Review of “Brazen and the Beast” (Bareknuckle Bastards #2) by Sarah MacLean

MacLean, Sarah. Brazen and the Beast. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | 978-0062692078 | 382 pages | Victorian Romance

3-ish stars

Brazen and the Beast signals my breakup with (or at least my second extended break from) Sarah MacLean’s work. Because while I became reinvigorated with her with her fun and subversive Scandal and Scoundrel series, and thought she was moving beyond the standard broody alpha who either a) majorly screws up and has to grovel at the end, b) has a major case of self-loathing, or c) both, with The Day of the Duchess, both installments in this series have proved me wrong thus far, and both her hints about the forthcoming book about Grace and the antagonistic Ewan don’t inspire me to hysterics like everyone else.

Granted, given it took me two tries to get into Wicked and the Wallflower, I did like this one a tad bit more, even if the plot did feel a little stagnant at times. The “hero,” Whit/Beast, in spite of being full of self-loathing and concerns he’s not good enough for a woman who’s clearly interested in him, has slightly more appeal than Devil, in particular his refined reading tastes, with a peek at his “library” showing that a stack of books by women. However, I did not feel particularly moved by him in any emotional way, and his repetitive grunts may be the annoying thing that drove me insane in this book.

But the most talked-about part of the book in promotion is Hattie, and I found her a much more appealing heroine than Felicity (not just because I was spared the constant repetition of her full name, but that helped). I love her determination to take her life into her own hands with the Year of Hattie, and the promotion it’s inspired among readers with the “Year of You,” with some discussion about what we might do to take command of our own lives. While I may obviously not like a lot of things when it comes to the heroes MacLean’s writes, she (usually) creates great heroines, and I think Hattie is one of her best, so it’s a shame that she’s one of the sole consistently good parts of a somewhat lackluster story.

That being said, I will probably wait a while to read the next book when it does come out next year, given my concerns, and read a balance of reviews ahead of time before making my decision instead of buying into the hype again. But that said, with any book, to each their own. If you haven’t yet read Sarah MacLean and you’re a fan of a broody alpha hero and an independent heroine, this is the book and author for you.

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Review of “Dark in Death” (in Death #46) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Dark in Death. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250161536 | 372 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Life imitates art imitating life in this one, with documented cases of Roberts being the victim of plagiarism by other authors both before and since the publication of this book, not to mention the alleged use of ghostwriters ( a claim she’s denied) and overly enthusiastic involvement from fans.

The case itself for its own sake was great as well, and definitely one of the more solid of the series. It’s well-paced and had enough going on to keep me invested, without being too complex to the point where I felt lost. I found myself anxious to find out who the overzealous fan was elaborately recreated crime scenes from a book series, while also going after its author with accusations of plagiarism, and I found myself satisfied as things came together.

And given that the theme of this book is, well, books, I liked that there was also a comment on the whole eBook vs. paper debate, with equal use of both by the characters, thus demonstrating that both have continued value, even in this futuristic setting. While there are mentions of some using eReaders, I like that we have people like Roarke who still adore paper books, and he has a large library. Every time I think he can’t surprise me with more ways to love him, he does something else that seals the deal.

I really enjoyed this installment, especially given its feeling of personal commentary on what it’s like to be an author, especially one of Nora Roberts’ level of success.

Review of “To Tempt a Rebel” (The Scarlet Chronicles #4) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. To Tempt a Rebel. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1090208668 | 404 pages | Historical Romance–French Revolution

‘4.5 stars

Shana Galen’s talent for blending fact and fiction once again shines in To Tempt a Rebel. And it contains all the strengths that made the previous book, Taken by the Rake, such a great read, in particular adding some nuance to the French Revolution, in balancing both the revolutionary and Royalist perspectives, perhaps even more so this time around, what with the fact that the hero and heroine start off on opposing sides.

Once again, the hero is the one who goes through the major growth, and that is not a bad thing, especially given the situation. I loved seeing his transition from someone who embraced the Revolution and its ideals to coming to see it had become too dark and bloodthirsty, especially when he began to consider the life of the young Louis Charles, now considered King by the Royalists and thus a threat to the revolutionaries, who abuse him in prison, in spite of him having done nothing but be born the son of a king.

While the heroine, Alex, like Honoria, does feel a bit like the standard strong historical heroine, I did like that the Revolution and their initial reluctant partnership allowed for some tough conversations, like about how the revolutionaries are all about liberty and equality for men, but there is still a lack of consideration for giving women the same rights.

This is a delightful final book in the Scarlet Chronicles series, and it checks all the boxes of excellent setting, action, and romance. I would recommend this to all historical romance lovers.

Review of “Year One” (Chronicles of the One #1) by Nora Roberts

Roberts, Nora. Year One. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250122957 |419 pages | Science Fiction–Post Apocalyptic

4 stars

Despite my my varied past experience with Nora Roberts’ work, her paranormal series in particular, I was drawn to trying Year One due to hearing it was slightly different from her other series, and given that what I liked was her skill as a world builder (or in this case, on occasion, world destroyer) when it comes to developing her paranormals, but found the romances rather shallow and unbearable to read, with only one exception so far, this one seemed promising, and I’m glad that with this series and Shelter in Place, she’s begun to dive into grittier territory, which I knew she had the potential for.

And while it is by no means perfect, I still found it engaging, and I enjoyed observing how characters survived a terrible tragedy like the Doom then went through trying to figure out how you rebuild in the aftermath. While there are several characters that we are introduced to, it was easy to become invested in their respective narratives.

And I like that she also brings her roots in the paranormal to this new series, so it stands out from the pack of post apocalyptic and dystopian novels, which lean more toward the science oriented, even if there are some parallels, particularly one that other readers have noted with The Stand by Stephen King (which I have not read, so I cannot pass judgment either way).

I really liked this one, in spite of its somewhat polarizing reception among readers, if the Goodreads reviews are anything to go on. And I think anyone who is interested in a post apocalyptic story should give this one a try, whether they’ve read Nora Roberts in the past or not.

Review of “The Light Over London” by Julia Kelly

Kelly, Julia. The Light Over London. New York: Gallery Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1501196416 | 293 pages | Historical Fiction

2 stars

The Light Over London was recommended by Theresa Romain in her readers’ group around the time of publication, and my interest was piqued, because I’m always looking for more World War I and II books. But once I got into the book, I found myself disappointed, as, were it not for the ending, I would call it another casulty of romance readers’ rejection of the World Wars as a time period, consigning them to historical fiction.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I obviously love historical romance, and there are plenty of historically rich historical romance books out there, even if historical accuracy and sense of place are not universally demanded within historical romance. But it is an expectation in historical fiction, as well as adding some substance and something new to help readers feel like they’re learning, and perhaps leave some resources for them to get more accurate information at the end. While Kelly does endeavor to provide some context for the experience of a gunner girl during the war, I felt it was largely overshadowed by the ill-fated romance.

I think this would make a good book for someone who is just starting to learn about the World War II period, because, bizarre twist ending notwithstanding, it does decently depict the stakes of love during World War II. However, it lacks any real originality to make it worth reading for anyone who is more well-read in the period.

Review of “Taken by the Rake” (The Scarlet Chronicles #3) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. Taken by a Rake. [United States] Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $11.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1796607147 | 459 pages | Historical Romance–French Revolution

4 stars

I admit, prior to reading both Taken by a Rake and the novella prequel, I was a bit concerned, that due to the weird intricacies of publishing rights, book two, Traitor in Her Arms, was only available in eBook, so I worried about skipping it, even if the same intricacies led to a somewhat odd sequence to the publishing order of the series. However, upon starting this one, my fears were completely assuaged, as it seems each book focuses more on developing its connection to the original Scarlet Pimpernel books, featuring major players I recognized from my recent read of the series, as well as establishing the atmosphere of the Revolutionary France, as opposed to developing any camaraderie between the heroes and heroines across the series in the traditional sense that most romance series do. As such, this book works as a standalone, just as, I assume, the others do as well.

That being said, Galen’s depiction of the period is excellent, feeling well-researched and giving you a sense that you are there in Revolutionary France. And while they’re not major characters by any means, I loved how she captured a sense of humanity to the French Royal Family, to add some credence to the rescue missions the League were undertaking.

While I was already aware that King Louis, Marie Antoinette, and the children weren’t all ignorant spendthrifts, it was nice to see from the perspective of someone like Laurent who knew they cared for the less fortunate, and also saw the goodness in the children as well. It was a time period where it seemed like all aristocrats had to be punished, so it was great that Laurent comes to recognize his privilege and begins to do something to make a difference by joining the cause.

I found myself rather unimpressed with the heroine, Honoria, by contrast. She is everything a great romance heroine is: intelligent, practical, and doesn’t fall at the aristocratic hero’s feet right away. But that’s kind of the problem; so many heroines are like that, and there’s nothing that distinguishes her, especially when Laurent goes through such an amazing arc that outshines her.

This was a more or less enjoyable historical romance, although more so for the hero’s development and the depiction of the setting than the romance itself. However, it’s still beautifully written, and one of Shana Galen’s better books (with the exception of her Survivors series, but I may be biased there). I would recommend this to all historical romance fans, especially those interested in the French Revolution.

Review of “The Doctor’s Secret” (Copper Point Medical #1) by Heidi Cullinan

Cullinan, Heidi. The Doctor’s Secret. Tallahassee, FL: Dreamspinner Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1641081009 | 337 pages | Contemporary Romance

4 stars

Heidi Cullinan was recommended to me back when I read another m/m contemporary and was looking for similar books, and while I didn’t have high hopes of finding anything, it so happened the library was purchasing a copy of The Doctor’s Secret, and I was immediately drawn to the hospital setting and the Asian hero.

And while I can’t say for certain if the depiction of the medical profession was done well (although a quick perusal of other reviews indicates that, it was, as well as the acknowledgment that she clearly relied on her husband for a lot of medical information), I really enjoyed the usage of culture, both in defining Hong-wei as a character and forming a bonding point for him with Simon. While I did feel like their relationship moved bizarrely fast from attraction to “I love you, I want to spend my life with you,” I found their bond quite sweet, especially once I reached the end.

I also liked that, while the issue of being LGBTQ+ in itself isn’t a problem in this fictional town, with the series clearly set up to have several LGBTQ+ characters, it subtly highlights the issue of them having to keep their relationship a secret in a different way, due to the fact that they work together, and the hospital has a policy against co-workers dating. It’s a very interesting concept to work with, especially in the era of #MeToo, with new awareness around the treatment of workplace relationships in romance, especially between people in unequal positions as Hong-wei and Simon are, and I feel like it was well-executed.

I really enjoyed this one, and will hopefully read the others in the series. I recommend this to anyone looking for a fun, yet heartwarming LGBTQ+ read.

Review of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” by Baroness Orczy

Orczy, Baroness Emmuska. The Scarlet Pimpernel. 1905. New York: Signet Classics/New American Library, 2000.

Paperback | $4.95 USD | ISBN-13: 9780451527622 | 267 pages | Classics/Historical Fiction

4 stars

One of my favorite series of all time is the Pink Carnation series by Lauren Willig, and this was how I first heard about the Scarlet Pimpernel, who plays a minor role in the first book, and I’ve wanted to read the original classic ever since, but never really got around to it until now, despite hearing good things about it. However, as I’m now getting into another series about the Scarlet Pimpernel, this one by Shana Galen, I thought it would be a good time to finally read the original and see what it was really about.

And it’s more or less enjoyable in its own right. While it’s not as much of a swashbuckler as I may have initially come to expect, with much of the book focusing on his wife, Margeurite’s, perspective, there’s still a lot of intrigue, especially given her own position throughout the book as a Frenchwoman, and interacting with the villain of the story.

And with both “secret identity” trope and what descriptions of spy escapades there are, it’s easy to see how this book was so pivotal in inspiring heroes in the decades that followed, like James Bond or numerous comic book superheroes like Superman and Batman. While there are some minor elements that don’t hold up in a modern context, that is the case with many enduring works of literature, and given its legacy, I feel that the The Scarlet Pimpernel is an enjoyable book, and one I would recommend to fans of adventure and romance, especially if they’re looking to learn more about the literary history that may have inspired some of their modern favorites.

Review of “Echoes in Death” (In Death #44) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Echoes in Death. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250123114 | 371 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

I chose not to post a review for the previous book in the In Death series, because, upon reflection, it’s started to get old saying the same things over and over, and while I love gushing about the cast interactions, with so few books left in the series that are currently out, I’m thinking I may choose to only unpack the ones I find particularly memorable, which will hopefully be all of them, but we’ll see.

That being said, this one definitely merits a review, because it’s probably one of my favorite cases. And while I’m not sure everyone will agree with me, I like that it focuses on a singular crime with a singular perp without too much complexity. Not to mention some of the procedural elements feeling reminiscent of Law and Order: SVU, which I have just recently got sucked back into, plus the participation from this world’s SVU squad, given the nature of the case. While some of the books, especially lately, have had their moments where my attention does waver a bit, this one had me on the edge of my seat, wanting to know who was behind it all.

And to add just a tiny note on the cast and their banter, I felt like some of the jokes here were pretty funny, especially the “Oedipus/Edison” conversation, which spun off from the assertion of the rapist’s predilections. I love that there are these small moments of levity that lighten up otherwise intense books.

This one is on my list of favorite books of the series. And while I do still feel that the series is worth the full investment, this is the one I’d probably recommend to fans of other police procedurals, like SVU.

Review of “The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” (Feminine Pursuits #1) by Olivia Waite

Waite, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062931795 | 322 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was super excited when The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was announced, due to my excitement about Avon releasing an f/f historical. And it definitely sounded appealing, what with Lucy being an astronomer, setting it apart from a lot of historicals I’ve read.

And I really enjoyed it for the characters and the development of the relationship between the two heroines. The tension between them was so well-crafted, with me anticipating each step they took toward intimacy with one another. And even when there were questions about whether the relationship would work, due to issues fostered by their pasts and the larger societal issues, I still rooted for them to find some way to make it work.

However, Lucy’s passion for astronomy, which brings her into contact with Catherine, led to some mixed feelings for me in terms of enjoyment when the science and math were involved. While I enjoyed seeing the work as a part of the story on principle, as we need more historicals about working women confronting the patriarchy, I personally didn’t engage with the portions of the book that dealt heavily with it quite as much as I did the portions that developed the romance.

That being said, I do still enjoy this book for the fact that it’s helping to bring LGBTQ+ historical romance (and particularly f/f) into the mainstream. And given its heavy focus on science, I would recommend this to readers who are more educated in astronomy. But it is still a great read that I think is worth taking a chance on if you’re the average historical romance reader as well, to see if things resonate better with you than it did with me.