Review of “Diary of an Accidental Wallflower” (The Seduction Diaries #1) by Jennifer McQuiston

McQuiston, Jennifer. Diary of an Accidental Wallflower. New York: Avon Books, 2015.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062335012 | 370 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

As of late, I haven’t felt particularly excited for recent historical romance releases, and while there are many from the last year that I have to catch up on and there will be some in the coming months that have me excited, the state of the subgenre with the shortage of releases from go-to authors has been feeling a little stale at this present moment. This led to me seek out an author I had once tried when she debuted, only to inexplicably not pick up another book from her: Jennifer McQuiston. And Diary of an Accidental Wallflower seemed to fit my requirements, as I wanted a hero who was different from the deluge of rakish aristocrats, and was even getting tired of the “relatable” bluestocking heroines, particularly when paired with the former.

And I found myself enjoying this book and cursing myself for not picking it up when it first came out, particularly for the adorable hero, Daniel. While he does have one or two less flattering moments, I love his devotion to his work and how he is confident in who he is and his standing, even when others — even the heroine at first — look down on him. It’s so awesome to see a hero actually doing something with his life rather than wasting his life away.

I had some slight concern as to how Clare might be handled, as she could easily come off as unlikable. And to some, she might be. But I feel like, while she’s cold and snobbish at the beginning, this is very much a story of her growth: finding out the truth about who she is and who her true friends are. And I think it’s unfortunate that in cases where the roles are reversed, and we have ass of a duke (for an example) with a wallflower, people are much more forgiving when he reaches his epiphany (and usually not until the end of the book). With Clare, her transformation felt natural and I could feel her feelings change as she started to fall for Daniel and had the desire to fight to be with him.

The supporting cast is lovely, and I love how it reinforces this idea of family and togetherness, regardless of blood ties and any other domestic difficulties faced over time is conveyed. I was particularly drawn to the connection between Clare and her long-lost relative, and think it’s a shame that the author is currently not writing, as I would love to see his story, much more so than either of the Westmore siblings, especially the brother, as his portrayal here and a sneak peek at the blurb suggests it’s yet another wastrel aristocrat story.

This was a sweet and unexpected historical romance, of a type I wish we saw more of. And I would recommend it to any other historical romance lover who missed it, especially if you love working heroes or stories focusing on the heroine’s journey.

Advertisements

Review of “The Lieutenant’s Nurse” by Sara Ackerman

Ackerman, Sara. The Lieutenant’s Nurse. Toronto, Ontario: Mira Books, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0778307914 | 335 pages | Historical Fiction

5 stars

I was super excited for The Lieutenant’s Nurse, given how much I adored Sara Ackerman’s previous book, Island of Sweet Pies and Soldiers, so much so that I didn’t even bother to investigate what the story was about before adding it to my TBR. But once I did take the time to find out, I was even more excited, given the untapped potential (at least in historical fiction books) of the storyline focusing largely on the days leading up to and following the December 7, 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor.

And Ackerman remains consistent in building on a sheer breadth of research to craft an engaging story rife with history, drama, romance, and even friendship. While the setup suggested that the love triangle would overwhelm everything else, instead of being just one part of the story, I was pleasantly surprised that this was not the case. Eva and Clark do have evident feelings for one another, but it doesn’t feel like it overwhelms the plot or the stakes of the book, especially with so much else going on.

I was especially intrigued by Eva, since she seems to have left a dark secret behind her in Michigan, and I felt these flashbacks to her past were interweaved into the story in a great way, as well as leading up to a great conclusion. And on Clark’s side, it was fascinating to have the question explored of whether the Americans knew about the attack beforehand.

All in all, this is a wonderfully lush book with a compelling story and rich detail. It’s a definite must-read for all fans of historical fiction.

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 “The Girl He Used to Know” by Tracey Garvis Graves

Garvis Graves, Tracey. The Girl He Used to Know. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Hardcover | $26.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250200358 | 291 pages | Contemporary Romance

4.5 stars

I had randomly added The Girl He Used to Know to my TBR without even really thinking about it or even bothering to read much of the blurb, because I’m a sucker for the illustrated cover trend. It was only later when I actually went back to look at it that I saw what a happy coincidence it was that the heroine was not only a librarian who had gotten her Bachelor’s in English (although, now that I think of it, the heroine does look like your stereotypical librarian on the cover), but was also socially awkward, meaning that prior to even starting the book, I already felt I related to her.

Therefore, much like with last year’s The Kiss Quotient, I was deeply moved as I went on Annika’s journey to finding out about herself and becoming more confident in her skin. And while Garvis Graves is not on the autism spectrum or intimately acquainted with anyone who is, I felt like she took the proper care with writing Annika in a way that made her struggles resonate with someone like me.

Jonathan is also exactly the kind of hero I would want someone like Annika to be with, and I thought it was beautiful to watch their past relationship and present one unfolding simultaneously. I love that he nurtures her and sees her in the past arc, and I love the way it informs Annika wanting to be more confident and capable as she pursues a relationship with him again years later, especially given how her own fears held her back the first time.

I also thought it was an…interesting…choice to set the final crisis towards the end around 9/11, and I wish I had put all the pieces together sooner, given that it was all there, from him having a job that is based in New York to the fact that the “present” day arc begins in August 2001. While I did feel like this could have been substituted with any major crisis, perhaps a more recent one or a fictional one, it still accomplished the intent of the whole situation, which was to compel Annika out of her comfort zone and have her taking risks to be there for him for once.

On the whole, this is a solid book about hope and growth of character. I definitely recommend for those looking for a heartwarming contemporary romance.

Review of “The Lies of Locke Lamora” (Gentlemen Bastards #1) by Scott Lynch

Lynch, Scott. The Lies of Locke Lamora. New York: Bantam Books, 2006.

Hardcover | $23.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0553804676 | 499 pages | Fantasy

4 stars

I read The Lies of Locke Lamora after receiving recommendations for it from the same BookTubers who recommended Brandon Sanderson. In spite of it being pitched as being rather different in terms of scope, I was intrigued. And for the most part, while I did feel like it felt a little slow at first, and even disconcerting with the frequent flashbacks, I ended up really enjoying it.

One of the best things about the book is the focus on the characters and the friendships that develops between this group of thieves, but especially Locke and Jean. And Locke as a character is really fun to read about, and really epitomizes the balance between a gentleman with his heart in the right place and a bastard of a thief.

And while this book does veer into somewhat darker territory than I often prefer, and it definitely had some intense moments, I think it was executed well, especially with a good balance of the bleak moments with some great moments of humor that had me laughing out loud.

This is a delightfully original fantasy book, and one that I recommend to fantasy fans, especially those who are looking for stories with morally gray characters.

Review of “Innocent in Death” (In Death #24) by J.D. Robb

Robb, J.D. Innocent in Death. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons. 2007.

Hardcover | $25.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0399154010 | 385 pages | Romantic Suspense

5 stars

Innocent in Death is another great entry in the In Death series, and I love the way that, even after twenty-four books, and and another twenty-plus more left to go that are currently published (not to mention the others that are surely forthcoming), this series still feels fresh and exciting, with Robb/Roberts constantly reworking the formula to find new ways for her perps to kill people, and presenting new situations for this endearing cast of characters.

I love the way the killer was foreshadowed in this one, and while I kind of had a feeling who it was, I almost didn’t want to believe it, due to the certain factors of who the person presents themselves as. But this is one of the great examples of Robb/Roberts showing she can truly get into the mind of a ruthless and unrepentant killer that doesn’t care who they hurt, as long as they can get what they want.

I also love that we got a significant amout of Eve and Roarke’s relationship development in this one. While I rolled my eyes reading the blurb to see involvement from another of Roarke’s former flames, I felt it tested them in a very intriguing way. I loved seeing Eve punch out the sickeningly sweet Magdalena, and while he was a little slow on the uptake, I like that Roarke came to his senses and realized what Magdalena was really up to, giving her an epic set-down of his own.

While this series has had some more subpar entries so far, it’s entries like this with such solid cases, plus the dynamic between Eve and Roarke and everyone else that keeps me coming back for more (even if it sometimes takes a bit longer than I’d like for me to get around to the next book).

Review of “Unmasked by the Marquess” (Regency Impostors #1) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. Unmasked by the Marquess. New York: Avon Impulse, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062821607 | 306 pages | Regency Romance4

5 stars

Cat Sebastian is one of those authors I haven’t read nearly enough of, and this is (hopefully) the year that I fix that. Despite having read one of her m/m books before, and having another in my TBR, I was intrigued as to how she would handle writing a non-binary character, and I was pleased both with this (small) expansion of LGBTQ+ representation in traditional publishing beyond just “gay romance.” I also love that she clearly did her homework on what it means to be non-binary, consulting with non-binary romance authors who she shouts out in her acknowledgments, not to mention speaking sensitively about pronouns in relation to the evolution of the character of Robin (alternatively known both as Robert and Charity) in her historical note.

Robin is a character I rooted for throughout the book, even if it is pointed out that she is essentially conning people with her charade. But I understood her reasons, especially given the way women had so few rights during the Regency period, especially concerning inheritance.

Alistair was a surprise to me. At first, he seemed like yet another stuffy aristocrat, and I was just waiting for the moment where he would act like a jerk, especially if that served as the Black Moment. But he surprised me by being very much the opposite. I mean, he does have to do quite a bit of growing to recognize that there are more important things than fortune and reputation. And probably the most important thing was how things progressed in his relationship with Robin, and he isn’t repulsed by the idea of an attraction to her when he thinks she’s male, and he’s willing to pursue a marriage to her after the reveal in spite of her humble origins. In terms of the former, I can think of a couple books (even ones I otherwise enjoyed) where the girl-dressed-as-a-boy trope led to some implications of homophobia, and while it would not be inaccurate in a historical setting, it’s not something I want to read in a romance published today. As a result, I was glad Alistair was enlightened in that regard.

This book is delightful, and perfectly straddles that line between being light and fun while also delving into the tougher issues concerning one’s identity and not fitting into little boxes society is compelled to assign to everyone. I would recommend this to people looking for a different sort of historical romance.

Review of “Forevermore” (Darkest London #7) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Forevermore. New York: Forever, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455581702 | 318 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romace

4.5 stars

Forevermore concludes the Darkest London series on a high note. I admit I was rather worried about how Callihan would conclude the series, given how massive the world had become, but the overall arc of the series left me feeling satisfied.

I was surprised at how well having supporting players Augustus and Lena as a secondary hero and heroine worked. They did steal the show a bit from Sin and Layla, but I really enjoyed their storyline and how these characters working behind the scenes in the prior books finally got the spotlight somewhat.

I really like the dynamic that Sin and Layla have, given their past. I feel like some of the other couples have pasts together that have a lot of negative connotations, so it was nice to have a good balance of internal struggles that test each of them with a more loving and believable buildup of the romance between them.

I was generally satisfied with this final entry in the series and am frantically looking for something that can compare. And I will once again recommend pretty much everyone read this series, because even at its less interesting moments, it’s still a great, fast-paced series with quite a bit of character depth.

Review of “Girls of Paper and Fire” by Natasha Ngan

Ngan, Natasha. Girls of Paper and Fire. New York: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown and Company, 2018.

Hardcover | $18.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0316561365 | 385 pages | YA Fantasy

3 stars

Girls of Paper and Fire received a lot of buzz since its release, but unfortunately this is one of those books I put off for no real reason. Now, with the Asian Readathon going on in May on YouTube and Twitter, I decided to pick this one up to fulfill one of the challenges, especially since I love finding the rare f/f romance, especially if it’s also historical or fantasy.

In regards of fulfilling what it was pitched as — a feminist story where the concubines fight back against an oppressive Demon-King — I feel like it did pretty well. You won’t find a lot of intricacy to the magic system, but I don’t think it needs it. One of the major pluses for me regarding the world was marveling in Ngan’s influences and how they shaped the world in different ways.

The story feels reasonably fast-paced, making it a quick, if rather intense read, and I very much appreciate the trigger warning at the beginning, but even so, I found myself a little taken aback by the scenes of sexual abuse. But Ngan handles it delicately in a way that isn’t too dark, at least in my opinion. I have heard from at least one other reviewer that the book felt a little intense for their taste.

My one gripe is with the way the romance developed, with a culminating moment that struck me as unbelievable in the midst of trauma. For the most part, I thought I would enjoy it, especially given the way the chemistry was developed for majority of the book. But when the moment finally comes where the Demon King assaults Lei, it’s brief but clearly traumatic, yet almost immediately she’s getting hot and heavy with Wren, and it’s Wren who expresses her lack of interest in continuing, while Lei presses her to continue. It seemed so off-putting and contradictory to the message Ngan was trying to convey.

This book as a whole was good, but unfortunately, the one moment did sour my opinion on a key story element for me. Nonetheless, I feel like this book is an important addition to the conversation around sexual assault, not to mention the steadily growing pool of diverse fantasy. I recommend this to other fans of diverse YA fantasy.

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.