Review of “The Lacemaker” by Laura Frantz

Frantz, Laura. The Lacemaker. Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0800726638 | 413 pages | Christian Fiction/Historical Romance–Revolutionary War

5 stars

I had never read Laura Frantz before, but I purchased The Lacemaker a while ago due to my interest in more historicals set during the American Revolution, and now finding myself in the mood for the period again after having one of those “I don’t know what to read” moments, I finally picked it up.

And I’m impressed by Frantz’s style. She perfectly captures what I already knew was a tense period and brings it to life, giving me a deeper look at the tense, day-by-day conflicts between the Tories and Patriots, as it built up from a rebellion into all-out war.

This is seen through the eyes of the heroine, Liberty, the daughter of a Tory politician who ends up in the middle of it all. While she is never fully disdainful of the Patriot cause, I loved seeing her grow from being more trusting that the life her father has carved out for her is the best to becoming more disillusioned, leading her to the Patriots.

While the names (given at birth or adopted over the course of the story) for both hero and heroine are a little on the nose, with Noble, it is very appropriate. He is not only dedicated to the cause, providing a fresh lens to explore the side of the Patriots through, but I love his “noble” behavior toward Liberty throughout the book, leading me to fall in love with him just as Liberty did, swooning every time he referred to her as “anwylyd,” the Welsh term for “beloved.”

This book is so richly detailed, but it never feels overwhelming, with it being more about the characters’ growth and the growth of their love for each other first and foremost. It is a must-read for anyone who loves a great historical that sweeps you away, leaving you satisfied at completing a wonderful story, yet still yearning for more.

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Review of “Governess Gone Rogue” (Dear Lady Truelove #3) by Laura Lee Guhrke

Guhrke, Laura Lee. Governess Gone Rogue. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062853691 | 372 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

Governess Gone Rogue is probably my new favorite in the Dear Lady Truelove series so far, due to the skilled combination of two tropes that I thought had been done to death: the nanny/governess trope a la Mary Poppins, and the woman-disguised-as-a-man trope. And while there are shades of the familiar with both aspects, Guhrke injects something new into the story, making it her own.

Amanda is a wonderful heroine, and I could not help but feel for her when the secrets from her past came out, but admire her determination to continue to persevere, even when confronted with the man from her past who runs into her again and is once again making lewd offers. I love how Guhrke highlighted how uncertain women still were during this time period, especially once their reputations were compromised, along with the double standard of how it had no impact on the man, even if he pursued her.

Jamie is a great counterpart for Amanda, given his own wild past and current efforts to carve a political career for himself. While there is the obligatory bit of character growth when he begins to really spend time with his sons and consider what they really need. While he is still grieving for his wife at the beginning of the book, I feel like it was a natural progression to him falling for Amanda and seeing her important as not just a nanny, but as someone he loves and wants to spend his life with.

There are also a few great scenes from the boys’ perspective, and it just helped me to love them even more, especially given the parallels, with them originally writing to Lady Truelove seeking a new mother, and later visiting the newspaper’s offices to seek her out in person to seek help in getting Amanda back. And their antics in between, while often naughty, are incredibly endearing.

This is a delightful, slow-burning historical romance, with a great mix of humor and heart. I would recommend this to other historical romance fans, even if you haven’t picked up a Laura Lee Guhrke book before.

Review of “Rogue Most Wanted” (Cavensham Heiresses #5) by Janna MacGregor

MacGregor, Janna. Rogue Most Wanted. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250295996 | 371 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I didn’t know what to expect from Rogue Most Wanted, since Lord Will Cavensham did not make the strongest impression in prior books, aside from one particularly fiery scene between him and Emma in The Bride Who Got Lucky. But I was pleasantly surprised with him in this one. While he is in no way a “rogue” as the title suggests, that only makes him even easier to fall for, especially as he finds himself falling in love again while still recovering from the damage wrought by a long-ago heartbreak.

But Thea is who really had me excited, given that I was aware of some female peeresses, but hadn’t seen many of them represented in historical romance. I wholeheartedly rooted for her to succeed in claiming the earldom and taking charge of the estate she loved so much, and my heart broke for her when she contemplated marriage to her rival to not only preserve her claim, but save her tenants as well.

On that note, I love that MacGregor really did her homework when it came to the nuances of inheritance law. I feel like lots of writers shirk doing serious research, and readers don’t care, because they are under the impression that history is boring. However, MacGregor manages to blend history and fiction masterfully, leaving me, a Regency reader who had thought she had studied the period extensively and as a result came to view some Regency romances with cynicism, learning something new not only about that, but about the more minute societal details as well.

This series just gets better and better, and I can’t wait for the next book (or two?) for what’s coming next. I know Avalon and Devan’s book has already been announced, and the way they interact with each other in this one already gives me high hopes (“Lady Warlock!” xD) I also hope that the writer of the Midnight Cryer gets what’s coming to him soon, given that all his ridiculous scribblings made me wish some sort of suit for slander would be in his future…and MacGregor has announced he’ll have his own book, so I’m equally excited there!

Review of “Rebel” (Women Who Dare #1) by Beverly Jenkins

Jenkins, Beverly. Rebel. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062861689 | 373 pages | Historical Romance–Reconstruction

5 stars

After finally reading some Beverly Jenkins books earlier this year, I was excited to see what she would bring to the table with this new release, Rebel, especially given the very bold series title, “Women Who Dare,” and an incredibly exciting premise.

And, of course, Jenkins delivers, presenting two compelling leads. Valinda is the standout of Rebel, who is teaching a class of freedmen and women, placing her in a position that subjects her to the injustices that are rife against Black people in Reconstruction-era New Orleans. Drake LeVeq is a worthy counterpart for her, in his own work for the Freedmen’s Bureau. And while their relationship is one that is kind of insta-lust-y, it is still such a beautiful story, and one where I found myself rooting for them every step of the way.

I also continue to love how dedicated Jenkins is to her research, recreating the tense atmosphere of the times in a way that left me feeling like I had learned a lot more about it than I ever had in any classroom lecture.

This novel is a gem, and Beverly Jenkins continues to prove why she’s essentially a rock star in the romance community, solidifying my desire to read more of her books in the future. And I recommend anyone who hasn’t read this one (or any Jenkins books) to pick this one or any of her historicals up if they want a good blend of education and entertainment.

Review of “Midnight on the River Grey” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. Midnight on the River Grey. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785224129 | 323 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

4 stars

I was excited to get around to Midnight on the River Grey, given that I really enjoyed Abigail Wilson’s debut novel. And while I enjoyed this one marginally less than the first, I still found it a pretty solid read overall.

The characters took a bit longer to grow on me this time around, especially Rebecca, since I wasn’t really sure what to think of her. But she and Lewis endeared themselves to me over the course of the book, as both let their walls come down. Lewis admittedly took a bit less time for me to get attached to, which is funny, as we’re never in his head, but despite the doubts sowed by other characters, he is always presented in his interactions with Rebecca as a good person who is trying to do the best he can.

As a heroine, Rebecca was much more immature than Wilson’s prior book’s naive heroine, and while her motivations for not wanting to marry had interesting, due to a perception of inherited madness, the reveal of the true source of her mother’s madness further highlights this. I mean, I know it was common for women to be kept somewhat ignorant in that period, but even the way the reveal was addressed suggested that she should have known. Nevertheless, I still admired her for her bravery and determination to solve the murders.

On that note, kudos to Wilson for a well-crafted mystery with an ending that I did not see coming. Like her previous effort, she had me suspecting everyone, and when the answers were revealed, my jaw dropped at the unexpected nature of it, yet how it all made sense with the clues planted earlier in the book.

This was a delightfully fast-paced and suspenseful read, only further cementing Abigail Wilson as one of my new favorite authors. And I once again recommend this to fans of romantic historical mysteries.

Colorblind Casting, Racism, and “Historical Accuracy”: Unpacking the Bridgerton Casting “Controversy”

Last week, casting news for  The Little Mermaid live-action remake began making waves (hehe) on the Internet, and it was followed up this week by the casting announcement for Shonda Rhimes Bridgerton  Netflix series. And while both pieces of news had me excited, due to Little Mermaid being my childhood favorite and the Bridgertons being my all-time favorite historical romance series…other people weren’t so happy. And setting aside the understandable reservations that some have about the casting of the Bridgertons series, such as the implied changes and new characters, many of the worst comments shared a similar theme with The Little Mermaid’s casting reactions in being focused on the race of some of the actors. 

Among the cast, we have Regé-Jean Page playing Simon and Adjoa Andoh as Lady Danbury, those being the choices that have been the targets of the biggest race-related comments, due to the characters’ prominence in the book series. 

Most, like with the Ariel comments, chose to make it about “historical accuracy,” accusing Shonda of “changing [history] to fit her narrative,” with others questioning why the change was done when Julia Quinn did not make them POC in the first place, pulling the “create original stories” card, which are very familiar to anyone who was following the insanity from the Ariel casting last week. 

` And I just find it laughable and sickening at the same time. Laughable because historical accuracy is their excuse, but neither Disney nor JQ are necessarily known for their strict adherence to historical accuracy. And it’s even funny for historical romance readers to cry about that stuff, because they’re totally fine with thousands of young, virile dukes (a complete fiction), not to mention some of the anachronistic shenanigans of historical romance books, but an aristocratic historical romance hero (or heroine)  portrayed as a person of color? Pitchforks! 

Also, I’ve seen the claim touted that if black people existed at all during the Regency, they were servants or slaves. Vanessa Riley (and many serious historians) would beg to differ, having written a number of books set in the period, with black people in different walks of life, from servant to aristocrat, and featuring a wealth of information about Black people in the Regency on her website. 

For the most part, it all goes back to colorblind casting and each of the people chosen being who they felt captured the spirit of the role. The main  defense given for Halle Bailey as Ariel is her killer pipes, and I have to agree, especially given the fact that some people’s ideal casting choices don’t come close to hitting her range vocally. And while I’m not familiar with any of the cast for the Bridgertons series, I don’t think it’s out of character for Shonda Rhimes, who has produced diverse series like Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder, to cast people of color here either, and am open to giving all of the cast a chance to prove what they can do, instead of passing judgment prematurely. 

But regardless of who’s in charge, it’s just disheartening to see so much hatred over the casting of fictional characters, especially since the accusations are the same every time (like, legitimately, I heard the same things come up in response to both Ariel and the Bridgertons, and every other colorblind re-casting)? Becoming “too PC?” Heard that one before. “Black people should make their own show?” What do you think they’ve been trying to do for decades? “Not historically accurate?” See above. 

It’s sad that we still have people who hold these antiquated beliefs in 2019. I understand having a love for a childhood classic film or a beloved book series, and dreading changes when a remake or new adaptation comes around. But that’s no reason to be hateful and exclusionary to others, especially to entire groups of people who have put up with decades of not being represented in media, due to systemic barriers in their way.

Review of “The Rogue of Fifth Avenue” (Uptown Girls #1) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Rogue of Fifth Avenue. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062906816 | 382 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue just might be one of my favorite Joanna Shupe books. A large part of it is the compelling hero, Frank Tripp, who was a supporting character in Shupe’s previous series, the Four Hundred, inspiring many readers to demand for his book.

And she definitely delivered, fleshing him out in a beautiful way. I’m a sucker for a self-made hero, and I love the conflict that is explored through his wanting to fit in with the upper crust and in the process losing a bit of his past, then spending the book working to find it again. In an era rife with self-made men, like Andrew Carnegie (who is name-dropped in this book, of course), it seemed like a beautiful and appropriate journey for him to go on.

I also love how he’s complemented in the characterization of Mamie, a society woman who values helping the less fortunate. It’s kind of an interesting twist on the class dynamic, to have someone who comes from privilege with more awareness of the world, and someone who came from nothing having to re-attune himself to it.

Also, the banter between them is on point, and I think I finally grasp the meaning of a sensual scene that doesn’t involve sexual acts now that I’ve read that amazing billiard scene (granted, it is a lead-in for some sexy times).

This is a beautiful Gilded Age-set romance and Joanna Shupe at (arguably) her best. I would definitely recommend to other historical romance fans and Gilded Age fans.

Review of “For the Duke’s Eyes Only” (School For Dukes #2) by Lenora Bell

Bell, Lenora. For the Duke’s Eyes Only. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062692498 | 368 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

For the Duke’s Eyes Only is yet another book that got sadly lost in my TBR over the past several months, and it’s really a shame, because Lenora Bell is one of the handful of authors in historical romance who continues to give me absolute pleasure. And it’s no different this time around, with her blend of the treasure hunting exploits of Indiana Jones with the espionage of James Bond.

India is an absolutely lovable, feisty heroine. I love her independence and daring, and she’s absolutely someone I’d love as a best friend. And while I wasn’t completely sure about Daniel at first, given that he seemed cut from a similar cloth from some other roguish dukes, it mostly being a cover notwithstanding, I really admired that the reason he chose the life he did was in an attempt to right the wrongs done to his father. And as much as I hate the trend of pairing a domineering duke with a heroine with a ton of spine, I do admit that this is a case where I feel the balance actually works, and I love that they have a dynamic that highlights how they’re equals in spite of any societal inequalities based on gender, a topic which is tackled wonderfully here.

This is yet further proof that Lenora Bell is a great author, and despite still being fairly new to the game, an author well worth reading. I would recommend her and this book especially to any historical romance fans who haven’t tried her yet.

Review of “Some Like it Scandalous” (Gilded Age Girls’ Club #2) by Maya Rodale

Rodale, Maya. Some Like it Scandalous. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062838834 | 355 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

5 stars

Some Like it Scandalous is just as much of a delight as the first book in the series, once again taking inspiration from a pioneering late 19th century American female entrepreneur, this time delving into the fascinating and radical world of cosmetics, and like with the discussions surrounding fashion in the prior book, I love how Rodale managed to discuss the historical attitudes toward them, especially since cosmetics have a much more sordid reputation historically, along with being linked often with vapidness, and highlight the truly revolutionary message of freedom behind the makeup industry.

Daisy is also an incredibly charming heroine, and one that I found easy to root for. It’s beautiful seeing how she became inspired to create some of her different subversive projects, from the original complexion balm, to the lip paint which we concocts later in the story. I also love the continued centrality of female empowerment and friendship as a major facet of the book, with a memorable scene in Delmonico’s, which, as implied in the author’s note, was inspired by the real trailblazers of the period doing something similar.

I wasn’t sure about Theo at first, given that his past included being a bully, so I could see it following in the trend of the growing subset of bully romances, and his present consisted of being a good-for-nothing playboy. However, I should not have doubted Rodale for a second where he was concerned, as not only does he show regret for his actions and come to Daisy’s defense against the others making fun of her, but he is one of the few who, once he begins to see things from her perspective, actually embraces it wholeheartedly, in contrast to both their parents, who are determined to hold onto their expectations for their respective offspring.

This is one of the few historical series that has really made me happy recently, and I can’t wait till next year (why can’t it come faster?) for the next one! I would recommend this to all historical romance fans.

Review of “In the Shadow of Croft Towers” by Abigail Wilson

Wilson, Abigail. In the Shadow of Croft Towers. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223665 | 324 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

5 stars

I bought In the Shadow of Croft Towers on a whim after seeing an ad for it on Facebook, and looking to try another new Christian Regency author…although of course, it did inevitably end up sitting on my TBR shelf a bit longer than I am proud of, something which I now regret. Abigail Wilson crafts a strong Christian Regency mystery that could easily rival her read-alike authors, Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd (the latter of whom also provided a blurb for the book, describing it as “mysterious and wonderfully atmospheric…full of danger, intrigue, and secrets.”

And that pretty much sums up this book to a tee. Wilson perfectly captures the landscape of the mysterious Croft Towers, making it come to life as a character in its own right, rife with many secrets. And as the back cover blurb suggests, there is a sense of unease throughout, as I was left feeling incredibly unsure of who to trust as I (and Sybil) encountered them, although there were some I became attached to as she did, and began to root for. And while the villains have done bad things, I like that they aren’t cardboard cutout bad, and that there is a way to kind of see things from their perspective to an extent, even if their actions are morally wrong.

Sybil also has a great character arc that fits both with the context of the period and her circumstances and the conventions of the semi-Gothic narrative, starting more naive and then growing more brave over time as revelations are uncovered, and she’s faced with some pivotal choices.

This was an enjoyable debut historical, and I am excited to pick up her next one in just a few more days to see what she does next. And as I mentioned prior, I would recommend this to Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd fans looking for another solid read-alike, or to romantic Regency mystery fans.