Abducted by the Prince (Olivia Drake)

Overall

Objectively, this is not a stellar book. It's fine and everything works for the most part, but there's nothing here that should blow me away or that's special. Yet, for some reason, I love rereading the second half of this book from time to time. I don't know. I can't explain it.

Ellie is a spinster poor relation who has spent her whole life tending to her younger cousins because of her gambling father. Damien is an illegitimate gambling club owner who has a childhood connection to Ellie's cousin, Walter, who stole something that relates to Damien's murky past. To get it back, Damien decides to kidnap Beatrice, Walter's cousin, but ends up with Ellie. They don't know that until they're up in an isolated Scottish island.

There are a lot of readers, particularly these days, that would be turned off by the kidnapping trope. It's not really a deal breaker for me--it usually depends on the context and the way it's written. It's not great, but it's not as bad as others I've read.

The romance is actually pretty good -- I buy the slow build and the reasons these two come together, their bumps in the road. I like both the characters, but I think the overall plot is pretty weak and the supporting characters are cardboard and one-dimensional.

I think it's a good book that's worth reading once, maybe twice. With a tighter plot and better supporting cast, it would have been much better.

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Stroke of Midnight (Olivia Drake)

Overall

There's something about this book that I just don't connect with. All of the elements should be there, but something is missing -- I think it's in the characters and the romance after a certain point. This is one of the books that does the setup just right but misses the dismount.

Laura Faulkner returns after ten years abroad--she and her father were once the toast of the ton but forced to flee when he was accused of stealing one of the most valuable diamonds from a leading hostess. Until then, Laura had been courted by Alex, the Earl of Copley. It was Alex that found a set of earrings and publicly accused her father. Laura cut his cheek, scarring him, as she and her father left. She returns after her father is killed in London, and wants to clear his name. Through Lady Milford, Laura becomes the companion to Alex's aunt and that's how they run into each other.

I think maybe I wanted more from Alex and from the romance after the middle of the book. Alex is supposed to have a tragic backstory, but I never quite felt that. I like this book, but it just left me meh and I usually skip over it when I reread the series.

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If the Slipper Fits (Olivia Drake)

Overall

I really like this book, and it serves as a really good introduction to the series (which lasts another five books).  I think it was my first Olivia Drake book and I've been relatively happy with her all along.

There's a bit of a fairy tale element with this series and with this book specifically. Annabelle is an illegitimate orphan left to rot in a boarding school where she now teaches.  She's given a position as a governess to an orphaned duke by a slightly mysterious benefactor, Lady Milford, who also gives her a pair of elegant shoes. It's the shoes and Lady Milford that ties all six books together rather than the characters. She's sent to Cornwall where the duke, Nicholas, is living with his guardian, his uncle Simon. It's very much a Cinderella story.

I really like Annabelle and Simon for the first 80% of the book. Simon is a bit of a bitter soul--Nicholas's mother was a woman Simon had courted but married George, the duke. He didn't speak to his brother again before George and his wife died. He went into the army, had plans for his life--but now he's guardian to a little boy that he resents.

And Simon is unlikeable for the first third of the book. He really resents his nephew. I applaud Olivia Drake for actually writing a guardian who doesn't like his ward rather than paying lip service.  It gives Annabelle something to do when she shows up.

My main problem is that Simon's POV disappears in the last part of the book, leading up to the climax. He does an about face that we don't get to see, only experience when Annabelle does. I expect my main leads to do equal heavy lifting in my romance novels, and Simon's epiphany happens off screen. There are a couple of things that happen this way towards the end. The background plot with attempted killing and whatnot -- it happens in a bit of a hurry, and I think that's why it feels rushed at the end.

It's an overall satisfying read, but if Simon had just showed up at the end of the book, it could have been one of my top favorites.

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2019 - Reading Project · Books

2019 Reading – Master List

This entry is part 1 of 1 in the series 2019 Reading

Instead of picking a summer project filled with rereads, I’m going to stretch the series out over the whole year and pick books that I haven’t read in years or that are getting new entries this year.

Catherine Anderson – Mystic Creek

  1.  Silver Thaw
  2. New Leaf
  3. Mulberry Leaf
  4. Spring Forward
  5. Strawberry Hill

Renee Bernard – Jaded Gentleman

  1. Revenge Wears Rubies
  2. Seduction Sapphires
  3. Ecstasy Wears Emeralds
  4. Passion Wears Pearls
  5. Obsession Wears Opals
  6. Desire Wears Diamonds

Kerrigan Byrne – Victorian Rebels

  1. The Highwayman
  2. The Hunter
  3. The Highlander
  4. The Duke
  5. The Scot Beds His Wife
  6. The Duke with the Dragon Tattoo

Tessa Dare – Girl Meets Duke

  1. The Duchess Deal
  2. The Governess Game
  3. The Wallflower Wager

Olivia Drake – Cinderella Sisterhood

  1. If the Slipper Fits
  2. At the Stroke of Midnight
  3. Abducted by the Prince
  4. Bella and the Beast
  5. His Wicked Wish
  6. A Scandalous Flirt

Anne Gracie – Marriage of Convenience

  1. Marry in Haste
  2. Marry in Scandal
  3. Marry in Secret

Elizabeth Hoyt – Maiden Lane

  1. Wicked Intentions
  2. Notorious Pleasures
  3. Scandalous Desires
  4. Thief of Shadows
  5. Lord of Darkness
  6. Duke of Midnight
  7. Darling Beast
  8.  Dearest Rogue
  9. Sweetest Scoundrel
  10. Duke of Sin
  11. Once Upon a Moonlight Night
  12. Duke of Pleasure
  13. Duke of Desire
  14. Once Upon a Maiden Lane
  15. Once Upon a Christmas Eve

Lisa Kleypas – The Ravenels

  1. Cold-Hearted Rake
  2. Marrying Winterbourne
  3. Devil in Spring
  4. Hello Stranger
  5. Devil’s Daughter

Charis Michaels – Brides of Belgravia

  1. All Dressed in White
  2. Any Groom Will Do
  3. You May Kiss the Duke

Julia Quinn – Rokesbys

  1.  Because of Miss Bridgerton
  2.  The Girl With the Make Believe Husband
  3. The Other Miss Bridgerton

 

 

Books

2018 in Books

I set my challenge at Goodreads for 200 books but I’m not going to make it this year — I’m going to probably finish around 160. I’m at 155 at the moment, but there are a few releases left in 2018. I had no problem reaching 200 last year, so I never thought I wouldn’t get there in 2018. I really didn’t take into account just how exhausted I would be after student teaching and losing my grandmother in the middle of my semester. It honestly took me a few months to bounce back and I’m not really sure I did all the way.

Still 155 books is nothing to sneeze at and I’m going to set my target for 175 next year to be a bit more realistic.

My favorite books this year:

  1.  Aggressive Nationalism by Richard E. Ellis. I read this for my Early Republic graduate class, and apparently, I was the only one who didn’t find it blindingly boring. I LOVE legal history. I love anything to do with the law. I could watch episodes of Law & Order for hours and true crime podcasts that focus on the law are my catnip. This book was about the rise of the Supreme Court and the battle with the Second Bank of the United States. Incredibly fascinating.
  2. The Highlander by Kerrigan Bryne. This was the year I found Kerrigan Byrne, and the Highlander was my first. I was looking for new Scottish romances because I am completely obsessed. I had the entire house to myself for a weekend, I had finished what I needed to do for classes and student teaching — and I read this book in about two hours. Then I immediately bought everything else in this series. I love her so much!
  3. Slavery and the American West by Michael A Morrison. Another read for the Early Republic class. It was really interesting to read about American expansion through the lens of slavery. Political history is one of my favorite nonfiction genres, so this was a really good read.
  4. A Fine Passion by Stephanie Laurens. During this summer, I did a reread of the Bastion Club and I was stunned by how much I loved this book even when I held up under intense criticism. Not all of the series survived this kind of scrutiny, but this book emerged as my favorite of the series.
  5. Slavery and the American Historians by Peter J. Parish. Historiography is so fascinating to read — so much about what we know about history depends on the construction of the narrative. I really liked seeing how the study of slavery has shifted and transformed in the last few decades.
  6. Barefoot in the Dark by Suzanne Enoch. RICK AND SAM ARE BACK. That is all.
  7. Japan at the Crossroads by Nick Kapur. This was assigned for my global history 1945-Present — and my professor actually wrote it, so that’s always fun. I know almost nothing about Japan after WW2, and that really opened my eyes to areas of history that I need to know more about. This analyzed the 1960 Anpo protests in Japan and how the event set Japan on a certain trajectory for the future.
  8. Give Us the Ballot by Ari Berman. I’ve never studied voting rights after the 1960s, but I’m hyper aware of them in the current time period. This book did a great job at filling in the gaps about how we got here.
  9.  Marrying Winterbourne by Lisa Kleypas. After the semester ended last week, I started myself on a little LK reread marathon. I reread most of the Ravenels and Devil in Winter to get myself ready for February — and I also started rereading the Hathaways but I don’t have all of them in digital format. Anyway, rereading Winterbourne gave me a new appreciation for it. I was worried it would be too similar to Tempt Me at Twilight but it went in a new direction, and I enjoyed Helen more this time around.
  10. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark by Michelle McNamara. I don’t read as much true crime as I used to–podcasts have just made it easier for me to get my true crime while I’m doing other things. Reading this book was bittersweet–the portions McNamara finished are so truly amazing that I am even more sad that we lost her before the book was completely visualized. An incredible book by a soul we lost way too soon.

I wasn’t completely blown away by a lot of the books I read this year but honestly, that’s probably more about me than it is the books I read. This was an incredibly difficult year, personally and professionally. Books were there to distract me, but I wasn’t really able to lose myself in reading the way I used to.  I’m hoping for better next year.

The Wrong Highlander (Lynsay Sands)

I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Overall Response

I reread Lynsay Sands' Highlander Brides series last summer as part of a re-reading project, and it was an interesting experience. There were some highs and lows, but generally, it's an okay series as long as you're familiar with her work.

I was worried when I realized that she was releasing another book about a Buchanan brother -- there are like a thousand of them, and they're all the same. I couldn't have told you their names before she started releasing the books.  I was hoping this book would be about Rory because he's the only brother, aside from Aulay, that I had any interest it. But apparently it's about Conran, who I had no idea existed.

The characters aren't all that interesting, the romance is very uneven, and the plot is all over the place as if Lynsay Sands just hadn't figured out how to do write this. It actually has a sort of a promising beginning that, for me, never delivers. I mean, if you just want to with a cup of tea, be comfy, and read a book that will probably entertain you but won't stay with you, this is a good book for that.

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Books · Summer Reading

Summer Reading Project

This entry is part 8 of 8 in the series Summer Reading

So I didn’t end up reading half the books I set out for my Master Reading List. I didn’t even read all of the series that I promised to when I cut the list in half a month ago. Oy. But I’m going to concentrate on the fact that I did read 46 books out of my overall 123 so far this year, which is roughly 38% of the whole total. So I’m actually pretty happy about that.

I want to finish up the Spindle Cove series because I am actually almost finished reading it — I haven’t written all the reviews, and there are about three more books to read.  But then I want to concentrate on making sure I write reviews for every single new book going forward. This was a fun summer reading project, though, and I’ll have to start thinking about what I want to do next year.

A Week to Be Wicked (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

I actually wrote a review of this story when I first read it (I do that sometimes, just not enough). Here it is, posted on March 27, 2012:

Listen, until now there's only been one Colin in my life and I'm not saying Tessa's Colin has replaced Julia's Colin, but there's competition. There's something lovely about a hero who so clearly--at the start--NOT really a hero. And yet, of course he is. He wants to do good. He has nice intentions, but things always get away from him. He's charming and just a little damaged. He needs a good woman. A quirky woman. He needs Minerva. And isn't Minerva lovely? She needs him too. God. If you loved Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, then Minerva and Colin will appeal to you because it's quite the same type of relationship. An ugly duckling who turns out to be quite more than she seems and the charming man who is a lot more than he seems. And Tessa Dare, whom I picked up only on Julia Quinn's recommendation, keeps getting getter. This is the eighth effort from this author and not only has she never stumbled, but she continues to exceed my expectations. Worth waiting for!

That's actually a pretty accurate description of my overall response, to be honest, but I'll try to be a bit more articulate with better spelling.

One of my favorite romance heroes has always been Colin Bridgerton from Romancing Mr. Bridgerton by Julia Quinn. I love a good beta romance hero. He's not a man of action, but rather he's a good, charming man who just hasn't found the right woman yet. Colin Sandhurst from A Week to Be Wicked has given Colin Bridgerton serious competition.

In A Night To Surrender, Colin was a bit of a charming rake who didn't seem to take anything seriously. Until the end of the book, when we saw a different side of him--and we got our first scene with Minerva. Minerva changes a bit from Surrender, or maybe it's because we saw her through Susanna's eyes. Minerva was a bit annoying actually early on, and I didn't think I'd like her nearly as much as I did.

And then I read this book. And this book, my people, is everything. We take the usual tropes: a damaged hero who turns to women to avoid being alone and a bluestocking heroine, and somehow, when Tessa Dare writes these tropes, they feel fresh and original. Colin has good intentions and never sets out to hurt anyone. Things just always seem to get away from him because he's not really great at thinking about the big picture. All Minerva ever does is think about the big picture, so she loses of a lot of every day details. And that's what makes them fun to read.

Their mad dash to Scotland is filled with adventures, danger, and risk-taking along with highway men, missionaries, and princes. We spend time with the hero of a future book (Any Duchess Will Do's Griff, who I did not like much until his own book) and we get a beautiful subplot with Kate and Thorne, the stars of my other favorite Dare book, A Lady By Midnight.

Everything about this book is clicking on all cylinders and it's a joy to read it again and again.

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Once Upon a Winter’s Eve (Tessa Dare)

Overall Response

When I originally read and rated this story, I gave it three stars. After reading this time, I've definitely revised how much I like this novella. I'm always leery of novellas with characters I don't really know or haven't yet met because novellas are short spaces to write an entire romance. Often authors spend more time on on the plot than they do on the characters and romance which leaves me less than satisfied.

That's not the case with Once Upon a Winter's Eve, though these characters are basically strangers. Violet shows up in A Night To Surrender, but only briefly, and Christian is entirely new. Tessa Dare smartly doesn't give us a separate plot for these characters or develop an entirely new romance between them. Violet and Christian knew and had a relationship before the story opens. This is the story of their reunion and what's happened since he left for the West Indies--which turns out he went to war.

Because the plot is literally Christian being mistaken for a French soldier who speaks a dialect only Violet can understand, it puts their relationship at the center and that's really smart. Violet doesn't know if she can trust him, and Christian is trying to beg her forgiveness and understanding -- it's a great small-scale plot for a novella.

Character-wise, these are both shining examples of people I like to read about. Christian is layered, flawed, and determined. Violet is quick and capable of holding her own against basically the entire world. The romance is great and fun to read. This is one of the best novellas I've read in a long time.

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Summer Reading

Series Review: Samantha Jellicoe (Suzanne Enoch)

This entry is part 7 of 8 in the series Summer Reading

This is, hands down, one of my favorite series. If I were to make a top five favorite series list, this makes it. (Oooh, I think I’ll have to do that.) I don’t read a lot of contemporary novels. I’m not really sure why I connect more with historical romances, but it’s likely because I am obsessed with history, and the romance genre allows me to explore worlds I study and write about.

In fact, most of the contemporary novels I read are authors who also write historical. I remember reading Suzanne Enoch’s historical romances — I’m not sure which one–and it had an excerpt from Flirting With Danger at the back. I read it and immediately bought it and got hooked.

What makes this series work? First and foremost, it’s fun. And that cannot be overrated in the current climate. This is the kind of escapism I go to my fiction for, and Suzanne Enoch delivers on every single page. Second, the characters of Rick and Sam are deep and layered, each with flaws that create good conflict and force the other to make adjustments, to compromise. Their relationship as it builds through all six books is the best part of this series.

So when I talk about weaknesses, least favorite, it is with this caveat: I love every book in this series.

The best book, objectively, remains Billionaires Prefer Blondes. It has the highest stakes of any of the other plots, and the romantic conflict between Sam and Rick is the closest they come to breaking. They’re each really forced to examine each other and whether they’re being unrealistic that this could actually work. It has the best supporting characters.

Don’t Look Down is probably the weakest book, only because the conflict between Sam and Rick is a little forced and I’m a bit less invested in the murder. It’s still a really fun read, and I never skip when I do a full reread, but it’s probably the book I open to reread the least of this series.

The other books fall between these in the spectrum. Flirting with Danger and Touch of Minx have strong plots, good romance, great cast. If you were to read one over the other, I think Minx is probably a bit more fun and frothy and has some really fun subplots. Flirting is still great, but it has to set up the world and has more heavy lifting to do.

Twice the Temptation honestly suffers because the first half of the book — the historical romance portion — is not nearly as strong as the series overall. When I reread, I generally skip the first half. That being said, the Sam and Rick part of the book is just fine.

Barefoot in the Dark is a special case. I like it a little less than Don’t Look Down, but I wonder how much of that is because it’s ten years later and I’m reading it knowing that. I’m still rating it above DLD because I like the character-driven nature of the plot, and I imagine the second time I reread it, I’ll probably like it even better.

My favorite thing about following couples through one series in the romance genre is that, if the author does their job well, the characters I read in the last book should be different from the first. I love to read the growth. J.D. Robb does this really well with In Death, and it’s really done well here in fewer books. Sam & Rick grow separately and together so that by Barefoot in the Dark, these guys are a team in the way they’re not in Flirting. That’s the best thing about these kinds of series and few authors can really do it well.

I hope that I get to come back and revisit my series review because I’m getting more Sam & Rick in my life.