Category Archives: book review

The Ravenels: Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

Is romance queen Lisa Kleypas’s current historical romance series old school, out-of-date, or both? She is four books into what looks to be a six book series and there hasn’t been a winner among them. I’m disappointed, but since her catalogue has so many great novels, and more than one classic, I will forge ahead and read the next one, too. Let’s review the Ravenels series so far, shall we?

Cold-Hearted Rake – I can’t remember anything about it. Wait! She has dark hair.
Marrying Winterbourne – Self-made man who intimidates his beloved.
Devil in Spring – Best to this point, but there’s a scene of questionable consent.

I want to begin by going back to Devil in Spring because it had an opening that I think encapsulates what Kleypas is missing for me these days. In the Prologue, Evie St. Vincent and her husband, Sebastian – the ultimate rake and wallflower pairing – engage in a flirtation after she bathes one of their grandchildren. Even as a joke with his wife, why is Sebastian making comments about taking advantage of servants working in his home? More importantly, the couple are are both still beautiful, youthful, and lithe, even after 30 years of marriage. Could they not have been touched by time in some way?  I don’t mind Sebastian’s preservation since romance trades in wish-fulfillment, but hers bothered me. I really wanted the narration to say that if Evie’s body had softened or changed, Sebastian had never noticed because that would be a sweet and romantic view of a long marriage. Instead, the reader is treated to the lissome and dashing, “everyone was beautiful forever” approach that I think of as old school romance that felt dated to me.

The kinds of heroes I remember from romance in the 1980s, 1990s, and, indeed, in earlier works by Lisa Kleypas, were always the best looking, the most skilled, insouciant in the face of pain or hardship,  perfectly in control paragons of taut masculinity. It’s what Hello Stranger has in Ethan and it kept making me cringe.  Strangely, conversely, Hello Stranger has a wonderfully modern gesture of a heroine, but I suppose at some point in this review I should provide a plot synopsis before I return to my regularly scheduled umbrage.

Garrett Gibson is the only Board Certified female doctor in England. In addition to her full-time job as an on-call physician for a large company, she volunteers her services in London’s slums. Trained in self-defense and armed with a walking stick, she has been successfully protecting herself, but, one night when things get rough, out of the darkness steps Ethan Ransom. Familiar to series readers as a likely Ravenel by-blow, he is a worthy man of somewhat ill repute working undercover for the government, and off the clock as Garrett’s watchdog. They bond over their shared love of hand-to-hand combat. He respects her strength, she falls for his everything.

To be more specific, Garrett simply swoons over Ethan’s “I was born and raised in North London, but my parents are from Ireland, so I have a brogue I try to hide” Irish accent. Kleypas messes up culturally a couple of times in this book, but his so-called accent consistently distracted and annoyed me. You know who else’s parents emigrated from Ireland? My husband’s. Does Mr. Julien have an Irish accent ? No, he does not because he GREW UP IN CONNECTICUT! More importantly, Kleypas’s “exotic accent” device reminded me of the aggravation of what I called the “Romany bullshit” in the Hathaways series. People who have not lived or spoken to other members of their cultural group since childhood recall its language, customs, and obscure medical knowledge. No. Ethan can be culturally Irish. He can’t be audibly so. I won’t even go into the esoteric sexual skills he learned from some sex guru in India. They tie into the outdated magnificent, stallion of a man, barely in control of his urges in presence of his beloved, and wise in the ways of pleasure character elements that also fall under the old school versus outdated question with which I began the review.

Given the level of frustration I’ve just described, I’m sure you can imagine that I do not recommend Hello Stranger. I will give Kleypas this: She finally has a book in which the hero does not give the heroine “the gentlest shake.” It’s about time.

A complete summary of Lisa Kleypas’s catalogue, with recommendations (two classics and one of my personal favourites), can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.


Westcott Novels: Someone to Hold by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh writes reliable romance about sensible and somewhat damaged people finding each other. The first in her new Westcott series, Someone to Love, wasn’t as strong as it could be, but Someone to Hold featured excellent and interesting character development. I don’t pre-order Balogh’s books or run to the library to get a look at a new release, but I am rarely let down by her writing. It sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, but I don’t mean to. When I buy a Balogh, I read a writer who knows her business.

The conceit of the Westcott Novels is a familiar one in romance. A family’s fortunes are changed by the death of a relative and the revelation of deceit.  The lives of everyone in the series are upended and quite suddenly someone who never anticipated possessing power or wealth is thrust into a new role and life. The series starts with the chief beneficiary of a gormless and absent father when Anna, in Someone to Love, finds herself lifted from the role of orphanage school teacher to duchess. Someone to Hold follows the no-longer-legitimate sister whose life is forever transformed by losing her birthright and fortune.

Virtually everything Camille thinks she knows about herself has been proven a lie, including her name, future, and sense of self. Lost and confused, she turns away from her family to create a new life and to try to understand who she truly is. That Camille is not always likeable is the main strength of Balogh’s latest romance and, with time, the reader comes to like and care for her. Moving into Anna’s old role as a teacher, she shields her insecurities and fear with a haughty manner learned from years of trying to be the perfect lady for her distant father.  What she discovers about herself allows her to move forward and, to steal a line from Douglas Adams, “She was mostly immensely relieved to think that virtually everything that anybody had ever told her was wrong.”

An unintended companion in Camille’s exile is the man who Anna Westcott left behind, Joel Cunningham. Raised in the orphanage, he is building a career for himself as a local portrait artist and still teaches art at the school a couple of afternoons each week. He doesn’t know what to make of the prickly and defensive Camille, but he is drawn to her nonetheless, and the two find often themselves having conversations and little adventures neither had planned. He’s a good man working towards success and financial independence. She’s an independent woman working towards her own goodness.

As I state in every Balogh book review, if her publishers set a lower price for her works, I would have snapped up a lot more of them by now. In the meantime, I get by on surprise sales, Someone to Hold was $1.99, library loans, and the occasional full price impulse purchase. That last item is what I am holding strong against for the next book in the series, Someone to Wed, but I have no doubt I will read it eventually.

A complete summary of Mary Balogh’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.

Kissing Tolstoy by Penny Reid

Kissing Tolstoy was awful and silly. I loathed its puerile story and nonsensical plotting, so, Penny Reid: YOU WIN! I am giving up on anything your name is on except MAYBE a Winston Brothers book, and even then it had better not cost me any money. Again and again her books with younger leads have problematic elements, and while it is classified as a “new adult” romance, only one character in Kissing Tolstoy is actually a recent grown up. The heroine, Anna, is a university student and the hero is her professor. I’ll let Amazon do some of the heavy lifting:

What do you do when you discover that your super-hot blind date from months ago is now your super-hot Russian Lit professor?

You overthink everything and pray for a swift end to your misery, of course!

So does the reader.

Goodness, even the blurb for this book let me down. So here I go:

There’s a young woman who accidentally texts and then meets the wrong guy at a bar. He’s a really hot biker dude, so she freaks out because she thinks she’s not in his league. She goes back to school to take a Russian Literature course that has been, thus far, very hard to register for because the professor is just that attractive. He’s also the sexy motorcyclist from the bar. As a bonus he’s an actual Russian who specializes in the woman’s favourite author and hails from an extremely wealthy family. I can’t remember if he’s displaced royalty, but that’s the only dream-hero-fantasy-romance-guy box he doesn’t tick.

The young woman and the professor spar in class and have the hots for each other. She tries to quit the class owing to said hots, he prevents it  — showing a true lack of narrative sense — and they get together just as the book ends and sets the scene for the next installment.

With being her teacher, there are ethical implications that must be addressed in some way and aren’t. Logically, she should quit the class and therefore no longer be his student. She doesn’t even need the credit for her major, but she stays in the class. It blows up and, the next thing you know, they are Fighting for Their Love when there are simple, straightforward answers to all of their problems. It was really annoying.

A sample of the writing:

“She smells like wildflowers and quiet libraries, redolent of peace and exuberance.” I looked to my sister and found her expression sober.
“Dad wouldn’t like that.”
“No. I don’t imagine he and Anna would get along at all.” I smirked at the thought. She was far too independent, of both mind and spirit.

I tried to find a gif of Jack Lemmon in Some Like It Hot saying, “Nobody talks like that!”, but was unsuccessful.

I’ve created a summary of Penny Reid’s books. If you decide to take a chance, I strongly advise that you use it to make a selection. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list



Hate to Want You by Alisha Rai

I don’t get it. How did Hate to Want You make it onto a Best of the Year list? Granted, 2017 was a disappointing year for romance readers, but even with that in mind, this is a surprising inclusion.

Plot Synopsis: A teen romance torn apart by family rivalries and agita, leaves the two lovers years later finding what solace they can in one night a year together. When the woman, Livvy, moves home, can she and Nicholas find their way to be together in all ways and always? Yes, but only in romance fiction.

This is what I did and did not like: about this overrated romance:

  1. I brought my bias against reunion plots with me.
  2. Livvy is a tattoo artist and she likes to draw on Nicholas. That’s cool.
  3. There’s too much sex. I think I’ve only said that once before.
  4. The sex was busy being crazy-mega-earnestly passionate and kinda naughty.
  5. “This magical land of not giving a fuck was pretty cool” #lifegoals
  6. The writing was really on the nose.
  7. Their relationship shouldn’t work. They were right to break up.
  8. I don’t like the “I shall never love another” trope. You were children. Move on.
  9. It felt like an adult relationship written by a teenager.
  10. The family drama was over-the-top and I didn’t believe for a second they could overcome it and move on.

That’s all I have for now. I haven’t posted a review in such a long time, that I’m working to get my mojo back.  Hate to Want You was facile and trite and, most importantly, overrated.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.

Mary Balogh Reading List

Every time I read or review a Balogh romance, I say the following: (f Mary Balogh’s publisher made her back catalogue available $4 or less each, I would stockpile it.

Regency romances about sensible people finding love.

Themes: Love moves one out of one’s comfort zone, and one needs to in order to find a true and passionate match.

I’ve read a bunch of Balogh that I haven’t reviewed.

The Slightly Series:
Slightly Married – no
Slightly Wicked
Slightly Scandalous (Josh/Freya) – he’s fun, she’s a bit of a pill
Slightly Tempted
Slightly Sinful
Slightly Dangerous (Wulfric/Christine) CLASSIC

The Simply Series:
Simply Unforgettable
Simply Love
– no recollection
Simply Magic
Simply Perfect
– sweet

The Survivors’ Club:
The Proposal  (Hugo/Gwen) – pleasant
The Arrangement  (Vincent/Sophia) – very sweet, understated
The Escape (Benedict/Samantha) – meh
Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes) – Wonderful, read this one. Read it twice.
Only a Promise  (Ralph/Chloe) – very good
Only a Kiss (Percy/Imogen) – nothing special
Only Beloved (George/Dora) – a sweet wrap up to the series

The Westcott Family Series:
Someone to Love (Avery/Anna)
Someone to Hold (Joel/Camille) – great character development
Someone to Wed
Someone to Care
Someone to Trust

A Matter of Class novella (Reggie/Annabelle)

Penny Reid Reading List

Knitting in the City Series:
Neanderthal Seeks Human – Strangely compelling, I’ve re-read it a few times
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling, also re-read
Love Hacked – differently strangely compelling
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it, Winston sister, recommended
Ninja at First Sight – Cute-ish
Happily Ever Ninja – NOPE!
Dating-ish – Meh

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – decent
Beard in Mind – very good, recommended
Dr. Strangebeard – not yet published
Beard Necessities– not yet published

Dear Professor Series:
Kissing Tolstoy – Loathed it

Elements of Chemistry – Very frustrating, young adult romance
The Hooker and the Hermit – Loathed it, made me stabby

Links to my reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful or my  streamlined recommendations list.

Castles Ever After Series: Do You Want to Start a Scandal? by Tessa Dare

Tessa Dare’s latest Regency romance series is called The Duchess Deal and I would recommend its first book, Girl Meets Duke, over Do You Want to Start a Scandal? This crossover story between Dare’s Spindle Cove and Castles Ever After novels, features the youngest of the Highwood sisters and longtime troublemaker, Charlotte, who has both eldest sibling Diana’s desire for a loving home and intellectual Minerva‘s sense of adventure.

Piers Brandon, Lord Granville is an agent of the crown performing reconnaissance at a two-week house party in the English countryside. Devoted to his duty to King and country, he is caught off guard when Charlotte Highwood presents herself to him with a warning: Her mother will be trying to force a match between them and they must be careful to avoid it. Before you can say “in flagrante delicto”, Charlotte and Piers are caught alone together and giving the appearance of having crossed several lines. Their betrothal now imminent, they agree to the appearance of an understanding to get through the remainder of the estate. Kissing book plotting has other plans for them. After all,  it is a romance novel truth universally acknowledged that a peer must be in want of an heir.

Autocratic and closed off Piers is drawn to Charlotte’s intelligence and charm, while she soon learns that below the surface and behind his protective walls is a loving and passionate man. As they wend their way through plot machinations, they discover they are mad for each other and all that’s left is the genre’s forgone conclusion. I didn’t buy it for a second.

I tried reading Do You Want to Start a Scandal twice –  once in my original attempt and again for this review. It’s amazing how much of my time was taken up with wondering “How old is Piers exactly?” in the midst of skipping forward to find a more interesting part of the story. Charlotte is “not yet twenty-one” and while Piers’ age is never specifically stated, he must be at least 32. A twelve (or more) year age gap is not unheard of, but it didn’t work here. While I’d like an older heroine, the problem is not actually her age. I just don’t see what she has to offer Piers. What could they possibly find as common ground to build a relationship on? All of her youthful exuberance serves to remind me that he is a person of much greater experience in life and of the world and the writing failed to convince me that they were on the same page.

With the lack of well-matched characters overshadowing the story, I wasn’t especially worried about Dare’s usual requirement that I bludgeon and sequester my willing suspension of disbelief or that the revelation of the true goings on by the supporting characters was preposterous. I require somewhat more Regency and somewhat less modern farce in my historical romances.

Julie Anne Long’s classic historical romance What I Did for a Duke features a large age gap convincingly rendered. She’s twenty years old to his thirty-nine.

A complete summary of Tessa Dare’s catalogue, with recommendations, can be found here. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful which includes the aforementioned observations.