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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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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.


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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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.


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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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.
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.
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?


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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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.


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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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.


The Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne

Posted in Historical Romance/ Reviews 11th November 2016
The Highwayman by Kerrigan ByrneThe Highwayman by Kerrigan Byrne
Series: Victorian Rebels, #1
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks on September 1st 2015
Pages: 384
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Dorian Blackwell, the Blackheart of Ben More, is a ruthless villain. Scarred and hard-hearted, Dorian is one of London’s wealthiest, most influential men who will stop at nothing to wreak vengeance on those who’ve wronged him…and will fight to the death to seize what he wants. The lovely, still innocent widow Farah Leigh Mackenzie is no exception—and soon Dorian whisks the beautiful lass away to his sanctuary in the wild Highlands…

But Farah is no one’s puppet. She possesses a powerful secret—one that threatens her very life. When being held captive by Dorian proves to be the only way to keep Farah safe from those who would see her dead, Dorian makes Farah a scandalous proposition: marry him for protection in exchange for using her secret to help him exact revenge on his enemies. But what the Blackheart of Ben More never could have imagined is that Farah has terms of her own, igniting a tempestuous desire that consumes them both. Could it be that the woman he captured is the only one who can touch the black heart he’d long thought dead?

Rarely do I venture into the historical romance world anymore, unlike the way I only read them…back in the day, when it was customary for men to be rakes and women as blushing virgins despite their fiery tempers and it all ends richly, wealthily happy ever after. But not being able to get anything contemporary to hold my attention, ‘The Highwayman’ seemed like a good and random dip back into it.

And it was an awesome read, for most part, but I suspected it appealed precisely because it read very much like a 21st century re-invention of the Victorian romance, complete with an anti-hero (no badly-behaving Dukes or Earls or Viscounts here because their aristocratic statuses allow them the liberty) who is as black as sin, the raunchy language of today’s sexy times and a spit-fire sassy woman who could probably run for a place in political office if she wanted. Kerrigan Byrne’s unapologetic portrayal of the king of the underworld and the rediscovery of his soulmate was enthralling and the reason for his cruelty towards others underscores just how much he had been stripped of dignity when it all began. That Byrne wrote a heroine to match is remarkable: one who never gives up, with the right balance of naïveté and sass that apparently proves sufficient to even turn the blackest heart around, even if the thought of loving a jaded, cynical man back into wholeness seems like a cliché to an equally cynical reader like me.

(It’s smartly done, nonetheless, leaving me with the burning but probably insignificant question of how Dorian’s eyes changed colour.)

The dramatic—sometimes overly so—descriptions got on my nerves a bit towards the end because I could only laugh at the elevated way both Farah and Dorian thought about their emotions always bursting at the seams. But I was still captivated by how Byrne put away the polite rules of Victorian society here to write by her own instead, leaving me never feeling out of place in a period that should be suffocating me with corsets, manners and stuffy shirts.


Lessons in Loving by Peter McAra

Posted in Advanced Reader Copy/ Historical Romance/ Netgalley/ Reviews 5th January 2016
Lessons in Loving by Peter McAraLessons In Loving by Peter McAra
Published by Harlequin Enterpises AU on January 1st 2016
Pages: 170
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Wanted: Governess. Properly qualified in English, to instruct male pupil in rural location. Sydney, 1902. Desperate for a job, Kate Courtney travels to the faraway New England Ranges to interview for a governess position. She is greeted by wealthy landowner, ruggedly handsome Tom Fortescue, and is shocked to find that her new charge isn’t a small boy—but the grown man. It was Tom’s mother’s dying wish that he find a refined, elegant, English bride to marry. But a country man with country manners can never win a lady fair. Tom needs Kate to smooth away his rough edges, make him desirable to the English rose he wants to marry. But the more time Kate and Tom spend together, the closer they become, and Tom has to decide between the dreams of his childhood, and the reality that is right in front of him.

Wealthy landowner Tom Fortescue is in dire need of a governess to correct his language in order to win the hand of a high-brow English lady. Fresh out of teacher’s college, Kate Courtney’s ambitions have led her to rural New South Wales, but definitely not to a charge that turned out to be a strapping man who makes her knees weak. But the aristocratic English woman’s arrival signals to Kate that her contract is coming to an end and the heart she’s lost along the way to her charming pupil could never quite be regained when she finally walks away from Tom.

Sweetly written, with all the wholly innocent and proper mannerisms I’ve come to expect from Regency England coupled with rakish Australian charm, ‘Lessons in Loving’ explores the definitions of the gentleman, countrified behaviour and the Australian gentry along the way but is thankfully not as dire and bleak as any Dickensian treatise on social norms. I laughed my way through, thoroughly enjoyed that age-old dance Tom and Kate did without really realising it and simply allowed myself to be taken away by the descriptions of the bustling wharves and the panoramic splendour of the countryside.

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