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.

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Review of “The Lady Hellion” (Wicked Deceptions #3) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Lady Hellion. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2015.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420135565 | 338 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

Joanna Shupe is an author I admired for her choice to go in a different direction with her Gilded Age romances, but I waited a while to get into her first series set in the Regency for a couple reasons, the chief one being the way some reviewers described the heroes of books one and two made them seem less than flattering, so therefore, even this book, which sounded promising, ended up falling by the wayside due to my determination to rarely read out of order. However, in my search for exciting historicals to read, I finally picked up The Lady Hellion, and feel happy that I did so.

It definitely has a bit of an odd premise, even in the context of my limited understanding of the series pitch as a whole. But it’s one of those books that seems improbable, yet charming. I loved seeing Sophie’s dedication to helping the poor, with a special interest in the prostitutes in a brothel, especially as misfortune begins befalling them. It was fun to see a heroine wearing trousers who could shoot a gun, but also had insecurities and vulnerabilities from her past that get explored in the most beautiful and heartbreaking way.

However, Quint was the real draw for me, as he was pitched in some of the reviews I’ve read as dealing with some sort of anxiety disorder, which I always find fascinating to see translated into a historical context, before more correct medical terms were assigned to different psychological conditions. He’s a recluse often characterized as being insane, and I could identify with his fears regarding the possibility that he would go mad in a similar manner to his father, especially given that he was a witness to his father’s descent into madness.

And the relationship between the two is just beautiful, hitting all the elements I love in a romance, and more. I love that they had this history of friendship that turned to love, and that I truly felt there were obstacles in the way of their happiness that they had to work through together. And one of the things that I’ve really grown to appreciate recently was the sex positivity. It’s not something that is completely alien to the historical romance genre where a woman has been violated sexually or betrayed following the act itself (as was the case here), but I loved having Quint show Sophie that she is desirable to a man for more than her virtue, and that she is allowed to feel passion.

This book was a wonderful read that has a lot of heart, yet doesn’t feel overly intense, and has lovely characters at the forefront. It’s definitely a book that any historical romance fans should consider picking it up if they have not already.

Review of “A Notorious Vow” (The Four Hundred #3) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Notorious Vow. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062678942 | 376 pages | Historical Romance–Gilded Age

4.5 stars

A Notorious Vow is by far my favorite in Joanna Shupe’s Four Hundred series, and perhaps my favorite book of hers since Baron in her previous series. And a lot of it is down to the character development, especially for the hero. Oliver is a great example of a softer, nice hero, but one who is not lacking for depth and complexity. I love the exploration of his life and the struggles he has due to his disability, and feel like Joanna Shupe definitely did her homework when it comes to Deaf culture and portraying it authentically, although I will put a caveat that I am not acquainted with anyone in Oliver’s situation and my knowledge of Deaf culture stems primarily from my own research in college through a few courses. That being said, I truly felt for him and the rejection he faced in society, especially since people were so unwilling to view him as anything other than dumb, even to the point of not accommodating him in the asylum, which I understand was a sad reality for many in asylums.

And in spite of Oliver being the stand-out for me, I also admire Christina, and felt she also grew as a character over the course of the book. This poor girl was emotionally abused and manipulated by her money-hungry parents, and it was sad to see how, even after she was married to Oliver, how the mother would still try to manipulate her and how Christina felt she had little choice but to agree. But it was wonderful to see her growth through her love for Oliver and the new friendships she was forming, to speak publicly in Oliver’s defense in spite of her fears.

My one complaint is that so many of the villains seem so cartoonishly awful. I mean, it made me hate them, and I truly felt horrible for both Oliver and Christina for everything they went through, but it got to the point when it was a little too much, what with Christina’s manipulative ex-fiancee, her greedy parents, and Oliver’s spendthrift cousin. It got to the point where, when it reached the “black moment,” I actually questioned whether Shupe was paying homage to Disney with some of these villains (for reasons that will hopefully make more sense to those who read the book). But I can forgive her for the most part, given how she brought it all together in the end.

This book was pure delight, and I can’t wait to read her next book, as Frank is the hero, and he’s actually been one of my favorite parts of this series, as well as being one of the few connecting threads through all three books thus far. That being said, I think if you want to read a Joanna Shupe book, read this one, as it’s history-rich in such a beautiful and poignant way, while also containing one of the most lovely slow-burn romances I’ve read in a while.

Review of “How the Dukes Stole Christmas” by Tessa Dare, Sarah MacLean, Sophie Jordan, and Joanna Shupe

Dare, Tessa, et. al. How the Dukes Stole Christmas. [United States]: Rakes Rogues & Scoundrels LLC, 2018.

Hardcover | $27.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0999192337 | 409 pages | Historical Romance

I was excited by the prospect of four great authors teaming up to work on a holiday anthology together, but also a bit reticent due to the fact that it was yet another historical romance book adding to the endless duke train, especially since the blurbs applied the common adjectives like “surly” and “heartless,” which are catnip for many readers but instead lead me to roll my eyes. However, I was willing to give it a chance, especially since what I heard about it was generally good.

Meet Me in Mayfair by Tessa Dare

4.5 stars

Tessa’s contribution was definitely better than I expected, given that this is one that blatantly uses the word “heartless” to describe the hero. But to my relief, he’s not, that’s more an assumption on Louisa’s part, since he’s evicting her family from their home. In fact, I like that James does care for the less fortunate due to his background as a younger son and not expecting to gain the title, and being raised in the country, thus having more sympathy for his tenants there. I liked how neither of them being the bad guy gave Louisa and James an opportunity to see from each other’s point of view more quickly. While there were still misunderstandings (and groveling), I liked that story was sweet and fun, and stressed the message of togetherness with one’s family during the holidays.

The Duke of Christmas Present by Sarah MacLean

5 stars

People have been saying this story is the standout of the collection, and I have to agree. Novellas have a limited space to truly make the reader believe in love, and this is one of those that truly did it for me. Eben and Jacqueline have a believable love and good conflict, and it was beautiful watching them get their second chance to be together, given the things that stood in their way the first time.

Heiress Alone by Sophie Jordan

3 stars

This one was my least favorite in the collection, as while it had great ideas, the execution didn’t work well for me. Part of it may have to do with the fact that it’s “based” on Home Alone, one of my favorite holiday films, and it just didn’t live up to the spirit of that (I may be judging this one unfairly for that reason, since I didn’t see any of the other films that directly inspired the other novellas). I wasn’t expecting it to match up scene-for-scene, but I just felt like it was an odd fit, and I felt the humor of that film was missing in this story.

The characters were interesting enough. Calder was nice in that he cared for his servants and for the welfare of a young woman he just met. I also didn’t mind Annis, at least initially.  The story also felt like it relied a bit more on lust than love, and after a while it just felt a bit hard to engage with them, and I ended up skimming a bit towards the end.

Christmas in Central Park by Joanna Shupe

4 stars

This one seems to be the weak link for a lot people, and while it isn’t perfect, I don’t think it’s that bad. To be fair, part of it may be due to the fact that the hero is just called Duke, and he’s a New York newpaper tycoon in the Gilded Age, providing a nice change of pace after the first three. While he is kind of haughty, I like how Shupe explored why he was like this, due to his father being controlling and instilling that work ethic in him. And I love the comparison it evokes with Rose, who has few opportunities due to her class, but needs to work for her livelihood.

The romance itself is a bit rushed, as it progresses from them being employer and employee to a brief affair, then to him firing her, then to him groveling and proposing, and the plot is rife with deception and misunderstandings. That being said, the story was more or less believable in all other aspects. And given the way some in this group of authors have often been involved in speaking out about romance as a denigrated genre, I was glad to see an interaction highlighting how men and the public in general often undervalue women’s writing, and romance in particular.

***

I would recommend this anthology to fans of historical romances — especially those who love dukes. Even as someone who doesn’t like them, I found this collection enjoyable and would love to see these authors team up again to do another one.

Review of “A Scandalous Deal” (The Four Hundred #2) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Scandalous Deal. New York: Avon Books, 2018. 

Mass Market Paperback| $7,99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062678911 | 373 pages | Historical Romance

4 stars

At first, I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with the series, given my disappointment with aspects of A Daring Arrangement. The appearance of the phrase “unexpected passionate shipboard encounter” in the blurb for this one also made me uneasy, as, neglible historical accuracy issues aside,  books that begin with one-night stands between the hero and heroine when they’re strangers typically seem to focus more on the sexual chemistry at the expense of a deeper bond. But my interest in the third book in the series and, consequently, my need to read in order, won out. And I wasn’t completely disappointed.

While I don’t typically like high heat early on in romance, I felt Shupe executed this well by preceding it with banter between Eva and Phillip, and by having it not be a fully consummated encounter, saving it for later in the book. And when this occurs, there is a full understanding of the stakes, especially for an independent woman like Eva, both personally and professionally, and even discussion about contraception, which contrasts with what I really didn’t like about the prior book. And to the point, I felt the sexual attraction and the mutual interests between Eva and Phillip were well balanced by the conflict between them, in that she doesn’t want to be eclipsed by a man and wants to be seen as an equal, and he has more traditional views of what women can do. But I did find myself irritated at times when he did disrespect her, like the time when he blamed her for his losing his self-control and forgetting to use a condom, or his assumptions that, because she lied to him about her father’s health, that she was just out to use him just like other women. However, I did think he grew by the end of the book,

And, as was the case with the prior book, I once again lament the fact that Shupe introduced characters that more than likely won’t get their own stories. This time, it’s not so bad, as Becca does find happiness in a sense, but given what is alluded to about where her heart lies, the possibility of a full novel for her that is mass produced is almost nonexistent.  And the returning characters are equally charming. Despite not being fully won over by Nora and Julius in their book, I truly loved them in this one, especially Nora in full overprotective best friend mode, as more often than not, her insights into the Eva’s relationship with Phillip were ones I agreed with.

Review of “A Daring Arrangement” (The Four Hundred #1) by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. A Daring Arrangement. New York: Avon Books, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-0-06-267889-8. $7.99 USD. 

2.5 stars

I received a free copy from the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Joanna Shupe’s previous series, the Knickerbocker Club, were the first books I reviewed on this blog, and for the most part, I really liked them, and was happy that, though she changed publishers, she was continuing with the same setting. However, this book was something of a disappointment. It’s not a “stay-away-at-all-costs” disappointment, but more of an “it’s-not-you-it’s-me” disappointment.

The basic concept of of British woman pairing up with an American man is a much rarer concept than the reverse, and I was intrigued by the concept. Both the leads have their good points, with Julius being a hardworking man who stands out in a genre of old moneyed aristocrats, and Nora being a woman who is not interested in marrying for wealth or status. And the idea of a fake engagement that stars to feel all too real is a fun concept to run with.

But this is yet another plot where I had difficulty suspending my disbelief. I can accept that people perhaps did have discreet affairs in this time period, but when they chose to consummate their relationship, they both acted like there was no need to make the relationship a permanent one, due to their misunderstandings about each other’s evolving motivations. But they just sort of acted like they could do whatever they wanted because they were fake engaged, and not worry about any consequences. Considering her backstory, and her father even asking her at one point if she was pregnant from her past liaison, one would think they would take precautions if they both assume that they’re going to part ways.

And the angst. At first, it felt genuine, like just a part of Julius’ backstory. But when he immediately assumed that she should have someone better than him with blue blood and whatnot, when she has made it obvious from day one that she didn’t want any of that, I found it a bit tiresome.

On the whole, it was a decent effort, but lacked the spark of the books in her previous series.

 

Review of “Mogul” (Knickerbocker Club #3) and “Tycoon” (Knickerbocker Club #0.5) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation.

Shupe, Joanna. Mogul. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1420139884. Print List Price: $7.99.

Note: Though these are two separate works, as they appear in the same volume, I have chose to include them within the same review.

Mogul

(3 stars)

Once again, the publisher makes a vital error with casting for a model on the cover, casting a dark-haired woman when Lily is repeatedly described as blonde in the book. But this has no bearing on my belief that this one is the weakest of the three books in the series.

This story seems to want to be a second chance romance, which also includes deception and blackmail. But I found myself much more interested in the blackmail plot and how it would resolve itself than whether Calvin and Lily would end up together.

It seems like everything that separated them was lies and the pressure of the class divide, which didn’t really make the story unique, especially after having read the other two, which dealt with that similar issue, but each gave it their own twist. I didn’t find Lily compelling, in comparison to Shupe’s other Knickerbocker Club heroines, despite the fact that she is a businesswoman in a time that is still very sexist towards men. I admire Calvin, as he was able to go from nothing to becoming a newspaper tycoon, and still cares deeply about his friends, particularly Hugo. But I just did not feel like I cared whether or not he and Lily got back together, especially as I could not think of anything that really connected them.

One thing I did like, though, is the impact real historical events play on this story. This is the case in all three novels, but this one is the most interesting, because it shows how racism and immigration restrictions based on race impacted people in society. Historical romance is not always known for being diverse, even in its background characters, so I appreciate Shupe including characters from different ethnic backgrounds in this book, showing the injustice of this time period, showing both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go as a society.

Tycoon 

(5 stars)

I found the placement of this novella, which was published in e-book form in early 2016, prior to the publication of either Magnate or Baron odd. As someone who likes to read books in order, but refuses to convert to e-books, I worried that going back to read Ted and Clara’s love story after reading the others where they are married would be off-putting. But I ended up adoring this novella.

Ted is proof that you don’t have to be a hulking alpha to be a great hero who cares about the woman he loves. Despite being thrust into a strange situation he did not expect when she approaches him and pretends she’s his wife, he goes along with it, and protects her, even though he doesn’t know the whole story. And though he does doubt her, he fights for her when things get tough. And that ending! It’s so wonderful!

Review “Baron” (Knickerbocker Club #2) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation.

Shupe, Joanna. Baron. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publshing Corp., 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1420139860. Print List Price: $7.99.

(4.5 stars)

I would like to start off this review by discussing the cover for a bit. For the most part, the publisher has done a good job of not falling into the trap of including a shirtless man on all the covers in this series, and actually dressing the models up in something that represents the period. But the way they depict William Sloane on here is a miss. He is described in both Magnate and Baron as having sandy blonde hair, not dark brown hair, as the model has. I am aware of the trend toward “tall, dark, and handsome,” but that does not apply in this case.

I began this book somewhat hesitantly, unsure if I would like William Sloane that much, As I said in my review of Magnate, while the setting is different, American historicals share some of the same conventions with their British counterparts, particularly in terms of the sense of hierarchy and the need to “marry among your own class.” But I started to see that Will isn’t really this stiff upper-lip upper-crust sort, but he had been conditioned to be that way by society and his father’s exacting expectations. He makes himself physically ill trying to bend backwards to be what is expected, being a railroad tycoon and trying to run a successful political campaign without scandals, while also fighting the attraction he has for Ava.

Ava is a great heroine. You see the life of someone who is still trying to make ends meet within the late nineteenth century America through her, and I admire that even though she could have taken the easy way out and become Will’s mistress, she keeps trying to fight the passion they have for each other.

Again, I find myself wishing she was continuing with the series, as this book baits us with the possibility of puppy love between Ava’s brother, Tom and Emmett’s sister, Katie. It would be nice to see how over time it might develops, and if it grows it something more, or if it remains an adolescent infatuation.

Review of “Magnate” (Knickerbocker Club #1) by Joanna Shupe

Image belongs to Joanna Shupe and Kensington Publishing Corporation. A portion of this review also appears on Goodreads.

Publishing Information:

Shupe, Joanna. Magnate. New York: Zebra Books/Kensington Publishing Corp., 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1420139846. Print List Price: $7.99.

(4 stars)

I love historical romance, but I have always avoided American historicals, due to the perceived differences between them and British historicals. But I found that, despite the shift in setting, many of the conventions are the same, although the make-up of New York society is different from British society, with new moneyed individuals competing with old families for influence. Someone who wants to read about heroes like Lisa Kleypas’ Derek Craven, would love this book.

I loved the heroine, Elizabeth, who is called Lizzie by almost everyone except her husband. She very much reflects what I think of when I imagine some of the women at the end of the nineteenth century, still being subjected to societal pressures to marry but also forward thinking in wanting to pursue a career. Shupe states that her character was inspired by sisters Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin, who founded their own stock brokerage firm. In an interesting turn of events, which Shupe did not mention in her acknowledgements,  Woodhull also ran for president over a century and a half before Hillary Clinton.  Lizzie’s brother, Will a railroad tycoon, is considering going into politics himself by the end of this novel, and this is a major part of the next book, in which he is the hero. I’m not sure if Shupe chose to do this intentionally, but I found it a fun fact.
As for the hero, Emmett, I had mixed feelings. The alpha hero (alternately called the AlphHole or AlphaHole) has become like a plague among the romance market, with far too many heroes dealing with overly tragic pasts. I am aware that part of the appeal of the romance is the escapism aspect, but there’s only so many books you can read with a tortured hero with trust issues.

In his defense, however he’s not a terrible hero, as he does encourage Elizabeth in her career while other men in her life don’t, and he is ten times better than the slimeball snob who is also interested in her, but there were moments where I was like “Really?” One example was when there’s a slanderous cartoon printed about her in a paper, he plans to ruin the cartoonist’s life. And here’s direct quote of her reaction: “Her husband was promising retribution, likely physical, and she found it…arousing?” (256) I mean, sure, trying to get them to print a retraction or something makes some amount of sense, or even confronting the guy, but the idea of physical retribution (she even asks at one point if his guard is going to kill the cartoonist) is going a bit far.
I absolutely adore both Kelly (his guard) and Brendan (his brother), and I’m so sad that we likely won’t be getting full novels for them, as she has since changed publishers. What won me over about Kelly is that he seems to have a sense of humor, and really bring that out in Emmett as well, but he is also incredibly loyal to him. He also lost his wife, so I would have loved to have a story that explored his character a little more.

As for Brendan, I mostly want to see his story because it would present an opportunity for more career and character diversity among the heroes of Romancelandia. Unlike the dukes and billionaires, he is someone who works as a doctor and has a physical disability as a reminder of the tragic past he and Emmett shared growing up in Five Points. But unlike his brother, who spends most of the book really damaged by the trauma, we see someone who encourages his family and friends to open themselves up to love, even being the catalyst for the Emmett and and Lizzie ending up together.