Best Selling Romance

Historical Romance

Becoming Lady Dalton by Carrie Lomax

Becoming Lady Dalton*

Potentially Interesting Novel Marred by Errors and Inanity

The last couple of years of Viola’s life, the heroine, have been a mad swirl of changing circumstances. Widowed after having been married for around 15 years, she finds herself nearly destitute, coming back to her extended family with an eight-year-old son and her sister. Soon, the sister is courted and wed by an earl. Living with her grandmother and her younger sister no longer her responsibility, Viola is now in much better circumstances, at least in terms of connections and having a roof over her head. She decides to come to town to enjoy the season. In the first scene, she happens to meet a man she knew previously at a modiste’s establishment. They banter for a bit as his young daughter is getting her clothes. Viola is, and has been, attracted to him since their earlier meeting the previous fall, but she knows she is not a good prospect for the widower as she was a farmer’s wife and is four years older than him; she also has concerns about her ability to have another child, and he still needs an heir. However, in the first chapter narrated by him, he reveals that he feels an attraction to her and actually sees her as an ideal wife. He intends to convince her to marry him.

The book had some unusual problems. I doubt the book was copyedited because there was a fair amount of repetition in the description of Viola’s background in two places relatively close to each other. There seems to be some confusion about the names of places as well; where she is from is given two different names, and one of them is misspelled. The language of both the exposition and dialogue felt stiff and stilted at times but was in other places too casual for this kind of historical romance. Some situations and ideas presented did not ring true to Regency fiction. There was even one rather bizarre phrase that was a mishmash of cliches. Ever heard of an inexperienced person describe themselves as “green-behind-the-ears”? Please, if you’re ever green behind the ears … see a doctor!

Redeemed Unto Freedom by Journey Jackson

Redeemed Unto Freedom*

Love and Order in the Classroom

Melissa Kettering, from Baltimore, makes the journey to Clear Water, Montana, after the deaths of her husband and child to start a new life as a school teacher. Rob Forrester is the schoolmaster in Clear Water. While they get along personally, they have some differences of opinion about how to handle order in the classroom. Will Melissa soften Rob’s ways? Or will he demand that she be more like him? As they come to know each other, will romantic sparks fly?

This book has more than the typical issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage. Commas are problematic. The book takes place in Montana in the 1870s. Yet the author uses words and phrases that are more modern and seems jarring in the context of the story. For instance, Rob initially referred to Melissa as Ms. Kettering. The use of the title *Ms.* is a more modern invention; she would have been called Mrs. Kettering. There are lots of awkward phrases and juxtapositions, and the dialogue doesn’t sound natural. Their journey to love was not shown in a way that made it seem believable.

The Spring Duke by Jillian Easton

The Spring Duke*

An American Heiress Shows Up on a Duke’s Doorstep

Athena, the heroine, is an American who sails for England with the plan to marry a duke, spurred on by her great-grandmother’s love letter from the current duke’s great-grandfather. She shows up on an auspicious day, when the duke requires a new governess. The widower’s headstrong daughter has frightened away nannies and governesses from a young age. He, of course, thinks Athena is ridiculous in her proposal, but rather than turn her away to go back to Boston, he sees a way out of his present predicament. He offers her the position of temporary governess until he can find a “proper” one; the last governess had told him that he had gone through all available ones at her agency. The two do have a near-instant attraction, but the duke fights it.

What will the daughter think of her temporary governess? Will Athena have come to England only to be eventually sent home? Will the duke start to see her as his future duchess?

The author has an excellent ear for writing humor. Both the duke’s and Athena’s perspectives show wit, dry in the duke’s case and snarky and bold in Athena’s case. It was fun to watch the turns of their minds and read the banter. Athena had an affinity for Victoria, the duke’s daughter, as she sees so much of herself in the young girl.

I recommend this quick, witty read.

Coven at Callington by Shereen Vedam

Coven at Callington*

Witch Wars, Intrigue, and Romance in Fantastical Regency England

Fresh from fending off an attack by hellhounds, Guard of the Green Cross–a secret arm of the Anglican Church meant to handle evil forces and entities if they rise from darkness–the Earl of Braden gets new orders from the Archbishop that are directly opposed to a central tenet of the guard’s code: do not interfere in disputes between witches and warlocks. Centuries ago witch hunts blackened the name of guards (then known as knights), so meddling is now forbidden. Braden has been tasked with retrieving the son of a warlock, who was supposedly taken by a demon, as well as destroy the coven in the area. More is happening at Callington than Braden imagined, and he is more than tempted to enlist the aid of the coven protectress, Merryn, to help figure it all out. Merryn believes that the same warlock who killed her younger brother has taken the boy.

Will Braden succeed in rescuing the boy? What exactly is going on between the warlocks and witches in Callington? Will Braden risk his position to follow what he knows is right? Will he fall for the coven protectress?

The author has done a fantastic job of creating a magical version of Regency England. I love how the first scene in Regency times a flame in a streetlight is talking! I literally did a double take to see if I was reading correctly! There are other magical elements as well, some of which are not truly explained until later. I thought the idea of having this secret group of guards under direct orders of the Archbishop of Canterbury was inspired. Braden is a complicated, fascinating hero to watch wrestle with right and wrong, on both personal and professional levels.

With elements of fantasy, the paranormal, intrigue, and romance . . . what’s not to like!

I received a free copy of this book via Booksprout and am voluntarily leaving a review.

Mr. Darcy’s Feigned Courtship by Elizabeth Goodrich

Mr. Darcy's Feigned Courtship*

In this unusual Pride and Prejudice variation, Darcy proposes not in Kent but at Netherfield while Jane is recovering from a much more lengthy illness then she has in canon. As is normally the case, Elizabeth is surprised by this, and of course, rejects him vehemently. But this is not the last she will see of Mr. Darcy. She visits Charlotte in Kent. After a few weeks there, she is drawn into a scheme to throw a ball for Lady Catherine’s 50th birthday. As she, Mr. Collins, Charlotte, and Anne are discussing this, Mr. Darcy shows up. Soon, Darcy and Elizabeth are working together on a joint task for the ball, spending much time together to Darcy’s delight and Elizabeth’s initial dismay.

The proposal scene at Netherfield was shown in flashback as Elizabeth approaches Rosings. I thought that the author wrote dialogue that didn’t feel realistic on a couple of different levels. At times, it seems to be trying to mimic Regency patterns, but it didn’t quite work out, feeling stilted. At times, too, the characters would speak for a bit before switching to the other character. If you are familiar with the original, you know that Jane Austen only occasionally had these kinds of protracted soliloquies. Rather, she preferred a quick back and forth for conversation. I would have liked to have seen this scene written more in that less blocky, more rapid-fire way.

I also thought that Elizabeth quite often behaved inappropriately. She at times takes Darcy to task with the shrewishness that one would expect from her mother, not the witty and insightful Elizabeth we know and love, and she does so in front of others, which would not be acceptable by Regency propriety standards. Also, there are quite often long stretches of narrative; I would have liked to have seen that more interspersed with dialogue for balance.

That being said, this was an enjoyable variation on the typical story. I particularly enjoyed the idea of bringing in an important person from Lady Catherine’s past. It was funny to watch Lady Catherine’s reaction to all that Anne and crew put into place.

Daring the Detective by Riley Cole

Daring the Detective*

Mismatched Pair Seeks Answers

Zadie, the heroine, is immediately uneasy when she comes to the Restitution League to ask them to take her case. She was expecting to find fellow thieves and other reformed criminals, not a police detective. Not quite sure whether to trust sharing the full story with the Sweets and the detective, she ultimately decides that her aunt’s life is more important than the possibility of arrest. Her aunt has gone missing under suspicious circumstances, and she fears that her business of retrieving stolen objects has led one of her victims to strike. Detective Caleb, the hero, believes he knows her type and suspects she is keeping details from them. The League does take up her case, but will everything change when other law enforcement believe that Zadie is not only involved in her aunt’s disappearance but also in her murder? Will romantic sparks fly between this honorable detective and a tarnished lady?

For those who read the two previous books in the Restitution League series, it will come as a surprise that this book is not about one of the Sweets. After all, Briar still hasn’t met found her mate. The writing in this book is not quite as snarky and humorous as the first two books, but this read about a very mismatched pair who have a hard time trusting each other in the face of danger is a compelling one. Detective Caleb puts his career in jeopardy, and Zadie’s very life may hang in the balance.

The Benefits of Extensive Reading by Lory Lilian

At the time of this writing, only available at Amazon.

The Benefits of Extensive Reading**

So-so Story Plagued by Egregious Errors

Titles of Jane Austen fan fiction often arise from famous quotes or phrases from the original book. I’ve seen a variety of them, but I don’t think I’ve seen one that had to do with this particularly infamous quote of Mr. Darcy’s when he said that a woman should improve her mind through extensive reading.

Reading that sets off the romance in this book. Unlike in canon, where Elizabeth and Darcy spend a half hour reading but not conversing while in the Netherfield library, in this version the couple accidentally gets locked into it after midnight after an inebriated Mr. Hurst broke the doorknob. They aren’t alone for long; Bingley and Mr. Darcy’s valet find them.

Of course, Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth that if anything gets around about this incident he will marry her to save her reputation. He has the shock of his life when she tells them that not only would she not marry him even in such a circumstance, but she doesn’t like him at all.

Bingley is an interesting character in this particular variation. In regard to Jane, he is a stronger man than he is in canon and in most JAFF versions. But he keeps slipping up and nearly giving away that Darcy and Elizabeth were locked in a room together.

Will Bingley be able to keep his mouth shut? Will Darcy be able to make Elizabeth fall in love with him?

There are some things I found annoying in this book, and I’ll mention the smallest ones first. The initial displeasure for me was when Mr. Collins spread his incorrect facts about Mr. Darcy being engaged to Ann; it is just one of those flat devices that we often see in P&P JAFF. At least in this version, he did so deliberately, not accidentally, as he already had designs Elizabeth and was trying to blacken Darcy’s reputation for her. This did cause Elizabeth some distress, of course. The other disappointment was the nearly superfluous Wickham who was brought in but very late in the story, somewhere around 60%. Funnily enough, I had recently written a guide for my editing blog about looking at your writing from a developmental level, and I actually stated in that post make sure your villain doesn’t come in two-thirds of the way through your novel! (If you surf to the guide, it is in the Analyze Your Reverse Outline section.) At least, Wickham ends up to be a minor nuisance, which was refreshing, as again Wickham can be overdone in these variations.

The most annoying and frustrating part of the book was the utter and complete lack of copyediting and proofreading. I’ve seen a lot of badly edited books, but this was one of the worst. A variety of errors–and a lot of them–including some I’ve never seen before. Sometimes words were repeated right next to each other. Sometimes ending punctuation was left off. Quotation marks were either placed too often in the same line of dialogue or not place at the start of dialogue. There were spacing issues both around periods (for instance, no space between the period after Mr. and the Bingley following it in one spot) as well as around en-dashes that set off certain parts of text. I believe the author is using the British way of that kind of punctuation, where a space should exist on either side of it, but quite often one of these spaces was missing, making the construction look lopsided. This is a well-known and well-loved author. I find it hard to believe that she can’t afford a good copyeditor or at least a proofreader.

In all I found this book to be disappointing. The story itself didn’t offer enough variation from what we see in JAFF, and the errors alone make it almost unreadable in parts. I was pulled out of the story so often that sometimes I felt like I kept reading just to keep watching the trainwreck.

Seducing the Scientist by Riley Cole

Seducing the Scientist*

Edison Meets His Match in Female Scientist

If you’re familiar with the first book of series about the Restitution League, you know about the cousins who are the core of it. This is Edison’s story, and has he ever met his match! The league investigates a case brought to them by a man who is clearly lying about it and find themselves embroiled in a need to protect a female scientist on the brink of sharing her world-changing discovery. Will the League be able to keep her safe? Will her invention fall into the wrong hands? Will others take credit for what she has done?

Just like the first book, I found this story to be delightfully well-written. In the parts narrated by Edison, he comes across as cocky, slightly jaded, and on the prowl for his next adventure or female. His commentary is often quite amusing, like when he said the heroine had “the delicacy of a stevedore,” which made me laugh out loud. Other sections are narrated by Philomena and Ada; the former is Edison’s sister who was the heroine of Book 1, and the latter is this book’s heroine. I love Ada. She’s a strong, smart woman who has taken care of herself and her grandmother while pursuing her interest in science. Ada is a smart cookie but vulnerable, too, especially in her dealings with men about whom she might have a romantic interest as well as those who would belittle her mind and discoveries.

Those who enjoyed Philomena’s and Spencer’s story in Book 1 will be happy to hear that we continue to see their relationship grow and flourish in this book.

This delightful series about the Restitution League is for readers who appreciate strong women, good-hearted rogues, witty internal monologue and external dialogue, and stories where good–even if in the guise of reformed criminals–triumphs over evil. Personally, I can’t wait for the next installment!

For whatever reason, this book is listed as Saving the Scientist on Goodreads.

The Butterfly by Victoria Vale

The Butterfly*

Exceptional Tale of Love’s Triumph over Madness and Despair

What a fantastic book by Victoria Vale! I was only familiar with her work from reading The Villain Duology, which I gave a four-star review to a while back. I had a sense from that book that I would enjoy this extension of the series, but I had no idea how moved I would be by it.

Note: This book definitely needs a trigger warning. If discussion of mental illness, drug abuse, drug withdrawal, child abuse, or sexual assault trigger you in any way or make you squeamish, then you should pass on this book. That said, the author deftly handles these delicate subjects.

This is stated to be a sequel to The Villain Duology, but I think it could be read either between the two books of the duology or after. Of course, if you read it between the two books of the duology, there are spoilers in this book; this book and the second book of the duology essentially take at the same time (except for the flashbacks), so either one could be read first. But you definitely need to read the first book of the duology before either of the others, as it sets up the two main characters in this book and gives a little bit of the background of their story.

This book artfully weaves the childhood and young adult past of the two main characters along with a contemporary plot taking place in Regency England when they are adults. For most of the book, these plots weave back and forth between past and present chapter by chapter, though at a certain point it switches only to the current Regency time.

We first meet ten-year-old Niall, our hero, as he enters his earl’s home with his father so the elders can discuss a pressing issue. This is the first time young Niall has seen any place beyond a stablemaster’s cottage, and he is transfixed by the opulence he sees. He cannot resist touching one of these beautiful items in the room, and when the elders try to get his attention, the item drops and shatters. Young Neil is ashamed. As he cleans this up, he secretes a tiny, perfect, but jagged portion within his sock. This is the same time that he sees Lady Olivia (we assume) for the first time. He is transfixed with her delicate nature. The jagged piece of porcelain becomes a metaphor in the story

As the children at the manor house grow up, they become friends. Niall, Olivia, and her stepbrother Adam play together, and Olivia even teaches Niall to read when she realizes that he is illiterate. As teenagers, Olivia and Niall have an attraction both know can go nowhere due to their relative stations, but they continue to act on it when they can.

In the modern Regency part of the story, Olivia–mentally broken after her rape and time in the asylum for unwed mothers–is in the deepest throes of madness and laudanum addiction when the story begins. After deeply slashing her wrists in order to feel anything, she determines that she will get off the laudanum even though that is what quiets her nightmares. We witness her harrowing withdrawal from laudanum and even her slipping back. I am an RN, and I thought the author did an exceptional job of showing the pain of years of nightmares and laudanum withdrawal.

Our hero, Niall, is a Scot through and through. But if you’re expecting a kilt-wearing and claymore-wielding Highlander, you will be disappointed. But you shouldn’t be; Niall is an exceptional hero. Yes, he is very rough around the edges, but that is understandable given the way that he grew up. But no matter his rough edges, he loves Lady Olivia and supports her through all of her struggles with the strength and the courage a brave knight, as Lady Olivia has always called him. Lady Olivia could ask for no better man to help support her through her years of madness and despair and still give love and affection as she heals and comes out of her fog.

My only complaint, if you could call it such, is that Lady Olivia did not call Adam to heel for his treatment of Daphne. As a young woman who was ruined in the most egregious way, she would be the only one who could shame him about his actions. If he were truly a loving brother, could he subject another woman to ruin as Olivia suffered? She did think about it and even spoke briefly to Niall about it, but she never confronted Adam.

While another author might dance around the sexual aspects of the story, Victoria Vale doesn’t shy away from telling about young Niall’s and Olivia’s youthful experiences, Olivia’s rape by Lord Bertram, and Olivia’s sexual reawakening. As I was reading the book, knowing the author’s style, I wasn’t sure how she was going to approach Niall and Olivia’s the first time, but she did so with emotional honesty and restraint, creating a scene in which Niall truly shows how much he comprehends Olivia’s struggle but still follows through as a loving and respectful man.

The author did a neat-and-tidy job of tying up the various plot lines of the story, even resolving threads I hadn’t realized needed to be. With the swift succession of scenes at the end, the author leaves the story on a triumphant note, so different than when the book started.

So long as the triggers mentioned above and explicit sexual content don’t bother you, you will find this book to be an exceptional, emotional read.

Surrendering to My Spy by Dawn Brower

Surrendering to My Spy*

Romance and Espionage in Regency England

The hero, Lord Dominic, Marquess of Seabrook, some years ago did a reverse Darcy with the only woman he has ever loved, telling her that she was the last woman he would ever marry. In his mind, he was doing this to protect her, as his job as a spy during the Napoleonic wars could put his loved ones in jeopardy. Lady Rosanna, the heroine, took this to Heart, and it has made her a more sad and reclusive young woman. Now, Dominic has one last mission to do, and then he can move on with the rest of his life. He is in great hopes that he can convince Lady Rosanna that they have always belonged together. To complicate matters, his last mission involves him staying as a guest at her brother’s home, where she lives.

Will Dominic be able to repair the damage he caused in their relationship? What exactly is happening at the brother’s home? Will secrets bring them together or tear them apart?

The book has some of the common issues with grammar, punctuation, and usage that are typical in books these days, but this did not detract from the enjoyment of the story. This is another book where I take slight exception to the cover (second one this week!); Regency ladies did not wear slouchy, off-the-shoulder gowns..

If you enjoy Regency romance with a little bit of espionage, this may be the book for you.

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Disclosure

The asterisks (*) by the book title denote the source of the book copy.

One star = I received it as a free advance/review copy.

Two stars = I borrowed it through my Kindle Unlimited subscription.

Three stars = I’ve purchased the book outright (sometimes for free).

All Amazon links are affiliate links, which means I get a tiny percentage if you decide to buy one of the books.

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