Category Archives: book review

The Westcott Series: Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh

A forgotten pre-order delivery to my Kindle! Huzzah!

A Regency romance with a custody battle, Someone to Honor is the sixth book in Mary Balogh’s current Westcott series. I’ve read all of the novels, but only reviewed a couple. She’s a writer whose work I don’t bounce in anticipation of, but she is a confident writer who can be turned to for effective and sometimes fantastic romance (Only Enchanting). Her characters are generally sensible people attempting to manage their lives in practical, pragmatic ways then find themselves falling madly in love. It throws them for a loop, but they remain true to their essential selves. Balogh, like Carla Kelly, is blessedly light on sturm and drang.

From Amazon: Abigail Westcott’s dreams for her future were lost when her father died and she discovered her parents were not legally married. But now, six years later, she enjoys the independence a life without expectation provides a wealthy single woman. 

Gilbert Bennington [is] the lieutenant colonel and superior officer who has escorted her wounded brother, Harry, home from the wars with Napoleon. Gil has come to help his friend and junior officer recover…If at first Gil and Abigail seem to embody what the other most despises, each will soon discover how wrong first impressions can be. For behind the appearances of the once-grand lady and the once-humble man are two people who share an understanding of what true honor means, and how only with it can one find love.

Someone Gets a Bonus should be the next book in this series because that is one hell of a great synopsis.

Gil and Abigail are not light-hearted people. Gil is downright dour and can be more than somewhat forbidding. He also has a mild inferiority complex which tends to make him clam up or be obstreperous when he’s uncomfortable – which happens very consistently when  he is alone around Abigail. He is, however, a kind and thoughtful person as the reader and Abigail see in the unguarded moments that seem to erupt from him whether he wants them to or not. Balogh’s love story builds slowly as Gil and Abigail circle each other and tentatively reach out to each other for a convincing, though maybe slightly dragged out, period of time. 

All of the Westcott characters have had their lives turned upside down. Abigail, like the rest of her immediate family, had her mettle tested when she discovered her view of both herself and her world were false. What Balogh recognizes is that this kind of upheaval can ultimately be freeing, if one has the financial security and time to really ask oneself “Now what?”.  Abigail is beholden to no one, so when she is intrigued by Gil, she considers her choices and then leaps at the serious man who appeals to her, as well as the opportunity to help him. Abigail chooses the life she wants and that is the heart of the romance genre. 

For more Mary Balogh reviews you can go 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.

 

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The Palace of Rogues Series: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Huzzah, Julie Anne Long has returned to Regency historical romances. Granted, the cover is displeasing, but the contents are not.

Delilah, Lady Derring is not only recently widowed, she’s also discovered she is virtually penniless, and had the delightful experience of meeting her husband’s mistress, Mrs. Angelique Breedlove, immediately on the heels of the first two shocks. Showing disregard for the notion that they are competitors,  and demonstrating intestinal fortitude and chutzpah, Delilah and Angelique take the jewels they have from the erstwhile Earl Derring and invest them all in the only thing left to them – a derelict townhouse and former brothel called The Palace of Rogues.

Renaming the dilapidated building “The Palace on the Thames” and down to their last farthings, Angelique and Delilah open a boarding house on the London docks. One of her first patrons is Captain Tristan Hardy. He claims to be retired and working in trade, but in reality is working undercover to ferret out a tobacco smuggling ring. He’s not sure whether Delilah and Angelique are involved, but all roads lead to their new business. I cheered Long’s choice of making Captain Hardy fight the Regency version of organized crime. Criminals aren’t dashing or particularly appealing to me and acknowledging their frequent ruthlessness was bonus in my reading experience.

Long brings her trademark wry sizzle to Lady Derring Takes a Lover. The humour is quippy, the writing dry, and the connection between the lead characters carefully built and believable. Long is especially good at portraying even the most jaded hero finding himself in over his head emotionally.

There was nice steam in the build up, in particular Captain Hardy’s realization that while he might be all tough’n’stuff, he rather likes his creature comforts, including the company of a pseudo-family, and especially Delilah. For her part, she is strong arming her way to a new life without ever losing her innate kindness and desire to make a home for everyone around her. She’s a bit naive, but that’s hardly a crime and it’s what helps her succeed. Having spent her life in the roles created for her by other people, her self-discovery leads her to a carefully reckless and droll version of the woman her parents and husband thought they created.

But.

(Did you know there was going to be a “but”? I debated between it and a “however” and decided that “but” conveyed a weaker objection.)

But while the romance is solid, there just isn’t enough of it in Lady Derring Takes a Lover. Always a liability in the first book of a new series, I found the love story took too long getting started and wrapped up rather quickly. It needed more of either conversation and connection in the build up or in the period after they formally get together; however, none of this changes Long’s historical romance status as an autobuy for me, and the tease of the next book piqued my interest and I look forward to reading Angelique’s story Angel in a Devil’s Arms.

A complete summary of Julie Anne Long’s catalogue, with recommendations and a ranked order of the Pennyroyal Green series, can be found here.

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

 

 

La Vie en Roses: A Kiss in Lavender by Laura Florand

Short Version: I liked Laura Florand’s A Kiss in Lavender, though it felt more serious than other books in the La Vie en Roses series. The love story was heartfelt, the happy ending earned, and it had a substantial, forthright hero and a deeply vulnerable, but assertive heroine with the heart of a lion. I’ve read it twice now and while it’s not as swoony as some Florand, it has a kind of grounded solidity that I appreciate.

Long Version Including Discussion of a Book in a Different Laura Florand Series:

Before going on a well-earned sabbatical, Laura Florand had three book series running concurrently: L’Amour et Chocolat, La Vie en Roses, and Paris Nights. As with any writer, I preferred some books over others, but A Kiss in Lavender is the first Florand in which I felt she managed to resolve character issues from a previous work. Not for the original characters themselves, but for similar ones.

From my review of The Chocolate Heart:

They are two wounded people hiding behind false fronts and suffering from painful miscommunication. Elements that had been successful in the preceding books reached an intensity that left me uncomfortable. Luc is so busy being in control that he becomes almost clinical and Summer is so vulnerable that it feels like she is being used.

In A Kiss in Lavender, Lucien Rosier is visiting his family for the first time after a 15 year self-imposed exile. He joined the French Foreign Legion after learning something that challenged his entire sense of self. Assuming a true nom de guerre, he disappeared and built a new life for himself of which he is justifiably proud.

When Lucien’s Tante Colette hired Elena Lyon to track Lucien and assorted other scattered family members down and bring them into the Rosier fold, there’s a good chance she knew or hoped sparks would fly. Without a functional family of her own, Elena has resolute strength, but a tenderness where relationships are concerned. She has learned the hard way what happens when the adults meant to protect you fail to do so and the lasting impact it can have on your life. The results of all-too-human caregivers are a frequent theme in Florand’s books, and I find that in contemporary romance especially, building a new family is a recurrent motif.

But back to Luc and Summer:  I have recently reread The Chocolate Heart and Shadowed Heart to cope with Florand’s publishing absence. The author seems to both have a soft spot for their broken, loving persistence, and for the characters themselves. She wrote them a book, a novella, and a bonus story. Luc and Summer were genuinely messed up people and neither of them had any business being in a relationship, especially since their personal demons were guaranteed to cause each other maximum stress. In contrast, Elena and Lucien clash, but learn and grow into each other to move forward as a unit which is pretty much the essence of a romance novel.

In A Kiss in Lavender, it’s like Florand has written Lucien and Elena as the psychologically healthier version of Luc and Summer. Lucien, like Luc, is very much in control of himself, but in this case, it’s a quality that nurtures his partner. He is proving his trustworthiness and reliability. When Elena is vulnerable and shuts down, she does so by drawing on inner strength rather than lashing out as Summer does.No longer painfully miscommunicating characters finding moments of bliss between rounds of angst, this alternate story has two people falling in love and persisting, then insisting on working towards shared happiness. None of the four are exactly happy-go-lucky, even in their insistent pair bonds, but at least Lucien and Elena seem like they are united in working towards a stable future.

La Vie en Roses Series:

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La Vie en Roses: A Crown of Bitter Orange by Laura Florand

I miss Laura Florand! She’s been taking a well-earned break from a prodigious output of swoon-inducing and charming contemporary romances set in the worlds of pastry, chocolate, and perfumery. Her great gift as a romance writer is in creating the heady intensity of small romantic moments, as well as portraying elements of sexual tension and anticipation. Creating characters, she excels at people who balance each other out, often providing a security or grounding that one of them has lacked.  I’m hoping Florand will return with her final book in the La Vie en Roses series, but I am rereading and reviewing some of her other works in the meantime.

A Crown of Bitter Orange

Tristan Rosier and Malorie Monsard have known each other their whole lives. They both come from old Provencal families devoted to the perfume trade, but while Tristan is grounded by his history, Malorie is torn at by hers.

Living in the same place for centuries means the sins of ones forebearers are sometimes carried by descendants. With scurrilous family members having acted shamefully during World War II and, admittedly, more recently, the marks born by Malorie caused her to leave home immediately upon finishing high school. After the death of her grandmother, she’s back to either finally shutter her family’s landmark company or settle in Grasse permanently.

All of this means nothing to Tristan Rosier. Well, not nothing, he wants to see the Monsard business restored to its former glory, but he doesn’t care about the negative aspects of her family, what he really wants, what he has always wanted, is Malorie. After being seated together to help keep him and his bouncy distractedness in line at school, he was quietly and awkwardly devoted to her for years. Not that she noticed. Malorie liked him well enough, but considered him a bit of a charming pest and was oblivious to anything more because, well, Tristan is lovely to everyone.

Beloved by his protective clan, nurtured in the family trade, and aided by his own hard work, Tristan’s challenges have always been managed. Hard work has brought him incredible success as a “Perfume Nose” for their perfume dynasty. His only major professional setback was when Malorie, in her role as a firm accountant (pun intended) suggested less expensive substitutes for the ingredients in a perfume Tristan created.

With all of that set up in place, the story begins and moves, as Florand often does, very quickly to a romantic alliance full of joy and delightful vignettes with an assortment of family members.  A Crown of Bitter Orange was never less than enjoyable and Tristan continues to be amiable and appealing, as he was in the other series books, but the story never really grabbed me. I liked and understood Malorie, but her relationship with Tristandjust kind of moved along nicely and reached its anticipated and sought out conclusion.

La Vie en Roses Series:
Turning Up the Heat (Daniel/Lea) – prequel novella
A Rose in Winter (Raoul/Allegra) – prequel novella –  Florand can and has done better
The Chocolate Rose (Gabriel/Jolie) – prequel novel I *really* like
Once Upon a Rose (Matt/Layla)  – fun, great light escapism
A Wish Upon Jasmine (Damien/Jess) – not her strongest, it had a lot of promise
A Crown of Bitter Orange (Tristan/Malorie) – not memorable, he’s charming, see above
A Kiss in Lavender (Lucien/Elena) – good, recommended

Laura Florand’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works — of which I recommend many. I adore her particular brand of romance. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

Practice Perfect Series: Hard Knocks by Ruby Lang

I feel so on trend! It’s another love story with a concussion plot point as I continue to recover from one.

Acute Reactions was a well-written romance with some comeheregoaway issues in the plotting. It’s looking like a consistent issue with Ruby Lang, but it’s a minor quibble, I really enjoy her dry, funny style, and will be looking for her books. Hard Knocks has less of the vacillation issues and, from what I’ve read of the third book, Clean Breaks, it’s stronger still.

Transplanted Canadian Helen Chang Frobisher is a reasonably newly minted neurologist who has gone into practice with her friends Petra (Acute Reactions) and Sarah (Clean Breaks). When Helen consults on a concussed hockey player from Portland’s sad-sack Oregon Wolves team, she meets Adam Magnus. He’s not the concussed player, he’s at the hospital with his teammate. Helen and Adam are into each other and they share an incendiary one night stand.  She bolts, he’s disappointed, and they move on.

Except that Helen’s visits her family in the Okanagon Valley where her father is sick and declining from Atypical Parkinsons disease. Distressed and aware of the negative impact of repeated head injuries, though she is unable to confirm this is what happened to her dad, she decides to write an editorial suggesting Portland ban hockey for player safety. Adam responds and the two find themselves in public forum discussions about the issue at the same time as Helen is fighting her attraction to him for all she’s worth.

While he’s not fighting the attraction, Adam is dealing with his declining career and what to do next with his life. He’s a really great guy, seemingly perfect at first, but Lang provides excellent background details to let the reader understand how he has gotten where he is. He knows he’s not one of the greats and his hockey playing days are numbered, but he needs to keep his job as he figures out what he’s going to do with the next phase of his life.

Ruby Lang’s writing is really strong when presenting the reality of getting a career/adult life going and the distraction that falling in love can represent. Love, like life, finds a way, but it’s nice to see work being an obstacle to togetherness and emotional availability.

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

The Ravenels: Devil’s Daughter – The Ravenels Meet the Wallflowers by Lisa Kleypas

The Ravenels series by Lisa Kleypas series has turned into “Sebastian and Evie’s Kids Get Hitched” and I am not complaining, Devil’s Daughter has the trademark Kleypas elements of wit, charm, a compelling hero, and delightful smolder. I’m just going to  assume you are familiar with all of the books and characters that feed into this one. 

Readers first met Phoebe, Lady Clare, as a squalling infant in one of my favourite Sebastian, Lord Saint Vincent moments from any of his appearances: “There, darling,” St. Vincent had been known to coo into the infant’s ear. “Has someone displeased you? Ignored you? Oh, the insolence. My poor princess shall have anything she wants…” 

Phoebe has grown up, married, had children, and been widowed by our next encounter with her. She’s stayed with her parents for two years while she grieves and is about to move back to her son’s estate and start dowagering for all she ‘s worth. She just needs to get through her brother’s wedding at her sister-in-law’s family estate which is managed by [cue trumpets] West Ravenel.

First introduced as a dissolute charmer, West was a spoiled and bored man-child who found unexpected redemption in a purpose in life. His is the book I have most looked forward to in the series and Kleypas has done very well here. Phoebe is instantly impressed by West as a lovely bit o’crumpet, but soon recognizes him as the bully who beset her husband at school. He’s sorry, she forgives, he performs protestations of unworthiness, and the dance begins. Sebastian makes frequent appearances remaining perfect into his sixties. Evie is around, too, being all serene, maternal, and irresistible to her husband.

I don’t know if Kleypas was consciously responding to criticisms of the previous Ravenel entries, but Devil’s Daughter is BY FAR the best of the bunch and most successfully abandons the outdated tropes in the four previous novels. Any problems I had investing in the story  because of disappointment brought with me from the previous installments, was likely entirely my issue and not the story or writing. Sebastian and West are a bit too idealized, but Kleypas is gonna Kleypas. It’s a genre based on hot men and wish fulfillment, and, let’s be honest, I am going to keep buying her books. This is was the first book in the series I have revisited or exclaimed “YAY!” at the end of.

I would love to visit more of the Wallflowers, surely I’m not the only one who would gladly climb Simon Hunt like a tree, but there is another Ravenel daughter who is up next with a mystery man and ruthless, self-made gazillionaire Tom Severin. He’s floated on the periphery in Ravenels books and even his closest friends don’t trust him so it should be interesting.  I’m getting a Harry Rutledge/Tempt Me at Twilight vibe from him and that is very promising.

Captious Aside: There is no way on God’s Green Earth that Sebastian would allow himself to be called “Gramps”.

Ravenels Series:

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

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.

Practice Perfect Series: Acute Reactions by Ruby Lang

Do you have any idea how long it’s been since I’ve read a contemporary romance that featured neither so-called new adults, nor athletes?

There is so much to like in Ruby Lang’s Acute Reactions that I could get past what I thought needed work; however, I would like some reassurance that the same structural problems  aren’t found in all of her books.

Instead of starting out with an established medical group, allergist Petra Lale has opened her own practice right after completing her training. Ian Zamora co-owns a successful restaurant and needs allergy shots to cope with his girlfriend’s cat. Things go sideways for him when he visits her practice and is instantly captivated by Petra. She has the same reaction, but her Hippocratic oath provides a road block.

Establishing their careers, Acute Reactions’ leads are driven people. It is their main priority and Lang reflects just what that means for their home lives and romantic entanglements. Ian and Petra are likable, upright, engaging characters in their early thirties. Their motivations and backstories are clear and, while not belaboured, do well to explain their personalities and reactions. Petra should be horrified and distracted by becoming involved with a patient. Ian’s counterbalance is that, as a product of discord, he tries to resolve issues for those around him, acting as peacekeeper.  Their stumbling blocks are significant and believable, but being young and healthy,  love, like life, finds a way.

Lang’s writing is charming and she creates excellent smolder. My challenge with Acute Reactions was the plotting issue of Petra’s repeated comeheregoaway response to her relationship. New couples can go through ups and downs, but she had a retractable leash tied to Ian. He’s smitten, she’s wary, they collide, she runs away. It got old. I shouldn’t be thinking, “maybe these two should just move on”,  while reading a romance; in fact the conceit was repeated enough times, that I was reluctant to start on the next two books in the series Hard Knocks and Clean Breaks . I did because I bought the Practice Perfect trilogy as a set, but I’m giving each of them some side-eye.

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.