The Complete Reading List by Author

Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful 2012 – 2015

On reading romance: Emotional Version and Pseudo-Intellectual Version.

I buy everything these writers publish. Click on their name to be taken to a summary of their catalogue: Tessa Dare;  Laura Florand; Lisa Kleypas; Julie Anne Long; Sarah MacLean; Courtney Milan (Milan is The. Very. Best.)

Recommended books are in bold and reviewed books are linked below, but here is a ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list: So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance…, and these are Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels.

Alexander, Victoria Love with the Proper Husband (Marcus/Gwen)
Alexander, Victoria Lady Amelia’s Secret Lover novella (Robert/Amelia)
Alexander, Victoria The Prince’s Bride (Rand/Jocelyn)
Alexander, Victoria The Importance of Being Wicked (Winfield/Miranda)
Alexander, Victoria Lord Stillwell’s Excellent Engagements novella (Winfield/Felicia&Lucy&Caroline)
Ashe, Katharine In the Arms of a Marquess (Ben)
Ashley, Jennifer The Madness of Lord Ian MacKenzie (Ian, not surprisingly/Beth) – GENRE OUTLINE
Ashley, Jennifer Lady Isabella’s Scandalous Marriage (Mac/Isabella)
Ashley, Jennifer Many Sins of Lord Cameron (Cameron/Ainsley) – GUILTY PLEASURE
Ashley, Jennifer The Duke’s Perfect Wife (Hart/Eleanor)
Ashley, Jennifer Mackenzie Family Christmas: The Perfect Gift (Ian, Mac, Cam, Hart)
Ashley, Jennifer The Seduction of Elliott McBride (Elliott/Juliana)
Ashley, Jennifer The Untamed Mackenzie novella (Lloyd/Louisa)
Ashley, Jennifer The Wicked Deeds of Daniel Mackenzie (Daniel/Violet)
Ashley, Jennifer Scandal and the Duchess novella (Steven/Rose)
Ashley, Jennifer Rules for a Proper Governess (Sinclair/Roberta “Bertie”)
Ashley, Jennifer Bodyguard (Shifters Unbound) novella (Ronan/Elizabeth)

The list has gotten SO VERY LONG, please click on the jump.

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Author Commentary & Tallies Shameful

Shortcuts: A ruthlessly streamlined recommendations list So You Want to Read a (Historical) Romance; an ALPHABETICAL READING LIST SORTED BY AUTHOR; and these are Things That Occur to Me While Reading Historical Romance Novels.

My Autobuy List (with Links That Will Take You to a Summary of the Author’s Catalogue)

Tessa Dare
Laura Florand
Lisa Kleypas
Julie Anne Long
Sarah MacLean
Courtney Milan – The. Very. Best.

2015 READING LISTS: Recommended books are in bold.

The (Shamefree) Tally 2015

  1. Gabaldon, Diana The Exile: An Outlander Graphic Novel  Illustrated by Hoang Nguyen

The (Shameful) Tally 2015

  1. Balogh, Mary The Proposal (Hugo/Gwen)
  2. Balogh, Mary Only Enchanting (Flavian/Agnes)
  3. Burrows, Grace Douglas, Lord of Heartache (Douglas/Guinevere)
  4. Callihan, Kristen The Hook Up (Drew/Anna)
  5. Callihan, Kristen The Friend Zone (Gray/Ivy)
  6. Darcy, Norma The Bluestocking and the Rake (Robert/Georgiana)
  7. Dev, Sonali A Bollywood Affair (Samir/Mili)
  8. Dune, Lyla Low Tide Bikini (Brock/Sam)
  9. Falkner, Tammy Tall, Tatted, and Tempting (Logan/Kit)
  10. Florand, Laure A Rose in Winter novella (Raoul/Allegra)
  11. Florand, Laura Once Upon a Rose (Matthieu/Layla)
  12. Florand, Laura All’s Fair in Love and Chocolate novella (Simon/Ellie)
  13. Florand, Laura All for You (Joss/Celie) read The Chocolate Touch first
  14. Grant, Cecilia A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong  novella (Andrew/Lucy)
  15. Guhrke, Laura Lee Catch a Falling Heiress (Jack/Linnet)
  16. James, Eloisa Desperate Duchesses (Damon/Roberta)
  17. James, Eloisa An Affair Before Christmas (Fletcher/Poppy)
  18. James, Eloisa Duchess by Night (Jem/Harriet)
  19. James, Eloisa This Duchess of Mine (Elijah/Jemma)
  20. James, Eloisa A Duke of Her Own ( Leopold/Eleanor)
  21. James, Eloisa The Duke Is Mine (Quin/Olivia)
  22. James, Eloisa The Ugly Duchess (James/Theo)
  23. James, Eloisa Three Weeks with Lady X (Thorn/India)
  24. Jaymes, River Brad’s Bachelor Party (Brad/Cole)
  25. Jaymes, River The Backup Boyfriend (Alec/Dylan)
  26. Jaymes, River The Boyfriend Mandate (Memphis/Tyler)
  27. Kennedy, Elle The Deal (Garrett/Hannah)
  28. Kennedy, Elle The Mistake (Logan/Grace)
  29. Kelly, Carla With the Ring (Sam/Lydia)
  30. Kelly, Carla Marrying the Captain (Oliver/Nana)
  31. Kelly, Carla The Surgeon’s Lady (Philemon/Laura)
  32. Kelly, Carla Marrying the Royal Marine (Hugh/Polly)
  33. Kelly, Carla The Admiral’s Penniless Bride (Charles/Sophia)
  34. Kelly, Carla The Wedding Journey (Jesse/Nell)
  35. Lauren, Christina Beautiful Beloved novella (Max/Sara)
  36. Lauren, Christina Beautiful Secret (Niall/Ruby)
  37. Lerner, Rose Sweet Disorder (Nick/Phoebe)
  38. Linden, Caroline When I Met My Duchess novella (Gareth/Cleo)
  39. Linden, Caroline All’s Fair in Love and Scandal novella (Douglas/Madeline)
  40. Long, Julie Anne It Started with a Scandal (Phillipe/Elise)
  41. Lund, S.E. The Agreement (Drake/Kate)
  42. Merrow, J.L Muscling Through (Al/Larry)
  43. Montgomery, L.M. The Blue Castle (Valancy/Barney)
  44. Milan, Courtney Trade Me (Blake/Tina)
  45. Quinn, Julia The Secrets of Sir Richard Kenworthy Smythe-Smith Book 4 (Richard/Iris)
  46. Phillips, Susan Elizabeth Heroes Are My Weakness (Theo/Annie)
  47. Reid, Penny Friends Without Benefits (Nico/Elizabeth)
  48. Reid, Penny Beauty and the Mustache (Drew/Ashley)
  49. Reid, Penny Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise
  50. Reid, Penny & L.H. Cosway The Hooker and the Hermit (Ronan/Annie)
  51. Simonson, Sheilia Bar Sinister (Richard/Emily)
  52. Ward, JR Dark Lover (Wrath/Beth) – WORST OF THE YEAR

Reviews of Pre-2015 Reads:

  1. Ashley, Jennifer Rules for a Proper Governess (Sinclair/Roberta “Bertie”)
  2. Dare, Tessa How to Catch a Wild Viscount (Luke/Cecily)
  3. Dare, Tessa Say Yes to the Marquess (Rafe/Clio)
  4. Donati, Sara Into the Wilderness  (Nathaniel/Elizabeth)
  5. Florand, Laura Shadowed Heart (Luc/Summer)
  6. Milan, Courtney Talk Sweetly to Me (Stephen/Rose)
  7. Quinn, Julia Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (Colin/Penelope)
  8. Quinn, Julia It’s in His Kiss (Gareth/Hyacinth)

Name Tally June 27, 2015: Simon (9); Alec/Alex (8); James (8); Michael (8); Sebastian (7); William (7); Robert (6); Daniel (5); Jack (5); Benedict, Charles, Colin, Duncan, Edward, Gareth, Harry, Ian, John (4); Andrew, Blake, Gabriel, Jackson, Julian, Lucien, Marcus, Phillip, Phin/Finn, Rhys, Richard, Stephen, Tristan (3); and only one David.

To Be Read Pile/More Author Commentary… Continue reading

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery

All her life, Valancy Stirling has lived on a quiet street in an ugly little house in northern Ontario, Canada and never dared to contradict her domineering mother and unforgiving aunt. The deeply squelching kind of small town life L.M. Montgomery describes for Valancy is one that I recognize as Canadian, but of course is universal. To escape her life of quiet desperation, Valancy has created a world apart for herself called “The Blue Castle”. This private realm in which things are beautiful and she has value has changed and grown with her since childhood and now, at the age of 29, it is her intellectual and emotional sanctuary.

When Valancy receives a shocking letter, she takes the reins of her life, doing what she wants to, saying what she feels, and refusing to bend any longer to her repressive existence. Given the setting and early twentieth century time period, this rebellion consists of changing churches, refusing to participate in her maddening family dynamics, and becoming employed. Her so-called loved ones are the kind of people who feel Valancy’s life is careening out of control because she said “darn” and therefore almost swore, so when she takes is a step further and marries a local man of poor, but unproven, reputation, her family is so scandalized that they fear for her sanity and disown her. Delightfully, Valancy soon discovers more fulfillment and adventure than she ever thought possible, including someone to love and the modest, true, real-world version of her Blue Castle.

L.M. Montgomery is famous for her Anne of Green Gables, Avonlea, and Emily of New Moon books. I am an Anne devotee and many of the lovely elements of those stories are present in this sweet, adult romance. Montgomery is a wonderfully evocative writer with a light touch for setting a scene and painting a landscape. So much of this story is about Valancy reveling in her environment and simple day-to-day activities, but Montgomery portrays it all with lyrical, measured prose. The window to Valancy’s world is just captivating.

As someone from Ontario, I have been to Muskoka where Valancy lives. It is incredibly beautiful and this book made me terribly homesick for its geography. Being Canadian also gave me a layer of familiarity with the characters. Ours can be a severely Protestant culture, leery of being overly enthusiastic,  making a fuss or drawing attention to oneself, and with an absolute horror of self-confidence and pride. Shown in this context, Valancy’s quiet, incandescent joy in her new life, as well as her deep-seated insecurities, felt very real.

I have a list of favourite and classic romances that The Blue Castle has been added to. When I first dove into this genre, the classics were all around for me to find and for people to recommend. As I read on, the flood of truly great and new-to-me romances has slowed to a trickle. Discovering a book like the Blue Castle is such a treat.  Links to my other reviews can be found on my complete reading list of books sorted by author or Author Commentary & The Tallies Shameful.


blue castle

Eloisa James’s Desperate Duchesses Series: Desperate Duchesses, An Affair Before Christmas, Duchess by Night, This Duchess of Mine, A Duke of Her Own, Three Weeks with Lady X

Tired of waiting for new books from authors on my autobuy list and even more tired of trying random new authors, I waded into the back catalogue of one of the most successful writers in the historical romance genre. Eloisa James has been publishing steadily for sixteen years and my crash course on her novels moves her comfortably to my B+ List. That means I am unlikely to pay for her books, but will read them if they are available at the library, or very cheaply for Kindle. My friend, Rochelle, an avid and long-term romance reader, described them perfectly, “Oooo. I like Eloisa James, but never as much as I feel like I ought to like her,” which is both succinct and accurate. James is a consistently good writer but, while her books are entertaining, they lacked emotional resonance for me. She gives good smolder, she’s witty, and not afraid of hijinks, but I felt no inclination to buy my own copies of these novels. On an up-note, some of these stories are set in the late eighteenth century which is a departure for me. On a down-note, I find the men’s costume of this period off-puttingly effete and the manner in which people flit to France only serves to remind me that their aristocracy had it comin’ and that the English lords could probably have used a housecleaning as well.

Thus far, I have read seven James books and six of them have the word “duke” or “duchess” in the title. Everyone in these books is securely entrenched in their status as titled, deeply monied, or likely both. Given this preponderance, I actually ventured to far off Wikipedia to find out exactly how many dukes there really are in the United Kingdom. It seems they are not so thick on the ground as James’s books would suggest.

The Desperate Duchesses Series:

  1. Desperate Duchesses – below
  2. An Affair Before Christmas – below
  3. Duchess by Night  – below
  4. When the Duke Returns
  5. This Duchess of Mine  – below
  6. A Duke of Her Own – below
  7. Three Weeks with Lady X – below
  8. Four Weeks with the Duke

Desperate Duchesses

In a world in which I am smarter, I would have read this book first instead of last as it lays all of the groundwork for the rest of the series. Lady Roberta has arrived in London looking for a husband – she has one in mind – and throws herself on the hospitality of her cousin umpteen times removed, Jemma, Duchess of Beaumont. Also in residence are Jemma’s estranged but co-habitating spouse; Jemma’s brother Damon, Marquess of something; and Damon’s illegitimate six-year-old son.  Coming and going from the house are men who wish to consort with Jemma including the Duke of Villiers who also has a prominent role in the series and meets his match in book six, A Duke of Her Own.

Desperate Duchesses is somewhat of a farce and kind of comedy of manners with people flirting and consorting, and playing chess which has a strong subtext of consorting and flirting. The love story of Damon and Roberta took a secondary role to the other events. Chapters would go by without a single appearance. It made for a decent read, but not the amount of romance I was looking for, despite all of the wit and repartee on display.

An Affair Before Christmas

This entry into the Desperate Duchesses series made me particularly grateful for my public library as if I had paid for An Affair Before Christmas, I should have been most put out. I read most of the novel, but I admit to skipping swathes of it and I must tell you that in doing so I don’t believe I missed any significant content. The story could have been a slow burn, but instead was a sluggish fizzle. It’s a shame because I actually really liked the main characters, especially the heroine, just not their book.

Poppy and Fletch (as in Duke of Fletcher) fell instantly in love and got married in a rosy glow. Unfortunately, despite their mutual attraction, Poppy’s mother and the way in which she had molded her daughter interfered with Fletch and Poppy’s sex life. Poor Poppy tries to be perfect for everyone around her, but always fails. Fletch is devoted to her, but after several years of marriage he is both worn down and het up enough to seek a mistress. An outburst of frustration from Fletch leads to his abandonment by Poppy and then the inexorably slow pace of their reunion. The novel drags this on and on. Any interesting character development is lost to the “on and on” factor.

The Duke of Villiers’ storyline continues its thread through this novel. It’s interesting, but distracting, and, like the other elements in An Affair Before Christmas moves at a glacial pace.

Duchess by Night 

Harriet, Duchess of Berrow, widowed and bored with behaving herself, sees fit to venture to the endless house party of Lord Justinian (Jem) Strange. Not willing to court the scandal that would result in the discovery of her attendance, she decides to travel disguised as a man. Only her friends and fellow revelers, Leopold, Duke of Villiers and Isidore, Duchess of Something, know the truth. When Villiers encourages their host to make a man of the milquetoast Harriet is pretending to be, hijinks ensue.

Harriet’s manliness lessons – fencing, riding, ale and roast beef for breakfast – are quite entertaining as is the juxtaposition of debauchery and sensible home life that Jem is attempting. He has a daughter he adores, but is raising somewhat ineptly in a salacious atmosphere he is genuinely, but wrong-headedly, doing his best to protect her from. Harriet breaks through the depraved illusion Jem has created and helps him overcome his antipathy towards the aristocracy, or at least against this particular member of it.

I found Duchess by Night very enjoyable when I read it. James’s writing has a kind of elan that creates a breezy atmosphere and often uses witty turns of phrase, but there are no scenes that really stayed with me after I finished the book. “Enjoyable, but not memorable” is the theme of these reviews.

This Duchess of Mine 

I freely admit that This Duchess of Mine never really caught my interest and I read through it quite quickly. If I had read Desperate Duchesses first instead of last, I would have gotten a lot more out of this book. I may need to revisit it.

The Duke and Duchess of Beaumont (Jemma and Elijah) were betrothed by arrangement, married, and quickly, scandalously estranged. Nine years later, Jemma has had a lovely time gallivanting about and creating a naughty, mostly false, reputation for herself. Elijah reappears in her life when it is time for an heir. Jemma is willing to reconcile, but their reunion is complicated by their respective secrets.

My strongest memories of this novel are that there is a lot of chess and that series regular Villiers  makes another memorable appearance. He traipses through several of these books being brilliant and roguish whilst advancing the plot or adding to the merriment.

A Duke of Her Own

Of the six Eloisa James books I have read, this is one I would recommend along with The Duke Is Mine.

Eleanor wanted to be a duchess. Not just any duchess, mind you, she had just the duke in mind. Unfortunately, he married someone else and left her behind. Now there is only one unmarried duke left in all the land, Leopold, Duke of Villiers, and he is a man of well-earned notoriety and spectacular fecundity. Villiers, for his part, has realised it is time to settle down and take care of his family and future. He has two options in the aforementioned Eleanor, and Lisette. The latter is also the daughter of a duke and eccentric in the way that falls short of institutionalization, but requires a close eye be kept on her. Events unfold at Lisette’s family estate as Eleanor and Villiers dance around each other.

Despite being 15 years younger than him, Eleanor is a mature, appropriate, and delightful companion for Villiers. Their love story was very entertaining in a romp sort of way; moreover, waiting for Lisette’s inevitable loss of her sh*t kept a hum of gleeful anticipation going.

Three Weeks with Lady X

At this point, the Desperate Duchesses series jumps ahead about 15 years to a book featuring Villiers’ son Tobias, now inexplicably called “Thorn”, and his efforts to marry a nice lady while counting on his unimpeachable wealth to override his bastardy (which is literal and not metaphorical). To help him in the process, he hires the Regency’s version of a professional organizer and interior designer, Lady Xenobia India. She takes the challenge of making his newly acquired home acceptable to the top drawer, but impecunious, young lady who he has chosen as his potential bride. India puts Thorn’s house and heart in order.

As with the other James books, Three Weeks with Lady X was frequently very funny and not particularly memorable. The leads had great chemistry and bantered well, James even managed a not-terribly-annoying plot moppet and made India’s competition likeable, but I didn’t find myself revisiting any scenes. As with many romance novels, it had a nonsensically condensed timeline which is fine for the falling in love aspects, but the idea of decorating a manor house in three weeks in 1812 strained all of my credulity.

Some story choices in these books were ones I had not seen very much before. James seems to enjoy a protracted estrangement and has no qualms about infidelity therein. I found this honest because I have never, not for one second, bought into the “I kept myself only unto you” trope in books involving healthy people in their prime who are apart for extended periods of time.

I have also reviewed The Duke Is Mine and The Ugly Duchess from James’s Fairy Tale 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 which includes the aforementioned observations.

The Proposal and Only Enchanting by Mary Balogh

Mary Balogh’s lovely and touching Survivor’s Club series has what I am beginning realise is the central theme of many of her historical romances: Shuttered and broken people finding new lives and unexpected happiness. Who better to be given these second chances than soldiers and those who have seemingly lost everything? Six friends, five military men and one women, and their host, formed a close relationship while recovering from their experiences in the Napoleonic Wars at Pendarris Hall in Cornwall. Now back out in the world, each book features a group reunion as the six protagonists find love. The stories I have read so far have a sincere sweetness and while the characters have all been through the wringer, the stories are not maudlin and Balogh shows a deft touch in sharing their trials without wallowing in them; moreover, despite the potential for drama, her leads act so consistently as mature adults, even ones befuddled by love’s appearance on their doorstep, that any potentially overwrought elements are managed well.

The Survivor’s Club Series:

  1. The Proposal
  2. The Suitor – novella
  3. The Arrangement
  4. The Escape
  5. Only Enchanting – see below
  6. Only a Promise – June 2015, but I’m going to take a Balogh break
  7. Only a Kiss – September 2015

The Proposal

One would think that the eponymous proposal would a small element in a book, but this book’s title is pretty accurate as to its content. The main characters, Hugo and Gwen, come from different worlds and this tension, “We can’t, can we? Maybe a little? No, it won’t work, but maybe it will” is central to the story.

Gwendoline is a widow in her early 30s settled down into a quiet, happy life as the family member beloved of adults and children alike. Visiting a recently widowed friend, she falls and is rescued a la movie Willoughby by Hugo, Lord Trentham. Recently “elevated” to the peerage, he was a career military man lauded for his work on the battlefield and, having recovered from his war wounds, looking for a wife. How convenient! As she is hurt, Gwen must stay at the great house of the Duke hosting Hugo and the Survivor’s Club. Hugo and Gwen spend time together and are drawn to each other even as they are reluctant to give up their expectations of what their lives should and will be.

Only Enchanting

Flavian, Viscount Posonby (I know, but he is aware it is an absurd name and comments on it himself.) was left seriously wounded, but visibly unscathed, during his war time experience. He had a brain injury to his language centers and he needed to learn to process and produce language again when brought home. Three years on, he has recovered speech except for an occasional stutter and his memories are largely in tact. The latter is hard for him to determine as how can one sort out what one does not know?

At a Survivor’s Club reunion, Flavian is brought together with an unassuming local widow, Agnes Keeping. They are drawn to one another and, even though she feels out of her depth, Agnes agrees to marry the seemingly louche, blond god of a man in one of the few impulsive decisions of her life. When they travel together to London, Flavian’s family, neighbours, and former fiancee are all lying in wait to pounce on him for his hasty marriage. This brings Agnes and her new husband to an instant crisis which they sort through, despite some bumps, in a mostly mature fashion.

The Proposal and Only Enchanting were sweet without being treacly, dramatic in a grounded and unhistrionic fashion, the characters are sensible adults, and the dynamic of the six core characters is a great source of character detail and humour. While I don’t rank the novels as great (though that might change as I adored Flavian), I would say that they are very good and I recommend finding them at your local library.

I have reviewed two other books in this series: The Arrangement and The Escape. Balogh has other popular series and her novel Slightly Dangerous is, to my mind, a classic of the genre.

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

Eloisa James’s Fairy Tale Series: The Duke Is Mine and The Ugly Duchess

Eloisa James’ Fairy Tales series includes nine historical romances based around twists on the stories we learned growing up. The two I read were The Princess and the Pea (The Duke Is Mine) and The Ugly Duckling (The Ugly Duchess). I don’t feel a burning need to read more of them, but I might depending on what else is, or more accurately is not, available at the time.

The Duke Is Mine

Olivia and Georgiana have spent their lives in “duchess training”. Owing to an agreement made in boyhood by their father, Olivia has been promised in marriage to a duke’s heir. Being the spare, Georgiana was trained as well – and more successfully than the outgoing Olivia.  Now that she is 23 and her unofficial fiance 18, the families come together to sign the betrothal papers. While unhappy with the match, Olivia is prepared to do her duty by her family and agree to marry Rupert. He is a nice enough young man, but more enamored of his dog than Olivia and while not actually intellectually-challenged, he has compromised abilities and attendant social issues. Big-hearted and kind, Rupert aspires to the military glory he feels is his family’s destiny. Freshly engaged, Rupert goes off to war, while Olivia and Georgiana travel to the estate of the Duke of Sconce (Quin) in the hopes that the younger sister will end up with a ducal spouse as well. Olivia enters the house late a night, soaking wet, and disheveled. Quin takes one look at her and is a goner which, as you can imagine, is more than somewhat inconvenient.

There is a playfulness to The Duke Is Mine that is very welcome, a whimsical tone that is successfully maintained even when the going gets rough. The an air of unreality – different form the normal, anticipated disconnect in romance – was rather charming and I really enjoyed Quin and Olivia fighting their attraction, giving in for a second, and trying to get themselves back on the straight and narrow. Despite the lightness of these aspects, James does give serious weight to the character’s stories, Quin’s in particular, and the whole thing rolled over in to an adventure that took the plot in a surprising, but necessary, direction. I enjoyed the The Duke Is Mine, but also have to admit to skimming a bit when the aforementioned adventure was underway.

The Ugly Duchess 

Like The Duke Is Mine, The Ugly Duchess makes a sharp turn partway through the story.

From Amazon: Theodora Saxby is the last woman anyone expects the gorgeous James Ryburn, heir to the Duchy of Ashbrook, to marry. But after a romantic proposal before the prince himself, even practical Theo finds herself convinced of her soon-to-be duke’s passion. Theo would have given it a lifetime . . . until she discovers that James desired not her heart, and certainly not her countenance, but her dowry. Society was shocked by their wedding . . . and is scandalized by their separation.

Eloisa James is not afraid of a plot involving a protracted separation and, after falling for each other as young adults, marrying, and becoming almost immediately estranged, Theo and James find themselves as grown ups who have built interesting lives for themselves and now must reconcile not only their past, but their present as well. Truth be told, it does not take particularly long. I really liked Theo and James was just fine. He gets to be the sensitive young lover and the warrior bent on winning back his wife. James leaves a boy, but comes back a man and that sort of thing.

If, like me, you are looking for something in the genre to read, you can do worse than Eloisa James, but you can also do better. I find that while I enjoy her books they don’t really inspire any lasting impression or a desire to revisit 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 which includes the aforementioned observations.


Heroes Are My Weakness by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

This right here is a contemporary comic Gothic romance novel.  Equal parts Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Northanger Abbey, and likely other nineteenth century novels, mostly British, that I should have read while at university, Heroes Are My Weakness features a tortured hero, an innocent in over her head, schemes, machinations, a forbidding landscape, and a surprisingly unannoying plot moppet.

Unemployed, impoverished, sick, and freezing, Annie has arrived on an island off the coast of Maine in January to take up temporary residence in a small cottage. Owing to inheritance stipulations, Annie must occupy the small house for 90 days each year. Failure to do so will make possession of the cottage revert to the larger estate on which it sits. The main house is occupied by Theo, her childhood love and tormentor, as well as his beleaguered housekeeper. Theo is brooding, brusque, and the kind of person who, in the dead of winter, decides to ride his horse shirtless. (Note: Theo is shirtless, not the horse, the horse is wearing a frock coat.) Essentially, Theo is Mr. Rochester if there was a much less freaky explanation for his conduct.

Annie settles in and, as is the way of Susan Elizabeth Phillips books, forms a community around herself, an improvised family. Off-island, she is a ventriloquist who teaches lessons to school children using her puppets. On-island, the puppets are along for the ride and represent elements of her personality,   chiming in with opinions and unhelpful information. It is as twee as it sounds, but Phillips kinda, sorta pulls it off as she is very good at being simultaneously sincere and whimsical. Plagued by intrusions at her cottage, Annie and Theo draw closer as they sort out the threat to her safety, work through their issues, and untangle their pasts.

Heroes Are My Weakness was mostly enjoyable and, as expected from Phillips, frequently laugh-out-loud funny, but there was a lot going on. The sundry machinations of just about every character get pretty thick on the ground and it felt like everyone had a big secret and ulterior motives. On the whole it worked reasonably well, but Phillips has other books I would recommend more highly.

Also by Susan Elizabeth Phillips:

  1. It Had to Be You
  2. Heaven, Texas
  3. Nobody’s Baby But Mine
  4. Dream a Little Dream
  5. This Heart of Mine – only Kresley Cole has ever made me angrier
  6. Match Me If You Can
  7. Natural Born Charmer – This is the book I recommend more highly.

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

Low Tide Bikini by Lyla Dune

Low Tide Bikini was free and yet somehow overpriced. I genuinely respect people who complete writing a book, and in this case a series, but the accomplishments of writing a book and writing a good book are two very different things. Lyla Dune’s writing is clichéd and facile, the plot and characters sophomoric. If it is the work of a teenaged writer, I commend the effort, if not, it’s unsuccessful escapism, a Lifetime movie of a novel.

From Amazon: Sam Carlisle is the double bass player in the all girl jazz ensemble, Bikini Quartet. When she breaks down on the drawbridge, a panty-melting-muscle-man, who she later discovers is her new landlord, comes to her rescue. Brock Knight is a retired rugby player from Wales. He’s eager to get away from the paparazzi that hound him day and night. When he moves into his new beach house on Pleasure Island, North Carolina before Sam has a chance to relocate, he learns the proper way to shag.

Rather than go into the story, characters, and their respective downfalls, I have decided to give you a look at just one scene as an example, specifically Sam and Brock’s relationship consummation. After some standard romance novel comeheregoaway, they are ready to take their love to the next level, which is good as Brock, despite being a grown-ass man, has trouble controlling his bodily reactions in Sam’s presence. They adjourn to her bedroom to get it on. Once there, Brock turns Sam away from the bed to face the dresser. Throughout the event, he is behind her and she always has, as I recall, either one or both knees up on said dresser. I have some queries I believe to relevant:

  1. How tall is the dresser?
  2. How wide is it? How deep?
  3. Is it part of a set?
  4. Is it a chifforobe? (I just wanted to use the word “chifforobe”.)
  5. Is it well built? As well-built as Brock?
  6. What is the dresser made of? Is it wicker?
  7. If it is wicker, wouldn’t that hurt Sam’s knees, potentially pinch, and/or have those little pokey edges from broken reeds?
  8. Is the pinchy, pokey wicker dresser also creaky?
  9. Is the dresser made of wood? If so, are the edges squared or rounded? Sharp edges could really hurt, especially the corners.
  10. Did the wicker and/or wood dresser leave marks on Sam’s skin?
  11. Is there a mirror? Is her head bumping into it?
  12. Does Sam keep a lot of things on top of the dresser? Are they rattling?
  13. Is the top slippery?
  14. How does Sam keep her balance?

Like this love scene, the story elements in Low Tide Bikini masquerade as sexy fun, but are poorly thought out and thrown together. Spare your eyes the rolling and skip this 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 which includes the aforementioned observations.

Friends Without Benefits and Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise by Penny Reid

These are books two and six from Penny Reid’s Knitting in the City series:

  1. Neanderthal Seeks Human
  2. Friends Without Benefits – see below
  3. Neanderthal Marries Human (novella)
  4. Love Hacked
  5. Beauty and the Mustache
  6. Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise (novella) – also below
  7. Happily Ever Ninja – 2015

Friends Without Benefits

I enjoy the unrequited love trope, especially as the romance genre always allows for the besotted character’s vindication, but having said that, Friends Without Benefits was just okay and not as good as the others in the Knitting in the City series, although I did welcome the visits with other characters from the novels. As with the other books, there was a subplot that took a turn into high drama even though Reid is so good with the relationships it was unnecessary.

Elizabeth is a doctor completing her residency and is winding up her pediatric rotation. She is paged to a consultation for a Cystic Fibrosis study and finds herself face-to-face with a man she is has known her whole life, but hasn’t seen for 11 years. Nico Moretti is the son of her mother’s best friend, the uncle to the sick child, and both the former bane of Elizabeth’s existence and the boy she summarily dumped right after losing her virginity to him.

Nico has made a life for himself as model and then successful stand-up comedian called The Face (an odd juxtaposition to be sure). He has a TV show in New York, but is visiting Chicago to help care for his niece. He takes one look at Elizabeth and realises this is his chance to win the woman he has always loved. Capitalizing on the CF study and his fame, he makes sure his niece gets the best possible care and that Elizabeth never leaves him again.

While Friends Without Benefits had Reid’s usual wry humour and smolder, it never really clicked for me. Despite strong chemistry, I just wasn’t invested in Elizabeth and Nico.

Scenes from the City: A Knitting in the City Surprise

Some readers must have complained about the lack of [insert funky  bass line here] in the novels as this addition to the series consists of follow-up chapters on the couples including some bedroom time and an extended excerpt from the upcoming book Happily Ever Ninja.

Neanderthal Seeks Human’s Janie and Quinn are on their honeymoon doing what honeymooners do. There is no new information, just Janie acting in her usual charming offbeat way and Quinn appreciating both her intellect and the way she looks in a bikini.

Love Hacked’s Alex and Sandra have been married for a year and are blissfully in love. For their anniversary, Alex arranges a special adventure for Sandra. This chapter had no smolder and benefited from it.

Nico and Elizabeth’s follow up to Friends Without Benefits addresses their wedding and its aftermath. As the books are told from the women’s perspectives – with the hero’s perspective in a final chapter – this episode was indirectly covered in both Neanderthal Marries Human and Friends Without Benefits.

The end of Beauty and the Mustache (which I really liked) had protagonists Ashley and Drew agreeing to be together in Tennessee, but she was still living in Chicago. Here, she waits in her empty apartment for Drew to come and pick her up for the drive to her new home. While impatiently waiting, she revisits the letters he wrote to her during their time apart. Drew arrives, they get busy, the end.

Ninja at First Sight excerpt from Happily Ever Ninja

Part of the delight of the Knitting in the City series is the group of female friends the stories are built around. Only one of them was married at the outset, Fiona, and she has been with her husband Greg for over a decade. This sneak peek takes the reader back to when they met at university. Fiona was a competitive gymnast who lost several of her teen years to fighting a brain tumor. Greg takes one look and is very interested, but he is also older and more worldly than she. Smitten, Fiona crushes on Greg and he on her while they both keep their distance. After a drunken confession and a sobering night’s sleep, they start to talk, and then kiss, and then the damn excerpt ends and leaves the reader hanging. I don’t normally like the married couple falling in love all over again stories, but I strongly suspect Happily Ever Ninja will make it onto my reading list when it is released.

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


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