Review of "Stranger" (The Blades of the Rose #4) by Zoe Archer

Archer, Zoe. Stranger. New York: Zebra, 2010.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420106824 | 486 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

4 stars

I was anxious to pick up Stranger after meeting Catullus Graves in Scoundrel, one of the previous Blades of the Rose books. And while I fully intend to pick up the other two books in the series when I’m able, I’m glad I got the chance to read Catullus’ story, because he is an awesome hero. Given my excitement with the most recent Archer/Leigh nerd hero, I’m glad to read about another compelling intelligent male character from her.

I also love the way his past, with his ancestors being slaves and still dealing with racism, is written, and how it fits into the broader scope of the series, with the Blades of the Rose fighting back against colonialism.

Gemma is an okay heroine, but I definitely felt more investment with Catullus’ perspective, especially as she didn’t seem as connected to all of this compared to London from Scoundrel, what with her connection to the Heirs. But Gemma also has her own past of not being valued by the men in her life, and I love the way she and Catullus come together as people who have both been somewhat ill-treated by others, even if it is in different ways.

The adventure plot is also a lot of fun, with once again just the right balance of that and sensuality and romance. I love Archer’s take on Arthurian legend, discussing the connection of Glastonbury to Avalon, as well as introducing characters like King Arthur and Merlin.

This is a fun historical/paranormal adventure-romance, with an absolutely swoonworthy hero and a compelling story that kept me invested from start to finish. I would recommend it to anyone who loves a good blend of historical and paranormal romance.

Review of “Scoundrel” (The Blades of the Rose #2) by Zoe Archer

Archer, Zoe. Scoundrel. New York: Zebra, 2010.

Mass Market Paperback | $6.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1420106800 | 425 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranromal Romance

4 stars

I have read everything Zoe Archer wrote under her other pen name, Eva Leigh, but never picked up any of her earlier Zoe Archer work until I saw Scoundrel being discussed on Twitter, in conjunction with a recent temporary ebook sale on that title and another book in the series, and my interest was piqued. Despite being second in the series, you can definitely read this as a standalone, a I have, although I am anxious to read all of them now.

The plot and world are engaging. Archer pitched the book at the time the sale was first announced with this tweet, including this amazing book pitch: ” Do you love Indiana Jones/The Mummy-type stories but wish they had plenty of hot fucking? I have the book for you.” And it definitely delivers on all counts.

There is fast-paced adventure, and I love how Archer creates a system of magic that feels believable within the context of the Victorian setting and the wider issues of the time, which many historical authors are still ignorant of, in the name of “historical accuracy.” While not being overly preachy, she delves masterfully into the problems of the imperialism and the grab for treasure in “exotic” locales, while also making it fun, in the same way her inspiration stories are.

The characters are also interesting, even if perhaps I feel like she’s gotten a bit better at nuance with them with her Eva Leigh work. As the title indicates, Bennett is something of a scoundrel who does, in typical rakish romance hero fashion, lose his heart and pledge fidelity to the heroine. But I enjoyed his role as one of the Blades of the Rose and how he works to save ancient treasures and magic from those who would misuse it.

And ultimately, he is a great partner for London, who in typical Archer/Leigh fashion, is incredibly competent, in spite of society dictating that she shouldn’t be. I love how she went from being loyal to people like her father, who have bad intentions, to using her gifts to help people as a member of the Blades of the Rose.

This is a wonderful book, and while the sale mentioned Archer’s tweet has since ended, I would still recommend getting this book if you happen to like, to paraphrase what she said, adventure stories like The Mummy and Indiana Jones, but also want a sexy romance.

Review of “The Lady Is Daring” (The Duke’s Daughters #3) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. The Lady is Daring. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-06266673 |346 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I enjoyed The Lady Is Daring (although I wonder why the consistency of the titles was disrupted, and it wasn’t called “Lady Be Daring”–I believe it was a working title at one point, and is even still listed as the title on the list of “Other Books inc the Series” included in the next book). It’s nice that not only does Bennett get his HEA at long last, but he ends up with Ida, the person I’m sure none of us expected at first, least of all him.

But in spite of its unexpectedness, it works, and not just in the typical “unconventional heroine meets more conventional hero” way that it seemed like at the outset. And in part it has to do with the shared history between them, with him as a suitor for both Eleanor and Olivia, and also as a relation by marriage due to their subsequent marriages. It was great seeing them evolve in their perceptions of each other from in-laws with nothing in common to finding common ground due to their desire to escape their familial expectations, however temporarily, to developing an even deeper understanding and love for one another.

And while they are both great characters, one of their great mutual assets is also their mutual downfall where the other is concerned, in that they are just a bit too noble and selfless. Their love is apparent to both of them by the time they consummate their relationship, but in spite of the fact that her sister ruined herself in a similar scenario, Ida is willing to let him go because she can’t be the conventional wife he has previously expressed desire for (but likely no longer wants), yet she goes home anyway, with said ruined sister in tow, to a mother who was already excited to marry her off before and is then even more so.

And Edward simply accepts this at first, out of respect for her and wanting to let her make her own choice. It does lead up to a moment where he turns to Alex for help and sets up his big declaration of love, but there was just quite a bit of unnecessary angst that I felt was unnecessary, given the more creative way things were solved in the previous two books.

While this was probably the most needlessly dramatic of the three thus far, I did enjoy the character arcs for both characters, and also the lead-in for Della’s story with her formal introduction into the series. I recommend this for fans of fun historical romance.

Review of “Lady Be Bad” (The Duke’s Daughters #1) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Lady Be Bad. New York: Avon Books, 2017.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062666628 | 372 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I was determined to set aside all preconceived notions regarding this book after recently enjoying book two, Lady Be Reckless. And it definitely was worth finally giving a chance.

The setup for Eleanor’s arc magnifies the ridiculousness of the family dynamic, showing how Frampton pays tribute to Austen’s Bennet family and the wider societal expectations, subverting them in the process. Between the marriage-concerned mother and the way Eleanor is forced to forego the spectacles she needs to see for vanity’s sake sets up the path she takes for risk taking. It’s wonderful to see a woman wearing glasses painted in this light, complete with her wearing them in the process of going gambling so she can engage with her surroundings. And ultimately, her courage to take life into her own hands, in spite of feeling pressured to do the “right thing” in the wake of her sister’s scandal, is admirable.

Alex is also an engaging character, and one who surprised me. I love his relationship with his brother, and how he first works as Bennett’s advocate with Eleanor to persuade her to go through with the marriage, and once he falls in love with her, manages to effectively communicate with Bennett, and eventually his father, about alternatives to marrying for money to save the estate.

This is a sweet and fun read, and one that I recommend to other readers of historical romance.

Review of “Lady Be Reckless” (The Duke’s Daughters #2) by Megan Frampton

Frampton, Megan. Lady Be Reckless. New York: Avon Books, 2018.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-0062666642 | 376 pages | Victorian Romance

4 stars

I loved several of Megan Frampton’s previous historicals, but, Austen purist that I am, I found myself reaching for the metaphorical smelling salts when I saw she was “Heyer-izing” Pride and Prejudice, not only by making the “Bennet sisters” duke’s daughters, but by the mention of a rake hero in book one (the irony is not lost on me that I judged this P&P reimagining based on “first impressions). But as more books in the series came out and they actually sounded good (not to mention that she follows me on Twitter and we’ve had a few exchanges there recently), I decided to finally give book two a try.

And this is exactly what I wanted in a historical. The characters are absolutely wonderful. Edward in particular is compelling, and one of the reasons I’m glad I re-entered Frampton’s world with this book. The exploration of illegitimacy, while done before from different angles by other authors, was so well explored here, from the way it cast a mark on him socially to the effect it had on his perception of himself. Watching him develop a greater sense of himself was beautiful.

I also found Olivia likable, and her main strength to me was the dynamic she has with her sisters, especially her twin, Pearl. It was nice to see how family focused she was in light of the scandal with her other sister Della, and how she was willing to marry her sister, Eleanor’s former suitor (and even thought herself in love with him), in spite of his lack of interest, and it was through Edward’s friendship with him that they were thrown together.

The pacing of this one is a bit odd, and I did find my investment wasn’t 100% there at times, due to there not being much happening. However, the dynamic between Edward and Olivia saved the story for me, with them coming to understand each other’s perspective, with realistic stakes and character growth.

This is a fun book with pretty great characters, and the family dynamic has me excited to check out the rest of the series, even book one. And I think if you’re a fan of historical romance, this is worth checking out if you haven’t.

Review of “The Duchess War” (Brothers Sinister #1) by Courtney Milan

Milan, Courtney. The Duchess War. [United States]: Courtney Milan, 2012.

Paperback | $8.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1536846584 | 315 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

While I read a bit of Courtney Milan’s early work published by Harlequin earlier this year, I knew the Brothers Sinister was considered her most popular series and represented something of a turning point, being the first series that was entirely self-published. And despite being initially skeptical of its somewhat unassuming blurb, with buzzwords like “wallflower” and “handsome duke,” I was told that The Duchess War was a duke book that I would enjoy.

And to my delight, it was everything I’ve been looking for in a historical romance, with characters who don’t fit within the status quo, especially Robert, the Duke of Clermont. Amid all the recent events of people touting the Heyer-esque version of “historical accuracy” that favors of a sanitized view of the aristocracy and the erasure of everyone else, including marginalized groups, it’s refreshing to read about Robert, who is so opposed to not just his father’s profligacy as the former duke, but the fuller extent of power afforded to the aristocracy itself, to the point of wanting to abolish it altogether.

And Minnie’s journey as a character is equally compelling. I could sympathize with her in terms of her discomfort with large crowds, and loved her growth in that regard, in terms of the way she chose to attempt to face the public in the end, even knowing what it meant for her. It’s also wonderful how she complements Robert in their relationship, recognizing that their marriage takes work even when he feels horrible enough to want to throw in the towel.

I also love how the story focuses just as much on the familial/friend relationships, balancing out well with the romance. The brotherly bond between Robert and Oliver is a touching one, and I found it touching when, in a moment of crisis, Oliver’s mother shows more compassion toward him in that moment than Robert’s mother showed him in his whole life, in spite of the fact that Robert carries the guilt of his father raping Oliver’s mother.

This is a wonderful series starter, and I can understand why it’s one of Milan’s most popular books, if not the most popular. If there are any other historical romance fans who haven’t read it yet (please tell me I’m not the last HR fan on Earth to read this?), I heartily recommend it.

Review of “How to Love a Duke in Ten Days” (The Devil You Know #1) by Kerrigan Byrne

Byrne, Kerrigan. How to Love a Duke in Ten Days. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2019.

Mass Market Paperback | $7.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-250318848 | 440 pages | Victorian Romance

5 stars

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days is officially my favorite Kerrigan Byrne novel. I had some misgivings going in, especially given her tendency to include some overly possessive, overly broody heroes, with two of her previous titles even including dubious consent, and I could not reconcile my previous familiarity with her style with the concept of a story where the heroine was sexually assaulted (CW: depiction of the scene in the prologue).

However, I found this book very different from her Victorian Rebels, while also keeping some of the familiar hallmarks of the tortured alpha hero and the strong heroine, with the nuance given to both making them her strongest depiction of the archetypes to date, also benefiting from the strongest showing of Byrne’s skill at witty banter, providing levity to an otherwise intense book.

I can’t recall a time when my heart ever truly broke for a romance heroine quite like it did for Alexandra, and I think part of it was that we not only get allusions to her trauma, but the prologue shows the true extent of what happened to her, and how she reacted, setting the events of the book in motion. While it’s not pleasant reading, Byrne conveys the scene and the aftereffects in a way that feels authentic, suggesting she writes from experience, and based on the dedication, I believe that to be the case.

Byrne described Piers as “the nice one [of her heroes]” on social media, and I think it fits. He has a dark past, having been betrayed by other women in his life, but while he is occasionally plagued by an irrational jealous thought, he is incredibly respectful to Alexandra. Even the misunderstanding regarding her virtue on their wedding night is something that can be rationalized from his perspective, although that only made it much more rewarding when he finally put the pieces together and regretted pushing her away out of suspicion (I found myself tearing up at that!)

The suspense is also A-plus here, and I had no idea as to the true extent of who was involved and their individual motives, although some were definitely more suspicious than others. And the reveal as to why Alexandra was being blackmailed shocked me, especially when I thought back to how well that person had stated their intent, unbeknowst to Alexandra.

This truly is a wonderful book, and the one I think most newcomers to Byrne’s work should try first, provided a depiction of sexual assault isn’t a trigger. It’s Byrne at her best with her strongest and most sympathetic characters and the most comepelling plotting.

Review of “Not a Mourning Person” (Potions and Passions #2) by Catherine Stein

Stein, Catherine. Not a Mourning Person. [United States]: Cathertine Stein, 2019.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1949862065 | 352 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance/Steampunk

5 stars

Not a Mourning Person is an absolutely delightful second full-length installment of the Potion and Passions series, it’s just as brilliant as the others. And while the heroes were the standouts in the prior books (not that the heroines aren’t memorable), I was very much reading this one to see how Rachael developed from the sort-of “mean girl” she was in the last book, especially in the aftermath of her husband’s mysterious passing, and her lack of good memories of him, as hinted at in the title. In the hands of a lesser author, I feel like Rachael could have been very one-note, but I like that, in addition to actively flouting convention with her more ostentatious behavior, there is a vulnerability to her, especially as she finds herself falling in love with Avery, and is uncertain, given the trials they’ve faced, whether he loves her.

And of course, Avery is another winning Stein hero. I love how in some ways he is very much the opposite of Rachael, such as preferring scholarly pursuits and not necessarily being a social person, but I love that they bond over said scholarship, with them being brought together due to his warrior love poems. And as the story progresses, I loved seeing her take on a literary project of her own and seeing it come to fruition.

This one also has the strongest arc of suspense of the series, with both the hopes of breaking a Cantrell family curse and a related hunt for a murderer, with a shockingly personal revelation as to the killer’s identity.

I This is a great book in what’s shaping up to be fabulous romance series, from an author I hope I can keep up with in the future. I very much recommend this one in particular to romance fans who love either steampunk or a somewhat unlikely heroine.

Review of “The Earl on the Train” (Potions and Passions #0.5) by Catherine Stein

Stein, Catherine. The Earl on the Train. [United States]: Catherine Stein, 2018.

Paperback | $9.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1949862034 | 198 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

5 stars

Despite being billed as a “Potions and Passions Novella,” The Earl on the Train is one of those in-between long novella/short novel books, that I was both able to finish almost in one sitting, but also felt like there was meat to the story a lot of novellas lack that make reviews for them harder to write, especially since the average novella speeds up the relationship development considerably.

That is not the case here. Once again, Stein crafts relatable characters on a globe-trotting adventure, full of perfumes and growing passions. Nick is yet another lovable hero, and his dynamic with Ida was fun. And while the idea of falling for someone before you really know their name can be something of turnoff for me, Nick seems to suffer from the very “me” trait of not being able to remember people’s names at times, and it’s executed in a rather adorable way, with him even nicknaming Ida “Berries.” I also liked the deeper exploration into addiction in the context of the potions, and I felt it was executed in a very believable way.

And of course, Ida is fabulous…I love that she uses her parasol as a weapon! It’s nice that, with a hero who has slightly calmer interests, we have a heroine who can readily defend herself…although the that’s not to say Nick doesn’t lack strength where it counts, but rather that they complement each other very well.

I enjoyed this one, and found it just as fun and charming as How to Seduce a Spy. This is marketed as something a loosely related prequel to that book, but you are welcome to read it any order you like. But I definitely recommend this one in particular for a fun, , short, fast read that will let you try out a new author (should you choose to start here), and the series so far in general to fans of magic-infused historical romance.

Review of “How to Seduce a Spy” (Potions and Passions #1) by Catherine Stein

Stein, Catherine. How to Seduce a Spy. [United States]: Catherine Stein, 2018.

Paperback | $14.99 USD | ISBN-13: 978-1949862003 | 391 pages | Victorian Romance/Paranormal Romance

5 stars

I received this book from the author as a gift. I was not obliged to provide a review, positive or otherwise. That being said, I have to thank Catherine Stein for gifting me all the current books in her Potions and Passions series, including, of course, this one, How to Seduce a Spy. I truly did enjoy this book and look forward to reading the others very soon.

While I did not know what to expect, beyond something somewhat steampunk, somewhat historical fantasy, I found myself blown away by this magical globe-trotting romp. Stein clearly put a lot of effort into historical and location research, and she manages to incorporate the potions into the Victorian historical world in such a believable way that it doesn’t feel out of place.

I also was quickly won over by the characters and how they aren’t your typical alpha male and naive ingenue. Henry is exactly the type of hero I wish more romance writers would write: both a brave and bold adventurer and a sweet and considerate lover who wears his heart on his sleeve. There’s something so sexy and refreshing about a guy who doesn’t agonize for hundreds of pages about the fact that he can’t be with the person he obviously deeply cares for. I love Elle’s boldness and independence, and I love that she strikes the perfect balance between feeling relatable and also working perfectly within the context of the Victorian era.

This is a delightful Victorian magical romance from a fabulous up-and-coming author that I’d love to see get a lot more love. And I recommend anyone looking for a new steampunk or gaslamp-esque Victorian romance.