With A Song for the Brokenhearted William Shaw wraps up the Breen & Tozer mystery trilogy and I’m leftOriginally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
With A Song for the Brokenhearted William Shaw wraps up the Breen & Tozer mystery trilogy and I’m left hoping to read more about these characters. A trilogy can become a series, right? This book was everything that I hoped it would be: awesome characters, occasional humour, and a mystery that not only holds a personal connection for the main characters but also sheds light on events of an international nature.
A Song for the Brokenhearted picks up soon after the events of the previous book, Kings of London. Breen is recuperating after being injured on the job and ex-policewoman, Helen Tozer, has brought Breen back to her family’s farm to recover. Going a bit stir crazy, Breen is not exactly unhappy when Helen nudges him into looking into her sister Alexandra's unsolved murder. Surprisingly, Alexandra's murder has an unexpected connection to the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya. Having loved She’s Leaving Home and Kings of London, I had really, really high expectations of the final book in this retro mystery series. From the start, I have loved being immersed in the 1960s culture and fascinated by the characters of Breen and Tozer. Historical events of the 1960s continue to be present in the Brokenhearted, and the British presence in Kenya during this period is explored. The history of the British in Kenya is not glossed over as one of the murder suspects, James Fletchet, lived in Kenya during the Mau Mau uprising, actively taking part in “screening” locals. It’s not a pretty past, but it adds an unexpected political bent to the novel, which is generally not something that I expect in the mystery genre. The details of international events are skillfully interwoven with the mystery, giving the reader a fantastic sense of place and time. The fact that 1960s London comes alive in this trilogy is a big draw for me and it will appeal to mystery readers who are looking for a read that is more than just procedural information, after all, Breen and Tozer are not even officially on the case.
The characters of Breen and Tozer continue to be fabulous; they are what keep me coming back to these books. Both Cathal Breen and Helen Tozer are such human characters. Breen is definitely not a super detective, yet he stands in sharp contrast to his corrupt fellow official. Helen Tozer, unlike Breen, is comfortable with the fast changing world; she embraces the change that society is experiencing and is all the more frustrated when she’s forced to quit her job and return to help her parents on their farm. The fact that Breen and Tozer are so opposite in terms of the worldview makes their strange relationship all the more compelling. Breen’s more of an old fashioned kind of guy, so his attraction to Tozer is a bit fraught; however, I think with Brokenhearted you can really see how Breen has grow and embraced some of the change that’s sweeping the nation. There are some big changes ahead for both Breen and Tozer and it's how they deal with personal complications during a murder investigation that is so compelling.
Ultimately, Brokenhearted gives readers a satisfying conclusion to the trilogy. Many of the loose ends from the previous books are wrapped up; however, I think the author leaves enough room for future books to be written. If there is anything that disappointed me about Brokenhearted, it is the ambiguous nature of the ending and the fact that, as it stands, there will be no more books featuring these characters. Ambiguity aside, if you've enjoyed the first two books in this trilogy there is no question that you will love it's finale....more
"The Reluctant Duchess" was a nice historical romance featuring a mystery/suspense element. For the most part, I was impressed with how Cullen combine"The Reluctant Duchess" was a nice historical romance featuring a mystery/suspense element. For the most part, I was impressed with how Cullen combined suspense and romance; this is something that I've really enjoyed about her romances in the past. I really enjoyed the romance between Gabriel and Sara, yet I couldn't help but feel that there was something missing. There wasn't a lot of conflict in Sara and Gabriel's road to their happily ever after, at least when it came to their feelings. Personally, I think there could have been a little bit more passion in their relationship. That said, overall I thought this was a nice read featuring nice characters. If you like your historical romance with a dash of intrigue, Sharon Cullen is the author for you. ...more
I struggled to get through this book. There were some really cool concepts that I truly enjoyed, but I found that there was an emotional disconnect frI struggled to get through this book. There were some really cool concepts that I truly enjoyed, but I found that there was an emotional disconnect from the actions of the characters and what the characters were feeling when they did certain things. Considering the fact that I am a reader that gravitates towards richly developed and emotionally complex characters, I found this lack to be the big reason why I didn't like City of Light as much as I would have expected. For me, too much time was spent on detailing the actions of the characters and not enough time spent on the internal journey of the character. Personal preference raises its ugly head.
The concept that I found really intriguing in City of Light is Tiger's status as a déchet, a humanoid bio-engineered by humans. The idea of what makes someone human is a concept that I find really interesting when it is explored in science fiction. Ann Leckie's Imperial Radchtrilogy is another look at what it means to be a person; however, instead of focusing on genetic modification, Leckie instead explores whether or not an artificial intelligence can be a person. Like Leckie's main character, Tiger is considered less because of how she was created. Tiger was created in a test tube and bred to serve a specific purpose as a spy during the wars. Considered by humans and shifters as essentially trash, Tiger rightfully conceals her origins from those that want her help in City of Light. Interestingly, though considered less than human or shifter, Tiger repeatedly demonstrates her capacity for "human" traits, exhibiting such characteristics as empathy, kindness, and guilt (to name a few). While others consider what Tiger is to be inhuman, it's the human characters like Nuri that exhibit more of lack of sympathy for their fellow man. The exploration of Tiger's origins was an aspect of City of Light that I truly loved and it's what I'm interested in seeing explored further in the second book considering the fact that Tiger's déchet status is now know by a much wider circle of people.
What didn't work for me was the emphasis on actions and this is where I have to chalk up my lack of enthusiasm to a personal preference. In general, I am not a fan of books that focus on what the characters are doing. I what to know what they are feeling or thinking when they are doing something. In City of Light there was a lot of emphasis on detailing what Tiger was doing: cleaning weapons, setting traps, traveling to locations etc. This is a level of detail that I am not fond of and I found that it bogged down the pace of City of Light. I think that those who enjoy a high level of world building will appreciate City of Light more than I did. The author has taken a lot of time to describe the world in which Tiger lives from the bunker where she hides to the slums where she encounters those looking for her help. If you like this kind of world building City of Light is for you.
While City of Light was not my favourite read, I do think that the ending was a bit of a saving grace for me. Finally Tiger showed some of that emotion that I was hoping for. Throughout the book the only strong emotion that Tiger exhibited was towards her little ghosts, and finally at the end Tiger shows her anger and resentment towards those that have blackmailed her into helping her all the while reviling what she is. I want to know how the other characters will react to this other side of Tiger and whether or not their opinion of the déchet will change once they get to know Tiger. And here's hoping that the romance gets ramped up; there was not near enough of a romance in City of Light, especially with a focus on all the secrets and lies amongst the characters that could potentially be involved in the romance.
Listen the Moon is one of the most unusual and most interesting historical romances that I’ve read it a long while. For the most part, the historicalListen the Moon is one of the most unusual and most interesting historical romances that I’ve read it a long while. For the most part, the historical romance genre is saturated in romance featuring heroes and heroines of the upper echelons of society, or at least one member of the romantic duo is of the upper class. I will admit to being totally fine with this – who doesn’t love a duke, or a marquis in disguise, or a pirate who’s really an earl? But, Rose Lerner takes readers right out of the world of privilege and focuses her romance between two servants (who are not secretly of the nobility, to be clear), which makes Listen to the Moon a refreshing read.
John Toogood is a valet down on his luck and is looking for a new position after his master has had a reversal in fortune. A plum position has come up as the butler for a vicarage; however, John’s prospective employer requires that the successful applicant be a married man. Needless to say, John is not married, but he has been involved in a harmless, mutual flirtation with the much younger halfhearted maid-of-all-work, Sukey Grimes. While their work ethics are vastly different, John wants the butler position and having just lost a position of her own Sukey is reluctantly willing to marry John so that they can work at the vicarage.
The story in Listen to the Moon is simple and there’s not really a lot of extra drama going on. This is a romance through and through, and its focus is on the main characters and their relationship. John and Sukey marry fairly early in Listen to the Moon, so the bulk of the novel is their adjustment to married life. While they had attraction on their side, both John and Sukey have a hard time adjusting to marriage. For his part, John is worried that he took advantage of Sukey as she is so much younger than he (he’s forty and she’s in her twenties) and is afraid to rely on her too much:
She’d been lonely and afraid, young and inexperienced, and he’d used it to talk her into a marriage that she’d turned down when she had a job.
The more he wanted her, the more he needed her, the more he asked her for – the less chance she would have to be the woman she’d wanted to be, who stood on her own two feet, who had nothing between her and the sun. The less chance she’d have to discover what she really wanted. He’d been collecting his burdens for forty years. Even if they’d grown heavy for him, she was too young to be asked to shoulder half.
On Sukey’s part, she was initially determined not to marry. After seeing the disaster of her parent’s marriage, Sukey wanted to be independent, and she struggles with her reasons for marrying John:
She looked terribly sad all of a sudden. “I think I want to marry you.” Her eyes filled, a tear slipping down her cheek.
John didn’t know what to say. “I never intended the idea to make you so unhappy.
“I meant to get by on my own. I ignored my mother when she said I’d end up in the workhouse. I didn’t want to need help. I don’t want to get married only to have some man to take care of me.”
“It isn’t weak to wish for a helpmeet.”
The inner conflict that both John and Sukey experience is the meat of Listen to the Moon and it’s what makes this book such a romantic read. Rather than combating external forces, it’s each other’s hang-ups that provide the tension in novel. I loved seeing John and Sukey struggle with their need for each other, while refusing to be too dependent on the other. It was a lovely journey watching as they learned to lean on each other and trust that they were not taking advantage of what was being offered. While I don’t think this more subdued style of romance is for everyone, I think Rose Lerner is a must read for anyone that is a fan of Mary Balogh, especially if you often think Balogh's romances need a little more steam.
What I also found interesting about Listen to the Moon was the details about life as a servant. Both John and Sukey are servants in a household and their work is not always glamorous. This is not the historical romance where the hero and heroine put on their fancy duds and dance the night away while enjoying carriage rides by day. John and Sukey both have to work very hard and amidst all this time spent working they also have to find time to be together and get to know one another. Real life often intruded on John and Sukey’s romantic life and it was up to them to find some sort of balance. I loved this hint of realism in Listen to the Moon; it’s not only important from a historical standpoint as an aspect of working life, but also an element that I think makes this read more timeless than some of the other historical romances that I’ve read. The development of John and Sukey’s relationship in spite of their working lives was very, very well done.
Ultimately, I thought Listen to the Moon was an amazing historical romance, and the perfect read for historical romance fans who are looking for something refreshingly different in their genre reading. Listen to the Moon is also especially intriguing for readers who like their romance focused on the relationship between the hero and heroine rather than in addition to many external factors. While Listen to the Moon was surprisingly explicit, it was always deeply emotional, which was a very good thing.
Tenacity was an unexpected thriller (in a good way) that was refreshing, suspenseful, and introduces readers to a heroine in a unique situation.
LieuteTenacity was an unexpected thriller (in a good way) that was refreshing, suspenseful, and introduces readers to a heroine in a unique situation.
Lieutenant Danielle “Dan” Lewis is an investigator for the Special Investigative Branch (SIB) of the British military, and the lone female investigator at that. Following an investigation that both heralded her as a hero and reviled her amongst her colleagues, Dan has come back to her roots after taking a year sabbatical. What her colleagues are unaware of is that Dan’s sabbatical was motivated after she was attacked and beaten on the one-year anniversary of the imprisonment of the man that made her a household name. Now another woman has been beaten and murdered and her husband has seemingly committed suicide. Only Dan sees the connection between her own attack and that of the murder victim's and that’s only because she’s never shared what happened to her.
Ostensibly investigating the apparent suicide, Dan is also bent on finding out more about her own attack. This investigation pairs Dan with her former partner, John Granger, whom is still holding a grudge because of Dan’s lone wolf tendencies. During the investigation many walls are thrown up against Dan and it’s clear that everything traces back to the nuclear submarine, Tenacity. Only by joining the crew on the Tenacity will Dan find out the truth, or at least, she hopes so.
Tenacity was a nail-biting read. Right off the hop so many questions were raised. What secret is Dan keeping? How does that secret relate to the rape and murder of a submariner’s wife? How does everything relate to the Tenacity? I was hooked from the get-go. Aside from the mystery, what really caught my attention was the unique perspective that the novel takes. Dan is a lone woman investigator in an all boys’ club, which means that absolutely nothing is easy for her. Suspects don’t want to talk to her. She’s blatantly harassed and disrespected. It’s basically an awful work environment. Add in the fact that Dan has not dealt with the aftereffects of her own attack – well, Dan, she’s one tough lady. Dan was a great character and I’m really impressed that the author showed the darker side of a woman worked in a male dominated field (a concept that I personally take for granted working in a female dominated career).
The suspense is really amped up once Dan is actually on the Tenacity. Submarine living is claustrophobic and this is made clear over and over again. The lack of sunlight, communication to the outside world, and being labeled an interloper all ramp up the tension and sense of forboding. No one wants Dan on the Tenacity and again this results in derogatory remarks and disrespect being aimed at Dan. The terror at Dan’s vulnerability in this situation is what I found really suspenseful about this book. Sure there's a murderer out there, but its Dan’s solitude that really had me flipping the pages. Anything could have happened to Dan and it would be her word against an entire company of tight-knit submariners.
Tenacity is a well-crafted mystery/thriller, but it really stands out in the genre because of its investigator, Danielle Lewis. Dan is a strong woman going against an established institution in the effort to find a murderer and discover a larger conspiracy, and it’s kind of terrifying. The author has done a superb job at creating a memorable character and a suspenseful plot, and Law leaves just enough threads dangling to guarantee that I will be back to find out more and to learn more about the life of a military police officer, a world that feels so foreign to me. Recommended to fans of the mystery genre that are looking for something outside the norm.
The Hunter is the follow-up to the much-hyped The Highwayman. I think I was in the minority camp with the pOriginally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
The Hunter is the follow-up to the much-hyped The Highwayman. I think I was in the minority camp with the previous book: I didn’t love The Highwayman (gasp!). And, initially when I started The Hunter I didn’t think that I would like it either. Morally ambiguous characters in the romance genre don’t really do it for me. But, The Hunter took me by surprise as the author transformed a cold-blooded assassin into a romance hero, and it…worked. Only in romancelandia does an assassin get a happily ever after. But, what really won me over was the author’s sensual style of writing and the author’s unique turns of phrase. I’ll be the first to admit that I read A LOT of historical romance, and they all start to blend together after awhile. With The Hunter I realized that I was reading something refreshingly different, and for that, I found The Hunter to be a really good read. Christopher Argent is an assassin of some renown and his latest mission appears to be no different than any other: kill famed actress Millie LeCour. But, when Christopher meets Millie he finds that he inexplicitly cannot kill her and instead makes a deal with her. If Millie will spend one night (and I do mean "spend the night" in the Biblical sense) with Christopher he will protect her and her son from the mysterious person that hired Christopher in the first place. Considering the safety of her son, and her attraction to the assassin, Millie agrees.
Now, let’s be honest here, the fact that the hero coerces the heroine into sleeping with him is a bit, well, problematic. Whether Millie was attracted to Christopher or not before he forces her to make a choice doesn’t negate the fact that this is not heroic behaviour and I did find this kind of uncomfortable. That said, the author managed not to make Christopher a creep and he absolutely did realize that he was in the wrong. I’m not sure that repenting after the fact really redeemed Christopher, it's clear that Christopher's childhood plays a huge role in why he is the way he is. While this kind of hero that toes the morality line will never be my favourite, I liked how Byrne turned around Christopher’s character, making him more human in the second half of the book. Who knew an assassin could blush?
While the initial coercion aspect of Christopher and Millie’s relationship makes me cringe a bit if I think about it too hard, I still really liked the romance. Christopher was taciturn and remote, Millie vivacious and outgoing; not exactly two people that you would think would work, but they did. Millie refused to back down against Christopher’s barriers, and Christopher revealed himself to be less cold and more traumatized by what happened to his mother when he was a boy. The contrast between these two characters created some lovely and funny moments, like when Christopher tries to wake Millie before 9 a.m. and is completely befuddled by her refusal to get out of bed and her threats to kill him. The contrast between these two characters was great and I think it was the differences that really appealed to me in the romance.
The writing in The Hunter was also really, really good. There were so many unique turns of phrase that jumped out at me while reading, like Christopher being “unstitched” by Millie. The sensual quality to the writing was also really well done. Generally, I like my romances more matter-of-fact with a side of hilarity (Tessa Dare, I’m talking to you), but there was something really melodic about The Hunter. The more evocative style of writing created a great atmosphere that went well with the suspenseful tone and the emotional romance. I’m officially on this author’s bandwagon.
If you like your historical romance with a dose of suspense, featuring a morally questionable hero, and great writing, pick up The Hunter right now. And, buyer beware, the teaser at the end of the book will have you chomping at the bit for the author's next book....more
I enjoyed Dreaming Death. Similar to Cheney’s previous trilogy The Golden City, DreamingOriginally reviewed in a joint review at The Book Adventures.
I enjoyed Dreaming Death. Similar to Cheney’s previous trilogy The Golden City, Dreaming Death also combines a rich fantasy world with mystery. While there is a great deal of detail about the world that Cheney puts her readers into, at heart, Dreaming Death is a mystery and I like that. Anytime an author wants to defy the bounds of genre categorization I’m game. Unlike more traditional mysteries, this one is solved using unique measures, like two people with particular abilities that just so happen to feed off the other, making them quite the duo. Interestingly, Shironne and Mikael have not even met before they start their crime solving.
There is a lot of fear and apprehension surrounding Shironne and Mikael’s relationship even before they met. Shironne shares Mikael’s dreams and because of that she can help solve the murders he dreams about. However, the downside of this bond is that Mikael can influence Shironne and make her feel things that she just might not want to feel. Because of the nature of their bond, Shironne and Mikael have been kept separate but remain aware of each other. And therein lies my only frustration with Dreaming Death: how long it took for Shironne and Mikael to actually connect in person. The first half of the book keeps Shironne and Mikael separated. Readers get both of their points of view, but it’s not until much later that they actually interact. For me, it was when Shironne and Mikael finally met each other that the pace started to pick up. I had liked the story up to that point, but it was when these two met and started to explore their bond that I became truly hooked.
Separation of the main characters aside, the concept of individuals being bound to each other was really interesting with rather serious ramifications to individuality. Mikael is used to subduing his emotions since it discomforts the other sensitives that physically surround him, so in some ways he is more prepared for his bond to Shironne. Mikael is afraid of unduly influencing Shironne and forcing her to become someone that she’s not. Shironne, partly due to her blindness and her gender, has been shaped into a specific kind of person already, and again, Mikael recognizes this when he asks “Who are you when you’re alone?” (p. 233). Shironne does need to create her own sense of self as she has been very much shaped by her role in her family. Shironne's relationship to her family isn't a negative thing, but it does not allow Shironne to fully explore her abilities. By the end of the book, I think Shironne has come a long way to claiming her independence and I’m curious to see how the author explores Shironne’s personality considering the seemingly vulnerable position that she’s in. I think this concept will be much further explored in future books as Shironne and Mikael work with each other on a regular basis.
If you enjoy mystery, detailed world building and great characters, Dreaming Death will be a fun read. Shironne and Mikael are more subdued than you would expect of main characters, but I think it serves a purpose in the author’s questioning of fate and individuality. I can’t wait to see where this goes next!...more
The Bloodforged is Lindsey’s follow-up to The Bloodbound, which I reviewed last week. After cracking open The Bloodforged it is immediately clear thatThe Bloodforged is Lindsey’s follow-up to The Bloodbound, which I reviewed last week. After cracking open The Bloodforged it is immediately clear that this is a much, much stronger book. The addition of new character perspectives goes a long way in making The Bloodforged a more complex and compelling fantasy story, and leaves the reader wanting more.
The Bloodforged picks up a few months after the events in The Bloodbound. The war continues to rage on; however, Alden’s forces are flagging and without reinforcements it is likely that the kingdom will fall. Erik White, king of Alden, proposes a risky, diplomatic plan. To gain the much-needed reinforcements Alden will have to seek out allies and convince them to join their fight. Erik and his bodyguard, Alix, will cross the border to win over the King of the Harrami, and Erik’s brother, Liam, will venture to Onnan city to see why their allies are delaying in providing help. If these diplomatic missions fail, Alden may fall. It's also risky to, you know, send the king and his heir off on this missions during a war. Should they fall, the leadership of Alden will be in flux.
Readers of the previous book will recall that Alix and Liam have recently wed, so neither are thrilled to be separated. The complicate love-triangle of The Bloodbound is mostly resolved (thank goodness!) and plays little part in The Bloodforged. However, that’s not to say that the author has not fleshed out the relationship between Alix and Liam. Creating a lot of dimension to Alix and Liam’s relationship is the addition of Liam’s narrative. Readers are finally treated to what’s going through Liam’s mind and his struggle in being a prince of the realm. A diplomacy mission’s not exactly his preferred task, soldiering it what he wants to do and he's not at all convinced that he's right man for the job he's given. How refreshing to have a guy character feel vulnerable and ineffective. Yes please, let's have some more.
What I also liked about the relationship element in The Bloodforged is the fact that Alix is also struggling with the changing dynamics in her relationship with her husband. In the previous book, Liam was an anonymous, illegitimate young man. Alix cared for him, but a relationship seemed impossible. Now that they have married and Liam is a prince, Alix has to deal with the fact that Liam no longer lives in her shadow; her wants are not always going to come first. I think this adds some great tension to their relationship and I would have liked there to have been more time spent exploring this. However, Alix and Liam spend the bulk of the book apart on their respective missions. Here's hoping that the next book plays with this conflict a bit more.
Another fabulous addition to the book is the heightened presence of Alix’s brother, Rig Black. Like Liam’s perspective, Rig allows the story to focus on another part of the war effort, specifically the front lines of the battle. This plot thread provides readers with the bulk of the action in the story, as well as a small romance plot. Rig is a great character and a nice counterpoint to both Liam and Erik.
Ultimately, there is a lot going on in The Bloodforged but instead of creating an unnecessarily complicated plot, readers are giving a more considered story than its predecessor. Characters are further developed, the world is more fully explored, and plot is moved in an unanticipated direction. Given the ending of the book, I can’t wait to return to this world and see how Alix and Liam are going to resolve the latest problem. And, if I’m honest, I hoping for more of a focus on Alix and Liam’s relationship; there’s a lot of meat there and I’d like to see the author take advantage of the potential for conflict. The first installment may not have impressed, but The Bloodforged succeeds in giving readers a story to be invested in.
Sabrina York is a new-to-me author and having finished Hannah and the Highlander I can honestly say that I will be back for more from York. Hannah andSabrina York is a new-to-me author and having finished Hannah and the Highlander I can honestly say that I will be back for more from York. Hannah and the Highlander was an adorably sweet read featuring a horribly smitten manly-man who didn’t think he was quite the catch that his heroine deserved. Who doesn’t love a smitten hero?
Hannah is the eldest of three sisters and she’s almost considered on-the-shelf. Her father is urging her to accept one of her suitors, only Hannah is looking for a husband that values her for more than the significant dowry that she possesses. When Alexander Lochlannach, Laird of Dunnet, rescues Hannah from an attack he’s a goner, and he can only hope that Hannah accepts his suit after turning away all others before him. While Hannah doesn’t quite believe that this hot guy wants to marry her she is spurred into accepting. It’s after marrying that Alexander and Hannah really have to figure out what to do with each other - miscommunication ensues!
Highlander romances are not generally my thing (give me a ballroom any day) but nostalgia gripped me as I’m quite certain my first romance read as a teenager was a highlander romance by Julie Garwood. York succeeds in giving readers a more modern romance without forgoing historical sensibilities. Yeah, Hannah and Alexander marry after barely speaking, but what happens after is what really shines. The respect and equal partnership that is emphasized and it’s that element that makes this a more modern and more enjoyable romance (old-school is not my thing when it comes to the romance genre).
The big conflict in Hannah and the Highlander is the lack of communication in Hannah and Alexander’s relationship, a fact that is not helped by the hero’s self-conscious awareness of his stutter. Fearing the loss of his bride’s respect, the hero is more likely to bark commands and write letters rather than speak. The fact that communication is what drives this romance makes this a romance that is mainly focused on its characters. While there is a sub-plot with the land Clearances that the Scots are being compelled to enforce, the relationship between Alexander and Hannah is what propels this book forward. The author does a really, really good job at developing and exploring how their relationship grows. Alexander and Hannah go from virtual strangers to equal partners, and it’s this kind of character/relationship development that always keeps me coming back to the romance genre. For me, it’s all about the characters, and Hannah and the Highlander doesn’t disappoint.
Hannah and the Highlander will appeal to those who enjoy a good Highlander romance as well as those who appreciate a strong character-driven plot. There are manly men and strong women. There’s also humour, tenderness and historical fact. Kind of sounds like a no brainer, right?
The Highwayman is a historical romance that has been getting rave reviews. It features a bluestocking working for the Scotland Yard and a hardened criThe Highwayman is a historical romance that has been getting rave reviews. It features a bluestocking working for the Scotland Yard and a hardened criminal who kidnaps her to make good on an old debt. Then, readers become aware that the relationship between Farah and Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is much longer in standing than is originally thought to be.
When she was eight, Farah was orphaned and met fellow orphan Dougan. From their first meeting, the pair was inseparable, even “marrying” each other as children. Unfortunately, fate stepped in, cruelly wrenching these two apart. Now, seventeen years later, Farah poses as Dougan’s widow, blaming herself for his death, and is on the verge of pursuing a relationship with a new man. At least, until Dorian Blackwell kidnaps her to protect Farah from an unknown foe.
Naturally, Farah is none too pleased to have been kidnapped. However, when she learns that Dorian and those in his employ all knew Dougan she is compelled to learn more. It’s hard to escape your captors when they have information you want. Then, she learns that her life is in danger because of the identity of her parents and the inheritance that she can claim. Marrying Dorian is the best way that she can protect herself from those that have taken claim of her inheritance.
I have to admit to having a mixed reaction to The Highwayman. On one hand I liked the backstory and there were so many great instances of humour with Farah’s character. Farah might have been kidnapped but that doesn’t mean she’s going to back down, all she requires is some pastries to fortify herself:
She couldn’t take much more of this. “I’ll go to him,” Farah snapped. “You leave me no choice.”
He nodded again, as though oblivious and satisfied. “You can take some tarts if you’d like,” he offered.
“Not a chance.” Farah swiped her coins back into her purse and huffed to the door, thoroughly exasperated. Why was it that every time she came close to answers, to truth, she was thwarted by thickheaded men? It was inconceivably irritating.
Pausing, she turned back around. “What kind of tarts?”
“Strawberry.” Frankenstein wiped his hands on his apron and held the tray out to her.
Cursing her inability to refuse pastries, she took one of the bite-sized confections. “This doesn’t mean I forgive you for being a kidnapping criminal.”
“Course not,” he agreed.
“Just so we’re clear.”
The lighthearted moments go a long way to balancing out what would otherwise be a rather dark romance. The more serious undertones to The Highwayman are due to Dorian and his past. He’s a criminal who’s spent time in prison and the abuse suffered there has taken its toll. Dorian does not want to be touched by anyone and considers himself broken and unredeemable.
And it’s with Dorian that I have mixed feelings about this as a romance. On one hand, broken heroes are part and parcel of the romance genre, but I have to be honest and admit that I found Dorian a tad creepy which colours his relationship with Farah. It takes a long time for readers to actually “see” anything from Dorian’s perspective and for me, this made Dorian a remote and unknowable character. Because it takes readers so long to understand Dorian’s motivations for why he acts the way he does, his actions seem creepy and unromantic (at least to me). Dorian’s pursuit of Farah has an old school romance quality that doesn’t really appeal to me.
I realize that I seem to be in the minority with The Highwayman, and while I understand why folks are loving this one (fans of Lisa Kleypas will rejoice), I can’t help but be somewhat off put by a hero that it takes so long for readers to come to understand. That said, I really enjoyed the author’s writing style and the fact that it’s set in the Victorian era. I’ll certainly be back for book two, featuring Dorian’s friend and assassin, Christopher.
In Search of Scandal is a delightful, charming, and sweet historical romance from debut author, Susanne Lord.
Will Repton is a plant collector and soleIn Search of Scandal is a delightful, charming, and sweet historical romance from debut author, Susanne Lord.
Will Repton is a plant collector and sole survivor of a massacre in Tibet. He returns to Victorian London viewed as a hero, but all he wants is to raise enough funds to make a return trip to investigate whether or not a baby girl survived the massacre that he barely escaped. Soliciting the help of his friend, Ben, Will runs into Ben’s sister-in-law, Charlotte Baker – quite possibly the most beautiful woman (and the chattiest) he’s ever met. For Charlotte, her meeting with Will is love at first sight. If only this dashing hero could see her as something other than a frivolous female, and if only he was planning on sticking around for longer than a few months. Happily, events conspire against them both.
Charlotte and Will are complete opposites. Will’s a scholarly dude who has absolutely no clue that Charlotte has set her sites on him or why she even would - he's a plant guy, not a lord.
No sensible woman looked at him like that.
Perhaps there was something wrong with her (p.11)
Little does Will know, Charlotte is intent on marriage as soon as she sets sights on him.
But thank God. Thank God! Here he was! The man who could redeem the family name. The man she dreamed of. The man she was destined to marry – even if William Repton was not yet away of the fact (p. 11).
Yes, Charlotte’s intentions towards Will are partially motivated by what he can do for her family (they are not well received among the ton). But, it’s all too clear that this is a very small part of what draws Charlotte to Will. From the start Charlotte sees Will as someone who is interesting; she is interested in his travels and the sights that he has seen. For Will’s part, he doesn’t really believe that Charlotte is actually interested in him – and I couldn’t have been more tickled by the fact that this hero is clueless. There’s more than rakes and rogues in romance land and it’s the incongruity between the hero and heroine that makes this a delightful read.
Complicating Charlotte and Will’s road to happily ever after is the fact that Will is leaving England, and even when he cannot possibly fail to notice that Charlotte is actually attracted to him, Will refuses to pursue something when he’s leaving the country. Honor and all that. Meanwhile, Charlotte does actually need and want to get married and she has no shortage of alternative suitors after Will refuses to come up to scratch. But, the more time Will spends with Charlotte the harder he finds it will be to leave her behind. Does Will really need to be the one that goes back to Tibet, especially at the cost of his own future happiness?
Well, I wont spoil the ending, but the journey to that happily ever after is sublime. The characters were well drawn and the writing was witting. Charlotte in particular is a hoot with her rambling thoughts and her flights of fancy. There is no question in my mind that I will be back for more fun this author – it’s just too much fun not to.
I absolutely loved the first book in Marillier’s Blackthorn & Grim series, Dreamer’s Pool, so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copyI absolutely loved the first book in Marillier’s Blackthorn & Grim series, Dreamer’s Pool, so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of its follow-up, Tower of Thorns. In fact, Tower of Thorns is one of my most anticipated reads of the fall. And let me tell you, it completely lived up to the exceedingly high expectations that I had. It's beautifully written, filled with magic, and inhabited by two fascinating characters.
What appealed to me in the first book, are the characters and Blackthorn and Grim. They are both so tortured. Blackthorn in particular is haunted by the murder of both her husband and son and burns to take revenge on the man that had them killed and her locked away. In the first book, Blackthorn had made some progress in moving away from revenge, but that quickly changes when she is confronted with a friend from her past who encourages her thoughts of revenge. In Tower of Thorns, Blackthorn seems to truly move past her revenge; it's not the only thing she desires and she starts to recognize that the new life she has been forced to create is worth living. There is one instance where she longs for her home at Winterfalls, and for me, that is the turning point in Blackthorn’s character:
And I felt, for the first time, a longing to be back at Winterfalls, in the cottage, just Grim and me with the woods close by and the settlement a safe distance away across the fields – close enough so folks could reach us if they needed to, far enough so they did not often disturb our peace. “A pox on it, Grim,” I said to my absent friend. “I’m turning soft, I’m becoming an old woman.” (p. 264)
Unlike Grim, Blackthorn has never really been content with her new life. As soon as a person from her past arrives she’s quite willing to reconsider her bargain that states she must not seek out revenge for seven long years. Blackthorn's tentative reconsideration of what is truly important is what I found so engrossing in Tower of Thorns. Character development, Marillier does it so, so well.
The other standout character is Grim. In Tower of Thorns Grim’s back story is shared and readers begin to understand what drives his intense motivation to protect Blackthorn. The way Grim sees it is that he’s failed so many in the past, he absolutely refuses to fail another. There’s an interesting vulnerability about Grim that is incongruous with his rather fearsome appearance, but this only serves to make him a more compelling character. Grim is self conscious and uncertain about his place in Blackthorn's life, yet on every occasion Grim displays his willingness to go to bat for her. For a man that too often viewed as simple, he is one complicated dude.
Together, the characters of Blackthorn and Grim are dynamite. I love the supportive relationship between these two. Blackthorn shows a lot more consideration for Grim in Tower of Thorns; they are on a much more even playing field in their relationship. No romance between the two, but I think we can safely say that hints are dropped. My romantic heart is happy and I have high hopes for book three.
Aside from the truly fantastic characters, the story is also beautiful and sad. Like Dreamer’s Pool, Tower of Thorns is also grounded in a mystery. This time round, the pair are investigating the presence of a howling monster in a tower, but all is not what it appears. The woman asking for their help is keeping secrets, which just might have disastrous consequences. The tale of the monster is the tower is interspersed with Blackthorn and Grim’s narratives. It’s a tale that’s both sad and horrifying – the lengths that Lady Geiléis will go to solve the problem of the monster doesn't exactly endear her to the reader. At the same time, its difficult not to feel feel sympathy with Lady Geiléis and all she has suffered for one instance of youthful pride. If you like stories that have an old fashioned fairy tale feel, look no further than Tower of Thorns.
Marillier introduced two flawed and well developed in Dreamer’s Pool and she continues to reveal new facets of each character while thrusting them into magical mysteries in Tower of Thorns. I can’t describe how much I love these characters and the relationship they have with one another. Blackthorn and Grim are the foundation of this series and I cannot wait to see what mystery they are involved in next.
A Talent for Trickery found itself on my reading radar because it features a heroine with a checkered, criminal past and a hero that’s an investigatorA Talent for Trickery found itself on my reading radar because it features a heroine with a checkered, criminal past and a hero that’s an investigator. I was pretty confident that this was going to be a great combination. I was not disappointed.
Owen Renderwell first encountered Charlotte Walker years ago when he worked with her criminally inclined father. However, they did not part on good terms. Charlotte has always believed that Owen took the credit that was due to her father, leaving her father to die in disgrace and necessitating the need for her and her siblings to disguise their origins. Years later, Owen has come knocking on Lottie’s door to ask for her help. Needless to say, Lottie isn’t exactly jumping at the chance to help Owen, and it certainly doesn’t help that Owen has not a clue as to why Lottie is angry with him. Sparks will fly!
A Talent for Trickery is a really good historical romance. Not only does the author create an interesting premise (law maker vs. law breaker) there’s also some real intellectual meat to the story. It’s interesting that the novel explores the ideas of crime and class and how morality is for the rich, who have a number of choices available to them. For Charlotte and her siblings, helping their father with his criminal endeavors was not something they had a choice in. I was pleasantly surprised that this was not glossed over in the novel. Charlotte’s conflicting attitude about her background and her initial willingness to help her father was explored much more than I would have expected, giving this romance a more serious tone. The ideas behind class and crime are also what make Owen and Charlotte’s relationship more complex than many of the romances that I’ve read. The author spends a significant amount of time resolving the differences in both their class and their moral outlook. Charlotte has very fluid ideas of morality whereas Owen’s are more rigid, for a romance to flourish those differences needed to be resolved and the author does this.
The mystery element to A Talent for Trickery is another facet that makes this a strong read. What draws Owen back into Charlotte’s orbit is his need for help in breaking a cipher. This cipher may be one of Charlotte’s father’s and Owen needs access to his journals if he’s going to crack it. However, the murder that necessitates Owen’s return into Charlotte’s life might also be the reason that Charlotte and her two siblings are now in danger. Like the romance, the mystery was also well executed and served a larger purpose and further developed the romance. Without the need to work together to decipher the mysterious correspondence, Charlotte and Owen would never have gotten to know one another again.
While not a steamy romance, A Talent for Trickery was a well-crafted story. Not only were the hero and heroine well developed, but so too were the secondary characters of Charlotte’s siblings and Owen’s fellow investigators. I can only hope that Esther (Charlotte’s sister) gets her own story.
So if you’re looking for a romance that has a bit of meat to it, A Talent for Trickery more than fits the bill. This one gets bonus points for featuring an unusual heroine and her unusual family. I can’t wait for more in this series.
Jenny Holiday is a new-to-me historical romance author and one that I can see myself returning to. With The Likelihood of Lucy Holiday brings readersJenny Holiday is a new-to-me historical romance author and one that I can see myself returning to. With The Likelihood of Lucy Holiday brings readers a romance that’s firmly set outside the aristocracy. Lucy Greenleaf and Trevor Bailey both grew up together in Seven Dials. When, at eleven, Lucy’s mother attempts to auction off her virginity, Trevor finds a way to get Lucy out. Growing up in a charity school, Lucy finds employment as a governess, only her adherent to the tenets of her heroine, Mary Wollstonecraft, gets her let go from her position. After returning to the streets for a week, Lucy soon has no choice but to turn to the friend who always protected her as a girl.
Trevor raised himself from the gutter by hard work and determination, which has paid off and he’s now opening a hotel with the backing of several aristocratic investors. When Lucy turns up at his door, he’s determined to get her back on her feet and into a position that she deserves; she can’t possibly be for him since he’s just not good enough. And therein lies my dissatisfaction with The Likelihood of Lucy: Trevor’s continued insistence that he’s not good enough for Lucy.
While both Lucy and Trevor have reasons that They Cannot Be Together. Lucy is committed to women’s rights and doesn’t see marriage as a way to keep fighting for them, and Trevor is certain that he’s still gutter trash (never mind that he’s loaded and that he can offer Lucy a much better life than that of a governess). While I can get behind the reasons why both Trevor and Lucy were hesitant about a relationship, I did find their continued insistence a tad repetitive. Trevor’s determination to define Lucy’s path particularly grated. Trevor was convinced that Lucy deserved better, but never consulted her on what she would prefer (at least until the end). And I have a hard time following Trevor’s reasoning as to why governessing was such a good path for Lucy – it’s basically a servant’s position and he thought that was better than any life that he could offer her. Hmm, just not buying that thought process.
Despite the inconsistencies in our hero’s reasoning, I liked the romance between Trevor and Lucy. It was founded on their childhood friendship but it became something much more. I also liked how Lucy slowly came around to the notion of a happy and equal relationship with a man. At first blush, Lucy came across as quite single minded about her mission and cause of women’s rights, which is of course admirable, but can also co-exist within a relationship. It was a nice progression and I appreciated that character growth.
The Likelihood of Lucy was a nice historical romance and I loved the fact that the main characters were not members of the aristocracy. All those ball gowns and riches are great, but sometimes its refreshing to have less illustrious people be the centre of a story.
Uprooted was a fantastic read for me. The writing evokes the old fashioned, atmospheric quality of a a fairy tale from the very beginning:
Our Dragon d
Uprooted was a fantastic read for me. The writing evokes the old fashioned, atmospheric quality of a a fairy tale from the very beginning:
Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley. We hear them sometimes, from travelers passing through. They talk as through we were doing human sacrifice, and he were a real dragon. Of course that’s not true: he may be a wizard and immortal, but he’s still a man, and our fathers would band together and kill him if he wanted to eat one of us every ten years. He protects us against the Wood, and we’re grateful, but not that grateful.
In Agnieszka’s village the Dragon chooses a girl once every ten years. The young woman selected is bound in service to the Dragon, and when they are released at twenty-seven they are set free, usually leaving the valley by the Wood for good. In this story it’s Agnieszka who is unexpectedly chosen to serve the Dragon. Agnieszka was never considered refined enough to serve the illustrious wizard, rather it’s her best friend, Kasia, who was thought to be chosen. Naturally, Agnieszka is terrified to be selected and her fear is not unfounded especially when she’s pressed into using magic that she had no idea that she even possessed. It doesn't help that the Dragon is a rude and detached man that seems to care nothing for the actual people that he protects by holding the Wood at bay.
While Agnieszka’s abilities don’t manifest in the expected, methodical practice that the Dragon would have liked, Agnieszka does have a connection with the land of her village and more dangerously, the Wood that they protect everyone from.
The Wood has slowly crept forward over the years, taking land and people alike, transforming them into the unrecognizable. When Kasia is taken, Agnieszka risks everything to find her friend, setting off a chain of events that has serious repercussions for Agnieszka and the Dragon.
While the setting, premise and language used are evocative, what I really enjoyed about Uprooted was its depiction of the friendship between Agnieszka and Kasia as well as the symbolism of the Wood.
Agnieszka was an excellent character in her own right. I loved her naivety and drive to do good, but I also liked her commitment to her friendship. When Kasia is taken into the Wood, Agnieszka is well aware that it is unlikely that she’ll be able to save her friend, but she must try. This leads to a wonderful moment in the book where both young women see each other’s petty jealousies and grievances towards one another. Agnieszka is jealous of Kasia’s poise and beauty, Kasia is jealous of Agnieszka’s relationship with her parents and the freedom that she experienced as the unlikely choice for the Dragon. What’s fantastic about this moment is that Agnieszka recognizes their differences and anger towards one another and goes forward. There’s no real conflict from their mutual grievances, there’s just a steadfast friendship between two young women thrust into a difficult situation who continue to remain friends with an awareness that neither are perfect.
The Wood was also an interesting concept in Uprooted. The author plays around quite a bit with the theme of “rooting” to a specific place or person. Agnieszka is the embodiment of an attachment to a specific place. She loves her village and the people that she shares that life with, even if it means living in the shadow of the dangerous Wood. In contrast, the Dragon would do anything to avoid making a commitment to the people and the land of the village. And it’s the idea of an attachment or “rooting” that is at the heart of the problem of the Wood. The theme is beautifully executed and flows extraordinarily well with the overarching plot of the novel.
Ultimately, Uprooted is a wonderful, adventurous tale perfect for those who have seemingly outgrown fairy tales. This one has great writing, great characters, a compelling plot, and a subdued romance. I only wish that I could read this again for the first time to appreciate its loveliness.
When I heard about Melissa Lander’s Starflight I was pretty darn excited. I am Originally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
Space adventure? Count me in!
When I heard about Melissa Lander’s Starflight I was pretty darn excited. I am a huge fan of anything set in space and if there isn’t an over abundance of science-y things, that makes things even better (for me, at least). Facts matter not! Starflight was a fun, space-set adventure, perfect for readers looking for something fast-paced and entertaining.
Solara Brooks is a young woman with a past. She’s branded as a criminal and because of that she can’t get a job. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Solara indentures herself to former classmate, Doran Spaulding, so that she can get passage aboard a ship. Doran had made Solara’s high school life…not pleasant and doesn’t do much better now that she’s working for him (and I do mean that she works, she’s doing his laundry, fetching his meals etc. I thought the whole servant thing would be more problematic than it was). Of course, the tide turns when Doran’s framed for a crime he didn’t commit and now has to rely on the very woman that he’d rather ignore. Space adventure gone sideways.
What I liked about Starflight is that it was exactly what it claimed to be. It was a adventurous romance. There was a lot of action, space chases, but there was equally a lot of emphasis on the romance between Solara and Doran. Now, for those who feel some trepidation about a romance between two characters where one is so obviously in a position of vulnerability (Solara is Doran’s servant after all), I don't think you need to be concerned. The idea that Solara is Doran’s servant and therefore bound to his authority made me a tad nervous, especially because I knew romance between them was going to be a big part of the book. There was potential for this to really, really not work. While I didn't think the potential power disparity between Solara and Doran was fully explored in Starflight, I still enjoyed the book. Doran treated Solara like crap when she was working for him, but he didn’t cross the moral Rubicon. That said, I couldn’t help but think of the possibilities of what could happen to someone like Solara in this situation and the potential for gross abuse if she had indentured herself to someone else. So, I think some readers might need to suspend some belief when it comes to this whole indentured servitude thing.
The thorny issue of class and unequal power aside, the romance between Solara and Doran was a lot of fun. These two hated each other and they both made it very clear. Solara even gets the chance for Doran to act as her servant, which I think helped to balance out their initial uneven status. Being forced to work together, made both Solara and Doran realize new things about each other, making them see each other in a new light. The tried and true enemies-to-lovers trope is in action and doing well in Starflight.
The only other niggle I have about Starflight is that I personally found it really long. While the action and adventure element had a lot of appeal, at times, I found it made for a lengthy read. There was a lot of stuff going on in Starflight, a lot of stuff that Solara and Doran find themselves involved them. I didn’t always find this to be effective, but it will likely appeal to readers that enjoy heavy plotting. And, it sets up book two very nicely.
For a sci-fic adventure/romance, Starflight accomplishes the job. The characters were engaging, the romance was mature for a YA book, and it was all-in-all a fun read. I need more space adventures in my life!...more
The Art of Taming a Rake features one of my favourite historical romance tropes: the marriage of convenienOriginally reviewed at The Book Adventures.
The Art of Taming a Rake features one of my favourite historical romance tropes: the marriage of convenience.
Venetia Stratham has returned from the continent after hearing rumours that Quinn Wilde, Earl of Traherne is paying court to her younger sister. Not on Venetia’s watch he’s not.
Burned by her rakish betrothed years ago, Venetia sets out to make sure that her sister does not suffer a relationship with a lord that is incapable of being faithful. Naturally, Venetia decides she must confront Quinn in a gentleman’s. Just managing to skate ruin (again), Venetia heads over to Quinn’s mansion to confront him once again having not received the definitive answer she wanted. When Quinn’s shot and Venetia found holding the pistol, Quinn decides to do the honorable thing and proposes marriage, otherwise Venetia will be the talk of the ton and her sister’s chances at a successful marriage will be ruined. Since saving her sister was the whole point of her escapes, Venetia reluctantly agrees to the marriage with the caveat that she can return to the continent when Quinn determines who’s out to harm his person. As is expected, this marriage of convenience becomes something less than convenient very quickly.
Considering the whole “marriage of convenience” element to The Art of Taming a Rake I had really high expectations of this book. And while I did like The Art of Taming a Rake there were a few elements that I wasn’t a fan of. First, there was a lot of flowery language - and a lot of usage of the word “tenderness”. I suppose this could have conveyed a deeper sense of emotion between Quinn and Venetia, but for me, it conveyed an artificiality that didn’t appeal to me. The language used also seemed to hide the relationship development rather than have readers participate in the slow burn between Quinn and Venetia. Readers are told that these two are talking and getting closer, but readers don’t actually “see” this happen. Personally, I would have liked a bit more emphasis on Quinn and Venetia’s relationship outside of the bedroom. The author did a great job conveying Quinn and Venetia’s physical intimacy but something was lacking in their emotional intimacy.
In addition to a writing style that was more tell than show, I also found the reasons for Quinn’s reluctance to fall in love a little unrealistic. Venetia’s reasons, those I buy. She jilted her betrothed on their wedding day after he arrives at the church unkempt having just left his mistress’s bed. Yeah, I think Venetia’s warranted in her trust issues. Quinn, on the other hand, was apparently burned by a fortune hunter in his youth (I think he was 18). Now as a thirty-year-old man, Quinn is still hung up on this betrayal. Really? This adult can’t get over having his heart broken as a young lordling? Somehow I can’t believe that, nor did I feel that it fit within Quinn’s character. Since readers have very little information about this betrayal, it seemed an issue with out of proportion consequences to Quinn and Venetia's relationship.
While the initial banter between Quinn and Venetia was done really, really well, by the end I felt something was missing. There’s a large chunk of their relationship that I just feel like readers were not privy to. Venetia seemed to “tame” Quinn rather quickly with Quinn only putting up a token resistance. The Art of Taming a Rake is a nice read, but ultimately I was looking for stronger character development between the leads....more
Clockwork Samurai is the second in Jeannie Lin's Gunpowder Chronicles. I really enjoyed the first book, steampunk fan that I am so I was thrilled to gClockwork Samurai is the second in Jeannie Lin's Gunpowder Chronicles. I really enjoyed the first book, steampunk fan that I am so I was thrilled to get my hands on an advance copy of the next installment.
Clockwork Samurai takes place a year after the events in book one; Soling is working as a physician and has attracted the notice of the drug addicted Emperor. Chang-wei continues to work with the Ministry of Engineering and to encourage the Emperor to consider an alliance with the Japanese. When the Emperor agrees, Chang-wei embarks on a covert assignment in Japan to seek out a man that Soling's father was in contact with before his death. Seeking to escape the politics of court, Soling accompanies Chang-wei, much to his chagrin.
Clockwork Samurai is filled with adventure. Japan has isolated itself from China and it's an adventure in and of itself for Chang-wei and Soling to even get to Japan. When they do arrive in the Chinese quarter it's another battle for them to actually leave this confined area and find the man that was willing to make an alliance with the Chinese. If you're a fan of adventure stories you will not be disappointed with this aspect of the story. There is a huge emphasis on action and adventure and readers get to explore this clockwork Japan, which does include clockwork samurais (very cool). Admittedly, I found all these steampunk elements to be awesome, but what was less awesome was the romance.
In the first book, I was okay with the romance between Soling and Chang-wei being pretty minor. The restraint between these two leads was refreshing. This time around, I was much less patient. It's been a year since the events of the first book. A year! And absolutely nothing is different between Soling and Chang-wei. They've barely spoken for the entire year since they are working in separate parts of the palace and when they do it's like the events of the previous book never happened. There is zero passion between this couple. The subdued nature of the first book worked well, but there wasn't a lot of momentum forward in this relationship in the second book. I was hoping for a whole lot more in book two and I was grossly disappointed with Clockwork Samurai on the romance front.
Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the relationship between Soling and Chang-wei, I have to admit that I did really appreciate how the author added some much needed tension between the pair. I like that Soling is confused by Chang-wei's defense of Western ideals and how she stands up for herself when Chang-wei is dismissive of her own less scientific practice of medicine. This conflict was integrated really well into the book and reflected the larger conflict in the book, which is the influence of the Western world and the Emperor's motivation to stem the tide. For me, this conflict between Soling and Chang-wei really saved this second book from becoming too boring. Yes, adventure was there, but since I'm more of a character-driven reader, I did find the emphasis on action and events to be rather dull. Couple this with the absolute glacial pace of Soling and Chang-wei's relationship, and I was rather disappointed in the whole book. Only the tension between Soling and Chang-wei's personal viewpoints on their country's involvement with the West kept me interested and it is exactly this that will keep me interested enough to read the follow-up.
So, while I didn't love Clockwork Samurai it did have some redeeming qualities. I wouldn't recommend it for romance readers, since this was a disappointing read in that respect. I would, however, recommend this to fans who prefer an action-driven read featuring a setting that is pretty unique in the steampunk genre. The Asian setting and the clockwork technology were all aspects that continue to interest me; it's the romance that needs to perk up.
The Great Estate is a nice Edwardian-era historical romance and will attract romance readers who enjoy the “reunited” trope. Here, Gabriel and his couThe Great Estate is a nice Edwardian-era historical romance and will attract romance readers who enjoy the “reunited” trope. Here, Gabriel and his countess, Sophia, have been separated for a year. After losing their baby son the two became somewhat estranged and when Gabriel caught Sophia kissing another man, it seemed that their marriage was over. Now, a year later Gabriel and Sophia have decided to give it another go having gained a little maturity in their time apart.
Unbeknownst to Sophia, her transgression (as innocent as it was) acted as a kick in the pants for Gabriel, who realizes that perhaps he shouldn’t have given his wife so much space after their son died. Naturally, Gabriel thinks haring off to Italy to develop some romantic skills is the answer to all his problems. Sophia, in turn, realizes that she really shouldn’t have listened to all the advice her mother gave her; she doesn’t need to always act in a certain way. But this raises the question, does Gabriel love the real Sophia or the woman that she has always pretended to be?
I really liked the idea behind The Great Estate. Gabriel and Sophia are a couple that married very young and as a result they’ve let others influence their relationship. Now that they’ve matured they are both in a different spot, but it means that their relationship must change. Sophia in particular has matured since the early days of her marriage; she’s much more independent and has a strong desire to be considered equal to her husband. Sophia’s care and management of her husband’s estate has given her a lot of satisfaction while her husband was away and now that he’s returned Sophia is determined to show him what she is capable of. The question is whether or not he’s willing to treat Sophia as the capable woman she is.
Complicating Gabriel and Sophia’s relationship is the appearance of a baby left on their doorstep. Naturally everyone jumps to the conclusion that this kid must be Gabriel’s – everyone but Gabriel himself. While I’m not opposed to having some tension injected into The Great Estate, I didn’t really find the use of a potential illegitimate child to be that effective. In general, I really found The Great Estate to be lacking in tension, which was okay when the focus was on the relationship between Gabriel and Sophia. There’s nothing wrong with a quiet, heartfelt romance (Mary Balogh is an author that does this really, really well). In the case of The Great Estate I thought that the added complications of the baby on the doorstep, the runaway servant, and Sophia’s added problems with Gabriel’s mother ended up taking away from the real romance between Gabriel and Sophia. Too much time was spent on resolving other issues in the story and not enough time was given to solving the problems in Gabriel and Sophia’s marriage. The balance between the romance plot and all the other stuff going on was not well executed, in my opinion. So, while I quite enjoyed the whole “reunited” trope, I really was looking for something a little more emotionally satisfying.
The Great Estate is a pleasant read and I loved the Edwardian period setting. That said, I will admit that it was not a memorable read for me. A tension and emotional depth between the hero and heroine left this one lacking in my mind.
Mary Balogh’s historical romances pretty much speak for themselves. Rather than cashing in on the overt and explicit relationship that readers tend toMary Balogh’s historical romances pretty much speak for themselves. Rather than cashing in on the overt and explicit relationship that readers tend to encounter in the romance genre, Balogh leverages the emotional impact in her historical romances. In Only a Promise Balogh brings her signature emotional exploration to a marriage of convenience and it was wonderful.
Ralph Stockwood has returned from the war alone; his friends having died fighting. Ralph blames himself for encouraging his friends to go with him and would rather have not survived at all. Rather than paying lip service to this emotional turmoil and survivor’s guilt, it is quite clear that Ralph has been damaged. While recovering from his wounds, Ralph tried to kill himself on a couple of occasions, something that is not generally explored in the romance genre. With Ralph, Balogh brings home the more realistic impact on war, and it’s done very well.
While visiting his grandparents, Ralph meets his grandmother’s companion, Chloe Muirhead, whose family is steeped in scandal. Chloe’s own attempts at finding a husband during the Season have not gone well and she has resigned herself to lonely spinsterhood. When Chloe overhears Ralph discussing marriage with his grandmother, she seizes the opportunity to make one last mad attempt at marriage by propositioning Ralph. Ralph claims he cannot love another person, naturally, a marriage of convenience is the best solution.
Surprisingly Chloe convinces Ralph to take a chance on her and the two marry. Of course, marriage between two virtual strangers does not equate happiness and the often painful journey towards their happily ever after is hard fought for.
As is common with Balogh’s novels, much of the momentum of the plot is driven by the couple’s conflict within their relationship rather than from external set backs. There’s no underlying suspense plot or meddling family members trying to keep the hero and heroine apart. Instead it’s the hero and heroine's individual problems that cause the drama. While this kind of drama is much quieter than the exaggerated plots common to many romance novels, it's a style of romance that I find wholly appealing. The conflict in Ralph and Chloe's relationship originates from their individual emotional state. For Ralph and Chloe, it’s his sense of isolation and depression from his experiences in the war, and it’s Chloe’s loneliness and awkwardness, that stems from her family’s scandals and the rumours surrounding her birth. These individual problems cause Ralph and Chloe to keep each other at a distance, often lashing out at the other. Most notably, Chloe reacts when Ralph ties to persuade her to acknowledge the fact that her father might not be her biological one:
“Is this how you did it when you were a boy?” she asked him. “Is this how you gathered other boys about you like slaves? Is this how you persuaded them to do whatever you wanted them to do, even against their will and their better judgment? Is this how you persuaded your friends to go to war with you?” (p. 231).
Chloe strikes at exactly the point where Ralph is most vulnerable: his guilt. While her comments are reactive and harsh, I love that they are realistic. Chloe is not a paragon of virtue and understanding, and I love that about her. She does not want to acknowledge that her identity is in question and she’s willing to fight Ralph when he tries to convince her that she needs to come to terms with it.
These individual battles have a huge impact on Chloe and Ralph’s relationship and by dealing with them together, their relationship becomes stronger. Ultimately, we have another well-developed relationship rather than the conventional romance in Only a Promise. Balogh goes beyond the romance and shows readers the hard work that comes after, which I always appreciate as something different in a genre that I read extensively in.
Finally, I also loved how Only a Promise ended. While some could claim that this one ends a tad abruptly, I felt that it was appropriate. Ralph isn’t “cured” of his depression and his relationship with Chloe hasn’t come to it’s conclusion but rather he’s reached a point where he can participate actively in a romantic relationship with another person. I don’t think that this more ambiguous (but satisfying) ending is the norm in the romance genre, but I did think it worked really well in Only a Promise. Instead of the conventional happily-ever-after, where the hero and heroine’s baggage is resolved completely, we have an ending that shows that the hero and heroine are embarking on a promising, stronger relationship with each other. Chloe and Ralph will likely struggle, but that’s okay, since they’ve learned to overcome their obstacles and rely one another. It’s a beautiful way to end a romance.
Only a Promise is another wonderful, emotional read from Balogh. If you like you romances more subdued and more realistic, Only a Promise is an excellent choice. Balogh’s characters are never perfect, and I think readers can appreciate them all the more for their ordinary and relatable flaws.
Tina Chen is a hard working college student trying very hard to make ends meet. It doesn’t help that the money she sends home to her parents goes towaTina Chen is a hard working college student trying very hard to make ends meet. It doesn’t help that the money she sends home to her parents goes towards her mother’s vocation rather than paying the bills or ensuring that her younger sister gets her medication. After several people in one of her classes asserts that poor people simply need to try harder, Tina snaps and contradicts that none of these people, especially the insanely wealthy Blake Reynolds, have any idea what it’s like to be poor. Rather than angering Blake, it actually sparks an idea.
Blake realizes that Tina is right. He doesn’t have any idea what it’s like to be poor. He’s always been rich as the son of a tech genius (think the Apple empire). So Blake makes Tina a proposition; they’ll switch lives.
"You were right the other day," he says smoothly. "I'm clueless. I don't know what it's like to be you, or anyone like you, and I want to fix that. I offer a trade. I work your hours. I pay your rent. I live in your apartment."
"It's so cute that you think I live in an apartment," I interject.
"You get my house, my care, my allowance. You take over my duties at Cyclone, too - to the extent that's possible. We'll have to talk about that. There are details to work out. But that's the gist of it."
He shrugs, like what he has set forth is no big deal, and I'm left to boggle at him. There are so many things wrong with this that I don't even know where to start (p. 37-38).
Now the set up to Trade Me doesn’t sound particularly original, but since Milan is an awesome romance writer, it quickly becomes more because, as always, Milan writes great characters that have real problems. There is a very big reason why Blake wants to switch lives with Tina and it’s not just to prove that he can live on a lack of funds. He needs time, time to figure out his own problems and hopefully conquer them. Unfortunately, what Blake’s struggling can’t be fixed with time. I don't want to give away what Blake's going through, but it was unexpected and I really appreciate the fact that the author choose to have a guy struggle with this.
I have to admit I was very skeptical when I learned that Milan was writing a contemporary romance, and a new adult one at that. Quite frankly, I don’t like the new adult genre and I rarely read contemporary romance. However, I think Milan’s historical romances are amazing, so my loyalty to this author had me reading this one. I was pleasantly surprised by Trade Me. Like Milan’s historicals, Trade Me had an unexpected emotional depth that I think is often overlooked in the romance genre. Too often do romances feel formulaic, and what I like about Milan is that she often changes the formula giving readers a much better developed love story and original characters. Readers are actually treated to the emotions that characters are experience, even those outside of the romance. For example, in Trade Me Tina has so many emotions with regards to her family. And Tina's concerns are not easily overcome and these worries inform the type of person Tina is.
Tina has a tough family situation. Her mother is devoted to helping other Chinese refugees get permanent citizenship in the U.S., and this is often at the expense of her family and always at the expense of Tina's financial support. When Tina's mother once again uses her contribution to help a refugee financially, Tina just feels helpless and angry.
I can feel my entire future slipping from my fingers.
I don't know Jack Sheng, but right now, I hate him. I hate him so much for needing my money. I hate him because I've heard his story a hundred times before - tortured because he practiced Falun Gong in China, escaped to the US, and is now being sent back home.
This is what Blake Reynolds will never understand: that when he and his father give money to charities, it never hurts them. To them, it's just a check. It makes them feel good. It's a pat on the back, He will never understand what it means to hate someone over thirty dollars. He probably spends more than thirty dollars on his jeans. Fuck. I don't know what rich people spend on jeans. He would probably scoff at the idea that you could get a pair of jeans for thirty bucks (p. 28-29).
Tina wants to support her family and her educational decisions are based on making sure that she will be able to make decent money to financially carry them. But what’s great about Trade Me is you understand Tina’s resentment that she has to do this. She loves her family, but it would be nice if they could actually take care of themselves and she could experience some of the freedom of college life. I love that both Tina and Blake are character’s outside of their romantic storyline. Outside of their relationship Tina and Blake have real worries and because of these responsibilities readers get the sense that their eventual relationship is all the more developed and nuanced.
Has Milan made me a convert to the new adult genre? No. I’m never going to love new adult (which is why I only gave this a 3/5) and historical romance will always be my romance subgenre of choice. But, I can appreciate Trade Me for the characters if not the contemporary setting. The elements that I like about Milan’s writing are all present in Trade Me and I think she gives readers of the new adult subgenre something a little unique because of her ability to create great, lifelike characters.
Death Wears a Mask is the utterly charming follow-up to Ashley Weaver Murder at the Brightwell (which I also loved). This second installment continue Death Wears a Mask is the utterly charming follow-up to Ashley Weaver Murder at the Brightwell (which I also loved). This second installment continues the momentum of the first, throwing it’s amateur lady detective, Amory Ames into another investigation and into more relationship drama with her husband, Milo.
Asked by a family friend, Serena Barrington, to look into the apparent theft of her jewels during a dinner party, Amory finds herself looking at the motives of the dinner guests. Amory’s reputation from the events at the Brightwell have preceded her arrival in London, and Serena is sure that Amory can put her investigative skills to use and catch the culprit. Amory is not really given a chance to refuse, and so begins her investigation, which leads to murder, mayhem and disguises (okay, well, just one).
In addition to Amory’s investigation she also has to contend with more trouble in her marriage to Milo. While they had reconnected during the events of Murder at the Brightwell, Milo appears to back to his old habits when he’s photographed with a popular actress. It seems that Amory has to make a decision about what to do about her husband, does she let him get away with his apparent infidelities or does see seek out a divorce and make a clean break.
Now, I have to admit I have my own pet theory about Milo’s apparent playboy behaviour. I am 95% certain that Milo is a spy or some sort of government agent. There are just too many red flags that seem to indicate that this might be the case. Something is just not right with his convenient explanations or his sudden appearances at certain events. At any rate, the conflict between Amory and Milo makes for good reading and it complements the mystery really well. That said, I do hope that book three brings these two together on a more common ground; the waffling about their relationship and the deep-seated problems never seem to totally get resolved. Is Amory ever going to be able to trust her husband who clearly does not share everything with his wife? But, hey, it will bring me back for book three, so the author clearly knows what she’s doing.
In addition to the Amory’s relationship turmoil, the setting and it’s heroine continue to charm. 1930s London was a lot of fun. While Death Wears a Mask isn’t high on historical detail, the atmosphere of the 1930s, and it’s opulence, at least for the rich, gives this series a wonderful sense of place. Amory and Milo do not represent the masses. Amory has no commitments and no career; her social life is her entire life it seems. In a lot of ways Amory could have become a boring character, instead I find her appealing, having an earnestness that one wouldn’t expect of a woman of her class. I also like the fact that crime solving is an outlet for Amory, a career of sorts. I would really like to see how this idea of Amory as an independent investigator will change through the series.
Death Wears a Mask is another wonderful adventure with the intrepid Amory Ames. The setting and its light mystery continues to charm as does its heroine and her relationship woes. This is the perfect read for those who like a more character-driven mystery, as well as much less focus on the procedure of solving the crime. Fans of the first book, you wont be disappointed.
“Follow my lead, Miss Rook,” Jackaby said, rapping on the ornately trimmed door to 1206 Campbell Street. Were my employer a standard private investiga“Follow my lead, Miss Rook,” Jackaby said, rapping on the ornately trimmed door to 1206 Campbell Street. Were my employer a standard private investigator, those might have been simple instructions, but in the time I’ve been his assistant, I’ve found very little about Jackaby to be standard. Following his lead tends to call for a somewhat flexible relationship with reality. (p. 10)
After successfully solving the case in the previous book, Jackaby and Miss Rook are called upon to investigate the theft of a dinosaur head at a nearby dig in Gad’s Valley. Abigail, who once dreamed of being a paleontologist, is thrilled to be near an exciting new discovery. However, it soon becomes clear that this is no ordinary dinosaur. Something supernatural is disturbing the site and once again Jackaby and Abigail are on the case, aided by shape shifting police officer, Charlie Barker.
What I like about this series is that it doesn’t take itself too seriously; at least when it comes to the paranormal stuff. Shape shifting fish just are. As are dragons and Charles Darwin’s “real” discoveries. Throw in two great characters in Jackaby and Abigail and you have a recipe for success. Jackaby’s complete obtuseness when it comes to perceiving the thoughts/feelings of other people is funny and endearing. But what really shines in Beastly Bones is the character of Abigail Rook.
Abigail is a kind of Watson character, narrating the adventures of Jackaby such as the way that Watson records Sherlock’s adventures. In Beastly Bones she’s mostly settled into her new life as Jackaby’s assistant, and although she has had some missteps, she wants to prove herself as a valuable member of Jackaby’s team.
Interestingly, Abigail feels a bit conflicted when it comes to her budding relationship with the young police officer, Charlie. On the one hand, she has won her hard-earned independence and has no inclination to give that up. On the other hand, well, Charlie makes her heart race. Can she have both a career and romance? Considering the historical setting of Beastly Bones, the answer for Abigail would generally be thought to be “no”, and that’s the answer that Abigail herself believes. However, Abigail receives some advice from an unlikely source: Jackaby. For a character that remains somewhat aloof he certainly provides some support to Abigail when needed.
The dynamic between Jackaby and Abigail is another fantastic part of this series. Here we have a true partnership. Jackaby is the eccentric one and Abigail the grounded one. Together, they make a formidable investigative duo. It’s always nice (and refreshing) to see a duo that is not romantically motivated and that is the case here with Abigail and Jackaby. Let's keep this up!
The snappy dialogue and outlandish plot make Beastly Bones an absolute pleasure to read. By the end readers are left wanting more and the premise for Jackaby and Abigail’s next adventure is set. I, for one cannot wait to read more, especially now that Abigail has come into her own as a real investigator.
Some girls work in shops or sell flowers. Some girls find husbands and play house. I assist a mad detective in investigating unexplained phenomena – like fish that ought to be cats but seem to have forgotten how. My name is Abigail Rook, and this is what I do. (p. 17)
The Spinster Bride was a cute historical romance featuring a young woman who would rather not marry (even though she must) and a man determined to finThe Spinster Bride was a cute historical romance featuring a young woman who would rather not marry (even though she must) and a man determined to find himself leg shackled as soon as he can be sure that the woman will make it to the alter. Throw these two together and romance was bound to happen.
Lady Marjorie Penwhistle is almost on the shelf and her mother is determined to find her a titled husband. What’s so sad about this situation is how Marjorie’s mother is essentially living vicariously through Marjorie. Marjorie is everything her mother is not: beautiful, popular. She wants Marjorie to be a success because she never was. Unfortunately, all this attention on Marjorie is at the expense of her brother who is a little bit different and those around him take advantage of him. To protect her brother from being disinherited, Marjorie agrees to finally put some effort into the marriage mart, unfortunately the only man that she is attracted to is not a peer.
Mr. Charles Norris desperately wants to be married. The problem is that he falls in love a little too often, and unfortunately those feelings are never returned. After meeting Marjorie he admits that he needs help, which means he really needs someone to rein in his impulsiveness. Marjorie agrees to help Charles find a suitable bride, and naturally, trouble ensues when they realize that they are each other’s perfect match. Of course, Marjorie’s mother will never agree to let her daughter marry an untitled gentleman; some compromising is in order here, what could possibly go wrong?
The Spinster Bride was a cute historical romance. I enjoyed reading this one, but it wasn’t a read that I think is going to stay with me. There wasn’t a lot of conflict between Charles and Marjorie when they realized that they loved each other, instead it was conflict of another sort that kept the momentum of the novel going. As a result, I did find the last chunk of the book to be a tad tedious. It was still cute, but I was less interested Marjorie’s brother’s disappearance than I was in the relationship between Marjorie and Charles. For me, the switch from romance to intrigue was a bit jarring.
Ultimately, The Spinster Bride was a predictable, comfortable read. It didn’t break new ground in the genre, but it was a solid book and I think historical romance fans that enjoy a sweeter story will appreciate this one.
Lady Sophia Kendall is days away from coming into her power. As a noble born woman, and thirty-second in line for the throne, Sophia is a powerful comLady Sophia Kendall is days away from coming into her power. As a noble born woman, and thirty-second in line for the throne, Sophia is a powerful commodity and will become even more of one if her magical abilities are strong. Before Sophia can be carefully initiated as a royal witch, Sophia is forced to flee the city with Lieutenant Cameron Mackenzie, who happens to be accompanying her in the city when the capital is attacked. Suddenly Sophia finds herself an unbound witch, more powerful than she ever imagined herself to be, and also more dangerous. One hasty wedding later, Sophia learns a lot about why witches are bound so quickly, but this knowledge might come at a price.
The Shattered Court was a really interesting fantasy romance. When I picked it up I was expected a contained romance with light fantasy elements; instead I was introduced to a fascinating political landscape and a hasty romance with the potential for more, and I very much want more.
The world of The Shattered Court involves magic. However, magical abilities rest in the hands of few and the woman that possess true power are guarded and controlled. Sophia is one of those young women. As a distant relation to the royal family, Sophia’s bloodlines are prized, and if her magical abilities are strong she will be considered a great prize on the marriage market. Sophia, of course, will have no choice in her marriage, as it will be determined based on its usefulness to the monarch. Sophia is not pleased and does feel the restriction of her position, yet she is well aware that there are no other options for her. Fate changes what’s in store for Sophia when she manifests her powers away from the careful control of the crown. As a result, Sophia is much stronger than anticipated and her power cannot be controlled and bound to the service of the crown or her husband, an unprecedented event that does not please the new queen or the head of the religious order.
To be dealt with, Sophia is quickly married off to her protector Cameron, who also played a significant part in why Sophia’s powers cannot be bound (apparently this is why sex before marriage is frowned upon for royal witches). Cameron isn’t exactly thrilled about the fact that he and Sophia must be married, but he’s well aware that he is also responsible for Sophia’s lack of binding. However, the pair soon discover that their unusual circumstances are much more dangerous than they had anticipated, and Sophia's life just might be in danger.
The romance set up felt very much like a historical romance, which is likely why I liked the romance element so much. You can't go wrong with the traditional compromised trope. What I was surprised about the romance was that it didn’t feel resolved by the end. Initially I thought that The Shattered Court marked the start of a series that would focus on different characters in each book; it’s a common concept in the romance genre. However, with the way The Shattered Court ended I’m left feeling that the author is going to take this in a different direction. There is definitely room for more in Sophia and Cameron’s relationship and I, for one, can’t wait to read more. At this point, Sophia and Cameron have an attraction for one another, but I think there’s room for more growth and more angst - a very good thing.
Aside from the great, hasty, arranged romance, the world that was introduced in The Shattered Court was fascinating. The idea that women are forced to cede their abilities to both the Goddess, their husband and the crown without really knowing what they are giving up is not exactly a pretty picture, but it is compelling. The fact that Sophia is a departure from the status quo ramps up the tension in The Shattered Court. Considering the ending of The Shattered Court, I can only assume that Sophia is going to learn a lot more about what she can do as an unbound witch as well as why witches have been weakening in power over the decades. Methinks someone has been hiding some valuable information from the masses.
The Shattered Court was a compelling read because of both its romance as well as its fantasy elements. While I was hesitant about the idea of marriage and magic being intertwined, I really enjoyed how the author brought these institutions together and created something thought provoking. There is no doubt that I will be back for book two.
*Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley.