Review of “Beguiled by a Baron” (The Heart of a Duke #14) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. Beguiled by a Baron. [United States]: Christi Caldwell, 2017.

Paperback | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1547203475 | 252 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Beguiled by a Baron is definitely one of the better Christi Caldwell titles I have read. And something I did notice about the Heart of a Duke “world,” as opposed to the interconnected “world” of her other series, is up to this point, at least, there isn’t quite as much interconnectedness, at least not as much as there have been in her Sinful Brides and Wicked Wallflowers, where the latter is a direct sequel to the former, and reading in order helps the character relationships make more sense. While neither hero nor heroine appears to be new to the HoaD world, having prior connections that date back to at least the previous book in the series, these connections are explained well enough that I had no issue reading this as a stand-alone.

And the story in its own right is probably one of the most compelling as well, right up there with books two and three in the Sinful Brides series. I was particularly drawn to the mention of the heroine, Bridget’s, disability, in the blurb, and felt it was portrayed in a realistic way, especially considering the time period. I also love that, despite being raised in isolation, she isn’t naive, due to her family circumstances, and every choice she makes is to protect her son, Virgil, from her awful brother.

And Vail may just be my new favorite Caldwell hero. While he does deal with a hefty amount of angst, as Caldwell’s heroes often do, I love that he is truly good at heart to those he loves, and would do anything for them, making him a great counterpart for Bridget, even if at first it doesn’t seem that way, due to her reluctantly about to steal from him. Even when he is wounded by her betrayal, he trusts her word that she did it for a reason of desperation instead of malice, and marries her to give her his protection, doubling down on it once he learns the full truth.

The one (minor) flaw is with the characterization of Bridget’s brother the marquess. While I don’t expect to feel any sympathy for a villain, he did feel more cartoonishly evil than flesh-and-blood person. I do understand that sometimes people are just awful, but I would have liked to get some inkling of his motivations beyond being evil for the sake of it.

This is my current favorite Christi Caldwell book, although that could change if and when I manage to read more of her extensive backlist. However, at the moment, I recommend this as one of the essential Caldwell books that all historical romance lovers should read.

Review of “The Bluestocking” (Wicked Wallflowers #4) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Bluestocking. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2019.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503904071 | 339 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I want to start by giving a caveat that The Bluestocking, like many of Caldwell’s others, regardless of what some others will tell you, makes most sense read after both the prior books in the Wicked Wallflowers series and at least the previous series to this one, the Sinful Brides. That was my issue when I read The Vixen, and it remains an issue, primarily because I wound up more or less skipping The Governess because I failed to become fully invested, due to not being able to truly like the characters (especially Broderick). This played a small role in my diminished enjoyment.

However, I did like Gertrude from the glimpses I got of her in the other books, so I decided to still give it a try, even with some of those aforementioned considerations in mind. I have a disability similar to hers, and I found it inspiring how she went from being the one who is generally in the shadows and underestimated by the others to actively fighting to ensure her adoptive brother’s well-being.

I also found I could understand Edwin’s perspective too, given the amount of loss he’s faced. And while he’s not “mad” as he’s often made out to be, I like that it’s reflective of the habit in the period of characterizing anyone who didn’t fit a certain mold as “mad.”

However, the romance itself failed to win me over. Part of it is the whole family feud, “your family took my son,” “but he was raised as my brother and we loved him” angle, which seemed like insurmountable odds to me for love to defy. Even taking into account the Gertrude was more or less blameless in the actual kidnapping, and Edwin was doing what he thought was right, I still did not find the development well-handled, and I definitely felt there could have been a bit more emotional depth to both of them, given their respective pasts, which Caldwell has done much better in some of her previous books.

That said, others have enjoyed this book, and I think their more consistent consumption of Caldwell’s books plays at least a small role in that, as they get a greater sense of the relationship dynamics, which while evident in this one as more or less a stand-alone, would likely feel richer in terms of the wider scope if you read more of them and in order.

Review of “The Heiress’s Deception” (Sinful Brides #4) by Chrisi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Heiress’s Deception. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017.

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1542048941 | 276 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

The Heiress’s Deception was a bit of a disappointment as a closer to the series, and not only because I’m aware that some of the issues left unresolved in this one have been carried over to the spinoff, the Wicked Wallflowers, of which I have previously read one book, The Vixen.

That being said, Caldwell’s strengths are still on display here in terms of great character work. Both Calum and Eve are intriguing, with compelling backstories, although I didn’t feel moved by them in the same way I did with some of the previous books in the series, especially The Lady’s Guard. I also found myself a bit conflicted on the “deception” aspect, feeling like his feelings of betrayal by her as a child weren’t explored enough, while also feeling like it was forgiven a bit too quickly due to the situation.

I also just didn’t feel the love between them, and despite the dangers put in their way, there didn’t feel like insurmountable stakes were there, especially in comparison to the prior book. I wanted a lot more from Eve’s brother as a villain in execution, although in theory, he had a good setup. I just didn’t really care about whether or not he was thwarted or not. And towards the end, I just found something I couldn’t describe lacking, so I actually ended up skimming toward the end, hoping to see it all come together, finding myself in how quickly things wrapped up.

This is a bit of a disappointment, especially as I’ve come to like some of Christi Caldwell’s newer books I’ve read since she started working with Montlake Romance (granted, I still haven’t read many of them), but I think this is a case of all the ingredients being there, and there just being a flaw in execution. I do feel like if you’re a fan of Caldwell’s character work, or a fan of flawed heroes and heroines who go through struggles, this is the book (and author) for you.

Review of “The Lady’s Guard” (Sinful Brides #3) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Lady’s Guard. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017.

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1477848920 | 308 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Lady’s Guard is a wonderful book, and once again demonstrates Christi Caldwell’s skill at crafting emotionally moving stories with beautifully flawed characters.

I didn’t know what to expect from Diana as a heroine going in, given that she didn’t make a massive impression in the last two books, but I ended up loving her character from the very first pages. I could empathize with feeling tainted due to the fact that she feared inheriting her mother’s “madness,” and could also relate to the complex relationship she had with her father, especially given the last two books saw him developing relationships with the illegitimate children he sired with the woman he truly loved.

As for Niall, he has now surpassed Ryker as my favorite hero of the series. While all the brothers have been through a lot, both collectively and individually, I feel like his experience is the one that I found the most emotionally impactful. And despite it seeming unlikely at first, I really liked seeing tough-guy Niall and sweet Diana banter and get under each other’s skin, as it was done in such a beautiful way.

This is a wonderful book in a great series. I would recommend this to fans of historical romance that has deep, layered characters and situations that test them.

Review of “The Vixen” (Wicked Wallflowers #2) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Vixen. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2018. 

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503902251 | 353 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Christi Caldwell is an author who continues to interest me when I have the chance to pick up her books, because of the depth she puts into her characterization, and this book is no exception, and in fact this might be one of the most intense I’ve read from her yet (the debate is still out as to whether this is truly her most intense book, given that I’ve only read a handful of them, but the consensus seems to indicate this is the case).

I enjoyed and sympathized with both Ophelia and Connor, especially as a bond grew and lingered between them despite a massive secret about her identity that could have jeopardized any future they could have had. And I also felt this was a nice, refreshing take on Regency romance by casting most of the noble characters aside from those who appeared in Caldwell’s prior books, in a bad light, especially given that the historical romance market is so nobility obsessed. While Caldwell certainly has had heroes or heroines with issues with the aristocracy and the past, and the concept isn’t unique to her, this is one of the few that even shows an initially well intentioned character as not having Connor’s best interests in mind.

I also enjoyed the mystery elements building up to who the child was that Connor was tasked with looking for, and how that tied into his relationship with Ophelia and her own purpose at the Devil’s Den, as well as the reveal of the identity of the man who attempted to assault Ophelia when she was a child, and how that reveal pertained to Connor’s interpersonal relationships. It added not only more suspense to the story, but added to the stakes with each revelation, culminating the final moments where they finally end up together.

However, there are a few issues I did run into while reading the book, and the first is through my own relative inexperience with Caldwell as a reader. She creates intricate worlds of characters that connect across series, and while each book stands alone, I did find this one a bit hard to follow at times as there were things that I wasn’t sure were addressed in either this series or the previous Sinful Brides series where the Killorans first appeared, like the origin of the Killoran surname, if all of these characters in the Devil’s Den are meant to be either the children of Mac Diggory or wards he took in off the streets. It might not bother everyone, but as a detail oriented reader, it did put me off some.

Review of “The Scoundrel’s Honor” (Sinful Brides #2) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Scoundrel’s Honor. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1503943438. $12.95 USD. 

4 stars

I read and enjoyed The Rogue’s Wager last year, and The Scoundrel’s Honor’s nomination in the Historical Romance-Long category was part of the motivation for seeking it out. And while I can say this time that this is not in my opinion the best of the category that I have read, I still feel the nomination is incredibly well-deserved.

One of Caldwell’s strengths is creating deep, sympathetic characters, and this book is no exception. While I am by no means a fan of darkness and angst, I was quickly drawn to Ryker, and was curious about him since the first book. He has a dark past that defines him, but, as the book title implies, he is also incredibly honorable and does that right thing when he must. And in a sea of books that seem to glorify the ton it is refreshing once in a while to find a hero who has legitimate reasons for despising the ton, and the circumstances of the story lead to him having to deal with it. While I would have liked to see his resentment of his father explored a little more and ultimately resolved, given their father played such a big role in the prior book, I was satisfied with how Ryker turned out overall.

Penelope took a while to grow on me. I don’t know what it was, but I didn’t really connect with her that much. I did admire the methods she took in trying to make the best of her marriage, and ultimately feel that she and Ryker are a good match, but compared to the heroines of some of Caldwell’s other books I’ve read, she pales by comparison.

There are also some issues with the writing and structure. While the book overall flows nicely, the overusage of inner monologue for both Ryker and Penelope did grow a bit tiresome. And I was perplexed by the inclusion of the epigraphs at the beginning of each chapter as they seemed to have no relation to the story at all aside from a thematic connection and the fact that they seemed to be letters from Penelope, only to be revealed near the end that these were meant to be diary entries. It wouldn’t have bothered me so much if they had been referenced a bit more throughout the book, especially given that she addresses her diary by a very unusual name, but for most of it, it just felt like almost-pointless info-dump that only became useful when it came to filling me in on some events that happened prior to the events of this book, as some of her siblings were featured in books I have not read. But given that some of the catch-up about the siblings is also included in the main narrative, I feel like there could have been a less distracting and confusing way to incorporate the diary.

 

Review of “For Love of a Duke” (Heart of a Duke #1/2*) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. For Love of the Duke. 2014. New York: Spencer Hill Press, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-63392-103-0. $12.95 USD. 

*Note on series numbering: Goodreads and retailers like Amazon list this as book one. However, the Heart of a Duke character map lists it as book two, with the digital-exclusive prequel, In Need of a Duke/In Need of a Knight listed as book one.

3.5 stars

The first full-length installment in Christi Caldwell’s Heart of a Duke series shows great potential, and despite a few inconsistencies, it lived up to my expectations. She delivers a story that is at times humorous, and at times emotional, giving readers a full journey with these two characters.

Jasper can be a hard character to like sometimes, but you can sympathize with him to an extent, even if you don’t agree with some of his less-than-kind behavior. There are things about his story arc that don’t add up, however. I can understand him being devastated about the loss of his wife, but given that wives dying in childbirth was a such a common occurrence, I don’t know why he felt the sense of guilt he did. I can understand him being afraid of it happening again, but in a time when it was still considered a “duty” for women to bear children for their husbands, it does seem out of place that he would blame himself for killing her.

Katherine was likable, and I could see why she got under Jasper’s skin. I like that she was well-read and didn’t let him be set in his ways during the time they were living together in part one. I also like that, despite having fallen in love with the good side of him, she has the guts to leave and attempt to move on with her life, setting up for the big climactic hero moment.

As is often the case with self-published books, the quality of the prose can be a weak point, as was evident in the last Caldwell book I read. While the copyright page of the first edition indicates it did receive copy editing and proofreading, I feel like there could have been more work put in to ensure that the book flowed better. Some examples included using a person’s name twice in a sentence when a pronoun could easily been substituted, an inconsistency with a major character’s title, and including titles of later installments in the series on a page alongside a citation of a certain poem. And given the amount of time that this book devoted to discussion of and citation of poetry, it grew tiresome to have Wordsworth’s The Excursion, the book that plays a major role in Jasper and Katherine’s courtship, constantly referred to as “Wordsworth’s work” or “Wordsworth’s volume,” instead of referring to it by its title.

 

Review of “Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride” (Scandalous Seasons #1) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. Forever Betrothed, Never the Bride. [United States]: Christi Caldwell, 2013. ISBN-13: 9781944240080. $11.90 USD. 

4 stars

Christi Caldwell is an incredibly prolific self-published author, and despite reading one book from her last year, I was not able at the time to read more of her work until now. And going back to her earliest published full-length novel, her promise as a storyteller is evident, although it is obvious she was still getting to grips with the more technical side of the trade, as there are copious punctuation errors and some typos and misusage of words.

But this does not detract from what is an otherwise pleasurable read, which offers up a generous mix of both the humorous and the heart-wrenching. The interactions between the characters present a number of moments that will have you laughing out loud, while also grip your emotions when it comes to the tougher stuff, such as the Drake’s experience dealing with what we know today to be PTSD. And while you may not always approve of everything the hero does, you can at least understand where he’s coming from, even if he is a bit misguided. And despite seeming very naive at the beginning, we do see Emmaline grow throughout the story, and she provides the anchor and support that Drake needs.

My one complaint as far as the trajectory of the story is concerned is the focus depicting sex scenes in some detail in the latter part of the book, as there are several, almost back-to-back. and after the initial one, they don’t seem to add much to the growth of the relationship. Even if it is true that newly wed people spend the initial, say, months of their marriage in bed, I feel this is something that might have been handled with more subtlety. However, it is still a charming read, both for newcomers to Caldwell’s work and to those who have tried several of her books already.