Category: Historical Romance

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith DuranThe Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #6
Published by Pocket Books on February 27th 2018
Pages: 368
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four-stars

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE...

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

...BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna's courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can't win back Liam's love, then she means at least to save his soul...no matter the cost.

There are few authors who can tempt me back into historical romance and Meredith Duran is always one of them. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that the very peculiar situation of Lord Lockwood, or better known as Liam Devaliant—first revealed in ‘The Duke of Shadows’ as the man with an odd temper, an odder past and an obviously missing bride—is one that’s gripping and compelling enough to wait several years for.

‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’ is an absolutely unexpected treat, dashing away all my expectations of a wimpy, hiding heroine and a man who constantly pushes her away for his shame at having been kidnapped and imprisoned. Instead, Duran presents a strong heroine capable of matching her husband’s changed mien—riddled with PTSD and a barely-concealed rage that leaks out as near-schizophrenia—and in doing so, has probably crafted one of the most memorable historical heroines I’ve ever had the pleasure of cheering for.

Lockwood’s and Anna’s present reality is interspersed with the lazy days of their meeting and their courtship 4 years prior, as Duran’s narrative weaves between the pragmatic (though flirty) circumstances of their initial union and the strained volatile interactions of their reconciliation. There are hints of what Liam suffered in Elland, but the details are fuzzy: Duran concentrates on sensation, conflict and pain rather than gives a blow-by-blow account of what really happened, as these help to explain why Lockwood seemingly vacillates between moments of forced indifference and letting the tormented beast loose at unexpected times.

What surprises me most perhaps, is how Anna comes across, though Duran—which I loudly applaud—writes very contemporary sensibilities into her heroines that make them three-dimensionally relatable. Anna’s capability, her management skills, her fearless leap into the affairs of men, her strength and determination to pull her husband back from the brink left me in awe…here is the ‘modern historical’ female protagonist whom I absolutely dig (though clearly this is not the norm of Victorian England), the woman whose alpha tendencies could probably have helped front the #MeToo movement if given the chance.

Duran’s superlative prose is as always, a big draw, pulling the nuances of emotions and desire together in a way that makes me stop and savour her written word. That alone is reason enough to put Duran on my reading list, though ‘The Sins of Lord Lockwood’—read it even if only to revisit Emma and Julian—is one that I’ll remember for some time to come for a protagonist who stands starkly apart from so many others.

four-stars

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran

A Lady’s Code of Misconduct by Meredith DuranA Lady's Code of Misconduct by Meredith Duran
Series: Rules for the Reckless #5
Published by Pocket Books on February 28th 2017
Pages: 400
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two-stars

A DEAL WITH THE DEVIL...Trapped in the countryside, facing an unwanted marriage and the theft of her fortune, Jane Mason is done behaving nicely. To win her freedom, she’ll strike a deal with the most dangerous man she knows—a rising star in politics, whose dark good looks mask an even darker heart.

...NEVER GOES TO PLAN.The bitter past has taught Crispin Burke to trust no one. He’ll gladly help a lovely young heiress, provided she pays a price. Yet when a single mistake shatters his life, it is Jane who holds the key to his salvation. And in a world that no longer makes sense, Crispin slowly realizes that she may be the only thing worth fighting for...

The marvellous Meredith Duran—whether the plot is something you like or not—always weaves something so well-written that it leaves you breathless with her poetic prose and her sharp insights into human nature. That much is axiomatic and if the rating seems contrary to this, it’s only because I couldn’t buy into the romance and the circumstances under which Jane Mason and Crispin Burke were brought together.

Still, I had to stop from time to time in admiration of how Duran writes.

In fact, the first pages were brilliantly absorbing. I loved Jane’s steely will, the quest for independence and the plotting that provided her the opening that allowed her to escape the oppressive thumb of her uncle, all pitted against the cunning and cold manipulations of Crispin Burke. But after Crispin’s amnesia, I’d initially thought her actions showed a desperate woman trying to take flight; after that however, I thought they made her a hypocrite. That deception carried and drove this romance all along wasn’t something I liked at all (and which was something that Jane let go of in small doses).

The romance between Jane and Cripsin—the hard, unyielding man—before the accident was what I wanted to read, and not the man who suddenly seemed to ‘turn good’, as was the (rather unbelievable) implication that the knock on the head could be so strong as to be personality altering. That Jane wanted to separate the Crispin before and the Crispin after his amnesia never sat well with me, and this was only addressed towards the very end only, which I thought could have been acknowledged way earlier—that this was the same man still, an anti-hero, the schemer that was equally deserving of a HEA and whose machinations were precisely what she wanted while never admitting she needed that part of his personality for her own ends.

That said, Duran hasn’t stopped being my gold standard for 21st century historicals. If I don’t read enough of her works, that’s just all on me.

two-stars

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

Bitter Spirits by Jenn BennettBitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett
Series: Roaring Twenties #1
Published by Berkley Sensation on January 7th 2014
Pages: 317
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three-stars

It’s the roaring twenties, and San Francisco is a hotbed of illegal boozing, raw lust, and black magic. The fog-covered Bay Area can be an intoxicating scene, particularly when you specialize in spirits…

Aida Palmer performs a spirit medium show onstage at Chinatown’s illustrious Gris-Gris speakeasy. However, her ability to summon (and expel) the dead is more than just an act.

Winter Magnusson is a notorious bootlegger who’s more comfortable with guns than ghosts—unfortunately for him, he’s the recent target of a malevolent hex that renders him a magnet for hauntings. After Aida’s supernatural assistance is enlisted to banish the ghosts, her spirit-chilled aura heats up as the charming bootlegger casts a different sort of spell on her.

On the hunt for the curseworker responsible for the hex, Aida and Winter become drunk on passion. And the closer they become, the more they realize they have ghosts of their own to exorcise…

‘Bitter Spirits’ is a huge departure from the type of books I normally go for in this genre. But having had this on my to-read list for a long time, I’m somewhat glad I made that plunge into San Francisco’s bootlegging Prohibition era that’s seemingly riddled with Chinese mystics, ghosts that waft through the alleys as strongly as the odours of Chinatown and shady characters who look for séances and exorcism exercises. The atmosphere and the whole set-up with more than a tinge of the paranormal in the beginning pages drew me in, as did the climatic ending that I thought fell a little too easily into a HEA when I was itching for Winter to be on his knees.

I loved Aida Palmer from the start—as I always do when it comes to the independent, spunky woman who has always made her way in life alone despite it all, enchanted by what she does and how she does it for a living. But if I liked how Jenn Bennett wrote Aida, her handling of Winter somehow put me off him.

In fact, the biggest problem I had here was with Winter himself, who blew hot and cold so easily (he resembled the kind of mood-swing-ridden ‘hero’ from Victorian or Regency romances of old) and I’d wished Aida had taken the fight to him more directly instead of caving to his ‘handsomeness’ and his big body and his apparently bountiful erections, particularly when he’d said awful things to her and pretty much behaved in a manner that warranted more than a grovelling apology—which he never gave. That she had to face his old sexual liaisons was gag-worthy for me at least and that did actually down my own impression of his character.

The pacing did lag a bit in the middle, as did their roundabout search for the curse placed on Winter, not helped by the bloated number of scenes that seemed to catalogue how often  they took in each other’s bodies—sometimes at the most inopportune times—and detracted from the issues that both Aida and Winter needed to talk out between them—which again, did not happen. The long and short is, my excitement fizzled out somewhat after the impressive opening pages and I’m going on to the next book with a bit more caution.

three-stars

Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman

Love on the Edge of Time by Julie A. RichmanLove on the Edge of Time by Julie A. Richman
Published by Julie A. Richman on November 13th 2017
Pages: 264
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two-stars

He likes whiskey and wild womenShe likes Ben & Jerry’sHe’s about to get kicked out of his own bandShe ate her way off the Miss America pageant circuit

What could these two possibly have in common?

A psychiatrist A lot of unresolved issuesA whole bunch of shared lifetimesAnd a love that is never-ending

As bad boy rocker, Jesse Winslow, and former pageant queen, Kylie Martin, each fight the demons screwing up their lives, the one person who holds the key to healing their ills and reuniting two souls that have searched for one another, lifetime after lifetime, is the only one who knows the whole truth.

And keeping that truth from them may just be in preeminent psychiatrist Dr. Claire Stoddard’s best interests.

Claire has committed the ultimate sin in the medical world. She’s fallen for the one man she’s forbidden to love.

Her patient, Jesse Winslow.

And she’s not about to lose him to Kylie Martin... Again.

Truthfully, I don’t quite know quite how to write this review, only that I picked up this book because it felt as though there was an interesting and fairly unusual premise to it.  Julie A. Richman’s writing reminded me of the early days delving into historical/paranormal romances with stories like Jude Deveraux’s Remembrance coming to mind (damn, has it been that long?!) and the background definitely intrigued me.

The idea that 2 lives are entwined throughout history typically lends a sense of the inevitability of a star-crossed pairing of 2 people destined to find each other but always pulled apart for some reason. It’s a deeply romantic notion, heightened probably by bittersweet tragedy that comes each time the separation occurs, though objectively, you can probably extrapolate that the story happening in the present is simply a cog in the larger turning wheel of time, yet another version of the pairing at this point in time and bound to repeat some time in the future. The nebulous addition of a third person makes it less so, however.

What I hadn’t expected was a growing fascination with the idea of past lives emerging through a psychiatrist, who in part played a role in this growing love triangle, or that I couldn’t quite shake my dislike of or have any sympathy for the overindulged, narcissistically entitled and hypocritical rocker (who dared call out his girlfriend on cheating when he’d done it himself too many times) who did things without any thought about the consequences. I’m guessing that my inability to like the modern-day iterations of the protagonists—it was difficult to get past Jesse’s flakiness and Kylie’s unexpected vicious streak along—diminished the magnitude of the ‘fated-across-time’ romance along with the head-hopping that happened throughout, which got disorienting at times.

The historical parts however, kept me engrossed, so I do find myself torn between the loving the grand idea of having star-crossed lovers fated throughout (along with the strong message sent out about body image and identity) and not really liking the contemporary version of this pairing, along with the ’triangle’ and the other woman scenario.  That alone, quite clearly places me in the minority here. If anything, ‘Love on the edge of time’ is an unconventional one and even if I’m on the fence about it, it’s not to say other wouldn’t (because they do, judging from the other glowing reviews) love this read.

two-stars

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Next Year in Havana by Chanel CleetonNext Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton
Published by Berkley Books on February 6th 2018
Pages: 336
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five-stars

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity--and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution...

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba's high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country's growing political unrest--until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary...

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa's last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba's tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she'll need the lessons of her grandmother's past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

The Cuban revolution and this transitory time of change are wholly unfamiliar to me, but ‘Next Year in Havana’ brings it all to life through broad, sweeping strokes that tell parallel stories of a woman’s journey out of Cuba and her granddaughter’s journey back there nearly 60 years later.

Chanel Cleeton’s precise yet lyrical prose rolls through constant reiterations of the resilience of memory and all the versions of Cuba that emerge through every character’s eyes. Marisol Ferrera and Elisa Perez’s fervent (and doomed) love affairs might be wrapped up in the city’s fading glory and the wire-tight tension of impending upheaval, yet these star-crossed lovers seem merely a metaphor for the Cuban individual’s love unending love affair with his/her country—it’s just how effortlessly their romances have been woven into the backdrop of revolution, reform and change.

It’s that curious strain of hope that can’t ever die—and perhaps the eternal yearning for something that they can’t have—which seems to be the poignant and loudest message that Cleeton brings across in this enthralling read. Like in many stories of revolution, the academics and thinkers (and the women who stay hidden in the shadows) matter—it’s brain over brawn, passion over looks—and they bear the burden of carrying the mantles of heroes and or the swords of villains. Sometimes both. Marisol’s and Elisa’s voices are as much tethered to their love of their country as they are tied to their love for their revolutionary men, but it’s also the selfsame passion and emotion that Pablo and Luis carry in their intellectual rhetoric that had me mesmerised from start to finish.

‘Next Year in Havana’ isn’t a book that lets bygones be bygones, after all. Yet the story’s power lies not quite in the galvanising force of political dialogue or the hard, dirty work of nonviolent change but in loss, tragedy and the love that came incidentally—the untold stories that were left by the wayside because bigger things eclipsed these. So when Cleeton told them, I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, swooning. And I might have also shed a tear or two.

five-stars

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare

The Duchess Deal by Tessa DareThe Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare
Series: Girl Meets Duke #1
Published by Avon on August 22nd 2017
Pages: 370
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four-stars


When girl meets Duke, their marriage breaks all the rules…

Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:- They will be husband and wife by night only.- No lights, no kissing. - No questions about his battle scars.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:- They will have dinner together every evening.- With conversation.- And unlimited teasing.- Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

Not having dipped my wick into historical romances in yonks, it always surprises me to see how much of an ‘updated’ feel—writing style, dialogue and characterisation—they have for contemporary readers who balk at anything that’s got a whiff of anti-feminism. In fact, this probably strays quite far from what history books say but I’ll readily admit that these reinterpretations (so to speak) are probably better suited to me.

‘The Duchess Deal’ is my first Tessa Dare book and it was quite a ride. The plot isn’t the most original, but there is something in the execution of it that kept me amused, laughing and enraptured. I dug every moment of Ash’s and Emma’s spirited banter—again, very much like a rom-com with a very creative use of some archaic words to boot—and found myself surprised at every turn because the protagonists just didn’t do or say the things I expected them to even though it bordered the ridiculous and unbelievable in certain parts.

But frankly, Ash was hilarious. Over the top. Sometimes extreme, but in the comedic way that doesn’t quite delve into the dark tormenting pit of despair and end-of-the-world angst that these heroes can sometimes be written into. So if he’d given Emma good time, I daresay he gave me an even better one. I’m sold, then, if only for this gruff, scarred, sarcastic wordsmith whose ability to make me laugh is so much more than his appearance.

four-stars

Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter

Beauty of the Beast by Rachel L. DemeterBeauty of the Beast by Rachel L. Demeter
Series: Fairy Tale Retellings #1
Published by Rachel L. Demeter on March 15th 2017
Pages: 342
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three-stars

A BEAST LIVING IN THE SHADOW OF HIS PAST
Reclusive and severely scarred Prince Adam Delacroix has remained hidden inside a secluded, decrepit castle ever since he witnessed his family’s brutal massacre. Cloaked in shadow, with only the lamentations of past ghosts for company, he has abandoned all hope, allowing the world to believe he died on that tragic eve twenty-five years ago.
A BEAUTY IN PURSUIT OF A BETTER FUTURE
Caught in a fierce snowstorm, beautiful and strong-willed Isabelle Rose seeks shelter at a castle—unaware that its beastly and disfigured master is much more than he appears to be. When he imprisons her gravely ill and blind father, she bravely offers herself in his place.
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
Stripped of his emotional defenses, Adam’s humanity reawakens as he encounters a kindred soul in Isabelle. Together they will wade through darkness and discover beauty and passion in the most unlikely of places. But when a monster from Isabelle’s former life threatens their new love, Demrov’s forgotten prince must emerge from his shadows and face the world once more…

Of all the fairytale retellings, the Beauty and the Beast ranks as one of my favourites, which is why I pounced on ‘Beauty of the Beast’, which frankly, feels more like Phantom of the Opera than Disney’s happy version of it.

A deeply-scarred prince, a tragic past, his talent with music…and his search for redemption after 25 long years comes in the form of a not-too innocent woman (thankfully) whom he credits for turning him back from beast to man, even though his physical appearance never changes. By and large however, there isn’t much deviation from Disney’s version as is there some borrowing from the best book I’ve ever read on the [book:Phantom|190507], with a huge (and maybe unnecessary) amount of descriptive prose that pits his suffering against Isabelle’s otherworldly goodness and beauty.

Or maybe I’ve just become a cynical witch in my reading career.

Don’t get me wrong though. It’s not a bad retelling at all – I particularly liked the gritty, edgy bits and the steamy scenes that escape the sanitised version – but the purple prose got to me at times. There’s no enchantress or curse, no rose petal that falls before love is declared, yet there are multiple and heartfelt confessions of love once both Adam and Isabelle get over his scars. The moral of the story is that love still looks beyond the physical and from then on, it’s a matter of straightening the path for their HEA after taking care of the tiresome aristocrat with dad and mum issues. The story nonetheless kept me up late, and though not quite enough for a hangover, it’s still something, right?

three-stars