Tag Archives: book reviews

Magnificent Bastard by Lili Valente

Hands down, “Magnificent Bastard” is the best title I have ever heard for a romance novel, contemporary or otherwise. I’m going to start a list just so I can put this book at #1 and Manaconda at #2.

Gold star

These are for you, Lili Valente. Well done!

Joining the ranks of kissing book Sebastians, no pressure, it’s just the by-word for “ultimate hero“, is “Bash” Prince who runs an upscale romantic revenge business. For a fee, he will bring all of his hotness to bear on you in the presence of your ex to make that lousy jerk understand what he is missing, and dig up any malfeasance of which he is guilty just for an extra grind under your stiletto heel. Business is good and it couldn’t be done without his assistant, the one he has never met. Penny reveals herself when she needs her very own magnificent bastard to attend a family wedding with her and relieve the pressure of her awful mother who is marrying PENNY’S EX-BOYFRIEND.

Told almost exclusively from Bash’s perspective, and the man does not lack for confidence in himself, Magnificent Bastard is a marriage of convenience featuring a rake and a wallflower. Penny’s personal interjections into the story mostly take the form of the least professional, professional correspondence in the history of the world. It’s not often, or never really, that romances feature one of the words that I am not willing to speak out loud. It’s not an offensive one, but that the presence of emojis related to animals releasing bodily gasses takes a small, comic role in the book was a wonder to me. I don’t say that word, I don’t want to read it, and I don’t want characters in romantic situations including it in their texts, especially in so-called business interactions.

[insert non-ironic clutching of pearls here]

But enough about my hangups, how was Magnificent Bastard? It had some nice sizzle, a couple of funny moments, and the plotting was ridic. I’d use the full version of the last word in the previous sentence, but given the whole emoji situation, the shortened version seems apropos. Penny was sweet and Bash is so over-the-top pleased with himself and, hopefully, tongue-in-cheek vulgar (he refers to his wedding tackle as the “incredible bulk”) that it was mostly engaging, but devolved into silliness that the light tone could not overcome.

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


Hammered Series: Manaconda by Taryn Elliott and Cari Quinn

I took great delight in telling people I had just bought/read a book called Manaconda. My husband very nearly injured himself with his frequent and violent eye rolling.

Contemporary romance characters often have supposedly glamourous professions and this Taryn Elliott and Cari Quinn series features rock stars which, it should be noted, is not the same as being musicians. Other occupations standing in for all those dukes and earls from historical romance include:

  1. successful actors
  2. professional football players
  3. professional hockey players
  4. billionaire business men (always non-specific and not particularly busy)
  5. former military elite force members (SEALs and the like)
  6. billionaire former military elite force member business men


Hunter Jordan is the lead singer of a quickly climbing rock band called Hammered. Recently, he was interviewed and featured in Rolling Stone magazine. (Sidebar: Do you suppose the rest of the band was irked not to be included?) In the cover photo, Hunter’s jeans and pose conspired to reveal that he is in possession very impressive wedding tackle and is receiving a lot of attention for it. His record label is thrilled and has added an extra PR person, Kennedy, to his band’s support team.

Manaconda got off to a pretty good start with excellent sizzle between the leads and a playful use of the heightened reality in romances. Hunter and Kennedy are enormously attracted to each other, but she is career focused and doesn’t want to get involved. Hunter has his charms, mostly related to his efficacious use of the aforementioned prodigious reproductive organ and his work with animal shelters, and Kennedy succumbs to them. This good start was undercut by a repetitive structure finding them having an amazing night, things falling  apart, another amazing encounter, things falling apart, and Hunter desperately trying to win Kennedy back.  I have no objection to the spark and conflagration approach to romance, but I thought it showed a lack of effort to have Kennedy and Hunter come together and apart in exactly the same way twice.

Most significantly, Manaconda lost what I saw as an opportunity for wry social commentary. Hunter is mortified by the attention his mascupython is garnering, but at no point does he acknowledge that this is the kind of attention women get and have been told to take as flattering for (likely) the entirety of recorded history. Pity the financially secure, powerful, successful, good-looking rock star having to endure a few weeks of teasing for something every other aspect of the book, and culture, rewards him for.

This book inspired my list of Romance Novel Tropes That Need to Be Put Out of Their Misery  and contains four of them. Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.

In Too Deep by Mara Jacobs, and Kathryn Shay, and Tracey Alvarez, and Lucia Jordan

There are at least fifteen kissing books called In Too Deep on Amazon and it seemed to me that my ones of readers deserved to know how they stacked up. My criteria were simple. First, the title, second, it had to be gratis. With these rigorous investigational standards, I was able to acquire four In Too Deeps in three minutes.

The Freshman Roommates Series: In Too Deep by Mara Jacobs – Young adult contemporary


Lily is a college freshman giving swimming lessons to local children when she meets Lucas. He has custody of his young brother, a criminal past, and is a recovering addict. Lily and Lucas fall in love as she is starting her life and he is trying to rebuild his. Things go sideways when he does something stupid and her privileged connections help save him. They recover and move forward with their relationship (as her parents, no doubt, have fits in the background).

This In Too Deep wins for most appropriate use of the phrase as Lily is almost unfathomably out of her depth in Lucas’s world. He’s a nice enough young man, but simultaneously extremely mature for his age and too young for what he has been asked to handle.  One of my reading notes simply said, “18.” I could say that I have learned Lily’s age is my line in the sand for the new adult genre because, as a Woman of a Certain Age,  18 is a child to me, but I have read really good romances with heroines that young (never the hero, I note),  so it all comes down to believable and interesting characters. This In Too Deep is not that book.

For the benefit of the doubt and what I assume is the target audience, I suppose that the plot was meant to appeal to the good girl/bad boy combination in which the hero’s ill-advised behavior is actually mostly in the past and adds a veneer of danger, but Lily is incredibly sheltered and a recovering addict charged with the care of his younger brother is a lot to believe she could cope with. Old enough to be her mother, I was horrified at the suggestion she would become involved with this young man, no matter how conscientious he was. Lily has neither the sand nor maturity to deal with the situation and Lucas’s sh*t is insufficiently together for him to be a good choice for her.

America’s Bravest Book 1: In Too Deep by Kathryn Shay – Adult contemporary novella


Amazon: Kathryn Shay spent five years riding fire trucks with a large city fire department, eating in their firehouses and interviewing hundreds of America’s Bravest. Read the novellas that resulted from her intense relationship with firefighters!

The research may have been excellent, but this In Too Deep was a non-event. The Captain and one of his firefighters have the hots for each other, they fight the attraction to maintain professionalism, and then they get it on while trapped in a rubble filled basement.  I repeat: After a cave in and while stuck in debris and running out of oxygen, they make sweet, sweet love. Sure. Afterward, they pretend nothing happened, try to go on with their lives, but cannot fight what they had been repressing. It’s a non-problem and easily solved. More of a gesture than a novella, there was so little going on and so little at stake, even when they were going to die, that I didn’t understand the point of the book.

For a subplot, this In Too Deep has a local reporter trying to influence budget cuts by reporting on the firefighters on- and off-duty activities like some overzealous Hall Monitor. The firefighters respond by starting their own blog to highlight how hard they work, instead of, you know, ignoring her completely. Would the town they work for not have more oversight and influence than an ambitious reporter?

Since it’s not clear from what I wrote and that cover with only one person on it, this is a M/F romance, so I don’t even get to make any “firefighters and their hoses” jokes, or only half as many as I might have hoped to.

In Too Deep by Lucia Gordon


Not a standalone novel, but a teaser volume, this In Too Deep was ridiculous. Rayne — her name is RAYNE, not “Rain” because that’s not quirky enough –, is tasked by her loathsome new corporate boss to attend a costume party for which he provides an obscene French maid costume, including undergarments, which she actually agrees to wear because that is the way large, successful companies treat their employees. Never mind ridiculous plotting, the former administrative professional in me rolled her eyes so hard, I sprained my optic nerve. If the rest of this review is erratic, blame the eye patch.

Bored at the party she has been obliged to attend dressed like a “whore”, Rayne meets a mysterious man, she calls him Crasher (my eye!) and the romance commences. Of course, by “romance”, I mean they get busy and, as is so often the case in contemporary, post 50 Shades of Grey books, he’s immediately very dominant and she loves every minute of it. So I have to ask for the umpteenth time: Doesn’t this kind of relationship require some kind of negotiation before one of you starts giving orders, slapping the other’s tushie, pulling hair, and biting? Moreover, why do all these billionaire corporate types (SPOILER) want power in the bedroom? Is being a rich, white, privileged guy at the top of the entitled heap not enough for these men? Why is it never the “this world was made for me” guy who wants to be slapped around and humiliated? Can you imagine what an enormous asshat he must be to crave more dominance? What absolute twaddle.

If you are still with me at this point in my TL:DR review and you feel compelled to read an In Too Deep, this next one is what I would recommend.

Due South Series Book 1: In Too Deep: A New Zealand Enemies to Lovers Second Chances Romance by Tracey Alvarez


What a lovely cover!

In Too Deep had an exotic setting, unusual leads, and a reunion plot. Piper Harland has taken a break from her kick ass job as a police rescue diver and returned to her remote, island hometown in New Zealand to help out with her brother’s boat charter and diving business. She strikes a bargain to work at her ex-boyfriend’s family restaurant in exchange for his help with the charters. Ryan “West” Westlake is the man she left behind when she went to the mainland to become a police officer.

In addition to the love story, this In Too Deep is about life in a small New Zealand town which was, for me, a unusual location and while people are people everywhere you go, the setting counted to me as romantic. West and Piper both live for their time on and in the water, he is a competitive free diver, but while she loves it, her own personal trauma is making it hard for her to continue. Unbeknownst to her family and West, her work triggers memories of a personal loss that both inspired her choice of profession and complicates it.  The story struck a good balance between the heightened reality of a love story and the down-to-earth elements of their island life.  West and Piper (two great names) have to get over their past relationship mistakes and their own issues to find a way to move forward together. I liked the novel, but not enough to continue the series.

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





The Seattle Sullivans: The Way You Look Tonight by Bella Andre

Is this what is known as a beach read in that it is something disposable you can follow easily whilst also making sure your toddler doesn’t drown? Bella Andre’s contemporary romance The Way You Look Tonight is one of the most obvious, pedestrian, and stereotypically bad novels I have ever read. Book one of a series, The Seattle Sullivans, that I will not only not be reading, it is one I would gladly use volumes of for a campfire.

Rafe Sullivan is a physically attractive private detective whose successful business investigating cheaters has left him disillusioned. When his realtor sister shows up telling him he needs to take a vacation and buy back his family’s lake house, he agrees. Arriving at the house the next evening, he runs into his old neighbour, Brooke, who just happens to be, HOMG, so hot. They knew each other as children and last saw one another when she was 8 and he was 14. Brooke is a bubbly and bright chocolatier living in the lake house she inherited from her grandparents. As Rafe’s new home is in sad shape, Brooke invites him to stay with her while he fixes it up. The entire story takes place over five days. Some commentary, including notes I made while reading:

Trite and is that a commercial kitchen?

“He couldn’t lie to her, couldn’t pretend he didn’t want her more than he’d ever wanted another woman in his life.” It’s been TWENTY-FOUR HOURS!

FFS (Rafe had just placed his hands around his brother’s throat for commenting on Brooke’s attractiveness.)

“There was no point trying to deny that what they were doing had turned into so much more than sex.” THREE DAYS!

He could hear the shower running, and knew he should leave her to finish washing up alone, especially after the way he’d taken her last night – hard enough that she might be sore.” a. That is not how good sex works and b. Could I get a volunteer to take this trope out behind the woodshed and put it out of its misery?

He installed kitchen cabinets alone?

But how could you possibly justify running a background check on me?” But how could you possibly get access to all of her personal financial records in the space of 12 hours or, you know, AT ALL?

“Don’t you know me at all after the past week? Or how about after we practically grew up together.” It’s been FOUR DAYS and you were EIGHT and he was FOURTEEN the last time you saw each other. Yours is not a reunion of twin souls.

“You really do love my brother, don’t you?” “…I always have.” Again: You were EIGHT YEARS OLD. You were not in love with him. You hadn’t started puberty yet. You probably still wanted to marry your cat.

“I wanted to believe we could make this work, that we could love each through the rough patches, but—” “We can, we will. Let me start by loving you right, Brooke.”  FIVE DAYS

“Although Rafe now had a newly renovated and furnished home, a home that had once been filled with the love and laughter…” Have I stressed this enough? FIVE DAYS! He cleaned out, ripped up all the linoleum, laid flooring, installed appliances, found an old family photo in the attic of a house that had been a rental for almost two decades because of course he did, painted, and furnished a house unfit for human habitation in FIVE DAYS!

She wasn’t just in his arms a moment later…she was finally home.” This book is so bad. When will it be over so I can stop reading it? It’s a soap opera’s notion of romance.

The Way You Look Tonight was trite, banal, hackneyed, hokey, cliched, facile, and mashed itself into what was, even for this genre, the most nonsensically condensed timeline I have ever read. Henceforth, I will be avoiding all Bella Andre books like the plague and thanking my lucky stars that this one was free.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by authoror Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.


The Ravenels: Marrying Winterbourne by Lisa Kleypas

Marrying Winterbourne is the second book in the current Lisa Kleypas historical romance Ravenel series, and, while it is better than its predecessor, Cold-Hearted Rake, it still not up to the standard of her classics or even her stronger books.  Spending insufficient time with the love story, though plenty with the smolder, it started with a wallflower and a rake, Kleypas’s forte, and swiftly landed in Big Misunderstanding territory – which experienced romance readers will tell you means the leads’ problems could be solved with one honest conversation.

Possessing several Kleypas aspects I adore, this is what Marrying Winterbourne has going for it: Rhys Winterbourne is a gorgeous, self-made man, a sardonic and magnificently self-possessed hero who calls the heroine sweetheart in that Kleypas way, and in Welsh no less, and is poleaxed by his adoration of his beloved. So far, so good. Lady Helen Ravenel is a profoundly shy, seemingly delicate woman with a backbone of steel and the willingness to step outside of herself to pursue what she wants. Excellent! Unfortunately, all of that is taken care of by Chapter Two when Rhys and Helen reach an understanding and then spend the rest of the novel trying to get to the altar. The challenge was that the stumbling blocks took precedence over the relationship building. The problem was that some elements Kleypas includes are, at best, dated and diminished the reading experience for me.


On more than one occasion, Rhys manhandles Helen.

“Rhys grasped her chin and compelled her to look at him.”

“She hated the way he guided her with his hand clasped on the back of her neck, as if she were a helpless kitten being carried by the scruff.”

“Rhys pushed from the desk and reached her with stunning quickness, caging her body with his and slamming the sides of his fists against the wall.”

Caging a woman with his body is something Rhys did to the heroine of Cold-Hearted Rake as well, though then he was also sexually aggressive. His character needed some rehabilitation and while he shows remorse, apologises to the woman he threatened, and Kleypas drops a building on him early-ish in the book, his aggressive behavior toward Helen made me uncomfortable. Is he abusing Helen? Perish the thought. Does it represent the heightened reality often found in books of this genre? I don’t care.  Is he asserting physical dominance potentially consistent with the Victorian era? Perhaps, but Marrying Winterbourne is a romance novel, not a historical document and I don’t appreciate these rough elements. Were I the woman involved, especially in the last example, I have every faith I would burst into terrified tears. In the justifiably beloved Kleypas classic The Devil in Winter, the hero is horrified when he moves too quickly and the heroine flinches. In Marrying Winterbourne, the hero takes advantage of his superior size to intimidate Helen and control her movements. If it were ever properly addressed, I could overlook it, but since I doubt Kleypas is going to drop another building on Rhys in the next book in the series, The Devil in Spring (which I will still buy), Marrying Winterbourne is going in my disappointment pile.

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.


Heart-Shaped Hack: Kate and Ian #1 by Tracey Garvis Graves

Worst Read of the Year Contender!

All-around good person, Kate, runs a local food bank. Desperate for funds, she makes a local TV appearance asking for donations. Her storefront is delighted to receive a recurring anonymous monthly donation of $1,000. It always arrives in a paper bag and Kate delights in dumping the money out. If it’s singles and the local peeler bar is taking contributions, it might work. If it’s $5 or $10 bills, it’s still vaguely okay, but if the bills are any larger, and the implication is that they are, it’s just plain silly. I worked for a  non-profit housing organization and spent one week every month at a little desk in Accounts Receivable counting rents paid in cash. It was dirty, I found little rubber finger-tip covers in my pockets every laundry day, and it also taught me that a lot of money can fit into a little pile. The idea that the anonymous donor would send some sort of “make it rain” gesture in a paper bag was nonsense. Had he no access to envelopes when taking cash out from the ATM?

Kate wants to find out who her benefactor is and manages to catch him, our hero,  Ian, and he immediately starts commenting on how hot she looked when she was on the news and gives her nicknames. It’s presumptuous, but potentially forgivable. The next time they meet, Ian has found Kate at a local coffee shop by hacking into her bank accounts to discover where her last financial transaction took place. He learned she had bought coffee and a blueberry muffin at the shop (her bank’s records are really precise, apparently) and decided to pop over to say hello. Kate is shocked, but Ian assures her he didn’t take any of her money. This was the point at which I stopped reading Heart-Shaped Hack. Do I really have to explain why?

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




Rookie Mistake by Tracy Ward

I found Tracy Ward’s new adult contemporary sports romance, Rookie Mistake, in the “multicultural and interracial romance” section on Amazon. Wanting more diversity in my favoured genre, I have been making a point of seeking it out.  Please note that in this same “multicultural and interracial romance” section, Amazon also lists shape-shifter romances such as Alpha Rancher Bear: BWWM Bear Shifter Paranormal Romance which, correct me if I’m wrong, qualifies as neither multicultural nor interracial but may, depending on their retrospective corporeal forms during consummation, qualify as inter-species, so it’s an inaccurate AND offensive category. A for effort there, Amazon.

Trey Domato is finishing up his college football career and gearing up for the Draft and joining the NFL. He knows where he wants to be and is hoping to find an agent to help him get there. Sloane Ashford is the junior agent in her father’s sports management firm and she has been watching Trey’s career for years. She wants to represent him and will do almost anything, including taking a backseat to her selfish and self-interested father, to get Trey signed. Her dad might not be sure about Trey’s potential, but Sloane is.

Rookie Mistake follows Trey and Sloane as they grapple with the professional worlds they have each chosen. Imprudently, they fall in love along the way and, unrealistically, they think they can fight their attraction The novel struck a good balance between young people finding their way, while also acknowledging that to get to where they are, each of them has also had to be mature and focused. I liked Trey and Sloane, but the writing had some issues and wasn’t compelling enough to get me to continue with Ward’s Offensive Line series. There are occasional awkward word choices (“I watch her swallow. Watch her thin neck constrict under her perfect skin that leads down over her collar-bone, Over her breastplate.”) and things I wasn’t quite sure what to make of, such as this –

I met her last year at a frat party, shared a bottle of Jack with her on the roof of the place, and by morning we were buddies, of each variety. She’s chill. Laidback and always down for a good time, but she’s not easy. She’s not one of these groupies running around in the wake of the team giving it up for anyone with a jersey on their back. I’m the only guy she’s sleeping with on the team, though not the only guy at the school, but the team is what’s important. I share a lot with these guys. Probably too much. I don’t think it’s too much to ask to not dip my wick in the same well.

Where do I start with that paragraph? I feel like it’s going seven directions at once and several of them make me uncomfortable.

New Adult romance 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.


The Hazards of Skinny Dipping by Alyssa Rose Ivy and Ransom by Rachel Schurig

To be clear, I am phoning it in so much with these two that I am putting two unrelated contemporary romances in one review, borrowing plot summaries from Amazon, and giving myself the personal challenge of reacting to both as succinctly as possible. I thought I had purchased new adult romances, but it turned out I had purchased young adult romances. It’s apparently a very fine line and I suspect down to tone as much as anything else. The Hazards of Skinny Dipping and Ransom are more coming of age stories than people starting out in life and finding each other tales.I have learned this is of no interest to me. I will be continuing to avoid of young adult books no matter how highly recommended they are.

The Hazards of Skinny Dipping by Alyssa Rose Ivy (Reed/Juliet)

From Amazon: This isn’t a deep book about first loves or self-discovery. If you want a book like that, I’d be happy to recommend one, but I don’t have that kind of story to tell. Instead my story is about rash decisions and finding out that your dream guy is bad in bed. It’s the story of when I finally went skinny dipping, and how my life was never the same again. Oh, and it’s also the story of my freshman year of college and realizing Mr. Right might have been there all along.

Except that it is a book about those things. A boring one about a young woman, maybe even technically still a  girl, who makes some bad relationship decisions before figuring out how to make good ones. The writing (originally mistyped that as “writhing” which will be the highlight of this review experience for me) was fine, the characters simple, the coming age welcome and necessary. It’s the girl’s story from start to end and I have no interest in characters who aren’t really themselves yet. I have read heroines this young before, just not this immature. I like a little more emotional mileage on my lead characters.

Ransom by Rachel Schurig (Daltrey/Daisy)

From Amazon: Daisy Harris has no reason to suspect that her day will be any different than usual. She’ll get through it the way she always does—alone. She won’t speak or make eye contact. She’ll do her best to go completely unnoticed. That’s what life is like for Daisy now—an endless cycle of loneliness and fear. A life lived hiding behind the walls she so faithfully maintains. It’s been a year since she’s seen Daltrey Ransome. A year since he and his brothers left town to pursue their dreams of rock and roll superstardom. A year since he left Daisy behind—left her to watch as everything she knew crumbled around her. And now that Daltrey has found her—the girl he’s loved his entire life, the girl he’d give up everything for—he’s determined never to let her go again.

First things first, all the boys in this family are named after rock stars and Daltrey is a totally cool moniker. His brothers are Cash, Lennon, and Reed, also funky and nicely justifiable from a “romance novel names are ridonkulous” perspective.

I liked Ransom much better than the naked swimming book, but again the characters were younger than I could relate to. They were sweet and sympathetic, the supporting characters good friends to them. Everything ticked along in their new , crazy-successful and a pretty good coming of age story even if it was more than a might tropey and I can only imagine what that much success at that young an age would do to people.

Daltrey had brothers and each of them has a book, but I’ll be giving them a miss. These darn whippersnappers are going to be staying off my lawn.

Last things last, the family/band name of Ransom sounded too much like Hanson and I had that damn MMMBop song stuck in my head while reading. Maybe you do now as well. You’re welcome.

New Adult romance 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.



The Survivors’ Club: Only Beloved by Mary Balogh

The last book in Mary Balogh’s excellent seven book historical romance Survivors’ Club series features the kindest man in the world and a happy spinster. About a decade ago, George, Duke of Stanhope, turned his estate into a hospital and took wounded Napoleonic War veterans into his home. Six of the patients, a woman and five men, stayed behind when the others left and over three years of healing formed an intense bond. Each of them has now had a love story and embarked on a new life, so it is their host’s turn to find companionship and a fulfilling homelife. George lost his young son in the War and his wife, unable to bear her grief, took her own life. Opening his ancestral home allowed him to help others, heal himself, and deflect the world’s attempts to see beyond the comfort he gives others and into his own pain.

The Survivors’ Club holds annual reunions and during one of these George was introduced to and delighted by Miss Dora Debbins. She was flattered by the attention and enjoyed his company as well. The sister of the heroine of Only Enchanting, Dora is forty, to George’s forty-eight, and lives and works quite pleasantly as a musician and teacher in a country town. When George reappears out of the blue to ask for her hand in marriage, Dora is stunned, but her instincts tell her to say yes. She sees in his gesture her chance to seek out a new kind of life as a a wife and – who knows – maybe a mother as well. They may be older than usual characters, but George and Dora are both young enough and old enough to make the relationship work despite the difference in their stations.

George and Dora are strongly attracted to and hold great affection for each other, but agree that they are marrying for companionship rather than a grand passion. Life and romance novels being what they are, the gods laugh at their plans and they fall quietly and deeply in love. Romance novels and life being what they are, and Mary Balogh’s common theme of broken people fitting their pieces together, George and Dora find much more in their relationship than they had ever expected. It is not a Dramatic Relationship, Balogh characters are always too sensible and wonderfully grown up for such things, but the writing successfully conveys the profound bond and joy the two share. As with all strong romances, the team they are together is stronger than the separate individuals they are apart.

It’s hard to go wrong with a Mary Balogh novel. She’s such a reliable writer. Only Beloved is not the best entry in the Survivors’ Club series, Only Enchanting and Only a Promise share that honour, but as a wrap up to this very strong series it works well. As with her other larger series, Balogh needs to repeat a lot of identifying information and quickly encapsulate the previous stories when characters reappear. It both helps sort out my confusion and drags the story down a bit. As a reader, I enjoy visiting old friends, but I don’t want them to take over the current reading experience.

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 – please see above

Balogh has another popular series, all titled with “Slightly”, and Slightly Dangerous is a classic of the genre.

Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author orAuthor Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.


A Princess in Hiding Series: The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match

Despite the wonderful writing and Juliana Gray’s consistent ability to create interesting characters and throw in some excitement, I couldn’t fully enjoy the Victorian romance novella The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match, but I didn’t mind. I paid a reasonable sum for the book, and since I borrowed all of her other novels from the library, I am happy to have contributed to Gray’s coffers. May she enjoy my shekels in good health and continue to devise the complex, dovetailed series plots and wonderful characterizations at which she excels.

From Amazon: Aboard the luxuriously appointed SS Majestic, the duke is on a mission to retrieve a most important portfolio of papers and thwart a known anarchist. As the ship steams across the Atlantic, the duke’s search for the notorious master of disguise forces him into close quarters with an American heiress and her widowed governess, Mrs. Penelope Schuyler. While Olympia has known his fair share of intriguing women, Mrs. Schuyler seems to have a way of challenging his expectations at every turn. But as their clandestine meetings lead them down an unexpected path, the duke must determine if Penelope is a woman to be trusted.

The Duke of Olympia appears in both of Gray’s published trilogies and I have described him previously as “a conniving old son of a bitch thoroughly experienced in shenanigans”. A compelling character, there is just one problem with giving him his own book and a love interest. He may be 6′ 5″ tall, hale and hearty, broad of chest and deep of voice, but he is seventy-four years old. It’s a perfectly reasonable age to fall in love in the real world, but for a romance novel he falls beyond the line for me. I could have lived with sixty. The heroine, Penelope, a delightful character, is just about fifty. Age differences, of course, grow less important in relationships the older we get, but Olympia is SEVENTY-FOUR years old and Penelope is young enough to be his daughter. I am a Woman of a Certain Age and The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match has the character equivalent of me becoming romantically involved with my father-in-law. I couldn’t get past it. If Penelope had been a decade older, or the Duke younger, I would have been delighted to read their story, but the combination of the vast age difference and his septuagenarian status became an insurmountable combination.

For a historical romance with large age difference that works, I recommend Julie Anne Long’s genre classic What I Did for a Duke. He’s pushing forty, she’s twenty and Long absolutely pulls it off.

Also by Juliana Gray:

The Affairs by Moonlight Trilogy
A Lady Never Lies
A Gentleman Never Tells
A Duke Never Yields – most recommended of the three

A Princess in Hiding Trilogy
How to Tame Your Duke
How to Master Your Marquis – most recommended of the three
How to School Your Scoundrel
The Duke of Olympia Meets His Match

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