Honor Among Thieves is an unusual historical romance, one that's in the same vein as Brenda Novak’s A Matter of Grave Concern. The heroine in Honor Am...moreHonor Among Thieves is an unusual historical romance, one that's in the same vein as Brenda Novak’s A Matter of Grave Concern. The heroine in Honor Among Thieves reluctantly joins a group of resurrection men when her elder brother leaves her family in steep debt. In order to repay these loans, Lorna Robbins needs ready cash yesterday. Due to her higher social station she can gain information and access to corpses that most resurrection men cannot. Before long, Lorna and her band of men are snagging all the best corpses in London. Unfortunately, this success brings suspicion, making it more difficult to keep her secret life as Blackbird separate from her life as Lorna Robbins.
Complicating matters is Brandon Dewhurst, a younger son who became a surgeon. At the behest of his mentor, Brandon has been purchasing specimens from resurrection men to further the study of pregnancy. This is certainly not a job Brandon relishes, but he is aware of the advancements that this research could bring to women. The only trouble is that Brandon’s supply has diminished because of the success of the mysterious Blackbird and her gang of men.
When Brandon and Lorna meet, sparks fly; however, their romance is put on hold with Lorna’s secrets. It’s hard to romance a girl, when she’s off stealing bodies (and when you have no idea that this is what she's doing in her spare time).
In all honestly, I feel on the fence about Honor Among Thieves. There were elements that I liked, and there were elements that I thought were not so good. What I liked about this one was the uniqueness of the storyline. In most historical romances the leads are well-to-do or there’s a Cinderella story element to it. This is not the case here. Lorna is deeply in debt and Brandon is a simple surgeon. Yes, he’s got a stable income, but he’s not rolling in the dough. Brandon is not riding in on a white horse and saving Lorna by covering the cost of her debt. This setup is great; I like that these characters had more of a “working class” feel to them. They were still part of the upper crust, but they had much more to worry about than ton gossip.
I also liked the focus on resurrection man. After reading the disappointing A Matter of Grave Concern, I was intrigued by those that stole bodies for science. The immediate, visceral reaction to this is that it is repellent and wrong; however, in Honor Among Thieves, I thought the motivation was explained, and explained well. The abhorrent act of stealing someone's body is for the greater good. Without these corpses to study, surgeons would have no understanding of how the human body works or how to save lives. Getting the surgeon's perspective on this issue was great and necessary considering this was the heroine's "job".
What I was not a fan of here was the sensationalism that continued to crop up. The last third of the book really went over-the-top with it's villain and violence. The villain was introduced late, and his actions towards women, seemed to come from nowhere and seemed to be added for shock value rather than for the sake of the plot. The grave robber Slee seemed to hate women, but the violence that was shown here felt out of place after reading the first two thirds of the book.
I also felt that there could have been greater development of the main characters. Lorna and Brandon were interesting and unique characters in the realm of historical romance and I would have loved for that to have been explored more. It was continually stated that they both had baggage, but I never really got the sense that their past experiences influenced their present actions.
The romance itself was fairly tame, and although I did feel that it was grounded in an instant attraction, I think the author did a good job of showing how this connection grew as these characters got to know one another. Personally, I would have liked to have spent a little more time with the characters after Lorna’s secrets were revealed, but it did resolve itself nicely.
Ultimately, Honor Among Thieves was a solid read in the historical romance genre and I appreciate the fact that this was a departure from the normal historical setting. If you can get past the over-the-top villain, I think readers will find the uniqueness of the plot interesting and refreshing.
Night of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements th...moreNight of a Thousand Stars is a historical fiction adventure, and unfortunately for me, I was a reluctant adventurer. While there were some elements that really worked for me, I had a really hard time finishing this book as it simply didn’t capture my attention.
Poppy Hammond is on the brink of marriage to a wealthy aristocratic; a comfortable life awaits her. But, Poppy wants more; she doesn’t feel like marriage is the right decision and she wants an adventure. So with the help of an unusually accommodating curate, Poppy jilts her groom. Determined to thank her rescuer, Sebastian Cantrip, Poppy heads off to London, only to discover that Sebastian has disappeared, and is really known as Sebastian Fox. What could have happened? After a little bit of digging, Poppy discovers that Sebastian traveled to Damascus. Convinced that Sebastian must be in trouble Poppy follows, finally embarking on the adventure that she always wanted.
Despite the fact that I’m not normally a fan of this author’s style, I wanted to read this one because the premise sounded amazing. I loved the idea of adventure in a foreign land, and after reading other reviews and quotes of the book, I was intrigued. And while I loved the descriptive setting and the humour, I personally, just didn’t enjoy reading about the main character, Poppy.
Poppy is impetuous and comes across as rather immature in her desire for an adventure. On the one hand, the reasoning behind Poppy’s flight from the altar is solid. She explains to Sebastian that she would be stifled as a future Viscount’s wife:
“I realised with Gerald, my life would always take second place. I would be his wife, and eventually Viscountess Madderley, and then I would die. In the meantime I would open fetes and have his children and perhaps hold a memorable dinner party or two, but what else? Nothing. I would have walked into that church today as Penelope Hammond and walked out as the Honourable Mrs. Gerald Madderley, and no one would have remembered me except as a footnote in the chronicles of the Madderley family.” (p. 13)
I think Poppy’s lack of individuality and need for recognition speak to the concerns of women of the time, as well as today, for that matter. I expected this need for action to manifest in a way that demonstrated that Poppy controlled her own destiny, instead she seemed to blunder into an adventure that I don’t feel actually changed her character. Further, Poppy continued to be identified as someone extraordinary by those around her, and while in some cases this was a subterfuge, this extraordinary quality was never really effectively conveyed. Why is Poppy so spectacular? It is because she’s pretty, intuitive? Beyond that I never really got much of a sense of what really made her so worthy of the attention that she received throughout the book. And because of this weak exploration, Poppy’s adventure never fully captured my attention.
What was really well developed in Night of a Thousand Stars was the luscious sense of place and the great humour.
I loved the exotic setting of Night of a Thousand Stars; this is a great example of armchair travel in fiction. Poppy’s experiences traveling and the way that this was described is stunning and evocative. Take Poppy’s first sighting of Damascus as an example:
Long rays of sunshine slanted over the city, gilding the stone and causing it to shimmer on the flat plain. Mount Hermon, newly carpeted in soft green on its lower flanks, rose to snowy heights in the distance, and I could smell the mingled scents of freshly turned earth and fruit blossoms and smoke on the air. (p. 101)
Whenever the setting is discussed, the author excels at presenting a sensual picture of the place rather than a visual simulation. This style of description brought a strong sense of place to the novel, and I feel that it is the strongest element to the novel and it is because of this that I would recommend it to fans of exotic locales; it is these readers that will appreciate this level of detail.
Second to the setting, I also liked the humour in the Night of a Thousand Stars. While I found the first third of the book to be hard to get into, when Poppy once again meets up with Sebastian I found that the humour really stood out. The one-liners between these two put a smile on my face:
We’d been riding for hours, and although I would have died rather than admit it to Sebastian, I was thoroughly exhausted. I gave a sigh of impatience and dropped my head to his back. He jerked, nearly throwing himself off the horse. His sudden lurch irritated her and she tossed her head, crossing her feet sideways.
“For God’s sake,” I muttered irritably, “What’s the matter with you? Anyone would think you were the Gothic heroine.” (p. 234)
Poppy is quite willing to dish it out to Sebastian and I found this interactions highly amusing. But, since there is a strong romantic current in the novel between Poppy and Sebastian, I was surprised that the witty banter didn’t move forward into something a little more reliant on character development. My impression of Poppy and Sebastian’s relationship is that they had the romantic tension, but not the depth of emotion that you expect in the romance genre. I realize that Night of a Thousand Stars is not a book that would be found in the romance section of the library, but since it does feature in the book, I feel that it could have been further developed.
My verdict on Night of a Thousand Stars? Fans of Deanna Raybourn will like this new book; it has her signature wit and quirky characters, and those will continue to appeal to her fans. While there were certain elements that I didn't care for as a reader, I maintain that this is a book that will go over with many audiences.
The Love Match is a short, historical romance novella. Olivia Middleton is the youngest (and shyest) of three sisters and her mother despairs of her e...moreThe Love Match is a short, historical romance novella. Olivia Middleton is the youngest (and shyest) of three sisters and her mother despairs of her ever marrying. At a house party, while her mother schemes to get Olivia noticed by the lord of the manor, Olivia’s eye is caught by Mr. William Cross (definitely not what her mother had in mind). William is intrigued by Olivia’s quiet and shy ways, especially when she’s anything but shy in his presence. As these two get to know one another at the house party, feelings start to grow, and when a scheming party guest compromises them, they’re forced to label their relationship. William has never wanted to marry and Olivia vows to only marry for love. How’s this reluctant groom-to-be to woo his reluctant bride?
This was a quick, cute read. The novella format hampered the romance development for me in this one, as I found that William and Olivia developed strong feelings and moved their relationship much more quickly that I would have thought would have been in character. I also thought that the main conflict was wrapped up rather quickly, and I was left distrusting the hero’s motivations.
Ultimately, this was a very fast-paced read, and I think the pacing came at the expense of character development and a more natural development of a romantic relationship. I think I would have enjoyed this one if it had been at least a hundred pages longer. The short length of The Love Match did not work for me in this one and I felt that the novella was hurried.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. (less)
Night Storm is Tracey Devlyn's latest historical romance, and it's perfect for fans of historical mysteries. I first read the author with A Lady's Se...moreNight Storm is Tracey Devlyn's latest historical romance, and it's perfect for fans of historical mysteries. I first read the author with A Lady's Secret Weapon, which I loved. I was quite delighted to receive an advance copy of Night Storm, especially when I learned that it featured two characters that had a "moment" in A Lady's Secret Weapon; it was clear that they had History, and in Night Storm readers are treated to what that History is.
Charlotte Fielding is an apothecary, one of the only females working at the profession, and she has returned home to London from her apprenticeship in Scotland to take over her father's shop. Unfortunately, she soon finds herself involved in a murder investigation when she stumbles upon the body of Lady Winthrop. Complicating matters is the fact that Charlotte's assistant's brother, Felix, works at the theatre where the body was discovered. Charlotte will do whatever she can to protect Felix, even keep important information from her former suitor, Cameron Adair.
Cameron has made himself a success as a thief-taker despite his less than illustrious beginnings. When he's brought in to investigate the murder of Lady Winthrop, Cameron is forced into regular contact with Charlotte, which brings back all his memories of her and the past they shared before Charlotte decided to pursue her studies in Scotland. While the two follow different avenues of investigation they soon have to decide whether or not they trust one another enough to share information - as well as deal with their complicated history. What I liked about Night Storm was the past relationship between Charlotte and Cameron. They both cared for each other, but when Charlotte wanted to do more with her life, Cameron decided not to go with her, breaking all contact with her. He refused to wait for Charlotte, and he gave her an ultimatum: marry him then, or not ever. I found it interesting that it is Charlotte's career drove these two apart, as that's not a common element in historical romance, and I like the way that it was handled. It wasn't so much that Cameron was against Charlotte having a career, but rather a fear of losing the one person he cared most for and the believe that just maybe she didn't care as much.
Cameron was an interesting character and he really seemed to have a dual personality. In one respect, Cameron was ruthless in his job as a thief taker, and readers learn that he did some unscrupulous things in order to get started in the business. It seems that this risk taking behaviour was a direct result of Charlotte refusing to stay in London and abandon her dreams. On the surface, Cameron seems unreasonable in his belief that Charlotte give up her professional dreams and marry him, but readers soon learn that there is another side to Cameron, a yearning to recapture what he had with Charlotte when they're reunited:
He'd known better than to attempt reconciliation. The day he'd walked out of her life, the day she'd stood in front of him with broken-hearted love shimmering in her eyes, he'd known she would never forgive him. So why had he put them through an ill-fated reunion tonight after so much time had passed?
Adair forced down the bile forming in the back of his throat. He knew very well why. After learning of Charley's return to London, he'd made regular trips down Long Acre Street looking for the opportunity of catching a fleeting glimpse of her. And he had. He'd observed her working long into the night and he'd been there when she had greeted a boy and a young woman one morning. He'd watched and yearned and plotted ways to casually run into her. Tonight, he'd finally found an excuse to see her again, and she'd wanted nothing to do with him. Not that he could blame her, but her rejection stung, nonetheless (p. 29-30).
Cameron was a well developed character, and I thought his vulnerability when it came to Charlotte was exceptionally portrayed. Cameron's actions always seem to suggest that he's a rather cold, and unfeeling character, but whenever readers get into his head, it's easy to see that there is much more going on. I loved this complexity of character, and I also liked how the author used this same care with regards to Cameron and Charlotte's relationship.
It's very clear from the beginning that Cameron is aware that he made mistakes; however, it's equally clear that Charlotte is also unaware of her own father's manipulations in removing Charlotte from Cameron's influence. Charlotte's father certainly didn't believe Cameron was good enough for Charlotte, and encouraging her to take an apprenticeship was one means of breaking off contact. Ultimately, Night Storm's romance focuses on both Charlotte and Cameron's admittance of their past mistakes. When they were first together they were young and full of high emotion. Age has tempered these high spirits, allowing both of them to reconsider their past actions:
Had Charley not gone to Scotland, they would likely wed and begun building a family. But what would their situations be like right now, had Charley followed her heart and not her parents' wishes? (p. 122).
I appreciated the fact that these two looked back on their relationship with fresh eyes and that they both realized that they were both at fault for the dissolution of their relationship. The blame was shared, and one these two got past that, the romance started moving along, which happened later in the book than I was expecting.
The one thing that I found somewhat disappointing with Night Storm is the fact that the romance wasn't completely resolved by the end. When I picked up this book I was aware that it was a series, but what I wasn't aware of was the fact that it seems to be a series devoted to Charlotte and Cameron, rather than one that simply focuses on a different couple in each book. At least that's my speculation. Thus, I found the focus on the mystery and slow moving nature of Charlotte and Cameron's relationship to be somewhat unexpected. While Charlotte and Cameron's relationship does move forward, they are not settled, and this may bother some readers. I think there is a lot of potential for conflict between Charlotte and Cameron, and I can see this being the focus of subsequent books. While I was surprised by this technique, there was enough resolution for my to feel that I don't have to read the next book right away (which is usually my problem with series), but I certainly will be back for more.
My verdict? Night Storm is an excellent choice for historical romance fans that are looking for a strong mystery element alongside their romance. An added bonus here, is the author's well developed characters an carefully considered romance. I highly recommend this one.
It's no secret that I'm a huge fan of holiday themed novels, especially romances. They're just all kinds of adorable. So when I came across this holid...moreIt's no secret that I'm a huge fan of holiday themed novels, especially romances. They're just all kinds of adorable. So when I came across this holiday themed novella, I thought to myself "Why yes, I am ready for Christmas." It's October after all, I'm sure Costco will breaking out the Christmas decorations soon, if not already.
When Sir Lucien Blakemore decides to accept his cousin's invitation to celebrate Christmas he does so mainly because his neighbour's governess will be elsewhere for the holidays. Lucien has no idea that the very governess who's company he's missing will also be at his cousin's house party.
While visiting her sister, Winnie attends a house party to even out the numbers. Winnie and her sister aren't high society but apparently they'll do in a pinch even if some guests are put out by their presence. Like Lucien, Winnie does not expect to see her friend at this house party; however, it soon becomes evident that he might be only person she can turn to when she begins to receive threats from one of the other guests.
As the threats to Winnie increase, Winnie decides to ask for help. Since she and Lucien have a friendly history, Winnie decides to approach him with a plan, a plan that involves a fake engagement that will hopefully discourage anyone from further importuning Winnie because Lucien could blacken their name. What complicates Winnie's plan is the fact that Lucien would like to make this engagement the real thing. He's been attracted to Winnie for quite some time and he was hoping to broach this very topic when he saw her again after the holidays. He's not going to turn down her plan, he'll take whatever advantage he can get. What will prove to be difficult for Lucien is convincing Winnie is that the different in their social class is an obstacle that they can overcome. Winnie, of course, does not want to cause future problems for Lucien and would hate for Lucien to come to reset her; she cares too much for him to let that happen. So while hunting the individual that's making Winnie's life hell, Lucien's also embarking on his own plan to show Winnie that they can make a marriage work.
Once Upon a Christmas Kiss was an adorable little story that combines a cute romance with a light mystery plot, something that I've come to expect from the author. All of the novels by Collins' that I've read have featured a mystery element. In fact, I think this author is a good fit for Amanda Quick fans. While Collins is perhaps not as outright funny as Quick, the combination of romance and mystery bring Quick too mind. Collins' creates a lovely balance between the two genres in her novels, and Once Upon a Christmas Kiss is no exception.
Other than the holiday theme, I also really liked the characters. Both of them are just so upstanding, again it's something I've come to expect and love from the author. There's more than rakes in the historical romance genre and I'm glad to read about them. Lucien was such an upstanding guy and I liked the fact that he was simply "nice". He wanted Winnie to marry him but he never went about it in a manipulative way. I simply liked the fact that these two treated each other well and that there wasn't an abundance of conflict between them as a couple. Don't get me wrong, the angst and miscommunication is a staple of romance genre, but it's always nice to read something refreshing and I find that the case with this author.
My verdict on this one: a nice read to get you into the Christmas spirit, a early Christmas gift to yourself, if you will. If you like Manda Collins' style and characters, Once Upon a Christmas Kiss will not disappoint. Upstanding guy meets reluctant bride, a match made.
3.5. Lost steam in the second half. Full review to follow.
I've been fairly taken with World War I novels for the past while, thanks to an introductio...more3.5. Lost steam in the second half. Full review to follow.
I've been fairly taken with World War I novels for the past while, thanks to an introduction to the post-war years via Simone St. James. With this year's centenary, it's been remarkably easy to get your hands on anything WWI related. I've been particularly drawn to the aftermath of the war and the inevitable coping strategies that the survivors use to help themselves deal with the changed world around them. Because of this interest I was especially interested in reading An American Duchess as it takes place shortly after the end of the war in 1922, at a country estate no less. Downton Abbey anyone?
Zoe Gifford is an American heiress who has arrived in England to marry Sebastian, the second son of a duke, in order to gain access to her trust fund. Zoe's fiance has died, so she's not interested in love and plans to divorce Sebastian not long after the wedding. She simply needs access to her funds, and this is her only option. Sebastian has his own reasons for a marriage of convenience, but when Sebastian's elder brother, Nigel, disapproves Zoe starts to rethink her plan. Not because she's offended that the stuffy duke doesn't think too much of her or her mercenary plan. No, it seems that Zoe starts to develop feelings for the duke once she starts to learn there's more to his rigid behaviour. Nigel has returned from the war scarred in body and mind. He's last friends, his fiance, his looks, and it also seems that he's losing his way of life. His coping mechanism is clinging to routine and maintaining the status quo: "He believed in formality. He believed in the old ways, the old standards, in showing respect to one's class and position" (p. 23). When Zoe arrives with her brash American mannerisms and her zest for life, Nigel is immediately off put, but soon finds himself reluctantly charmed and slowly forced out of his old fashioned nonsense. However, the scars from the war run deep and Nigel and Zoe's fledgling relationship is continually challenged by their reluctance to acknowledge the past.
For the most part I thought An American Duchess was a good read. I was interested in the subject matter and the time period, and the romance started out so strong. The opposites attract theme here worked so well. Unfortunately, I thought the second half of this novel lagged and my interest started to wane.
What I thought the author did well was capturing the changing attitudes and beliefs in the post-war era, as well as the naive optimism that filled many of the survivors, mainly because it was another way for people to cope with what they had lost.
One the one hand the post-war era was a time for change. Women were moving in a new direction and gaining more independence. The class system was starting to break down, necessitating a push-back from those that did not want to let go of the old standards. No one encapsulates the idea that the modern world in encroaching on the old than Zoe and the ideals that she represents with her "outrageous" behaviour:
A devastating war had killed millions, had recarved Europe, had torn wounds that might scar over but would never heal. And what shocked Englishmen was a woman in the smoking room in a short skirt with her legs crossed (p. 76).
Throughout the novel, the author continues to demonstrate the tension between the old and the new order, capturing the attitudes of the time through the developments in Nigel and Zoe's relationship. Both adhere to different ideals and because of that they continue to clash. Whether or not Nigel and Zoe's differences can actually be resolved is another matter.
I also liked how Zoe represented that sense of urgency and optimism that is always taught to be part of the roaring twenties. Zoe is continually presented as a young woman that views fun as a primary objective; at first glance, Zoe appears extremely frivolous. She wants to keep moving, dancing, driving, flying. While this can be seen as optimism, with Zoe, it is shown to be her form of coping with the loss of her brother and fiance. If she stands still long enough, Zoe will have to think about that loss. I liked that the author showed that the characterized optimism of the time is more complicated than it appears. There was a reason people were running to the speakeasies and partying every night.
What I was not as fond of was the pacing of the romance. I did like that the author took a unique approach to the romance. Zoe and Nigel were married and declared their feelings for each other relatively quickly in the novel. This gave the author time to explore the inevitable conflict in their early marriage. The marked differences between Nigel and Zoe were not anywhere close to resolved before they decided to marry. Nigel was not ready to deal with his past or share it with Zoe, and Zoe was filled with the optimistic thought that she could "make" Nigel happy enough that he would forget the war and move on. Just hearing their thoughts on their wedding day, it was clear that there was going to be problems in the near future. While I honestly appreciated this approach, I found that the development of their relationship after marriage started to run in circles without moving forward.
Following their marriage, Nigel and Zoe continued to argue about the same things and it began to feel a bit repetitive. Nigel was determined to cling to his notions of class and propriety, and although I will say that he made huge leaps, he did not understand Zoe's need for fun. And Zoe continued to run from the past and she was determined to bring Nigel with her without understanding how deeply the war had affected Nigel. This continued misunderstanding of each other repeated itself numerous times in the second half of the book and the continued clash started to feel redundant and unnecessary.
It was also in the second half of the book that I started to become frustrated with Zoe's thinking and attitude. Yes, she was a modern girl, and I liked her independence, but she seemed very unwilling to compromise with Nigel despite knowing his beliefs. Nigel was raised to be a stuffy duke and there's only so much change that can be expected and I thought that Zoe was expecting him to change into a new person in order for him to really win her love. I'm not opposed to some groveling when it's deserved, and Nigel definetly needed to make some hard choices, but I thought that the personality transplant was a bit extreme and unfair. Both Nigel and Zoe demonstrated some very muddled thinking and seemed to disregard the fact that they were married, and therefore had to actually consider the other person in the relationship. Again, this was a great idea and it was refreshing to see the hero and heroine actually have to deal with reality in a romance, I just felt that it was somewhat one-sided after all the repetitive arguments that showed how different these two were.
What An American Duchess succeeds in doing is capturing a moment in history. Readers are treated to the changing beliefs following a destructive war. Not everyone was happy with these changes and this was most clear in the relationship between Nigel and Zoe, each representing diverging schools of thought. While I did like the premise and the historical atmosphere I found the continued problems between Nigel and Zoe in the second half to be repetitive, which disrupted the pacing of the book for me. Ultimately, I think this book could have been significantly shorter and had a stronger finish. That said, I loved the atmosphere and I would be back for another book by this author in the same setting. Perhaps Nigel's sister's story?
An Illicit Engagement is Cecilia Gray's second novella in The Gentlemen Next Door series. This is an entire series of novellas and finishing this one,...moreAn Illicit Engagement is Cecilia Gray's second novella in The Gentlemen Next Door series. This is an entire series of novellas and finishing this one, I have now read the entire series.
I picked up book 1, A Delightful Arrangement as a freebie and quite enjoyed the quick, romantic tale. I tend to enjoy novellas, especially when I'm strapped for time. A Delightful Arrangement proved to be quite a lot of fun, as did the other novellas in the series; however, I do feel that Delightful Arrangement was the best of the bunch and the one that I felt told the most complete romantic story. An Illicit Engagement uses the tried a true fake engagement plot device. Chastity Drummond is on a husband hunt. She's looking for someone that will benefit her father's company and help run it. Unfortunately, the man that Chastity sets her sights on does not know she exists. So, Chastity enlists the help of her neighbour Lord Lucas Willoughby, also known as the Matchmaking Baron. He's had six fiances jilt him only to marry elsewhere, and advantageously at that. Naturally, Chastity feels that being "engaged" to Lucas will draw attention to her and result in her engagement to the man that she's really after. The only problem is that Chastity doesn't love her mark, and her mercenary ideal is complicated by her very real feelings for Lucas. Lucas is also none too pleased that Chastity is going to use him to find another man, especially when he realizes that he'd really like this engagement to stick.
While I wasn't as fond of An Illicit Engagement as I was of the first book, I still enjoyed reading it. The premise was great and the characters were charming. Chastity and Lucas already knew one another, so the romance itself was believable in the extremely constrained page count. So why the low rating?
What I liked about A Delightful Arrangement was the fact that there is a much broader picture of the hero and heroine's relationship; the development is there and I buy their happily-ever-after. This was not the case in An Illicit Engagement. The majority of this book is spent with Chastity and Lucas at odds with her idea for a fake engagement. I liked the sparing and the disagreements between these two, the tension was great and exactly what's needed in a romance. However, the resolution between these two is wrapped up very quickly and has Lucas behaving in a rather high-handed manner. For me, the happily-ever-after isn't there. I feel potential for it, but I ended the novella thinking "that's it?" I wanted to know what happened after the final scene.
While I didn't love An Illicit Engagement, it is still a cute read. I enjoy the author's writing style and I would be curious to read a full-length historical romance from her. Ultimately, this book is cute, but I think readers should be aware going in that there are not going to get a complete novel, meaning there's a bit of a lack of completion with this one. I recommend it with some reservations, but I think readers should start with A Delightful Arrangement.
Talk Sweetly to Me is the last Brothers Sinister addition, and this little novella was a lovely finale to the collection. Readers were introduced to S...moreTalk Sweetly to Me is the last Brothers Sinister addition, and this little novella was a lovely finale to the collection. Readers were introduced to Stephen Shaughnessy in The Suffragette Scandal, as the “Actual Man” that offers advice in Frederica Marshall’s newspaper. In Talk Sweetly to Me, Stephen has met his match with Miss Rose Sweetly, an extraordinary mathematical genius, who is quite opposite to Stephen’s carefree attitude.
Rose, like the all of the women featured in the Brothers Sinister series has a hard lot because of her sex. Rose is smart, but there are limitations imposed on her because she is a woman. Unlike the other heroines of the series, Rose has the added complication of also being black, which is more than difficult in 1882. Rose may be smart and reserved, but by virtue of the colour of her skin, Rose is immediately considered less. And no one explains the way society works more succinctly than Rose’s sister, Patricia:
“I love you, Rose.” Patricia sighed. “And I know you’ll make a good marriage, one as brilliant as mine. But you have to remember that most men who look at you won’t be seeing you. They won’t see you’re clever and amusing.” Her sister came forward and took Rose’s hand in her own. “They’ll see this.” She rubbed the back of Rose’s hand. Dark skin pressed against dark skin. “It doesn’t matter how respectably you dress or how much you insist. Most men will see that you’re black and they’ll think you’re available.” (p.11)
Patricia is concerned about Rose’s interactions with Stephen and worried that he might take adventure of Rose. Stephen has a bit of a rakish reputation and its understandable that Patricia is concerned for Rose. Luckily, Stephen does not have nefarious designs on Rose and is actually quite smitten with her, and even goes so far as to invent a reason for mathematical lessons with her to get to know her better. While Stephen doesn't completely understand the hardship that Rose endures because of the colour of her skin, he is intrigued by her reserved nature and bright mind.
Rose is just as smitten with Stephen, but she is more than aware of the difficulties that are ahead for them if there were to pursue a relationship, which make her very cautious in her dealings with him. Rose is not sure if she's willing to go through the future difficulties, and this uncertainty and vulnerability is what made Rose such a wonderful character. Both Rose and Stephen will need to determine whether their relationship is enough to overcome the inevitable difficulties and obstacles that will come their way because of their difference in skin colour.
Talk Sweetly to Me was another great novella by Milan, and I will admit that she is one of my favourite novella writers. The format is short, but Milan is always able to give you a satisfying and realistically developed romance despite the lack of pages. Talk Sweetly to Me was an emotional story, and I really liked that both Rose and Stephen were forced to really consider what they were getting into by pursing a relationship. Just because they care for one another doesn’t mean that they will be happy; Rose has to force Stephen to consider this:
“You told me the awkward difficult bit will only be the beginning,” she said. “But it won’t be. It’ll be difficult in the middle, over and over. It’ll be difficult at the end. It will never stop being difficult, and the only reason that you don’t know that is that you haven’t considered the possibility. At some point, Stephen, you’ll realize this is not a joking matter.” (p. 66)
I love that these considerations were included. So often in romance all obstacles are easily surmounted, and that’s great, I do love that aspect where anything can be overcome in a romance, but it’s also nice to read something and know that the characters really have thought about the consequences of their relationship and have made the decision to move ahead (or not) accordingly. For such a short book, I really do feel that readers are treated to a considered and realistically paced romance between Rose and Stephen. Ultimately, this was another great novella from Courtney Milan and I’m sorry to see the Brothers Sinister series come to an end. I can only hope that the author’s next series will be as thought provoking and unusual as this one has been.
The de Valery Code is Darcy Burke’s newest historical romance, and also a start of new series. I was quite a fan of Secrets & Scandals series, an...moreThe de Valery Code is Darcy Burke’s newest historical romance, and also a start of new series. I was quite a fan of Secrets & Scandals series, and I loved the adventurous premise of The de Valery Code.
Margery Derrington is an impoverished spinster living with her two aunts. Money is tight for this small family and they need to come up with some ready cash or Margery will be forced to marry to keep them afloat, a notion Margery does not want to contemplate until absolutely necessary.
Marrying for love didn’t interest her. Love didn’t interest her. Life was far easier to navigate if she kept that sort of emotion at bay. She’d buried her sentimentality deep after her parents had died. (p.6)
Luckily, Margery and her aunts stumble across a rare and possibly valuable medieval book by Edmund de Valery. While the family doesn’t want to part with such a treasure, the need for something to live on is dire, so Margery sets off to discuss the sale of the book with noted scholar, Rhys Bowen. Rhys immediately recognizes the priceless treasure that Margery carries, and hopes that the book will ultimately lead him to an Arthurian treasure trove, thus solidifying his name as a scholar of note. However, Rhys has no intention of sharing this information with Margery, and so a battle of the sexes ensues. I have to admit that I’m a little torn with this one. I was really looking forward to it since I had loved the other books by the author that I’ve read, but at the end of the book, I felt that there was something missing in the romance department. The adventure and the storyline themselves were great; I wanted to find out who was behind the attempted thefts of the book. I was less interested in Margery and Rhys as a couple.
What I liked about this one was the adventure and on-the-road romance theme. There were bits of humour between the two main characters that were great and entertaining. There is one particular scene where they keep meeting in the hallway that I thought was too cute. The instances with the flashes of humour were a big hit with me; however, they didn’t make up for my lack of interest with the hero and heroine. Perhaps had there been more interactions between Margery and Rhys like the meetings on the stairs I might have been more engaged with the romance.
For me, I just didn’t feel the connection between Margery and Rhys. They were both so stubborn for so much of the book, that I felt myself losing interest in their happily ever after. Margery in particular was extremely resistant to committing to a relationship:
She’d pushed him away at every opportunity because allowing him to get too close meant losing him would only hurt that much more. As it was, the thought of never seeing his eyes light at that precise moment of discovery, or hearing his warm laugh, stung deep. (p. 214)
While it was explained why Margery wasn’t interested in a permanent relationship, I just couldn’t help but be frustrated by the continued resistance. Generally, in the romances that I read, I tend to like those that spend more time with the hero and heroine as a couple as opposed to the bulk of the book focusing on the progression to that relationship.
Ultimately, The de Valery Code was a solid read and a good choice for fans of adventurous romances. There’s villains and a secret order of Arthurians that brought a nice element of suspense to this one. I’m certainly going to be back for the second book in the series since I’m quite curious as to the direction and the characters to be featured in book two.
I haven’t read many historical romances by Elizabeth Boyle, but this one certainly makes me want to read many more. The Viscount Who Lived Down the La...moreI haven’t read many historical romances by Elizabeth Boyle, but this one certainly makes me want to read many more. The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane is the fourth book in the Rhymes with Love series. This one was funny and lighthearted and exactly what I was looking for when I picked up the book.
Louisa Tempest and her twin sister, Lavinia, have both come to town at the behest of their late godmother. Louisa could have done without a season in the ton as she has no illusions that she will be anything other than a spinster. Louisa finds herself along for the ride because of her determined sister, but Louisa is equally determined not to tell Lavinia why it is unlikely that either one of them will find someone suitable to marry. Fortunately for Louisa, she soon finds a project for herself that will fill her time since she has very little interest in shopping or the other virtues of the ton lifestyle. It’s too bad that her project, Viscount Wakefield, is an unwilling participant.
Viscount Wakefield has returned from the war wounded and is quite content to spend the rest of his days closed up in his house, drinking to excess and mourning the death of one of his closest friends. When Louisa bustles into his life and starts assuming management, he’s not exactly pleased, but he reluctantly finds himself charmed.
The romance in this one was slow. Wakefield legitimately does not like Louisa when they first meet; he does not want to deal with life and would much rather wallow in his sorrow. He’s not only lost his close friend, but also his fiancé who abandoned him when he returned wounded after being shot in the war. So Wakefield isn’t pleased when Louisa’s pet cat, Hannibal, brazenly interrupts his wallowing:
“What the devil,” he muttered as the creature, the one as yet to be determined if it was a cat, began to wind around his legs, its tattered coat brushing against him.
Then the animal had the audacity to roll around in front of him as if it was his – the viscount’s – duty to pet him.
Of course, Louisa pays no mind to Wakefield’s blustering and is quite happy to argue right back with Wakefield. She soon sets to work righting his household, often with hilarious results. It can be a challenge to hire people for a viscount that doesn’t actually want staff, and it can be even more complicated when the help mistake the viscount for another servant:
“Be useful, you shiftless vagrant. Go fetch some coal and a bit of kindling from out back so Bob can get that stove going – something you might have thought of doing afore I arrived."
She poked him once again with the bucket until he truly had no choice but to take it. For one wild feeling moment, he thought she meant to clout him with if she had to “ask” one more time.
“Don’t gape at me like a mackerel, get moving,” she told him as she shooed him out the door. “I’ve got His Lordship’s breakfast to make and not much to do it with from the looks of things.”
As the woman continued to order her troops about, Pierson Stratton, the fifth Viscount Wakefield, backed down the steps and found himself in his own gardens, having been routed from his house.
More to his shame, he’d raised barely a defense. Flanked and defeated before he could fire a shot.
It was moments like these that made this a brilliant book. These humourous scenarios were so much fun to read about and helped not to bog down the pacing of the book. In fact, I could almost argue that the humour was a stronger attraction for me than the actual romance between Louisa and Wakefield. Like I said, it took a bit for the actual romance to actually progress past arguing and because of that both Louisa and Wakefield seemed to develop feelings for the other perhaps a touch too quickly. That said, the end of this novel had a couple of heartfelt scenes between the two, which went a long way to solidifying the happily ever after for these two.
The Viscount Who Lived Down the Lane is a fun read that takes a nice departure from reality. Boyle doesn’t tie up all of the plot points by the end of the novel, but the stage is nicely set for the next book featuring Louisa’s sister, Lavinia. And I cannot wait to see what antics Lavinia gets up to. There are so many questions I have about certain characters and events, I have no other choice but to come back for Lavinia’s story, which I can't say that I'm upset about.
I've never read a historical by Shana Galen before, and after finishing Love and Let Spy I feel that I’ve been missing out on some great reads. This w...moreI've never read a historical by Shana Galen before, and after finishing Love and Let Spy I feel that I’ve been missing out on some great reads. This was delightful and campy without going too far into the ridiculous. It's a play on the spy thriller and it's awesome. One thing to be aware of is that this is the third book in a series. While I don’t feel that it lessened my enjoyment or understanding of this one, I definitely feel that I need to read the two previous books.
The premise of this series from Galen has been spy movies. The parallels are obvious. Love and Let Spy features James Bond a.k.a. Jane Bonde (if Bond ever actually settled down with a gal). The two previous books took on Mr. and Mrs. Smith and True Lies. This obvious comparison shouldn’t work, and it just does. I love the sense of fun and humour these types of books demonstrate. Katherine Ashe did it in My Lady, My Lord, and Shana Galen excels at it in Love and Let Spy. I certainly wont turn down more books in this vein.
Jane Bonde is on the verge of being on the shelf. Unlike other young women, she’s not a wallflower, Jane has a very good reason for being unmarried at her advanced age of twenty-four: she’s a spy. While her contemporaries were dancing, flirting and courting, Jane was foiling dangerous plots and saving the fate of a nation.
She was the best. She’d never yet failed a mission. She was the operative sent in when other agents could not complete missions. (p. 81)
That’s all come to an end. Jane can no longer pretend that she’s off “at school” and the potential for unfounded and salacious rumours is ripe; hence, her uncle (and boss) decrees that Jane marry post haste. Uncle M has even picked the groom.
Dominic Griffyn is the illegitimate son of an actress turned Countess. Before his mother married the Earl, Dominic was dragged along through his mother’s less than desirable lifestyle. As a result, Dominic’s has a past that he’d rather forget. Unfortunately, his mother feels extremely guilty for putting Dominic in harm’s way as a child and is determined to him wed to the best. Dominic’s mother and stepfather insist that he wed Jane Bonde. Alas, their first meeting is not love at first sight; neither want to marry and both are fiercely guarding their own secrets. Dominic in particular has some difficult issues to deal with. He's not a spy, but his past has scarred him none the less, and marriage is not going to "cure" him:
He didn't want a wife who was unconventional. He didn't want a wife at all - not from the beau monde at any rate - another prim and proper miss who would look down on him because he was the bastard son of an actress. He'd lived all his life with the taunts and jibes of others because of his mother's career. If he ever were to marry, he wanted a wife who stayed home and...did whatever it was women did. They did not carry pistols and suffer knife wounds. (p. 128)
The decision of both to remain unmarried is rather complicated when Dominic stumbles upon Jane when she's on mission. Intrigued despite his better judgement, Dominic soon finds out that his betrothed is much more than meets the eye. Dominic suddenly realizes that perhaps the conventional wife is not exactly what he wanted.
What I loved about Love and Let Spy was the fact that Galen made Bond a woman. This is especially intriguing given the historical setting. Jane Bonde kicks butt and saves England all while falling in love. I thought the author did a great job playing around with this spy concept. It was Jane that was saving the day and out running Dominic. It’s not often that you see this and I appreciate that the author changed the genders up in her re-imagining of James Bond. While there were times that I logically considered that Jane was not a realistic character, I was happy to suspend belief and go with in the case of this novel.
While I did enjoy the spy elements and how Galen plays with the genre, the romance in Love and Let Spy was solid. Both Jane and Dominic had their hang-ups leading them to avoid marriage. There was more here than a spy adventure, there was also a romance between two people that have to come to terms with the impending changes in their life. Jane had to recognize that she could have more than a career and Dominic especially had to deal with his past and recognize that he didn’t need a conventional wife and that his past was not one that he had to live with, continuing to feel ashamed. This romantic aspect is what made me enjoy Love and Let Spy so much. It was more than an obvious comparison, it was it’s own story as well, with unique characters.
If you’re looking for historical accuracy, you wont find it here, but you will find an adventurous and fast-paced book. Don’t take yourself too seriously with this one, expect to have fun and enjoy! I'm looking forward to checking out the previous books in the series, in fact, they're already sitting on my book shelf, and I can't wait to see what the other does with the spy genre.
Another wonderful, thought-provoking historical romance from the awesome Courtney Milan; she really can do no wrong when it comes to romance. The Suff...moreAnother wonderful, thought-provoking historical romance from the awesome Courtney Milan; she really can do no wrong when it comes to romance. The Suffragette Scandal concludes the Brothers Sinster series, although this is one more novella forthcoming that features a character introduced in Suffragette Scandal. I’ll be sad to leave the series, but I can’t wait to see what this author dreams up next; I depend on her for great romances that make you think. Every time I pick up a Milan book I always expect the usual historical romance fare, and each and every time I am blown away with how out of the ordinary her tale unfolds, and her latest is no exception.
Frederica “Free” Marshall is a young woman of twenty-six and the owner and editor of the Women’s Free Press: By women – for women – about women. She certainly has challenges being an independent woman in 1877, but she doesn’t let that stop her from pushing away until she gets small freedoms for herself and other women in the world. However, as strong and independent as Free is, there are some who would go to any lengths to shut her down, especially since she turned down their “gracious” offer to become their mistress, and surprisingly Edward Clark was not that man, meaning Milan effectively turns the conventional and expected into something new and so much more meaningful.
Edward Clark is a forger and also the brother of James Delacey (the guy that propositioned Free) who is intent on ending the Women’s Free Press by any means necessary. Unfortunately for James, Edward has no intention of letting that happen and decides to help Free foil his brother that left him to die. Of course, Edward did not expect to be bowled over by Free:
Every time he thought he knew what to expect from her, she upset his expectations. He Felt buffeted about, unsure of his footing.
Also, she liked boxing.
God, this was bad. Very, very bad. (p. 47)
It may be bad for Edward but it’s certainly very, very good for readers.
The events in Edward’s past have made him cynical about life in general and he’s sincerely unconvinced that Free and women like her will ever accomplish their mission:
“Maybe in a hundred years of women voting, you might manage a single female Prime Minster.” He gave her a rough smile. “But just the one, and even so, people will never take her seriously. If she’s stern, they’ll blame her menstrual cycle. If she smiles, it will be proof that women are not strong enough to lead. That’s what you’re setting yourself up for, Miss Marshall. A lifetime of small wins, of victories that land like lead in your stomach. Your cause may be just. But you’re delusional if you think you can accomplish anything. You’re pitting yourself against an institution that is older than our country, Miss Marshall. It’s so old that we rarely even need to speak of it. Rage all you want, Miss Marshall, but you’ll have more success emptying the Thames with a thimble.” (p. 94)
Despite his belief in the fruitlessness of Free’s mission, he never once disrespects her and even comes to realize that there is value in the small victories. And that transformation, my friends, is what makes this so much better than your average historical romance. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly do not need thought-provoking romances every day of the week, but I loved that this was a refreshing change.
The Suffragette Scandal has all the hallmarks of a Milan novel. There’s the signature humour and wit, the fantastic historical details, and a strong romantic relationship that’s founded on something more than lust. I absolutely adored The Suffragette Scandal and I highly recommend it, as well as its predecessors. Luckily enough, the heroes and heroines from the previous books also make cameo appearances in this latest installment.
The very last thing that I have to comment on is the author’s choice to populate her novel with characters outside the usual social classes. While there are upper crust characters, I love that the author takes a risk and moves to the working class in her novels and novellas. The era that the author writes in was a time of change and I love the fact that Milan conveys this in many of her works, but has done so especially in the Brothers Sinster series. Suffragette Scandal was not filled with balls and fripperies, but instead took a closer look at everyday life, which is, again, a refreshing change in the historical romance genre.
Ultimately, I hope I have convinced someone to give Milan a try, I promise you wont be disappointed. And now, I must go and re-read some other Milan books, perhaps starting with The Duchess War, still my favourite of the Brothers Sinister series.
In The Prince Who Love Me, Hawkins gives readers a historical romance Cinderella story. This lighthearted romantic tale is full of humour as it follow...moreIn The Prince Who Love Me, Hawkins gives readers a historical romance Cinderella story. This lighthearted romantic tale is full of humour as it follows what happens when an outrageous and self-indulgent prince meets his practical Cinderella. Sparks fly between Prince Alexsey Romanovin and Miss Bronwyn Murdoch when they first meet, but meddling relatives are there to fan the flames.
Bronwyn Murdoch is a practical girl, concerned more with books and assisting her father with his inventions than catching a husband. At the advanced age of twenty-four, she considers herself on the shelf and is more than happy to help her step-mother find husbands for her step-sisters; thankfully taking the focus off herself. At least Bronwyn was content until she encountered Alexsey Romanovin, a man who seems to have stepped off the pages of the romances she loves so much. Just what exactly has she been missing?
Prince Alexsey is a carefree young man, taking advantage of life’s pleasures where he can. His priority is getting his grandmother to finally agree to support his leadership of the Gypsy people of Oxenburg; a position he inherited from his grandfather. But grandma insists that Alexsey wed before he gains the responsibility. When Alexsey meets Bronwyn he is charmed and thinks it a perfect opportunity for a dalliance, but when his grandmother starts applying pressure to marry, Alexsey decides Bronwyn is the perfect foil for his grandmother’s ambitions. It turns out grandma is not a fan of Brownyn and her unassuming manner, and perhaps Alexsey can use this dislike to his advantage.
Of course Alexsey’s plan might just be disrupted when Bronwyn learns that Alexsey plans to use her. Bronwyn refuses to be used and abandon, and vows to teach this arrogant prince a lesson. If only she wasn’t so intrigued by his kisses…
The Prince Who Loved Me is a sweet read and I enjoyed it, but I didn’t love it. For me, the story lacked depth and the hero, well, he just didn’t do it for me. The romance here moved quickly; however, I don’t think it progressed authentically. When Bronwyn and Alexsey first meet, it’s instant attraction, but I felt the deepening of this attraction into mutual respect and more complicated emotions was never conveyed. This is partly why I didn’t love the hero. Alexsey seemed too self-indulgent to really connect with the serious-minded Bronwyn. And what’s more, I never felt that he truly respected Bronwyn’s position in society and how an affair had the potential to absolutely ruin her. It was all about him rather than them as a couple, and for me, this decreased my enjoyment of the book.
What I did like about The Prince Who Loved Me, was the lighthearted tone Hawkins used throughout, in fact, it’s what draws me to Hawkins as an author to begin with. The moments of humour and the sweetness that is simply nice. And as much as I like these elements, it was not enough to redeem a character that I just didn’t like.
Ultimately, The Prince Who Loved Me was cute, but not a romance with a lot of depth of character. This romance is founded on attraction and not much else. I would of loved to have seen Bronwyn and Alexesy interact more with one another and actually create a relationship; it would have went a long way to making this a stronger romance, at least for this reader.
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For the last couple of years, I haven’t really been interested in contemp...moreIt’s been a long time since I’ve read a romance by Susan Elizabeth Phillips. For the last couple of years, I haven’t really been interested in contemporary romance (historicals all the way!); however, when I had a chance to grab a review copy of Phillips’ latest I decided to give it a shot. I loved her previous novels, so I was looking forward to checking out something new from her. Heroes are my Weakness wasn’t what I was expecting, and I totally loved it.
The other novels that I’ve read by Phillips have been relatively light, so far my favourite has to be Call Me Irresistible. Heroes are My Weakness takes a departure from the lighter aspects of romance and Phillips tosses in a lot more suspense and a sinister atmosphere. Happily, this doesn’t mean the Phillips trademark humour has departed (Annie has hilarious conversations with her puppets, after all); it just doesn’t take the front stage or at least shares the stage with a suspense plot.
Following the death of her mother, Annie is a bit down on her luck. She’s a broke, failed actress, turned puppeteer. With no other choice, Annie is forced to go to the only place that will provide her with a roof over her head: their old cottage on an isolated island in the middle of the winter. Ah, the romance of it all…
Returning to the place of her childhood summers, Annie is forced to confront the boy she once cared for, Theo Harp. Theo also happened to have tried to kill her once upon a time and the years don’t exactly seem to have changed this horror writer for the better in Annie’s eyes:
He descended slowly. A gothic hero come to life in a pearl gray waistcoat, snowy white cravat, and dark trousers tucked into calf-hugging black leather riding books. Hanging languidly at his side was a steel-barreled dueling pistol.
An icy finger slithered down her spine. She briefly considered the possibility that her fever had come back or her imagination had finally shoved her over the cliff of reality. But he wasn’t a hallucination. He was all too real. (p.24)
If this was how you encountered a guy you haven’t seen in eighteen years and he also happened to try to kill you, wouldn’t you also be feeling a bit of trepidation?
So, not only does Annie have to deal with someone she’s genuinely scared of, she also has to find the legacy that her mother has told her about and deal with whoever is trying to force her from her temporary home, and just maybe, she’ll find out what really happened with Theo all those years ago. Is he really the villain or could he just possible be the hero after all?
When I had initially started reading this book, I wasn’t sure about it. The hero had tried to kill the heroine (or so it seems), and I wasn’t sure how Phillips was going to turn THAT around. It didn’t help that the suspense was kept up for a large part of the beginning of the book as readers do not get a peak into Theo’s mind. I have to admit, I had my doubts about Theo’s innocence. How could this hero possibly be Annie's weakness? This gothic suspense was a bit unusual, but I think it really worked here and I certainly didn’t want to put the book down.
As for whether or not Phillips turned the romance around, well, of course she did, this is a romance after all. But it was done wonderfully, full of wit and angst of which I can say no more or else ruin the entire story. The suspense storyline fit well with the overarching romance and completely suited the desolate winter setting. It was wrapped up neatly, but readers will have to keep in mind that this is not a mystery novel, it is a romance and that constantly remains the purpose of this book, as such the mystery element was not overly complicated.
Ultimately, I was pleasantly surprised by this one, but I would certainly be one board with more from Phillips in a similar vein. I may have been missing out a bit when it comes to the contemporary romance genre.
The Sacred River was a lovely historical novel, beautifully written, and totally evocative of colonial Egypt. It was a somber novel, filled with the t...moreThe Sacred River was a lovely historical novel, beautifully written, and totally evocative of colonial Egypt. It was a somber novel, filled with the themes of death; however, it ends with rebirth, bringing a sense of hope to the final chapters.
The novel focuses on a short period for three very different, but related women. First, we have Harriet Heron, a young woman, who has been bedridden for most of her life due to asthma. When her doctor hints that there’s very little that he can do for her, Harriet begs him to recommend to her parents that she should travel to a warmer climate to help her breathing. Harriet has long had a fascination with Egypt and would love to explore the city of Thebes before she dies.
Harriet’s mother, Louisa, is convinced that traveling to Egypt will help her daughter so she cautiously takes on the adventure without the accompaniment of her husband. What Louisa doesn’t count on is the resurrection of her past during the journey. A past she desperately doesn't want anyone to kow about.
Lastly, Louisa’s sister-in-law and Harriet’s aunt, Yael, is also joining the ladies on the journey to Egypt. Yael is the last person to ever want to go on a spontaneous adventure, but her brother insists and Yael finds herself growing in the foreign city in an unexpected way. A staunch charity worker and devout woman, Yael finds herself learning much about the city and gaining a sense of freedom that she's never before experienced.
The Scared River wasn’t really what I was expecting. I was thinking that this would be more of an adventure story, and to an extent it was, it just was an adventure of personal growth rather than the conquering of terrain. Each of the three women begin the novel as somewhat pathetic creatures, but through their respective journeys they each learn something about themselves and what they learn allows them to go forward into a new life.
On an intellectual level, I loved the use of the imagery in the novel: the use of the Nile as a symbol for a journey, and the scarab for rebirth. The theme of death kept the novel somber in tone, but the rebirths of all the characters at the end left you with a feeling of hope. For me, the structure of this novel was beautifully rendered. There was no question that this was a well-written novel.
However, on a less intellectual level, I wish I hadn’t had to leave the book just as things were changing for the characters. For most of the novel, I was waiting for Harriet, Louisa and Yael to come to realizations unique to their situations, and at the end they all got to that point, but readers aren’t treated to what happens after that. While I think part of the point of the novel was to end on the idea that life has changed for the three women, they have all experienced a rebirth varying degrees; I personally would have liked to know what their new life was like. But then again, that’s just the kind of reader I am. As it stands, I’ll just have to appreciate the beauty of the symbolism of this one.
In terms of the characters, they were all interesting, but I felt that I connected with Harriet the most. Perhaps it's the that I'm closer in age to Harriet and have also been fascinated with Egypt, but it could also be the fact that out of the three, Harriet seemed to stand the best chance of really moving forward. Harriet was also the closest to death because of her asthma, and her gaining new life in Egypt, gave me the sense of hope that she can have a new and full life ahead of her.
Ultimately, The Sacred River was a wonderful piece of armchair travel and I feel like I was given a sense of Egypt in 1882. The historical setting was what immediately drew me to the title, but the crafting of the novel is what had me hooked. It’s not a happy or light book, but one that gets you thinking about the various manifestations of journeys that life can take.
I enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy - I'm happy to finally know who was behind it all. It was sweet and romantic. Full review on my b...more3.5/5
I enjoyed this final installment in the trilogy - I'm happy to finally know who was behind it all. It was sweet and romantic. Full review on my blog soon...
Updated, July 23, 2014:
I have to admit that I'm a bit picky with my historical romances and generally I will not pick one up if it features a widow. I'm not really sure why, but as soon as I read that in a description, I just feel put off. That said, I made an exception for Manda Collins' Wicked Widow trilogy because I adored her Ugly Ducklings series, especially How to Romance a Rake. So with some trepidation I read the first two books in Wicked Widows. The first one was great, I was less enthralled with book two, but Why Lords Lose Their Hearts was the best of the bunch.
Perdita is the widowed Duchess of Ormond, and as readers learned in book one, Perdita, her sister Isabella, and their friend, Georgina, were all present the night that the Duke of Ormond died. In fact, they appear to have a had a hand in ushering the duke off into the afterlife. Not that they didn't have good reason. Ormond was abusing Perdita, and had been since the honeymoon period of their marriage faded. On this particular evening, Ormond threatened Perdita's life and the ladies had to do something to stop him. Now that Perdita is free from her husband she has been considering marrying again; however, she no longer trusts her own judgement and is unwilling to marry for love. If she didn't suspect that Ormond would hurt her, how can she trust that she can make a better decision the second time around? Unfortunately, Perdita's husband hunt is complicated by threatening letters, indicating that someone knows what truly happened to the duke and means to make Perdita pay.
Coming to Perdita's aid is the former and current Duke of Ormond's man of affairs, Lord Archer. Archer has pretty much been in love with Perdita since he's met her, and now that she is free to remarry he's starting to press his suit. Perdita certainly feels an attraction to Archer, but she'd rather have an affair and marry someone that she doesn't actually care about. To an extent, I think Perdita's opinion is reasonable, but I couldn't help but view as a little demeaning towards Archer, and you can't help but hope that Perdita will come to this realization on her own. Nothing like a death threat to bring two people together.
Archer is extremely patient with Perdita. Now that he's aware of the abuse that she suffered at the hands of her first husband, he does feel guilty but he thankfully never goes into overbearing territory, allowing Perdita to come into her own independence once again. If you're looking for a beta hero, Archer is your man. These types of heroes are why I like Collins' historicals. She doesn't write super overbearing alpha males, which is a nice change in a genre filled with the domineering rakes. So if you're looking for a more balanced romance, Why Lords Lose Their Hearts is the romance for you.
I should also mention the intrigue plot that cropped up in the final installment of the series. Readers of the first two will know that all three women that witnessed the death of Ormond received threatening notes. In Why Lords Lose Their Hearts we finally learn who the mastermind is behind the "I know what you did last season" notes. There are several suspects offered up, and it's not till the end that suspicions are confirmed. I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of the intrigue element, I'm perfectly happy for my romances to be about the hero and heroine falling in love and not investigating a mystery. So I personally wasn't that invested in the intrigue plot and I could have done without it. I'd really like to see the author write something with less intrigue, since I think she conveys a great emotional relationship in her romances, sometimes I feel like the mystery gets in the way.
Ultimately, Why Lords Lose Their Hearts was a nice conclusion to the trilogy. All the loose ends were tied and everyone got their happy ending. You couldn't go wrong with this one if you're looking for a romantic read with a side of mystery.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. (less)
A Winter Wedding was a complete surprise for me, and exactly what I was looking for on a summer afternoon. This was a witty, lighthearted read, and I...moreA Winter Wedding was a complete surprise for me, and exactly what I was looking for on a summer afternoon. This was a witty, lighthearted read, and I did not expect to have as much fun with it as I did. When I read the previous book in the series, A Midsummer Bride, I found myself more drawn to the characters of James and Penelope, who were secondary characters, rather than the primary couple who were the focus of the book, so I was quite happy to learn that they would be the hero and heroine in the next installment. Ultimately, I wasn’t overly engaged with A Midsummer Bride, so I didn’t really expect to like A Winter Wedding all that much – but this book was so a delightful read!
Penelope Rose is the middle sister of five, and has always considered herself the least beautiful. After arranging matches for her four sisters, Penelope was left on her own and ended up as a companion to the tyrannical Dowager Duchess Marchford. The two of them have set themselves up as "The Matchmaker" to the ton, Madame X. And as if matchmaking wasn’t enough, Penelope also assists the Dowager’s grandson, the Duke of Marchford, in ferreting out spies hidden amongst the ton. Napoleon's set on creating strife within the British aristocracy, and Marchford is having none of that. Complications arise with both jobs when Marchford asks Penelope to find him a bride, since Penelope refuses to add "wife" to her resume (at least without some romance).
Marchford is tired of being hounded by debutants and their marriage minded mamas, so in desperation he asks Penelope to find him someone suitable after she refuses his joking/serious proposal. He's rather shocked that she says "no" and is now rather taken with the idea of Penelope being his bride. She is a sensible girl, after all. Unfortunately, Penelope and Marchford have bigger fish to fry than bride hunting, a spy’s on the loose and they need to find the culprit before he can destroy parliament. It might just be simpler for Penelope to agree to the proposal...
What really shone in The Winter Wedding was the dialogue between Penelope and James, the Duke. I think it helped that they were already friends and co-conspirators; all they needed was a shove in the right direction. Penelope and James’ back and forth banter was adorable and I loved the sarcasm. These two had the chemistry that I didn’t feel in the previous book. And Penelope and James' relationship had more going for it than basic attraction. Throughout the book you got the sense that they really knew each other and had a mutual respect for the other. So while this was a quieter relationship as opposed to the overt "lusty" romance, it was also very well done and believable.
I also loved the silly elements to this novel. If you’re looking for an angsty read, I don’t recommend this one, you will no like the antics the hero and heroine find themselves in. Don't get me wrong, there were serious elements (ie. the spies), but they didn't overshadow the overall lighthearted tone of the book. For example, there were serious reasons why James didn't want to fall in love, and I do think those could have been examined more, but The Winter Wedding skewed more to the comical than a deep character study. James’ attempts at courtship were adorable and over the top; the lengths that he went to give Penelope her twelve days of Christmas was endearing. Only a duke could get away with that kind of exuberance. And Penelope's ability to remain unflappable in the face of such persistence made them a great match.
This is the perfect pick if you like the silliness and sense of fun from Julia Quinn and Tessa Dare, although A Winter Wedding was on the tamer side in terms of romantic show and tell. Personally, I would have been fine with this being racier, but if you’re someone that blushes easily, this would be a good pick ;)
The Clockwork Dagger, what can I say about this one? There were elements that I did enjoy, but at the end of the day, I have to confess that it wasn't...moreThe Clockwork Dagger, what can I say about this one? There were elements that I did enjoy, but at the end of the day, I have to confess that it wasn't a notable read for me.
What I really liked in this one was the magic system. It was cool and I loved that it was at odds with those who believed in science and technology. This was a great theme: belief versus scientific fact, and I loved the contradiction of these two in Octavia’s position as a medician.
As a medician, Octavia has the ability to heal anyone from their hurts, to the point that she can almost bring them back from the dead. The catch is that this ability is granted from the Lady:
The Lady was a woman and mother and of great faith in God. In times of sorrow, like now, her husband and children succumbed to illness. However, she used the wisdom gleaned from their deaths to go forth and help others. She traveled beyond the Wastes, healing. Some stories say the Wastes were a land of plenty then, or just starting to die. It depends on the telling. She saw more pain and suffering than most people could withstand, yet she endured. At the end of her life, she begged God that she still be able to heal. She was planted in the ground and grew as a tree bound to the very soul of the earth (p. 53).
Octavia, like other medician’s, has a direct link to the Lady and when in communication with her, Octavia is able to save lives. I loved this concept and I liked the fact that Octavia is made to question the motivations of the Lady. The Lady might just be a little more selective than she first appears; she doesn’t offer her healing abilities without discrimination. I can see Octavia losing much of her idealism and naïveté as this series continues.
While I loved the concept behind the world and the theme of faith and blindly following it, I had a hard time being interested in the characters. Octavia and her romance with Alonzo fell flat for me. Octavia’s naïveté was interesting and initially I liked this about her, but I soon came to find that there wasn’t much else to Octavia. I found her to be a very one-dimensional character with little depth to her motivations. Octavia was just a little too perfect.
As for the romance, because you know this was why I was checking out this book, I was quite disappointed. There was so much potential for conflict between the leads. Octavia’s in danger and Alonzo is continually there to assist, a little too conveniently as Octavia learns. However, when Octavia discovers that Alonzo as ulterior motives for helping her, she’s rather quick to forgive. Now, I’m the first to be frustrated when characters don’t discuss obstacles in their path and refuse to understand why the other has done what they have. But in this case, I was surprised at how easily Octavia acquiesced. She came across as passionless rather than noble. And Alonzo – he has to be the only spy out there that’s shy and given to blushes. To me, his manner of behaviour didn’t fit the character that he was, a Clockwork Dagger, super-spy extraordinaire.
Ultimately, I wasn’t a fan of The Clockwork Dagger and I don’t think I will be back for a sequel. The world is interesting, but the characters are not developed enough for me to be engaged.
The Unsuitable Secretary is Robinson's fourth Edwardian historical romance. While I had mixed feelings towards the previous book, book four reminded m...moreThe Unsuitable Secretary is Robinson's fourth Edwardian historical romance. While I had mixed feelings towards the previous book, book four reminded me why I like this author. This romance was light and full of wit; quite frankly it put a smile on my face, so I am inclined to like it. Our hero and heroine are an unlikely duo. Thomas is a man about town, known for pointing out the Next Thing and possessed with a gift for gab. Harriet is a spinster determined to work despite her traditional father's objections, and she couldn't care less about the Next Thing, she has bigger concerns.
Sir Thomas Featherstone is hoping to start an artist colony. He loves art and wants to support those who are good at it but can't afford to do it full time. Fortunately, Thomas has money to burn even if his man of business is reluctant to burn it. What Thomas needs is a secretary dedicated exclusively to his project. At the behest of his friend's wife, Thomas finds himself at the Evensong Agency where he engages the services of a most unsuitable secretary.
He couldn't possible hire her. One did not lust after one's secretary. Thomas had reputation to uphold, false and annoying as ti was. Presumably Miss Benson was a proper young woman, and Thomas never consorted with proper young women. They were fatal to his bachelorhood, and a proper young woman who had to work for a living was even more deadly. He'd never been a cad to take advantage of the help and wasn't going to start now. How could this vision of divine womanhood sit across from him for sixteen hours a week without him making an absolute fool of himself? (p. 8)
Miss Harriet Benson is a twenty-eight year old spinster. She's determined to work as a secretary; however, ever since she fell ill her hours have been decreased and she has yet to recover to her full strength. A new part-time position working for Sir Thomas is just what she needs. She'll be able to work during the morning and keep house for her father and younger twin brothers in the afternoon. A perfect plan except that her employer might not be all that suitable either:
He was not quite what she expected, either. He'd been nearly inarticulate - practically mute - in the first few days she'd come to Featherstone House and its library, but she was beginning to understand the quickness of his mind once he started talk about his pet project. Sir Thomas Featherstone was a man who some might say had more money than sense, but that was utterly untrue. He just had bigger ideas than most of his peers. Those men were content to flit through life without much purpose. Sir Thomas had almost too much purpose (p. 10).
Despite each others "unsuitableness" Thomas and Harriet begin working together, and an unsuitable employment soon becomes an unsuitable relationship. Not only is it inappropriate for Thomas and Harriet to disrupt their working relationship, the gaping disparity in their social stations also stand in the way of a lasting relationship.
Early on in the novel Thomas decides to deal with his unfortunate attraction to Harriet by offering her the chance to become his mistress. They filled out a contract and everything! Normally I find this "generous offer" in a romance to be reprehensible and I will admit that I considered putting down this book because of that. Personally, the mistress relationship seems degrading and unlikely to foster a happily ever after than romances are predicated on. However, since I was reading a review copy of Unsuitable Secretary I felt obligated to continue reading, and I'm glad that I did. Thomas is one fumbling dude when he offers to make Harriet his mistress, the pair of them together are just so adorably awkward it was easy to believe that they were only making this choice because it was the only one available to them, or at least the only one they thought was an option.
While I'm not sure that I buy the fact that Thomas became such a fumbling, awkward man around Harriet in spite his talent for gabbing with everyone else, I have to admit that I was charmed by his awkwardness. It nice to not have have a supremely confident hero every once and awhile. Rose Gordon is another historical romance author that deals with awkward heroes particularly well, so I'm happy to encounter another more realistic hero. The actual relationship was new for both Thomas and Harriet and it was so fun to see their misunderstandings and mishaps; thankfully they were never that serious. Watching these two as the bumbled into a relationship was a real treat and one that I recommend for other readers looking for a lighter read.
I can't claim that An Unsuitable Secretary is a serious and emotional read, but it is funny and endearing. Personally, I'm not a fan of over-the-top emotional reads, so this one suited me just fine. This is the perfect read for someone looking for a smile and a fun departure from reality. Make sure that you check out the other books in the series, especially In the Heart of the Highlander.