, as well as their general twisted mindset.

As the identity of the killers is known to the reader from page one, much of the real intrigue is following Eve and the gang in their investigation as they see how far this murder spree extends, and catching the killers before the kill someone else in a similar manner. And once they caught them…that interrogation scene! Peabody is really coming into her own, and has become just as much of badass as Eve.

The book also has a lot going on internally with the cast, from a promotion to Detective for recurring character Officer Trueheart (which I hope means he’ll be getting more page time in future books, since it feels like ages since we saw him last), to the usual delightful banter and jokes.

This book is great, just like all of them are for the excellent blend of the romantic and suspenseful, the funny and the dark. I continue to repeat my recommendation of this series for pretty much everyone.

Review of “Dare to Love a Duke” (The London Underground #3) by Eva Leigh

Leigh, Eva. Dare to Love a Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062499455 | 370 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

While I had planned to read Dare to Love a Duke, like I had with all Eva Leigh’s titles up to this point, my determination to read the book increased in the midst of the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books review criticizing its supposed “lack of historical accuracy,” which Romance Twitter clapped back against with evidence to the contrary at the time.

But that’s besides the point. Because, controversy aside, this book is amazing. And the dynamic between the characters plays a huge role. Tom, for one, is one of the most likable dukes I’ve ever read. While he does have a rakish past, I love that he truly is a good man at heart, who treats women, whether they be noblewomen or courtesans, with respect. And his relationship with his sister, which leads him to be forced to make some tough choices over the course of the book, was sweet.

As for Lucia, I really liked her portrayal of a woman who wasn’t forced into sex work, actually enjoys it, and even continues in a certain capacity by the end of the book. It’s such a taboo, and as much as I wasn’t sure about the exploration of sex workers in romance, I think it’s great to see more varied portrayals of the profession that paint it in a positive light and show women making a choice. In that vein, I really respected the significance of Lucia’s desire to form a school for girls living on the streets, as it provides them with education that will result in them having more options than they likely would have had otherwise.

My one tiny complaint is that Tom suddenly becomes the proprietor of the Orchid Club due to inheriting it from his father, but it’s never fully explored why his strait-laced father would have founded the club to begin with, especially when both the previous duke’s supposed sterling reputation and Tom’s identity as owner of the club play a crucial role in the plot. While the villain did receive his just deserts, it would have been much more fun to find out why Tom’s father did what he did, and whether he, like his son, had a wild side too.

This is a fun and subversive historical romance, and one that I hope will herald the publication of more positive portrayals of sex work, negative reviews be damned. I recommend this to all fans of historical romance.

Review of “The Lady in the Coppergate Tower” (Steampunk Proper Romance #3) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725543 | 354 pages | Steampunk Romance

4.5 stars

I happened to find The Lady in the Coppergate Tower on the shelf at my local bookstore peculiarly early, and despite my initial plans to delay reading it until release week, my dissatisfaction with some of the books I had been considering reading got the better of me, and I was looking for a purely fun, exciting read.

And it is indeed that. A Rapunzel retelling with some elements of Dracula, Allen once again provides an original spin on a classic tale. The way she interweaves the elements of the original, with some of the connections only coming to the forefront at the end, was incredibly satisfying. And while the villain is incredibly obvious, even prior to the full reveal of his intentions and identity, due to all the hints dropped over the course of the story, it did not detract from my enjoyment.

The characters and their arcs are also great, particularly Hazel’s. While she is by no means a naive heroine at the beginning of the book, I love that this experience allows her to grow in terms of her understanding of herself, through her discovery of her long-lost twin sister. And while the story begins with Sam often playing the role of savior, I like that, in true Rapunzel fashion, it is she who saves him at the end.

This is a great book on three counts: a book in its own right, as part of Allen’s Steampunk Proper Romance Fairy Tales series (which I hope she plans to continue), and as a truly engaging and original retelling. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “Obsession in Death” (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Obsession in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170874 | 404 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

40 books in with the prospect of only eight more, then having to wait for the next two, and I can still say I am obsessed with this series, in spite of all its shortcomings. So, it is quite fitting in a sense that this one is called Obsession in Death.

And while this wasn’t one of my favorites in the series, it was still great, especially as it presented a new personal challenge for Eve, with the case being concerned with an obsessed fan of hers who takes it upon themselves to make misguided attempts to avenge her to prove her “friendship.” Ultimately, even if the reveal wasn’t that exciting for me, I found the psychology of the killer, in the snippets we got from their perspective the most interesting, which is not surprising, given ho w I’ve often expressed my admiration for how Nora Roberts gets into these twisted people’s heads.

I also really liked seeing the team work together, bringing up people from past cases. Admittedly, I didn’t remember quite a few of them, but it is nice to see more consistency in terms of the connectedness of the series and the characters beyond the core group.

And Eve and Roarke…I fall in love with them more and more as a couple from book to book. And it’s really those little intimate moments, like them having a meal together or their casual banter in between all the intense case-cracking, that make me so happy.

This was a pretty interesting one in the series, and while it wasn’t mind-blowing by any means, reaching book 40 only increases my hype for the books to come.

Review of “The Golden Hour” by Beatriz Williams

Williams, Beatriz. The Golden Hour. New York: William Morrow, 2019. H

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062834751 | 468 pages | Historical Fiction

3 stars

I find myself a bit conflicted about The Golden Hour, as I often do when it comes to Beatriz Williams books. I love that she writes books with complex, interwoven plots that can take a while to come together, but sometimes it works better than others. And this is a case where some of the more minute things worked, but I found that while there was some payoff, given the fact that it doesn’t really pick up until the last one hundred pages, I didn’t enjoy it as much as some of her prior books.

Conceptually, the book is great, highlighting a topic I knew nothing about: when the Duke of Windsor served as Governor of the Bahamas during World War II. I had heard about some of his and the Duchess’ more questionable connections during the World War II period and the years preceding it (which are alluded to, but not discussed heavily, in the book), but it was fascinating to find out that he was given another political appointment following his abdication. And the fact that there’s an unsolved murder that occurred during his tenure, which formed one of the more interesting elements of the book once it FINALLY kicked into high gear surely did not help his reputation in that regard.

Because of all this, I found the 1940s chapters compelling, even if there was an incredibly slow build up to the excitement discussed in the blurb, and, adding to my frustration, there were two narratives, a sort of “Before” and and “After” following that period’s heroine, Lulu, which aided in suggesting what would happen on her end, but did not help the pacing.

And while I did like the tie-in with the early 1900s/World War I heroine, Elfriede (who, in typical fashion, also serves as the connection to another of Williams’ books), the ending both confused me and let me down, as if it was meant to be two books. Her narrative prior to that was compelling in its own right, with her own love affair with some tragic undertones and questions revolving around the whereabouts of her beloved, who went off to war. But, aside from the initial familial connection between the two arcs, with Lulu falling in love with Elfriede’s son, I felt the ending which purports to bring it all together was a little too confusing.

This is still a great read, and there were things I really enjoyed, like the historical context and some elements of both story arcs, but perhaps I just picked it up at the wrong time for me when I wasn’t necessarily in the mood for a read like this one. But I would still recommend it, especially to readers who have more consistently enjoyed Williams’ past work, or those who are in the mood for a more complex, multi-layered historical fiction read.