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Historical Romance

Bitter Spirits by Jenn Bennett

Posted in Fantasy/ Historical Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction/ Urban Fantasy 19th November 2017
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

Posted in Contemporary Romance/ Historical Romance/ Magic/Paranormal/ Reviews/ Speculative Fiction 15th November 2017
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

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Contemporary Romance/ Historical Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 11th October 2017
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

Posted in Historical Romance/ Reviews 28th August 2017
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

Posted in Fairytale/ Fantasy/ Historical Romance/ Reviews 16th March 2017
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

In the Eye of the Storm by Robert Thier

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Historical Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 26th November 2016
In the Eye of the Storm by Robert ThierIn the Eye of the Storm by Robert Thier
Series: Storm and Silence #2
Published by Robert Thier on June 6th 2016
Pages: 252
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four-stars

Egypt... land of romance, mystery, and exploding camels. Lilly Linton thought she'd be ready for anything after one month of working for her boss - cold, calculating businessman Rikkard Ambrose. But when they embark on a perilous hunt through the desert, she has to face dangers beyond anything she has encountered before: deadly storms, marauding bandits, and worst of all, a wedding ring!
Can the desert's heat truly be enough to melt the cold heart of Britain's richest financier?
With additional chapters from the perspective of Mr Rikkard Ambrose.

A grand adventure in Egypt, complete with bandits, a mysterious search for an enemy who seems to have a huge underworld of connections in his hand and an epic sandstorm bring Lilly and Ambrose ever closer. As always, Robert Thier’s special brand of humour is the storytelling’s prominent feature and never more so does ‘In the Eye of the Storm’ feel like a filmic narrative that’s like ‘The Mummy’ minus the paranormal bits. Instead, those are replaced by epic rides through the desert, endless kisses (though this are apparently done in under pretence and out of necessity) and several ridiculous, laugh-out-loud scenes that definitely require the suspension of disbelief.

I’ve come to think of Lilly/Ambrose as an ongoing TV ‘ship’ because it defies conventional romance pairing development at every turn, seeing as there seems to be no ending yet when it comes to the very interesting – but exhausting and frustrating – love-hate relationship that has developed between them. Where the sniping and insults do amusingly provide a convenient cover (and source of humour) for how they feel about each other, the tug of attraction between this pair is never quite admitted to, with both Lilly and Ambrose still very deep in denial as they attempt to rationalise away their smitten behaviour through increasingly hysterical mental reminders that they will never be attracted to someone they apparently despise.

The return to status-quo at the end of the book disappointed me however, with a resolution that went nowhere, especially with the ridiculous notion that Lilly would have been escorted back to England by a soldier who never questioned her inopportune appearances in Egypt and the lies he must have known she was telling. That Lilly and Ambrose returned to work in the ending chapter as though nothing had taken place left me equally dissatisfied with an ending worthy only of drama serials: to be continued.

four-stars

Storm and Silence by Robert Thier

Posted in Action/Adventure/ Chick Lit/ Historical Romance/ New Adult/ Reviews/ Young Adult 25th November 2016
Storm and Silence by Robert ThierStorm and Silence by Robert Thier
Series: Storm and Silence, #1
Published by Robert Thier on March 19th 2016
Pages: 596
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three-stars

Freedom – that is what Lilly Linton wants most in life. Not marriage, not a brood of squalling brats, and certainly not love, thank you very much!But freedom is a rare commodity in 19th-century London, where girls are expected to spend their lives sitting at home, fully occupied with looking pretty. Lilly is at her wits’ end – until a chance encounter with a dark, dangerous and powerful stranger changes her life forever...
Enter the world of Mr Rikkard Ambrose, where the only rule is: Knowledge is power is time is money!

An accidental meeting gets Lilly Linton a job as a secretary to the richest and probably most miserly man in England. It’s the start of an adventure for a woman ahead of her time, as she’s pulled into the current of the very mysterious, the very obsessed and the very attractive Rikkard Ambrose, whose strange but icy ways taunt her as much as they turn her on. Much of the plot continues in this vein: a wilful, headstrong feminist who thinks she knows all that the world can offer pitching herself against a chauvinist of sorts (but no more than the usual behaviour of men in Victorian times).

This book has stumped me and stumped me good. Considering ‘Storm and Silence’ was initially written as a weekly serial on Wattpad, its wince-inducing length is no surprise but the cliffhanger is. How could a story numbering 700+ pages in my e-reader be so engagingly full of adventure and humour but so lacking in character depth?

In short, it’s a book that’s full of contradictions, equally worthy of the effusive praise it has received, yet deserving of the scepticism that others felt about it. I was as much charmed as I was frustrated by a story that is by far from a perfect read, yet has parts that do come close to perfection. Its numerous comedic moments – helped along by several anachronistic expressions and hollywood-like funnies – have given me hours of amusement, yet the unceasing levity makes it difficult to take any of the actions scenes and the characters seriously at times.

And as much as I loved Robert Thier’s imprinting the contemporary woman’s mindset on Lilly Linton, her gumption and determination to be by Ambrose’s side grated on my nerves as well, when her naïveté plunges her into TSTL territory when it becomes clear she is so out of her element but continues to insist otherwise. Distracting subplots that I wasn’t entirely too interested in contributed to its mind-boggling length; the lack of character growth and a slow, slow burn between Lilly and Ambrose that never even came close to resolving the build up of sexual tension frustrated me to no end. By the time I’d gone three-quarters of the way through, I wondered if there was even going to be a time when Lilly would admit that falling in love didn’t mean a compromise of her ideals, as much as I wondered if I was ever going to know more about Ambrose beyond his stony, granite demeanour and his unflappable mien despite my reading so much between the lines.

That said, ‘Storm and Silence’ is a breath of fresh air and seeing as the saga continues quite enthusiastically, I’m cautiously joining its ranks.

three-stars
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