Reading Fanatic Reviews

Medieval Romance

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.

Strian by Celeste Barclay

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Extreme Violence and Hatred

I have read this entire book series. While I quite enjoyed the first book about Leif and Sigrid, I have had varying opinions of the ones that followed. I had trouble with this book on several levels. I just didn’t understand the extreme hatred that all of Ivar’s tribe, except for a few, seemed to have for the heroine. Gressa grew up among them and was even treated like a daughter by the jarl. Yet on her return after being enslaved by captors for ten years, they treat her terribly—as an outsider and a traitor. In fact, if you have any triggers about attempted rape, do not read this book. It just seems hard to fathom the way nearly everyone treats her. It feels like the author tried too hard to make everyone against her. I also didn’t understand the way that Gressa acted when she first arrived back, preferring to be treated like a thrall or servant instead of as her husband’s wife. It just seemed nonsensical to me.

I found this particular installment to be incredibly violent, and not just in acts of war—which may be justified—but in personal violence: man against man, woman against woman, and man against woman. It also seemed strange that Strian could murder several of his tribe without any sort of punishment, even though he was in the right to protect his wife. Another thing I found nonsensical was the stupidity of Strian and Gressa in getting caught in the middle of the book. They both knew the dangers. Why would it just happen like that? The answer is actually a simple one. It is what the author needed to happen, and therefore it was done. But that’s not the way things are supposed to be in fiction. Rather, the plot should have turned on points that were driven by the essence of the characters she created instead of plot necessity.

I also thought that the story felt fractured, like there was one story about the couple and another about the political intrigue—but that they didn’t mesh well. Obviously, I’m disappointed on several counts of this book: the violence, out-of-character, pivotal action, things that weren’t explained, and events that happened only because the plot needed them to happen (not because they grew out of character).

NOTE: After this review, the author banned me from reviewing her books on Booksprout. My review was honest and very specific even if it wasn’t unfavorable. Readers, don’t support authors who aren’t willing to accept honest reviews. Authors, don’t pump out poorly done books if you want good reviews!

Highlander’s Touch by Joanne Wadsworth

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Highlander's Touch*

Disjointed Book with Much Action Off Screen

I have read several books in the Matheson Brothers series, and unfortunately, I have found them to be of variable quality. I find myself disappointed in this particular installment because the presentation is choppy and just odd. So much action seems to happen outside of the pages of the book, off screen so to speak. We are just told of things happening, not shown them, and then are only shown some repercussions of what we were told about before the book moves on to the next somewhat discombobulated telling portion. This book is just odd. And I would call it steamy to the point of being crude, which is not my favorite. I don’t mind a certain level of explicitness in intimate scenes, but it can be taken too far in a book that isn’t specifically called erotica. This book, I think, teeters on that edge. While some of the books in the series are worthwhile, this one was just disjointed and strange.

The Exile of the Glen by Michelle Deerwester-Dalrymple

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The Exile of the Glen*

Grace and Redemption

I am a big fan of this author’s work, having read her previous book in this series, “The Lady of the Glen.” I enjoyed that book a lot, as I absolutely adored the heroine’s character (and the hero wasn’t bad either!). Knowing that story, I was curious to see what this author would do with Alastair because he is actually the villain of that book (The Lady of the Glen). What the author has achieved, though, is laudable and better than I had imagined. From the very first scene, where Alastair is in the boat heading to his exile on a remote Scottish island hoping to find succor with distant family, she sets up the story as one of redemption. The first scene is so well done. We can truly get a sense of both the setting, which is so harsh, as well as Alastair’s despair over what his life has become and will be. He doesn’t fully own all that he’s done at this point, but he is starting to see the error of his ways; in doing so, the author sets up what could be a potentially good character arc.

Much of this book is watching Alastair sink lower and lower in a variety of ways, making the book more focused on an individual’s story than usually happens in a romance (more typically about both in the couple even at the start). In fact, the romance aspect doesn’t pick up until well into the book, but it makes sense within the context of the story. Grace is only offered him by a woman who is in her own way an outcast from her society. These two wounded souls find comfort and understanding in each other that they don’t find anywhere else. I found the relationship between Alastair and Elle (short for a Scottish name that’s hard to pronounce or write) to be sweet and tender as it evolved, giving them both what they needed. They both become better people through their relationship with each other–better versions of themselves–and I love that in a romance; I think love does that to people in real life, so it is a delight to see that mirrored in fiction. While this book could be read as a standalone, you would have a much better context for it if you read “The Lady of the Glen” first. Another good book by an excellent author.

King by Daya Daniels

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Not What I Hoped It Would Be

I despise book blurbs that give you no idea what the book is about. The blurb of this book has to be one of the most generic that I’ve read. Yet, I do enjoy historical fiction, so I thought I would give it a try. I find myself disappointed on two counts. I find that the writing style is more like that of a contemporary romance than of historical fiction, with lots of short-phrase paragraphs and sentence fragments. While historical fiction doesn’t need to sound like Shakespeare, I do think it needs to be elevated beyond fragments and have fully formed paragraphs. 

The other main issue I have with the book is that while the author did state at the bottom of the book blurb that it does have “strong sexual content,” she wasn’t explicit. As the book involves violent spanking and other forms of power and control during sex, she should have used terms that readers know–like “power exchange” or “marital discipline”–to tip off those who don’t want to read that kind of book. While I don’t mind “strong sexual scenes” or general erotica (which is how this book was categorized at the book review site where I downloaded it)–whether they’re told explicitly or in more vague terms–I do not like books with any form of sadism. If I had known that was a part of this book, I never would have chosen it. If authors are proud that their books have BDSM, name it and claim it in the description; if they wish to hide the gory details, they should use the euphemisms as I described above. Authors should not expect readers to infer anything that isn’t explicitly stated (and I don’t equate erotica with BDSM; erotica may contain elements of it or may not), or they leave themselves open to bad reviews by readers who do not appreciate that kind of writing.

Rise of the Shieldmaiden by Jaime Loughran

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Rise of the Shieldmaiden*

Vikings and a Strong Heroine… What’s Not to Like?

If you like stories with Vikings and the strong women (I’ll admit to loving the evocative term “shieldmaiden”), this book will be right up your alley. Thora, the heroine, is a young woman who has lost much but is determined to avenge her family. This book is full of intrigue, crosses and double crosses, unlikely alliances, and a bit of romance. Much is going on in this book. Just some of the themes touched on include second chances, courage, redemption, power, patriarchy, and survival. Thora is tough; she is strong both physically and mentally even though certain men in her world don’t want her to be either and take unfair advantage of her because they can. I enjoy the action sequences and the evolving relationship between Thora and her unlikely hero. The book ends on a happy-for-now cliffhanger that tantalizes about what might be in the next book. I’m curious to see what that is.

Falls Ende: Courser by Paul W. Feenstra

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Falls Ende: Courser*

Not Quite Sure What I Think About This Series Now

This is the second novella that I have read in this series, and I now find myself wondering if the author is making a mockery of medieval-inspired contemporary literature. Aspects of this book just didn’t ring wholly true for me as straight-up historical fiction. For one thing, in this book (and to a lesser extent the previous one) he has odd names for some characters. In this book, it was Master Mason Morel Mundy, and yes, he did always capitalize it like that. When referring to people by their job, he always capitalized it. The author also makes some odd word choices, causing me more than once to refer to my Kindle dictionary and the internet (which is kind of annoying in and of itself). Some words did not appear to be used correctly by definition or by culture; I wonder if the author is just using some of these words for effect.

Like the last book, there are some very long stretches of describing setting and other straight-up narrative prose, especially at the beginning of the book; you know an author has gone on too long if you’re tempted to just skip over large blocks of text. Some details were needed, but the author went overboard far too often. This slows down the action of the book. I thought there was too much head-hopping in the book; sometimes, the point-of-view character changed from paragraph to paragraph. Though really much isn’t said about it in the book blurb, much of this book is about Charlotte, Odo’s betrothed, and her plight; the book isn’t all about Odo, which seems to be implied by the book description. Her scenes alternated with the parts about Odo, who is showing himself to be much more than a simple herdsman. I actually quite enjoy historical fiction and so was looking forward to this series of novellas, especially as I had seen some good reviews, but I find myself disappointed because of the deficiencies above.

Vikings by various authors

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Well-Written Prologue But Concerned About the Other Books

I was given an ARC of just the prologue for this series. I found the prologue to be well written and engaging. It pulled me right into the story. Even for just a relatively short piece of writing, the author managed to get in a fair amount of drama and a twist at the end that changed everything. One thing that I hadn’t gotten from the book blurb, and one thing that concerns me about the rest of the books in the series, is that there is a hint towards the end of that at least some of the future books will have some form of “marital discipline.” I am not a fan of those types of books, so I hope that I am reading that wrong. The setup for the series is intriguing, but I would hope not to be disappointed if the series turned out to be about men “disciplining” women. That would be a hard pass for me.

An Unexpected Redemption by Emily Hamsher

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An Unexpected Redemption*

A Hot Mess!

Despite good intentions, this book is a hot mess! The author strove to write a story that hinged on the beauty of grace and redemption, but some serious faults overshadowed this. The book has a prologue and then jumps ten years ahead, and we don’t really understand how we got from A to B for a while, so it was a little confusing. The author had some rather prodigious information dumps at the beginning, which for me always slows down the pace of a story (and never in a good way). There were many glaring errors in word choice, grammar, usage, and punctuation, enough to be overly distracting from the story. For instance, the word “urethral” was used instead of “ethereal” when describing cherubs, and as you might imagine, that was quite a jarring error! Often in conversation, the word “naught” (nothing) was used instead of “not” (a negation). There were strange punctuation errors all over the place. At a certain point in the book, I felt like I was more making a game of spotting the mistakes and correcting them in my head than actually enjoying the story. I think this story has potential, and the author certainly does as well, but it certainly was not realized here.

For This Knight Only by Barbara Bettis

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For This Knight Only*

Middle Good; Beginning and End Need Work

In this novel, I had a hard time liking Sir Roark at the beginning. I didn’t like the way he treated Lady Alyss with such a heavy hand when he was the one who was lying to her to get her castle and land. Through the middle portion of the book, I thought he became a better character as he grew and learned that the true treasure he had lied to get was actually Lady Alyss. I did like Lady Alyss’s character, though I thought she was a bit stupid at times. She often acted without thinking, putting herself in danger more often than I think a woman would have in those times. At the beginning of the story, in one of the first chapters, the author takes Lady Alyss right to the point of nearly killing a man as the chapter cliffhanger, and I was sorely disappointed that the author did not bring us back to that point when Lady Alyss’s perspective resumes. Rather, her story started up again some weeks later; as a reader who had seen the terror of the moment, I think the author owed us the end of that scene!

I thought that the beginning and the end of this story were weak, the beginning for what I mentioned with both Sir Roark and Lady Alyss. The ending had a series of surprises that came one after the other in rapid succession, and I think everything wrapped up too quickly. So much happened in so little time that it didn’t seem or feel realistic. More time was needed to fully explore the many facets of the end.



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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