Review: You Had Me at Hola

Review: You Had Me at HolaYou Had Me at Hola (Primas of Power, #1) by Alexis Daria
Series: Primas of Power #1
Published by Avon on August 4, 2020
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 387
Goodreads
three-stars

FINAL DECISION: Sweet but average romance. Didn’t live up to the hype, but certainly an okay read. I enjoyed the telenovela setting, which felt fun and flirty, but the hero was a mess.

THE STORY: Jasmine Lin Rodriguez is starting the most important role of her career as the star of a bilingual romantic comedy. After a messy public breakup, Jasmine is determined to lay low until she meets her co-star, Ashton Suárez. After being dumped from his most recent telenovela, Ashton worries that he is past the prime of his career and hopes that this role will give him a chance to increase his visibility in Hollywood. Both Jasmine and Ashton have a lot of gain in this performance, so creating chemistry on screen is vital. But as the two work to improve their performance, they find out that everything between them is not acting.

OPINION: This story was enjoyable as a read, but quickly forgettable. It was a bit banal. I really didn’t get any emotional connection between these characters. Their relationship felt cold. They had sex and acted, and then there were performative lectures about how a relationship should be. But I really didn’t get much emotion or connection between these characters.

My real problem was with the hero. I really felt like he was a hot mess. And it seemed like the heroine needed to get him to act more responsibly. It seemed like he had things together by the epilogue, but I needed that before.

There were some fun and flirty moments. I enjoyed how parts of this book mirrored the telenovela/romantic comedy/soap opera format. The first part of the book is flirty and cute. Unfortunately, the story turned serious, and I didn’t like the obvious drama that pulled the couple apart. It was too contrived and didn’t work for me. Instead, the characters stayed disconnected.

There was a good book here, and it was almost good. Instead, it was just okay.

WORTH MENTIONING: I enjoyed how this book includes some episodes of the show which interacts in interesting ways with the “real” story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: YOU HAD ME AT HOLA is the first book in the Primas of Power series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

three-stars

Review: Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match

Review: Angelika Frankenstein Makes Her MatchAngelika Frankenstein Makes Her Match by Sally Thorne
Published by Avon on September 6, 2022
Genres: Historical, Paranormal
Pages: 389
Goodreads

FINAL DECISION: This book was clearly a risk. The entirety of it is unlike what I expect from a romance novel. Parts were intriguing and seemed to be on the cutting edge, but ultimately this book is more reading experience from the left brain rather than emotional romance so it’s not one I would be returning to read again.

THE STORY: Angelika Frankenstein wants a love match. She’s been looking for the man of her dreams, but it hasn’t worked. Men find her odd. Too clever and pretty, Angelika works with her brother on his experiments to bring men back to life. This time, she creates a project of her own. And she is successful. The perfect man who she immediately loves awakens, but things are not all well. Her creation has no memory but is determined to discover who he is. At the same time, another man comes into her life, making her question whether her perfect creation is what she needs or whether there is something lacking in inventing the ideal man.

OPINION: This book takes risks. Unfortunately, the risks don’t really work out in this case. I loved the setup for this book. The idea of a woman creating her own suitor and then things being complicated with the “perfect” man was very intriguing. But the story stalls and the triangle being constructed just didn’t work on an emotional level. I never really liked Will, and I immediately figured out the “surprise” almost immediately. I really didn’t get any of the relationships here, and the resolution took too long and wasn’t particularly satisfying at the end.

There were potions of this book that I really loved, but the whole didn’t hold together as well as I would want. Passages were great, the possibilities were great. I suppose I was disappointed because I thought that the first few chapters of this book were amazing in the concept and then nothing seemed to come of that great premise.

WORTH MENTIONING: I liked the exploration of religion here which was nuanced and complicated.

CONNECTED BOOKS: ANGELIKA FRANKENSTEIN MAKES HER MATCH is a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

Review: Heartbreaker

Review: HeartbreakerHeartbreaker (Hell's Belles, #2) by Sarah MacLean
Series: Hell's Belles #2
Published by Avon on August 23, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
three-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: Much better than the first in the series. I enjoyed the relationship between Adelaide and Henry. Much of the book is a road trip between them (only one bed at the inn!), so their relationship shines.

THE STORY: Adelaide Frampton spends her time in ballrooms watching as she pretends to be a wallflower, but she is actually the Matchbreaker who helps women avoid the altar. Adelaide has another secret; she was not born to the aristocracy but rather is the daughter of a crime lord. In her latest quest to help a young woman, Adelaide encounters Henry, Duke of Clayborn, who has tried to live the role of a duke to perfection. But Henry, too, has secrets. When Adelaide and Henry find themselves on opposite sides of stopping a wedding, the two take a journey across England, both thwarting and tantalizing one another.

OPINION: The strength of this book is the relationship between Henry and Adelaide. They spend much of the book together, which is good because there really isn’t much else to the book. The book feels like it walks through various tropes without deep emotional engagement. While the book lacks any real drama or tension between the main characters, there is a deep connection between the two — and both are very decent people.

Perhaps that is why this book is good, but not great. Because there is nothing for the two characters to confront or overcome in themselves, the story is flat. The whole Hell’s Belles series feels like superhero comics rather than romance. It feels like the book is ticking off a checklist rather than deeply rooted in the characters. While I liked Henry and Adelaide a lot, this is not a book that I would be compelled to pick up again.

This book is much better than the first in the series, but it does lack the emotional depth and angst of MacLean’s earlier — much superior — books.

WORTH MENTIONING: There are small mentions of other characters from the MacLean world, including the Wests.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HEARTBREAKER is the second book in the Hell’s Belle’s series. The romance here is self-contained so this book can be read as a standalone. There are appearances by characters in the series, however.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.

three-half-stars

Review: The Return of the Duke

Review: The Return of the DukeThe Return of the Duke (Once Upon a Dukedom, #3) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #3
Published by Avon on July 26, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 272
Goodreads
four-half-stars

FINAL DECISION: A historical spy novel with a woman of questionable morals at the center. I loved this book because the darkness in both the main characters brings them together, yet there is something sweet and light between them. Concludes the series satisfyingly.

THE STORY: Marcus Stanwick has prepared his whole life to become the Duke of Wolfford. His future is smashed when his father is hanged for an assassination attempt on Queen Victoria, and the family’s titles and properties are stripped from them. Now Marcus is working to uncover his father’s co-conspirators. At a dead end, he goes to the person he has avoided approaching — the woman reputed to be his father’s mistress. Esme Lancaster is also looking at who else was involved in the conspiracy for her own reasons. While she doesn’t want to work with Marcus, she has no choice but to join him in searching for the conspiracy. Marcus and Esme discover that their preconceptions of the other don’t fit the reality. And the reality is that the two begin to realize that there is a strong attraction between them.

OPINION: This book was unexpected. It has more of a historical spy feel as Marcus and Esme try to determine who has been plotting to kill Queen Victoria. While adjacent to the world of ballrooms, this book takes place in the shadowy places of London. I enjoyed the different emphasis in the story as some of the historical issues of the time are explored.

And I loved Marcus and Esme. Both had their expected lives pulled out from under them and yet managed to be caring people. We finally find out what Marcus has been doing during the timeline of the other books in the series.

Marcus was more thoughtful and self-examining than I had expected. When he first met Esme, I worried he would be a total jerk to her. (Ok, honestly, he is terrible to her at the first meeting, but a reader can be assured that only lasts a moment.) Based on his obsession-laden appearances in previous books, I hadn’t expected to like him so much. I found that he is a caring person and ultimately reasonable as he quickly begins to understand Esme and even has empathy for her.

Esme is an incredible heroine. I especially liked that Heath made her more modern thinking without making her feel ahistorical (as many romance writers are wont to do these days). Esme is a trailblazer in how she lives her life and what she has chosen to do with herself. At the same time, she has soft edges, and it is clear that she is strong enough to live alone but needs someone who will love and care for her.

And that is what makes this book so good for me. Esme and Marcus have both been betrayed and have lived in darkness. In one another, they find understanding, companionship, and love. They are such a good couple who talks to one another and seek understanding rather than being immature and jumping to conclusions. Their relationship feels mature, and when their happy ending comes, I’m not surprised, and I’m assured that they will love one another forever.

My final enjoyment of this book is that appearances are made by all the main characters from the series and also from the Sins for all Seasons books.

WORTH MENTIONING: Dr. Graves from the Scoundrels of St. James series has an important (but off the page) role in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE RETURN OF THE DUKE is the third book in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. The book can be read as a standalone, although there is an overarching story for the series that is resolved here. Enough information is given but there are significant appearances from characters from both this series and also from the Sins for All Seasons series. This book is also a bridge to the Chessmen series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

four-half-stars

Review: You Were Made to be Mine

Review: You Were Made to be MineYou Were Made to Be Mine (The Palace of Rogues, #5) by Julie Anne Long
Series: The Palace of Rogues #5
Published by Avon on June 28, 2022
Genres: Historical
Goodreads
four-stars

FINAL DECISION: This book suffers from a delayed meeting between the hero and the heroine. There just isn’t enough time for them to meet, fall in love, and resolve both the emotional and plot issues in this book. At the same time, Long, as always, writes so beautifully and lyrically about love and pain. There are passages that just enthralled me.

THE STORY: Christian Hawkes, an English spy, newly freed from a French prison, agrees to find the Earl of Brundage’s fiancee, who has disappeared. Lady Aurelie Capet has fled France and comes to the Grand Palace on the Thames, traveling under a false name and hiding from her fiance. Hawkes soon arrives at the Grand Palace as well. The two are keeping secrets from one another and falling for one another.

OPINION: Mixed feelings about this one. Once the hero and heroine meet, the book has such beauty in it. But the book doesn’t take the time to develop the relationship between these two characters. They meet, and love is quick and fast between them. Most of the book is unwinding the plot with the villain of the novel.

So I loved Hawke and Aurelie; the story was beautiful and painful when they were on the page together. Both have suffered incredible betrayals, which threaten their ability of them to trust other people. Yet, from the start, something between the two is powerful and draws them together.

I wanted to like this book more than I did because I adored the characters. Hawke emerged from being imprisoned during the war, having lost almost everything. What could have made him hard and cruel instead has made him empathetic and understanding. And he is almost immediately willing to give up his own desires to protect Aurelie.

Aurelie could have been destroyed by what happened to her, but instead, she has the inner strength and determination to take control of her own life. One thing I really loved in this book is how these two wounded people recognize both the pain in the other and also the strength and ability to overcome the deep wounding that both experienced.

Hawke is one of my favorite heroes. He is immediately determined to do what is right once he realizes that things are not what was represented to him.

The book also has a good dose of characters we already know from the series, so fans will be pleased to see beloved characters again.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book discusses and has rape as a significant plot point, although it occurs off-page before the book begins.

CONNECTED BOOKS: YOU WERE MADE TO BE MINE is the fifth book in the Palace of Rogues series. The romance here is self-contained; thus, the book can be read as a standalone. Characters from the other books do make significant appearances, however, so reading in order provides more depth to the story.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

four-stars

Review: The Duchess Hunt

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: The Duchess HuntThe Duchess Hunt (Once Upon a Dukedom, #2) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #2
Published by Avon on September 28, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: I absolutely loved the hero and heroine of this book. The slow-burn nature of these two, who are so obviously in love with one another from the start, just made my heart happy. I was a little disappointed by the dark moment at the end of the book, but not enough to diminish my overall love for this couple.

THE STORY: Hugh Brinsley-Norton, the Duke of Kingsland, failed in his first attempt to choose his own duchess as she was in love with another man and married him. He decides to try again, this time putting the choice to his most efficient secretary, Penelope Pettypeace. Penelope intends to pick the best match for Kingsland because she has been in love with him for years and wants him to be happy. But the duke can’t seem to care more about his possible future duchesses than he does for his secretary.

OPINION: Kingsland is a single-minded serious man. He is determined to be responsible for his legacy and his family. At his side for eight years has been his secretary, Penelope. The two have had a professional relationship. Kingsland doesn’t really believe that he has love in him and is determined to find a wife who is quiet and won’t disturb his life and work, and won’t expect much from him in terms of emotional connection. He prefers his business work with Penelope.

Penelope is efficient and strong and is definitely a match for the duke. She doesn’t have subservience in her, and I loved her. She has experienced such a difficult life, and I liked that she wasn’t hard and bitter, but instead clear-headed and had a good sense of herself.

The book handled well the “office romance” aspect of the book, and I thought that Kingsland had a modern (but completely appropriate) view of women’s roles and abilities.

This couple would definitely get five stars from me. I loved their interactions and so much of their behaviors make complete sense in the context of the novel. My only negative in his book was the “dark moment” at the end of the book that seemed somewhat contrived based on what went before. Indeed, the easy emotional resolution made it seem more like an excuse. Perhaps on a re-read, I might have a different feeling. This is definitely a book I will be re-reading!

WORTH MENTIONING: The book discusses childhood physical abuse.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE DUCHESS HUNT is the second book in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. The book can be read as a standalone although the hero has a significant role in the first book. The book also introduces the men in The Chessmen series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

four-half-stars

Review: Scoundrel of My Heart

Review: Scoundrel of My HeartScoundrel of My Heart (Once Upon a Dukedom, #1) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Once Upon a Dukedom #1
Published by Avon on March 30, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 368
Goodreads
four-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: Heath does longing better than just about anyone. I didn’t expect to like this one and indeed had skipped reading it until I decided to read the third book in the series and started with this one. I wasn’t excited by much of the plot of this book but the angst filled longing of Kathryn and Griff made this book for me.

THE STORY: Lady Kathryn Lambert seeks to marry a title in order to gain her grandmother’s inheritance which she desperately wants. Now that a duke is seeking a wife she seeks the help of her old friend Lord Griffith Stanwick on how to appeal to the duke. Lord Griffith Stanwick has stifled his desire for Kathryn because he knows that as the “spare” he does not meet Kathryn’s requirements in a spouse and yet he is able to fulfill her wishes by helping her capture a title. Then Griff’s father is found guilty of treason and Griff loses even the “spare” designation. Even while the duke seems the only reasonable choice, Kathryn cannot forget Griff.

OPINION: This book suffers from some of the first book in a series problems. There is a lot of exposition about the upcoming characters and situations. I expect more drama and angst from the next books in the series, but at the same time, I loved how much Griffith showed his devotion to Kathryn. He is willing to give up everything — including her — to make her happy. Of course, he makes this decision without talking with her, but that is part of what makes up the drama in this book.

I began the book not really liking either the hero or the heroine but ended up loving them both. They are both opinionated and stubborn but the story demonstrated the depth of feeling that each has for the other. Some readers might be upset by the fact that both are willing to give up love for material comforts, but I felt that that better reflected the choices of women at the time. At the same time they come around at the end.

Heath writes some of the most amazing endings in romance. The longing that she builds up through the book is released at the ending in beautiful emotions. The final third of this book captivated me. I’m glad that I got through the first part of this book and I look forward to the next book in the series.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is a time jump about a third of the way through this book as this book overlaps with BEAUTY TEMPTS THE BEAST (which takes place during that time jump).

CONNECTED BOOKS: SCOUNDREL OF MY HEART is the first book in the Once Upon a Dukedom series. This series is, however, a spinoff from BEAUTY TEMPTS THE BEAST. It is not necessary to read that book, however.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.

 

four-stars

Review: The Emma Project

Review: The Emma ProjectThe Emma Project (The Rajes, #4) by Sonali Dev
Series: The Rajes #4
Published by Avon on May 17, 2022
Genres: Contemporary
Goodreads
three-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: Loved the romance but wish there was more of it and less about fantasy nonprofit stuff that has many pages and little significance in the story. The book seems unfocused with too many ideas and not enough payoff. That being said the last couple of chapters of this book are amazing and almost worth the slog through the rest.

THE STORY: Vansh Raje is the youngest of the Raje family. In his mid-twenties, he is charming and seems to live a charmed life.  When he returns home, he finds a new project to dedicate himself to — homelessness in San Francisco. His new project, however, puts him in direct conflict with Naina Kohli. Naina, who is thirty-eight, has just ended a ten-year fake relationship with Vansh’s older brother. Instead, she is dedicating herself to her project to bring independence to women in South Asia. Now the two are fighting for funding even as a new relationship arises between them.

OPINION: I really love the tenor and flow of Dev’s books. She also writes very complex and interesting characters. Unfortunately, as with the last book, there was too much going on in this one. The book felt scattered and unfinished in the end because the stories did not reach a satisfying conclusion.

What I expected to really have problems with — Naina, who is almost a villain in the last book, I ended up having great sympathy for and actually began to like. I even liked the interactions with Naina and Vansh and thought that their romance could work really well. Unfortunately, this book needed more romance and less fantasy homelessness elimination. If a writer is going to focus on social problems, then the story should be seriously addressed rather than living in a fantasy where everything can be solved if people just clap their hands and wish really hard. There was just too much of the pointless charity story and not enough relationship.

Thus, while I loved Vansh and Naina, I didn’t get enough of their story to make the relationship work for me until the last couple of chapters. I absolutely loved those chapters which were emotional and deep and I was left wishing that I had gotten pages about them rather than a dull story about the nonprofit. The couple sparkled on the page in those chapters, but there wasn’t enough build-up on the page before that. I wish I could have loved this book more because I think if the focus was more on the characters rather than the plot, I could have.

WORTH MENTIONING: Younger man/older woman romance with a 12-year age difference.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE EMMA PROJECT is the fourth book in the Rajes series. This book can be read as a standalone although the series is about a family and so characters from the other books make significant appearances here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3 stars.

 

three-stars

Review: How to Be a Wallflower

Review: How to Be a WallflowerHow to Be a Wallflower (Would-Be Wallflowers, #1) by Eloisa James
Series: Would-Be Wallflowers #1
Published by Avon on March 29, 2022
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
four-half-stars

 

FINAL DECISION: This book gave me such a warm feeling. The hero is so amazingly supportive. He knows that he loves Cleo from almost the beginning and the book is how he shows her that he will always be supportive of her. There isn’t much drama in this book (except for the ending) but the relationship between Cleo and Jake was all that I needed.

THE STORY: Cleopatra Lewis had a unique upbringing. While she will agree with her grandfather’s desire that she have a season, she intends on dressing like a wallflower as she intends to never marry. Instead, she will continue with her business interests. One day she meets Jake Astor Addison, an American, and the two quickly are engaged in a battle of minds when Cleo sweeps in and takes a business from right under Jake’s nose. Determined to change Cleo’s mind, Jake proposes a swap — he will design Cleo’s wardrobe for the Season and she will do the same for him.

OPINION: I admit that I’m a sucker for books that are lighter on plot and more focused on the personal development of the characters’ relationships with one another. That’s what I loved about his book. The real conflict here is Cleo dealing with her own past and being able to trust the relationship between Jake and herself.

I thought from the blurb of this book that there would be a lot of conflict between Jake and Cleo, but I found this book to be much more about these characters growing towards one another than I expected.

Cleo has independence and strength and yet her life has left her with scars that she has to confront in this story. She runs her deceased father’s business and is determined to continue to do so, and as such, she doesn’t plan on marriage. At the same time, her mother’s endless affairs have soured her on the idea of romantic love. I was drawn to Cleo because she demonstrated how much she cared for those around her even as she sometimes espoused a cynical view of the world.

Jake is the type of hero who makes it his mission to support the heroine and is a genuinely good guy. The book sets up the story to be an enemies-to-lovers story with a lot of conflict between the main characters. I was pleasantly surprised by how that expectation was subverted. I loved Jake as a character and quickly was rooting for him to show Cleo that he is exactly the man she needs. Jake turns the world over for Cleo. The great thing is that his being an American seemed to fit exactly the path he takes. In a world that seems to be bound by so many rules and expectations, Jake is willing to accommodate where he must and shove aside what he can to be with Cleo.

This book just made me feel comforted and warm inside. This is not a book about high drama and angst. While I like those stories, I have plenty of love for a romance with a highly competent woman who finds a man who is strong and supportive of her. And who will do anything for her without having to first battle against her.

WORTH MENTIONING: The Earl of Lilford and Yasmin are the main characters in the next book in the series THE RELUCTANT COUNTESS. Good thing because I loved them in this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HOW TO BE A WALLFLOWER is the first book in the Would-Be Wallflowers series. The hero, however, is the childhood friend of the heroine of MY AMERICAN DUCHESS and she makes an appearance in this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.

 

four-half-stars

Review: Devil in Disguise

I received this book for free from Netgalley in order to prepare an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


Review: Devil in DisguiseDevil in Disguise (The Ravenels, #7) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: The Ravanels #7
Published by Avon on July 27, 2021
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384
Goodreads
five-stars

 

“He would relive that kiss in a thousand dreams. It had been as unlike anything that had happened in his life before, as it would be from anything that came after.”

FINAL DECISION: I guessed the twist in this one almost immediately, but I loved it anyway because this is a wonderful story of two people who fall in love and the plot is almost superfluous. Kleypas does so much was characters who are entirely likable and yet make the romance compelling.

THE STORY: Lady Merritt Sterling, a widow, is running her husband’s business when she meets Kier MacRae, a Scottish distiller. From the moment the two meet there is something between them. But the class differences between them weigh heavily on Kier who does his best to keep his distance from the tempting widow. Merritt, on the other hand, knows from experience that regrets are corrosive. At the same time, someone seems determined to kill Kier.

OPINION: This book just warmed my soul. One this I loved about it was its context. In many ways, this is the story about family, and I loved how the couple here is supported and loved by the families in the story. The romance is luscious, incredibly sexy, but also has a sweetness and loveliness that I really enjoyed. The story warmed my heart as most of the conflicts were external and these are just two really good people. Perhaps life and society and villains might try and keep them apart, but they are decent and kind to one another.

Kier is just adorable (who doesn’t love a Scotsman who is hardworking and responsible and a big handsome man). He is respectful to Merritt and even when he doesn’t see a future for them, he is not dismissive of her thoughts. Indeed, he treats her with respect and talks to her. At the same time, he isn’t a pushover who takes all his cues from her.

Merritt is also refreshing as a heroine. Strong and independent, she also understands sacrifice and compromise. She doesn’t insist on her own way — even if Kier does consider her fondly as “bossy”.

Sometimes I love dramatic angsty books, and sometimes I love books like this: really good people who are making the best choices they can.

WORTH MENTIONING: Fans of Kleypas will get glimpses of plenty of her characters from previous books. Merritt is the daughter of the couple from IT HAPPENED ONE AUTUMN and we also get more of Sebastian and Evie from DEVIL IN WINTER. There are plenty of updates all around!

CONNECTED STORIES: DEVIL IN DISGUISE is the seventh book in the Ravenels series. This series, however, has become deeply entwined with the Wallflowers series. All the books in the Ravenels series that start with “Devil” are in essence spin-offs of DEVIL IN WINTER. This book can be read as a stand-alone, but I highly recommend reading both series — they are fantastic.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an eARC of this book via Netgalley in order to prepare this review. I was not required to write a review or to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.

 

five-stars