Review: Gifts of Love

Review: Gifts of LoveGifts of Love by Kay Hooper, Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on October 31, 2006
Genres: Historical
Pages: 326

This is an anthology of two unrelated novellas.

HOLIDAY SPIRIT by Kay Hooper: Lady Antonia Wingate and Richard Allerton, Duke of Lyonshall were engaged and seemingly in love when Antonia abruptly broke off their engagement. Several years later, Antonia’s grandmother has invited Richard to a “house party” where he is the only non-family guest. While her grandmother attempts to rekindle Antonia and Richard’s romance, the two are privy to the ghostly romance of prior inhabitants of the castle. I really enjoyed this story. The romance plot is pretty standard, but the addition of the ghost story and the interfering grandmother gave this story some extra interest. Rating: 4 stars.

SURRENDER by Lisa Kleypas: Jason and Laura Moran are newly married but not happily. Jason believes that Laura is contemptuous of him because of his humble beginnings. Laura fears Jason’s coldness. The two have the chance to save their new marriage if they can speak their hearts to one another. I really like stories about married couples. This one, however, was just okay for me. Perhaps their problems needed more pages to be explored and solved or perhaps I didn’t feel that the characters were complex enough to explore the problems presented. For whatever reason, I liked the story but didn’t find it particularly memorable or remarkable. Rating: 3 stars.


Review: When Strangers Marry

Review: When Strangers MarryWhen Strangers Marry (Vallerands, #1) by Lisa Kleypas
Series: Vallerands #1
Published by Avon on August 1, 2002
Genres: Historical
Pages: 390

FINAL DECISION: Certainly not as complex as Kleypas’s more recent works, I enjoyed the main characters: the innocent heroine who is strong and doesn’t cower from the hero and the hero who has a bad reputation but quickly falls for the heroine.

THE STORY: Lysette Kersaint is being forced by her stepfather to marry a man who repulses her. Instead, Lysette decides to take her future in her own hands and escape. But her flight puts her in the path of Maximilien Vallerands. Max decides to use Lysette for revenge against her prospective bridegroom. Lysette, however, has no intention of allowing Max to use her.

OPINION: This book was mixed for me. The story certainly isn’t particularly complex and the characters don’t have a tremendous amount of depth to them, but I really liked the characters.

Lysette is young, but she quickly shows strength and determination and the ability to manage Max who is fifteen years her senior. And the relationship between Lysette and Max is one of the nicest of Kleypas’s books. These two like one another almost from the beginning — and not the sexual liking, but rather the two have an emotional and intellectual connection from early on in this book. I really liked how these characters interacted with one another. I would have expected the older and more experienced Max to crush the young Lysette, but instead their relationship is a combination of her strength and his caring for her enough to include her opinions in his considerations.

If a reader is looking for an equivalent of Kleypas’s later works, there is apt to be disappointment, but I enjoyed this book on its own terms.

WORTH MENTIONING: I really loved the different time period and location. This book takes place in Louisiana at the turn of the 19th century. The book uses Aaron Burr’s post-Hamilton duel history in the Louisiana territories which led to him being tried for treason as the historical underpinning for this story.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHEN STRANGERS MARRY is the first book in the Vallerands series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 3.5 stars.


Review: When a Duke Loves a Woman

Review: When a Duke Loves a WomanWhen a Duke Loves a Woman (Sins for All Seasons, #2) by Lorraine Heath
Series: Sins for All Seasons #2
Published by Avon on August 21, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400

FINAL DECISION: I absolutely adored Thorne in this book. He is kind and a true gentleman. Gillie is fierce, strong and independent but caring. And I’ve lost track of the times that Heath has brought me to tears in one of her books — including this one.

THE STORY: Antony Coventry, Duke of Thornley had an extraordinarily bad day. Left at the altar by his bride, Thorne goes searching for her in Whitechapel and finds himself robbed and left for dead. Gillie Trewlove comes across the seriously injured stranger near her tavern and finds herself responsible for nursing him back to health. She also ends up agreeing to help Thorne search for his runaway bride. As the two search, the connection between Thorne and Gillie grows. But these are two people who cannot live in the other’s world no matter how much they may want to.

OPINION: I absolutely loved Thorne in this book. He is such a fine man. From the moment he meets Gillie, he finds his worldview changing, but he is always respectful and kind to those around him. I just love a guy who is willing to turn his world around for the woman he loves. At every stage in this book, Gillie is important to him. He respects her. He wants to understand her. And he puts her above his own wants and needs. Absolutely loved him.

Gillie is a strong and kind woman. Independent, she handles her dominant brothers and never accepts being thought of as inferior because of being female. She knows her mind and has managed to make a profession for herself as a tavern owner. Yet she has a shyness and a desire for quiet that may seem contradictory to the bright woman who manages a tavern and yet it seems completely in character.

I loved these two together. Their different stations seem destined to keep them apart even though they quickly find that they want to try and bridge that distance. What I really liked is that there is not some big external bad keeping them apart, but their own expectations and the world’s expectations.

Heath has a way of writing that rips my heart out. Even though I KNOW there will be a happy ending, I found myself openly weeping during the story. Beautiful and tragic and such an expression of love and hopelessness. The characters, the emotion of the story and the fact that I really cared about these two make this a wonderful read that I will definitely turn to again.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book sets up the next book in the series with Finn.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHEN A DUKE LOVES A WOMAN is the second book in the Sins for All Seasons series. The romance in this book is self-contained. Although there are overlapping characters in the series, this book can be read as a standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.



Review: Born to be Wilde

Review: Born to be WildeBorn to Be Wilde (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #3) by Eloisa James
Series: The Wildes of Lindow Castle #3
Published by Avon on July 31, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384

FINAL DECISION: Slow burn story of two people who have known each other and yet don’t know one another at all. I loved the intense emotional aspects of the story and how these two discover one another.

THE STORY: Lavinia Gray is desperate after discovering that her mother is an addict, spent all their money and stolen from family and friends. She needs to marry immediately before the scandal is discovered so she approaches Parth Sterling to propose marry. But he turns her down. The fashion obsessed and shallow Lavinia is not the type of woman Parth intends to marry and, in fact, he has a much more suitable candidate in mind. Parth, however, promises Lavinia to help her find a groom. Parth’s efforts only seem to make Lavinia more attractive to him as he discovers the real woman that he dismissed so easily.

OPINION: I ended up loving this book. It took a while to grow on me because Lavinia and Parth seemed so mismatched in the beginning. But as the two really began to know one another and as the book concentrated on the emotional lives of these characters, I began to fall with them as they fell for one another.

For a book that feels light and funny, this book has a a deep undertone — like Lavinia herself. I enjoyed that the book begins with Lavinia at her most desperate and then becomes how Lavinia finds a way to save herself. As she does, she shows Parth who she really is and Parth begins to fall for her.

The romance between Parth and Lavinia takes the time it needs to develop. It allows for the emotional depth of the characters and the relationship to be emphasized. I loved that the book really rests on these two characters and their relationship rather than all the external story.

One of the characteristics of the series has been that the hero really has to take the leap into the fire for the heroine emotionally. The Wilde men are emotional and passionate when they recognize the woman for them. I love that about them and Parth shows that he is a true Wilde even if he wasn’t born with the name.

WORTH MENTIONING: I loved, loved, loved being able to see more of North and Diana and there are some beautiful moments with them. This is a must read book for fans of these two.

CONNECTED BOOKS: BORN TO BE WILDE is the third book in the Wildes of Lindow Castle series. The romance in this book is self-contained and can be read as a standalone. I think, however, that the characters in this book are better understood when the series is read in order.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.


Review: Wicked and the Wallflower

Review: Wicked and the WallflowerWicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #1) by Sarah MacLean
Series: The Bareknuckle Bastards #1
Published by Avon on June 19, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 396

“Felicity Faircloth,” he said, “in the few days I’ve known you, I’ve learned one, unimpeachable truth. You are no kind of ordinary.”

FINAL DECISION: Enjoyable book with an emotional center, but suffers from introducing all the conflicts and thus loses a bit with the couple in this book. There is clearly an overarching storyline so this book misses a complete resolution.

THE STORY: Lady Felicity Faircloth keenly feels the loss of her social position. Impulsively, she claims to be engaged to the catch of the season — a reclusive duke. A mysterious and dangerous man, Devil, comes to Felicity and promises that he will make all her dreams come true — for a price. A bastard and the king of the dangerous streets of London, Devil intends to use Felicity for his own purposes to destroy his enemy, but Felicity might be Devil’s own downfall.

OPINION: MacLean has a deeply emotional and dramatic style of writing that I always enjoy. Her characters have complex emotional lives and the emotion is strong and deep in the relationship. I enjoyed this book, but because it feels like the first book in the series which is setting up relationships and because there is much unresolved at this book, it doesn’t feel complete.

On the positive side, I really connected with the world that MacLean has chosen to explore. The seedy side of London and the aristocratic world are combined in interesting ways. I believe the set up of the overarching story has definite possibilities. In fact, I think what is probably the big set up in the story is a drag on this story because I was more interested in the secrets yet to be revealed than the romance here.

Felicity is an interesting character. She is growing beyond the bounds of the aristocratic world while yearning to be part of it. When she meets the hero, she finds the place where she actually can be her truest self. But part of that growth is shedding the protective cocoon of what her entire life has been directed to prepare her for. One thing I especially liked was the realism of Felicity’s feelings towards her family. It felt good to have her examine the complexity of her feelings rather than being docile and accepting. One thing her character lacked, however, was that her willingness to toss away what she claimed to want felt too quick for me.

I really loved Devil, but the fact that secrets are still being kept about the past means that we still don’t know everything about his character. I never felt his conflict as well as I wanted to. We are being kept in the dark towards some future revelation and I don’t think that worked to the advantage of Devil’s story. The exploration of the BKB’s business gave the story some historical interest and I loved the relationship between the siblings.

This is a book that might improve once the series is done but I’ve been especially disappointed with some overarching stories lately so I’m reserving some judgment until I see how things play out.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book introduces and sets up some of the conflicts with the bastard siblings which clearly will play out through the series. This book does not resolve those conflicts so there are unresolved issues as this book ends.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WICKED AND THE WALLFLOWER is the first book in the Bareknuckle Bastards series. The heroine, however, appeared in THE DAY OF THE DUCHESS. It is not necessary to read that book to understand everything in this book.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4 stars.


Review: The First Time at Firelight Falls

Review: The First Time at Firelight FallsThe First Time at Firelight Falls (Hellcat Canyon, #4) by Julie Anne Long
Series: Hellcat Canyon #4
Published by Avon on May 29th 2018
Genres: Contemporary
Pages: 384

“Days like these made being a Navy SEAL seem definitely easier than being an elementary school principal.”

FINAL DECISION: Passionate, romantic, funny, fabulous and so incredibly normal. This is my favorite book of the year so far…and I’m not sure another book is going to be able to top it.

THE STORY: Eden Harwood was the good girl who ended up pregnant. She adores and dedicates her life to her ten year old daughter and her life is busy and seems full until something starts with the elementary school principal Gabe Caldera. Gabe destroys any stereotypes of what a school principal should look like. When the two begin a lot of flirtation, Eden realizes that she might be missing something that she needs. In that moment, the secret of her daughter’s paternity that Eden has kept for ten years may not be secret much longer and might just destroy the relationship that Gabe and Eden are building.

OPINION: This might be the most beautiful book about love that I have ever read, but at the very least it is the best book I have read this year so far and I can’t really imagine another book topping it.

So much is written about love and romance but this book has something really important to say — love is not only about the rush of excitement and lust but also about constancy and stability and being there.

I read this book without stopping from the first to last page — not because of the suspense or the drama — but because of the quietness of the romance. How it fills all the spaces in the lives of these characters. How it exists in the reality of real lives. How often do I turn to romance as escapism? — read about a duke or a billionaire or a famous actor. This is the story of a single mother florist who falls for a school principal during the car pickup and community meetings.

Now I know that I’ve turned off some people who might say “I don’t need to read about my own boring normal life” but I urge you to give this book a chance. Because this book beautifully gives everyone hope: the single mother who doesn’t have a moment to herself, the serious man who has a life filled with responsibilities, those who have made mistakes that effect the rest of their lives, those who have suffered loss.

This book filled me up with joy and wonder and such a sense of peace by its end. Sometimes, often times, when I finish a book I enjoy, I have a difficult time writing the review. The book just takes all the space and I have trouble expressing what about the book captivated me. This sometimes causes a problem because I am quickly off to the next book and I hate having reviews backed up.

This book was different. I felt filled to the brim and overflowing and all I wanted to do was write this review. And I had no immediate interest to fill the space with another book.

Gabe and Eden are so normal that I couldn’t imagine that Julie Anne Long would be able to keep up the interest and tension. But by using the absolutely ordinary events as a flirty and significant interchange between the two, the book manages to fill all the regular moments in their lives with meaning and passionate tension, but always with a humor and an joy in the small things.  Never has a normal life been so sexy.

WORTH MENTIONING: There is even a tiny Pennyroyal Green reference for fans of Long’s prior historical series.

CONNECTED BOOKS: THE FIRST TIME AT FIRELIGHT FALLS is the fourth book in the Hellcat Canyon series. The book can be read as a standalone although there are characters from the other books who appear here.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 amazing stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss in order to assist me in preparing this review. I was not required to write a review and I was not required to write a positive review. All opinions contained herein are my own.


Review: Too Wilde to Wed

Review: Too Wilde to WedToo Wilde to Wed (The Wildes of Lindow Castle, #2) by Eloisa James
Series: The Wildes of Lindow Castle #2
Published by Avon on May 29, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384

FINAL DECISION: Simply amazing. I loved that a book that could of been filled with drama and angst instead tempered all that with humor and lightness. North and Diana were complex and interesting characters and the humor felt sophisticated and lovely. Another great book by Eloisa James.

THE STORY: North Wilde, the future duke, was jilted by his fiancee two years ago. He went to America to fight for the British in the American Revolutionary War. He has returned to find that his reputation has been savaged. His former fiancee, Diana Belgrave, is living in his family’s home acting as governess to North’s youngest sister. Diana has a child that everyone assumes is North’s illegitimate son. Gossip is that North ravaged and deserted her, leaving Diana no choice but to be a servant in North’s home. Despite his best efforts, North finds that he still loves Diana and intends on convincing her to be his. And that is something that Diana will never allow to happen.

OPINION: I so desperately wanted to read this book from the moment I met North and Diana in WILDE IN LOVE. Their story seriously kicked off with the ending of that book. Anticipation can work against me when I want to read a book because I am disappointed often. Happily, I loved this book.

The Wilde men are something else. Passionate and willing to sacrifice everything for love. North seemed so different in the first book, but that is part of the story in this book — how two people get to know the “real” person under the social mask. But gosh, I fell for North. He is so willing to forgive Diana even as he hurts from her betrayal. He is protective and a good man all around. Yet, this book shows him with a bit of naivety about the machinations of women. The combination of intense practicality and romanticism makes North one of my favorite of James’ heroes.

Now Diana is a bit of a mess. But that makes her incredibly brave. She is willing to toss herself into things that she fails at. As someone who is careful and deliberate, Diana’s joyful living of life is something that I found greatly enjoyable. She feels shame and pain for what she did to North, but she knows herself. A woman who has no desire to be a duchess.

I found the story between North and Diana pulled me into a bunch of emotional directions. I laughed, I cried, the story made my heart heavy and lifted my spirits. This story could have been dark and angst filled. I’ve read similar situations with books like that and I loved them — but that is not this book.

This book is light and funny in parts but it is firmly grounded in emotion and relationship. While there are certainly farcical elements including overturned chamber pots, an elderly peacock, and more of the hysterical prints about the Wildes, this book never allows itself to stray from the emotional connection between North and Diana. And their story seems impossible at every turn to have a happy ending — until it does.

This book moved immediately into one of my favorite Eloisa James’s book and I really want to read more about this family and their friends.

WORTH MENTIONING: Who knew that peacocks were so territorial?

CONNECTED BOOKS: TOO WILDE TO WED is the second book in the Wildes of Lindow Castle series. The story can be read as a standalone although I think it works much better after being introduced to the family of characters in book one.

STAR RATING: I give this book 5 stars.

NOTE: I received an ebook ARC of this book from Edelweiss 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.


Review: A Scandalous Deal

Review: A Scandalous DealA Scandalous Deal (The Four Hundred, #2) by Joanna Shupe
Series: The Four Hundred #2
Published by Avon on April 24, 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384

FINAL DECISION: Felt more like historical women’s fiction than romance. I enjoyed the story of Eva’s fight to be recognized for her architectural talents, but I really didn’t think the romance was exciting or interesting.

THE STORY: Lady Eva Hyde has three dead fiances and a father who no longer can do his work. When Eva gets the opportunity to pretend to be her father in order to be an architect on a project in New York, Eva leaps on the opportunity. On the trip across the Atlantic, Eva succumbs to passion with a stranger and then flees. She is horrified when he arrives in New York and realizes that her stranger is Phillip Mansfield, who happens to be her employer. Eva continues to pretend that her father is in charge of the project and she is there to execute his will. The antagonism from others about her working on the project, threaten Eva’s desire to establish herself as a professional.

OPINION: I’ve really enjoyed Shupes Guilded Age books, but this one was a big miss for me. While I was really interested in Eva’s professional journey, I didn’t like the romance at all. In fact, I sympathized with Phillip through the entire book and really thought he should dump Eva to find a better woman.

This book felt like a historical woman’s fiction book focused on Eva remaking her life. But she felt selfish and self-centered to me. She lies about who is the architect and then has the nerve to be annoyed at Phillip when he is almost destroyed by her deception. While there is a pro forma “making up” on her part, I never felt that she put her relationship with Phillip over her own ambitions. She lies to him, keeps him at a distance, and basically treats him as beneath her dreams.

I didn’t like her treatment of him, couldn’t understand his willingness to deal with her unless he has no self-respect himself. I want my romances to be about the relationship over all and this book doesn’t come close to meeting that standard.

The book is well written for what it is and I am sure that readers looking for a woman’s journey to fight prejudice to be a trailblazer will find something good in this story, but I prefer my romances to be about romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: This book takes place during the Gilded Age.

CONNECTED BOOKS: A SCANDALOUS DEAL is the second book in the Four Hundred series. While there are small appearances by characters from the prior book, this book is a complete standalone.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

NOTE: I received an ARC of this book via Edelweiss 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.



Review: What a Difference a Duke Makes

Review: What a Difference a Duke MakesWhat a Difference a Duke Makes (School for Dukes, #1) by Lenora Bell
Series: School for Dukes #1
Published by Avon on March 27th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 384

“It was a desperate gamble. It was also her best hope at the moment.”

FINAL DECISION: I was disappointed in this one as the hero didn’t seem heroic to me but rather a milquetoast who was dominated and dictated to by the heroine.

THE STORY: Mari Perkins is desperate when she arrives in London, has her baggage stolen and is late for an appointment with her agency. Rather than getting the governess position she was promised, she is turned away. Mari, however, is never going back to the orphanage where she was raised and worked. Instead, she overhears the resignation of the governess of a duke and decides to appear as the replacement. Edgar Rochester, Duke of Banksford, is not the typical duke. To the despair of his mother, he is engaged in trade in order to save the family fortunes. He has also just been presented with two illegitimate children who keep scaring off the governesses he hires for them. What he needs is a strong, scary governess, and the sweet, innocent optimistic Mari is definitely not what is required.

OPINION: This book disappointed me. I was interested in the premise and I have really enjoyed the authors previous books. And while I liked the strength and independence of the heroine, the hero was weak and uninteresting.  The book suffers from too much modern concerns and sensibilities for a historical novel.

Mari is a woman looking for her past and trying to build a future for herself.  She is clever and kind. While I understand trying to make unique characters, Mari feel entirely too modern a character to me. If her character had been transported into a modern book, she would be entirely comfortable in a contemporary novel as a nanny.  Her sexual aggression for an innocent period woman raised in an orphanage just feels completely out of place. While I am not a reader who looks for historical accuracy in her books, this book just felt too modern for the time period and the characters did not fit and nothing else about the story was good enough to distract me from those facts.

The biggest problem with this book for me was the hero. First, he doesn’t feel possible as a historical character. He is given a tragic background, but it felt forced and not really impacting his life except to give him two illegitimate children which we are supposed to believe that everyone around him accept as reasonable that he would be raising in his own home. Nothing about Edgar works together or feels organic. Perhaps there are too many issues for him: a duke who rejected his rank, a man betrayed by the older woman he loved but who might have used him, a scientist, a tradesman, a new father trying to have a relationship with his children. Just too many parts that don’t mesh well together. Then there is all the moralizing over his concerns about abusing his relationship with Mari who is his employee. This feels like it is taken from a modern manual of how to deal with subordinates. Mari ends up making all the moves in their relationship. Having the woman take control can be sexy but just feels forced here. The combination of all these things makes Edgar a weak character that I would bet is totally controlled by his wife in the future. There is nothing of his “hero” that feels like a man that deserves to be a hero. And nothing about his character that interested me.

There is just too much going on with not enough interest on my part. There is also the story of Mari’s parentage which feels like a predictable afterthought designed to at least make her relationship with Edgar reasonable in the end.

WORTH MENTIONING: Now the story of India and Ravenwood sounds really intriguing and is probably the best part of this book.

CONNECTED BOOKS: WHAT A DIFFERENCE A DUKE MAKES is the first book in the School for Dukes series.

STAR RATING: I give this book 2 stars.

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



Review: Hello Stranger

Review: Hello StrangerHello Stranger (The Ravenels, #4) by Lisa Kleypas
Published by Avon on February 27th 2018
Genres: Historical
Pages: 400

FINAL DECISION: Not as good as DEVIL IN SPRING, but the unique heroine makes this book. Both outside of the typical aristocratic world, Garrett and Ethan have a sweeter romance than I expected.

THE STORY: Dr. Garrett Gibson is the only woman doctor in England and has made herself independent and finds herself just a little annoyed that Mr. Ethan Ransom keeps popping up watching over her. Ethan was formally with Scotland Yard but now works in the shadows. Although he knows that he should stay away from the intriguing Dr. Gibson, Ethan cannot. Garrett is determined to have a love affair if nothing else, but Ethan brings with him deadly danger from someone plotting a terrorist event.

OPINION: This book has an unlikely pairing — the first woman doctor in England and a spy. Garrett and Ethan meet periodically as Ethan first comes across her in his work. But even though he knows that there is something special between them, his work does not allow him attachments. He cannot avoid, however, watching over her and the two end up meeting again and again.

A funny way to begin a romance, but Garrett and Ethan bond over strange and practical things. While their meetings are prosaic at times, there is an intense underlying sweetness between them. They are so obviously perfect for one another, but Ethan’s job is dangerous and any attachments are dangerous both to him and to anyone he care about. I loved how the two are with one another and how Kleypas keeps the importance of Garrett’s job at the forefront of the story.

This is the story of equals. Garrett knows that she wants Ethan and is determined that somehow she will make things work. She has agency in this story. Her choices, her decisions are her own. And she will not allow Ethan to make the decisions for both of them.

With the description of this story, I expected more intrigue and drama, but the book wisely keeps centered on Garrett and her choices and this makes this book more personal and intimate and sweeter as a romance.

WORTH MENTIONING: For fans of West, he has a prominent role here.

CONNECTED BOOKS: HELLO STRANGER is the fourth book in the Ravenels series. While this series has a different couple in each book, this is the story of a family and thus the books have overlapping characters and in this case, the romance between Garrett and Ethan actually begins in MARRYING WINTERBORNE and continues in DEVIL IN SPRING. While this book catches the reader up, I think it is better to read the series in order to know all the characters.

STAR RATING: I give this book 4.5 stars.