Book review: Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

Wicked and the Wallflower (The Bareknuckle Bastards, #1)Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you can tell from my Goodreads shelves, I read a lot of Regency romances. I love them–they are light, frothy, and “spoiler alert” always have a happy ending. :). Occasionally, one comes along that has more depth than normal in this genre of lightheartedness and deserves a special mention. “Wicked and the Wallflower” is one of those books.
To begin with, the heroine is plain (but smart). This is a fairly normal anomaly in a genre where the heroine is usually–but not always–beautiful. But the hero is dark (ethically, not just physically) and climbed out of the gutter through sheer force of will and brains. This is not a “good girl reforms bad boy” plot. This is a “good girl joins bad boy” plot. That’s an unusual anomaly. I adored it.
The backstory has complexity, the banter between the hero and heroine is charming, and the entire book has unsuspected depth. It’s as if a Georgette Heyer Regency romance married a C.S. Harris Sebastian St. Cyr mystery, and they had a child (who was happy).
I can’t wait for the second book in the series!

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Book review: Thief of Hearts by Teresa Medeiros

Thief of HeartsThief of Hearts by Teresa Medeiros
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I don’t typically review the romances I read (although I read a lot of them!), but this one is an exception. The author is a recent discovery for me, and I’ve enjoyed reading all of her books so far, but this one was a cut above the rest. It’s difficult to say why, although I think it’s because the hero and heroine are both so well fleshed out in this book. The hero is handsome (of course!) but with a conflicted past, a thirst for (justifiable) revenge, and dark corners in his soul. The heroine is beautiful (naturally!) but has a distant parent, a repressed upbringing, and a spirit that has somehow flourished nonetheless. They make for a lovely couple. Add into that the choices each makes at different points in the book (revenge over compassion? principle over love? loyalty over truth?), and this book consists of a multi-layered, complex plot and characters. It is a book to soothe and nourish the romance in your soul (assuming you have some). 🙂
If historical romances are your thing, this is a must-read!

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Book review: Beguiling Beauty by Sherry Thomas

Beguiling the Beauty (Fitzhugh Trilogy, #1)Beguiling the Beauty by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve read by this author (who seems to have a remarkable writing range, from fantasy to mysteries to historical romances). I found myself quite taken by this story, despite some significant flaws. Without trying to reveal spoilers (although it *is* a romance, after all), the basic plot is hero falls in love with heroine at first sight, hero learns of heroine’s perfidy and reveals it publicly, heroine swears revenge, and the couple lives happily ever after. 🙂
The author’s best writing happens during the period when the heroine is seeking her revenge. The somewhat unrealistic (even for a romance!) plot device results in an authentic and gripping romance that is the highlight of the book. The book weakens after the revenge subplot predictably blows up in the heroine’s face, and the ending, while highly satisfactory from a romance novel point of view, seems to happen at breakneck speed and without the subtlety of the rest of the book. (It’s almost as if the author realized she was in danger of going over her page limit and had to end the book sooner rather than later.)
The presence of the secondary characters who are clearly in line for their own novels is somewhat distracting, as they are almost forcibly inserted into certain parts of the book without any need for their existence.
But the book totally redeems itself during the period when the hero and heroine are discovering each other’s true selves. There is heartfelt romance and a deft and subtle touch in revealing it.
I am not so in love with the secondary characters in this book that I plan on reading the rest of the trilogy, but I will definitely be trying her other books, in particular the Lady Sherlock Holmes books. She’s definitely an author worth keeping an eye out for!

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Book review: A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet

A Promise of Fire (Kingmaker Chronicles #1)A Promise of Fire by Amanda Bouchet
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an unusual cross-genre book–part fantasy and part romance. There is deeper character development and more sparkling dialogue than you find in most fantasy novels. The author also takes care in developing her world, although much of it is by inference and implication rather than narrative. The advantage of this, of course, is that the novel moves much faster, and you learn about the character at the same time you learn about the world.
The story is told in first person by the heroine, Cat. She is an accomplished, snarky, and flawed character. I liked her immensely. The hero, Griffin, too, is very appealing. I also like that the romance is turned on its head, and it’s Cat who is reluctant to move the relationship forward, rather than Griffin. The secondary characters are well-developed and have their own personalities, especially Griffin’s team.
The weakness of most cross-genre books is that it does a mediocre job of both genres, and it’s the combination that makes such a book unique. The length of this book enables the author to treat each genre with the attention it deserves, so that fantasy and romance readers are both satisfied. And if you’re like me and love both genres equally, this book is deeply satisfying. Or, as satisfying as a swords-and-knives bodice ripper can be. (Which is, to say, quite a bit.) I am looking forward to reading the second book in this series!

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Book review: The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes

The Trouble with Dukes (Windham Brides, #1)The Trouble with Dukes by Grace Burrowes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is the first book I’ve ever read by Grace Burrowes, and I was very pleasantly surprised. (I know–I’m on a romance kick.) The characters are deftly drawn, especially the secondary characters, which made the book particularly enjoyable. I expect the hero and heroine to be portrayed well in any romance, and they definitely were. But to have three dimensional secondary characters was a lovely surprise. The relationship between the heroine and her extended family was funny, perceptive, and humorous. Anyone with a large extended family would enjoy the interactions between the Windham family members.
If you’re looking for a fun and fast read where there are strong female characters and a happy ending for everyone but the bad guys, this is definitely your cup of tea!

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Book review: Into the Night by Suzanne Brockmann

Into the Night (Troubleshooters, #5)Into the Night by Suzanne Brockmann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve enjoyed Suzanne Brockmann’s romances with Navy SEALS as heroes. They are wonderful mind candy reads where you know how the story will end (happily, of course, which I don’t think is a spoiler), and it’s just a question of how the hero and heroine get there.
“Into the Night” was not quite up to the author’s usual standards. There was a bit too much angst by both the hero and heroine (over the age difference between them–the heroine is older, which I did like as atypical of romances, but there was so much unconvincing drama over it– and their respective careers and several other rather uninteresting issues.)
The plot was actually quite good, with an unexpected twist at the end, and the tension was well-paced as the story reached its climax.
I liked the book well enough, although I didn’t think it was one of the author’s better efforts. Still, as a fun, relaxing read, this book works quite well.

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Book review: The Deception by Joan Wolf

The DeceptionThe Deception by Joan Wolf

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I really love Joan Wolf Regency romances (her historical fiction is good, too). I compare her Regency romances to champagne. They are light, fizzy, and enjoyable. The plots are well-crafted. The time period is drawn accurately and is well described. The hero and heroine both are three dimensional characters, complete with flaws. And if the heroine is often a little forward-thinking for the time period, well, that works for me.
“The Deception” is no exception. Kate is an appealing (and modern) heroine. Adrian is an almost (but not quite) perfect hero. There are some plot twists that are readily foreseeable but enjoyable all the same. And, of course, as with all good romances, the book ends happily ever after.
If you are looking for a light, easy summer read, Joan Wolf romances fit that description perfectly.

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Book review: A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

A Night Like This (Smythe-Smith Quartet #2)A Night Like This by Julia Quinn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Julia Quinn books as immensely satisfying “mind candy,” whenever I need a break from more serious reading. Her characters are generally well developed, the plots are interesting, and the dialogue is always witty.
“A Night Like This” continues the saga of the Smythe-Smith family, mostly known for the tone deaf musical performances the family put on every year.
I had mixed feelings about this book. As always, the dialogue was clever and witty. The heroine was unusual for this genre, in that she was of the gentry, sullied her name and became a governess. I like that. And the plot was more complex than is typical for this genre. I like that as well. But I had some difficulties about the hero. He was nice enough but surprisingly two dimensional for a Julia Quinn hero. There was nothing to dislike about him, but he wasn’t well fleshed out enough to really like him either. He was, well, boring.
For Julia Quinn fans, the book is satisfying enough, but it is certainly not the strongest of her works. For those who are looking for an introduction to her work, I would start with her Bridgerton series, which really is lots of fun (especially the earlier books).

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