Review of “The Devil of Downtown” by Joanna Shupe

Shupe, Joanna. The Devil of Downtown. New York: Avon Books, 2020. 

ISBN-13: 9780062906854 | $7.99 USD | 384 pages | Historical Romance

Blurb

“Nothing makes me happier than a new book from Joanna Shupe!”—Sarah MacLean

The final novel in Joanna Shupe’s critically acclaimed Uptown Girl series about a beauitful do-gooder who must decide if she can team up with one of New York’s brashest criminals without losing something irreplaceable: her heart.

Manhattan kingpin.

Brilliant mastermind.

Gentleman gangster. 

He’s built a wall around his heart…

Orphaned and abandoned on the Bowery’s mean streets, Jack Mulligan survived on strength, cunning, and ambition. Now he rules his territory better than any politician or copper ever could. He didn’t get here by being soft. But in uptown do-gooder Justine Greene—the very definition of an iron fist in a velvet glove—Jack may have met his match. 

She wears hers on her sleeve… 

Justine is devoted to tracking down deadbeat husbands and fighting for fair working conditions. When her mission brings her face-to-face with Jack, she’s shocked to find the man behind the criminal empire is considerably more charming and honorable than many “gentlemen” she knows. 

Forming an unlikely alliance, they discover an unexpected desire. And when Justine’s past catches up with them, Jack may be her only hope of survival. Is she ready to make a deal with the devil…?

In the series

#1 The Rogue of Fifth Avenue 

#2 The Prince of Broadway 

Review

5 stars

I received an ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

I’ve enjoyed the Uptown Girls series so far, so I approached book three, The Devil of Downtown, with both excitement for more of Joanna Shupe’s Gilded Age world and the Greene Sisters in particular, but some trepidation, as criminal types like Jack are the type that usually send me running far away.

And while I don’t think that Justine and Jack live up to the perfection of Florence and Clay, they work much better than I anticipated, given they are opposites personality wise. I love all the idiosyncrasies about Jack that make him the opposite of what I’ve seen before in a criminal mastermind hero, from his care with his appearance to the way he showed respect for Justine in bed, thanks to his education from his mother and the other sex workers he grew up around. 

I also liked getting more insight into Justine and her work with the less fortunate, especially since she was always the least fleshed out character in the previous books. I like that while she’s sensible and compassionate, she also does have some naïveté, and it’s portrayed without her being annoying. 

Speaking of her sisters, I like seeing their relationship, and I find it funny, yet not out of character  that Mamie and Florence are warning Justine against doing some of the things she’s doing, a point that is brought up in-text. The Greene sisters have a great relationship with one another, and I love the small ways it has shown up not just in this book, but the others as well. 

I really enjoyed this one, and can’t wait to see what Joanna Shupe does next. If you liked the series so far, or are looking for a historical romance about a “devilish” hero, I recommend this one. 

Author Bio

Award-winning author JOANNA SHUPE has always loved history, ever since she saw her first Schoolhouse Rock cartoon. While in college, Joanna read every romance she could get her hands on instead of attending classes, yet still managed to graduate with a journalism degree. She enjoyed a few years in sports and theater marketing but soon returned to romance by crafting her own racy historical novels.

In 2013 she won Romance Writers of America’s prestigious Golden Heart® Award for Best Historical. Joanna’s first Gilded Age historical novel, MAGNATE was named one of the Best Books of 2016 by Publishers Weekly, and one of 2016′s top romances by The Washington Post and Kobo.

She currently lives in New Jersey with her two spirited daughters and dashing husband.

Buy links

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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.

2019 Wrap-Up

I took my elaborate notes this year, to make a note of all the different challenges I was imposing on myself, as well as just to have more precise (for the most part) genre stats, to supplement the Goodreads data. 

I read 426 books in 2019 (# pages). I was weird about counting DNFs this year, so while some that I got a ways into are included in this number, many are not. Also, not the page number may not be accurate, as Goodreads page counts occasionally differ from the actual book, especially for self published books. 

Other Goodreads stats:

Shortest Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (52 pages)

Longest Book: The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson (1,258 pages, mass market edition)

Most Popular Book: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Least Popular Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein

Average rating: 4.2 stars

Highest Rated Book: Mating Habits by Catherine Stein (5.00 average)

2019 Challenges/Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: Started at 250, due to expectations of life changes at the end of last year reducing reading time. Ending up raising the goal to 300, gradually increasing it higher and higher until I read . At the end, I read 426. 
  2. Read no more than 50 books with duke heroes: A “for my sanity”/motivational goal to continue to move outside what I typically read…also a hallmark of the fact that I’ve grown to hate more Romancelandia dukes. Read 14, although historical romance is still a dominant genre for me. 
  3. Read at least 120 books by AoC: I fell short of this goal at 105, and also did not increase the goal as much as I had originally hoped as my GR goal increased. However, I still feel like I was exposed to a bunch of authors I had not previously tried, as well as keeping up with some I had read before. 
  4. Complete all the prompts for Robin Covington’s Diverse Reading Challenge: I did well with this, reading multiple books for most of the categories, and discovering several OwnVoices creators, such as April Daniels, Robin Talley, and Alexis Hall, as well as continuing to read some authors that were familiar to me, like Alyssa Cole, Helen Hoang, and Sherry Thomas. 
  5. Read more genres: While I was and still remain heavily devoted to historical fiction, both romance and non-romance, I made a point of stepping outside my comfort zone this year, selecting a number of genres I was interested in trying or reading more of: 
    1. Erotic Romance: 4. I’ve always tended more toward lower heat, but I was curious to know whether erotic romance could work for me, and to be more informed about the distinction between that and erotica. I read four books that I consider erotic romance, and while it’s still not my go-to genre, I tend to like when there’s substance to it, as with For Real by Alexis Hall. One of my picks was also a novella, Sweet Surrender by Naima Simone,  and I’m not certain I want to try that length or shorter again, although I’m not opposed to trying another of her books. 
    2. Paranormal Romance:  This was a tough one, as I don’t like alpha heroes, yet I foolishly set this goal to see if there were any that were an exception. Unfortunately, I largely read within my comfort zone, sticking to historical paranormal and steampunk, with one exception: the novella, “Lola Flannigan” by Ella Drake. The number is also inflated, due to the inclusion of the In Death series, due to their technical classification as Futuristic Romance.
    3. Romantic Suspense: My experience with the genre thus far has been the In Death series and some one-offs, including some by Nora Roberts. I didn’t venture out much, with the exception of Jennifer L. Armentrout’s Moonlight Sins
    4. Contemporary Romance: I did really well with this, in large part due to the  number of diverse contemporaries I was interested in this year. 
    5. Women’s Fiction/Chick Lit/Non-Romantic Contemporary: I did pick up some books in this genre this year, but I wasn’t as invested in non-romantic (or romance as subplot) contemporaries. Many of the ones I did pick up were due to the new trend of cross-promotion of these with romance (thank you, cartoon covers?) or once again due to the racial diversity, but I still feel like I’m aware of where my tastes are with these now. 
    6. Science Fiction: Prior to this year, I was mostly interested in Star Wars and that was as far as I got with sci-fi…and that’s more sci-fantasy, anyway. But while I did read more Star Wars, I also read more sci-fi (and sci-fantasy) that wasn’t associated with that juggernaut. From the first two books by Jessie Mihalik to Sangu Mandanna to Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, I found books that excited me. Not to mention Brandon Sanderson, who writes just as good sci-fi as he does fantasy. 
    7. Mystery/Thriller: I definitely picked up an assortment of these this year, with mixed results. This is the year I became really jaded with historical mysteries, unfortunately, and I haven’t found a ton of contemporary mysteries that appeal to me a ton either. 
  6. Do monthly mini-challenges, related to a theme for the month/season: I definitely did better at this earlier in the year. I did a Bookish Bingo and Black History theme for February (the latter also was sort of overlapping with Blackathon, but not completely).  I participated in the Rereadathon in March, but ended up only reading one book. I participated in the Asian Readathon in May, completing every challenge except the graphic novel. I did Pride Month reading in June, covering L, G, B, T, and P. June-August were also occupied by  Ripped Bodice Bingo, where I got a few Bingos. 

Stats

Books by AoC Read: 105

New-to-me authors tried this year: 184

DNFed: 44 books

Genre Breakdown: 

Historical Romance

  • Regency: 78
  • Victorian: 41
  • American (includes all American settings, like Gilded Age and Historical Western: 23
  • Other (non-popular, niche settings): 8
  • Medieval: 2

Historical Fiction: 70

Christian Fiction: 30

Contemporary Romance: 46

Erotic Romance: 4

Paranormal Romance: 

  • Paranormal: 17
  • Steampunk: 10
  • Sci-fi/Futuristic: 35
  • Fantasy: 1

Romantic Suspense: 37

Contemporary/Women’s Fiction: 18

Fantasy: 63

Science Fiction: 31

Magical Realism: 1

Mystery/Thriller: 19

Horror: 1

Nonfiction: 

  • Biography/Autobiography/Memoir: 12
  • Self-Help: 1
  • Anthologies: 15
  • Literary Criticism: 1

Graphic Novels: 1

Best of 2019

  1. The Duchess War, Courtney Milan: I officially discovered Courtney Milan this year, and while there were some hits and some misses, particularly as I started with her early work, this book, her breakout into self-publishing, is a winner. I quickly fell in love with Robert, a duke who wants to abolish the aristocracy, and Minerva, a wallflower running from a scandalous past. And in addition to a remarkable romantic arc, the book has the setup for a great family story that carries over multiple books in the Brothers Sinister, and I can’t wait to delve into them all. 
  2. An Unconditional Freedom, Alyssa Cole: The entire Loyal League series is masterful, but I have a special place in my heart for this one, because of the marvelous character development, highlighting some of the complex issues of the Civil War, like the PTSD experienced by those once enslaved and the identity issues children born of slave-owner “relationships” faced. My heart ached for Daniel, but loved that he was able to turn his experience into a positive one through his work in the Loyal League. As for Janeta, I applaud Cole for approaching a topic that could be controversial with such sensitivity, depicting her growth from someone expected to be loyal to her father and the Confederacy to finding a new cause in the Loyal League. 
  3. Forbidden, Beverly Jenkins: Beverly Jenkins is a freaking romance legend, and while I haven’t read much from her as of yet, I’m glad I got to this one, as well as some of her other recent historicals, this year, especially given the recent adaptation news for this book. I love the way the love story was interspersed with some hard-hitting issues of Black history, discussing concepts like Passing, postwar racial tensions, and political activism in a way that doesn’t feel overly preachy, but allows you to feel like you’re learning while also engrossed in a good story. 
  4. A Notorious Vow, Joanna Shupe: One of my favorite Joanna Shupe books, if not my absolute favorite. Shupe delved into Deaf culture to create her hero, Oliver, especially when it came to the battle over the usage of sign language, and later, the battle to prove his mental competence. He is paired with the perfect heroine in Christina, who deals with social anxiety, which is something I have personal experience with. I loved this twist with two reclusive protagonists who must challenge themselves in order to prove their love, and Shupe’s depth of care in writing them is wonderful. 
  5. Regency Impostors series by Cat Sebastian: While I haven’t read book 3 yet, due to the print release not being until the end of January, I’ve enthusiastically loved the first two installments. While I’ve loved a couple of her m/m books, I am glad she expanded her repertoire to include non-binary and bisexual representation, especially given the conversations around the vast preference for m/m in mainstream LGBTQ romance over the other letters. Unmasked by the Marquess not only features a subversive twist on the woman-dressed-as-a-man with the non-binary lead Robin, as they fall for a grumpy, forward thinking (in regards to sexuality and gender identiy) marquess.  A Duke in Disguise demonstrates an understanding what it means to be bi: attracted to both men and women, and the fact that you end up with the opposite sex doesn’t mean you’re not also attracted to men. But it also doesn’t mean that the HEA is any less possible, especially as Verity and Ash are absolutely perfect for one another. All of Cat’s books debunk the myth that “HEAs for LGBTQ+ people are historically inaccurate!” but I very much recommend these for their charm and excellent depiction of a spectrum of queer characters. 
  6. The Bashful Bride, Vanessa Riley: Despite not being a fan of most power imbalances, I love the idea of a “fan” meeting their favorite celebrity, and Vanessa Riley’s take on this idea in the Regency era is wonderful. While sweet on the surface, I love how Riley also includes some of her talent for incorporating tough issues in a way that doesn’t feel heavy-handed. Actor Arthur Bex’s involvement with the abolitionist movement and exposure of the prejudices Black people faced in Regency England are compelling additions to the plot, as these two carve out a relationship together. 
  7. Dare to Love a Duke, Eva Leigh: While I have enjoyed almost everything Eva Leigh has put out on some level (honorable mention to  this year’s release, My Fake Rake), this one may be her best work, and one I’ll probably always recommend to friends. I love the sex positivity of this story, with the courtesan heroine, Lucia, and the progressive duke Thomas, especially the way he respects her throughout, which is surprisingly rare in a genre that was sold to me as largely being sex positive, but also contains pearl-clutchers (case in point: the awful Smart Bitches review). 
  8. How to Love a Duke in Ten Days, Kerrigan Byrne: Kerrigan Byrne can be a bit hit-or-miss for me, due to how heavily she focuses on bad boys, but this one hit it out of the park for me. The hero is by her own admission, “one of the good ones,” with his biggest hurdle being a bit of misogyny, in keeping with the time period expectations. But it’s his pairing with Alexandra Lane that makes the story work. I loved the emphasis on Alexandra’s dark past, with an extended prologue highlighting her sexual assault and her retaliation, leading to her to carry around a lot of guilt and shame, which can be bleak for some, especially if you don’t go in prepared for it, however it is not gratuitous, and I love how it informs the rest of the narrative. But her bravery in spite of everything she’s experienced, as well as the hints provided about the experiences of her friends, prove this is going to be a dark, heroine focused series that ultimately sees them put their lives back together. And the way she and Piers overcome the obstacles to their love, especially once he comes to realize the truth, is absolutely beautiful. 
  9. For Real, Alexis Hall: I had no idea what I was getting into with this one, but I’m glad I took the chance. I tend to stay away from BDSM on principle, because while I’m not opposed to it, I feel like a Fifty Shades-esque setup with the alpha dom and the sweet submissive would be more common, although I admit I’m not that knowledgeable on the subject and am open to be proven wrong. Enter For Real, and it’s older, jaded sub and younger, somewhat inexperienced dom. That worked well, because I loved how well Laurence and Toby worked as romantic leads. The sexy and kinky bits were also juxtaposed by more tender moments as well, like Toby making breakfast the morning after their first night together, which is the first moment I feel like I thought this book might be something I could enjoy. 
  10. The Bride Test, Helen Hoang: Helen Hoang makes the list for the second consecutive year! Once again, I love how she uses her personal experiences as inspiration for her romances, this time not only featuring a major character on the autism spectrum in the lovably awkward hero, Khai, but also an immigrant heroine in Esme, reflective of her mother’s experience. With a good mix of hilarity (Khai getting the “sex talk” from Michael and Quân!) and heart, while this one took a little longer to become invested in than its predecessor, once I fell, I fell hard. 
  11. Ayesha at Last, Uzma Jalaluddin: It is a truth universally acknowledged that Islamophobia is a major issue, and this book tackles that with a light touch, through the format of a loose retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I was moved by the exploration of Khalid’s experience as a conservative Muslim working for a firm in Toronto, and the marginalizations he faces in this environment. This is juxtaposed with the relationship he develops with the independent Ayesha, who he thinks, in  a comedy of errors, his her cousin and his betrothed. There is some of the traditional Lizy/Darcy dynamic between them, but with a fresh twist, to suit the new setting and concepts Jalauddin is working with, and she pulls it off masterfully. 
  12. There’s Something About Sweetie, Sandhya Menon: This book presents body positivity done right. Sweetie is confident in who she is, and a great athlete, defying a common stereotype of overweight people. While it does also contain a narrative of her overly critical mother, I love that she doesn’t let this bother her too much, especially as she’s made up her mind to pursue a relationship with Ashish. Ashish is also great once I got over seeing him in the shadow of his brother Rishi from the previous book. While he does have a bit of growth to go through, particularly in terms of figuring out where things stand with his ex, I like that he liked Sweetie from their first meeting, seeing what they had in common (their shared love of sports) over preconceived notions about her weight. 
  13. Singapore Fling, Maida Malby: Maida Malby presents another feast for the senses with the second installment in her Carole Diem Chronicles, with great sense of place from scenery descriptions to the lush food porn. And her leads, Aidan and Maddie, are two confident people at the top of their game professionally, who come together wonderfully, complementing each other perfectly. And of course there’s a lot of heart with the plot centering around the importance of family, especially found family. 
  14. The Right Swipe, Alisha Rai: Romance has grappled with power dynamics and consent in different ways over the years, particularly in the wake of MeToo, but the latest release from Alisha Rai represents one of the best depictions of the issues modern women face, quite fittingly through the use of dating apps. Starting with Rhiannon and Samson who meet on an app, and things end up going wrong when he ghosts her, their affiliation with rival apps leads them to collide again, in a beautiful exploration of their feelings, as well as the difficulties business women face working alongside male colleagues in industries like this one. 
  15. Get a Life, Chloe Brown, Talia Hibbert: An absolutely adorable book that’s also not afraid to be a bit sexy. I loved Chloe and Red, and how the book sees them work on “getting a life” in different ways, with her not letting her disability hold her back from seizing the day, and Red confronting the imposter syndrome sowed by an abusive ex, as Chloe helps him with a website meant to advertise his art. 
  16. Not a Mourning Person, Catherine Stein: Catherine Stein’s character development is at its best here, as she writes about the somewhat “difficult” and scandalous Rachael. I felt for her as she came into her own, and really enjoyed her (unlikely at first) romance with the scholarly Avery. 
  17. Meet Me in Monaco, Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb
  18. Ribbons of Scarlet, Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, E. Knight: In recent years, I’ve found I love collaborative novels, and this one, while I thought it seemed ambitious and too good to be true at first, came through on its promise. The six authors demonstrate the breadth of their historical knowledge, presenting the perspectives of six women from the French Revolution, with various backgrounds, from Royalist to moderate/intellectual to radical, the sections weaving seamlessly into each other to show the evolution of the French Revolution from one moved by democratic principles to the darkness of the Reign of Terror. Every moment is touchingly told, and you feel like you’re there with these historical figures. 
  19. Milady, Laura L. Sullivan: At long last, Milady gets to tell her story, and I love the way Sullivan does it in a way that pays tribute to the awesomeness of her character, showing that she wasn’t just painted as a villain because men write the history books, but in some ways by her own design. The history given for her pre-Three Musketeers feels plausible, as do the scenes that are set alongside the book, showing how different her perspective was from that of the “heroes” of the original tale. 
  20. Jane Steele, Lyndsay Faye: It’s Jane Eyre, but she’s a serial killer. It does get complicated, in that this Jane references the original, so it’s a very self-aware retelling. But that’s part of the charm. One of the best parts of the book is the way her killer nature (even if it is mostly in defense of herself and other vulnerable women) helps to put her on a more even footing with the Rochester substitute, Charles Thornfield. With his own dark past, the Jane/Rochester pairing was unequal on multiple levels, including their differences in morality, their respective positions of boss and employee, and their class differences, and the ending only somewhat fixes this. But serial killer Jane and Thornfield are a match from their first meeting, and were much easier to root for as a result.  
  21. The Brilliant Death, Amy Rose Capetta: This is stunning and original take fantasy. Taking influence from Italian culture, not only is the world beautiful, but the concept of the magic is wonderful, and the way it plays into the protagonist’s exploration of the fluidity of their own gender. 
  22. The Strange Case of the Alchemist’s Daughter, Theodora Goss: The first in absolutely fun series, I loved seeing Goss’s take on the many Gothic heroines, several of whom either got unpleasant endings in the original classic stories or played supporting roles to the male protagonists. Seeing them band together to solve mysteries and rescue one another from hijinks is great, but perhaps even more memorable is the style of the book (and its sequels), with the action interrupted by the characters telling the story in a way that is not as annoying as you might initially expect, given the hilarity of their commentary. 
  23. Dreadnought, April Daniels: While superhero stories still aren’t my cup of tea, I like this twist on it, incorporating the experiences of a transgender teen, complete with the magic transition to become their preferred gender. While containing all the hallmarks of a superhero origin story, including gaining powers and ingratiating oneself into the superhero “community,” it also highlights the real life bigotry many transgender teens like Danny face, especially from their own families, determined to impose traditional gender norms on them, and juxtaposes that with the introduction of a few positive, accepting friends with whom Danny can be herself. 
  24. The True Queen, Zen Cho: Finally, Zen Cho released the follow-up to Sorcerer to the Crown, and it strikes the right balance between being a great new adventure and providing all the elements readers loved the last time. Once again, her version of Regency London is diverse, and it’s wonderful to both spend time with familiar characters and meet more new ones. And there’s an f/f romance in this one! 
  25. Once and Future, Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy: Genderbent and very queer-positive, Capetta and McCarthy’s take gives King Arthur a much-needed makeover. No longer is it about doomed, faithless love, but a happy queer relationship in the face of great, world-shattering odds. And the twists on it, like Merlin’s de-aging process showing his evolution into a more modern and very different wise mentor, are so much fun. 
  26. Stepsister, Jennifer Donnelly: I love fairy tale retellings, but very rarely do they surprise and move me. This one did. While there’s nothing wrong with the traditional Cinderella story, I like the exploration of why the evil stepsisters would do the things they did, even if it meant losing themselves in the process. And ultimately, Cinderella and Isabelle really aren’t that different in terms of the societal pressures, and to see them come together is truly rewarding. 
  27. Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson: While any of his series could easily qualify (and I am inclined to award honorable mentions to Mistborn and Warbreaker), I feel like the sheer epicness of this series merits its choice as my Sanderson pick. While not flawless (especially some aspects of Oathbringer), this series has his best character work, with broken people reflecting on their dark pasts in such a relatable way, juxtaposed against a world that is gritty and intense, without delving into the elements of grimdark that some fantasy has been embracing. 
  28.  Shelter in Place, Nora Roberts: Arguably one of Nora Roberts’ best books, for its deviation from her typical formula to one that focuses on the issue first, and the romance second, but still makes the romance feel impactful. The relevance of the issue the story centers on (a shooting in a mall and its aftermath) is startling, and I was moved by how these people came together, with two of the people involved finding each other years later and finding love. And, of course, the psyche of her villain is dark and chilling, leaving me stunned at their depravity. 
  29. Unmarriageable, Soniah Kamal: Yet another of the three P&P retellings that came out this year, this one is much more beat-for-beat in its rendition, while also demonstrating the parallels between the cultures of Regency England and contemporary Pakistan, in regards to women and marriage. It’s frequently been said that Austen’s themes are universal/timeless, and the number of loose modern adaptations prove this. But the story of Alys and Darsee is arguably  the closest modernP&P adaptation to the source material, with the obvious exception of the trappings of setting.
  30. The Marriage Clock, Zara Raheem: This is a book that came to me at a time when I very much needed it, as it provided perspective on a simialr siutaiton to the one the heroine is facing in the book going on in my own life. I empathized with her as her family tried to push their expectations on her, even though my situation was occurring in a different cultural contect. And while I had read several books with South sian heroines this year, including others on this list, that dealt with the trope of familial expectations of marriage, and appreciated them in different ways, it was nice to have one that blatantly was about it being fine for the heroine to end up single by the end, with the possibility that she might find love in her own time, and not be subjected to the titular “clock” society put her under. 

Top 10 New Author Discoveries This Year

I made it a habit of trying a tom of new authors, especially those that were highly recommended and sounded interesting to me. Here are the top ten (in no particular order, for the most part) authors I discovered this year that wowed me. To qualify, I had to pick up multiple books by them this year, with a minimum of two. 

  1. Brandon Sanderson: I have read all but a few of his previous YA books and his Middle Grade Alcatraz series at this point, so Sanderson is likely the author I most eagerly embraced in 2019. With an approachable, yet engaging style, he has consistently put out good quality work, to the point when even his lesser efforts, like Elantris and Mistborn era 2 are still memorable. And his engagement with fans regarding his progress is impeccable, allowing them insight into ongoing projects through his blog (in particular the yearly State of Sanderson posts), as well as consistent engagement on Twitter, as well as willingness to appear on readers’ and reviewers’ YouTube channels (a major one for many on Fantasy BookTube was his appearance on Daniel Greene’s channel). 
  2. Amy Rose Capetta: While I discovered Capetta through her collaboration with her partner, Cori McCarthy, Once & Future, a queer sci-fi King Arthur retelling, I came to embrace Capetta’s love for a variety of genres, while still centralizing queerness. Their genderfluid fantasy, The Brilliant Death, is a masterpiece, and 
  3. Catherine Stein: To start with, she’s pretty much an awesome person for sending me copies of all her books up to this point.
  4. Beverly Jenkins: She’s one of those authors I’m kicking myself for putting off for so long, in part because she was and is such a trailblazer in Black romance. While her older books are hard to find, I enjoyed her last historical series, am waiting with bated breath for book two in her current series, and am so happy to see that she’s getting some love on the adaptation front, as mentioned with the news about Forbidden. 
  5. Theodora Goss: While she only has the one novel series, about the Athena Club, I thoroughly enjoyed these quirky books. As a bit of a literature nerd, I loved seeing familiar characters from a new perspective, both through their exciting adventures and through the silly comments they make while putting together the books of their adventures. 
  6. Courtney Milan: Technically not completely new-to-me, as I read a novella by her late last year. But I read three full novels and an additional novella (in Hamilton’s Battalion) by her this year, and while it was a bit of a rocky start, beginning with her debut, Proof by Seduction, I did eventually make it to The Duchess War, arguably considered one of her best, and, as noted, one of my favorites this year as well, and I anticipate to continue reading her backlist very soon. 
  7. Alexis Hall: Like Capetta, Alexis Hall tends to write all over the place genre wise, although all of his books feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I was excited to experience two very different books from him this year: the erotic gay contemporary, For Real, featured in my top ten, and the queer Sherlockian fantasy, The Affair of the Mysterious Letter. Both are fabulous, with the former delving into a BDSM relationship in an unexpected way, and the latter being a fun romp with 
  8. Abigail Wilson: While she’s walking in familiar territory, with a combination of the Regency world and Gothic atmosphere, and writing inspirational romance (albeit with understated Christian themes, compared to some of her peers), I think she has a lot of promise, based on her two releases this year. Her stories feel reminiscent of the classics, like Austen and Bronte, and fellow inspirational historical authors like Julie Klassen, but she is very much bringing her own thing to the genre with page-turning romantic mysteries that had me invested in their plots completely. 
  9. Kristen Callihan: I was so excited to dive into her Darkest London series, which I had heard about, but didn’t really feel the urge to dive into until now. While some of the books are inevitably better than others, her world building is wonderful, and her characters, for the most part, are compelling. And while she’s moved onto contemporary, and I’m interested in trying those too, I’m anxious to see another historical paranormal from her again. 
  10. Scott Lynch: While he only has the three books in the Gentlemen Bastards series to his name thus far (with a fourth due out at some point), the series is still impressive even in its unfinished state, and I’m impressed with his character work, focusing on the friendship between a ragtag band of thieves. And while his style takes some getting used to, I found it makes the series memorable, as you really get to explore the characters through examinations of their past and present.

2020 Goals

  1. Goodreads Goal: My productivity is highly linked to my schedule, and while I’m hoping to work on building up some other skills, like getting back into novel writing after letting it slide, I anticipate I will continue to have a pretty open schedule. Thus, I’m planning to make my “starter” goal 300, akin to my productivity while in school. 
  2. Reading Log: I kept all my stats this year in a single doc file (I suck and  could never get a handle on Excel/Sheets), but I ran into hiccups as the doc got bigger and bigger and would constantly run into loading issues (on top of other computer issues). Thus, for 2020, I’ve decided to switch to keeping my reading logs monthly, which is also more in keeping with what some of my friends in book groups have been doing with their reading journals, and will result in more accurate stats, until I can hopefully figure out the spreadsheet business.
  3. Keep reading diverse authors (with priority to looking for more ownvoices works): I improved a lot this year, as I noted, but I think I can still do better to seek out some of the truly underrepresented voices outside of mainstream publishing.  
  4. Do as many of the prompts for the PopSugar 2020 Reading Challenge as possible. 
  5. Read two indie/self-published books per month (but aim for more): An idea I got from BookTuber Merphy Napier, who tries to make this a priority. I recently got my first eReader (a Nook Glowlight), so that should solve some of the access issues I had with self-published authors in the past. It also goes hand-in-hand with the previous goal, as I think one of the reasons I fell short this year is that, even with my growing self-awareness of my reading choices, publishing is still largely white and cishet. 
  6. Diversify blog content: While reviews are still going to be the main focus, I do enjoy more topical posts, and would like to make a habit of doing them, although I do still want to focus most on hot-button issues. I do also anticipate, with my access to eBooks, that my approach to reviewing novellas will change, so would like to do a “Novella Round-Up” on occasion, possibly monthly, but it depends on my reading choices. 

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 “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!