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

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

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

5 stars

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

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

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

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

Review of “The Lady in the Coppergate Tower” (Steampunk Proper Romance #3) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725543 | 354 pages | Steampunk Romance

4.5 stars

I happened to find The Lady in the Coppergate Tower on the shelf at my local bookstore peculiarly early, and despite my initial plans to delay reading it until release week, my dissatisfaction with some of the books I had been considering reading got the better of me, and I was looking for a purely fun, exciting read.

And it is indeed that. A Rapunzel retelling with some elements of Dracula, Allen once again provides an original spin on a classic tale. The way she interweaves the elements of the original, with some of the connections only coming to the forefront at the end, was incredibly satisfying. And while the villain is incredibly obvious, even prior to the full reveal of his intentions and identity, due to all the hints dropped over the course of the story, it did not detract from my enjoyment.

The characters and their arcs are also great, particularly Hazel’s. While she is by no means a naive heroine at the beginning of the book, I love that this experience allows her to grow in terms of her understanding of herself, through her discovery of her long-lost twin sister. And while the story begins with Sam often playing the role of savior, I like that, in true Rapunzel fashion, it is she who saves him at the end.

This is a great book on three counts: a book in its own right, as part of Allen’s Steampunk Proper Romance Fairy Tales series (which I hope she plans to continue), and as a truly engaging and original retelling. I would recommend this to other fans of fairy tale retellings.

Review of “A Song for the Stars” by Ilima Todd

Todd, Ilima. A Song for the Stars. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629725284 | 296 pages | Historical Romance

5 stars

While it can often be true that hype can kill enjoyment of a book, this is not one of those times. A Song for the Stars is nothing short of amazing. And in part it may be due to finally being able to apply some of my own long-neglected (albeit elementary) knowledge of Hawaiian language and history, and see the setting highlighted in a mainstream published historical romance of all places.

But it’s also due to Ilima Todd’s clear enthusiasm for what she calls “the book of my heart,” (286) inspired by her fourth great-grandparents. And while her passion for Hawaii and the Pacific were already evident in her depictions of setting in her prior books, I love how she clearly showed care in ensuring that, while certain historical events and customs had to be modified for fiction, she represented them in a way that ultimately respects Native Hawaiian readers, and educates those who may not be familiar with Hawaiian history and culture while entertaining them with a beautiful love story.

I really liked the structure of this story, with Maile’s perspective being conveyed through “standard” prose and John’s through journal entries, and it’s wonderful to see their evolving relationship and their growing understanding of each other’s cultural differences through both of their perspectives, especially since things start off between them with a somewhat tense situation. And I wasn’t sure at first how I would feel about their growing romance, since Maile is depicted as being very committed to someone else at the beginning, but I feel like it was handled in as delicate a way as it could be, given the timeframe the story takes place in, with a believable transfer of her affections to John.

Upon finishing, I cannot help but hope that this isn’t the last Hawaiian historical Todd will write, given her clear passion for the subject, as unlikely as writing historical fiction seemed to her at first. And while I have some reservations about recommending her other work to people, I enthusiastically recommend this one to anyone looking for a richly detailed and compelling historical.

Review of “Miss Wilton’s Waltz” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. Miss Wilton’s Waltz. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724133 | 342 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I was so excited upon finishing The Vicar’s Daughter to find out that Lenora was getting her own book, but of course, me being me, I didn’t make time to read Miss Wilton’s Waltz when it first came out. But I feel like this is one of those books that I’m glad I waited for the right time for me to soak in and read, as I adored it.

I admittedly loved Lenora a lot more than Cassie in the first book, because I could relate to her social anxiety and some of the choices she made. And I was glad to see her get her story, and how her past experience with Cassie and Evan colored her current experience with Aiden and his fiancee.

I enjoy when a character has a strong moral compass, but their sense of honor and wanting to do the right thing still gets them into trouble, and Aiden did not disappoint in that regard. I like how he is not perfect, in that he is trying to figure out the best thing to do in terms of being a guardian for his troubled niece, and he faces the dilemma of his feelings for Lenora and a fiancee who is both insistent on keeping the engagement intact and taking control of aspects of his life in a manner he is increasingly uncomfortable with, and it had me uncertain as to how he would manage to make it all work out.

And Catherine herself was a surprise. While the child starved of love is a common trope when one of the romantic leads is their guardian, I enjoyed the twist Kilpack put on the trope this time, including discussing dyslexia in both a period appropriate and sensitive way.

I absolutely loved this book, and can’t wait to pick up more of Josi S. Kilpack’s books (I have her other 2018 title, Promises and Primroses, in my TBR, and I hope to get to it before book two releases). I would recommend this to all fans of sweet, Traditional Regency romance in the vein of Austen or Heyer.

Review of “Kiss of the Spindle” (Steampunk Proper Romance #2) by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Kiss of the Spi, ndle. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2018. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629724140 | 370 pages |Romance/Steampunk

5 stars

After reading and loving Beauty and the Clockwork Beast, I was excited soon after to find out there would be a sequel of sorts, and that it would be based on “Sleeping Beauty,” which despite not being one of my favorite fairy tales, was a refreshing change due to being one of the fairy tales that gets retold less often, especially outside the straight-up fantasy genre. And I loved Allen’s take on the story, making it her own, while imbuing it with just enough from the original tale (and the Disney version) to please fans of fairy tale retellings.

I love that Isla is a strong heroine, in spite of the curse being placed on her, and I love seeing the way she takes initiative in working to solve the problem, and I love that the curse leaves her vulnerable in a unique way. And she is complemented perfectly by Daniel, who is able to watch out for her, but also has his own vulnerability. The unique cast of characters, consisting of shifters and witches, make for some great twists and turns. I especially liked Nigel as he developed as a character, especially when his past with the witch who cursed Isla was revealed.

I would recommend this book to those who love refreshing new takes on fairy tales, whether they are familiar with the Proper Romance line or not. It is truly a treat that is not to be missed.

 

 

 

Review of “The Secret of the India Orchid” by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. The Secret of the India Orchid. Salt Lake City: Shadow Mountain, 2017. 

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1629722931 | 314 pages | Regency Romance

2 stars

I worried quite a bit when I first picked up this book, because despite the connection not being advertised by the publisher, reviews noted the connection between this and one of Nancy Campbell Allen’s prior Proper Romances, My Fair Gentleman. However, not having read that book played no role in my impressions of this one, as the plot of that book and relationships between the characters are satisfactorily explained to provide proper context without overwhelming the story.

However, I did feel that the overabundance of characters with their own issues did no favors to this story. There is an endless list of characters who I found impossible to keep straight or distinguish, especially since so many of them are young women of marriageable age. And despite them being the lead characters, I didn’t get a sense that Anthony or Sophia felt fully fleshed out or alive either. Allen and/or her publisher also show a lack of understanding of the semantics of titles and forms of address, given the number of mistakes that appear throughout the text.

The only reasonably interesting part of the book is the mystery element, which provides a sense of intrigue to the otherwise bland setup. However, considering the general lack of investment I felt while reading with the characters, the reveal that wrapped up the mystery at the end was underwhelming.

 

Review of “All That Makes Life Bright” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi. All That Makes Life Bright. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-341-9. $15.99 USD. 

5 stars

Josi S. Kilpack has once again introduced me to a historical figure who somehow managed to pass me by, yet managed to make the story come to life and improve my understanding of them beyond the mere footnote it was before. I was impressed with how Kilpack interpreted the many factors in Harriet Beecher Stowe’s literary and political development, and that, unlike many of the other prominent female authors in history, who spent most, if not all, of their lives unmarried and childless, she was a married woman and, as a result had to struggle to balance motherhood with indulging her creative spirit. And as Kilpack’s introduction makes clear, this factor makes her all the more relatable to many of the female writers of today, who are balancing families and writing…and sometimes a day job as well.

Working with and playing with the historical record, Kilpack also does a wonderful job showing the evolution of Harriet and Calvin’s relationship in their first year or so of marriage. And even though their lives were eventful, as indicated by the timeline at the end of the book and many outside sources, Kilpack’s isolating this time period and showing the happy resolution to their problems there, as well as a snapshot of their future, helps to provide a different definition of the happily-ever-after than in many purely fictional historical romances.

Review of “The Lady of the Lakes” by Josi S. Kilpack

-Kilpack, Josi S. The Lady of the Lakes. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-226-9. Print List Price: $15.99.

5 stars

Having not read anything by Sir Walter Scott before, I was somewhat hesitant going into this book. But I found that not knowing much about him ahead of time meant that I could be much more swept up in the story, with there being some mystery for me as to how these characters would all end up.

I admire Kilpack for the amount of effort she put into working with historical records and developing an engaging story. In the chapter notes, she discusses the parts where she had to take poetic license, especially in cases where there just isn’t enough information available to know for sure what happened.

One of the aspects that I love that Kilpack developed a bit more was the obvious signs that Walter and Mina would not make a good match, and later contrasting it with the signs that Walter and Charlotte would make a good match, such as Mina’s disinterest in the theater and in riding, and making Charlotte’s love of the theater more fervent. And while Walter and Charlotte do not share all the same interests, I love that it’s obvious they are willing to accept the same type of lifestyle, whereas Mina’s station in life being all she’s used to is a small factor in her acceptance of William Forbes.

Review of “The Vicar’s Daughter” by Josi S. Kilpack

Kilpack, Josi S. The Vicar’s Daughter. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2017. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-280-1. Print List Price: $15.99.

4.5 stars

I picked up this book on impulse, in large part due to wanting to try more books in the Proper Romance series, but also because one of the characters mentioned in the back cover blurb was called Lenora (and I am a massive Lenora Bell fangirl). This put me at something of a disadvantage, however, as the blurb also makes it obvious that this book is not Lenora’s story, but that of her younger sister Cassie.

At the beginning, and at points throughout the book, I found Cassie a bit annoying, as she was somewhat self-centered, and had no concern for her sister’s limitations or how she could help, but more how the circumstances of her sister’s lack of suitors affected her. She does change over the course of the book, and I understand that is why she was written that way in the beginning, so we could see this personal growth. But as someone like Lenora, who deal with anxiety in social situations, I found her sister’s lack of concern prior to realizing what she might get out of helping her insensitive.

By the end of the story, Lenora has grown as well due to the experience, and while nothing to my knowledge has been announced concerning her own story, I feel like she should have a chance for her own happy ending, to give others like me with similar struggles with anxiety hope that they can grow more confident and possibly even find love.

Review of “Beauty and the Clockwork Beast: A Steampunk Proper Romance” by Nancy Campbell Allen

Allen, Nancy Campbell. Beauty and the Clockwork Beast. Salt Lake: Shadow Mountain, 2016. ISBN-13: 978-1-62972-175-0. Print List Price: $15.99.

5 stars

I was leery of the Proper Romance series when I first heard about it. While I’m definitely all for romance novels without sex on occasion, the idea that these books were being released by an imprint of LDS publisher/chain bookstore Deseret Book made me uneasy, due to my (most likely inaccurate) preconceived notions about LDS people. Not to mention I resisted picking up this one in particular, because I was writing a “Beauty and the Beast” retelling and feared that it would influence my own work. But as I finally gave in and picked it up.

And I enjoyed every second of it. This was the first steampunk novel I read, so I fully expected to be bothered by some of the weird anachronistic, yet imaginary technologies and fashions. But once I adjusted to the concept of the genre, I became more and more engrossed in the possibilities of a world where these concepts were possible.

The book is much less of a straight retelling than some of the others, although there are some aspects that you might recognize from the original story and the more popular Disney adaptations. The book is preceded by a quote from the original tale which discusses the Beast’s goodness despite his monstrous exterior, in comparison to others, “who, under a human form, hide a treacherous, corrupt, and ungrateful heart.” This quote is reflected in the narrative, with Miles not being the “beast” society believes him to be, whereas another in the story who presents a friendly facade turns out to be the real villain of the tale.

I was surprised how much I loved Miles by the end. He is standoffish at the beginning, which is very typical of the “Beast” character, but as the story unfolded, and we saw how he protected Lucy, even to the point of getting into fight with his boorish cousin who kissed her at one point, I was in love. I don’t normally like the overly protective or broody heroes, but he is written in a way that works. And Lucy’s a wonderful heroine as, well, being determined to be involved in all the action and save her cousin, even when it leads to her getting a number of injuries.