Review of "The Borgia Confessions" by Alyssa Palombo

Palombo, Alyssa. The Borgia Confessions. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2020.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250191205 | 432 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I received an ARC through a Goodreads Giveaway, and am voluntarily posting a review. All opinions are my own.

I didn’t know much beyond the myths about the Borgia family prior to picking up The Borgia Confessions, but I was glad to have the opportunity to read this book after enjoying Alyssa Palombo’s previous release, The Spellbook of Katrina Van Tassel, which I also got through a GR Giveaway. And I enjoyed this one just as much, if not more.

Palombo’s depiction of Cesare is a great example of the difference between a “likable” protagonist and a “sympathetic” one. Cesare, like others in his family, and, as Palombo’s author’s note points out, many families during the Renaissance, is concerned with both self-preservation and consolidation of power, while also indulging in the vices that the position affords him. So, while I don’t agree with many of his choices, it’s easy to understand many of them when put into a historical context, and the more brutal ones you can’t justify in that way, like his actions where his brother Juan are concerned, can be justified on a more human level.

I enjoyed the contrast of Maddalena’s character and the life she had as a servant with little power. However, even with her station, I did like the contrast between her early encounter with Juan (Giovanni), which is reminiscent of the horror stories you hear when it comes to power imbalances between the nobility and those in service and the more blurred lines of the relationship that develops in the romance between Cesare and Maddalena, where, while he clearly goes to extreme lengths to achieve his ambitions, he treats her with love, respects her boundaries, and even entrusts her with important work related to advancing the family’s position at one point.

It’s also interesting to get more insight into Lucrezia, as she’s the one who is the most maligned in my opinion, as historical women often are. I loved seeing her through both Cesare’s and Maddalena’s eyes, as someone who, like the others in her family, did seek out passion in the wrong places at times, but was far from the malicious poisoner that she’s been made out to be, but rather a very dutiful daughter and sister, and generous mistress to her servants.

This is a delightfully rich and passionate historical novel about an incredibly scandalous historical family that I think gives some of the key players a more nuanced portrayal. I recommend it to all lovers of historical fiction.

Preorder here: https://amzn.to/2uoXsob

Review of "Owner of a Broken Heart" (Richardson Sisters #1) by Cheris Hodges

Hodges, Cheris. Owner of a Broken Heart. New York: Dafina Books, 2020.

eBook | $7.59 ($7.99 Print) | ISBN-13: 978-1496728840 | 384 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

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

I requested Owner of a Broken Heart completely randomly, in the interest of reading more diverse authors, and the blurb sounded promising. I really enjoy family-centered series, where that is a focus just as much as the individual member’s love story, and that works very well here.

The relationship between Nina and her family is, of course, wonderful. I love how it focuses on her personality juxtaposed against theirs, with them being particularly protective of her in the midst of her continued disasters with love, and the concern she may be moving on too fast with someone new. I particularly liked the dynamic with Alex, who plays the biggest supporting role, as the sister who lives and works in the family bed-and-breakfast while the others pursue their own thing. She’s very much a mama-bear while Nina is pursuing her new relationship with Clinton, and while it takes her a while to warm up to him, it felt earned when she did.

I also found Clinton compelling, given his situation of having difficulties with his father and idolizing the Richardson girls’ father, with the question of his loyalties forming a central part of his arc for the book. While there was never really a question in my mind about what he would choose, the antagonist of his arc still presented a realistic enough challenge that the issue felt present and not something that could be overcome too easily.

However, one of the things that comes up in Clinton and Nina’s relationship a lot over the course of the book is their respective trust issues. When his connection to someone seeking to buy out the Richardson B&B is revealed, it forms a somewhat natural conflict. However, there’s also the issue of him thinking she’s still hung up on her sort-of-ex (it’ll make sense once you read the book), and they have a blowup over that, even though she’s only shown signs of wanting to be rid of him. I expected her to have issues, but him? And over something where he doesn’t even have real reason to suspect her?

This is still a promising start to a series, with plenty of hints as to what the other sisters’ stories may entail, so I’m excited to see where it goes. I recommend this to anyone looking for a contemporary romance with a strong focus both on the romance and the importance of family.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/3aFFsGP

Review of "American Fairytale" (Dreamers #2) by Adriana Herrera

Herrera, Adriana. American Fairytale. Toronto: Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335215963 | 361 pages | Contemporary Romance

Adriana Herrera continues to prove herself as a rising star in diverse romance, and one with the potential for lasting staying power, with the release of American Fairytale, a second book that packs just as much of a punch as her debut. While we shift focus to Camilo “Milo” and Tom, this book also has Herrera’s hallmarks of a diverse and lovable cast and a balanced focus on both a sweet love story and weightier issues facing Latinx people, especially immigrants.

I also enjoyed the subversion of one of my least favorite tropes in this one, with Thomas being a self-made billionaire. But not only is his business rooted in his own family’s immigrant experience (he comes from a mixed White/Latinx family), he is a genuinely kind person with a focus on family, but he is for the most part self-aware of the power imbalance, even if he does have some blind spots he needs to work through later in the book due to his inattention that ruined a prior relationship.

I could understand Milo’s reservations, especially given the possibly professional implications, with Tom being a donor for his organization, and struggling to negotiate that with his feelings. But I like that, like the first book, the issues are always confronted in that moment, and it’s never something they let fester, even if it does take some bigger gestures, particularly towards the end, to truly demonstrate their commitment.

Herrera also has a great way of balancing (occasionally filthy) humor with the more serious stuff, and this one is no exception. One of my favorite bits was when Milo sent Tom a video of him participating in one of the organization’s dancing classes, complete with a text exchange showing how “excited” Tom was getting.

This a wonderful second book, and I can’t wait to check out book three and everything else to come from Adriana Herrera. And if you love diverse contemporaries with large casts of characters, and a lot of humor and heart, this book is for you.

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

Review of "Lady Clementine" by Marie Benedict

Benedict, Marie. Lady Clementine. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Landmark, 2020.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1492666905 | 322 pages | Historical Fiction

4 stars

After having read Stephanie Barron’s book about Winston Churchill’s mother last year, I was excited to read Marie Benedict’s Lady Clementine, to get to know his wife, since I heard she played a role in supporting him throughout his career when doing some further reading on him and his family. And while, narratively, the story does feel a little uneven, jumping around at times (although I understand the necessity to cover roughly half a century) and sometimes feeling a little slow, I enjoyed this one, and feel like Benedict managed to more or less engage me with her subject.

Benedict captures Clementine’s growth as a person and the impact her growing political involvement has in her complex marriage with Churchill. I enjoyed insight into what how their respective dysfunctional families bonded them, but also admired the way she maintained her marriage to Winston, in spite of political differences.

This is another solid Marie Benedict book, highlighting a largely uncelebrated historical woman who played an important role in history. I recommend this to all lovers of historical fiction.

Buy it here: https://amzn.to/2R6veHn

Review of "The Heiress Effect" (Brothers Sinister #2) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Heiress Effect. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2013.

eBook | $4.99 (also part of the $9.99 Brothers Sinister Box Set) | 978-1937248154 |280 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Thus far, Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series can more or less be summed up with the words “consistently brilliant.” Building on the backstory of The Governess Affair and Oliver’s introduction as a supporting character in The Duchess War, The Heiress Effect fleshes him out, adding to what we know about his backstory, who, inspired by his past, wants to become involved in politics to give the common people a voice. The struggle between “ambition vs. love” that was a thread in his father’s story is key to his narrative as well, as he falls for someone completely unsuitable.

I already liked Oliver as seen from Robert’s perspective, but I like him as a character in his own right as well. I like that he wants to make something of himself to make things better for others. And while he does have a bit of short-sightedness, feeling he can’t be with Jane, even telling her so in a somewhat cavalier manner, I felt like he grew to the point of understanding that what she means to him is more important than having an impeccable reputation.

Jane is a wonderful heroine. It was great seeing how she was sure of who she was, and that she actually embraced being a failure in society, to the point of exaggerating it. And when the reason for rejecting convention, her relationship with her sister, whose well-being she fears for in the care of their uncle, I truly admired her.

I also like that Milan managed to balance a secondary romance plot without the book feeling too bulky, or without deviating from the central plot with Oliver and Jane. Emily is such a wonderful character, who is determined to live her life to the fullest in spite of having epilepsy, and I loved the romance she had with Anjan.

And speaking of which…I love Milan’s dedication to adding diversity in her books in a way that is respectful to the various cultures and/or identities she’s writing about. In this case, Anjan is an incredibly well-written character, and it led to me learning something about the real life inspiration for his character as well.

This is a wonderful second full novel in the Brothers Sinister series, and I heartily recommend it to any historical romance fan who hasn’t picked it up yet.

The Heiress Effect: https://amzn.to/3amlCQv

Brothers Sinister Box Set: https://amzn.to/2FZgmEn

Review of “American Dreamer” (Dreamers #1) by Adriana Herrera

Herrera, Adriana. American Dreamer. Toronto: Ontario: Carina Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335006875 | 376 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I finally picked up American Dreamer recently after seeing a lot of buzz about it over the last several months since its release. And it’s one of the most refreshing books I’ve read in a while. It provides a nuanced look at the Afro-Latinx experience in the U.S. today, highlighting both the issues and showing the way that characters triumph in the face of adversity.

Nesto and Jude are such fully realized characters, and I loved them from the moment they each apeared on the page. Each of them has their hurdles to overcome, and I love that, even though they do have issues that cause problems in their relationship, they ultimately come back together and make it up to one another each time one screws up.

Nesto’s character being a chef with dreams of expanding his food truck business led to a lot of opportunities to showcase Afro-Caribbean cuisine, and this yet another of those books that should have a warning against reading on an empty stomach. And I love that his business has its roots in family and their journey as immigrants from the Dominican Republic. He also has the most adorable relationship with his mother, and she’s probably one of my favorite characters in the book, with how much she supports him.

I was excited about Jude being a librarian, because I feel like I haven’t seen enough of them in romance (I know there’s a ton out there though…it’s just getting to them). And while the importance of his career isn’t as pronounced as Nesto’s, it does play a role, with him taking on an important project at some point in the book.

But what really struck me was how Jude’s arc revolved heavily around familial rejection for being gay, to contradict Nesto’s completely accepting environment. My heart broke when I not only read about his past of being rejected, but saw it come into play in the present when a family emergency causes him to come back into contact with them.

And the supporting cast is great, and I can’t wait to read the rest, to see how the rest of their friends find love. I took a peek at the books currently released, and the one still to come, and I’m already excited.

This is a wonderfully heartfelt book, chock-full with a great sense of culture and community, with a cast of the most endearing characters I’ve read in a while. I recommend it if you’re looking for a great diverse romance.

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

(Sort of) Review of "An Uncommon Woman" by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. An Uncommon Woman. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2020.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800734954 | 377 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

I received a complimentary copy as a part of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program, in exchange for an honest review.

That said, this won’t be much of a review, as while one of the conditions of the program is posting a review, I didn’t have to finish the book. And I made the mistake of requesting thi book out of excitement to read more by the author, without reading the blurb, even when I received the book in the mail. It was only when I finally picked it up to read that alarm bells started going off, what with the recent resurgence of discussion around proper representation of diverse voices in romance novels due to the RWA scandal, and the lingering memory of some unfortunate titles in the “inspirational” category receiving mainstream attention.

I suspect Frantz had good intent, having flipped to the back of the book and looked at her author’s note. But it is a bit disconcerting to see her perspective is primarily a scholarly one, so it comes off as another white author wanting to write about something “exotic, but not too exotic,” a problem that has plagued romance for a long time. This holds a lot of weight when you consider the fact that her hero and a supporting character both are essentially white people who were “captured” and lived among the “Indians,” with the plot set to see the heroine captured as well (I didn’t get that far…and I got almost two hundred pages in).

And the plot and characters were so lacking in…really…anything, which made the issues I had with the rep stand out even more. The one positive I guess is that she mastered the time period language, but when it’s juxtaposed with “time period accurate” everything else, it just falls super flat.

In short, don’t recommend. But like some of the other problematic Christian romances (or really any Christian romances, this seems to be the sort of book that appeals very specifically to their target demographic.

Review of "A Delicate Deception" (Regency Impostors #3) by Cat Sebastian (+ Affiliate News)

Sebastian, Cat. A Delicate Deception. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

eBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062820679 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

I included the first two Regency Impostors books on my “best of 2019,” simply under the series title, with some anticipation that I would be able to talk about A Delicate Deception as highly. However, while I enjoyed elements of this, like the unapologetic queerness of the two leads and the fact the absolutely adorable development of their relationship, other parts fell a little flat.

Cat continues to create such scrumptious male characters. I love the exploration of Sydney’s grief over the losses he’s experienced, and his presentation as grumpy withotu being annoying, a failing in the characterization of many a grumpy hero.

I also like that, in Amelia, he was paired with someone who also was a bit closed-off, and seeing them interact with that in common is interesting and outside the norm, since romance usually tries to play up opposing personalities. My favorite chapters have to be the two consisting solely of their correspondence. While it’s not really the “thing” anymore, if it had been an epistolary work, I would not have objected.

However, the plot meandered, to the point of me struggling to follow it. There are some fun elements, like a bit of family dynamics, and the discussion of Amelia’s historical novels (a bit I also enjoyed in A Duke in Disguise), but there didn’t seem to be a ton of direction for the story overall.

If anything, the characters are amusing and they saved me from being truly bored. Cat Sebastian has rapidly become an autobuy, and one or two disappointments have not put me off an author that frequently writes such entertaining stories. I recommend this if you are a more character-focused reader, and you are ready to become invested in the hijinks of these unique characters, because that alone makes it somewhat worth it.

Also, final note: I recently registered to become an Amazon Affiliate! So, if by chance you haven’t gotten this book yet, and are interested in trying it, I’d appreciate the support.

Buy the book here: https://amzn.to/30pWx2x

Review of "A Duke a Dozen" (The Survivors #6) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. A Duke a Dozen. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1687469892 | 421 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

After the age-gap relationship where the hero was older in the previous book, it was a nice touch to have an older heroine this time around in A Duke a Dozen. And as has become the hallmark of this series, we get a good balance of some light-hearted moments (although the focus is much more on the romance over the friendship this time around, with the story taking the characters away from London and the Draven Club), emotional reckoning, and a dash of suspense.

While Phin isn’t my favorite of the Survivors (I still have a soft spot for Draven, after the previous book), I enjoyed seeing him trying to reckon with the new expectations, due to the “accidents” the befell his older brothers, leaving him saddled with the title. And while he initially came to Annabel out of suspicion, I love how kindly he treated her, as a contrast to her late husband.

I truly felt for Annabel, however. A bad arranged marriage is nothing new to historical romance, as it wouldn’t have been uncommon during this time period, but it’s the little touches that made her experience unique. The way her husband made her unable to properly experience pleasure was moving, but even more so was the sad fate for her daughter, who was the impetus for her seeking Phin’s help.

The mystery does feel a tad obvious in this one, and, admittedly, I almost forgot it was important with everything else going on, so were it not for the last-minute resolution by the end, I may not have missed that detail

This is another great installment in a wonderful series, and I can’t wait for the next one releasing in just under a month as of this writing. I recommend this to fans of Regency romances.

Review of "Faker" by Sarah Smith

Smith, Sarah. Faker. New York: Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984805423 | 327 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I hadn’t heard much buzz around Faker as I had some of the other 2019 trade cartoon cover books, so, on the one hand, I was happy to go in mostly blind, but on the other, I did have some doubts about why it wasn’t worth promoting…especially looking back on the books that did get promoted that I didn’t like.

And I now feel like people have been sleeping on this one. Granted, I do have some biases, when it comes to the material. While it’s not the setting, I love that the heroine, Emmie, grew up in Hawaii (although she grew up in Kona, a place I’m only marginally familiar with), and seeing discussions of the environment and the culture, not to mention the food (finally, someone who actually knows what a spam musubi is!) is always great to see in mainstream fiction published for the wider U.S. (and occasionally world) market.

And while I did have my doubts about the premise, as enemies-to-lovers could go either way for me, I ended up liking it. I liked seeing Emmie succeed in a traditionally male-dominated field and the exploration of having to “fake” a tougher persona as a result. And the way it plays into her evolving relationship with Tate, especially given some of the later revelations regarding his initial hostility, is incredibly well done.

This is a great rom-com, with a great infusion of culture and an awesome cast of characters that I hope will spawn sequels/spinoffs. I would recommend this to rom-com lovers and those looking for good Filipino-American rep in romance.