Review: An Unexpected Peril

Review: An Unexpected PerilAn Unexpected Peril (Veronica Speedwell, #6) by Deanna Raybourn
Series: Veronica Speedwell #6
Published by Berkley on March 2, 2021
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 346
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: A very “drawing room” mystery where most of the drama involves lots of events and talking with people. I enjoyed this one just a bit less than others because Veronica and Stoker feel constrained — something that they recognize themselves. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t think this was a great addition to the series. The mystery is good and I always love Veronica and Stoker.

THE STORY: The Curiosity Club, a social club for women who dare, is honoring Alice Baker-Greene, a mountain climber who recently died in an accident. At the exhibit, Veronica Speedwell and her partner and lover, Stoker, discover that Alice’s death might not have been an accident. Veronica attempts to get Princess Gisela of Alpenwald to investigate the death which occurred in her country. The evidence disappears, and so does the princess.

OPINION: This book has a different feel than the others in the series because the events take place where Veronica must be more constrained than normal in her investigations. For that reason, the story ends up being a bit less “big adventure” than others in the series.

The mystery is well-done, and I don’t have any complaints other than some boredom on my part by all the social and political meetings.

So what about what I really read these books for Veronica and Stoker’s relationship? I loved how these two are developing their relationship. There are adjustment issues as they try and feel out how to define their relationship. What the limits are. What the expectations are of one another.

Veronica is very skittish because she fears the loss of her independence. She has never had a real relationship and keeps men at a distance by taking control. But her relationship with Stoker requires a commitment that she is unsure how to make. I loved how their relationship issues are interwoven with the mystery. Things are not completely settled between these two, and I love it!

WORTH MENTIONING: I liked seeing Veronica and Stoker working through their new relationship after the events of the prior books.

CONNECTED BOOKS: AN UNEXPECTED PERIL is the sixth book in the Veronica Speedwell series. The mystery is self-contained and can be read as a standalone, but for me, the relationship between Veronica and Stoker is the main reason I read the series so I recommend reading in order to follow the overarching storylines.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Dragon and the Jewel

Review: The Dragon and the JewelThe Dragon and the Jewel (Medieval Plantagenet #2) by Virginia Henley
Series: Medieval Plantagenet #2
Published by Dell on November 1, 1991
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: More historical fiction than romance, this book is a saga about the tempestuous romance between Princess Eleanor Plantagenet and Simon de Montfort, a real couple in Medieval England. I enjoyed the drama and the underlying historical drama although many readers may be put off by the actions of the characters, especially the hero.

THE STORY: Princess Eleanor was a child bride whose older husband had no intention of consummating the marriage until she was an appropriate age. Eleanor was widowed unexpectedly when he husband came to her bed. Inconsolable, Eleanor swore never to marry again and took a vow of chastity. A year after her husband’s death, Eleanor meets Simon de Montfort, a Norman knight who desires Eleanor and wants to convince her to break all those vows she made.

OPINION: First off, certain parts of this book won’t appeal to some readers. The heroine is a child when she is married off (about nine years old) and a widow at sixteen. She is then in a relationship with Simon before she is eighteen. To modern readers, this is unacceptable, but the story is based on the real-life of Eleanor, so the author can’t exactly age her up for what we now expect. To me, the book is more like historical fiction than a modern historical romance.

While much of the book is fictionalized, I really enjoyed the historical basis for this novel. The book was written in 1991, so some of its romance conventions are not used today. The hero is very alpha and, at times, treats Eleanor disrespectfully. The book takes place in Medieval England and thus, his expectations of equality is pretty much not present. He speaks about her as if it is his right to dominate her, but the fact that she will not submit to his plans and he feels that he has to woo and treat her well is better than most of the men in the story clearly feel about women. Therefore, while Simon is certainly not a modern male hero, he is better than the men of his time as depicted in this book.

Eleanor, at times, is immature and annoying, but he is very young throughout the story and has experienced much tragedy in her life. Again, compared to the other women in the story, she is likable and cares for others.

Eleanor and Simon have been depicted as a great love affair in Medieval England, and I appreciated the author’s attempts to bring these real-life lovers to life in this romance. The detail about the historical period and the palace intrigue was great, and I raced through this book even though it was almost 600 pages.

I’ve never read this author before, but this book made me want to read more of her romances based on real historical characters.

WORTH MENTIONING: THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL is a fictionalized account of Eleanor and Simon de Montfort. While the characters are based on real people, and some of the events come from real history, the book is highly dramatized and shaped into a romance book.

Readers looking for straightforward romance will be disappointed as the heroine spends the first third of the book married to another man. The final quarter of the book is spent on political intrigue and rebellion. I thought the historical aspects were great, but those looking for romance might be disappointed.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DRAGON AND THE JEWEL is the second book in the Medieval Plantagenet series. This book is a standalone, and reading the first book is unnecessary (I didn’t).

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Counterfeit Scoundrel

Review: The Counterfeit ScoundrelThe Counterfeit Scoundrel (The Chessmen: Masters of Seduction, #1) by Lorraine Heath
Series: The Chessmen: Masters of Seduction #1
Published by Avon on February 21, 2023
Genres: Historical
Pages: 377
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Because Daisy is a private investigator, there is a mystery here to solve. Ultimately, there are some unexpected twists in the story that I enjoyed. The plot here somewhat outweighs the romance, but I thought the relationship between Daisy and Bishop was fun.

THE STORY: One of the Chessmen, Bishop, aka David Blackwood, is a notorious womanizer, having been named in various divorces as committing adultery with wives. Daisy Townsend is a private investigator who has taken a position in Bishop’s house to confirm whether or not he is having an affair with her client’s wife. Bishop can’t stop thinking about his new maid when he sees her. The two seem to be playing a game, outsmarting and flirting simultaneously. When Bishop becomes a suspect in a murder, Daisy has to help find the real murderer.

OPINION: This book is more mystery heavy than I expected from a Lorraine Heath book. (I think I could read a mystery series with Daisy and Bishop and be happy!) I thought the mystery was intriguing, and the twist in the story was unexpected but worked well in the context of this story.

I also really liked the interactions between Daisy and Bishop. There is clearly a real intellectual connection between the two, along with hot chemistry. The scenes where the two are together are the best in the book. The negative in this book is that the two need to be together more in the book. Instead, there is much setup of the plot that the romance suffers somewhat. There is a bit of instant-love in this book because the two don’t have enough time together.

But the moments the two are together are wonderful as they challenge one another as to what is happening in the plot and their individual hang-ups about relationships and marriage. This book ends up being about making the decision to trust despite the evidence that things can go very wrong.

Ultimately, this is a solid book that I liked because of the connection between Daisy and Bishop. It wasn’t as angst-filled as other Heath romances, and I missed that aspect, but it was enjoyable.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved the Easter eggs of characters that appear from prior Lorraine Heath books.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE COUNTERFEIT SCOUNDREL is the first book in The Chessmen: Masters of Seduction series. However, the first Chessman is King, the hero of THE DUCHESS HUNT. It is unnecessary to read that book first, but I recommend it because it introduces the group of men about which this series is about.

STAR RATING: I give this book four stars.

four-stars

Review: Butterfly Swords

Review: Butterfly SwordsButterfly Swords (Tang Dynasty, #1) by Jeannie Lin
Series: Tang Dynasty #1
Published by Harlequin on October 1, 2010
Genres: Historical
Pages: 288
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: Lush and romantic. Set in the Tang Dynasty, this is the story of two people who have no business being together and fighting the whole world and themselves to be together.

THE STORY: Princess Ai Li flees the man she is supposed to marry. On the way to meet him, she has learned that the man she is arranged to marry, province military governor Li Tao, is a traitor. Fleeing from the anticipated marriage, Ai Li depends upon her butterfly swords to protect herself and finds a protector in Ryam. Ryam is a blue-eyed foreigner who is trying to return to his home base and avoid capture. A swordsman, Ryam is convinced by Ai Li, who is in disguise, to help escort her home, even in danger to himself.

OPINION: This story has adventure and a really sweet romance. The characters are delightful together as they are clearly attracted to one another, but their differing status keeps them apart. Ailey keeps her identity a secret, which complicates things in this story.

Ailey is determined and, at times, very fierce. Having trained with her brothers, she does not fit into what society expects from her. Instead, she is honorable and a fighter, believing in her obligation to help her family and warn her father.

Ryam is somewhat broken as the story begins. While he travels home, he is on the run, an outcast, and in danger. Having been engaged in a mission that went wrong, Ryam has lost some of his easy self-confidence and questions everything around him.

Ryam wants to protect Ailey, especially from himself, and Ailey knows that she cannot surrender to Ryam. At the same time, the two are clearly attracted to one another from almost the start. They bond over sword fighting, and although they come from very different backgrounds, they feel a physical connection and an understanding of being an outsider.

I really enjoyed this book’s road trip plot as the two travel through this world, meeting intriguing characters (who have books of their own!).

WORTH MENTIONING: The story takes place in the Tang Dynasty in China, and presents a setting different from typical historical romance novels, yet is wonderfully romantic and sexy.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BUTTERFLY SWORDS is the first book in the Tang Dynasty series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Her Night with the Duke

Review: Her Night with the DukeHer Night with the Duke (Clandestine Affairs, #1) by Diana Quincy
Series: Clandestine Affairs #1
Published by Avon on September 29, 2020
Genres: Historical
Pages: 382
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: Almost really good. There are parts that I loved, but ultimately, I didn’t get enough of the emotional connection between the hero and heroine. Instead, the story felt somewhat clinical as it was hitting the story beats.

THE STORY: Lady Leela Chambers is at a country inn on a rainy night when she runs into a gentleman who helps her out after she saves herself from some men who accosted her. Leela and the stranger spend one night together. The next day, Leela is shocked to find out that he is the duke who is planning on marrying her stepdaughter.  Elliot Townsend, Duke of Huntington, is shocked to discover Leela’s connection to his future betrothed, but he can’t stop thinking about Leela, and the two struggle with the attraction between them.

OPINION: Enjoyable and yet lacked a great hero to make this a great book. Instead, the heroine walks all over the hero and he feels weak pretty much the whole book. I prefer books where the couples compromise together as a real relationship requires not one where the woman never evolves. At the same time, the book is on the edge of developing a great emotional conflict because the hero is engaged to the heroine’s stepdaughter and the two feel like they cannot be together. At times I loved this book, but overall a good one-time read.

I wanted to like this book more, but ultimately the main characters didn’t feel like equals. Eliot never feels like a complete character. It is close, but I have read so many great heroes that I needed him to be stronger or more revealed to the reader or loved more by Leela. Instead, the book is focused on Leela and her wants and needs and Eliot has to be manipulated to fulfill everything that she wants.

At the same time, I loved so much of this book. I loved the emotional devastation of Leela telling Eliot that he must marry her stepdaughter and his willingness to do whatever Leela expects of him. I also thought the twin confrontations towards the end of the book were nicely mirrored with one another.

This book was worth reading, but I was intrigued and yet disappointed.

WORTH MENTIONING: The book was intriguing enough that I bought the other books in the series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HER NIGHT WITH THE DUKE is the first book in the Clandestine Affairs series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

Review: Passion

Review: PassionPassion (Passion Quartet, #1) by Lisa Valdez
Series: Passion Quartet #1
Published by Berkley on July 5, 2005
Genres: Historical
Pages: 332
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: This book was a roller coaster for me. At times I almost laughed at the sex scenes, but by the end of the book, I loved this story. When written, this book was groundbreaking in the erotic historical arena.

THE STORY: in London’s Crystal Palace, Passion Elizabeth Dare meets a stranger, and the two engage in a sexual encounter. A widow, Passion finds her desires awakened after a loveless marriage. She agrees to continue to meet while she is in London, believing that no one will be hurt by these secret and anonymous encounters. Mark Randolph Hawkmore, Earl of Langley, cannot stop thinking about the mysterious woman he meets at Crystal Palace. At the same time, his “real” life is falling apart as he is being blackmailed into marriage. Mark is determined to free himself from those scheming against him. As Passion and Mark get closer emotionally in their secret relationship, their real lives are destined to collide and perhaps destroy everything.

OPINION: By the end of this book, I loved this story. I’m glad I persevered through the story because, at times in the beginning, I almost gave up on the book. But as the emotional connection between the characters grew, I began to love the story more. Mark and Passion first come together purely physically, but an emotional connection quickly grows between them.

As the reader knows more than either of the characters, the collision course they are on is quickly revealed, and thus there is tension in how the characters will become aware of the troubles that they are facing.

Passion is incredibly lovely as a person. I wanted her to be more selfish, but I understood her choices even if I had done something differently. Mark is damaged, and he is completely undone by Passion. By the end of the book, he has changed and is willing to do the right thing even if it would hurt him.

I’m so glad I gave this book a chance because I had heard it was bonkers. Yes, there are things that I had just to accept and move past, but on the whole, this book was emotionally engaging, and I really was surprised by many of the twists of this book in a good way.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is some bananas stuff in the sex scenes that I have questions about anatomically. Readers who are not able to put some implausible things aside to enjoy the story should probably pass on this one.

CONNECTED BOOKS: PASSION is the first book in the Passion Quartet. (Note that the author only wrote the first two books of the promised quartet).

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: Miss Moriarty, I Presume?

Review: Miss Moriarty, I Presume?Miss Moriarty, I Presume? (Lady Sherlock #6) by Sherry Thomas
Series: Lady Sherlock #6
Published by Berkley on November 2, 2021
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Pages: 336
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I loved this book because it brings a lot of loose threads in the series together. My favorite part is how the relationship between Holmes and Ingram is shown throughout the book. My favorite part of the series is the romance, which is well represented here.

THE STORY: Charlotte Holmes’s new client is none other than Moriarty, who wants Charlotte to find out what has happened to his daughter. Charlotte cannot refuse, but she wonders why Moriarty has come to her and whether she is being set up. Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to investigate Moriarty’s daughter’s disappearance. Charlotte’s sister and Lord Ingram investigate the clue left by the man Livia loves (who is controlled by Moriarty).

OPINION: This book ended up being completely enjoyable because the relationship between Charlotte and Lord Ingram has *finally* progressed. I freely admit that while I enjoy a good mystery, I keep coming back to these books because of the relationship between Charlotte and Ingram. Readers of the series know that there have been some will they/won’t they in the previous books, but now we have moved on to see if this relationship can actually work.

At the same time, the threat from Moriarty has become more acute. There is a lot going on in this book as various threads of the investigation are going on. Admittedly, it was hard to keep track of all these different issues, but that is part of the complexity of the story. The book demands attention which I enjoy because I want to be involved in the mystery. Thankfully, the book does explain what happened. And the story continues beyond this book, as is true with the entire series.

The mystery here has a lot of twists and turns, and the story keeps the reader guessing. I thought that once things were revealed, I appreciated the journey more. I read this kind of book again to catch what I missed the first time.

WORTH MENTIONING: This is a densely packed story that really relies on the books that precede it. Not that the story directly continues from those books but rather this is a progression on the overarching storyline in the series. As a result, this book sometimes assumes knowledge about people and events from prior books. I did not mind it at all, but some readers might want to brush up on the prior books before diving into this one.

CONNECTED BOOKS: MISS MORIARTY, I PRESUME? is the sixth book in the Lady Sherlock series. Typically, because these books have self-contained mysteries, I say that the books can be read out of order, but are better read in order. This book is different. This book really should be read as part of the series because it is critical to the overarching story of the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: The Reluctant Countess

Review: The Reluctant CountessThe Reluctant Countess (Would-Be Wallflowers, #2) by Eloisa James
Series: Would-Be Wallflowers #2
Published by Avon on November 29, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: I enjoyed this book because Yasmin is so resilient, and I loved how she stands up for herself despite the approbation of society and even Giles at times. I loved how Giles’s love for Yasmin transforms him and how he struggles with his societal expectations. This book manages to be sweet and hot at the same time.

THE STORY: Giles Renwick, Earl of Lilford, is undone by Lady Yasmin Régnier. Yasmin is everything he could want in a wife, except that her dress and her behavior, and her history are not what he sees as proper. That makes her ineligible for consideration as his countess, but he can’t stop wanting to spend time with her. Yasmin has a past and is determined to be strong in the face of the disapproval of British society and Giles. Giles is too stuffy and judgemental, yet Yasmin finds that Giles constantly exceeds her expectations.

OPINION: This book is so much more serious than the initial setup appeared to portend. Yasmin and Giles have to learn to speak to one another about their fears and dreams. There was so much I loved about this book, but I really couldn’t stand Gile’s sister, who just drove me crazy for the entire book. I understand that she is hurting as well, but being hurt doesn’t give one the privilege of hurting others.

Despite this, however, I really did love the characters as they worked out their relationship with one another. There was something incredibly romantic about how Giles is completely undone by Yasmin and realizes that he has to change to have what he wants. He begins so judgmental but realizes that he is wrong. So rarely does a hero contemplate his own actions and realize that he was wrong without having an extremely dramatic situation. I ended up loving Giles because he is willing to change to be worthy of Yasmin. Those changes are about mindset and attitude and about his judgments rather than something external to himself. While the reader understands why Giles is the way he is, it is understanding rather than justification.

I really loved Yasmin, who has taken the roughest part of life and made something sparkling and joyful for herself. That is why Giles falls for her and why I like her as well. So much in life could have struck her down and destroyed her, and yet she remains positive about so much.

I think I really have a thing for the grumpy hero and the ray of sunshine. This book has some of that and yet upends all expectations of that trope. Giles is not as grumpy and reserved as he appears, and Yasmin has depth and real pain in her life.

WORTH MENTIONING: I can’t wait to read Silvester’s book. He is adorable in this one.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE RELUCTANT COUNTESS is the second book in the Would-Be Wallflowers series. The romance here is self-contained, and there is no overarching storyline, so that this book can be read as a standalone. There are appearances, however, by characters from the series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: Unmasked by the Marquess

Review: Unmasked by the MarquessUnmasked by the Marquess (Regency Imposters #1) by Cat Sebastian
Series: Regency Imposters #1
on April 17, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 320
Goodreads
two-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: I found this book dull and uninteresting. The characters were not compelling, and I didn’t have any interest in their story. They really didn’t have a romance, as their relationship was pretty boring. Unfortunately for me, this book didn’t really work beyond the representation on page of the bisexual Marquess and nonbinary second main character.

THE STORY:  Robert Selby is determined to see his sister happily married. When Selby seeks the assistance of the Marquess of Pembroke, Selby appeals to his sister being the godchild of Pembroke’s father. Selby is lying. Selby is also lying about his identity because he is actually a former housemaid named Charity Church who has been masquerading as Robert Selby for years. Alistair, Marquess of Pembroke, has been committed to the duty to the title, spending his time restoring the fortunes of the estate after his father’s mismanagement. Alistair is intrigued by Selby, who makes him happier than he has for years. When Charity’s ruse is revealed, Alistair is angered by the deception and by Charity’s unwillingness to conform to Alistair and society’s expectations.

OPINION: I barely made it through this one. The story idea was great, but the author managed to make a great story pretty boring. The characters were not compelling and their conflicts did not seem high stakes because the characters did not treat it that way. Instead, this seemed like a modern story placed in a historical without any real danger for these characters to make these choices in their lives.

I wish we had seen more of these characters together on the page. There is too much time they are apart, and thus the chemistry between them suffered. I liked Robin/Robert/Charity, but the resolution of Robin’s deception was too simple (which also reduced the stakes for me). I would have liked more consequences for Robin because everything was settled too easily and quickly.

I didn’t really like Alistair and didn’t find his conversion on his lifetime views very convincing. I don’t think the characters were well-developed for the story this book was trying to tell.

As a result, there really doesn’t seem like a reason these characters should not be together, and thus, it was dull and boring. I think there was possibility here, but not well executed.

I thought the best part of this book was when Alistair believed that Robin was a man because he was so in love but worried about approaching him. There was something really passionate about this part of the book. The rest, not so much.

WORTH MENTIONING: I did like the twist of how Robin began to use the name Robert Selby because it was unexpected.

CONNECTED BOOKS: UNMASKED BY THE MARQUESS is the first book in the Regency Imposters series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2.5 stars.

two-half-stars

Review: Wilde Child

Review: Wilde ChildWilde Child (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #7) by Eloisa James
Series: The Wildes of Lindow Castle #7
Published by Avon on March 30, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: The Wildes of Lindow has been an amazing series. This book fits right in. The romance is complex, with the relationship building so beautifully between the characters. Both Joan and Thaddeus feel real. There is a lot of adult talking between them, which I love more than unnecessary drama. There is plenty of drama here, but it is not made up of dramatics but deep conflicts that must be worked through.

THE STORY: Lady Joan is scandalous just for existing. Her golden hair reveals that her mother was unfaithful to the Duke of Lindow. Joan is not willing to be quiet and hope people forget about her. Instead, she is always running into scandals of her own. This time Joan is going to act as Hamlet in breeches. Her model for the aristocratic Hamlet is Vicount Greywick, Thaddeus. Greywick spends much of his time saving Joan from herself. Although he has no intention of falling under her spell, he can’t stop spending time with her and is determined to protect her. The two enter into a bargain, Thaddeus will facilitate one real performance by Joan as Hamlet, and she will agree to finally marry. While Thaddeus doesn’t plan on being the groom, he also is attracted to Joan despite his best intentions.

OPINION: This book subverted my expectations. Every time that I thought that I knew in what direction the story would go, it swerved and became deeper and more complex. The story could have been about a free spirit (Joan) and a rigid stick-in-the-mud (Thaddeus), but it wasn’t. The characters have mixed motives and grow and change through this book.

Joan initially seems flighty to me, but her maturity and reasonableness are demonstrated as the story progresses. At the same time, she remains herself. Both the reader and Thaddeus begin to see things in Joan that were unclear as the book began. The same is true for Thaddeus, who is exposed as the book continues.

What I love best about this book is that it never forgets that it is a romance between two people. It’s not the story of Joan finding herself or being independent. Rather it is about how two people fall in love. I’ve greatly tired of recent books which seem only interested in the heroine’s story, and the hero is merely a toy to be manipulated or played off against the heroine. What I find most satisfying in this case is how Joan and Thaddeus grow, change, and become a couple.

This book is funny, romantic, and quite enjoyable (and even has a small secondary romance). I will miss the Wildes greatly.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book has a nice wrap-up of the series at the end.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WILDE CHILD is the sixth book in the Wildes of Lindow Castle series. The romance here is self-contained, so it can be read as a standalone. The entire family appears in this book, however, so it is better to read in order to get the entire dynamic.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars