Review of "A Pursuit of Home" (Haven Manor #3) by Kristi Ann Hunter

Hunter, Kristi Ann. A Pursuit of Home. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764230776 | 380 pages | Christian Fiction/Regency Romance

3 stars

A Pursuit of Home, the final book in Kristi Ann Hunter’s Haven Manor series, feels like such a different book tonally to the other two, and, while part of that could be due to its centering on the character of Jess, who appeared in Hunter’s first book in her prior series, which had an espionage/mystery thread to it, and this book sees a reunion between her and the protagonists of that book, it resulted in the story feeling a bit odd.

A major facet to my diminished interest in this book is the fact that Jess wasn’t a character who made an impact on me the same way she did for others, and when Hunter mentioned bringing her back for this one, I scratched my head. To be fair, you don’t have to have read that previous book to understand it, as the backstory is conveyed well here, but while I find myself usually sympathizing with most heroines, I just found Jess hard to connect with.

Derek is better, in that I at least found him interesting in terms of his scholarly pursuits, and his somewhat awkward personality. I also really enjoyed getting his unique thought process, viewing things as art, including his attraction to Jess.

The plot feels a little all over the place, as while there is a decent amount of intrigue, I found my interest flagging in a way I’ve never felt before with one of her previous books (even the conclusion to her previous series, which I also found uneven). A lot of it just seemed a little half-baked, with too many elements in play at once.

This a case of an author having a lot of great ideas, but stumbling a little trying to bring them all together. There’s elements of a good story in here, and for many it may have worked better, so as always, your mileage may vary. I think if you read Hunter’s previous work, especially if you happen to be a Jess fan, you’ll probably love getting deeper insight into her character and seeing her find her HEA.

Review of "The Bridge to Belle Island" by Julie Klassen

Klassen, Julie. The Bridge to Belle Island. Bloomington, MN: Bethany House, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0764218194 | 394 pages | Regency Romance/Christian Fiction

5 stars

A new Julie Klassen book is pretty much always a delight, and The Bridge to Belle Island is no exception. Klassen once again blends the elements of period-drama romance in the vein of Jane Austen with the semi-Gothic mystery of the Brontes, with characters I loved from the first pages and a compelling plot that kept me guessing.

Klassen touches on some tough issues in this one, a common theme for her books, this time featuring a heroine with anxiety as a result of grief and fear as the result of several family deaths. I could relate to Isabelle’s sense of feeling secure in her life on Belle Island, fearing the consequences of venturing out as others in her family did. And while she does eventually venture out and face her fears, it’s merely a small step in what is implied to be a long process of reacquainting herself with the world, with the power of her faith and the support of those close to her.

I liked Benjamin’s journey as a character as well, reconciling pleasing his mentor who he feels he’s disappointed recently and the father with whom he’s never seen eye-to-eye. I love his growth to finding out who is more worthy of his trust and respect, in spite of the difficulties.

I found the mystery compelling, especially as there is much more focus on that plot, with the development of the romance feeling secondary at times. While she typically creates heroes and heroines who don’t have any reason to be suspects in the murder, I love her use of misdirection that even had me suspecting Isabelle at one point, along with everyone else. And when the true reason the clues suggested she could be involved were revealed, I was completely shocked, as well as saddened, with how it played into her anxiety issues. And the reveal of the killer was a clever twist I did not see coming, although, in hindsight, it was set up so well.

Julie Klassen has written another winner, and one I recommend to fans of historical romance and mystery.

Review of "Unbound by Celeste Bradley and Susan Donovan

Bradley, Celeste, and Susan Donovan. Unbound. 2011. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2012.

Paperback | $14.99 | ISBN-13: 978-1250032645 | 368 pages | Regency Romance/Contemporary Romance

5 stars

I read Breathless last year, completely unaware it was a sequel/spin-off of another book, because it wasn’t marked as such anywhere (although it does stand on its own). And while I was curious to read Unbound, its more salacious nature did put me off a tad.

However, upon finally picking it up when I was bored, I found myself engrossed in both arcs, although, as with Breathless, the historical arc was the stronger of the two. Given that the story revolves around the question of a how an English courtesan ended up becoming an abolitionist in America, I was on the edge of my seat with all the twists and turns as Ophelia took control of her life.

And while not initially drawn to the mysterious “Sir” (or the character who is later revealed to be him under the mask), that was by design, and I found myself awestruck when I found out his identity, especially as he ended up being a key figure from her previous life. And while you don’t get his perspective, I still found his growth from entitled aristocrat into a champion of women’s liberation and equality for all moving.

Piper’s story hits a bit closer to home in some ways, so I found myself living vicariously through her as she came to discover her own sexuality in the least likely of places. And while I also wasn’t wild about Mick initially, as his side of their past relationship came out, I began to see him as a viable partner for Piper. And I love how it’s another way that the two stories align: while the two women are finding their sexuality, the men they love must grow and evolve to become worthy of them.

This is a surprising dual-timeline romance that has a bit of everything: sweet moments and (very) sexy ones, hilarious and emotional, and of course, a good balance between the interwoven historical and contemporary arcs. I recommend it to all romance fans.

Review of "The Seduction of Lady Phoebe" (The Marriage Game #1) by Ella Quinn

Quinn, Ella. The Seduction of Lady Phoebe. 2013. New York: Zebra, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420147285 | 360 pages | Regency Romance

3.5 stars

Ella Quinn has become one of my favorite historical romance authors due to her Worthingtons series, but I had long lamented not being able to read her other series, The Marriage Game, which she wrote mostly prior to the Worthingtons and was released only in eBook (and I think print-on-demand paperback?). So, I was excited when I heard The Seduction of Lady Phoebe, the first book in that series, was getting a mass-market release, especially given the tie-ins between those two series.

And this book, like many debut books, is indicative of Quinn’s burgeoning talent. with her knack for creating historically realistic characters who are still relatable to the modern reader present in this book. Phoebe is perhaps one of her more daring heroines, with discussions of her forward thinking opinions and quick wit, making her popular with gentlemen.

With Marcus, she manages a difficult feat of redeeming a hero who has behaved inappropriately with the heroine in the past, showing his character growth due to life experience forcing him to grow up. And throughout it all, I love that he loves Phoebe, and works to atone for the wrong he did her, treating her with respect in their present courtship and protecting her from another suitor with nefarious intentions, while also acknowledging her own ability to protect herself.

If there is a flaw with this book, it’s that the pacing is a little uneven, with something intriguing happening on occasion due to some development in their relationship, or as the result of her life being in danger (a major part of the latter half), but I found my investment flagging a bit at times.

However, this is a nice, sweet read that shows the early talent of an author who I’ve come to enjoy. I recommend this to all historical romance lovers looking for a sweet escape with a feisty heroine and a wonderful hero.

Review of "To Tame a Scandalous Lady" (Once Upon a Scandal #3) by Liana de la Rosa

De la Rosa, Liana. To Tame a Scandalous Lady. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled, 2019.

Paperback | $15.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1699299012 | 288 pages | Regency Romance

2 stars

Like with the previous two in the series, I received a copy from the author, once again, serendipitously, through a giveaway. All opinions are my own.

Yet, I still feel a sense of pain that I didn’t gel with To Tame a Scandalous Lady like I did with the previous two, not because the method of acquisition, but because, as is often the case, I feel bad when I dislike works by authors I’ve built up relationships with.

The one major positive thing about this book is the heroine. Flora is extremely unconventional, but she still never feels out of place in the late-Regency setting, instead offering commentary on the assumption that women’s sole purpose is to marry and have children, ideals which have lessened with time, but remain prevalent today. While I did feel like she didn’t fully grasp how her actions would impact her family’s reputation, which she claimed she did not want to jeopardize, even when her brother tried to explain it to her, I did admire that she took a risk and that she fought back against the idea that her gender and station precluded her from following her passion.

What I truly had difficulty with was Lord Amstead. He never seemed to me to be good hero material, much less a worthy match for Flora. He says at one point hat she probably finds his arrogance appealing due to her own strong character (paraphrasing here), but not only did I not find him appealing (he’s apparently so hot, she remarks on it a ton, but is there something of substance to him?), I rooted for her to kick him to the curb and not take him back when he engaged in the awful double standard of appreciating her talents (both as a horse trainer and bedmate) befoe he knew who she was, and then tried to impose marriage and tradition on her when he found out she was a lady. The latter is understandable, given he has some sense of honor as most gentlemen did where women of their class are concerned, and it’s not right that she deceived him, but the fact that he saw her as less capable as Lady Flora than as William/Flora Grant is a harder hurdle to get past for me.

This is another case of “it’s not you, it’s me,” as arrogant, managing heroes aren’t my cup of tea, and I feel like there could’ve been a way to give Flora a strong hero who was also likable. However, if you like strong heroines and alpha heroes, I would give this a try.

Re-Review of “The Bride Who Got Lucky” (Cavensham Heiresses #2) by Janna MacGregor

MacGregor, Janna. The Bride Who Got Lucky. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1250116147 | 362 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Janna MacGregor’s Facebook group has recently started doing monthly readalongs for her books, likely in anticipation of her next release in February. And while I did not participate in the first one for and don’t know about my commitment to the upcoming ones, I consider this one to be my favorite of MacGregor’s books, so I longed to do a reread. And while there were one or two elements that I felt more critical of this time around, I find that my enjioyment has not wavered.

Emma, for example, is a great heroine. One of the major (mostly unjust) criticisms leveled at many hitorical romance authors is that their heroines feel “too modern,” and MacGregor provides context for Emma’s beliefs by referencing thinkers of the time, like Mary Wollstonecraft and Jeremy Bentham. And while Emma does sometimes feel a little “tropey” in the sense that heroines can be (she mentions being “not like other women” on p. 133), she is still incredibly likable and relatable to bookworms like me, also showing her dissatisfaction with the way Regency society (and the legal system as it was throughout a lot of history) allows women to be subject to their husbands, even if they are prone to violence.

Somerton is an absolutely wonderful hero, and is just as swoonworthy the second time around I love how much he cares about Emma, in spite of the fact that his past has made him reluctant to open up to or become close to anyone. And the fact that he ends up taking up her cause to help avenge her deceased friend, and the way he ultimately goes about it, is wonderful.

And having read all the books currently out (more or less, anyway), it’s great to look back at the ways certain character developments were foreshadowed. Aside from the obvious (meeting March, the heroine of book three and the beginning of Lord Paul’s redemption arc), I remember being excited to see for Will’s story upon first reading this one, given his and Emma’s particularly heated interaction, and now having read his book, I can also appreciate his growth as a character.

Reading this again has reaffirmed my love for this book. This is, in my admittedly biased opinion, one of Janna MacGregor’s best books based on the characters alone, and the book from her backlist I would recommend to all newcomers to her work.

Review of “My Fake Rake” (The Union of Rakes #1) by Eva Leigh

Leigh, Eva. My Fake Rake. New York: Avon Books, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062932402 | 384 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

My Fake Rake further solidifies my love for Eva Leigh. I knew I was win for a treat with this one from the moment I read the blurb, what with the hero with social anxiety and the intelligent heroine giving him a makeover to entice another man.

And it more or less delivers, mostly with Sebastian. I deal with social anxiety and I could empathize with his thought process, while also rooting for him as he made strides in becoming the confident rake-about-town. And the way he cares for Grace, but would never impose on her given she never showed indications of feelings in return, is so sweet and relatable.

However, it did lead to me having some quibbles on Grace’s end. I’m all for stories with the heroine having some growing up to do, and in this regard, it’s wonderful, especially when she sees the irony of the whole situation. But I could not help but roll my eyes a little at the slightly melodramatic turn things took, due to actions on her part. Maybe it’s my inexperience talking, but I continue to be flummoxed by people who sleep together, leading them to feel things, but don’t bother to address them in the moment, so the little problem grows bigger and bigger due to their miscommunication. However, it culminated in the most wonderful Grand Gesture, so it is ultimately worth it, wherever you stand on this issue.

This book is wonderful, in spite of my subjective quibbles. I recommend this to anyone who loved Leigh’s previous work or “modern” historical romance in general.

Review of “To Resist a Scandalous Rogue” (Once Upon a Scandal #2) by Liana de la Rosa

De la Rosa, Liana. To Resist a Scandalous Rogue. Fort Collins, CO: Entangled Publishing, 2019.

Paperback | $16.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1075328558 | 306 pages | Regency Romance

4 stars

I received a copy of this book through a giveaway, and have voluntarily decided to post a review. All opinions are my own.

I’m so excited I got the chance to read To Resist a Scandalous Rogue, as I wasn’t sure if I would be able to otherwise, and even if finances prevent me from continuing with Liana de la Rosa’s books, I’m glad I got to at least read Finlay’s story, since he so charmed me as a secondary character in To Love a Scandalous Duke.

And Finlay is just wonderful. Roguish to an extent, as the title implies, but he’s also incredibly kind, shown from his first interaction with Charlotte, with not only culminates in passion, but also in a spark that actually made a trope that is very hit-or-miss work for me. His conflict, while not unfamiliar to historical romance, is written so well here, with him struggling with the burden of his origins, his father’s scandalous dealings (both of which were explored in greater detail in the prior book), and the fact that pursuing a relationship with Charlotte could harm his political career.

I also loved Charlotte, and the complexities in her own past. I was especially heartbroken when she chose to make the ultimate sacrifice for herself to save Finlay from further harm from a blackmailer who’s been targeting her, and plans to exploit her connection to him.

It’s also a great book for issues of the period, like politics, religion, and women’s rights, and how they impact both Finlay and Charlotte, but it’s done in a way that I felt like I was being entertained while also being made to think about these issues, as opposed to it being shoved down my throat, and I really liked that.

I did feel that one issue that could have been highlighted better, in the interest of ensuring the book fully stands alone, is the frequently referred to issue of how Finlay’s illegitimacy and his true parentage could ruin him. It’s brought up as a major turning point, then abandoned altogether by the end as if the threat of the revelation by anyone didn’t matter, but I felt like that could have been explored a bit better, especially since I do vaguely remember it being explained in plainer terms in book one, and found myself longing to go back and reread that one to see if there was something I missed.

I’m glad to have read this one, because in spite of the few flaws, it’s still a great story with wonderful characters and hits all the right notes for me as a romance. I recommend this one to all historical romance fans.

Review of “Secrets in the Mist” (Gothic Myths #1) by Anna Lee Huber

Huber, Anna Lee. Secrets in the Mist. [United States]: Brightstone Media, –2016.

Paperback | $16.00 USD | ISBN-13: 978-099793962 | 378 pages | Regency Romance/Gothic Romance

2.5 stars

I have been interested in Anna Lee Huber’s work for a while, but generally resisted due to my intermittent bouts of frustration with first person, and, especially of late, my reluctance to invest in more ongoing mystery series with my disenchantment with the general “will-they-won’t-they” tone to the romantic arcs. But while Secrets in the Mist does appear to be the first in a series, it appears to be more in the Gothic romance/standalone vein than her mysteries, and I figured now was a great time to finally give this one a chance, with my burgeoning interest in Gothic literature and general desire to find more seasonal reads.

One of Huber’s strengths is conveying a dark atmosphere, from the bleakness of the heroine, Ella’s, family situation to the creepiness of the moors and the mystery surrounding the mystery of the elusive Lantern Man. Her writing style as she describes all these things is what kept me turning pages. 4

But I didn’t find myself super connected to Ella as a character. I could empathize with some of her motivations, particularly as far as her father and their desperate situation were concerned, but once she got into the thick of things, like the smuggling and figuring out the identity of the Lantern Man and forming a romantic connection with him, I found I just did not care that much. The saving grace was the father/daughter relationship and I’m glad that there was at least some nuance there, especially towards the end.

Ultimately, I felt this one was just ok, although perhaps it may not have been the best Huber book to start with, even taking into account my aforementioned misgivings. I think perhaps someone with a greater appreciation for the Gothic conventions would like this, and encourage any who haven’t to check it out.

Review of “Beguiled by a Baron” (The Heart of a Duke #14) by Christi Caldwell

Caldwell, Christi. Beguiled by a Baron. [United States]: Christi Caldwell, 2017.

Paperback | $10.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1547203475 | 252 pages | Regency Romance

4.5 stars

Beguiled by a Baron is definitely one of the better Christi Caldwell titles I have read. And something I did notice about the Heart of a Duke “world,” as opposed to the interconnected “world” of her other series, is up to this point, at least, there isn’t quite as much interconnectedness, at least not as much as there have been in her Sinful Brides and Wicked Wallflowers, where the latter is a direct sequel to the former, and reading in order helps the character relationships make more sense. While neither hero nor heroine appears to be new to the HoaD world, having prior connections that date back to at least the previous book in the series, these connections are explained well enough that I had no issue reading this as a stand-alone.

And the story in its own right is probably one of the most compelling as well, right up there with books two and three in the Sinful Brides series. I was particularly drawn to the mention of the heroine, Bridget’s, disability, in the blurb, and felt it was portrayed in a realistic way, especially considering the time period. I also love that, despite being raised in isolation, she isn’t naive, due to her family circumstances, and every choice she makes is to protect her son, Virgil, from her awful brother.

And Vail may just be my new favorite Caldwell hero. While he does deal with a hefty amount of angst, as Caldwell’s heroes often do, I love that he is truly good at heart to those he loves, and would do anything for them, making him a great counterpart for Bridget, even if at first it doesn’t seem that way, due to her reluctantly about to steal from him. Even when he is wounded by her betrayal, he trusts her word that she did it for a reason of desperation instead of malice, and marries her to give her his protection, doubling down on it once he learns the full truth.

The one (minor) flaw is with the characterization of Bridget’s brother the marquess. While I don’t expect to feel any sympathy for a villain, he did feel more cartoonishly evil than flesh-and-blood person. I do understand that sometimes people are just awful, but I would have liked to get some inkling of his motivations beyond being evil for the sake of it.

This is my current favorite Christi Caldwell book, although that could change if and when I manage to read more of her extensive backlist. However, at the moment, I recommend this as one of the essential Caldwell books that all historical romance lovers should read.