Bombshell (Hell’s Belles, #1)

Bombshell (Hell's Belles, #1)

First Lines: When the stilt-walker approached, Sesily Talbot realized someone was toying with her.

When it comes to romance, I truly don’t think anyone does it better than Sarah MacLean. I have been looking forward to this book for a while. We were introduced to these specific characters like 2-3 series ago and I was so hoping to see a happy ending for Sesily.

Lady Sesily Talbot has spent years being one of London’s biggest scandals, a reputation she adores and has carefully cultivated. No one looks twice when she behaves in an unladylike way or invites a man out into the gardens for a tryst…and no one notices those trysts aren’t what they seem. Well, no one except Caleb Calhoun, who has spent years trying not to notice his best friend’s younger sister. But someone has to keep Sesily from getting into too much trouble, and this close proximity to his greatest temptation is the opposite of what Caleb needs. So when Caleb starts to realize Sesily isn’t to forget, she’s for forever, what is he willing to risk to keep her?

I was happy to see more of both of them. Sesily pushes the envelope at every chance she can. She loves being a scandal, though ever since Caleb left two years ago to go back to America without a word to her, she’s decided it’s better to use her scandalous ways for good by trying to protect other women from dangerous men. Caleb, now back in England, doesn’t plan to stay because the secrets in his past threaten everything he holds dear. But Sesily’s not about to let that stop her chance at happiness. I love how brazen Sesily is and how noble Caleb is, even if I wanted to knock Caleb over the head a couple of times.

As much as I enjoy the characters, I thought the plot felt a little flat. I definitely liked the idea of a Girl Gang tackling the patriarchy, but I just didn’t always care for the way the whole thing unfolded. The way Caleb kept making a cake of himself for reasons it took him forever to explain, the way the story seemed to stall out in the middle, the way the characters sometimes felt more flat than I’m used to from MacLean. It wasn’t the story I necessarily hoped it would be. I didn’t feel engrossed in it the way I used to be.

Still, I find I like these girls and I’m thinking the next one is going to be pretty interesting, if I’ve guessed the male counterpart correctly…(this series seems to be leaning heavily into enemies-to-lovers tropes).

The Girl With the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys, #2)

The Girl with the Make-Believe Husband (Rokesbys, #2)

First Lines: His head hurt. Correction, his head really hurt. It was hard to tell, though, just what sort of pain it was. He might have been shot through the head with a musket ball. That seemed plausible, given his current location in New York (or was it Connecticut?) and his current occupation as a captain in His Majesty’s Army.

This is part of the prequel Bridgerton series by Julia Quinn. I was certainly intrigued by this, as the Revolutionary War is one of my specialties in history. It was interesting to think that this was going to be from a British perspective (most things I find are from the Americans), and I was looking to see what kind of hijinks the characters would get into.

Cecilia Harcourt has a tough choice to make. With her brother, Thomas, injured in the Colonies, orphaned Cecilia can either move in with an older, spinster aunt or she can marry a conniving cousin to keep her home. But Cecilia isn’t conventional and creates a third option: travel across the Atlantic to find and care for her brother. But after a week of searching and coming no closer to finding her brother, she does find her brother’s best friend, Captain Edward Rokesby. He’s injured, unconscious, and in desperate need to care. She’s determined to care for him, even if it means telling a few little lies. When Edward wakes up, he’s very confused. Sure, the injury knocked out the last six months of his memory, but shouldn’t he remember getting married? He knows who Cecilia is, and with everyone else calling her his wife, it must be true. Cecilia is risking everything for the man she has come to love, but when the truth comes out, Edward may have some surprises of his own for Mrs. Rokesby…

I really liked this. Like, more than the first book, even if the first book was wittier.

In this book, we’re introduced to Cecilia, a young woman desperate to find her brother in the Colonies during the Revolutionary War. Thomas was injured, but when she arrives, she finds out no one knows where he is. No one has seen him, and the only person who might have answers is Edward Rokesby, Thomas’s best friend–and a man who happens to be unconscious and possibly near death. Which is when Cecilia spontaneous, and falsely, claims to be Edward’s wife.

Cecilia and Edward are really sweet and interesting characters. Cecilia knows she’s in a terrible place of her own making, but she lied to help Edward (no one would let her get close to him unless she was family). And she did nurse him for days. But as her lies snowball, she knows she’s digging a deeper and deeper hole for herself. And Edward is this loyal, honorable, and sweet man who doesn’t remember marrying Cecilia–or anything of the past 3-4 months–but he’s determined to protect her and cherish her despite it all. Which makes Cecilia feel even worse, as it’s all false.

I really like that this dealt with history so much as well. I thought it was cool to see New York in the Revolution, to see the British side of things (since it’s normally so focused on the Colonists), and to see some of the hardships of their lives. It just added to the color and atmosphere of the story and I really enjoyed how many added layers it brought to the story.

The emotions in this one were real and I really appreciated that it was nuanced. This isn’t an easy love story for our main couple, but it’s worth it.

Instructions for Dancing

Instructions for Dancing

First Lines: Books don’t work their magic on me anymore. It used to be that if I was in a funk or in the barren hinterland between sad and mad, I could just pluck any random one from my favorites shelf and settle into my fuzzy pink chair for a good read.

I haven’t read as much by Nicola Yoon as I know I should have, but I do respect her as an author. But this certainly caught my eye because of dancing. I am/was a dancer and I love reading about dancing, so this was definitely high on my to-read list.

Evie Thomas no longer believes in love, not after she witnessed her family fall apart. But she definitely doesn’t believe in love anymore, not after the strange afternoon where she witnessed a couple kiss and saw how their love story began…and how it will end. No one escapes from a broken heart. As Evie tries to understand why she’s suddenly having these visions, she finds herself at the La Brea Dance studio learning waltz, fox trot, and tango with a boy simply named X. X is everything Evie is not: adventurous, passionate, easy-going. His personal philosophy is to say “yes” to anything, including entering a dance competition with a girl he’s just met. X is not what Evie wants or needs, especially with all these visions of heartbreak she’s experiencing. But as they dance and get to know each other more, Evie has to ask herself: is love worth the risk?

I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, but I was more than pleasantly surprised by it.

This book is mostly a realistic, contemporary YA romance. I say “mostly” because Evie has these visions of people’s love stories. (Admittedly, this was something that drew me to the story before I even started reading it. I liked this slightly unrealistic touch.) Otherwise, it’s a typical contemporary. Evie is a high school senior with close friends who are struggling with what life will look like after they graduate.

The characters are all very sweet in their own ways. Evie is cynical, but for good reason. X is a total sweetheart. Martin is an adorkable weirdo. Fifi is hilarious. I mean, there are a lot of minor characters who pop in and out and still manage to leave their mark on the story. I thought they were quite realistic and interesting in their own ways.

The story is mostly told in prose, but the chapters are surprisingly short. Sometimes, the chapters are just text conversations between people. Sometimes they’re lists Evie has written. This story just flew, really. I mean, after a certain point, I had a hard time putting it down. I wanted to read it all the time and see what happened next.

The themes in this, though, are really my favorite. It ended up hitting me harder than I anticipated when I started the book (given how light and funny it had been the whole time). I read Yoon’s author’s note/acknowledgement at the end and it really put the whole book into a different perspective and I appreciated that. I think this is a powerful story that really manages to pack a punch, even when you find yourself so happy because of it. Like a Pixar movie, it sneaks up on you and smacks you with the lesson when you least expect it.

This is just such a super sweet story. I really loved it.

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

The Viscount Made Me Do It (Clandestine Affairs, #2)

First Lines: Thomas Ellis, Viscount Griffin, was a haunted man.

I read the first book in this series earlier this year, I think, and…I didn’t love it. But I liked the diversity it brought and how the characters were interesting. I just didn’t care for the plot of it. So I thought I’d give the author another chance in the follow up that brought back the tortured Viscount Griffin we briefly met in the previous book.

Hanna Zaydan has fought to become the finest bonesetter in London. She’s worked hard for it, even if most people scoff at her for being a woman, a woman of color, a bonesetter in general, or all three. When she meets the enigmatic Thomas, she knows he’s hiding more than he’s sharing, but with each appointment, she finds herself more and more drawn to him. Thomas, Viscount Griffin, has been dogged by rumors that he killed his family for years. More than a decade later, a tip about the killer’s identity leads him to the beautiful bonesetter. Griff is convinced Hanna is a fraud, but something about her makes him feel things he didn’t think he was capable of anymore. Can Hanna not only set bones but also mend hearts?

This was better than the first book. I liked this a lot more.

Hanna is a bonesetter, which is already a strike against her. Factor in that she’s female and Arab and she’s virtually a pariah to anyone outside of her family. I loved how she knew what she wanted to do with her career and she wasn’t going to let anyone tell her she couldn’t. She was well trained and that was all that mattered. I also liked Griff, who we met in the last book. He has a tortured past and he’s working on healing from the murders of his parents 14 years ago that he blames himself for. Together, they made for an interesting couple.

The story is a bit of a slow burn. Like, there are initial sparks, but because of their backgrounds, they try to force it down. Then they become friends and try to deny that it’s more than that. It was kind of cute how their friendship formed and how it grew into something more. I liked that it built that way.

I still really like the diversity in this series/story. I liked seeing Hanna’s family and their traditions and culture. It really added something special to the story and to their love.

Cute story. I like that everything in this series seems to be about people defying those around them to do what they want with their lives.

Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1)

Because of Miss Bridgerton (Rokesbys, #1)

First Lines: It wasn’t that Billie Bridgerton was lacking in common sense. On the contrary, she was quite sure that she was one of the most sensible people of her acquaintance. But like any thoughtful individual, she occasionally chose to ignore the little voice of reason that whispered through her mind.

It’s not until I start writing these reviews sometimes that I realize just how all over the place my reading habits are sometimes. Ok, so obviously this was written by the same author of all the Bridgerton books. I thought it would be cool to dive into this series since I like her writing style and it relates to the Bridgertons. (Billie is an aunt to all the Bridgerton children we met in that famous series.)

Everyone expects Billie Bridgerton to marry one of the Rokesby brothers. The families have lived next to each other centuries and Billie has been friends with the boys for her whole life. She was a tomboy, running wild with Edward and Andrew. Either one could be her husband someday, and Billie knows that’s likely to happen. Of course, there’s one Rokesby Billie just can’t tolerate. George, the eldest brother and heir to the earldom. She finds him to be arrogant, stiff, annoying, and he absolutely detests her. But when Billie and George are forced together through a quirk of fate, a new kind of spark flies between them. Soon, they might just discover that the person they can’t live with is the one they can’t live without…

Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike this book. In fact, it was fun to see the previous generation of Bridgertons.

But there was just nothing wow about this one either.

I did rather like Billie. She’s fiery and a tomboy, more capable of running the estate than she is navigating a ballroom. She’s not about to back down from a dare or let anyone put her down. She was fun.

But there wasn’t anything that really made me sit up and take notice of George. He was pretty stereotypical, really. I literally just finished the book and I’m not sure I could tell you any defining trait of his except “future earl.” Pretty much everything about him was how he’s eventually going to have the title. All of his personality revolved around that. So when I see someone as lively as Billie and someone as blah as George…I don’t feel the chemistry.

There were funny moments to the story that I enjoyed. I did have fun reading the weird (absurd) situations Billie kept finding herself in, but so much of the story just seemed disjointed outside of that. There are some subplots that get resolved at the end, but I had to wonder why they were included at all when they only happened over the course of a chapter or two.

Not a bad book, but definitely not the same level of love I had for a few books in the Bridgerton series.

The Duke Heist (The Wild Wynchesters, #1)

The Duke Heist (The Wild Wynchesters #1)

First Lines: Miss Chloe Wynchester burst through the door of her family’s sprawling residence in semi-fashionable Islington, closely followed by her sister Thomasina. Chloe’s pulse raced with excitement. His Arrogance, the Duke of Frosty Disapproval, didn’t have a chance.

I had a stretch here where I was really into romance novels early this summer. (I thought at the time it would be a good distraction from only being able to see my boyfriend on weekends…it was not. They made me miss him more.) This one caught my eye because it looked cute and funny, a combo I really enjoy. Especially if it starts to dip into the realm of absurd.

Chloe Wynchester is forgettable. That’s not a dramatic statement–truly, people forget her days or even hours after meeting her casually. As awful as it can be, it does allow her to blend into any crowd she chooses. When her adoptive father’s dying wish is for the family to recover a stolen painting that’s special to them all, the family turns to Chloe. What no one planned for was Chloe accidentally abducting a Duke in the process. Lawrence Gosling, Duke of Faircliffe, cannot rectify the many mistakes of his father. The estate’s in ruins, the money is gone, and Lawrence can’t fix any of it unless he marries a wealthy peer. Love is not in the cards. Yet when he finds himself being driven down the road at high speeds in an apparent abduction by a beautiful young woman, he fears his plans may have gone to rot…and that his heart may not belong to him anymore.

This was really cute. I wasn’t totally sure what I was expecting from this, but I liked Chloe’s brashness and the eccentricities of the story’s characters and events.

Chloe’s family is made up of a bunch of orphans who were taken in by a Baron they call “Bean” as children. He raised them to feel like a family and if there’s one thing that they all rally behind now that Bean is gone, it’s this painting they got soon after they became a family. But when they discover that the painting is missing and that the Duke of Faircliffe has it, well, game on. They’re going to get it back. And Chloe, who’s used to being invisible to people, is the perfect person to try to get it back. Unfortunately, she’s suddenly no longer invisible to Faircliffe once she accidently abducts him when he entered her getaway carriage…

I thought Chloe and Lawrence were a good couple. Both of them have interesting faults that make them both more loveable and more fascinating. For example, Chloe’s invisibility has to do with her being plain and really laying into that with her wardrobe choices as well. But she actually really hates this invisibility and the way she feels forgettable to everyone she meets. It was an interesting character dynamic that I appreciated.

The love story is excellent as well, the way it unfolds. From the very beginning, Lawrence is a mark to her, and he views her as nothing more than one of those “Wild Wynchesters.” But as they get to know each other and spend more time with each other, everything feels incredibly natural. I liked that.