Review of “Obsession in Death” (In Death #40) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Obsession in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2015.

Hardcover | $27.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399170874 | 404 pages | Romantic Suspense

4 stars

40 books in with the prospect of only eight more, then having to wait for the next two, and I can still say I am obsessed with this series, in spite of all its shortcomings. So, it is quite fitting in a sense that this one is called Obsession in Death.

And while this wasn’t one of my favorites in the series, it was still great, especially as it presented a new personal challenge for Eve, with the case being concerned with an obsessed fan of hers who takes it upon themselves to make misguided attempts to avenge her to prove her “friendship.” Ultimately, even if the reveal wasn’t that exciting for me, I found the psychology of the killer, in the snippets we got from their perspective the most interesting, which is not surprising, given ho w I’ve often expressed my admiration for how Nora Roberts gets into these twisted people’s heads.

I also really liked seeing the team work together, bringing up people from past cases. Admittedly, I didn’t remember quite a few of them, but it is nice to see more consistency in terms of the connectedness of the series and the characters beyond the core group.

And Eve and Roarke…I fall in love with them more and more as a couple from book to book. And it’s really those little intimate moments, like them having a meal together or their casual banter in between all the intense case-cracking, that make me so happy.

This was a pretty interesting one in the series, and while it wasn’t mind-blowing by any means, reaching book 40 only increases my hype for the books to come.

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Review of “Governess Gone Rogue” (Dear Lady Truelove #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke

Guhrke, Laura Lee. Governess Gone Rogue. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062853691 | 372 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Governess Gone Rogue is probably my new favorite in the Dear Lady Truelove series so far, due to the skilled combination of two tropes that I thought had been done to death: the nanny/governess trope a la Mary Poppins, and the woman-disguised-as-a-man trope. And while there are shades of the familiar with both aspects, Guhrke injects something new into the story, making it her own.

Amanda is a wonderful heroine, and I could not help but feel for her when the secrets from her past came out, but admire her determination to continue to persevere, even when confronted with the man from her past who runs into her again and is once again making lewd offers. I love how Guhrke highlighted how uncertain women still were during this time period, especially once their reputations were compromised, along with the double standard of how it had no impact on the man, even if he pursued her.

Jamie is a great counterpart for Amanda, given his own wild past and current efforts to carve a political career for himself. While there is the obligatory bit of character growth when he begins to really spend time with his sons and consider what they really need. While he is still grieving for his wife at the beginning of the book, I feel like it was a natural progression to him falling for Amanda and seeing her important as not just a nanny, but as someone he loves and wants to spend his life with.

There are also a few great scenes from the boys’ perspective, and it just helped me to love them even more, especially given the parallels, with them originally writing to Lady Truelove seeking a new mother, and later visiting the newspaper’s offices to seek her out in person to seek help in getting Amanda back. And their antics in between, while often naughty, are incredibly endearing.

This is a delightful, slow-burning historical romance, with a great mix of humor and heart. I would recommend this to other historical romance fans, even if you haven’t picked up a Laura Lee Guhrke book before.

Review of “The Queen’s Resistance” (The Queen’s Rising #2) by Rebecca Ross

Ross, Rebecca. The Queen’s Resistance. New York: HarperTeen, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-002471383 | 458 pages | YA Fantasy

5 stars

The Queen’s Resistance is a delightful conclusion to the The Queen’s Rising duology, building on the great world building and character development of the prior book. Given the reasonably satisfactory ending to the prior book, this could easily have fallen flat as an unnecessary sequel, but it everything worked, with the stakes being raised and the concepts laid out in the beginning of book one being fully realized.

It’s great to see how Brienna has changed now that she is more secure with her adoptive family, the MacQuinns. And found family is a theme that resonates throughout this story of rebuilding following a colossal revolution and deposing of a corrupt and brutal king, with some of the members of his family who have been subjected to abuses and forced to commit acts of violence against others in his name also seeking out a second chance away from the families they were born into.

This also has one of the more subtle, yet beautiful and healthy, romantic relationships in YA between Brienna and Cartier/Aodhan, with them both being dedicated to the cause of rebuilding the kingdom and serving the true queen, as well as caring about and respecting each other.

And while this book sees Brienna continue to have a connection to her ancestor that helped her find the Canon in the last book, there are also some revelations about Aodhan’s family, particularly a family member he once thought dead, and the build-up to the reveal was incredibly well-paced.

While I’m glad that Brienna’s story ended the way it did, I think the world Ross has built is interesting, and would like to read more about it, and failing that, I feel that she has great talent for writing YA fantasies that break the mold, and can’t wait to see what she puts out next. In the meantime, I would recommend this one to anyone who enjoyed the first one.

Review of “Wherever You Go” (Brookstone Brides #2) by Tracie Peterson

Peterson, Tracie. Wherever You Go. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764219030 | 312 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

3 stars

I waffled on whether to finish Wherever You Go, as while there were parts of this I enjoyed, I found that Tracie Peterson’s tendency to dominate a 300-page book with subplots that divert too much from the main plot and character arcs that were noted in the blurb continues into book two.

I did enjoy seeing Mary Reichert find her match, especially given the tough things she’s been through, as seen in the last book and discussed at length here. And Christopher has a compelling conflict that complements Mary’s in a way, coming from a family who has done bad things, leading to his shame about his past. But it was great to see how they came together and helped each other come to terms with their respective familial losses.

However, I found it disconcerting how much of a role Wesley and Lizzy played, not just as supporting characters, but as major secondary point of view characters. And while I assume everything was settled between them at the end of their book, I found it jarring that not only were things not official between them beyond them making any promises, but Jason Adler was still working to make Lizzy his. It’s totally fine that Wesley hadn’t asked Lizzy to marry him and that that carried over to this book, as that sets it apart from the typical romance formula, which usually ends with an engagement or marriage, but I just was over their relationship drama, and didn’t like how it took page time that could have been spent on Mary and Christopher or working toward a resolution of the over-arching plot with Ella’s father and ex-fiance.

On that note, I think, Ella is one of the few reasons I am still considering reading book three,. as well as the hints given about Wesley’s brother Philip’s past. In spite of my problems with how the series has been executed, I do still find Ella one of the most interesting characters, and am curious if there will ever be a way to bring her father and ex-fiance down.

On that note, I am not sure I would recommend this to anyone, particularly those who are new to Tracie Peterson’s style like I am, unless a broader focus on a larger cast of characters with different couples aside from the one the book is meant to focus on works for you. B

Review of “I Love You So Mochi” by Sarah Kuhn

Kuhn, Sarah. I Love You So Mochi. New York: Scholastic Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $17.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1338302882 | 308 pages | YA Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I Love You So Mochi is an adorable multicultural YA contemporary romance that also had a great exploration of the complexities of family dynamics within a Japanese/Japanese American family.

I loved the descriptions of Kyoto, from the locations like the pug cafe to the descriptions of the food like the mochi and the Ebi-Filet. I also enjoyed that the cultural differences between American and Japanese cultural norms.

The romance is also incredibly cute, even though it’s not the central part of the book like I assumed it was. I liked that Akira helped Kimi to discover what her true artistic calling was. The romance is also incredibly cute, even though it’s not the central part of the book like I assumed it was. I liked that Akira helped Kimi to discover what her true artistic calling was. Another reviewer likened it to “biting into mochi – soft and gooey and so sweet on the inside,” and I wholeheartedly agree, and not just because mochi plays a pretty big role in this book.

But the major part of the book was the familial relationships. I enjoyed seeing the progression of Kimi learning something about her mother’s experience of defying her own mother’s wishes, and how that is reflected in their own relationship, leading her to reach out and prevent a future estrangement, which occurred between her mother and her parents. I also found it beautiful how she helped to heal the wounds, leading to a reunion between mother and grandparents by the end.

I really enjoyed this book, and it was pure fun to read. I would recommend this to other fans of cute multicultural contemporary stories.

Review of “Enchantée” by Gita Trelease

Trelease, Gita. Enchantée. New York: Flatiron Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250295521 | 449 pages | YA Historical Fantasy

4 stars

Enchantée is a promising debut historical fantasy, and the key strength of the book is the way it manages to recreate the atmosphere of Revolutionary France around the time of the Storming of the Bastille and the other early events that kicked off the French Revolution with compelling and somewhat dark magical elements, leading to inevitable comparisons to Les Mis with elements of both Disney movies and other YA fantasy novels.

Thus, it’s fitting that the heroine of this story is an incredibly clever working class heroine who both follows in the tradition of the heroes and heroines of her predecessors while also feeling very much her own person. I could empathize with Camille’s motivations and choices, even as she chooses to take some risks.

I did feel like the development of the magic did feel a bit lacking, even though it did take its time in establishing other aspects like the environment with its slow pacing, so it both took a while to pick up and didn’t feel completely solid in some areas. But I am willing to be somewhat lenient in some of the gaps, due to it being the author’s debut, and the fact that she developed the atmosphere to perfection, and she did do relatively well in her characterization.

I would recommend this to those who like atmospheric historical fiction books with fantasy elements. .

Review of “A Gentleman Never Keeps Score” (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. A Gentleman Never Keeps Score. New York: Avon Impulse, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062821584 | 310 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score is a decent second installment in Cat Sebastian’s Seducing the Sedgwicks series. And as I’ve come to expect with her books, she excels at creating complex, yet relatable characters.

I was excited to see that she was tackling issues related to the life of free black people in this one, and she did it brilliantly, touching on the racial issues of the time period, and highlighting the rich free black community that existed in the Regency that isn’t often talked about in the genre. The character of Sam was well fleshed-out in this regard.

And I also loved the exploration of the trauma of sexual abuse through Hartley’s character, and how it is essentially at war with his attraction to other men, due to the fact that his godfather was his abuser. But this led to such beautiful moments of nurturing on Sam’s part toward Hartley.

Some of the other elements do feel a little lacking, however, such as with the mystery element surrounding the paintings not feeling fully resolved, and there being a secondary romance that develops and comes to fruition that I didn’t really care about (even though both characters were perfectly fine, just not particularly memorable). As for the former, I do wonder if it will be addressed in a future book, given the rumors I’ve been hearing about book three, not to mention one of the surprise appearances at the end of the book. As for the latter, I was almost sure they would have gotten their own book, and honestly would have preferred that, to give me more time to really get invested in them.

This seems to be a book that people are mixed on due to the issues I’ve discussed, but I wouldn’t let that discourage you from reading it for what it is. If you like Cat Sebastian’s books, or books with cinnamon roll heroes, you may enjoy it regardless of its flaws.

Review of “Duchess by Design” (The Gilded Age Girls Club #1) by Maya Rodale

Rodale, Maya. Duchess by Design. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062838803 | 371 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

I was a little unsure what to think when I first heard about Duchess by Design, because on the one hand, I am all for more Gilded Age-set historicals, but at the same time, I was dismayed that it was still about a duke and a working class girl. But taking into account the historical background, I bought it, held onto it (like many other books for the past year), and when I finally did pick it up, I went into it with an open mind.

And it just blew me away. I tend to be way more wary of books with a hero with a ton of privilege, and a heroine with almost none, but it seems like Rodale, whether intentionally or not, took this into account when crafting the characters. Kingston in particular impressed me, and how she created a character who is a bit out-of-touch with modern ideas and the plight of the lower classes, but not only gives him a believable character arc, but manages to make him endearing from page one. Sure, he has his dense moments, but they only make him a more sympathetic character.

And Adeline is also compelling. While there is a little of “the lower class heroine puts the aristocratic hero in his place,” I didn’t doubt for a second that Adeline lacked agency, even if she did have a lot to lose if things went south. And the chemistry between Adeline and Kingston developed so beautifully in spite of all the obstacles.

I also love the strong focus on female friendship and support of one another as a major subplot in this novel, which I anticipate will be a standout part of the series as a whole. I found it fascinating seeing how the ringleader, Harriet, and the other Ladies of Liberty helped to fund Adeline’s shop when she ended up in a tough spot. And the fact that the trend of dresses with pockets played a somewhat significant role didn’t hurt either.

On the whole, I love this new direction Rodale is taking, and from her authors’ notes and the resources she lists on her website, as well as just the sheer depth of the text itself, it’s clear she embedded a lot of real history into the book. I recommend this to all historical romance readers, especially those hankering for more of the Gilded Age.

Review of “The Infamous Duchess” (Diamounds in the Rough #4) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. The Infamous Duchess. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062849748 | 376 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

The Infamous Duchess is a great book by a highly underrated author. Sophie Barnes once again delivers something I wish we saw more of in romance: a unique and fresh storyline with two compelling and unique characters. And while at least one of the prior books in the series may have been a little hit-or-miss for me, and the start of this series came at the expense of the premature end of her prior series, overall, I feel she really showed her true potential with this book.

Viola intrigued me as a character in the prior book, The Illegitimate Duke, and I was pleased to get to know more about her, especially since she does have, as the title suggests, an infamous reputation. But learning about her background and what led her to make the choices she did led me to understand her. And what I loved was it made even more sense that she and Florian were working together, considering his own dark past that was revealed, but I am glad that Barnes went the route she did to establish that there were never romantic feelings between them, in this book or the prior one.

Henry was a surprise to me, as I kind of expected him to be your standard rakish aristocrat, and, while he is definitely no virgin (as he makes clear in-conversation), I liked that his thing was that he just wanted to be spared the attention of the debutantes and their matchmaking mothers. It’s not a wholly original concept there, as that is ultimately what a lot of heroes in historicals want until they meet “the One,” but I thought it was great nonetheless. And once he was invested in helping Viola, his subsequent injuries (plural) at the hands of Viola’s villainous stepson had me chuckling at how often Viola seemed to have to care for him.

One of the hallmarks of Barnes’ romances is that she’s great at slowing things down and letting things develop outside the bedroom. So, while you won’t find super steamy sex scenes here, there is a lot of great sexual tension, with the push-and-pull between Viola and Henry, as she resists getting involved (for the most part) and he pursues her (but in a totally respectful way). It might not be to everyone’s taste, but I personally loved it.

This was such a sweet book with such fun, unconventional characters, and believable stakes that I enjoyed seeing Henry and Viola work together to work through. I would recommend this to other fans of sweet, fun historicals.

Review of “Soulbound” (Darkest London #6) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Soulbound. New York: Forever, 2015.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.00 USD | 978-1455581665 | 366 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

3.5 stars

Soulbound is a book that leaves me feeling super conflicted as to the progression of the series and the increasing intricacy of both the world and the interconnectedness of the characters. These worked very well in the early books when they were more subtle, but I feel like this is a case of failing to simultaneously set up the next book with large roles played by the characters from the next book while maintaining interest in the couple that has the spotlight in this one, not to mention continuing to add to the lore with different creatures taking center stage.

Don’t get me wrong, I was reasonably interested in the couple in this one, particularly Adam. I loved the concept of a 700+ year old immortal who was still a virgin, and an interesting twist on the concept of soul mates in the paranormal sense. And Adam and Eliza have good chemistry, and sizeable issues to work out, both collectively and individually, and I feel it was executed convincingly. While it could have been super problematic, given the way they originally end up thrown together, I like that Callihan subverts the trope in a way that still made the romance feel believable, even if it’s not necessarily my favorite.

However, I feel like there’s way too much going on for the romance to really shine through at times, and I am starting to find the characters themselves, particularly her female characters to feel almost interchangeable and a little bland, with a few exceptions. And I do wonder how things will be tied up in the next and final book, given how much has been established, but have hope that Callihan will return to form and finish off the series on a good note.