Review of “The Lady and the Highwayman” by Sarah M. Eden

Eden, Sarah M. The Lady and the Highwayman. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629726052 | 344 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

I have long been interested in reading Sarah M. Eden, but the premise of the The Lady and the Highwayman, along with a recommendation from a friend, was the one that finally caught my interest in a serious way. And given my recent interest in the Victorian Gothic literary characters, this seemed like a perfect follow-up to some of my other recent reads.

And it truly is a delightful romance, building from Fletcher and Elizabeth being somewhat rivals in the penny dreadful business to them falling for each other in a beautiful way, while also exploring how each of them, despite their different class backgrounds, has a common goal in helping the less fortunate.

I love how their narrative is juxtaposed against the installments of their respective penny dreadful stories, and how they each reveal something about the writer’s character and thoughts. Fletcher’s story is very much motivated by his past as a street urchin, while we get insights into Elizabeth’s head about how her growing feelings for Fletcher interfere with her writing.

This is a delightful and fun historical, peppered with insights into the world of publishing both silver-fork novels and Penny dreadfuls in Victorian England. I would recommend this to love sweet historical romances.

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Review of “The Dare and the Doctor” (Winner Takes All #3) by Kate Noble

Noble, Kate. The Dare and the Doctor. New York: Pocket Books, 2016.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-476749402 | 355 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was more or less an avid fan of Kate Noble’s first series, not to mention her work as a writer for the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and their tie-in books under the name Kate Rorick, in the past. However, with Winner Takes All, while I loved book one, I was soured by book two due to the unlikability due to both main characters. Yet, I still had a lingering interest to at least give The Dare and the Doctor a try, given the character dynamic appealed to me.

The characters themselves were the strength of the book. I loved the friends/correspondents dynamic between Margaret and Rhys, and how it led to love. I love the insights into Margaret’s passion for horticulture, and how Rhys nurtured this interest and her desire to pursue it. I also love tht Rhys was essentially the head of his family, and that he was trying to do what was best for them.

However, there were several plot threads, and I found myself confused at how they all came to nothing, especially the way his engagement to another woman, which plays a role in the big crisis, is essentially solved at the last second without much fuss. I was taken aback when it just…ended the way it did, and suddenly the path was clear for him and Margaret to be happy.

As saddened as I am that Kate Noble has left her historical romance career on hold (at least for the moment, I haven’t seen any updates on new historical projects) after the release of a more subpar title, I am interested to check out of the contemporary/women’s fiction Kate Rorick projects she’s been working on, and hope that, like some of her other mult-genre writing romance peers (Lisa Kleypas?), she comes back with a fresh perspective and new and exciting historicals. But, if by chance, you haven’t read her up to this point, I would recommend this one (as well as book one, The Game and the Governess, and maaaybe book two if you like more difficult characters), if you’re looking for more historical romances with humor in the vein of Julia Quinn.

Review of “Miss Leslie’s Secret” by Jennifer Moore

Moore, Jennifer. Miss Leslie’s Secret. American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2017.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1524404154 | 218 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

I was delighted to win a copy of Miss Leslie’s Secret and another Jennifer Moore title from fellow LDS author, Josi S. Kilpack, in one of her weekly ARC Thursday giveaways, and having wanted to try Jennifer Moore for a long time, I almost immediately dove into this one.

This is on the very short list of books that makes me love Scotland. And part of that is due to the hero. While other books from secular publishers highlight the sensuality of the kilt and his muscles, not to mention his broody alpha persona (if that’s your thing, that’s great, but I just don’t get the appeal), I love the idea of a more outwardly compassionate hero like Conall who cares for both Aileen and Jamie.

Aileen’s love for Jamie, and when the titular “secret” concerning her past and Jamie’s father’s identity were revealed, and truly felt for her in this situation, especially given the father’s involvement in criminal activity.

I did find the use of Scots dialect, even outside of the dialogue, a bit jarring at first, especially since the story was written in third person, so it wasn’t like we were getting the characters’ thoughts directly from them, as we would with first person. But I applaud Moore for committing to this sense of immersion with both the language and the culture, engrossing me fully in the setting.

This is a delightful, short, and sweet Regency read, with a good dose of emotional depth. I would recommend this to other fans of sweet Regency romances.

Review of “Underestimating Miss Cecilia” (Regency Brides: Daughters of Aynsley #2) by Carolyn Miller

Miller, Carolyn. Underestimating Miss Cecilia. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0825445903 | 340 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I found myself rather underwhelmed by Underestimating Miss Cecilia, in comparison to Carolyn Miller’s previous books, which were all solid. There are still some of the recognizable hallmarks of Miller’s previous books that made me enjoy them, in particular her interweaving of historical events to provide greater context for the era. In this case, I loved reading about a hero and heroine who are interested in being more active politically and pushing for social change, whether it be to help the poor throughout England or to stop the prejudice against marginalized groups like the gypsies.

And the setup for the characters wasn’t bad, especially Edward’s. I love when an author can convince me that the hero truly wants to turn over a new leaf and leave his wild ways behind, and that is what she did with Edward. And I loved seeing Cecilia come to harness her inner strength, where she used to be more passive and pining.

But despite it essentially being one of my favorite tropes, friends-to-lovers, I felt like the execution didn’t really work. It could be because I read another book that did the trope of unrequited love between friends so much better recently, so I’m a bit jaded, but I just didn’t believe the love between the two, especially when Edward, after taking her for granted for so long, notices her once something bad happens to her.

I still enjoyed this book for what it is, especially for Miller’s constant focus on building an authentic feeling Regency world. I recommend this book to fans of sweet, spiritually driven (but not overly preachy) Regency romances.

Review of “The Wallflower Wager” (Girl Meets Duke #3) by Tessa Dare

Dare, Tessa. The Wallflower Wager. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062672162 | 353 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

The Wallflower Wager may just be Tessa Dare’s best book in years, and I can’t believe I’m saying that now, given how much anxiety I had about this one. But after the failure I had in meshing with The Duchess Deal, I still found myself unsure how to feel about a hero promoted as the “Duke of Ruin,” even though I’d already experienced how poorly some of the cliche taglines sum up the substance of the book in The Governess Game, with its so-called “bad, bad rake (Please, publishers, stop doing this…I’m sure I’m not the only reader tired of every hero being described as a rake, rogue or scoundrel, when there’s so much more to them).

But I found myself actually really liking Gabe. I’m a sucker for a self-made hero, and while he was ruthless in his path to gain wealth, I like that he’s at least honest about it, even noting the hypocrisy of how many of the aristocratic people he ruined made their wealth off people like him, as well as through colonialism and slavery, and yet that’s acceptable. It’s refreshing to finally see a Regency romance aside from those by Vanessa Riley which confronts the fact that aristocrats profited off slave labor.

And his growth into a person worthy of Penny also felt wonderful and authentic as well. While he does have a moment of succumbing back to his old ways, he doesn’t and admits he wanted to ruin her family out of his own insecurity. But I like how that sets up Penny’s journey as well, as she also deals with private pain from childhood abuse.

The supporting cast is also wonderful, both returning characters and new ones. The bromance is the best part of the book, with former rivals Ash and Chase now tag-teaming to protect Penny, then later teaming up with Gabe in some of the most hilarious hi-jinks of the book, like delivering a baby goat and arguing over the positions of second and third in a duel. Also, while Ash’s Shakespearean swears do make an appearance, he’s now outranked as the most crude character in this series by the crass parrot rescued from a brothel who imitates sex noises and propositions people for a good portion of the book.

This truly is the most delightful book, and I deeply regret letting the memory of one misfire (which she’d already made up for with book two) and marketing which she may not have had much to do with lower my expectations. I recommend this for anyone looking for a witty historical romance that also deals with tough topics in a beautiful and compassionate way.

Review of “The Widow of Rose House” by Diana Biller

Biller, Diana. The Widow of Rose House. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250297853 | 252 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

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

The Widow of Rose House is a pleasant surprise to me in a number of wayss. It’s a engaging debut novel set in a period that is shamefully not explored enough for my liking, and hopefully finally puts an end to the string of subpar reads and DNFs I’ve had more or less in a row. While the focus is much more on developing the romantic relationship and the mystery plot over any period detail beyond what is needed to set the scene, it’s nonetheless an incredibly delightful book that intrigued me almost immediately and did not let me go.

The setup with the widow who was in an abusive marriage is a familiar one, but I loved it was handled here, especially with his family determined to cast blame on Alva in the aftermath, and the scars that leaves on her. There are moments where she is jarred by her brother-in-law’s appearance both for his threatening nature in his own right and for his resemblance to his brother, and I think that helped to amp up the suspense factor.

However, she meets the perfect counterpart in Sam, an inventor, who is as intelligent as she is and compassionate where her former husband was not. It was beautiful seeing the walls come down between them, first giving into passion, and then lasting love.

I was a little nervous at how the “ghosts” element would play out, but it’s done in an incredibly plausible way, and one where I couldn’t help but feel sorry for that particular character. I also appreciate the statement it made about poor nineteenth century mental health care, and that it led to Alva resolving to do her part to make things better for people still living with mental illnesses.

This is a delightful historical, and one I recommend picking up when it comes out especially if you like your historicals with a bit of suspense and a touch of the paranormal.

Review of “Daisies and Devotion” (Mayfield Family #2) by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi. Daisies and Devotion. Salt Lake City, Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725529 | 285 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

Daisies and Devotion is a great second installment in the Mayfield Family series. While the overall plot elements do more or less stand on their own, there is a lot of setup for the overall arc of the series in the first book, so I definitely recommend reading both, even if you don’t necessarily read in order.

And like the first book, it does take a little bit to warm up to the young couple to see their potential. There’s nothing initially off-putting about Timothy, but it’s hard having experienced unrequited affection, to see him act like dense, and even tactless, toward Maryann for a decent part of the book.

But they do have a strong basis of friendship, with Maryann tempering Timothy’s heightened expectations of a marriage partner from the beginning and Timothy somewhat returning the favor by helping out by working to improve her own dismal marriage prospects. And as I read on, I became more invested in their respective growth, with Maryann beginning to contemplate life as an independently wealthy woman within a few years if she does not marry, and Timothy slowly awakening to the idea that perhaps his perfect woman isn’t so much about the superficial things, but something a lot deeper.

This is a wonderfully deep friends-to-lovers story, with great character growth and relationship development, and the series shows a lot of potential to go in a lot of interesting directions, especially since, unlike the members who received their happy endings so far, there are some legitimate hell-raisers in the bunch. I would recommend this to fans of sweet historical romance.

Review of “Lady Notorious” (Royal Rewards #4) by Theresa Romain

Romain, Theresa. Lady Notorious. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145458 | 281 pages | Regency Romance

2.5 stars

Theresa Romain is one of the authors that I have…complex…feelings about when it comes to their work. There are some where I feel like I don’t gel with their characters, and thus am less inclined to read more of them. But Romain is one of those that I consistently want to love, and have enjoyed a few of her books in the past, but find myself a bit at a loss with not only Lady Notorious itself, but almost the entire Royal Rewards series.

The main thing that maintains my interest is her characters, particularly the heroes, and how they tend to be more beta than alpha. That is the case here, with George, Lord Northbrook. He is a charming and intelligent hero, and while he has some demons, they are handled in a way that I really enjoyed, not allowing these things from his past to fully dominate him in the present. I also love that he has a unique hobby concerning camera obscurae. And while Cassandra is a somewhat anachronistic historical heroine, I also found her reasonably likable as well, and I felt like they had pretty good chemistry with one another.

However, while there is a claim to a mystery plot here, I found myself at a loss to figure out what the point of it all was, except that it somehow involved a threat to the life of Nortbrook’s father, the Duke of Ardmore. The pacing of this dragged (an amazing feat, given that it’s less than 300 pages), and I didn’t feel any trace of the suspense that I was led to expect from the blurb. I almost wish she had tightened the plot a bit of this one (and perhaps even the others in the series as well) to novella length, as I found her recent novellas far superior in quality than this series, and there didn’t seem to be enough of interest going on to stretch out to four full novels.

I am massively disappointed in Romain after concluding this series, but I hope this is just a minor misfire, as I know she is still capable of writing great stories (not to mention I still have her other recent series, Romance of the Turf, in my TBR, and it sounds very different tone-wise). If anything, I would not suggest a newbie to Romain start here, but with one of her earlier works.

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.