Re-Review of “The Bride Who Got Lucky” (Cavensham Heiresses #2) by Janna MacGregor

MacGregor, Janna. The Bride Who Got Lucky. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250116147 | 362 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Janna MacGregor’s Facebook group has recently started doing monthly readalongs for her books, likely in anticipation of her next release in February. And while I did not participate in the first one for and don’t know about my commitment to the upcoming ones, I consider this one to be my favorite of MacGregor’s books, so I longed to do a reread. And while there were one or two elements that I felt more critical of this time around, I find that my enjioyment has not wavered.

Emma, for example, is a great heroine. One of the major (mostly unjust) criticisms leveled at many hitorical romance authors is that their heroines feel “too modern,” and MacGregor provides context for Emma’s beliefs by referencing thinkers of the time, like Mary Wollstonecraft and Jeremy Bentham. And while Emma does sometimes feel a little “tropey” in the sense that heroines can be (she mentions being “not like other women” on p. 133), she is still incredibly likable and relatable to bookworms like me, also showing her dissatisfaction with the way Regency society (and the legal system as it was throughout a lot of history) allows women to be subject to their husbands, even if they are prone to violence.

Somerton is an absolutely wonderful hero, and is just as swoonworthy the second time around I love how much he cares about Emma, in spite of the fact that his past has made him reluctant to open up to or become close to anyone. And the fact that he ends up taking up her cause to help avenge her deceased friend, and the way he ultimately goes about it, is wonderful.

And having read all the books currently out (more or less, anyway), it’s great to look back at the ways certain character developments were foreshadowed. Aside from the obvious (meeting March, the heroine of book three and the beginning of Lord Paul’s redemption arc), I remember being excited to see for Will’s story upon first reading this one, given his and Emma’s particularly heated interaction, and now having read his book, I can also appreciate his growth as a character.

Reading this again has reaffirmed my love for this book. This is, in my admittedly biased opinion, one of Janna MacGregor’s best books based on the characters alone, and the book from her backlist I would recommend to all newcomers to her work.

Why You Should Read “Last Christmas in Paris” by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb


Gaynor, Hazel, & Heather Webb. Last Christmas in Paris. New York: William Morrow, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062562685 | 368 pages | Historical Fiction

Recently, I found myself in another minor reading slump, where the books I thought I wanted to read weren’t holding my interest, after a string of relative winners. Thus, I did one of the things I have often heard was a good solution for getting out of a slump: rereading a favorite, in this case, Last Christmas in Paris  by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb, which I had already hoped to reread at some point due to my love for their recent release, Meet Me in Monaco. But, having done some rereading earlier this year, I found myself wondering what I would post about it, given my reactions would be very similar, given it hadn’t been that long since I first read it. Thus, I decided to shift the focus to emphasizing recommending the book to other readers, in a similar vein to YouTuber Daniel Greene’s “Why You Should Read” series dedicated to fantasy series. Thus, while I’m sure I’ll repeat many of the things I said in my original review and rave quite a bit, I will try my best to be more objective, in hopes of appealing to readers who haven’t found it yet. 

  1. The historical detail is impeccable : I love how, through its inclusion of main characters both serving in the war and observing from back home in England, it offers a very nuanced and multi-faceted look at World War I. As the authors explain in their historical notes, trench warfare and its effects on the psyche in the form of shell shock and “war neurosis”  are things about, but I love how it also delves into the darker aspects, and how propaganda at home was used to sugarcoat the wartime experience. 
  2. It truly is a love letter to letters: From the structure itself, and how it manages to be engrossing in spite of the fact that the characters never interact face-to-face on the page, to the way Gaynor and Webb managed to replicate the form to an extent in their writing process (albeit through emails), it presents a sense of nostalgia for a time when snail mail letters were a valued form of communication rather than just a nuisance. It makes you appreciate how much people could convey through letters, particularly when they were separated for long periods of time. And in a situation like World War I, the letters truly were a beacon in a dark time. 
  3. It’s a fabulous wartime romance (with an HFN!): I think I’ve said that it bothers me to no end that, in spite of the Romance Writers of America classification of a historical romance as just generally “set prior to 1950”  and that we are now far enough away time-wise for 9/11 to be historical in some contexts, that World War I and II fiction, both with and without a happy ending, gets classified as historical fiction, and mainstream historical romance is mostly Regency and Victorian ,with the occasional medieval. But in spite of its classification, it is a book I would recommend to romance readers. While it doesn’t have the “conventional” HEA (and I can see myself getting flamed for saying this), it has an unexpected and beautiful bittersweet happy ending, and its power is why, even upon a second reading, I was once again I was brought to tears. 
  4. The structure of the reveals is well-done: While most letters are conveyed in chronological order, a few are withheld for one reason for another, even if in at least one case, there is a reference to it, as would be natural in normal correspondence between real people. But the circumstances for why each letter was withheld is believable, and each of those in particular is a gut-punch, especially as some add further clarity amid the natural misunderstandings of correspondence, in which you the writer may choose to withhold information, leading to the best execution of the Big Misunderstanding, and one of the few that did not have me screaming that they needed to just talk to each other. 
  5.  It’s the epitome of the best of romantic historical fiction: Encompassing all the above points to an extent, I do feel like the most important reason is its crossover appeal and how it perfectly manages to balance the romance and the historical. I’ve read historical romances and felt it was bereft of any real sense of place, even if wasn’t outright inaccurate (only to be told that’s why it’s called historical ROMANCE…apparently the history isn’t that important?), and then there are historical novels (both historical fiction and historical romance) that include subpar romantic plots, with the historical elements being the highlight, and even then those not being enough to deal with the other lackluster bits. But Gaynor and Webb come together and write a book that’s in some ways familiar and in some ways very unexpected, and left me feeling excited about every aspect, something I hope that everyone who loves a good romantic historical will feel too. 

Review of “Heartstone” (Heartstone #1) by Elle Katharine White (Throwback)

White, Elle Katharine. Heartstone. New York: Harper Voyager, 2016.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062451941 | 336 pages | Fantasy

5 stars

A mix of preparing to read the second book in preparation for the release of the third (but having forgotten the specifics of this one) and the recent uptick in new Austen retellings in other genres led me to feel the urge to revisit Heartstone. And while I still enjoyed it much more this time around, my recent renewed interest in fantasy, which wasn’t the case so much last time, led to me finding new things to enjoy apart from this new take on the story itself.

One of the things I continue to love is the way the story was adapted to suit the new world, especially in terms of how it deals with the class conflict at the center of the plot. While there are elements While clearly makes her own, I could easily recognize the struggle between the nakla and the Dragon Riders and empathize with them.

The wider world of the story is also incredibly rich with history and lore, ensuring that this is just one adventure with these characters and this world, and that I was even more excited for the succeeding books and how they develop things from there, especially with the creative turn the last few chapters took.

I still very much love this book, and would still recommend this to fans of Austen retellings, especially if they also happen to be fans of epic fantasy.

Review of “Virtue’s Lady” (The Southwark Saga #2) by Jessica Cale (Reread/Throwback Review)

Cale, Jessica. Virtue’s Lady. 2015. [United States]: Corbeau Media, 2017.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1511984263 | 327 pages | Historical Romance

4.5 stars

Original review available here.

After rereading Tyburn, I was eager to revisit the rest of the series. And while if there’s a weakest book in the series, this one might be it for me, it’s still a superb book, and it’s only a few notches below the others.

Once again, as I did with my reread of the prior book, I did find myself feeling a bit more sympathetic to Jane’s plight than I was the first time around, and I began to really take note of her transformation from spoiled brat who disrespects her servants to learning what it’s like to do honest work like them. And while her development still seems a little unrealistic at times, I did feel I was more or less convinced she was in her element in Southwark.

I still don’t find Mark as much to my taste as some of the other heroes in the series, but I do love his relationship with Jane, first respecting the fact that things are impossible between them, then being right by her side as she embraces life in Southwark.

I also really liked seeing the little hints of Meg’s vulnerability a little more in this one. While she definitely had her moments of not being the best person, and I still found it ridiculous that she laid claim to Mark despite not really being “with” him officially for years, I can stil understand her desire for stability when everyone else around her isn’t providing that.

This is a great second book by Jessica Cale, and, like its predecessor, it is just as good upon reread. I enthusiastically recommend this series to anyone looking for something new in historical romance.

Review of “Tyburn” (The Southwark Saga #1) by Jessica Cale (Re-Readathon)

Cale, Jessica. Tyburn. 2014. [United States]: Corbeau Media, 2017.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503292215 | 305 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

Read the original review here.

I went into this year fully intending that I would reread the Southwark Saga, but I just didn’t know when I would do it, given my tendency to not reread, especially lately. But then I heard about this Re-Readathon going on this week, hosted by a few BookTubers I watch, among others, and it provided the perfect excuse for me to finally get around to doing a reread of Tyburn (and hopefully get around to rereading the others in the near future as well). This book fulfills the Recent Favorite and Game Changer categories.

Now, as for the book itself, my general impressions are more or less the same. I still very much love both Nick and Sally as characters, and rooted for them in spite of knowing how it would turn out. I also felt much more attuned to the subtle hints about who they both were than I was the first time around.

Jane is definitely a character who I liked a lot more upon rereading, due to having a greater understanding of her situation this time. She does still lean a bit on the impulsive, TSTL end of the spectrum, but I definitely did not find her as irksome, especially when I thought about the awful things her father had his hands in in this very book more deeply.

I would like to conclude this review with a discussion of why I think this book is a personal game-changer. One of the most important reasons is that it and its sequels are among the most original books I’ve read in romance. I love its gritty realism and the way Jessica Cale clearly put in effort to present an authentic feel for the period, something I’ve started to find increasingly lacking in a lot of historical romances. I also love that she focuses on characters who’ve been through hardship, but presents them as people you can root for, which is a rarity in my opinion, especially with the popularity of broody, angsty heroes. And, most importantly, it demonstrates that a historical involving commoners can have a beautiful HEA.

Review of “Cinder” (The Lunar Choronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer (THROWBACK)

Meyer, Marissa. Cinder. 2012. New York: Square Fish, 2013. ISBN-13: 9781250007209.  Hardcover List Price: $19.99. Paperback List Price: $9.99.

4.5 stars

This is a book I first read when the paperback came out in 2013, and while I enjoyed it, I did not feel fully invested in the series at the time. Now that all the books are out, however, and thanks to the nudging of a friend of a friend who lent me Scarlet, I picked this up again.

Meyer’s world building is exemplary, establishing a futuristic society that has both critical distance from the present day in terms of the time that has passed and the technology innovations that have occurred, but remains relatable, making one of the central problems a worldwide pandemic comparable to plagues like the Black Death, and issues like racism and classism.

Cinder is a wonderful, unique heroine, particularly for Cinderella retellings. I love that the story focused just as much on giving her a past that fits her into the world in a deeper way, while also incorporating the important elements of the Cinderella tale.

 

Review of”When the Marquess Met His Match” (An American Heiress in London #1) by Laura Lee Guhrke

Guhrke, Laura Lee. When the Marquess Met His Match. New York: Avon Books, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-311817-2. Print List Price: $7.99.

4.5 stars

I first picked this up and read this when it came out, per Julia Quinn’s recommendation, and while I loved it, for some reason, I didn’t read any of the further installments in the series. As I finally made plans to read them, and book 4 won a RITA award (a factor which only amplified my desire to get my hands on this series), I decided to give this book a reread to refresh myself.

And this book is just as great as I remembered, if a bit cliche now, what with there being many historical romances with plots revolving around rakish men with “daddy issues,” or widows who lived through a first marriage to a horrible man who only wanted her for her fortune. But what I enjoyed was how Guhrke expands on these archetypes to make them into people. In Nicholas, we see someone who wants a purpose, but is kept from it, due to the fact that everything he wants are things that go against what is considered proper behavior for a peer. And Belinda has become a career woman through matchmaking, with the mindset of guiding these women away from men like her late husband.

 

Review of “One Good Earl Deserves a Lover” (Rules of Scoundrels #2) by Sarah MacLean- (Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. One Good Earl Deserves a Lover. New York: Avon Books, 2013. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-206853-8. Print List Price: $7.99.

3 stars

In binge-reading Sarah MacLean’s novels, I have found that she loves to heroes that either describe themselves at one point or another, or have someone else refer to them as, “an ass.” While I have no issue with plain speaking once in a while, when you use it to describe the behavior of every hero five books in a row, it gets repetitive.

Cross is kind of an ass, and despite her attempts to redeem him, I did not find him as attracted on a new reading as I did initially. He does have a few good qualities, like he did penance for his profligate behavior which led to tragedy within the family by remaining celibate for six years until he meets and falls for Pippa. But I found, as the book went on, that I really didn’t care that much about him. Some heroes with tragic pasts have a way of grabbing you and not letting go, and he sadly was not one of them.

Pippa is, in her own words, an “odd” heroine, and that is endearing at first, especially when she is moved by her curiosity about marital intimacy to seek out Cross, as she has heard he is a legendary rake. But after a while, it started to get tedious.

And is it bad that I actually felt bad for her fiance? Sure, he’s not the brightest crayon in the box, but if he had a bit more brains, he would have been the perfect man, especially given that when she breaks it off with him, I saw that he really is a nice guy. I don’t know if I’m missing something, or if it’s just my preference for heroes that aren’t all broody macho-men, but a part of me actually wished she had left Cross and married her fiance and been happy with him.

Review of “A Rogue by Any Other Name” by Sarah MacLean -(Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. A Rogue by Any Other Name. New York: Avon Books, 2012. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-206852-1. Print List Price: $7.99.

5 stars

In an interview discussing this series, MacLean discussed how the tone of this series is much darker than that of her Love by Numbers series, in that this one focuses on four men with dark pasts who work at a gaming hell, while her previous series was very London- and society-focused. And while I am usually not a fan of the overly tortured heroes or very dark settings, I found I enjoyed the this book a lot more, although it may be nostalgia-based bias, as I think this was the first MacLean book I read. But sometimes it is nice to get out of the crowded London ballrooms and drawing-rooms and see a different side of the Regency world you never experienced before.

The hero and heroine are both compelling characters. Penelope is a character readers of the Love by Numbers series will have met before, as she was the Duke of Leighton’s perfect fiancee in Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart, and we see that the fallout of the end of their betrothal in this book has led to her being all but umarriageable, with almost eight years having passed with her still unwed, and two of her four sisters forced to make undesirable matches. The hero, Bourne, is a childhood friend, who lost everything years ago in a card game, and now is determined to at least gain some of his property back by marrying her, and get revenge on the man who fleeced him. While marriage-of-convenience plots aren’t always my favorite trope, and I tend to be iffy about revenge plots,  I do like how this one plays out, because of the fact that the two have this history together. Very often, marriages of convenience in historical novels (and what we think of as the typical historical marriage) was between two near-strangers, so it is great to see a story where, even if the two of them have grown and changed in some negative ways since they have last been in contact, they do have some knowledge of one another to build off.

While you see the relationship between them develop in the present, there are also letters from the past interspersed throughout, at the beginning of some chapters and sections of chapters, which illustrate what their relationship was like, and what happened to cause their relationship to change and become the way it is at the beginning when they meet again at the beginning of the novel. And even after the relationship between them crumbles in the past, you see that Penelope has not given up on trying to reach out to him, writing to him even when he’s stopped responding, and even when she doesn’t bother sending the letters anymore.

And just as with her previous series, MacLean presents us with a fun extended cast of characters, including the Cross, Temple, and Chase. And I feel like this is one series that it can be fun to reread, just because one of the future major characters has a major reveal in one of the later books, so it is fun to look into that character’s quotes in this book, and see if there are any hints of that hidden within them.

 

 

Review of “Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart” (Love by Numbers #3) by Sarah MacLean-(Throwback)-MacLean-a-Thon

MacLean, Sarah. Eleven Scandals to Start to Win a Duke’s Heart. New York: Avon Books, 2011. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-185207. Print List Price: #7.99.

4 stars

As I shared in the last review of a historical romance featuring a stuffy duke, I found it hard to get into, due to certain factors. But while this book also features a stuffy duke, I found him to be a much more sympathetic character.

This is a book where I truly felt I was reading a somewhat accurate historical romance, as Simon, the Duke of Leighton, has been conditioned to worry endlessly about reputation, to the point where some see him as an elitist, by his mother, but he is also tempted to follow his heart. While he does have some cringey moments, like constantly saying that he’s a duke when he feels like his status can get him something, he is at heart a great hero, who proves to be a great match for the feisty heroine, Juliana.

Juliana is a character I adored from the previous books, due to her funny turns of phrase (due to English being her second language) and literally being a walking scandal. And she does not disappoint in this book, punching scoundrels, colliding into ballroom decorations, and falling into the Serpentine. The only time I got upset with her was when she did not understand why Simon proposed to her after he compromised her.

Benedick is a character I quite liked, who was another suitor for Juliana’s hand in this one, but unfortunately has yet to get his own book. I do hope he gets one in the future.