Review of "Once a Fallen Lady" by Eve Pendle

Pendle, Eve. Once a Fallen Lady. [United Kingdom]: Eve Pendle, 2020.

eBook | $0.99 USD | ASIN: B08193XDC7 | Historical Romance

5 stars

I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Eve Pendle is a new-to-me author, but we have talked a bit on Twitter, and I was struck by the blurb of this book when I saw it, and how it stood out from a lot of what is being published in historical romance right now. While there are some familiar elements, they happen to be some of my favorite things: the cinnamon roll hero and the heroine “ruined” due to the double standards set by society, as well as its overwhelming class snobbery.

Alfred…what a dreamy hero. He’s a schoolteacher, while things between him and Lydia do start off on an awkward note, things develop in a wonderful way, with his feelings for her growing, while she’s more reluctant to fall in love, due to how she’s been hurt in the past. His tenderness toward her is wonderful, while also not pushing her to do anything she doesn’t want to do.

I truly felt for Lydia, and rooted for her, both as the circumstances that led to her present situation were revealed and observing her dedication to her daughter, who has polio. Writing the character of someone with a disability, as well as their caregiver, can be complicated, but I love that Pendle makes this story one of optimism, and a fairly good representation of a family where one of its members has a disability.

This novella is absolutely wonderful. Great characters with absolutely wonderful romantic arc, with depth and complexity in spite of its novella length. I recommend this to all lovers of historical romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2OfbIH1 (or read free with KU)

Review of "The Fifth Avenue Story Society" by Rachel Hauck

Hauck, Rachel. The Fifth Avenue Story Society. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

eBook | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0310350934 |400 pages | Contemporary/Christian Fiction

3 stars

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

If I had not been a fan of Rachel Hauck already, the title, The Fifth Avenue story Society alone, with support from the blurb, would have attracted me: a group of people meet in an old library on Fifth Avenue, after receiving mysterious invitations? Cool!

And while it did not meet my expectations as a more plot driven reader, I did enjoy this. There’s a lot of time spent on each character’s life, and ultimately, what they gain out of coming to the society. Two characters, Jett and Lexa, are ex-spouses, and watching them spend time together again and question whether they ought to give their love another shot is great. On the flip side, we have Uber driver Chuck and wealthy Coral, both of whom are jaded by previous heartbreaks, and watching them grow closer is wonderful as well. And I really enjoyed Ed’s recollections of the love of his life, and him beginning to work on writing them down.

However, this focus on the characters in their relatively simple desires simultaneously moves a little too slowly and also feels like we don’t get enough time to fully invest in one story, as I feel like this could easily have been a few different novels, had it been fleshed out.

And it’s clear, given Jett’s connection to an author who was a character in a previous Hauck novel, that his story is ultimately the one that is meant to take over, at least from my perspective. However, I found it hard to fully invest in his doubt as he made revelations about his literary idol, given that all these revelations weren’t new to me, given those connections, even if the two books aren’t advertised as connected and don’t depend on one another to work.

While this is not my favorite Rachel Hauck, I think this book would work for a different type of reader. If you like slower paced, character focused stories, I would recommend this one.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/319Y9xZ

Review "Lush Money" (Filthy Rich #1) by Angelina M. Lopez

Lopez, Angelina M. Lush Money. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335459466 | 395 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Lush Money is another book I discovered through the recent counter-promotion of books by underrepresented authors, and despite not knowing much about the book prior, I was intrigued by the fact that it not only had a female billionaire, but was a modern twist on the marriage-of-convenience, which I had only read once before with mixed results.

This effort works because of its uniqueness and both characters’ self-awareness at the potential for ickiness in the relationship, and thus, the story defying those expectations. From the first chapter, Mateo and Roxanne are both strong, fiery characters, and this translates to crackling romantic tension.

I love a complex, guarded yet vulnerable heroine, and Roxanne is very much that. Not being a fan of the broody billionaire trope, I love how a simple gender swap makes the trope more palatable, especially as of course there are some family issues. But instead of viewing this as fairly predictable, I was moved by Roxanne’s desire for someone to love, to fill the hole left by her neglectful mother.

Mateo also has a bad, although present, parent, and he’s at the root of a lot of the machinations going against him. I was touched by the fact that he was trying to be a better person than his philandering father, and while I’m almost certain it wasn’t intentional, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to the dynamics of real life modern royalty, as there are certain recognizable parallels, even if the country and characters are fictional.

This story is an absolute delight, and I’m glad to see more books like this taking on the fairy tale aesthetic, combining it with twists on tried-and-true romance tropes, and creating a delightful modern romance. This is a must-read for lovers of contemporary romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2U8wqfC

Review of "Veiled in Smoke" (The Windy City Saga #1) by Jocelyn Green

Green, Jocelyn. Veiled in Smoke. Bloomington, MN: Bethant House, 2020.

eBook | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764233302 | 416 pages | Historical Fiction/Christian Fiction

3.5 stars

I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I had never read Jocelyn Green before, but the premise of Veiled in Smoke appealed to me, even though, to my shame, I knew next to nothing about the Great Chicago Fire prior to picking this book up. Thus, this book proved to be a learning experience, in addition to being a fairly captivating story.

I enjoyed the family element at the center of the story, especially with the two daughters, Sylvie and Meg, concerned about the health of their father, Stephen, who was a POW in the war. Stephen is by far the most intriguing, well-written and at times tragic character, because given the state of his physical and mental health and the poor understanding some medical professionals had of it at the time, there are some scenes when he’s in the asylum which go to some pretty dark places.

The plot surrounding the girls surviving in the aftermath of the Fire without him, especially as he’s been implicated in a murder of someone close to him is interesting, and I loved seeing them and reporter Nate begin to put all the pieces together. And I felt the lead-up to the identity of the killer was well done, especially as they are not who they present themselves as.

I did have some issues becoming invested in Meg and Sylvie themselves. Apart from their love for their father, I didn’t find much to recommend in them. I mean, Meg is an artist, a point she makes light of at one point by pointing out the irony that she shares a name with Meg in Little Women, but identifies more with Amy. It’s this and other literary allusions the two make that had me lost for the majority of the book. While, t the end, it is revealed in a discussion question to be choice made to highlight the different forms of the written word, given that letter writing and news articles also play a role in the story, I didn’t feel this was conveyed well.

This is a pretty good story about a historical event I’m glad to have learned just a bit more about. I recommend it to those looking for well-researched historical fiction with a bit of suspense.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2Gy4XvK

Review of "American Love Story" (Dreamers #3) by Adriana Herrera

Herrera, Adriana. American Love Story. Toronto, Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335215970 | 363 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

American Love Story is the book in the Dreamers series that truly gets to the heart of the tenuous nature of the respective immigrant and black experiences in our current political climate. While the exepriences of real life Dreamers is bake into the DNA of every one of the Dreamers books so far, this one feels the most hard-hitting, most likely due to who the characters are in relation to these issues.

Patrice is a successful professor, demonstrating how much he has been able to thrive in the U.S. since he and his mother fled Haiti in childhood. His arc consists of his activism against the microaggressions he faces, including those from colleagues and others, including a harrowing moment of being pulled over by the police.

Easton, meanwhile, is a white, wealthy, privileged DA, and I like how his character is passionate about making social change, but the story is about him trying to balance that with his relationship with Patrice, who is increasingly frustrated with the system. Here, Herrera takes a very complicated and potentially problematic relationship due to their positions, and makes it work, with them each acknowledging their need to compromise to for each other.

While this book is notably heavier in tone than the other two (and justifiably so), it’s still an absolute joy to read because of the relationships between all the characters that developed over the course of the three books, and now going into the upcoming fourth book. I love seeing all or some of the guys together, with their banter about each other’s respective love lives being a key part of every book.

This is an absolutely wonderful book in an amazing series that just keeps getting better. I recommend it to fans of multicultural romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2GtxpyP

Review of "The Duke I Tempted" (The Secrets of Charlotte Street #1) by Scarlett Peckham

Peckham, Scarlett. The Duke I Tempted. New York: NYLA Publishing, 2018.

eBook | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1641970327 | 277 pages | Georgian Romance

5 stars

When people were first talking about The Duke I Tempted, I had mixed feelings. I was intrigued by the concept, but I’m not into BDSM, especially given the ways some authors have inaccurately depicted it. But this book and the second one are both available on OverDrive, and I am still looking to stretch my romance-reading wings, so I decided to gie it a try.

And I was blown away. It’s hard to believe this is Peckham’s debut novel, as the story is pretty much impeccable, touching on the difficult topics of grief and loss and Archer’s unorthodox tactics to negotiate these feelings. But ultimately, it reinforces the essential truth of BDSM being about pain only being a means toward pleasure, and while I make no claims of being an expert, I felt the depiction of it in relation to his character felt realistic.

I also really like Poppy. She’s already not your typical heroine at the beginning, with her skills as a botanist and her independent nature, but I enjoyed seeing her response to the discovery of Archer’s secret, where she works to become knowledgeable about BDSM, even joining the club at one point, to learn how to please her husband.

And that leads me to the supposed “cheating,” which other reviewers have made much ado about, when all I wanted was content warnings about potentially harmful material. Out of context, it is cheating, I won’t disagree. But I think when you factor in the issues Archer is going through and Poppy working to understand, even when he offers her the chance to be free of him, it’s proof that she doesn’t see it that way, or at least she didn’t once she got over the initial shock.

This is a historical romance that has a very by-the-numbers premise, but with a few additions, becomes more daring and subversive. I recommend this to anyone looking for a new, edgier take on historical romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2RtEdCH

Review of "Hold Me" (Cyclone #2) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. Hold Me. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2016.

eBook | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1937248499 | 255 pages | NA Contemporary Romance

3 stars

After hitting it out of the park with her first contemporary, Trade Me, Courtney Milan seems to have stumbled a bit wit the follow up, Hold Me. There’s plenty of great elements here, including her signature engaging writing style, tendency to balance humor with tough issues, and the inclusion of an incredibly diverse cast, with not only people from different ethnic backgrounds, but sexualities and gender identities, represented.

And the two leads, Jay and Maria, are compelling characters individually. I liked Maria in particular, for defying the stereotype that you can’t be focused both on beauty and brains. And like her friend, Tina, she’s a tough cookie who has had to deal with a lot of struggles that informed who she is today, even if at first she comes off as a bit prickly.

Jay is also great, smashing some of the lingering stereotypes about Asian men as attractive romantic interests. I found his family history compelling, and while he does come off as a little bit of an asshole at times, I did feel like he grew as the story went on.

However, this is an enemies-to-lover story, and while I appreciate that it does something a little different by having them also meet and connect online, while bickering in the real world, that also leads to the major disconnect I had with the romance. Once they found out who the other was, things seemed to just transfer to them carving out a relationship, without really patching up their earlier issues. As a result, once the reveal was made, I felt a lot less invested in the future of the relationship, even as some big questions about their future were being posed.

While this is a weaker book, I still enjoyed it, enough to finish it quickly, in roughly the same time I finished its predecessor. And I think, if you loved the first book, or are looking for a diverse contemporary romance, this one is worth a try.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/37vnFjA

Review of "Gods of Jade and Shadow" by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Moreno-Garcia, Silvia. Gods of Jade and Shadow. New York: Del Rey, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0525620754 | 338 pages | Historical Fantasy

3 stars

I heard a bit of buzz about Gods of Jade and Shadow, although not as much, hence why I put it off. But the recent controversy surrounding the appropriating of the Mexican experience for trauma porn in a white author’s book inspired me to seek this one out instead, in hopes of uplifting an ethnically Mexican author instead.

And while I didn’t love this book, there’s a lot of potential. There’s a great premise inspired by Mayan mythology, set in the Jazz Age. It’s promoted as a ethereal fairy tale type story, and while that in some way plays against it in my opinion, it also works in terms of also feeling quite evocative, especially as the setting is so richly described

I also enjoyed Cassiopea’s character arc, for the most part. While the archetypes will feel familiar, and in some cases juvenile, as this is about her coming-of-age, I felt it worked reasonably well.

However, it’s also stylistically odd. Some describe it as too slow, others too fast, and I found I had the same experience. Given that experience, the ending felt a little anticlimactic. And the narrative makes use of omniscient POV often, and it results in feeling more distant from the characters and story.

I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about this book. I feel like this story was kind of just “ok,” but it hasn’t put me off trying more of Moreno-Garcia’s work, especially if the execution is a bit more even. I tend to think this is one of those “love it or hate it” sorts of books because it is simultaneously “juvenile” and stylized. But if you’re interested in fantasy that evokes a fairy tale feel and/or Mayan myths, perhaps this will be the book for you.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2Gmg76F

Review of "Trade Me" (Cyclone #1) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. Trade Me.  [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2015.

eBook | $4.99 USD | ISBN-13: 9781937248475 | 279 pages | New Adult Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I had few expectations going into Trade Me, the first in Courtney Milan’s contemporary series, but I found myself in awe of how she took what seemed at first to be a simple “trading-places/life-isn’t-always-greener-on-the-other-side” premise and turned it into the book that it is, touching on real life personal and world issues in a way that is reminiscent of her style in her historicals.

I knew I would like Tina, but I loved her as I got to know her. She’s the sort of heroine who doesn’t take crap from people, to the point of talking back to an incredibly asshole-ish billionaire who tries to pay her off. And given my own financial woes recently, I thought it was great that this is a topic Tina confronts head-on, even critiquing the stereotypes the wealthy place on recipients of welfare, a subject that has come up again in the political conversation. </p>

<p>I did balk a little when I saw the Blake was a billionaire, and if it were anyone but Courtney Milan, I would have expected the same “rich dude saves poor girl” fantasy so many romances still seem to be pushing. But I like that this was a relationship where they both learned from each other, with Tina learning to take more risks (even if they do end up in chaos!) and Blake gaining some perspective.

It also leads to him confronting some serious demons related to the pressures of trying to run this company, and we see the toll it takes both on him and his father in the book. While these issues are difficult (CW: depictions of disordered eating and the effects of substance abuse), I feel Milan deals with these topics sensitively, and has done her homework on these issues. I also appreciate that, for the most part, it shows that recovery from demons is not magic, and it’s always a work in progress.

This is a wonderful NA romance that perfectly balances humor with the heavier stuff, and despite the change in genre, still feels like a Courtney Milan novel. I recommend it both to any Milan fan who has been reluctant to try it, or to fans of contemporary romance.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2tG1dWl

Review of "Never Kiss a Duke" (Hazards of Dukes #1) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Never Kiss a Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

eBook | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062867438 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I received an ARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Never Kiss a Duke may just be my favorite Megan Frampton yet, because of the way it subtly shakes up the historical romance formula. Amid the many books of privileged and rakish dukes, some of which Frampton has written, I love the concept of a disinherited duke having to learn how to be a regular person.

Sebastian is a great character, and his growing awareness of the privilege he had is well-written. While he does still have some stumbling moments, it is part of his character development, and I ultimately found his journey believable, with the payoff feeling rewarding given I did understand the tough choices he had to make.

Ivy is a great counterpart for him, and one of the things I immediately liked about their dynamic is that they were more or less equals, even if she was his employer, putting a twist on the often problematic boss/employee romance. I also like that she offered a counterpoint to his story, where while he did consider going back to his old life in some capacity at one point, she also used to be from an aristocratic family (although lower ranking), but doesn’t desire that life again. It provided a compelling conflict for them to work through, especially since there were sparks between them already.

The supporting cast is charming as well, although I’m a little disappointed that Typical Duke Nash is the hero of the next book, not that there’s anything wrong with him…he is a good friend to Sebastian, and they do have some great moments here. But any opportunity to see more of these characters is great, from the reluctant new duke Thad, to Sebastian’s charming sister, Ana Maria, and his poetically (literally!) named dogs.

This is a fun historical romance that has great twists to the typical tropes, and has likable characters with a great relationship that I rooted for in spite of the obstacles and their seemingly (at surface level) differing dreams. I recommend this to all historical lovers.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/36o8Z4f