Reading Fanatic Reviews

Regency Romance

Hazelhurst by Martha Keyes

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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.

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.

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.

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.



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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