Review of "The Heiress Effect" (Brothers Sinister #2) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Heiress Effect. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2013.

eBook | $4.99 (also part of the $9.99 Brothers Sinister Box Set) | 978-1937248154 |280 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Thus far, Courtney Milan’s Brothers Sinister series can more or less be summed up with the words “consistently brilliant.” Building on the backstory of The Governess Affair and Oliver’s introduction as a supporting character in The Duchess War, The Heiress Effect fleshes him out, adding to what we know about his backstory, who, inspired by his past, wants to become involved in politics to give the common people a voice. The struggle between “ambition vs. love” that was a thread in his father’s story is key to his narrative as well, as he falls for someone completely unsuitable.

I already liked Oliver as seen from Robert’s perspective, but I like him as a character in his own right as well. I like that he wants to make something of himself to make things better for others. And while he does have a bit of short-sightedness, feeling he can’t be with Jane, even telling her so in a somewhat cavalier manner, I felt like he grew to the point of understanding that what she means to him is more important than having an impeccable reputation.

Jane is a wonderful heroine. It was great seeing how she was sure of who she was, and that she actually embraced being a failure in society, to the point of exaggerating it. And when the reason for rejecting convention, her relationship with her sister, whose well-being she fears for in the care of their uncle, I truly admired her.

I also like that Milan managed to balance a secondary romance plot without the book feeling too bulky, or without deviating from the central plot with Oliver and Jane. Emily is such a wonderful character, who is determined to live her life to the fullest in spite of having epilepsy, and I loved the romance she had with Anjan.

And speaking of which…I love Milan’s dedication to adding diversity in her books in a way that is respectful to the various cultures and/or identities she’s writing about. In this case, Anjan is an incredibly well-written character, and it led to me learning something about the real life inspiration for his character as well.

This is a wonderful second full novel in the Brothers Sinister series, and I heartily recommend it to any historical romance fan who hasn’t picked it up yet.

The Heiress Effect: https://amzn.to/3amlCQv

Brothers Sinister Box Set: https://amzn.to/2FZgmEn

(Sort of) Review of "An Uncommon Woman" by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. An Uncommon Woman. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2020.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800734954 | 377 pages | Historical Romance/Christian Fiction

I received a complimentary copy as a part of the Revell Reads Blog Tour Program, in exchange for an honest review.

That said, this won’t be much of a review, as while one of the conditions of the program is posting a review, I didn’t have to finish the book. And I made the mistake of requesting thi book out of excitement to read more by the author, without reading the blurb, even when I received the book in the mail. It was only when I finally picked it up to read that alarm bells started going off, what with the recent resurgence of discussion around proper representation of diverse voices in romance novels due to the RWA scandal, and the lingering memory of some unfortunate titles in the “inspirational” category receiving mainstream attention.

I suspect Frantz had good intent, having flipped to the back of the book and looked at her author’s note. But it is a bit disconcerting to see her perspective is primarily a scholarly one, so it comes off as another white author wanting to write about something “exotic, but not too exotic,” a problem that has plagued romance for a long time. This holds a lot of weight when you consider the fact that her hero and a supporting character both are essentially white people who were “captured” and lived among the “Indians,” with the plot set to see the heroine captured as well (I didn’t get that far…and I got almost two hundred pages in).

And the plot and characters were so lacking in…really…anything, which made the issues I had with the rep stand out even more. The one positive I guess is that she mastered the time period language, but when it’s juxtaposed with “time period accurate” everything else, it just falls super flat.

In short, don’t recommend. But like some of the other problematic Christian romances (or really any Christian romances, this seems to be the sort of book that appeals very specifically to their target demographic.

Review of "A Delicate Deception" (Regency Impostors #3) by Cat Sebastian (+ Affiliate News)

Sebastian, Cat. A Delicate Deception. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

eBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062820679 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

I included the first two Regency Impostors books on my “best of 2019,” simply under the series title, with some anticipation that I would be able to talk about A Delicate Deception as highly. However, while I enjoyed elements of this, like the unapologetic queerness of the two leads and the fact the absolutely adorable development of their relationship, other parts fell a little flat.

Cat continues to create such scrumptious male characters. I love the exploration of Sydney’s grief over the losses he’s experienced, and his presentation as grumpy withotu being annoying, a failing in the characterization of many a grumpy hero.

I also like that, in Amelia, he was paired with someone who also was a bit closed-off, and seeing them interact with that in common is interesting and outside the norm, since romance usually tries to play up opposing personalities. My favorite chapters have to be the two consisting solely of their correspondence. While it’s not really the “thing” anymore, if it had been an epistolary work, I would not have objected.

However, the plot meandered, to the point of me struggling to follow it. There are some fun elements, like a bit of family dynamics, and the discussion of Amelia’s historical novels (a bit I also enjoyed in A Duke in Disguise), but there didn’t seem to be a ton of direction for the story overall.

If anything, the characters are amusing and they saved me from being truly bored. Cat Sebastian has rapidly become an autobuy, and one or two disappointments have not put me off an author that frequently writes such entertaining stories. I recommend this if you are a more character-focused reader, and you are ready to become invested in the hijinks of these unique characters, because that alone makes it somewhat worth it.

Also, final note: I recently registered to become an Amazon Affiliate! So, if by chance you haven’t gotten this book yet, and are interested in trying it, I’d appreciate the support.

Buy the book here: https://amzn.to/30pWx2x

Review of "A Duke a Dozen" (The Survivors #6) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. A Duke a Dozen. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1687469892 | 421 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

After the age-gap relationship where the hero was older in the previous book, it was a nice touch to have an older heroine this time around in A Duke a Dozen. And as has become the hallmark of this series, we get a good balance of some light-hearted moments (although the focus is much more on the romance over the friendship this time around, with the story taking the characters away from London and the Draven Club), emotional reckoning, and a dash of suspense.

While Phin isn’t my favorite of the Survivors (I still have a soft spot for Draven, after the previous book), I enjoyed seeing him trying to reckon with the new expectations, due to the “accidents” the befell his older brothers, leaving him saddled with the title. And while he initially came to Annabel out of suspicion, I love how kindly he treated her, as a contrast to her late husband.

I truly felt for Annabel, however. A bad arranged marriage is nothing new to historical romance, as it wouldn’t have been uncommon during this time period, but it’s the little touches that made her experience unique. The way her husband made her unable to properly experience pleasure was moving, but even more so was the sad fate for her daughter, who was the impetus for her seeking Phin’s help.

The mystery does feel a tad obvious in this one, and, admittedly, I almost forgot it was important with everything else going on, so were it not for the last-minute resolution by the end, I may not have missed that detail

This is another great installment in a wonderful series, and I can’t wait for the next one releasing in just under a month as of this writing. I recommend this to fans of Regency romances.

Review of "The Prince of Broadway" (Uptown Girls #2) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Prince of Broadway. New York: Avon Books, 2020.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062906830 | 376 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

4.5 stars

I had mixed feelings going into The Prince of Broadway. On the one hand, revenge plots have never worked out for me. But on the other hand, both the blutb and many people promoting it suggested it would turn out differently, so I gave it a chance, with full faith in Joanna Shupe to make the premise work.

And it does. While Clay does do a bit of lying by omission, he is for the most part fairly blunt about his intent to Florence from their first encounter, and he does his best not to involve her, even though, inevitably, it does, because, well, it is her family and it also impacts her own dreams. And I love how, in spite of his hatred for her father, he sees Florence as her own person, and even if it starts as him helping her to get on her father’s nerves, he encourages her in her dreams to run a casino.

And Florence is my favorite Shupe heroine to date. I love her determination to make her own living, in defiance of the traditional expectations of the time period, a topic that she discusses with both her father and grandmother. And the inclusion of the fact that she doesn’t want marriage (minor spoiler alert: she doesn’t get married) or children is wonderful, and reminds me a lot of the conversations going on recently, both with redefining what we think of as “historically accurate” and rethinking the idea that “HEA =/= ‘marriage and babies.'”

And the secondary characters…while I wasn’t sure what to make of the dad character in The Rogue of Fifth Avenue, I grew to like him more in this one, in part because it illustrates how proud he is of his daughters, even if he did go overboard to protect him, as well as the similarities he shares with Florence. And Florence’s grandmother is a gem for supporting her dream of opening a casino, as well as being incredible in this one scene between her and Clay. I hope they’ll both still be a part of the next book.

This is a delightful book that surprised me by turning a loathed trope on its head and made it work. I recommend this to historical romance lovers, especially those looking for more of the Gilded Age.

Review of "The Soldier's Scoundrel" (The Turner Series #1) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. The Soldier’s Scoundrel. New York: Avon Impulse, 2016.

EBook | $3.99 USD | ISBN-13: 977-0062642486 | 336 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

At long last, I’ve finally went back and picked up Cat Sebastian’s historical romance debut, The Soldier’s Scoundrel. And while I think she’s only improved with time, this one has all her signature charm.

There’s a saying I heard not too long ago that you can make a problematic trope less so by “making it gay,” and while I feel it also requires some nuance to understand LGBTQ+ issues (which Sebastian demonstrates), this is a great case of that maxim proving true. This story follows a gentleman and scoundrel, with a fall into love that works much more than many heterosexual cross-class romances, for getting rid of the double standards, while also exploring the issues facing gay men in this time period.

I loved seeing Jack get past his biases toward the nobility through his relationship with Oliver, making this a great transition from dislike to love that can be hard to get right without either being too far gone to be forgivable or just feeling petty.

This is a strong start from an author who has now become one of my favorite authors. I recommend this for those looking for good LGBTQ+ rep in historical romance.

Review of "The Thief of Lanwyn Manor" (The Cornwall Novels #2) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Thief of Lanwyn Manor. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2020.

EBook | $8.99 USD ($15.99 USD Print) | ISBN-13: 978-0785223269 | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

I received an ARC of this book through Netgalley to read in exchange for a fair review.

The Thief of Lanwyn Manor is the second in Sarah E. Ladd’s latest series, the Cornwall novels, but, as is typical of the author’s style, while there are small connections you appreciate if you read in order, the stories completely stand alone and the characters of book one have almost nothing to do with this book.

And admittedly, I’m kind of glad, as while that first book was ok, it was one of her weaker efforts, and very cliche, while this one is more of a return to form. The constant is that the setting of Cornwall remains beautifully realized, and the story feels atmospheric, while exploring a different nefarious deed that hasn’t been treaded to the point where it’s become a stereotype.

Isaac in particular is great, with his concern for those working in the mine he and his family own. Ladd’s books have slowly begun to focus more on the issues of the working class in this period (an aspect I also loved in her previous stand alone book, The Weaver’s Daughter), and she does so in a way that left me feeling enlightened and reflecting on the issues in comparison to today.

I really enjoyed the romantic tension in this one, especially as Julia grows closer to Isaac, in spite of his brother initially seeming like a more ideal suitor. This also leads to great character development between the brothers as well, especially given Matthew has a connection to the things going on.

There is a mystery, but while Ladd’s build-up is fantastic, as noted with the development of setting in terms of Gothic atmosphere, the reveal is a little underwhelming and predictable, and now that I’ve grown as a reader, I can recognize that as a flaw in many of her books, where it’s less “aha!” when you put the pieces together, and more “but of course it is.”

This is not my favorite Sarah Ladd title, but I still enjoyed it for the most part. I recommend it to people looking for a sweet read that also has a thread of suspense.

Review of "Lady Derring Takes a Lover" (The Palace of Rogues #1) by Julie Anne Long

Long, Julie Anne. Lady Derring Takes a Lover. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

eBook | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062867476 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

I had mixed experiences with Julie Anne Long’s previous work, really enjoying one of the middle books in the Pennyroyal Green series when I first got into romance but not feeling compelled to continue, then being put off entirely by the early books. With Lady Derring Takes a Lover, Long appears to have mastered her craft since those earlier books, as while there is a lot of setup, it’s balanced well with a much more engaging love story.

In terms of that setup, I really enjoyed the friendship between Delilah and Angelique. They begin the book as the widow and former mistress, respectively, of the same man, and while it could have led to animosity, I enjoyed seeing them bond over the poor circumstances Lord Derring left them in. I feel like female friendships aren’t given as much emphasis as male ones in romance, and to have it come from a situation like this is so refreshing.

While the romance takes its time to start, once it does, it’s swoonworthy. I loved seeing Delilah discovering pleasure for the first time, as well as what it means to be cared for. And Tristan, who is usually more contained, is attracted to her almost immediately, allowing him to let his guard down.

The one major plot point I found a little out of place was the mystery. It presents an opportunity for Tristan and Delilah to make contact, as it centers on Lord Derring, but other than that, it feels rather underwhelming. However, I did enjoy how it provided context to the work Tristan does.

This is a great start to a new series from a well-loved author who I’m hoping to give more of a chance going forward. I recommend this to those looking for more historical romances that prominently feature female friendships, especially between unlikely people.

Review of "Unraveled" (Turner #3) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. Unraveled. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2011.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1536983678 | 325 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

Unraveled is my least favorite in the Turner series, but that doesn’t mean it’s not objectively a good book…I just preferred elements of the previous two more. While it’s an earlier book of hers, Milan already showed signs of mastering her craft with an awareness of the unique heroes and heroines she wanted to write, and self-publishing giving her an avenue to have full creative control.

I love the depth she gave to Smite’s work as magistrate, likely drawing somewhat on her own legal background, without the story feeling too heavy handed and bashing the reader over the head with legal-speak. And while he’s another emotionally scarred hero, I like that, while he presents himself as being a bit emotionally detached, it’s not something he lets define him, which is particularly obvious when he makes a statement about not being “broken.”

A hallmark of Milan’s stories seems to be perfectly balancing the romance with family dynamics, and that’s the case here as well, especially given Smite’s uneasy relationship with Ash, due to what happened in the past. However, there’s also adorableness, particularly between him and Mark and a certain puppy…

I enjoyed seeing him bond with Miranda, first physically, then emotionally. I wasn’t massively drawn to Miranda herself, although I admired her dedication to the young boy in her care, and how that factored into the relationship between her and Smite.

While not one of my personal favorites, I can’t deny there’s quite a bit to love here. And while I don’t know that I’d start here with Courtney Milan, I would recommend it to someone who is exploring her backlist a bit more, perhaps after reading at least the other two novels in the series.

Review of "Misleading Miss Verity" (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #3) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Misleading Miss Verity. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445910 | 342 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

Misleading Miss Verity is a bittersweet goodbye to Carolyn Miller’s Regency Brides world, as it seems she’s going in a new direction with her next book. And as such, I’m glad this is a good book to send the series off on.

This story, like many of her books, is rich in character growth. While it was hard to know what to expect from Verity, given her peripheral role as a side character in her sisters’ books, I liked her emotional journey toward growing in faith in God in a way that didn’t feel forced. I also like that she’s independent minded, and despite initial difficulties, finds someone who respects that.

I also enjoyed seeing Anthony adjusting to his new role of laird of Dungally. I thought it was great to see him apply his desire to help people and undo the legacy of carlessness sowed by the previous laird. I love that he was just a good person, and while there was some misleading going on, it was with good intent.

Like all the Regency Brides books, there is a great sense of place, particularly when the characters are in Scotland. She immerses the reader in the scenery, language, and customs, so it feels like you’re there. She also presents something a little bit closer to her home, with some scenes in New South Wales at the beginning, and I think it’s fascinating to see a writer depict the history of their homeland in one of their books.

This is a great book, and I recommend it to fans of inspirational historical romance.