Reading Fanatic Reviews

All Romance Reviews

Cocoa & Carols by Marianne Rice

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Cocoa & Carols*

Finding a Family and Love

This is an unusual contemporary romance. It is meant to be a relatively light holiday romance, or at least you get that impression from the cover. (Although I would say that the heroine would have never been dressed like that, especially at the beginning of the book.) Instead, the heroine is actually homeless after a series of stressful events. On Thanksgiving night, a local police officer discovers her car at a closed-for-the-season vegetable stand and eventually figures out that she is homeless and sleeping in her car. On a whim, he invites her to his family’s house for Thanksgiving. As one would expect of the romance, there is an attraction between them pretty much right from the start.

I think what I enjoyed most about this novel are all the characters in the hero’s family. We get to know each of them, and what a wonderfully diverse crew. For one thing, they are loving and accepting of anyone to their circle. While the heroine felt awkward about just showing up, she was literally embraced by each family member, though they did mistakenly think that she and the police officer son were a romantic item. Neither of them let them know anything different. I so enjoy romances where large families take a role, especially with all the different types of personalities that are so distinct and the complex web of inter-relationships. I especially enjoyed all the sibling interaction. That family is just a lot of fun. If you enjoy contemporary romances that are just a little off of the typical with a whole lot of heart, you will most likely enjoy this book.

A Stranger’s Kiss by Tarah Scott

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A Stranger's Kiss by Tarah Scott*

Starts Off Well, Then Goes Completely Off the Rails

Well, this book started off with a fantastic first scene. The heroine quite boldly kisses the man who turns out to be the hero of the book to make her philandering nearly betrothed jealous. The kiss sparks the entire rest of the novel because both of them were affected. It is a steamy, well described kiss.

I absolutely adored the heroine at first. Unlike many Regency heroines, she is not of either the nobility or gentry. She is a working young woman who runs her father’s music shop and printing press after he suffered a traumatic brain injury in a carriage accident (which killed her mother) that leaves him confused and out of sync with time. The heroine struggles mightily to keep everything together without much help. She has big dreams about having her father’s magnum opus played in a major theater in town (London). She has even contracted with the theater and an opera singer to get everything in motion. But all of this unravels as she struggles in the first half of the book.

The hero is a charming rake, as they usually are. The heroine, unfortunately, learns a possible secret about the hero from her cousin that casts him in a very bad light. This is the crux of my problem with this book. I absolutely loved the strength of the heroine in the early parts of the book, as she tried to keep everything together even as one bad thing happened after another. I loved it when she stood up to her maternal grandfather, who had disinherited her mother, and therefore, her. She was super strong willed in dealing with her father and grandfather and trying to make the concert happen against all odds.

So, why then did she become a spineless, wavering young woman when this potential issue with the hero came up? Why would she trust her cousin—whom she just met—any more than this man she’d just met? (And especially after seeing the cousin’s reaction when she and the hero meet in the presence of the heroine.) Certainly, why would she trust the opinions of another man whom she has actually seen in a contentious discussion with the hero? Clearly, these two do not get along, so why would she think that he would have no reason to lie, but the hero would? She goes back and forth in her opinions on him rapidly, even though he’s basically treated her with respect and kindness—although, perhaps, a bit too forwardly with all the stolen kisses. I got so frustrated with the heroine that I nearly gave up on the book as these absolutely silly events just kept stacking up. I hate it when heroines appear to be so strong at first, but then become hopelessly confused—with opinions shifting like the wind—and almost blind in one area (the hero, in this case).

So while I liked a lot of the book, this part just rubbed me the completely wrong way. I do not feel like I can recommend this book.

Mistletoe Magic by Rose Pearson

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Mistletoe Magic*

Could Have Been a 5-Star Read

I have read a few books by this author, and I have mostly enjoyed them, so I was looking forward to this holiday offering. Honestly, this could have been a five-star read, but unfortunately, the story went sideways pretty fast when the heroine suddenly became Mary Milquetoast when she hadn’t truly been like that earlier in the book.

Let me back up a little. The heroine, Lady Georgiana, is a young woman who has had a few seasons but has not yet garnered an offer of marriage. Her older brother, a relative newlywed, wants the family to go to London for the little season in hopes that she will snag a husband. She doesn’t really want to go but then decides that it would be okay. Later, her brother gets the bright idea that he should just arrange a marriage for her. He promises that he will consider all the essential things. Let’s just say this doesn’t go too well. He brings forth the initial two candidates, and his American wife puts the kibosh on one of them immediately. The other man’s character is revealed to both the heroine and her brother. He agrees that the man would not suit. In all this, the heroine had been polite but forthright with her brother about his poor attempts to make these matches for her. She didn’t hesitate to state her displeasure.

But when her brother tells her he has found another one and says that the paperwork is just about set up for an official betrothal, without giving her any choice, the heroine goes along with it without batting an eyelash. Even when she meets him and finds him cold and exceedingly self-centered, she doesn’t speak to her brother about it. She had no trouble doing so for the other two. Why would she have trouble with this one? The answer is: the author thought it was necessary for the plot—although I would argue that she could have actually just talked honestly with her brother at many different points and perhaps to keep the tension twisting, he could not have listened or been insistent or just stay on the path until it was evident how ill-suited this man was for a marriage to a sister he proclaims he cares about.

Instead, this heroine turned into Mary Milquetoast. I just felt continually frustrated with her as she was just seeming to meekly accept that she would have to marry this man even though she grew increasingly aware that she would have a truly miserable existence if married to him. He made it clear that they would lead very separate lives (even within the walls of his estate), and he would have a mistress right away; she would only be required to interact with him quickly to provide what he wants, with no consideration for her besides giving a home, creature comforts, and a family. Seriously! The point where I just about gave up on the book was when he slapped her hard across the face while they were taking a walk, and still all she thinks about is that she must follow through with the plan no matter what, no matter how bleak her existence would be for the next 50 years of her life. Displeasing her brother and getting a reputation as a jilt was somehow far worse to her than decades of abject misery.


The shining light in this book was Oliver Lowell, the hero. He is newly arrived from America and cannot help but bumble his way through this very foreign society, causing his English relations no end of mortification. But he is gentle, kind, and forthright. He literally accidentally bumps into Lady Georgiana, the heroine, and not knowing all the rules, introduces himself to her, and they have a conversation. He gets to know Lady Georgianna’s American sister-in-law, happy to find another American who has adjusted (but is still adjusting) to life in the ton. There’s something so innocent and about him that makes him very sweet.

I think it is Oliver who kept me reading. He is just such a fantastic hero. But the heroine acting out of character (and to her own detriment) was just too much for me. Oh, and one other little quibble. I found it strange that Oliver, who is a Bostonian, would speak using English forms of words like “whilst.” Now, I don’t know if back in the Regency Era Bostonians used such English terms. But no American that I know now uses some of the words that the author had Oliver say. For me, it always jolted me out of the confines of the story because no current American would ever use those terms. All in all, because of the issues with the heroine and the utter sameness of her mental lamentations repeated over and over (but an unwillingness to do anything about them), I cannot recommend this book.

I went back and forth between 2 and 3 stars on Amazon. For Oliver’s sake, I wanted to give it a 3, but I just had so much of an issue with the heroine that I couldn’t do it.

High Plains Bride by Jenna Kernan

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High Plains Bride*

Way More than the Typical Western Romance

Only recently have I gotten into reading historical Western romance. I’m more of a Regency kind of girl. But one does sometimes get tired of the same old same old, so I ventured out into Old West romances by authors like Kathleen Lawless and Jacqui Nelson. I was surprised how much I enjoyed a subgenre so different from my favorite! How fun it is to discover new reading delights. When I first saw the cover of this book, I thought it would be a typical Western romance. I am pleasantly surprised that it was so much more than that. The first scene is gripping in the way that all first scenes should be. It starts with a literal bang, almost. Then the author gives relevant backstory in a way that is actually dramatic and fascinating to follow as we watch two people who have been separated by 14 years, lies, and misunderstandings start to try to sort the truth out between them. The characters are truly drawn in a uniquely individual way. And the plot has so much tension you can cut it with a knife. Even broader themes are looked at in this book. The novel had surprising depth for what could have easily been a simple, typical Western Romance. This far exceeds the norm and is everything that a Western romance should be.

Finding Tony by Jodie Esch

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Finding Tony*

More About Pregnancy than Romance

In terms of contemporary romance, this is one of the more unusual that I’ve read lately. Not quite sure how to describe it all for this review. The heroine has come to a small island in the Pacific Northwest to lick her wounds and try to fashion a new life. She is fixated on becoming a mother, and she doesn’t mind that she would have to do so a single mother as she feels done with men. The hero is returning to the island as well. He grew up there, and after some serious business reverses on the other side of the country, he’s come to regroup. They literally run into each other, and he actually breaks his foot. They strike up a casual friendship that soon turns into more, even as she is grappling with whether or not to go through with her plan for fertilization. I’ll stop here with the description because I don’t want to give too much away. But much of the book was actually about the pregnancy, birth, and a little after. There were romance elements for sure, but it felt more like it was about the journey to decide on the fertility treatments and then the subsequent pregnancy. I like the hero. Even though he’s got professional issues, he’s still a decent guy.

Pride & Prejudicial by Danica Dawn

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Pride & Prejudicial*

Bold Liza and Bad English

I am a huge fan of Jane Austen fanfiction, though I will admit that I do not usually enjoy contemporary retellings. I prefer the Regency variations. But I was intrigued by the legal aspect of this one, so I thought I would pick it up. There were parts of this story that were quite amusing. This Liza Bennet has a super sharp wit and a certain level of audacity that is definitely greater they more proper original Elizabeth Bennet. I love the scene where she first challenged Will. Actually, that whole dance number was a bit of a surprise! Unfortunately, my enjoyment of the story was completely hampered by the fact that this book was either not professionally edited or was edited by someone who does not know the craft and art. There were issues with tenses and an inordinate number of missing commas, so much so that it actually created problems with understanding. For all of these numerous mistakes, I found this a tedious read.

Alice’s Arranged Marriage by Joyce Alec

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Alice's Arranged Marriage*

Terrible Hero and Family Makes for Bad Read

I have read a fair number of “18th century” romances written by Joyce Alec, and unfortunately, I have found them to be of variable quality. I think this one, though, is perhaps one of the worst.

Why is that? The heroine seemed to go from a bad situation in America to an even worse one in England. The hero was absolutely abominable. He needs her money because he was stupid and gave enough money to his ne’er-do-well brother that the hero now is on the brink of financial ruin. His brother has done so poorly that he has ruined his own reputation and has begun to drag Charles’s down as well. But the hero and his hideous aunt place excessive demands on the heroine. She is expected to be a proper Englishwoman even though she is American and has, of course, no clue what is truly expected by English society.

(BTW, it’s a fingernails-on-the-chalkboard moment for me when this author refuses to be more specific about the time frame in her books. Why bother to give a whole CENTURY as the timeframe. Pin it down, girl!)

I feel so frustrated with this book right now. It was just awful, awful. Yet I kept reading it, hoping for some redemption of the hero or some bit of kindness toward the heroine from the hero’s family (including him) but it came too little, too late. What he wanted for most of the book was a silent lapdog—proper women should, like children, be seen and not heard—only desired for her wealth… and treated shabbily just because she is naïve. Disgusting. Seriously, he just would have been happy with the money… and she might have been happy if she just left. I so wanted her to. I can’t get behind a book where the hero treats the heroine so badly for most of the book. Just awful, awful. Cannot recommend.

Josie by Beth Gildersleeve

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Info Dumps and Distance

This is the first book that I have read by this author. I had some issues with it. Even though the book is of decent length, the author chose to do several information dumps in the beginning, both on the hero’s side and on the heroine’s side. One of the heroine’s actually happened while she and the hero were in the midst of their initial conversation in the book! It just seemed odd to have her thinking about her troubled romantic past in great detail while she is supposedly sitting and chatting with the hero, who happens to be her brother’s boss. I didn’t like the blackmail aspect of the story. After their marriage of convenience, they didn’t spend enough time together for it to truly feel like a romance. How can the relationship change and grow if they aren’t together? And, no, the texts don’t cut it. I know that work and distance were supposed to be at the crux of their conflict, but to me, the hero and the heroine have to be together more to make it a romance. So, I find myself a little disappointed in this book.

Lady Jane by Vicki Hopkins

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Lady Jane*

Characters Didn’t Seem Regency

I had a hard time buying many of the aspects of this book. It is supposed to be Regency, but none of the characters seem to act like what we expect from contemporarily written Regency romance books. The heroine, Lady Jane, is a woman unlike any other that I’ve read in a Regency Romance. She’s the female equivalent of a rake, taking men as lovers and disposing of them when she grows bored. We don’t understand why she is like this for a little while. Her family seems supportive of this or at least tolerant, which strikes me as odd. While she does have somewhat of a reputation, she is not shunned by the ton. When Man Zero, the one who first took her virtue and left her to pursue his military career, comes back to town, things change for Jane. How will she be affected when she sees him at every social function? What will their new relationship be, if any?

The hero, Matthew, wasn’t an easy hero to like, first because of his and Jane’s shared past as well as his initial indifference to the pain he had caused her. He has been able to go on with his life relatively unscathed, while he left behind wreckage in Jane’s that altered her perspective and life immeasurably. Yet, at an early point in the book, he states that he never really gave her a thought until seeing her again. Now, I wouldn’t require him to pine forever when he had a loving relationship with his wife. But I would at least liked him to have considered his actions over the years or more when he sees her again. Given their past, what happens between them in this book just seems implausible. I just couldn’t buy it. I also didn’t like that many characters in this book seem to have what I would consider to be more modern sensibilities, acting and talking more like contemporary people than like people from 200 years ago. All in all, I found this to be an oddly disconcerting book.

A Stranger’s Promise by Tarah Scott

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A Stranger's Promise*

Love Story Not Truly Realized

I’m not quite sure what I was expecting, but the book seemed like it would be a historical romance. While much happened in the strange household of the hero, he and the heroine spent far too little time together for this to be really called a romance. It didn’t have the traditional build of a love story; there was no organic evolution of the romance. Parts of it were interesting to read, but I just kept waiting for a love story to kick in (it felt like). So, unfortunately, this story didn’t quite work for me.


The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy or directly from the author.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

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