Reading Fanatic Reviews

Historical Romance

Hazelhurst by Martha Keyes

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Hazelhurst*

Disappointing Installment

I have read other books in this series, Isabelle and Cecilia, and I have honestly enjoyed this author’s writing style. I believe I said in the reviews of those two books that I thought that this author knew how to write a proper Regency. Unfortunately, this book missed the mark for me. While I could empathize with the heroine after her disastrous annulled marriage, I never truly felt like I got to know her or the hero on the level that I need to enjoy a story. Their marriage of convenience takes place quickly. Even in Regency books that use this trope, we typically get a sense of attraction or feel a chemistry between the hero and heroine, but nothing was like that here. Even though they’re both genial people—neither is unkind toward the other—there’s no spark, and it feels like there is no potential for that for far too long. I felt like I kept waiting for something to happen between them (or even outside them) that would bring them closer. Instead, each seems to be happy to live their own lives separate from each other. To me, that just isn’t a romance. The hero and heroine have to be in at least relative proximity—not him going out to hunt all day every day with a friend and dine with that family—so that the relationship, even if somewhat tortured at first, can start to build. That just didn’t happen here. All this just went on so long that I never really bought them as a couple. How unfortunate, really, as I was really looking forward to this book by this author.

I received a free copy of this book, but that did not affect my review.

Christmas Bliss by A. S. Fenischel

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Christmas Bliss*

A Christmas Delight

What a delightful surprise this book was! It seems like lately I have read so many books that have broken what I call to cardinal rules of storytelling that it is a great pleasure to read an author who not only doesn’t flout sensible rules but actually knows how to spin a good yarn and create wonderful, believable characters.

The book is from the dual perspectives of the hero and heroine. I particularly enjoyed those parts of the story told from the hero’s perspective. He is definitely an unreliable narrator, but we learn so much about him as we read his musings and view the world through his eyes. He is very well drawn. The author doesn’t just tell us about his social awkwardness, as we would call it; she shows us vividly where he is stumped and his frustration with himself. He beats himself up about it quite a bit. This is done in a clever and endearing way. You can’t help but love this poor hero who is clearly a decent man—and a powerful one in the House of Lords—but is clearly socially inept with others he doesn’t know, particularly women.

There is definitely an instant love going on here, but he is so adorable that it seems plausible—and you want it to be true for his sake. Novellas in particular seem to fall victim to several cardinal sins, namely data dumps and trying to squeeze in too big a story into the short format. Luckily, this book suffered from neither. We are dropped right into the action of the story, the meet-cute of the hero and heroine, and the backstory of both characters weaves naturally through the opening part of the book. The scope of the book was precisely right for a novella. It also had well-drawn secondary characters as well. I love the Dowager Countess (both her personality and her relationship with the hero) and the heroine’s younger brother whom she is trying so desperately to protect; he is the perfect little gentleman, well trained by his adoring sister. I heartily recommend this quick Christmas read.

Secrets of the Heart by Suzan Tisdale

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Secrets of the Heart*

Excellent Beginning and Couple; End Not Wholly Related

I will admit that I am rarely drawn so quickly into a story, but this one pulled me right in and kept my attention when I should have been doing other things. The poor heroine has led a miserable existence because of her drunken thieving father. Others in the clan are quick to tar her with the same brush. She is vulnerable and falls victim to a man who pays her attention and says sweet words. But his only interest in her is carnal, although his lies claim otherwise. A year later, the heroine having giving birth to the man’s child, the hero of the story makes a wish with his grandmother a special well for a loving wife, a child, and peace for his clan. Little does he know that so many things are about to change.

This book really had me up until the halfway point or so. The heroine’s story and her being shunned and maltreated kept my interest. And I absolutely adored the hero, Connor. He is truly a decent and caring man who had gone through his own difficulties in losing his wife and child. He is never anything but kind and understanding toward the heroine, and I just adored that. However, though, things did get a little weird after the middle point in the book, unfortunately. The entire climax of the novel had not been clearly set up earlier. We knew some of Helen’s evil and what a lying jerk Darwud was, but no clue was truly given the extent of what they would go for or what their plans might be. So while I adored the love story of the hero and heroine (and their characters), I did not think that the climax of the story had anything, truly, to do with that. The climax of any novel must flow from the characters and the plot, but this one didn’t. The first part is so enjoyable, though, that I would recommend it even if the last parts of the novel were a disappointment.

A Snowflake at Midnight by Anne Renwick

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A Snowflake at Midnight*

Christmas Steampunk Romance

I don’t read as much steampunk as I might like, but I do find it a very fascinating sub-sub-genre. This book had all the steampunk elements I enjoy, like all the science, airships, clockwork, a focus on industry, and harkening back to ancient traditions. I know once I read the description that it would be a book I’d like. I love the fact that the heroine is a librarian and the hero a botanist. I am intrigued by ancient texts myself, so I loved that that was an element in the mix. I absolutely adored the fact that the key to possibly finding a cure for her father had to do with a special type of mistletoe! Perfect for a Christmas story. I found both the main characters to be believable and relatable, and I loved that they were willing to sacrifice in the hopes of saving her father.

The Prophecy by Kim Sakwa

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The Prophecy*

Time Travel Romance

I read a lot of books, and sometimes they line up in a peculiar way. I had just finished another Scottish time travel story, but these two were very different. In the other book, the means through which the heroine traveled to the past was well integrated into the story and was actually a key element. Here, it seemed almost like an afterthought. This was okay for a little while, but as the story progressed, I found myself wondering more about the mechanics of it all. I know, a little silly when reading a time-travel romance. I found some elements of this book to be somewhat melodramatic, like the first scene with the heroine in modern times. There was even an element of that in the Scottish part of the plot as well. Again, this will probably sound silly given that time travel is not possible, but I actually felt that the melodrama made the character seem less believable and relatable. Characters, after all, can be human even in fantasy or sci-fi worlds, so that is possible in a time travel romance as well. I did, however, I think it was sweet the way that the hero acted when the heroine was injured. He was fiercely protective and caring. I thought that the Scots accepted her as being from the future a bit too easily, and they didn’t react to some of her modernisms as I believe people back then might have. I did enjoy some of the witty banter that happened because of the temporal divide between the characters. I thought that the book could use some tightening, as some seems seemed overwritten or repetitive. Still, however, I did enjoy watching the clash of time and culture unfold as well as the romance.

The Secret by Elizabeth A. Lance

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The Secret*

Ummmm, Ewwww

This book was just odd. There were a number of issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage, so much so that it was distracting. There was even trouble with word choice. I can’t quite put my finger on what precisely is wrong with it, but the writing seemed almost juvenile in places in terms of word choice and sentence construction. Some legal issues brought up, too, didn’t seem quite right, even though I am not, of course, a scholar of Regency England law. It seems strange that after the heroine’s father’s death, the earldom would go to his uncle. Usually, inheritances don’t go back up the food chain, so to speak. And then this great-uncle’s solicitor suggests that he marry his great-niece in order to get the fortune that her father gave her that was not part of the entail. Could that have even happened legally? I hope not! If so, ewwww. Of course, the uncle’s suggestion was worse. I liked part of the concept of this book, introducing an American hero into the mix as I don’t think that is done often enough in Regency romance, but the setup left me completely cold.

A Good Kiss is Hard to Find by Augustine Lang

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A Good Kiss is Hard to Find*

Rough Beginning but Good Romance

I am of several minds of this book. I enjoyed the family aspect of it. The Fairwell siblings are a varied and somewhat contentious lot, which makes for good reading. I liked that the siblings were so distinct and that there was a clear power structure within the family, even though some were chafing against it. I enjoyed the romantic aspect of this story, as I particularly liked the hero. It is fun at times to have a hero who is not wealthy or of the nobility, which is the usual case in a Regency. He’s a good man of outstanding character who is able to keep his friend and employer—Ned Fairwell—in line (so much as anybody possibly could).

Unfortunately, I found the book hard to get into because I felt like the author tried to give too much information right at the beginning that was just plain hard to follow. To her credit, she didn’t do it in standard information dump format, but it was still too much, too complicated, and too soon. Much could have been spread throughout the early chapters, which would have made it feel less confusing, as it unfortunately was. Another odd thing is that there seems to be a problem with semicolons. I will admit I’m a bit fanatical about correct grammar, punctuation, and usage. I usually see more issues with commas rather than semicolons, so these just jumped right out at me. At times, the author uses them as if they were commas, like to separate out of phrase—which isn’t proper use it all. There are other issues with semi-colons, but I won’t detail them here because I’m sure few care about them besides me. :=)

Candle’s Christmas Chair by Jude Knight

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Candle's Christmas Chair*

Bizarre Little Story

I have read several of Jude Knight’s books by now, and I find them to be of variable quality. I found this book to be somewhat strange and was put off by it within the first few paragraphs. In that opening scene, the hero sees the heroine from behind as she is on a ladder reaching for something and makes not one, but two comments about her “delightful posterior.” Seriously. It gives the book kind of an ick factor that continued throughout the rest of the novella; the hero seems to be led more than most historical heroes by his nether regions. Even though this is supposed to take place in the early 1800s, the heroine seems to act and think more like a modern woman. That is definitely one of the dangers of writing a historical romance: giving modern sensibilities, thoughts, and actions to someone who lived centuries ago.

My Heart Did Fly by Augustine Lang

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My Heart Did Fly*

Humor Doesn’t Quite Cut the Muster

This is the second book that I have read by this author. I thought that the first book had a few issues, the most pressing being that the opening scene was confusing because a large cast of characters was introduced. Having read the first book, though, I found this book was much more easily digested because of an even more in-depth knowledge of the Fairwell family and their large group of acquaintances and friends. But I had a new issue with this book. It felt as though the author was trying too hard to make it witty or humorous. It felt forced. So to me, the entire tone of the book felt off. Will is a great character, and I enjoyed his romance despite this as he is an unlikely hero, more everyman than gentleman (though he is still gentlemanly). Sometimes his chatterbox ramblings were amusing, but other times they felt awkward (though that might have been the point). In historical novels, it is uncommon to have the heroine be an actress. I do like it when authors incorporate unusual aspects into what can sometimes be formulaic subgenres. I found the adventures of this couple to be fun reading even though I felt that the attempt at humor often missed the mark.

The Duke of Darkness by Cora Lee

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The Duke of Darkness*

Duke Not So Dark, But an Engaging Story

I do enjoy a Regency romance with a bit of suspense and perhaps some danger! This book delivered on all counts. It pulls you right in with a dramatic scene of a man being injured in an attack, whom we later find out is the eponymous hero of the story, and some women helping him out. One of these women, of course, will turn out to be the heroine. The heroine, Olivia, is actually in some danger herself from a baron who wishes to marry her, even by force and threat, because of her somewhat distant relation to an earl. The plot of this book is complicated for a Regency romance, as it often is in books with multiple suspense plots. There is danger for both the duke and Olivia, and they manage to help each other out through their trials. Though the duke is called “The Duke of Darkness” in the title, and some of the local people think ill of him or have an unnatural fear of him, the duke is not truly dark—though he may skirt the boundaries of what is correct to achieve desired results for the good of those who rely on him. I found it interesting that the author revealed in the note at the end of the book that she loosely based his character and some of the arc of the plot on Vlad the Impaler. I liked Olivia as a character, as she is strong in the face of adversity on many fronts and acts boldly and courageously when she needs to. These are decent people who deserve each other. I thought the characters had good chemistry, and the latter half of the book gets a little steamy.

The book has two villains, one each for the duke and Olivia. The one real weakness that I saw in this book was that the author left a loose thread in that we don’t really know for sure whether or not Olivia’s villain is still a threat or has who gotten his just desserts. (OK, we do know that he will cease to be a threat when the couple marries, and he did get a sound thrashing by the duke, but…) When a character is particularly vile, we like to know that they are no longer a concern and that justice has been served. I felt as though the book ended somewhat abruptly; I tend to like a victory lap in a book when the characters have been put through the wringer. I also feel like the book should have had an epilogue; truly, I love an epilogue in most romances. I so enjoy the little glance at the future felicity of the couple. All in all, though, I found this to be an engaging read that was hard to put down.

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

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

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