Review of “A Wallflower Christmas” (Wallflowers 4.5) by Lisa Kleypas

Kleypas, Lisa. A Wallflower Christmas. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008. ISBN-13: 978-0-312-53378-6. $16.95 USD. 

3 stars

This is a book that I wonder if I would have enjoyed as much if I wasn’t a massive lover of the Wallflowers series. Because while there is a romantic plotline, with Lillian and Daisy’s brother, Rafe, choosing between the woman his exacting father wants him to marry, and the woman he truly wants, there wasn’t much in the way of magic there.

For one, the first “romantic” interaction between Rafe and Hannah had me glancing to check the publication date. Even though I knew it was published post-Wallflowers, it shocked me to see the 2008 publication date, as the scene is nothing short of predatory, with him forcefully kissing her. Add to that his statement soon after, and it cast a dark shadow over their subsequent fall into love: “This is how we court girls in America. We grab them and kiss them. And if they don’t like it, we do it again, harder and longer, until they surrender.” (35) But at the same time, while I did not find this scene or couple interesting, I can’t lay too much fault with Kleypas, given that, earlier this year, she gave an interview, in which she reflected on how the romance genre has evolved, and how it has affected the way she depicts consent in her books, especially in more recent years.

And despite the disappointment in terms of new romances, seeing the Wallflower couples again, and how much they love each other and complement each other, is the real treat of the book. Seeing that “happily ever after” doesn’t mean a couple’s marriage is without bumps in the road (as is the case with Lillian and Westcliff), as well as seeing the pure joy of Evie and St. Vincent becoming parents (an event that was elaborated on further in one of my favorite books this year, Devil in Spring), it is a joy to spend more time with these characters, and has me begging Ms. Kleypas for more.

Advertisements

Review of “Princess Charming” (Legendary Lovers #1) by Nicole Jordan

Jordan, Nicole. Princess Charming. New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0-345-52527-7. $7.99 USD. 

3.5 stars

Nicole Jordan is a new-to-me author, and I chose to start with her Legendary Lovers series, as I am a sucker for retellings of classic tales. I was especially excited as this first installment is a new spin on Cinderella. And while there are some flaws, it is a charming and well-written book, and decent first installment in a series.

Ash is a wonderful hero. Despite the tagline of stating that the Wildes are “scandalous” (and by historical standards, they are) he is hardly a dissolute rake, although he does have some rakish tendencies. I love that he takes his role as the head of the family seriously, even extending that to Maura, as his sister’s friend, when he sees her in trouble. And even before his big declaration at the end of the book, it is obvious through his actions that he cares for, and perhaps even loves, Maura, though she doesn’t seem to see it.

And this is where I discuss the flaws, some of which lie with the heroine. Maura at first seems to be a great, independent heroine, but some of the modern notions she has about love and marriage ruined her for me. Despite the many ways Ash has shown his love, she doesn’t notice, and then proceeds to sleep with him anyway, with plans to end their betrothal once she has received what she wanted from their original arrangement. While I wasn’t massively turned off, as she at least took precautions, it is a pet peeve of mine. There were also other noticeable inaccuracies in terms of how some things were conducted, such as who gets to choose the weapons in a duel, and whatnot, but again, it’s not a deal-breaker.

I eagerly look forward to reading the rest of the series and seeing how the rest of the Wildes find their legendary lovers. There is a lot of discussion of the concept here, that I hope is toned down slightly in subsequent books, but on the whole, it is a solid first book, that makes me eager to read the sequels.

Review of “It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke” (Keeping Up With the Cavendishes #4) by Maya Rodale

Rodale, Maya. It’s Hard Out Here for a Duke. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-238681. $7.99 USD

1.5 stars

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that dukes are everywhere in historical romance, a fact that I must begrudgingly accept. But when I read the first three installments of this series, I looked forward to James’ book, as he is not your typical stuffy and/or rakish duke.

But sadly having an atypical hero did not guarantee I would love this book. In fact, despite a few moments of funny banter, keeping it from being a total bore, this book was a slog with two characters that it appeared Rodale was trying to force together, considering the lack of chemistry, or reason for them to like each other.

I feel like if the book was about him and the other horse-mad girl he meets, I would have believed it more, as they share something in common. But I just found it unbelievable that one “passionate” night could lead to lasting love, even in the circumstances Rodale was trying to set up, with the conflict being that he’s meant to be a duke, and she’s a commoner.

I also found it woefully ironic that Meredith and the dowager duchess were meant to be educating the American Cavendishes about English society, including forms of address, given the fact that Rodale doesn’t seem to have a firm grasp on the system herself. In one instance, she has the two of them setting up a hypothetical scenario with James in which Meredith is meant to be an earl’s daughter, and both say she is meant to be addressed as “Lady Wyndham” (which is the way an earl’s wife would be addressed). And in another scenario, Meredith, when hearing about the other woman, Lady Jemma Winston, she refers to her as “Lady Winston.” However, sometime later, she lectures James about his “stubborn American refusal to learn and adhere to titles and proper forms of address.” (156) This is something I thought Rodale had learned, as she addresses each of James’ sisters formally as Ladies Bridget, Amelia, and Claire, and none of them as “Lady Cavendish.”

On the whole, this book did not work for me. But judging by the variety in reviews, this could be yet another case of “it’s-not-you-it’s-me.” If you like the Cavendishes, or Maya Rodale, or dukes that are different from the norm, or even stories built on “one passionate night” (and anachronisms and other inaccuracies don’t bug you), I would suggest giving it a try for yourself.

Review of “A Heart Revealed” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi. A Heart Revealed. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2015. ISBN-13: 978-1-60907-990-1. $15.99 USD. 

4.5 stars

Despite having enjoyed a couple of Josi Kilpack’s Proper Romances, I took a while to get around to her first one, because I heard it dealt with some darker themes. However, I found myself coming back to it recently, deciding to give it a chance.

And despite the fact that this was Kilpack’s first published romance, I found it very well-written with exemplary character development. There are a few minor anachronisms in terms of the manners of the time, and the language of the period, but it won’t be obvious to anyone who’s not a stickler for historical details, and wants a richly told story about redemption and change.

As Amber is the focal point for most of the story, I found her development very well-done. It can be hard to make someone who is callous and superficial and suddenly loses it all seem sympathetic, but you genuinely feel for her, as the world as she knows it is turned upside down, and almost everyone, including her own parents, rejects and ostracizes her. And in portraying her condition, Kilpack makes her relatable to any modern person who is different and has been treated ill by their society, while also adding the realistic, but grossly unfair fact that parent-child relationships throughout much of history have been distant at best, and with Amber’s best assets as a marriageable woman to benefit her family gone, they too treat her terribly.

Thomas is the type of hero I wish was more popular in romances. He is incredibly compassionate, being the only one who supported Amber when she fell from grace, and proved his love for her, even when she herself felt unworthy of it. Their relationship grows through their assessment of each others’ character and worth, and he is able to look past her physical deficiencies, in a rare reversal on the “Beauty and the Beast” trope.

 

Review of “Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career” by Carla Kelly

Kelly, Carla. Miss Grimsley’s Oxford Career. 1992. Springville, UT: Sweetwater Books, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-1-46211210-4. $8.99 USD.

4 stars

On occasion, when I found myself being overwhelmed by the common trends of overly steamy, overly ton-focused Regency romances, I have sought out an alternative in the classic traditional Regency, and I have long heard that Carla Kelly is one of the best of the traditional Regency authors. And while this book definitely has its flaws, it is a wonderful book that has a lot of humor and very minimal angst.

Ellen Grimsley is one of those heroines who is ahead of their time, but she doesn’t feel like an anachronism. I like that the book shows her growth as someone who longs for more than marriage and children, and comes to see that she has found someone who can give her both. I was very confused as two how much of the latter half played out, however. I did understand her motivations, but I felt it was a bit odd that even though she was obviously falling in love with him, she still had him proposing every day.

James Gatewood, Lord Chesney is just the kind of hero I like. I hate the aristocrat who is so full of his own importance, and makes his living doing the typical things of his era, like gambling and wenching. While it is historically accurate, it is much more fun to read about heroes who buck convention. James is someone who is completely uncomfortable in his role as a lord, and more well-suited to scholarly pursuits.

And together, these two are absolutely adorable. While there are some moments that are questionable in terms of the standards of the time (like kissing when there is no official agreement between them), but they are ultimately a well-matched pair, who I have no doubt about receiving their happy ending.

The supporting cast is equally fun, and I almost wish that there were more books about them. While I did not like the parents for most of the book, I like how they were very true to what parents were like at the time, enforcing their own expectations on their children, even if their children are completely ill-suited to the lives they have planned out.

Romance in the News: Romance Readers vs. Clinton

Note: This is a political post. But as always, I shall remain as non-partisan as possible. 

This year has been an interesting one for the romance genre. Between the romance genre being a source of comfort (and resistance) for readers in the aftermath of the 2016 election and the evolving conversation around consent and the role of the alpha male hero in romance that has only become more pronounced in the second half of the year as sexual harassment allegations dominated the headlines, I don’t think the genre has has been as talked about, within the community and outside of it.

But even a woman who, for some, embodies female empowerment, can be ill-informed about romance and the progress that has been made. Ironically, she compared the much-beloved genre to the tales of sexual harassment from the headlines, stating, “The whole romance novel industry is about women being grabbed and thrown on a horse and ridden off into the distance.”

Romance readers and authors, of course, did not take kindly to the comment. #RomancenovelsforHillary became a hashtag on Twitter. One author, Cecelia Mecca, wrote, “If you honestly believe a woman w/ a Ph.D. in education raised by a strong single mother would make a career writing literature that subjugates women, the only logical conclusion I can draw is that you haven’t read a romance novel lately.” Christopher Rice, while not calling out Hillary directly, wrote, “I continue to be astonished by the speed and ease with which those who have apparently never read a romance novel use the term ‘romance novels’ as a slur against pretty much anything they don’t like.” And both Lisa Kleypas and Maya Rodale wrote their own letters to her to her in major publications, through which they hoped to educate her about the value of romance for empowered women.

However, very mention of the name “Hillary Clinton” might get two reactions. Rodale declares herself a Clinton supporter in her piece, but whether you support her or not should not affect your opinion of her comments. People were quick to contradict Kleypas’ naming Clinton a romance heroine in the title of her piece, with one commenter stating, that she is “definitely not a romance heroine that I would want to read about. But not surprising that she is still casting blame all over the place.” Another commenter said, “That woman is only a heroine to un/undereducated fools. Her days outside lockup are numbered.” However, another injected some levity into the conversation, saying, “Dear H, so sorry your knight in shinning armor turned out to be an a-hole in tinfoil. But don’t be trying to brainwash our girls from ever knowing what a real prince is.”

But underneath the comedy of it all, this commenter may be right.  Hillary wields influence as a political figure, and with the negative image of romance novels still lingering, a comment from someone with political power and/or media presence could further shift the public perception about romance novels, and keep people from discovering the truth about this wonderful genre that empowers both women and men.

Review of “A Daring Arrangement” (The Four Hundred #1) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Daring Arrangement. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-267889-8. $7.99 USD. 

2.5 stars

I received a free copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Joanna Shupe’s previous series, the Knickerbocker Club, were the first books I reviewed on this blog, and for the most part, I really liked them, and was happy that, though she changed publishers, she was continuing with the same setting. However, this book was something of a disappointment. It’s not a “stay-away-at-all-costs” disappointment, but more of an “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” disappointment.

The basic concept of of British woman pairing up with an American man is a much rarer concept than the reverse, and I was intrigued by the concept. Both the leads have their good points, with Julius being a hardworking man who stands out in a genre of old moneyed aristocrats, and Nora being a woman who is not interested in marrying for wealth or status. And the idea of a fake engagement that stars to feel all too real is a fun concept to run with.

But this is yet another plot where I had difficulty suspending my disbelief. I can accept that people perhaps did have discreet affairs in this time period, but when they chose to consummate their relationship, they both acted like there was no need to make the relationship a permanent one, due to their misunderstandings about each other’s evolving motivations. But they just sort of acted like they could do whatever they wanted because they were fake engaged, and not worry about any consequences. Considering her backstory, and her father even asking her at one point if she was pregnant from her past liaison, one would think they would take precautions if they both assume that they’re going to part ways.

And the angst. At first, it felt genuine, like just a part of Julius’ backstory. But when he immediately assumed that she should have someone better than him with blue blood and whatnot, when she has made it obvious from day one that she didn’t want any of that, I found it a bit tiresome.

On the whole, it was a decent effort, but lacked the spark of the books in her previous series.

 

Review of “The Ladies of Ivy Cottage” (Tales from Ivy Hill #2) by Julie Klassen

Klassen, Julie. The Ladies of Ivy Cottage. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-7642-1815-6. $15,99 USD. 

4.75 stars

Julie Klassen is one of the rare authors who has never ceased to disappoint me, and I am always left with a pang that there is usually a year to wait for the next release. Even when she diverted from her usual “formula” of stand-alone historical romance with the first installment in Tales from Ivy Hill, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, her practice of bringing some of what readers of classics like Austen and Bronte love to modern audiences remains. And the same can be said of this installment, which offers a riveting plot with a lot of twists and turns, and more fun adventures with the memorable characters from the first installment.

One thing I love about this series is that it is not immediately obvious who the couples are, and whether they end up together, with the pairing of Thora and Talbot being a happy surprise at the end of the first book. Instead, we spend more time with the women and the focus is just as much on their interactions with each other as with any romantic interests in their lives. While who Rachel ends up with is definitely much more expected, the way their story does parallel to what is arguably Austen’s most powerful novel lends gravitas to the narrative.

And while Rachel gets her happy ending, I was left with eagerness for both Mercy and Jane to find happiness, especially as Jane has dealt with the hardships of losing her husband and having several miscarriages. And I am also curious to know how things will progress for Mercy, with her livelihood on the line. It is hinted that she is in love with someone, but I am curious how that will end up? Will she end up with him or with the suitor her parents have picked out for her?

Review of “The Spinster’s Christmas” (Lady Wynwood #1) by Camille Elliot

Elliot, Camille. The Spinster’s Christmas. San Jose: Camy Tang, 2015. ISBN-13: 9781942225034. $10.99 USD. 

3.5 stars

This is a sweet inspirational Regency novella, in the vein of Jane Austen, paying homage to one of Austen’s less popular works, Mansfield Park with its plot of two people who grew up as a friends and almost like family finding love with one another. And while the romance itself is well-executed, some aspects left a little to be desired.

This is yet another novella with a large cast, and sometimes it can be hard to distinguish who’s who and how they all relate to one another. While I realize this is a self-published effort (and a revision of a novella previously released in an anthology), I can’t help but wish Elliot had included a character guide or family tree, as her other book, Prelude for a Lord featured one. And I am unsure if this a flaw with the editing, or just a fault of the large cast being hard to keep track of, but I had to go back to the opening scene several times to figure out who Lady Wynwood was, especially as she is referred to interchangeably as Laura and Lady Wynwood throughout, with little explanation.

But both Miranda and Gerard are wonderful characters. In Miranda, Elliot paints a sympathetic portrait of someone in such awful circumstances, but she remains positive. And Gerard is a truly compassionate and brave hero, who you can tell genuinely cares for Miranda.

As for the mystery aspect, it serves to add more dimension to Miranda’s backstory, as even though she was provoked into doing what she did, in a certain light, in can be viewed as a fault on her part.

Review of “To Love a Scandalous Duke” (Once Upon a Scandal #1)

De La Rosa, Liana. To Love a Scandalous Duke. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2017. ISBN-13: 9781976047909. $14.99 USD. 

5 stars

I received this book through a giveaway from the author. All opinions are my own.

It can be hard to know what to expect from a debut author, and in my experience some debuts I’ve read in the past year or two have been good, while others have been more lackluster. With Liana De La Rosa’s debut, it is definitely the former. To Love a Scandalous Duke checks all the boxes of things I love: a fun spin on the friends-to-lovers trope, two compelling and unique lead characters, and a well-paced conspiracy plot.

Declan, the new Duke of Darington, is the type of duke that doesn’t make me want to roll my eyes: he’s a second son who found himself thrust into the position unexpectedly due to tragedy in the family, and the scandal attached to his name and background is intriguing. And through his character, De La Rosa, does explore some elements of colonialism and racism and England, which is something that is more loosely implied in most other works set in the the same time period.

Alethea “Allie” is no less interesting. She seems like someone who very much wants her father’s approval, and is caught between that and the attraction between her and Declan. And the way De La Rosa ups the stakes that makes her choose between those two is wonderfully done, and when the moment she finds out she isn’t who she always believed she was is a truly gripping moment.

Each chapter contains an epigraph from the diary of a woman who is not immediately identified, adding to the mystery of the narrative. However, once her identity is revealed, it is chilling to go back and read some of the epigraphs and see how they correspond to the big secret of Allie’s identity, and it is something I would recommend.