Review of “What a Lord Wants” (Capturing the Carlisles #5) by Anna Harrington

Harrington, Anna. What a Lord Wants. New York: NYLA, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1798484678 | 309 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

What a Lord Wants is a nice conclusion(?) to the Carlisles’ series, although I admit at first I completely forgot how this was meant to be a Carlisles’ book in the first place. Thankfully, this is explained for the most part, and, due to having the loosest connection to the other books (with the exception of book 3, with this book’s heroine and that one being sisters), it can more or less stand alone.

This book felt oddly paced to me at first, and I found myself boggled at my lack of investment in comparison to others’ glowing reviews for it. I could feel the romantic tension right away, but I wasn’t sure I connected with Dom or Eve until at least halfway through the book. There were things I enjoyed, like being enmeshed in the world of art at the time, and I liked that Eve, in spite of being enveloped in scandal, was unafraid of risking another when she found herself in one, but still, I was fully prepared to drag my way through it, which would not do any favors toward my perspective on the current stale state of the genre.

But somewhere after that halfway point, it got better for me, and I started to formulate what was wrong, along with seeing things be solved for me. And the crux of the issue was Dom’s dual persona. I’m not the biggest fan of heroes who put up walls for whatever reason, and while I found it to be a new take, it did not endear me to him, especially since I felt the solution to his problems of lacking inspiration so obvious. But as things progressed, I found myself warming to him somewhat, and a pivotal moment concerning a letter he receives from a past love moved me and showed a moment of revelation and growth, particularly as it’s revealed that the woman’s father (also his former mentor who instilled the “art before all else” way of thinking) also eventually found love that altered his perspective,c and I found that beautiful and poetic.

While I did not find it as enjjoyable as I had hoped, having really liked or even loved quite a few of Harrington’s other books, I feel it’s mostly me and my funk with historicals lately, and I would not dissuade anyone from picking it up, especially if they have consistently loved Harrington’s work in the past and also really love historicals.

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Review of “Believe in Me” (The Worthingtons #6) by Ella Quinn

Quinn, Ella. Believe in Me. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145205 | 374 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I admit I sadly did not have high hopes for Believe in Me, after having difficulties with its predecessor. And while this one also fell a little flat, I do feel like this one is marginally better.

Once again, I must give praise to Quinn’s dedication to getting the details of the period correct, and also introducing readers to lesser known facts about the Regency era in a fun and engaging way. The concept and overall execution of the idea of a woman who is more interested in pursuing higher education is a unique one for the time period, but it is great to know that it was not outside the realm of possibility for those with connections and the means to travel, as Augusta did.

And the situation led to some great development of her as a character in the context of the extended Worthington family as well. It was great to see the determined Augusta appealing alternately to her more traditionally minded mother, who hopes to see her married off, and her brother Matt, who is slightly more open to the idea. It led to some great moments of development to see how everyone progressed in the three-year time jump since the last book’s events.

The romance felt a little more lackluster to me, which is unfortunate, as on paper, it seemed like it could easily have been one of my favorites, due to the slightly slow-burn nature of the relationship and how things start off with Phinn and Augusta being friends first, and them being well-suited to each other due to both being intelligent. But it was one of those books where I felt like the conflicts were resolved a bit too quickly, and then there was a lot of slow-moving travel scenes. It helped to illustrate the scenery and what it would have been like to actually make the trip, but it did little else but make me wonder how much longer it would be until something happened.

On the whole it is a fairly decent entry, although it does make me question whether this series has gone on a bit too long. There are numerous other family members left, so we’ll see if Ella Quinn can write something a bit more engaging for the next family member. And in the meantime, I do still feel it’s worth reading, even if primarily for the heroine’s arc alone. As I noted previously, Ella Quinn’s adherence to accuracy is pretty much unrivaled, and she is an author I would recommend for those looking for a historical that will both entertain and educate, this one is for you.

Review of “Brentwood’s Ward” (Bow Street Runners #1) by Michelle Griep

Griep, Michelle. Brentwood’s Ward. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2015.

Paperback | $13.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1630586799 | 314 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I won Brentwood’s Ward and the next book in the series, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, in a giveaway from the author around the time of the latter book’s release, and I was excited, as I had just read one of her novellas at the time and Julie Klassen, my gateway author to Christian historical fiction, has long recommended her highly. So, I was a bit disappointed to find that I wasn’t a bit more wowed by this.

I didn’t hate the book. It’s well-paced and fairly original, focusing on Bow Street Runners, and while I’ve seen those before on occasion in historicals, I haven’t seen it nearly enough. And Brentwood is definitely the better of the two main characters in the book. I loved that, in addition to the action-oriented stuff that comes with the profession, Brentwood has concern for taking care of his ailing sister, which motivates him to take on the assignment as Emily’s guardian.

I didn’t really know what to think about Emily. I could kind of empathize with her situation to an extent, but I also found her a bit too spoiled, and while there were moments over the course of the story that led her to grow on me, I never fully warmed up to her.

But I think my real issue was the fact that the romance wasn’t well executed. I didn’t really get the sense, particularly on Brentwood’s end, that he fell in love with her, especially when he declares it out-of-the-blue without convincing romantic buildup. There’s some semblance of tension there, but I didn’t get a real sense that there was a ton of chemistry, and the feelings didn’t feel super genuine. And while the suspense plot was developed reasonably well throughout, towards the end, I found my investment flagging, especially when I started to see it wrapping up a little too easily.

I will definitely be reading the next book to give this author a second chance and decide then if it’s worth it to continue with the forthcoming final (?) book in the series. But I did see this book did get a lot of positive praise from other readers, so I would still recommend it to those who like similar authors like Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd.

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.

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 “Evernight” (Darkest London #5) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Evernight. New York: Forever, 2014.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455581641 | 411 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4.5 stars

Evernight was much more enjoyable than its predecessor (although I don’t know if anything can top the sweetness of Winston and Poppy in Winterblaze), and I think a lot of it has to do with the history and conflict between Holly and Will. And while some of the ingredients of the book were there that surely meant I could have disliked this book, primarily the fact that even Callihan considers Will an “antihero” (408), and that’s most definitely not my thing, I felt it genuinely worked within the context of this story.

Yet, oddly the trope of an assassin falling for his target is one that worked well for me once before, and Callihan makes it work with equal ease. There is great chemistry between Holly and Will, and while their relationship in this book doesn’t start off in the most auspicious circumstances, I could feel their relationship grow in an authentic way, which I did not feel with Jack and Mary in the prior book. I also like that once again Callihan gives her characters complexity, from Will with the way his dark past is explored to the different facets of Holly’s personality, with her being somewhat cold and distant, but opening up over time.

And now, five books in, I love that the world gets more and more intricate and there are more and more hints for the direction of the last two books, and I’m super excited to get to them. And I will repeat my recommendation from the last few reviews of this series that I recommend these for everyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal.

Review of “Shadowdance” (Darkest London #4) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Shadowdance. New York: Forever, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455520817 | 446 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

3.5 stars

Shadowdance is, unfortunately, at least in my opinion, the weakest in the series so far. I will give Callihan some props, however, as her plotting remains engaging and kept me turning pages, finishing the book within hours of starting it, in spite of some of the lackluster elements, and I love the growing intricacy of the world of the series.

What I am more conflicted on is the hero and heroine. I feel like Jack and Mary both had a lot of potential, but did not live up to expectations. I feel like they were decently fleshed out, particularly Jack with his own dark past, but I just didn’t personally care for either of them, or find that trajectory of their relationship worth rooting for, given some of their past baggage, not to mention that it just didn’t feel like a natural progression from them being at each other’s throats to falling into lasting love. Passion, I can buy, but I don’t know if I see them lasting in the long-term.

In spite of the slightly weaker entry, I do still feel like the series is progressing in a great way overall. And while I’m not sure I’d recommend this one specifically, at this point, given how much is set up book by book, I discourage any newcomers to the series to skip this one (or any) books, and will repeat my recommendation of the series for anyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal.

Review of “Winterblaze” (Darkest London #3) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Winterblaze. New York: Forever, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455520794 | 430 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

5 stars

When I first started the series, Poppy and Winston’s book was the one I was looking forward to, because it had the most compelling conflict to me, at least of the series thus far. And it did not disappoint, making it my favorite in the series so far.

“Marriage in trouble” is a trope that can go either way for me, because of how it is navigated, and I feel like Callihan does it with grace, showing that, in spite of the challenges Winston and Poppy faced that tore them apart at the end of the prior book, there is still a love between them, and they’re willing to fight to be together, and I love that. Their personalities were also both wonderful. While Poppy, much like Daisy in the prior book, was a character I was unsure about, I loved seeing her dedication to her work with the SOS, and how she defies the expectations of the time for women. And while Winston initially feels betrayed and worries for her, I love how he ends up being unconditionally loving and supportive.

I also love how there are some deeper secrets about both Winston’s past and the Ellis family that have to be negotiated, and I enjoyed getting insight into both. I also loved seeing the little flashbacks to when Winston and Poppy first fell in love, even though there were obstacles against them.

I now can’t wait to grab the rest of the books in the series, as there seems to be a lot of setup for those in this one. And, so far, I would recommend anyone interested in trying the series to at least try this one.

Review of “Moonglow” (Darkest London #2) by Kristen Callihan

Callihan, Kristen. Moonglow. New York: Forever, 2012.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1455508587 | 412 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4.5 stars

Moonglow continues the trend started by the first book of pretty much blowing me away. Now more immersed in this world and seeing Callihan finding her feet a bit more as a writer, I feel like there is a marked improvement in the story overall, continuing to build on the atmosphere of Victorian London in a beautiful and immersive way.

The first book left me a bit unsure about how I would like these characters, particularly Ian, who plays the role of antagonist in Firelight. However, I actually found him a more complex and lovable character than Archer. Despite not really being into the whole werewolf/shifter element of paranormal romance, I really love how he was written to be protective of Daisy in the face of danger, and also the dynamic of respect and trust that builds between them. It is such an antithesis to what I had heard about other shifter series, where the heroes are more “alpha” to the point of being possessive and animalistic. Ian has strength, but it he is also a good man at heart, which I feel like Daisy really needs, knowing her past in a loveless marriage.

Daisy took longer to warm up to, but I did feel like she ended up having great development, due to her finding her freedom somewhat after being trapped in her loveless union, and I could ultimately see that she, like her sister, has an inner strength and power that makes her a perfect match for Ian.

In short, I do feel this series is ultimately living up to the hype, even though I can see why some people would consider this one and Firelight somewhat weak entries, in keeping with a new author, and anticipate that Callihan will fully come into her own by the next book. And, in spite of any (minor) flaws, I recommend anyone who’s been deterred by warnings of such to give these a chance. You may be surprised.