Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

Historical Romances

Reading List: Kelly’s Historical Romance Roundup for June/July 2013

Reading List: Kelly’s Historical Romance Roundup for June/July 2013

I’m slacking off on writing a full review because I blew through these pretty quickly, and I already used up my snark quota for the month. All but Jeffries and Willingham were new-to-me authors.


What the Duke Desires by Sabrina JeffriesWhat the Duke Desires by Sabrina Jeffries

If I didn’t own Jeffries’ entire backlist, I might have avoided this solely because of the dopey generic title. But she’s earned my trust, and she still has it. The illegitimate heroine is smart and vulnerable, the duke is full of hidden tragedy and repressed passion, and the intrigue revolves around their missing siblings rather than political maneuvering. It’s a typically enjoyable Jeffries book — nothing vibrantly new or different, but she’s such a good storyteller I never get kicked out of my reading trance. Grade: B

AmazonBNSonyKobo


To Sine with a Viking by Michelle WillinghamTo Sin with a Viking by Michelle Willingham

I’m pretty sure I need to read more by Willingham. This one starts out with the Irish heroine clobbering the Viking hero over the head and taking him captive, and you know how much I love stuff like that. She can’t let him go or kill him because she needs his strength to find food for their starving village, and he can’t escape because he needs her help to find his kidnapped estranged wife. Yes, he’s married, and they angst about it. A lot. But Willingham somehow works around the inherent squickiness, and she writes some really good action scenes. Book trance on this one too. Grade: B

AmazonBNSonyKobo


A Lady Risks All by Bronwyn ScottA Lady Risks All by Bronwyn Scott

The first half of this story had me hooked — the author used the theme of “risk” in different ways to define not only the hero and heroine, but also the heroine’s loving-but-conniving father. The plot revolves around billiards, and the early-Victorian historical world-building was vivid and completely believable. Until…(sigh)…the hero, a younger son of a viscount, suddenly became styled a “Lord” and the heroine a potential “Lady.” I finished the book, but I lost faith in the story and the author. Fantastic cover, though. Grade: C

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREHQN


Lady Northam's Wicked Surrender by Vivienne WestlakeLady Northam’s Wicked Surrender by Vivienne Westlake

This 55-page erotic romance maxes out the short story format, but there just isn’t enough substance to sustain more. The writing is capable but uninspired, and with the sole exception of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter, I have yet to read a “Dream Sex or Real Sex???” scene that doesn’t make me laugh. For 99¢, it’s probably worth a try for some readers, but I’m not inclined to seek out anything more by this author. Grade: C-

AmazonBNSonyKoboARE


The Lady and the Laird by Nicola CornickThe Lady and the Laird by Nicola Cornick

I didn’t make it very far with this one. The meet-cute in the prologue was really good, and I was intrigued by the set-up with the bluestocking heroine writing erotic letters for her brother to woo his beloved away from the crabby hero. I adore bluestocking heroines and crabby heroes. But then…(sigh)…the “jilted at the altar” scene has the idiot brother and his vapid lady love eloping to Gretna Green. From the Highlands. As in, the Highlands in SCOTLAND. I just couldn’t do it. Grade: DNF

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREHQN


Forbidden Jewel of India by Louise AllenForbidden Jewel of India by Louise Allen

This one sat in my TBR queue for months because I had Significant Book Anxiety. I want to love any and every romance set in India, but the cover and description made me more than a little wary. This book is, unfortunately, a solid example of “exoticizing the ‘other’.” In her author’s note, Allen describes her recent trip to India with enthusiasm, and it’s obvious that she reveres the history and culture, but the authorial (or maybe editorial) choices of which bits to include didn’t work for me at all. There are several gratuitous references to sati ritual suicides, a superfluous scene featuring a Shiva lingam statue, a king cobra attack, and excessive use of Hindi words for fashion and furniture that served no purpose other than to show off the author’s research. In addition, the romance left me cold, the hero was too perfectly perfect, and the heroine (an Anglo-Indian princess, of course) was wildly inconsistent. Grade: D+

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREHQN


Not Just a Governess by Carole MortimerNot Just a Governess by Carole Mortimer

I think I need to skim a Harlequin Presents title by this author to see how consistent her writing style and voice is across genres and categories, because it’s definitely, well, unique. Mortimer loves ellipses and em-dashes and exclamation points, which should endear me to her. But when every question in the dialogue ends in an ellipsis, and every expository paragraph has an interjection offset with em-dashes, and five paragraphs in a row end with an exclamation point, the punctuation becomes increasingly intrusive. Also disruptive were the repetitive words and phrases; the hero was described as “cold” more than 25 times (that doesn’t include his chilliness, frostiness or iciness), and we’re told he has stormy grey eyes nearly 50 times. I also had major issues with the plot, in which the heroine was grateful for the hero’s light-fingered Magical Orgasm Cure that allowed her to overcome the ickiness of her recent rape at the hands of her evil cousin. But, of course, her real post-rape trauma — the loss of innocence that renders her unfit for proper wifery — lingers until the cold, grey-eyed hero’s grand gesture. Grade: D-

AmazonBNSonyKoboAREHQN

REVIEW: An Outlaw in Wonderland by Lori Austin

REVIEW: An Outlaw in Wonderland by Lori Austin

Dear Ms. Austin,

When I first read the description of Outlaw in Wonderland, I believe I may have said “gimme gimme gimme” out loud. But I deny actually making the ~grabbyhands~ gesture.

Outlaw in Wonderland by Lori Austin

Saving soldiers’ lives at the Confederate army hospital Chimborazo, Annabeth Phelan is no ordinary Southern belle. She’s never known work more exhausting or rewarding. And she’s never known a man like Dr. Ethan Walsh, with his disarming gray eyes and peculiar ways. But now the Confederacy is charging her with another service: find the Union spy at Chimborazo.

Ethan’s one passion is saving lives, and if he can do that by helping to end the war, he will — even if it means spying for the North. He’s gotten used to fooling Confederates, but he can’t bear lying to Annabeth. And together, they are about to discover a new passion—one that could even transcend the chaos of war.

Then I saw the cover, and nearly changed my mind. But we’ll save that discussion for later.

I was expecting the kickass heroine, the noble hero, the wartime intrigue and the ugliness of 19th-century battlefield medicine. I wasn’t expecting all that to be only the first third of the book — but by that point, I was along for the ride. And what an angsty, adventurous, brooding, emotional, angsty, humorous, tense, DID I MENTION ANGSTY?, and romantic ride it was.

From the Confederate war hospital mentioned in the blurb, the plot takes us to the notorious Castle Thunder prison in Richmond to a Kansas cow town. In addition to amputations and espionage, we get amnesia, baby loss, infidelity, abduction, murder, a tornado, prison sex, opium addiction with forced detox in a tepee, and a lot of flying bullets.

Life had been a little chaotic since she’d gotten back to Freedom. It wasn’t every day that a sheriff fell out a window, a federal marshal arrived asking questions, Annabeth returned from the dead and the local doctor was shot in the head.

Amongst all that fabulous craziness, we’re treated to vivid secondary characters like a one-eyed retired schoolmarm, a reclusive smallpox-scarred lawyer, a fainting ex-mistress, a long-suffering federal marshal, and a former childhood friend/spymonger/Pinkerton agent who mysteriously appears at the absolute worst possible times. And, of course, the batshit-insane thug bandit obsessed with Alice in Wonderland.

But none of that overwhelms the angsty, messy romance. Ethan and Annabeth are drawn to each other out of mutual respect, loneliness and adrenaline in the chaos of the hospital. As their relationship evolves, we learn how ill-prepared they for mundane real life, struggling with the consequences of their wartime decisions and actions.

The main source of angst in Outlaw is a miscarriage — a trope that can be disastrous in the wrong author’s hands. But not in this book.

“Beth?” Ethan stepped into the room. Hands open to show he held nothing in them, he stared at her as if she were a wild thing. “What are you doing?”

“What you should have done.” She tightened her grip. “Long ago.”

“Honey,” he began.

“Shut. Up.” Annabeth swung the ax.

The crib shattered into several large chunks. She continued to hack away at it until the thing lay in several dozen small ones. When she finished, she tossed the blade in the center of the room and peered out the window. She needed to leave — this room, this house, this town, this life — but right now it was all she could do to stay on her feet.

“Why did you keep it?” she whispered.

“I…” he began, then sighed. “I don’t know.”

And later….

Hope fluttered — or at least he thought it might be hope. He couldn’t quite recall what hope felt like.

The last thing Ethan remembered clearly was standing in the spare bedroom as his wife took an ax to their child’s crib. He’d been amazed, frightened, a little aroused. Which was pretty much the effect his wife always had on him. She was an amazing, frightening, arousing woman.

Am I wrong to find that romantic? But whatever — DAMN, that’s good writing.

I did have a few minor annoyances that disrupted my book trance. Ethan is the usual historical-romance-novel-doctor who is way ahead of his time in insisting on antiseptic surgery, a fact we’re reminded of several times. And to mark off a box on the Required Elements in a Western checklist, we have the noble Native American who silently communicates life- and soul-saving advice.

Speaking of annoyances…. The cover. Uff da, that cover. In addition to the huge disconnect between the cover and the blurb, we get a skeletal cover model in glaringly modern clothing — complete with zippered skinny jeans. And the western portion of the story is set in Kansas. I haven’t traveled the entire state of Kansas, but I’m pretty sure none it looks like Utah.

Now that the whining is out of the way, it’s true confession time — by the end of chapter six of Outlaw, I had to buy the previous book in the series (Beauty and the Bounty Hunter) and it’s even better. I’ll be waiting impatiently for the next one.

Grade: B+

~ Kelly

AmazonBNSonyKobo