Review of “The Wedding Party” (The Wedding Date #3) by Jasmine Guillory

Guillory, Jasmine. The Wedding Party. New York: Berkley Jove, 2019.

Paperback | $15.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984802194 | 352 pages | Contemporary Romance

3 stars

I received an ARC in a Goodreads Giveaway in exchange for an honest review.

I enjoyed Jasmine Guillory’s prior books, so I was incredibly excited to win an advance copy of The Wedding Party, even without really looking to see what it was about, beyond knowing it was Maddie and Theo’s story. The excitement was tempered slightly by the knowledge that not only was it enemies to lovers, but it was also a book that essentially starts with a one-night stand, which is one of my pet peeves in romance, as it rarely leads to a well-executed book overall.

But, for the most part, while I found the chapters with the initial one-night stand and follow-up encounter clunky in comparison to the rest of the book, especially with the time jumps before getting the “meat” of the story, once it gets there, it picks up and I feel like that’s when it really starts to work and show what compelling characters Theo and Maddie are, and the underlying feelings they have for each other, that they continue to be in denial about, a trend I have a love-hate relationship with over the course of the series so far.

But it does lend itself to some adorable moments, both humorous and heartwarming, like the time when Alexa almost walked in them, so Theo hid in Maddie’s kitchen (naked, I might add) and, out of boredom, alphapbetized her spice rack, or when he comforts her when she gets teary-eyed over an emotional episode of Say Yes to the Dress…and, in one of the pivotal moments of their relationship development, she takes care of him after he’s attacked.

However, this denial of their feelings in spite evidence to the contrary and the pretense of a casual nature to their relationship almost throughout leads to almost an echo of the Big Misunderstanding that plagued The Wedding Date, made even worse due to the initial setup that they seem to hate each other. As much as I love Jasmine Guillory’s writing style, I kind of wish her characters wouldn’t all enter into casual relationships, then get burned due to one partner’s perception of the other’s lack of commitment beyond the physical aspects, or at the very least have solid, non-cliche reasons for not wanting commitment, which is one of the things that made this setup work better in The Proposal.

On the whole, this was a mishmash of some tropes I don’t really like that were executed in a way that did not endear me to them, but redeemed slightly by the sweet moments in the middle. I think it’s still worth taking a chance on if you loved the previous books and don’t mind some of the tropes I mentioned, as the characters themselves are the best part of the book overall and that aspect alone means I’m glad to have read it. It just wasn’t entirely for me.

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Review of “Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon” (The Embraced #3) by Kerrelyn Sparks

Sparks, Kerrelyn. Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250108258 | 429 pages | Paranormal/Fantasy Romance

4 stars

Given the news that came out not too long ago about the change in publisher for the remainder of the Embraced series and the resulting delay in release till early 2020, I’m glad my habit of delaying books led me to put off reading Eight Simple Rules for Dating a Dragon until now, just a tad bit closer to release date, although upon finishing, I now find myself unable to wait to return to the world of the series again, and can’t wait for it to be February already.

Because this book, like the prior books in the series, is nothing short of charming. There are some predictable plot elements, but they are executed in such a fun way, that I don’t mind that much. The only one that really bothered me was that Gwennore took that long to figure out who the dragon was. I mean, the promotional material makes it pretty obvious to readers, but given that she can communicate telepathically with the dragon, wouldn’t his voice give it away?

The romance also didn’t feel as compelling this time around, with it definitely being a case of insta-love, but I did find enjoy the characters on their own, particularly Silas. I loved getting a peek into his motivations as his secret connection to everything going on was slowly revealed, and he is one of those protective alpha males who I actually found easy to root for.fAnd Gwennore, in spite of the aforementioned faults(?), was a great heroine, as I enjoyed seeing how she came to develop the strength to help the people of Norveshka with her gifts, as well as learning the secrets of her origins.

This is a delightfully fun paranormal/fantasy romance, and as I said before, I can’t wait for more. I would recommend this to fans of paranormal (especially shifter) and/or fantasy romance.

Colorblind Casting, Racism, and “Historical Accuracy”: Unpacking the Bridgerton Casting “Controversy”

Last week, casting news for  The Little Mermaid live-action remake began making waves (hehe) on the Internet, and it was followed up this week by the casting announcement for Shonda Rhimes Bridgerton  Netflix series. And while both pieces of news had me excited, due to Little Mermaid being my childhood favorite and the Bridgertons being my all-time favorite historical romance series…other people weren’t so happy. And setting aside the understandable reservations that some have about the casting of the Bridgertons series, such as the implied changes and new characters, many of the worst comments shared a similar theme with The Little Mermaid’s casting reactions in being focused on the race of some of the actors. 

Among the cast, we have Regé-Jean Page playing Simon and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, those being the choices that have been the targets of the biggest race-related comments, due to the characters’ prominence in the book series. 

Most, like with the Ariel comments, chose to make it about “historical accuracy,” accusing Shonda of “changing [history] to fit her narrative,” with others questioning why the change was done when Julia Quinn did not make them POC in the first place, pulling the “create original stories” card, which are very familiar to anyone who was following the insanity from the Ariel casting last week. 

` And I just find it laughable and sickening at the same time. Laughable because historical accuracy is their excuse, but neither Disney nor JQ are necessarily known for their strict adherence to historical accuracy. And it’s even funny for historical romance readers to cry about that stuff, because they’re totally fine with thousands of young, virile dukes (a complete fiction), not to mention some of the anachronistic shenanigans of historical romance books, but an aristocratic historical romance hero (or heroine)  portrayed as a person of color? Pitchforks! 

Also, I’ve seen the claim touted that if black people existed at all during the Regency, they were servants or slaves. Vanessa Riley (and many serious historians) would beg to differ, having written a number of books set in the period, with black people in different walks of life, from servant to aristocrat, and featuring a wealth of information about Black people in the Regency on her website. 

For the most part, it all goes back to colorblind casting and each of the people chosen being who they felt captured the spirit of the role. The main  defense given for Halle Bailey as Ariel is her killer pipes, and I have to agree, especially given the fact that some people’s ideal casting choices don’t come close to hitting her range vocally. And while I’m not familiar with any of the cast for the Bridgertons series, I don’t think it’s out of character for Shonda Rhimes, who has produced diverse series like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, to cast people of color here either, and am open to giving all of the cast a chance to prove what they can do, instead of passing judgment prematurely. 

But regardless of who’s in charge, it’s just disheartening to see so much hatred over the casting of fictional characters, especially since the accusations are the same every time (like, legitimately, I heard the same things come up in response to both Ariel and the Bridgertons, and every other colorblind re-casting)? Becoming “too PC?” Heard that one before. “Black people should make their own show?” What do you think they’ve been trying to do for decades? “Not historically accurate?” See above. 

It’s sad that we still have people who hold these antiquated beliefs in 2019. I understand having a love for a childhood classic film or a beloved book series, and dreading changes when a remake or new adaptation comes around. But that’s no reason to be hateful and exclusionary to others, especially to entire groups of people who have put up with decades of not being represented in media, due to systemic barriers in their way.

Review of “The Rogue of Fifth Avenue” (Uptown Girls #1) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062906816 | 382 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue just might be one of my favorite Joanna Shupe books. A large part of it is the compelling hero, Frank Tripp, who was a supporting character in Shupe’s previous series, the Four Hundred, inspiring many readers to demand for his book.

And she definitely delivered, fleshing him out in a beautiful way. I’m a sucker for a self-made hero, and I love the conflict that is explored through his wanting to fit in with the upper crust and in the process losing a bit of his past, then spending the book working to find it again. In an era rife with self-made men, like Andrew Carnegie (who is name-dropped in this book, of course), it seemed like a beautiful and appropriate journey for him to go on.

I also love how he’s complemented in the characterization of Mamie, a society woman who values helping the less fortunate. It’s kind of an interesting twist on the class dynamic, to have someone who comes from privilege with more awareness of the world, and someone who came from nothing having to re-attune himself to it.

Also, the banter between them is on point, and I think I finally grasp the meaning of a sensual scene that doesn’t involve sexual acts now that I’ve read that amazing billiard scene (granted, it is a lead-in for some sexy times).

This is a beautiful Gilded Age-set romance and Joanna Shupe at (arguably) her best. I would definitely recommend to other historical romance fans and Gilded Age fans.

Review of “Dragonshadow” (Heartstone #2) by Elle Katharine White

White, Elle Katharine. Dragonshadow. New York: Harper Voyager, 2018.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062747969 | 383 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

A direct sequel to what seems like an already-concluded story can be risky, especially if that story is inspired by Pride and Prejudice, which itself has some hit-or-miss sequels. But it appears that Elle Katharine White has managed it, and while the plot itself isn’t necessarily the most engaging now that she isn’t sticking to the frame of Austen’s narrative, there are still things to love about Dragonshadow.

The main thing I enjoyed is seeing more of the world White created, which was one of the standout features of Heartstone. While dragons still feature prominently, I loved getting a wider sense of the scope, including the other creatures, and while many will be familiar to fantasy readers, like trolls and merpeople, they are included in such a fun and unique way.

I also really liked White’s perspective on Aliza and Daired after they’ve gotten together, and how, even though they did come to terms with some of the issues keeping them apart in the prior book, there are still hurdles they are negotiating, especially as Aliza is attempting to adjust to her new role as a Dragonrider’s wife, and him wanting to shield her from it, while she’s determined to be a part of it.

I think fans of the first book who are interested in seeing more of the world and how the major characters progress from the first book will enjoy this one, and would recommend they do so, in spite of any preconceived notions.

Review of “That Churchill Woman” by Stephanie Barron

Barron, Stephanie.dind That Churchill Woman. New York: Ballantine Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $28.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524799564 | 387 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I picked up That Churchill Woman in my continued pursuit of more books about the Gilded Age and the “Dollar Princesses,” and was also intrigued at the connection to Winston Churchill, who I had heard about in connection to British history, especially World War II, but didn’t know much about beyond that.

While Jennie is by no means a woman with a perfect reputation, engaging in affairs with other men in high places, including with an Austrian nobleman, Charles Kinsky, she also had an awareness of what was considered acceptable at the time in society, supporting her husband’s political ambitions and staying with him in spite of any setbacks. And while Winston himself doesn’t play a major role, given that at the time the story is set, he is still growing up and getting his education, by the end of the book, it is wonderful to see that not only is he about to follow in his father’s footsteps by going into politics (which of course he does), but Jennie is prepared to support him in the same way she supported her husband.

This is a rich historical novel about a remarkable woman who I think should be discussed more in the context of Winston Churchill’s life and work. And it is definitely a treat I would recommend to other fans of historical fiction.

Review of “The Look of Love” (The Sullivans/San Francisco Sullivans #1) by Bella Andre

Andre, Bella. The Look of Love. Don Mills, Ontario: Harlequin MIRA, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778315568 | 379 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I received The Look of Love and several other of the Harlequin editions of the Bella Andre’s Sullivans books as part of a haul of books from a friend who was moving recently. And despite not knowing much about Bella Andre, I was intrigued, especially since the setup sounded a bit like a contemporary equivalent to Julia Quinn’s Bridgertons, at least in the sense of the broad setup.

And as a whole, this is a delightful start to the series, introducing or at least mentioning all of the family members, while also not taking away the spotlight from the couple of this book, Chase and Chloe, who are such well-written, compelling characters. I should warn some people that there are some moments that may feel a bit info-dump-y, sorting out who each sibling is, how old they are, and what each of them does for a living, but I quite liked this, as with such a large family, I knew I would need to make a “cheat sheet” of sorts to keep everyone straight.

While Bella Andre definitely writes alpha heroes, she writes the sort that are more protective rather than overbearing, which suits the dynamic here to a tee. Almost from page one, Chase was endearing to me, with the care he showed toward Chloe and the amount of love he clearly expressed toward his family. While he doesn’t categorize himself as a saint, and he (like all his brothers) definitely has a playboy past which comes into play in subtle ways in this one, I liked that he felt like a normal person that I would like to spend time with in real life, thus making it easier to fall in love with him as Chloe did (and him being more forward with his feelings when she was unsure doesn’t hurt either!)

Chloe is also a great character, and I love how Andre delved into the nuances of what it feels like to have been in an abusive relationship in a believable way. While her reluctance to fully commit may be an issue for some, I found it worked within the context of her situation.

This is a great introductory book by an author I’m so excited to have discovered, and I will definitely be reading more from her in the near future. I recommend this to others who love a great family-oriented romance series.

Review of “Shadow of the Fox” (Shadow of the Fox #1) by Julie Kagawa

Kagawa, Julie. Shadow of the Fox. Toronto, Ontario: HarlequinTeen, 2018.

Hardcover | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1335145161 | 409 pages | YA Fantasy

4 stars

Shadow of the Fox was recommended to me a while back, but I never got around to it at the time, and finally decided to give a go. My conclusion is that, while it does suffer from some structural and personal preference things that do lead me to mark it down a bit, it is a fairly solid story.

I felt incredibly silly once I got several chapters into this book, and realized that not only was there the occasional chapter from a secondary character, Suki (written in third person), but there were also two first person narrators, Yumeko and Tatsumi. I partly blame myself for being dense and not noticing, especially in the initial chapters, but it’s just something I find super jarring, particularly when there’s no indicator the narrator changes at the beginning of the chapter, and while it does follow a reasonably predictable rhythm that I picked up on after a while, it was annoying to have to figure out who was who, and only knowing for sure once they were together and each referred to the other person consistently. Your mileage may vary on this, but I’m going to b e the dissenting voice and say that, especially if Suki grows more important in future books, this could easily have been written entirely in third person, to make it less confusing. Or chapter headers could have also helped. Granted, other people seem to have no issue with this style, so it could just be me.

The characters themselves, once I got over that problem, were intriguing to me, with the occasional glimpses of Suki and her plight serving an awful mistress being something I’m hoping we get more of in the next two books. And while initially Yumeko and Tatsumi fall into familiar cliches, those being the naive damsel and the emotionally closed-off hero, they both still had depth that made them feel real beyond that, and I think Yumeko is one of those heroines who, despite not being super kickass like some of the other YA heroines of late, actually does try her best in her own way, and ends up making an impact.

I also love how Kagawa infused her world with Japanese influences, with it being most obvious in part one’s world building, although it continues throughout the book. It feels so rich with lore, and I felt like I learned a lot about aspects of my heritage that I didn’t really know about before (or care to seek out through other means).

This is a solid, if slightly predictable, YA fantasy, although that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable for what it is. And I would definitely recommend it to other fans, with the warning about the weird narrative choices to those like me who aren’t huge fans of it.

Review of “Ayesha at Last” by Uzma Jalaluddin

Jalaluddin, Uzma. Ayesha at Last. 2018. New York: Berkley, 2019.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1984802798 | 351 pages | Contemporary Romance

5 stars

Ayesha at Last is yet another Pride and Prejudice retelling published in 2019, but it is by far my favorite of the three, with both its subtle take on the Austen classic and the way it chooses to handle the issues it does, including arranged marriage, workplace discrimination, and characters defining their identity within a Muslim community in Toronto.

I love that this take allowed for a fresh and unique conflict between the two main characters, and one that led to me learn a lot more about Muslims and the differences in their belief systems that exist. And I found it interesting the way Jalaluddin played with reader expectations, having Khalid, the one raised in Toronto, being more conservative and adopting the very traditional look for the majority of the novel, as well as believing his mother knows what is best, including in marriage, while Ayesha, who lived in India before immigrating following her father’s death, is also religious, but has more progressive ideas, including about marriage.

And while the Elizabeth/Darcy parallels are there, what with them clashing, yet having feelings for each other, and especially that memorable awkward proposal scene (fixed with an adorable letter!), this is one of the ways in which Jalaluddin makes the characters and their relationship truly her own, and I love that.

The other characters also were incredibly fun, the villains being the exception to this, and I like how there was just as much focus on the importance of family in spite of everything as there was on the relationship. I did really want more Zareena, as the hints given about how she fell in love with Iqram were so beautiful, and he doesn’t even appear on the page? That’s a crime.

I really enjoyed this book, and I enjoyed the positive and nuanced perspective that it presents about Muslim and South Asian people/communities, especially when there isn’t a ton of other media (and definitely not many other romances) that are doing the same thing. I would recommend it to all rom-com fans, whether you’re familiar with Pride and Prejudice or not.

Review of “For the Duke’s Eyes Only” (School For Dukes #2) by Lenora Bell

Bell, Lenora. For the Duke’s Eyes Only. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062692498 | 368 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

For the Duke’s Eyes Only is yet another book that got sadly lost in my TBR over the past several months, and it’s really a shame, because Lenora Bell is one of the handful of authors in historical romance who continues to give me absolute pleasure. And it’s no different this time around, with her blend of the treasure hunting exploits of Indiana Jones with the espionage of James Bond.

India is an absolutely lovable, feisty heroine. I love her independence and daring, and she’s absolutely someone I’d love as a best friend. And while I wasn’t completely sure about Daniel at first, given that he seemed cut from a similar cloth from some other roguish dukes, it mostly being a cover notwithstanding, I really admired that the reason he chose the life he did was in an attempt to right the wrongs done to his father. And as much as I hate the trend of pairing a domineering duke with a heroine with a ton of spine, I do admit that this is a case where I feel the balance actually works, and I love that they have a dynamic that highlights how they’re equals in spite of any societal inequalities based on gender, a topic which is tackled wonderfully here.

This is yet further proof that Lenora Bell is a great author, and despite still being fairly new to the game, an author well worth reading. I would recommend her and this book especially to any historical romance fans who haven’t tried her yet.