Reading Fanatic Reviews

Victorian Romance

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.

Gilded Dreams by Megan Steer

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Gilded Dreams*

Odd, Unsatisfying Book

This is an odd book that I’m not quite sure what to make of. I don’t read many historical romance novels set in the United States or during the Gilded Age, so this book intrigued me. Now having finished it, I can say I just found it odd. I didn’t quite buy the setup, that this relatively inexperienced young woman would seek out her friend for training on how to become a courtesan because she no longer wanted to be dependent on the largesse of her brother (who had attempted to sell her off in marriage to a despicable man). Why would such a young woman want to go from depending on one man to depending on several? She is definitely naive to many of the ways of the word, though not innocent. Her friend, Gabrielle, nearly turns the request down but agrees to educate her on the ways of becoming a high-class call girl. After this decision, the book just seems to wander somewhat aimlessly for the bulk of it, without much point. Yes, the young woman meets a friend of Gabrielle’s, Declan, and they hit it off, enjoying each other’s company even though he has somewhat of a reputation himself. That relationship between the heroine and Declan had strange fits and starts, and I never quite bought that they developed an affection for each other. Just a strange book that in the end was quite unsatisfying.

Marry Me, My Lady by Allyson Jeleyne

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Marry Me, My Lady*

Sweet and Gentle Love Story

This sweet little Victorian romance is a pure delight. The book had me at the meet-cute between the hero and the heroine, Doug and Phoebe; this time, the term is genuinely warranted. We learn a little about Phoebe’s plight as an unwed mother of a daughter with a cleft palate; she has been banished to the country to give birth, and she expects that her parents will soon separate her from the baby. Phoebe is taking a few hours off from minding her child and finds a strawberry patch. As she lazes in the tall grass, Doug (a duke’s second son) believes he has spotted a trespasser and makes threats. This all ends with Phoebe firing a strawberry right between his brows. It is all done with a light touch and great humor; Doug is besotted by her beauty, her aim, and her arm! The romance is sweet and gentle. Both characters are decent, open-hearted people who are actually quite well matched. Doug is everything a swoon-worthy, protective, and loving hero ought to be. I could foresee some turns of the plot, but they were so beautifully rendered, with such love and affection between the couple, that I didn’t mind that there were few surprises in the story. I love the extended end, where we can see the full effects and changes that had been wrought during the course of the book. I wish we saw more of the fearsome foursome; I believe they will be a force to be reckoned with, and they are so good together. The characters are an absolute delight. Can I be a part of the Cherrill family?

Married to the Rake by Samantha Holt

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Married to the Rake*

Characters Fascinating, but Plot Dull

This book was a little frustrating at times because, while I enjoyed the characters of both the hero and the heroine, I felt like the plot was a bit dull. The book has a good premise: the hero and heroine are from neighboring families who have participated in silly feuds since medieval times; these have escalated into hatred between the families, as evidenced in the current generations by their fathers. The hero, Brook, wants to mend this feud because he sees the toll it is taking on his father. The heroine, Chloe, while she doesn’t trust him because he is a Waverly and has a reputation as a notorious rake, wishes for the feud be over for her brother’s sake for when he inherits. So essentially, the plot of follows recurring complications that are similar in nature. Brook and Chloe set up something that they think will help, they fail, and they try again. There was no sense of progressive complications, no escalating conflict. I found the heroine’s self-loathing because of her looks to be disheartening; self-acceptance, if it is used as a theme in a book, needs to be handled sensitively, and I do not believe it was done so here. I also have an issue with the cover. I’m not sure which timeframe this is supposed to be, Regency or Victorian, but ladies from neither era would have worn a dress with so much skin showing. If this is meant to be an undergarment, it isn’t period either. Still, I liked these characters and their interaction; I just wish there was more to the plot.

Too Clever by Half by Nancy Yeager

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Too Clever By Half*

Witty Banter and Amusing Games, but Too Short

This book has a delightful beginning. The hero and heroine are in competition to get a grant for their worthy causes. The author did a good job portraying the hero’s chauvinism. The heroine wanted to win the grant for the higher education of women; the hero at first could not understand why women would need or want such a thing. After all, if they could run a household, raise children, and provide good dinner parties, of what use would more education be and how could it possibly help them fulfill the role of their sphere? The heroine does educate him somewhat, and he starts to come to some new conclusions on his own. It is hard to imagine being a woman of those times, straitjacketed into a narrow societal role, even if you wanted more.

Watching their interactions at the beginning was a delight. Tessa, the heroine, is indeed a smart woman who is underestimated by the men around her, but she’s not afraid to use her feminine wiles to get her what she wants. She is quite amusing. The hero is much more uptight, and he wants the money to help worthy young men who would not be able to afford a Harrow education to get one. I liked watching their relationship evolve. I quite enjoyed the banter and the games that went on between the hero and the heroine, especially at the start of the book, but I felt that this novella was too short to fully give much in the way of true conflict or show in-depth characterization. I also have an issue with the cover. This book is supposed to take place in Victorian England, and the cover dress looks more like it belongs at a froufrou high school prom (or is perhaps a really bad bridesmaid’s dress). Victorian women would have never shown so much skin. All in all, though, I did find a story very enjoyable, and what I got to know of the characters, I liked.

An Imperfect Engagement by Alyssa Drake

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An Imperfect Engagement*

Wild Ride… with a Cliffhanger

This is the first book that I have read in this series, and that is unfortunate because this book is certainly not a standalone. The author does try to explain some things at the beginning, but the plot gets thick really fast, so there isn’t much time for backstory. So I did find it a little confusing. I might have to go back to that first book, though, because this one is quite a ride, and I am curious to see how it all got to this place. I thought, though, that the characters really didn’t seem particularly historical; instead, they seem to have modern sensibilities and just happened to live in what we would call historical times. The book has some issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage–including some unusual ones–so that was distracting at times. But the author does know how to write a good suspenseful and romantic tale that just kept me forging ahead despite the confusion about the greater story and minor annoyance at the grammar. She’s able to set time and place well; I could imagine myself in that dingy apartment at the beginning. This book does end on a cliffhanger, so if you don’t like those kinds of stories, you might want to pass this one by; I understand the first book of the series ended similarly.

Two Scandals are Better Than One by Nancy Yeager

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Two Scandals are Better Than One*

Steamy Victorian Suspense

Luci is concerned about her missing father and goes to a gentleman’s house party—code word for a den of iniquity—in hopes of gaining information that will help her find him. She doesn’t quite realize the dangerous world she is dipping her toe into. She is surprised to find Steady Eddie there, who has been a friend of her of the family since she was a child. She had a crush on him until she realized that he was much too dull for her to truly consider as a life mate. This is why it is such a surprise to find him at this party that is only a step above a brothel. While he doesn’t recognize her at the party, he is intrigued by her scandalous persona, and he soon finds out who she really is. Once he knows what is going on, he insists on helping her figure out what’s going on with her father so he can protect her.

I so enjoyed this romantic Victorian suspense! Early on, the author did an excellent job portraying Edward as a proper English gentleman in a very uncomfortable setting; he usually didn’t go to debauched house parties; he wanted just one night of craziness. She was even able to give him speech patterns that make him sound like a toff but not so much that it sounds like unnatural speech; I think this is a hard line to straddle, but the author did this perfectly. The hero and heroine have fantastic chemistry. He is willing to put himself in harm’s way to protect her and help her figure out the mystery. The more time they spend together, the more steamy the book becomes, but the progress of their romance seemed appropriate to their characters. I love the suspense element in this plot and enjoyed seeing what the characters had to do as they became more deeply involved in the criminal underworld. The ending was very satisfying.

Luci and Edward are a delightful couple to watch as they try to unravel all that is going on while falling more deeply for each other. This is the second book I’ve read of the Harrow Five series, and I look forward to the next installment. If you like historical romance with a bit of suspense, you will most likely enjoy this book.

A Lyons in Winter by Pamela Sherwood

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A Lyons in Winter*

Awesome Box Set Intro to Author

I so enjoyed this collection of novellas plus a novel! This was the first time I had read this author. I absolutely adore historical romance, particularly medieval, Regency, and Victorian. Because I read so much of these subgenres, I find that I am often disappointed at the willful disregard for the basic rules and mores of the times or a story that is filled too much with the familiar tropes. So I was delighted and enchanted to find well-written stories well-drawn and sometimes quirky characters. The stories themselves revealed an author who is well versed in Victorian manners and morality, yet still knows how to weave a story that focuses on the uniqueness of the characters and the particulars of their individual stories.

I particularly loved the first novella. I enjoyed how the author made the heroine, Madeline, erudite with her love of Shakespeare and the theater, yet she had a good sense of humor, compassion, and backbone surprising for a Victorian daughter of a duke. The author did an excellent job of showing how the hero gradually came to know his own mind and needs better; he was surprised and charmed by Madeline, and I love his chivalrous nature. I also enjoyed the humor in this book, in particular where the author brought the modern “never have I ever” game into Victorian times, as the hero often imagined himself composing a letter to his sister proclaiming that never had he done something as he was doing now at the house party at the duke’s. I like how the epilogue of this first story became the prologue for the next story, although it was told or from the perspective of the hero of that novel.

I really enjoyed all the members of the Lyons family as well as the Christmas spirit that flowed through these novels. While this may have been my introduction to this author, I am definitely going to look into her other books.

Tempting His Mistress by Samantha Holt

Tempting His Mistress*

Delightfully Written Victorian Romance

What a delightful romp through Victorian England at the hands of an author who knows how to hit all the right marks that we expect in this subgenre.

Lilly is recently orphaned, the daughter of a businessman and his mistress. At a house party, she deliberately sets out to find out if her cousin’s supposition about Lord Hawksley is true–that he murdered her father after losing money in a business deal. Of course, they both feel an attraction (though it is done with style!). She attempts to learn more about the man and is coming to believe he may not be responsible for her father’s murder–and then he blindsides her by asking to be his mistress! Then the fun really begins…

I found Lilly to be smart and just a little bit sassy, the same attributes that attract Lord Hawksley. She desperately wants to find out the truth…and she desperately wants to despise the marquess for what she believes he did. But she has a hard time doing either; their conversations are a delight as they are often at cross purposes. Lord Hawksley (Evan) can’t quite understand his fascination with her, and he tries to rid himself of it. But he finds he cannot. After his younger brother suggests HE might make her his mistress, Evan decides that if she is to be anyone’s mistress, she will be his. Of course, Lilly is shocked and hurt by such an offer. You’ll have to read the book to find out how that turns out.

I’m a big fan of Victorian romance, and it has been a while since I’ve read a straight-up one. Within a few pages, I felt like a capable captain was steering the boat writer and just wanted to enjoy the journey.

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

Disclosure

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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