The Westcott Series: 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.

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.

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: If Mary Balogh’s publisher made her back catalogue available $4 or less each, I would stockpile it.

Balogh writes 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. She’s a prolific and reliable author.

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. I have.
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 Series:
Someone to Love (Avery/Anna) – disliked the hero
Someone to Hold (Joel/Camille) – great character development
Someone to Wed (Alexander/Wren)
Someone to Care (Marcel/Viola)
Someone to Trust (Colin/Elizabeth)
Someone to Honor (Gil/Abigail)
Someone to Remember (novella) (Charles/Matilda)

Also:
A Matter of Class novella (Reggie/Annabelle)

Penny Reid Reading List

Knitting in the City Series:
Neanderthal Seeks Human – I ADORE the heroine, I’ve re-read it a few times, recommend
Friends Without Benefits – Meh
Neanderthal Marries Human – More strangely compelling, also re-read, love her
Love Hacked – differently strangely compelling, the heroine is a pip
Beauty and the Mustache – Really liked it, Winston sister, recommend
Ninja at First Sight – Cute-ish
Happily Ever Ninja – NOPE!
Dating-ish: A Humanoid Romance – Meh
Marriage of Inconvenience – mostly pretty good

Winston Brothers Series:
Truth or Beard – too much comeheregoaway
Grin and Beard It – pretty darn good
Beard Science – decent
Beard in Mind – very good, recommend
Dr. Strangebeard – I appear to have read it. I don’t remember it at all.
Beard Necessities– not yet published

Dear Professor Series:
Kissing Tolstoy – Loathed it

Other:
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.

Do-You-Want-to-Start-a-Scandal

The Winston Brothers: Beard in Mind by Penny Reid

Buying all of Penny Reid‘s Winston Brothers and Knitting in the City books means that I have ridden the roller coaster of her uneven stories. The writing is always fine, and often much better than that, but she hits more rough patches than smooth and doesn’t always manage her plot complications well. Those issues are dealt with, mostly, in Beard in Mind and along the way, the reader gets to see couples from previous books, including Quinn and (my favourite) Janie.

One of Reid’s best efforts, Beard in Mind is a strong entry to the Winston Brothers series with its tortured heroine and the world’s most affable hero. Beau Winston is a sincere charmer. Helpful, well-intentioned, and self-possessed, he does not know what to make of the extraordinarily prickly new mechanic in the family auto repair shop. Shelly Sullivan, sister of Neanderthal Seeks Human’s Quinn, is irascible and difficult. Her habit of cutting people off at the knees perplexes and fascinates Beau. Shelly gets under his skin and her obstreperousness doesn’t stop him from falling for her as he comes to understand the reasons behind it and respect the person she is.

So often in romances, the hero is exasperating and the love of the heroine is traditionally redemptive. It’s nice to see the trope switched here. Shelly, however, doesn’t require of fixing/redeeming. She has OCD and what she needs is someone who sees her as whole, has expectations of her, and understands that sometimes she is at war with her own mind. Beau, while going through his own issues, is the right man for her. Each is responsible for managing their challenges or “fixing their own refrigerator” as it is described in this story. You root for Shelly to find what she needs and to be given/take the opportunity to participate fully in life and relationships.

I would recommend Beard in Mind not just because it’s Reid’s strongest book in a while, but because it contains a sublimely romantic moment. Given the genre and the number of books I read, you’d think these would occur more often, but they simply don’t and this one was the equal of the very short list of those I keep in my head and can track on the fingers of one hand.

Penny Reid’s Catalogue gives an overview of her published works , some of which I recommend and some of which I dislike intensely.

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.

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