Almost a Scandal (The Reckless Brides, #1)

Almost a Scandal (The Reckless Brides, #1)

First Lines: It wasn’t the first time Sally Kent had donned a worn, hand-me-down uniform from one of her brothers’ sea chests, but it was the first time it had felt so completely, perfectly right.

When it comes to historical romances, the more unconventional they are, the more fun I tend to have with them. Sure, there are anachronisms in those kinds of stories, but they tend to have bold, interesting characters. And I’ve read a lot, but I was pretty sure this was going to be one of the boldest Regency romances I’d ever read.

For generations, the Kent family has served in the Royal Navy and made an honorable name for themselves. So when Sally’s brother refuses to report for duty, Sally decides to put on his uniform and take his place. Boarding the Audacious is the adventure of a lifetime for her, especially since the sea has always been Sally’s life. She’s as able a soldier as any of the other recruits–better, even. There’s only one problem. Lieutenant David Colyear, the man whose duty it is to protect the ship, sees through Sally’s disguise. And he’s furious. But it’s hard to hate her actions when she’s the best midshipman on board. If only she didn’t tempt him so much. With such a serious secret they’re keeping, can they keep each other safe…and can their budding love survive battle at sea?

This was definitely…something different. Not your typical Regency romance.

In this story, we’re introduced to Sally Kent, whose entire family is made of Navy men. For her entire life, she’s been left behind as they’ve all grown and started their own naval careers. And Sally, who loves the sea, is incredibly jealous. So when her younger brother, Richard, runs away before he can be shipped out, Sally decides the best way to save her family’s honor (and live the exciting life she’s always dreamed of) is to take his place. She’s basically a seafaring Mulan.

Sally is definitely unusual for this type of story. She has no interest in dresses and debuts and getting married. Literally all she wants is to be allowed to climb the rigging and fight in naval battles. She’s a total tomboy and…now that I think about it, I don’t think I’ve ever read a historical romance with someone who was this much of a tomboy. It was unexpected and made Sally unique.

We’re also introduced to Lieutenant Colyear, a family friend of the Kents. He hasn’t seen the Kents in a few years, but he just has this weird feeling that something isn’t right with this Kent. The stories he’s heard of Richard being sullen and more interested in sermons doesn’t fit with this exuberant recruit. And because he’s her commanding officer, ho boy do the sparks ignite. Especially considering how angry he is that she’d do something so stupid.

Individually, I really adored both Sally and Col. Sally’s a fighter and Col is ambitious and self-controlled. However, there were moments when I thought their relationship didn’t quite work. When Sally was hiding her gender, I thought the attraction was more obvious than when they were actually able to be together. Sally says something at one point about how she knows how to act like a boy, but not a young woman and I don’t know if that’s the difference or what, but it definitely lost something in the process.

There are slow moments to the story, but the uniqueness of the story and the setting I think make up for that in a lot of ways. This story is just so vastly different from anything else I’ve read like it that it was just super interesting.

Under the Mesquite

Under the Mesquite

First Lines: I am standing just inside/the doorway, watching Mami talk/to the television screen./As the latest episode/of her favorite telenovela unfolds,/the soap opera drawing her in,/the skins from potatoes/she is peeling/drop into her apron/like old maple leaves.

This book was on my to-read list on Goodreads for an embarrassingly long time. I just never got around to it, you know? And when you’ve been on Goodreads for 13 years, those kind of books definitely crop up. I don’t read a lot in verse, but this looked like an interesting one.

Lupita is a budding actor and poet, trying to figure out life in a Mexican-American family. When she starts high school and learns that her mother has cancer, Lupita doesn’t care as much about her acting roles or her not-always-understanding friends so much as she does about saving her mother, the anchor of their family. While her father takes Mami away for treatment, Lupita is left caring for her seven siblings. In order to escape it sometimes, she sits beneath the mesquite tree in their yard and begins to rediscover the healing power of words.

I just wasn’t wowed by this. I wanted to be, though.

I think a large part of that comes down to the verse storytelling itself. The story is conveyed fine, but I’m used to verse being more poetic. A lot of this story was straightforward storytelling that happened to look like poetry. I like the more flowy figurative language I normally see and I just didn’t get that with this. And because it’s written in verse, it tends to be more abrupt and less descriptive than a typical story.

The story covers about 4-5 years, pretty much Lupita’s entire time in high school. I liked that the story covered so much time because I felt like we really got to see Lupita and her family grow and change. (My understanding is this book is based heavily on the author’s life. And it shows.) Lupita is the eldest in her family and she’s got a lot of weight on her shoulders that felt realistic and heartbreaking as the story continued. She was a great character.

I just maybe didn’t read this at the right time for me. It was a sadder story than I was looking for. But I did really like seeing Lupita’s Mexican heritage mix with her life in America. I thought that was well done, showing that Lupita remembers her roots while dreaming of more.

Waterfall (River of Time, #1)

Waterfall (River of Time, #1)

First Lines: We paused on our hike, panting and wiping our upper lips as our guide–the old Italian farmer who owned this land–chopped down a small sapling, clearing the overgrown trail. “Ecco, vedi,” he said, pointing to the ground. See here.

This book initially caught my eye about five years ago. I don’t remember how I heard of it, but I can tell you it 100% I put it on my to-read list because of time travel and hotties. It sounded like a YA Italian version of Outlander.

Most American girls in Italy for summer vacation would be enjoying it. Seeing the sights, eating good food, etc. For Gabi and Lia, a summer in Italy isn’t exactly a vacation. They’ve spent most summers in Italy with their archaeologist parents, digging up forgotten sites and, well, being covered in dirt and living for months in outdated hotels isn’t their idea of fun anymore. They’re bored. But that all changes the day Gabi and Lia sneak into their mother’s latest find, an ancient tomb, and put their hands on handprints painted to the wall. Suddenly, the girls find themselves in 14th century Italy, in the midst of a fierce battle between knights of opposing forces. It seems their summer just got more interesting. And a lot more dangerous.

I love a good time travel story. My inner history nerd always wonders what I would do if I magically plopped down in one of these times. (Spoiler: I probably wouldn’t last a week, if we’re being realistic.)

This story caught my eye because it was traveling to a time and place I didn’t know much about: 14th century Italy. There are knights, battles, castles. What’s not to love? Although, to be fair, this book isn’t all that different from other time travel stories I’ve read. It shares a number of similarities to Outlander as well as Wake Unto Me, which is actually probably the closer match as it follows the “girl travels in time to find a hottie in a castle” trope. But still, it had a lot to recommend itself.

I did end up rather enjoying the story. It does have a lot of action and a lot of twists to the story. I liked seeing what trouble Gabi would get into with her 21st century ways (wearing PANTS? OMG girl.). Gabi is a strong heroine with an even stronger sense of what she needs to do: survive, and find her sister Lia, who has gotten separated from her. I liked seeing her adapt to her new surroundings and the fantastically funny commentary she had.

I adored the men in this story too. Everyone from the gallant Marcello to the charmingly flirty Luca, the men closest to Gabi have made chivalry an artform. It was swoony and cute and, yeah, cheesy, but that’s what made it so much fun. It was just a good time, reading this. However, I’ll also say that Gabi’s chemistry with her knight in shining armor was…a little lackluster. It was courtly and stuff, which I get, but it just felt a little cold. Or I’ve been reading too many romances and expect fireworks all the time. Admittedly, I’ve never been good with actually courtly love stories. (For example, I have a hard time understanding Mr. Darcy’s appeal in Pride and Prejudice just because I never see any emotion out of him.) So let’s be real, this is probably on me.

Now, just as I got started reading this, I realized it’s won some kind of Christian lit award. Which, you know, great for it, but I don’t really see it. Like, I kind of do. We’re in 14th century Italy, after all. Christianity is the norm and a way of life here. It shows up. There are crucifixes in bedrooms and prayers before they eat. I wouldn’t have expected anything different for the time period. But it’s not really part of the plot. Gabi makes an off-hand comment once about having found religion after saying her second prayer ever, but it sounded almost as sarcastic as it did serious. I don’t really see this as Christian lit at all. This is a sci-fi/fantasy novel through and through.

This was so much fun to read and I really can’t wait to get my hands on the sequel.

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #4)

Romancing Mister Bridgerton (Bridgertons, #4)

First Lines: On the sixth of April, in the year 1812–precisely two days before her sixteenth birthday–Penelope Featherington fell in love. It was, in a word, thrilling. The world shook. Her heart leaped. The moment was breathtaking. And, she was able to tell herself with some satisfaction, the man in question–one Colin Bridgerton–felt precisely the same way.

Of all the books, this was the one I was most looking forward to in this series. Seriously. From episode 1 of the show, I was in love with Penelope and Colin and totally shipped it. And watching them dance around each other for the previous three books, I was itching to see how it all came together.

Everyone in London knows Colin Bridgerton, the most charming of all the Bridgerton men. Penelope has been in love with her best friend’s brother for years, unable to say or do anything about it. Why would he want her, after all, when he could have anyone? Colin is tired of being nothing but an empty-headed charmer. But he’s also especially tired of everyone’s obsession with Lady Whistledown–and how the dratted woman can’t stop mentioning him all the time. After his return from his latest trip abroad, Colin finds that nothing is quite the same in London anymore, especially Penelope. There’s something that’s…changed about her. When Colin stumbles upon Penelope’s deepest secret, he has to decide: is Penelope a threat or a promise of a happily ever after?

The book, while good, didn’t hit me the way I was expecting.

Colin actually seems kind of like a jerk in this one, which I was not happy about. I mean, I kind of understand it as well. So far, we’ve only seen Colin’s Public Face, what he wants society to see of him and Penelope is getting past that. But that didn’t make me happy that he was virtually an entirely new character for so much of the book.

Penelope, though, was exactly who I was hoping she’d be. She’s clever and funny and stronger than she thinks. She has done so much to be proud of and it’s great to see such an accomplished woman in a series like this.

If I have a plot complaint about this book, it’s that the way this ends throws some of the endings of the other books into question. It’s a minor thing, honestly, but all the Lady Whistledown stuff just doesn’t add up with the epilogues of the other books is all I’m saying. I can’t get over that.

I thought this was a sweet story and I ended up falling into the story very quickly, so it was easy and fun to read. I just wanted…something more, I guess.

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)

A Vow So Bold and Deadly (Cursebreakers, #3)

First Lines: The weather has begun to turn, allowing cold wind to swoop down from the mountains and sneak under the leather and fur of my jacket. It’s colder in Syhl Shallow than it would be in Emberfall, but it’s been so long since I experienced the gradual slide from autumn in winter that I’ve been reveling in it.

The first book in this series was my favorite book of 2019, without a doubt. I loved to so so much. But the second book was…rougher. What I found so special about the first book was missing in the second. When I had the chance to read this book, I immediately grabbed it, but I wasn’t sure which book this was going to be like: the beloved first or the trying second?

*Potential Series Spoilers Ahead*

Emberfall is failing, torn into two deeply divided factions: those who believe Rhen is the rightful prince and ruler and those who want a new rule under Grey, who they believe is the rightful prince. Grey has given Rhen two months before he attacks, time Rhen should be using to prepare his army. Instead, he’s using that time to turn away from everyone, even Harper–who is desperately looking for a route to peace. Meanwhile, Lia Mara is struggling to rule Syhl Shallow in her mother’s place. After decades of brutality, Lia Mara’s gentler hand isn’t much liked. And with Grey and his magical powers at her side, many see Lia Mara as the worst option for Queen. As Grey’s deadline draws closer, Lia Mara begins to question whether she’s the Queen Syhl Shallow needs. War is war, though, and neither side will pull away first and show weakness…

This book did restore my faith in this series, but it wasn’t perfect either.

There’s something about Kemmerer’s writing that I just fall into when I get going on these books. Once I really got reading, I was completely in that world and I lost track of time in my world. It’s so easy to fall into the world of Emberfall and its politics and the relationships between the people. It did not take long to get sucked into what was happening and have a hard time putting the book down.

The story does still rotate between being narrated by Rhen, Harper, Grey, and Lia Mara. It was done in a way that wasn’t jarring, which I appreciated, as we tended to stay with one or two people for a good length of time before switching to the others. It’s interesting to be able to compare their viewpoints against each other when they see the same things happening.

The characters have definitely redeemed themselves this time around. Rhen isn’t as much of a jerk this time as he was in the last book, and I still really love Harper for her strength and bravery. Grey and Lia Mara are more grounded in themselves, their roles, this time around and they were easier to read about too. But man, do I still have a soft spot for some of the minor characters, particularly Jake and Noah. Those two…my heart.

My one big issue is the ending. Look, I know it’s a challenge to satisfactorily wrap up a series. I get it. But we’ve spent 3 books building to this and when it finally got to the climax, I went, “Wait, that’s it? We spent this long waiting for that? Well…” There’s so much emotion leading up to it and I was Here For It, but like…then it was just over? It didn’t seem worth all of it. Ok, like, the story still wrapped up nicely, don’t get me wrong, but I was disappointed there wasn’t more.

I’m glad I gave this book a chance and didn’t just stop after the last book. And I’m hoping Kemmerer comes out with more books soon because her writing style has won me over.

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days (Devil You Know, #1)

How to Love a Duke in Ten Days (Devil You Know, #1)

First Lines: “Do you know why I called you to my study at such a late hour, Lady Alexandra?” Headmaster Maurice de Marchand’s hand disappeared beneath his imposing desk at her approach, but Alexandra dared not glance down to note it.

Believe it or not, I’ve never really been a fan of this title’s obvious inspiration, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. And when there’s a connection like that to something I already don’t care for, it makes me hesitant to read a book tied to it. Even if it’s obviously completely different. I also had a negative experience with a previous Kerrigan Byrne book, where I thought the relationship was abusive more than healthy. But I thought maybe as she grew as a writer (that previous book was her first book), things would improve.

Lady Alexandra Lane has had to look after herself for years now, and it’s something she’s learned to do well. So well that no one would suspect someone’s blackmailing her about a dark secret in her past. With her family nearing bankruptcy, Alexandra will have to do something desperate…like marrying the most eligible–and wealthy–bachelor in the land. Who also has the reputation of a devil. Piers Atherton, Duke of Redmayne, is after revenge. And to do that, he needs to marry. It doesn’t really matter who, though finding a bride is complicated when you’re known as the Terror of Torcliff. So when Lady Alexandra proposes marriage to him, he knows something darker than him looms in her past. But he’s drawn to Alexandra’s wit and gentleness and independent nature. And soon, he finds he’ll do whatever he can to keep her safe. But that won’t be easy…

Actually, this was really good. (It’s also really long for a romance novel, too. Almost 500 pages.)

Alexandra has been hiding a secret for years, a secret someone learned about and is now blackmailing her about. With her family now destitute, she’s desperate to find the money somewhere…desperate enough to marry the Terror of Torcliff. Piers expects people to think him a monster, given the scars he has across his face from a near-death experience. And he wants revenge against someone who wronged him, a revenge that can only happen after he gets married. While Alexandra may not have been his first choice, he is drawn to her.

Alexandra and Piers were very interesting characters. Alexandra is a bluestocking, a woman who studied at the Sorbonne and has become an archaeologist. She’s much older than heroines tend to be in historical romances–28–but I kind of loved that she had her career first and knew what she wanted out of life. Piers is fierce, strong, and generally antisocial. He prefers traveling the world to being stuck in a stuffy English ballroom. All of this lends itself to the myth of the Terror of Torcliff, a moniker he hates while also believing himself to actually be the monster others see him as.

The plot works, though at times it feels a little bit muddied just because the story is so long despite taking place over only ten days. I found it to be engaging, most of the time. The story mostly is narrated by Alexandra, though Piers does come through frequently. There were times I wanted to be furious at Piers for not understanding Alexandra, but Piers side is so well-written in those parts that you know exactly why he comes to the conclusions he does. And you can’t really fault him for thinking what he does given the evidence he has.

I don’t want to give too much away, but I also want to issue a warning here. I knew exactly where this story was going when I saw the dedication in this book, which says, “To every survivor #metoo”. So if this is a trigger for you or an absolute sticking point, maybe bypass this book. It uh…doesn’t necessarily shy away from the details. But I view this as a story of surviving, of living, than one that wallows in the trauma.

It was a sweet story. I have a new faith in Byrne’s writing.