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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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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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His at Night (Sherry Thomas)

2.5 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Thomas’s romances are creative, interesting and intelligent — her characters talk of inveigling one another, postulate about art and politics, and debate internally about their prurient thoughts.  This particular novel is no different: we have two well-crafted lead characters, both of whom are thespians (he is an agent for the crown and assumes a facade of staggering idiocy, and she is living under her malicious uncle’s thumb, hoping only for freedom for herself and her aunt).  She traps him into marriage, he is suitably angry, cross purposes, misunderstandings, et cetera.  It may just be me, but there is something about Thomas’s writing which leaves me a little cold — her characters are a little too hard-edged, and though this book at least had enough humor and sensitivity, I find her novels more admirable than enjoyable.  I can read it and say: yes, this was clever, well-plotted, and shows and impressive range of vocabulary with a good attention to detail… but it doesn’t really draw me in. Her books have enough awards and reviews that there must be an audience, and I don’t exactly regret reading this, but I found the book more exhausting than entertaining: the characters, though interesting and larger-than-life, are a little too much, somewhere between superhero and Don Diego, the villains, despite the eventual explanation, a little too one-sided devil, and the plot twists… mostly tiring.

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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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How the Marquess Was Won (Julie Anne Long, Pennyroyal Green #5)

3 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
This whimsical Cinderella story between a dashing, trend-setting marquess and a somewhat plain schoolmistress who reforms recalcitrant young girls is an enjoyable and entertaining read that is mostly good… but definitely not great.  Long has a wonderful sense of humor and wit, and the dialogue between our main characters is handled quite well, with references to a variety of literature and mythology, so that we can be duly impressed with the breadth and depth of their knowledge.  The main problem is that Long seems to sometimes get carried away with her own cleverness: some of the incidents with cats, tripping waltzes, and forelocks feel farcical and pull the reader out of an otherwise engaging novel.  Still, it’s a slightly above average historical romance, and is worthwhile for those of us who have run out of other options.

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Prince of My Dreams (Lisa Kleypas, Stokehurst #2)

2 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Prince of My Dreams is part fantasy, part romance, split into several sections The initial courtship and marriage between Emma and Nikolai happens rather quickly.  Their interactions are interesting but underdeveloped — part way through the book we flashback in time seeing Nikolai in his great, great, great grandfather’s body, falling in love with Emelia (his great, great, great-grandmother), implying that they are reincarnated soul mates.  I like fantasy, and I like romance, but this was an odd integration of the two and felt more like different novels competing for attention as opposed to a functioning fantasy romance It  falls under the I-don’t-regret-reading-it-but-there-are-better-options-out-there camp.
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