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

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

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

3 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2.5 stars

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

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

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

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

Review of “The Bluestocking” (Wicked Wallflowers #4) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Bluestocking. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2019.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1503904071 | 339 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I want to start by giving a caveat that The Bluestocking, like many of Caldwell’s others, regardless of what some others will tell you, makes most sense read after both the prior books in the Wicked Wallflowers series and at least the previous series to this one, the Sinful Brides. That was my issue when I read The Vixen, and it remains an issue, primarily because I wound up more or less skipping The Governess because I failed to become fully invested, due to not being able to truly like the characters (especially Broderick). This played a small role in my diminished enjoyment.

However, I did like Gertrude from the glimpses I got of her in the other books, so I decided to still give it a try, even with some of those aforementioned considerations in mind. I have a disability similar to hers, and I found it inspiring how she went from being the one who is generally in the shadows and underestimated by the others to actively fighting to ensure her adoptive brother’s well-being.

I also found I could understand Edwin’s perspective too, given the amount of loss he’s faced. And while he’s not “mad” as he’s often made out to be, I like that it’s reflective of the habit in the period of characterizing anyone who didn’t fit a certain mold as “mad.”

However, the romance itself failed to win me over. Part of it is the whole family feud, “your family took my son,” “but he was raised as my brother and we loved him” angle, which seemed like insurmountable odds to me for love to defy. Even taking into account the Gertrude was more or less blameless in the actual kidnapping, and Edwin was doing what he thought was right, I still did not find the development well-handled, and I definitely felt there could have been a bit more emotional depth to both of them, given their respective pasts, which Caldwell has done much better in some of her previous books.

That said, others have enjoyed this book, and I think their more consistent consumption of Caldwell’s books plays at least a small role in that, as they get a greater sense of the relationship dynamics, which while evident in this one as more or less a stand-alone, would likely feel richer in terms of the wider scope if you read more of them and in order.

Review of “Betrayal in Time” (Kendra Donovan #4) by Julie McElwain

McElwain, Julie. Betrayal in Time. New York: Pegasus Books, 2019.

Hardcover | $25.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1643130743 | 388 pages | Historical Fiction/Time Travel/Mystery

5 stars

I am always excited for more Kendra Donovan time travel Regency mysteries, and Betrayal in Time is no exception. Once again, the hodgepodge of genres comes together seamlessly to create a fun, suspenseful, and subtly romantic tale.

I continue to love seeing Kendra trying to adapt to her surroundings, and while it’s noted that certain superficial things have changed, like she’s gotten used to lack of modern conveniences like electricity, and her hair has grown out so it can accommodate the latest styles, she is still very much an oddity in the sense that she doesn’t fully grasp the mores of the time period, even while it is growing more obvious to her that her parents’ raising of her to be the best has some parallels with the very pedigree-focused English high society.

And while her romance with Alec is still more of a subplot, and isn’t even as present as it was in some of the previous books, I like how McElwain somehow manages to make the push-and-pull created by the difference in their respective values interesting. And while many mystery series do a “will-they-won’t-they,” it seems like almost a foregone conclusion that Kendra and Alec will end up together in some form, especially given the risks present for women of the station she’s presenting as in high society, it’s just a matter of when.

It’s also wonderful to see the deepening bonds between the secondary characters. My favorite is still between Kendra and the Duke, and their surrogate father-daughter relationship. But I also liked getting further insights into Lady Rebecca, and how she’s in such an odd position of being cast aside by society due to her appearance, but unable to embrace the more radical ideas she’s been learning about from the writings of Wollstonecraft and de Gouges, due to the impropriety of it.

The mystery this time around is also quite interesting, once again with a twist I did not see coming, and ultimately a rather bittersweet ending when all was revealed, given the killer’s identity and motives.

I really enjoyed this one, and I already can’t wait for the next one, even if there is no information, except the fact that McElwain has confirmed that there will be a book 5. And I wholeheartedly recommend this series to all fans of Regency romances and crime thrillers.

Review of “The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics” (Feminine Pursuits #1) by Olivia Waite

Waite, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics. New York: Avon Impulse, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062931795 | 322 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I was super excited when The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics was announced, due to my excitement about Avon releasing an f/f historical. And it definitely sounded appealing, what with Lucy being an astronomer, setting it apart from a lot of historicals I’ve read.

And I really enjoyed it for the characters and the development of the relationship between the two heroines. The tension between them was so well-crafted, with me anticipating each step they took toward intimacy with one another. And even when there were questions about whether the relationship would work, due to issues fostered by their pasts and the larger societal issues, I still rooted for them to find some way to make it work.

However, Lucy’s passion for astronomy, which brings her into contact with Catherine, led to some mixed feelings for me in terms of enjoyment when the science and math were involved. While I enjoyed seeing the work as a part of the story on principle, as we need more historicals about working women confronting the patriarchy, I personally didn’t engage with the portions of the book that dealt heavily with it quite as much as I did the portions that developed the romance.

That being said, I do still enjoy this book for the fact that it’s helping to bring LGBTQ+ historical romance (and particularly f/f) into the mainstream. And given its heavy focus on science, I would recommend this to readers who are more educated in astronomy. But it is still a great read that I think is worth taking a chance on if you’re the average historical romance reader as well, to see if things resonate better with you than it did with me.

Review of “The Claiming of the Shrew” (The Survivors #5) by Shana Galen

Galen, Shana. The Claiming in Shrew. [United States]: Shana Galen, 2019.

Paperback | $12.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1094814841 | 378 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

After finishing the previous book, I was excited to hear that the next book, The Claiming of the Shrew, would follow Colonel Draven and his estranged wife, Catarina, especially since, once I started it, I saw it both began with and was building off her initial introductory short story, previously a perk only for newsletters subscribers that I actually did not read at the time, so I’m glad it was included.

One of the first things that shocked me, not having read the short before and only relying on context clues in Catarina’s brief appearance in Unmask Me If You Can, is that she’s actually significantly younger than Draven, being around twenty in the short, while Draven is about forty. And while May-December couples aren’t necessarily my favorite, I felt it worked with the dynamic here, and I enjoyed it throughout, especially as it really played into the problems they had to work through. She initially proposes a marriage of convenience due to needing protection, but later, they end up butting heads, due to her feeling imprisoned, and him trying to protect her from a man trying to do her harm, but going about it more like an autocrat and giving orders, as opposed to demonstrating his concern for her safety and love for her.

But in spite of the problems they worked through, I loved that they both were holding out for each other during their separation, even if Catarina felt forced to seek an annulment to appease the bad guys. And Draven remaining celibate out of respect for his wife is the sexiest thing. I feel it’s far too common in this setup where the couple is separated for an extended period, for whatever reason, for one (usually the man) or both to be with other people before something brings them back together, and there’s nothing wrong with that, especially the latter. But I love a hero who is so devoted to someone, even if he doesn’t know he’ll see her again, that he can’t contemplate being with anyone else.

This is my favorite in the Survivors series, and while it’s not as emotionally intense in the issues it tackles in comparison to the last book, it’ makes up for it by being a beautiful, heartwarming love story that triumphs in spite of the danger the couple are in and the factors that could tear them apart. I would recommend it to all Regency romance fans.