Review of “What a Lord Wants” (Capturing the Carlisles #5) by Anna Harrington

Harrington, Anna. What a Lord Wants. New York: NYLA, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1798484678 | 309 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

What a Lord Wants is a nice conclusion(?) to the Carlisles’ series, although I admit at first I completely forgot how this was meant to be a Carlisles’ book in the first place. Thankfully, this is explained for the most part, and, due to having the loosest connection to the other books (with the exception of book 3, with this book’s heroine and that one being sisters), it can more or less stand alone.

This book felt oddly paced to me at first, and I found myself boggled at my lack of investment in comparison to others’ glowing reviews for it. I could feel the romantic tension right away, but I wasn’t sure I connected with Dom or Eve until at least halfway through the book. There were things I enjoyed, like being enmeshed in the world of art at the time, and I liked that Eve, in spite of being enveloped in scandal, was unafraid of risking another when she found herself in one, but still, I was fully prepared to drag my way through it, which would not do any favors toward my perspective on the current stale state of the genre.

But somewhere after that halfway point, it got better for me, and I started to formulate what was wrong, along with seeing things be solved for me. And the crux of the issue was Dom’s dual persona. I’m not the biggest fan of heroes who put up walls for whatever reason, and while I found it to be a new take, it did not endear me to him, especially since I felt the solution to his problems of lacking inspiration so obvious. But as things progressed, I found myself warming to him somewhat, and a pivotal moment concerning a letter he receives from a past love moved me and showed a moment of revelation and growth, particularly as it’s revealed that the woman’s father (also his former mentor who instilled the “art before all else” way of thinking) also eventually found love that altered his perspective,c and I found that beautiful and poetic.

While I did not find it as enjjoyable as I had hoped, having really liked or even loved quite a few of Harrington’s other books, I feel it’s mostly me and my funk with historicals lately, and I would not dissuade anyone from picking it up, especially if they have consistently loved Harrington’s work in the past and also really love historicals.

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Review of “Believe in Me” (The Worthingtons #6) by Ella Quinn

Quinn, Ella. Believe in Me. New York: Kensington, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420145205 | 374 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

I admit I sadly did not have high hopes for Believe in Me, after having difficulties with its predecessor. And while this one also fell a little flat, I do feel like this one is marginally better.

Once again, I must give praise to Quinn’s dedication to getting the details of the period correct, and also introducing readers to lesser known facts about the Regency era in a fun and engaging way. The concept and overall execution of the idea of a woman who is more interested in pursuing higher education is a unique one for the time period, but it is great to know that it was not outside the realm of possibility for those with connections and the means to travel, as Augusta did.

And the situation led to some great development of her as a character in the context of the extended Worthington family as well. It was great to see the determined Augusta appealing alternately to her more traditionally minded mother, who hopes to see her married off, and her brother Matt, who is slightly more open to the idea. It led to some great moments of development to see how everyone progressed in the three-year time jump since the last book’s events.

The romance felt a little more lackluster to me, which is unfortunate, as on paper, it seemed like it could easily have been one of my favorites, due to the slightly slow-burn nature of the relationship and how things start off with Phinn and Augusta being friends first, and them being well-suited to each other due to both being intelligent. But it was one of those books where I felt like the conflicts were resolved a bit too quickly, and then there was a lot of slow-moving travel scenes. It helped to illustrate the scenery and what it would have been like to actually make the trip, but it did little else but make me wonder how much longer it would be until something happened.

On the whole it is a fairly decent entry, although it does make me question whether this series has gone on a bit too long. There are numerous other family members left, so we’ll see if Ella Quinn can write something a bit more engaging for the next family member. And in the meantime, I do still feel it’s worth reading, even if primarily for the heroine’s arc alone. As I noted previously, Ella Quinn’s adherence to accuracy is pretty much unrivaled, and she is an author I would recommend for those looking for a historical that will both entertain and educate, this one is for you.

Review of “Brentwood’s Ward” (Bow Street Runners #1) by Michelle Griep

Griep, Michelle. Brentwood’s Ward. Uhrichville, OH: Shiloh Run Press, 2015.

Paperback | $13.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-978-1630586799 | 314 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I won Brentwood’s Ward and the next book in the series, The Innkeeper’s Daughter, in a giveaway from the author around the time of the latter book’s release, and I was excited, as I had just read one of her novellas at the time and Julie Klassen, my gateway author to Christian historical fiction, has long recommended her highly. So, I was a bit disappointed to find that I wasn’t a bit more wowed by this.

I didn’t hate the book. It’s well-paced and fairly original, focusing on Bow Street Runners, and while I’ve seen those before on occasion in historicals, I haven’t seen it nearly enough. And Brentwood is definitely the better of the two main characters in the book. I loved that, in addition to the action-oriented stuff that comes with the profession, Brentwood has concern for taking care of his ailing sister, which motivates him to take on the assignment as Emily’s guardian.

I didn’t really know what to think about Emily. I could kind of empathize with her situation to an extent, but I also found her a bit too spoiled, and while there were moments over the course of the story that led her to grow on me, I never fully warmed up to her.

But I think my real issue was the fact that the romance wasn’t well executed. I didn’t really get the sense, particularly on Brentwood’s end, that he fell in love with her, especially when he declares it out-of-the-blue without convincing romantic buildup. There’s some semblance of tension there, but I didn’t get a real sense that there was a ton of chemistry, and the feelings didn’t feel super genuine. And while the suspense plot was developed reasonably well throughout, towards the end, I found my investment flagging, especially when I started to see it wrapping up a little too easily.

I will definitely be reading the next book to give this author a second chance and decide then if it’s worth it to continue with the forthcoming final (?) book in the series. But I did see this book did get a lot of positive praise from other readers, so I would still recommend it to those who like similar authors like Julie Klassen and Sarah E. Ladd.

Review of “Unmasked by the Marquess” (Regency Impostors #1) by Cat Sebastian

Sebastian, Cat. Unmasked by the Marquess. New York: Avon Impulse, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $5.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062821607 | 306 pages | Regency Romance4

5 stars

Cat Sebastian is one of those authors I haven’t read nearly enough of, and this is (hopefully) the year that I fix that. Despite having read one of her m/m books before, and having another in my TBR, I was intrigued as to how she would handle writing a non-binary character, and I was pleased both with this (small) expansion of LGBTQ+ representation in traditional publishing beyond just “gay romance.” I also love that she clearly did her homework on what it means to be non-binary, consulting with non-binary romance authors who she shouts out in her acknowledgments, not to mention speaking sensitively about pronouns in relation to the evolution of the character of Robin (alternatively known both as Robert and Charity) in her historical note.

Robin is a character I rooted for throughout the book, even if it is pointed out that she is essentially conning people with her charade. But I understood her reasons, especially given the way women had so few rights during the Regency period, especially concerning inheritance.

Alistair was a surprise to me. At first, he seemed like yet another stuffy aristocrat, and I was just waiting for the moment where he would act like a jerk, especially if that served as the Black Moment. But he surprised me by being very much the opposite. I mean, he does have to do quite a bit of growing to recognize that there are more important things than fortune and reputation. And probably the most important thing was how things progressed in his relationship with Robin, and he isn’t repulsed by the idea of an attraction to her when he thinks she’s male, and he’s willing to pursue a marriage to her after the reveal in spite of her humble origins. In terms of the former, I can think of a couple books (even ones I otherwise enjoyed) where the girl-dressed-as-a-boy trope led to some implications of homophobia, and while it would not be inaccurate in a historical setting, it’s not something I want to read in a romance published today. As a result, I was glad Alistair was enlightened in that regard.

This book is delightful, and perfectly straddles that line between being light and fun while also delving into the tougher issues concerning one’s identity and not fitting into little boxes society is compelled to assign to everyone. I would recommend this to people looking for a different sort of historical romance.

Review of “The Governess of Penwythe Hall” (The Cornwall Novels #1) by Sarah E. Ladd

Ladd, Sarah E. The Governess of Penwythe Hall. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0785223160 | 352 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

I received an ARC from the author/publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I have very mixed feelings on The Governess of Penwythe Hall. On the one hand, I feel like there is a lot of potential here, some of which it lives up to…and some of which it does not.

And most of the potential that lives up to what I anticipated is in the character development, particularly Jac’s. While his relationships with both Delia and the children do feel at times very much in the vein of the standard governess trope, I feel like Ladd makes it enough of her own with the slight changes to the narrative. I like that Jac is facing financial issues that also impact the children’s future, and he actually finds a creative solution to them that I don’t think I’ve seen before, and, even if the bonding between him and his nephews and nieces, along with Delia becoming necessary in a way that goes beyond the professional, does run a little to the cliche, it is still rather heartwarming.

One thing I didn’t feel properly was fleshed out was Delia and her past, not to mention that the turn of events all felt more convenient for the sake of plot than anything else. I did like the tender moments she has with her own family, but I think the prologue built up some big conflict, and the stakes were further raised later in the book, but it ended up feeling anticlimactic. And the fact that of course it involved smuggling was a bit annoying, especially when it was another thing that didn’t feel like it had a lot of resonance. While I know it’s historically accurate with this location, it just didn’t have the same resonance that she imbued in some of her prior books, like her previous standalone, about the Luddite riots.

Given that this is the first in a planned series, I do hope that the next book is better and follows in the vein of her other series in varying the concepts she chooses to focus on. That being said, I do feel like this book could work for some people, especially those who are looking for a light, sweet historical romance that still has good character development.

Review of “Andrew: Lord of Despair” (Lonely Lords #7, Grace Burrowes Regency Chronological Order #2) by Grace Burrowes

Burrowes, Grace. Andrew: Lord of Despair. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks Casablanca, 2013.

Mass Market Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1402278662 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

Grace Burrowes is one of those authors I’ve had a complicated relationship with, as she is raved about by many readers, but several things have kept me from reading her interconnected books, following intending to start them with the Windham prequels. I recently made an attempt again with Gareth: Lord of Rakes, a book I had long put off due to difficulty suspending disbelief at the concept, yet unwilling to skip it (or any of the books) entirely due to fear of name-drops (that was why I was actually irrationally annoyed with the inclusion of one of her holiday novellas bundled with the last Kelly Bowen book). much to my surprise, when I recently read it, I found the justification of the concept believable, but almost everything else pertaining to the characters and plot, weak…so much so that I didn’t bother to review it. However, knowing this was an early book and not her best, and liking Andrew and Astrid as secondary characters, I persevered and picked up the second one.

While I feel this book is still much more hero-focused than I normally prefer, giving much more depth to Andrew than Astrid, I did feel like she tried to give Astrid substance in a way she did not to Felicity in the last book. I could empathize with Astrid’s struggles at being a widow of a man who was callous and unfaithful, and having her life sort of hang in the balance as she awaits the birth of his child, especially as she’s being targeted by someone who is out to hurt her and her child.

However, Andrew, despite obviously being Burrowes’ focus, was a harder sell for me at first. I did like that he and Astrid had this established rapport that carried over from the prior book, and that he was devoted to protecting her, but it took me a while to understand his motivations for making certain choices, like why he was so determined to distance himself from Astrid despite the chemistry between them. However, it became clearer later in the book, and I began to understand him more due to his past involvement with a woman who died in the same wreck that killed his father, although I did not like the way he was absolved of guilt by essentially demonizing the woman in question.

The mystery element, surrounding who was threatening Astrid’s life, was decently developed, much more so than the previous book’s mystery subplot. And while it might be easy to infer who the culprit could be, judging by who does and does not have their own book (as noted in the family tree in the opening pages), there is just enough misdirection and the character is written in a way that I still did not think it could be that person based on how they were introduced to me.

On the whole, this is an improvement on the previous book, but I still have some issues with it. From what I’ve been told, she does get better over time, so I will be continuing on with her work. And I would say, if you like historical romance, she’s worth trying, on the off chance you’re like me and are one of the few who have not fully dove into the Burrowes Backlist.

Review of “The Heiress’s Deception” (Sinful Brides #4) by Chrisi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. The Heiress’s Deception. Seattle: Montlake Romance, 2017.

Paperback | $12.95 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1542048941 | 276 pages | Regency Romance

3 stars

The Heiress’s Deception was a bit of a disappointment as a closer to the series, and not only because I’m aware that some of the issues left unresolved in this one have been carried over to the spinoff, the Wicked Wallflowers, of which I have previously read one book, The Vixen.

That being said, Caldwell’s strengths are still on display here in terms of great character work. Both Calum and Eve are intriguing, with compelling backstories, although I didn’t feel moved by them in the same way I did with some of the previous books in the series, especially The Lady’s Guard. I also found myself a bit conflicted on the “deception” aspect, feeling like his feelings of betrayal by her as a child weren’t explored enough, while also feeling like it was forgiven a bit too quickly due to the situation.

I also just didn’t feel the love between them, and despite the dangers put in their way, there didn’t feel like insurmountable stakes were there, especially in comparison to the prior book. I wanted a lot more from Eve’s brother as a villain in execution, although in theory, he had a good setup. I just didn’t really care about whether or not he was thwarted or not. And towards the end, I just found something I couldn’t describe lacking, so I actually ended up skimming toward the end, hoping to see it all come together, finding myself in how quickly things wrapped up.

This is a bit of a disappointment, especially as I’ve come to like some of Christi Caldwell’s newer books I’ve read since she started working with Montlake Romance (granted, I still haven’t read many of them), but I think this is a case of all the ingredients being there, and there just being a flaw in execution. I do feel like if you’re a fan of Caldwell’s character work, or a fan of flawed heroes and heroines who go through struggles, this is the book (and author) for you.

Review of “The Bashful Bride” (Advertisements For Love #2) by Vanessa Riley

Riley, Vanessa. The Bashful Bride. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2018.

Paperback | $19.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1718906853 | 312 pages | Regency Romance

5 stars

I received a copy of The Bashful Bride in a giveaway from Vanessa Riley ages ago, and am only now getting around to reading it. And despite it being the second in the series and being given the choice between this one and book one, the premise of this one appealed to me more. And I’m glad I took the chance with this one, as not only does it stand alone perfectly enough, but it also, in typical Vanessa Riley fashion, makes perfect use of that engaging and fun premise to delve into real historical details about the lives of free blacks and the abolitionist movement in the 19th century, a topic rarely discussed in Regency romance.

Ester was a heroine I could empathize with immediately. While initially I was drawn to what I knew about her superficially, that she was a shy young woman in love with a celebrated actor and given the chance to actually be with him (a fantasy many women surely have entertained at least once in their life, myself included), I grew to love her determination to escape a marital prospect she views as not right for her, given said “gentleman’s” philandering ways, especially as she is being bullied by her father and observes his loveless union with her mother. She did show her youth and naivete at times, but I think it made her character more well-rounded and flawed in a good way, rather than making her unlikable in those moments.

And Arthur Bex…he’s one of my new favorite heroes. While he is one of those heroes with a Big Secret, and keeping it may have led to more problems in the relationship than there may have been had it come out earlier, I could understand his reasoning for doing so and how his past impacted him…while also understanding Ester being upset with him for keeping it from her.

Vanessa Riley provides a unique take on the Regency romance that is both more inclusive and is also in some ways arguably more compelling in the more complex problems her characters face, and this book is a great example of that. Having read a few of her other one-off episodic works and novellas in the past, I’ll definitely try to pick up more books by her as I can. And I would recommend this book to those who may also looking for a fresh take on the Regency.

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 “No Ordinary Duke” (The Crawfords #1) by Sophie Barnes

Barnes, Sophie. No Ordinary Duke. [United States]: Sophie Barnes, 2018.

Paperback | $11.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1726259309 | 290 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

No Ordinary Duke is another sweet book from Sophie Barnes, and has a lot of promise as a series starter. One of the things I like about her work is that she writes heroes who are more likable rather than the standard alpha-douche. Even her dukes aren’t your typical, lording-over-everyone type, and, as the title suggests, Caleb is no exception. I love that he is working to balance his love for architecture and building things with his new, unexpected responsibilities as duke. And while the deception of hiding who he was did go on a trifle long, especially when he found out about Mary’s connection to his family, I ultimately appreciated how honorable he was.

Mary took a bit longer to get to know and like. However, I did come to warm to her and understand where she was coming from, especially with her past of having faced rejection by a marquess and being tossed out by her family to avoid scandal.

One of the main issues I had was with the pacing. I felt it worked well for the first half, because he was keeping this secret, but they were also falling in love. But once she was reconciled with her family and they started courting officially, it started to move at snail’s pace with nothing going on, which is saying a lot, as it’s not an overly long book, at least page wise. There was no conflict, no “dark” moment and reconciliation…everything seemed to be done too early and with the ending dragged out to fit the length of a novel.

On the whole, this was a good book, and I’ll definitely continue to look forward to more of Sophie Barnes’ work, even if this one wasn’t my favorite. But I would recommend this to fans of historical romance, especially those who love and look for nice guy heroes.