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Surrender of a Siren (Tessa Dare, Wanton Dairymaids #2)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
I had three problems with this book: it starts off too slowly (in terms of character development and explanations), it’s on a boat (pirates and that subgenre of historical romance is not something I’m a big fan of), and it’s not quite as charming as the first in the series. On the other hand, we’ve got an interesting cast of characters: from a young farm boy on his first sea voyage to the hero’s half-brother, whose mother was a plantation slave, balanced by some very sensual scenes and protagonists who, though immediately drawn to one another physically, do end up taking their time, revealing themselves, and getting to know one another.  It’s fun and lighthearted without being particularly memorable (or my cup of tea).

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Ways to be Wicked (Julie Anne Long, Three Sisters #2)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Quick to read, but also easy to forget, this was a moderately enjoyable tale about a beautiful ballerina who travels from France to find her long-orphaned sister. There’s quite a bit of suspension of disbelief required to get through the first section: that Sylvie, famous and renowned ballerina who has literally taken a prince as a lover, chooses to travel to London alone, with just a little money that is immediately stolen by highwayman, and then throws herself at the mercy of a theatre/semi-exotic dance club owner she’s happened to meet on the coach. But… once you get past that, there are a lot of interesting and whimsical interactions — the hierarchy of the dance company, the lovers they take, the silly bawdy rhymes they put together and sing. The romance happens almost as a casual backdrop, and is ultimately one of the less interesting, less believable parts of the story. Still, it’s fun, fast, and though there are a lot of plot twists to swallow, it’s outside the box enough to be an enjoyable read.

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November Author Spotlight: Lisa Kleypas

Lisa Kleypas

One of my favorite historical romance authors.

Strengths:

1.     Really well developed and individuated characters – Kleypas’s heroines range from being fiercely independent and strong-willed to quiet and demure; they are authors, actresses, American heiresses and members of the British aristocracy.  Her men range from being Bow Street Runners to well-informed, socially progressive earls, to Russian princes, former thieves, and gypsies.  They are each unique and memorable and almost always go through a believable character arc of growth and development.

2.     Wonderful settings and details that help us become well grounded in the era.  In Kleypas’s novels, you know that you’re in the Regency era not only because there are balls and waltzes, but also because there are details about a developing railroad, mass manufacturing soap, wars and propositions that are being debated, as well as a lush landscape that is in the backdrop.

3.     Well-written, sensual love scenes that progress. I read somewhere that not all lovemaking scenes should be interchangeable within a particular novel, and that’s definitely true for Kleypas.  There is a rising crescendo to her lovemaking scenes (for most of her novels), so that it feels like not only a physical experience, but part of the characters’ emotional development, which makes the scenes far more interesting and compelling.

 

Weaknesses:

1.     Kleypas will sometimes focus a little more on the dramatic aspects of a particular story – particularly because some of her heroines are escaping an arrange marriage or something in their past, there are quite often villains.  And with villains comes things like attempted rape, attempted kidnapping, even murder – and that’s not for everyone.

2.     Some of my least favorite Kleypas novels (almost all amongst her earlier works) have details that are a little too much for me.  Ultimately, I read romance because I want escapist fiction.  When I’m told that one character was almost raped when he was a child sent on a prison boat, or another was a man-whore who made his fortune bribing former lovers and robbing graces, that’s a little too much realism for me… at least within the Regency era.

3.   She’s not really a humorous author… though she occasionally writes a very memorably light-hearted scene, when she tries for outright humor, it’s sometimes cringe-worthy (but this happens very rarely)

4.     The titles have nothing to do with the stories!!! This is a tiny, tiny little nitpicky point, but just as Kleypas always has memorable characters, her titles almost always feel just slapped on.  I can easily tell you the differences between Merripen and Westcliff, Sir Ross and Christopher Phelan – I can remember which one was brooding, which was a widower, which had a dog and which was described as being striking, but not quite handsome.  BUT – if you tell me just the title of any one of her novels, even odds I’ll have no clue, because half the time, there is no relationship between the words (like Autumn or Spring), and what actually happens in the book!!!  This can make trying to recommend one of her works to a friend particularly frustrating!

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Stranger in My Arms (Lisa Kleypas)

1 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
The premise of this story is ultimately its most interesting feature – a mysterious man claiming to be the dead earl shows up to reclaim his old life… and wife. It’s not really much of a mystery: though there are people who are convinced that “Hunter” is the lost earl, we as the reader are told fairly early on that he’s an imposter.  The problem is that neither of our protagonists ever feels fully developed: our hero spends too much time pretending to be someone else for us to get a sense of who he really is, and our heroine has a penchant for charity that feels like her only redeeming quality.  There are so many worthier books out there (many by Kleypas!) that I just can’t recommend this.
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One Dance with a Duke (Tessa Dare, Stud Club #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
She’s the supposedly overlooked, almost matronly, spinster who loves nothing better than to embroider and plan menus; he’s the irresistibly mysterious duke who rarely shows his face in society.  It’s that unlikely combination of rake and wallflower that shows up a little too often in regency romance.  Add in a dash of murder and an obsession with horseflesh that is probably believable for the time period but not at all my thing, and I didn’t really expect to like this book. Except it’s actually fun, interesting, and well written. Dare is great at miring the readers in scenes that are long enough to really see character motivations and growth arcs, and though they still occasionally surrender to stereotypes and misunderstandings, overall, this is a sweetly sensual, often humorous romance whose characters take deft, surprising turns just as you’re about to lose faith in them…
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The Duke and I (Julia Quinn, Bridgertons #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Definitely one of Quinn’s stronger works, this is an excellent introduction to her Bridgertons series We have the “Devastating Duke,” who is arrogant partially because he has had to overcome a traumatic childhood (father who ridiculed and ignored him because of his stammer), paired expertly with Daphne, the beautiful but usually overlooked beauty who has grown up surrounded by a boisterous, loving family.  They’re a very nice pairing in part because their backgrounds are so different, one bringing warmth and mirth to the other’s much colder, more solitary existence.  There is definitely some let’s-escalate-this-fight back and forth during the last one-third of the novel that keeps it from being a perfectly reviewed novel for me, but Quinn’s sense of humor (only sometimes over the top), and her deftness at drawing these characters saves it, making it a fun and refreshing read.

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A Secret Love (Stephanie Laurens, Cynsters #5)

5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This is Laurens at her best – an engrossing blend of mystery, an especially well characterized heroine, and of course, her trademark steamy sensuality.  Though Laurens’s characters are always attractive and intelligent, they sometimes feel a little interchangeable; this is one of the few examples to the contrary.  Alathea is a twenty-nine-year-old spinster who willingly sacrificed the possibility of marriage to become the titular financial head of the family and Gabriel, though he’s a little more of the stereotypical strong, protective, masculine trope, is nonetheless engaging enough to follow.  You need to take a small leap of faith at the set-up: that Alathea and Gabriel are childhood friends, but when she needs his help, she comes to him in disguise (one that he doesn’t see through).  Once you do, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how well their dual day/night relationships develop, and be engrossed in what is a very enjoyable read.

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Scandal in Spring (Lisa Kleypas, Wallflowers #4)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This book has a lot of trademark Kleypas strengths – interesting character development, great dialogue, sensual lovemaking, and an engaging supporting cast.  It is not my favorite within her four-book Wallflowers series, and there are some uneven bits, but Daisy and Matthew are well developed, engaging characters, and a couple of their interactions are particularly memorable (and very, very re-readable).  This is a little less of a standalone book relative to the rest of the series, which is one of its weaknesses.  As the conclusion to the Wallflowers, time is given to reviewing how each of our other three heroines have fared, which does take away from how developed our protagonists are.

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Suddenly You (Lisa Kleypas)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Not my favorite work by Kleypas – though still worth the read.  Suddenly You definitely is the quickest-to-seduction-scene I’ve ever seen in a historical romance.  The characters feel genuinely interesting and outside the norm  – Amanda Briars is an author from the country who decides to hire a male prostitute through an infamous madam in order to lose her virginity on her thirtieth birthday, and Jack Devlin is a ruthless publisher from an abusive background who is both fascinated and terrified by the temptation Amanda presents.  They are almost intimate by the end of the first chapter, and though Kleypas lets us take a step back and get to know the characters in the later chapters, this book seems particularly driven by the physical attraction between the two, a shame because (especially by the end, spoilers below) it almost gets in the way of the more compelling emotional arc that develops.
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Heartless (Kat Martin)

3.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
A slight twist on the Faustian bargain, Heartless is a rather serious, borderline melancholy romance about a fourteen-year-old tenant’s daughter who agrees to become a lecherous earl’s mistress in exchange for a lady’s upbringing/education.  The earl dies in the first couple chapters, leaving Ariel to fulfill the pact with his bastard son. They’re both, in some ways, social outsiders trying to carve out a place for themselves within a more rigid British hierarchy – but unfortunately, this particular aspect remains a little underdeveloped.  Nonetheless, there are interesting villains and murderous side plots to go along with the more expected lovers’ misunderstandings.  Martin’s a talented writer, and you’ll care for both characters by the end… it’s just a little darker and perhaps thus a little less repeatable than other offerings.

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