Reading Fanatic Reviews

Historical Romance

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.

Ugh.

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.

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.

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.

Thief of Broken Hearts by Louise Cornell

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Thief of Broken Hearts*

Didn’t Quite Work for Me

I enjoyed the first part of the book as we got to know the duke and his estranged duchess. But then it felt like the story got a bit repetitious and didn’t really have an escalating progression of events that a story should have to keep it interesting. I soon found it a little tiresome, especially the continual reference to 17 years ago and other such concepts; yes, we know! Because the heroine had such contempt for the hero at first, I had a hard time believing her turn around. It’s one thing that authors need to consider. When the couple is very distant from each other at the start of the novel, the author has to work to show us a true evolution, which will be a rocky road but should mostly progress in a 3-steps-forward, 2-steps-back way. I did not feel that happened here. Therefore, I found this a somewhat disappointing read.

Highland Faith by Madelyn Hill

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Highland Faith*

Best Book of the Series

This is the second book about the three Scottish McAlister sisters: Hope, Faith, and Honor. This is the middle book for the middle daughter. Like the other two books in the series, this book starts the prologue that shows a pivotal scene in the young girls’ childhoods, when their father is dying after a skirmish with an enemy clan. It’s a poignant moment for all and is actually well done. You can’t help but feel for these little girls and their poor mother. With nearly his dying breath, the father charges the young girls to lead the clan together in the future.

Faith is a complex character. She is a skilled hunter and enjoys providing for her clan, but she yearns for a life beyond the confines of Wild Thistle Keep. Be careful what you ask for; she is soon nabbed by a man who hopes to ransom her so he can redeem himself in his father’s eyes and save the family from his father’s debt. I didn’t like the men in the other two books of this series, but I did like this one better. He is trying to reform his roguish ways and save his family. He treats Faith better than her sisters’ men treated them.

I have had issues with grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage with the other books in the series, but this particular installment had far fewer issues. There are a few problems, like a rather bizarre sentence that made no sense; it appeared to be a mash-up of two wholly unrelated sentences.

While the other books of the trilogy can help add some backstory, each book in the series is a standalone. Of the three books, this is the only one that I feel like I can recommend.

His Temptress, His Torment by Louisa Cornell

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His Temptress, His Torment*

Loved This Story

Oh, my gosh! Did I ever enjoy this story. The novel is slightly different than typical Regency romances. The heroine, who believes herself to be firmly on the shelf, decides that she must find out how her estranged nephew is doing. The boy is seven but has been separated from his mother’s branch of the family because his father didn’t like the way his bride’s family treated the couple, which caused them to elope. She has heard that her nephew nearly drowned with his father at sea, and she is concerned for his welfare. So she decides to act as his governess for a few weeks so she can see his living circumstances, make sure he is healthy and well, and get to know him. She is in part guided by the love she still has for her dead sister; she wants to assure herself that her beloved sister’s child is all right.

I love that the heroine is a super strong character. While, of course, she had no experience as a governess because she is actually from a wealthy family, having grown up with several brothers, she knows how to interact with young men and boys. Having had several stern governesses, she hopes to mimic them. She questions herself so much along the way, but seeing her through the hero’s eyes, especially in the beginning, makes you see her strength as seen by others (but not by herself).

The meet-cute of the couple is one of the best that I’ve read. As she approaches the door of the townhouse where the boy and his father live, she hears shouts inside, and all of a sudden, a young boy is streaking naked across the street to the small park that’s in the middle of this tony neighborhood. She doesn’t want to lose her governess job on day one, so she drops her bag and chases after him. The father, too, is hot on his son’s heels but behind the would-be governess. He gets to the small park just in time to see her try to struggle her way over the railing, and he gets quite a view as she tries to climb the fence and scramble over the top. It was very humorous. Then when he actually made it inside the park, she doesn’t know who he is—and he doesn’t tell her—so she very firmly puts him in his place repeatedly, definitely coming across like a very stern governess. I absolutely loved this scene and its witty dialogue.

When they actually get to the townhouse, she puts an important member of the staff in her place. I just loved these moments, even though she was sure she was going to be fired every minute! I quite enjoyed, too, the heroine’s evolving relationship with her nephew, who is a very troubled little boy.

This is a relatively quick read, and honestly, I wished it wouldn’t end. It was a book that took to a restaurant to read as I ate my dinner. One of the things I ordered was a bottomless salad bowl, and I think I ordered the last salad round so that I could sit and continue to read this book. I just didn’t want to stop reading. If you enjoy Regency romances that are just a little off from the normal—and with a lot of humor and sparkling scenes between the hero and heroine and her charge—pick up this book. I don’t imagine you’ll regret it.

Gingerbread Bride by Jude Knight

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Gingerbread Bride*

Short Novella Surprisingly Good Read

While I do enjoy quick fiction reads, I find the short format of a novella to be one that appears to be hard to master by authors. Often, rather than writing a story that fits the format, the author feels the need to do an information dump to set up the story rather than let it naturally evolve. Also, there doesn’t often seem to be enough time to develop the characters or the plot fully. Worse, though, is when authors try to shoehorn a novel-length plot into a novella; this makes for more telling than showing, which detracts from enjoyment because we want to get involved with the characters’ emotions or plight. This is hard to do if we are just being told the story rather than shown it through the eyes of the characters. So, I found this book to be a pleasant surprise. We actually do learn some background about the characters very quickly, but it is done within the construct of the hero and heroine meeting again unexpectedly. So we genuinely see that backstory through the character’s eyes as they reminisce mentally when they see each other again. And these reminiscences had some delicious humor that I found highly amusing and which made me smile more than once. (I love to some of these silly words the author incorporated, like collywobbles, as that added to the fun.) The author managed to create two very different but strong characters whose interactions were pleasing to follow.

I didn’t think, though, that the book description accurately reflected the novella. Much of what was stated in the book blurb was actually what happened before the story began. I never like that. I think the book description should match the book. However, when I actually got into the novella, of course, I ended up enjoying the story and characters. The heroine has had a very different past than most heroines in historical romance. She has lived on her father’s ship since she was a child, and she only has now returned to England to live because of her father’s death. She is shipped off to one aunt, who has designs for her son to marry her because they want access to her inheritance. In running away from these machinations to see another aunt, she runs into the hero who just happens to be in the area (right around the time when she is very nearly set upon by ne’er-do-wells. He began working on her father’s ship as a young man, so they’ve been nearly lifelong friends. I loved some of the stories that were recounted about their childhoods. He was not only her rescuer and confidante, but he also taught her how to defend herself when needed. Because the heroine has always seen the hero through a child’s eyes, she does somewhat see him as a knight-in-shining-armor kind of man. So when they meet again as adults, will that turn into something more?

I don’t want to give away too much more away, but I so enjoyed watching the unfolding romance between the two characters. I love how the hero was so protective, even though the heroine could often take care of herself (because of all that he’d taught her earlier). But some rescues aren’t physical ones. I liked how the heroine was very independent-minded and intelligent. If you enjoy short Regency fiction where the heroine is just a little off the norm, you will most likely enjoy this book.

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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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