Provided for Review: A Royal Kiss & Tell (A Royal Wedding #2) by Julia London

Every dashing young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome, delectable roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember who Caroline is, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So, Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure a prince remembers her: sees that amusingly risqué morsels about Leo’s reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all the while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it could ruin him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of government in London. Now, Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

This book was provided for review by the publisher through NetGalley. Thank you!

It is very rare for me to not actually finish a book. It is even more rare when the book was provided with the intent to read and review it here. It saddens me when this happens, especially when the author is one I have read and enjoyed before.

Sadly, such is the case with A Royal Kiss & Tell by Julia London. I jumped at the opportunity to read and review one of Ms. London’s books as I have enjoyed many of them. Unfortunately, I made a little more than a quarter in to the book before I had to set it aside.

As always, Ms. London’s writing is quite well done. The scenes she sets up pull the reader in and it is easy to picture the action as it is happening. She has an ability to make the words jump from the page and to take the reader along for the ride.

My issue is with the characters themselves, especially Lady Caroline. She is a lady and yet her manners would claim otherwise. While she can be kind to most every one she meets, she often talks without caring if she is welcome or not. She also comes across as quite vain and shallow, taking great offense when those around don’t agree with her opinions of her own beauty.

Prince Leopold is thankfully a little better. While he finds Lady Caroline lovely to look at, he also finds her irritating with her apparent lack of manners. He chides her foolishness and spars with her in words. Being the second son, he is the “spare” to his elder brothers “heir”, a position he seems content with.

From some of the other reviews I have seen of A Royal Kiss & Tell, there are certain plot points that are not dealt with very well. They are supposedly dealt with in a ham-handed manner and often feel forced. I did not make it far enough in to the book to come across these particular sub-plots, so I cannot make any comments on to how they were written.

I have long been a fan of the author, Julia London. Having read numerous books by her, I have enjoyed many of them. While I personally did not enjoy reading A Royal Kiss & Tell, I will encourage other readers to give it a try. Just because it wasn’t for me does not mean it won’t be perfect for someone else.

No Man Can Tame (The Dark-Elves of Nightbloom #1) by Miranda Honfleur

After a failed courtship in an ally kingdom, twenty-one-year-old Princess Alessandra returns home to a land torn apart by mutual hatred between the humans and the dark-elves. The “Beast Princess,” as Aless is known by courtiers, confidently sets her mind to ways of making peace, but her father has already decided for her: she is to marry one of the mysterious and monstrous dark-elves to forge a treaty, and go on a Royal Progress across the kingdom to flaunt their harmonious union. While she intends to preserve the peace, the Beast Princess has plans of her own.

Prince Veron has been raised knowing his life is not his own, but to be bargained away by his mother, the queen of Nozva Rozkveta, to strengthen the dark-elf queendom. When his mother tells him he is to marry a self-absorbed, vile human, he is determined to do his duty regardless of his personal feelings. After arriving at the human capital, he finds the “Beast Princess” rebellious and untamed—and not to be trusted.

Aless and Veron face opposition at every turn, with humans and dark-elves alike opposing the union violently, as well as their own feelings of dissonance toward each other. Can two people from cultures that despise one another fall in love? Can a marriage between them bond two opposing worlds together, or will it tear them apart for good?

The idea behind an arranged marriage to secure peace between two families/countries is one that is not just based in reality but has been used in fiction numerous times. Often times the two individuals who are having to get married come to some kind of agreement. In romance novels the two usually fall in love and live happily ever after. And usually the reader is drawn in to their story and is rooting for them by the end.

I came across No Man Can Tame in an ad on Facebook. There was a small snippet of the book as well as the description above. I was intrigued, especially by the words “Beast Princess”. Would this story be a kind of reversal of Beauty and the Beast? Just what about Aless makes her so beastly?

In the blurb above, Aless is described as “self-centered” and sadly these two words could not be more accurate. She is so completely self absorbed in building a library like her mother wanted that she makes plans to run away after marrying Veron. It doesn’t occur to her that in doing so she would shatter the peace treaty her father and Veron’s mother have agreed to. It doesn’t occur to her that her actions would doom his people to starvation and ruin. All she sees are the things that she wants.

Veron, at least tries. He is not perfect either, but he at least has an understanding of the consequences. He is flexible and willing to change some to make a better impression on the humans. Something Aless has difficulty doing.

The world and backstory of No Man Can Tame is sadly lacking. Very little time is spent on describing events that happened either to certain characters or to certain whole races. Brief mention is made that the Dark Elves and other mythical creates fell in to a kind of sleep for over 2000 years. What caused the sleep? What caused them to wake up?

The same can be said for Aless’ nickname of “Beast Princess”. What garnered this nickname? Again, brief mention is made of her being forced to wear a brace of some kind, but it’s almost treated like a throwaway line. Considering so many know of this nickname, what happened?

As much as I was looking forward to reading No Man Can Tame when I first heard about it, when it came to the actual book I was sadly disappointed. There is so much potential and it could have easily been something excellent. I honestly cannot recommend this one my dear readers; skip it and move on.

Provided for Review: A Different Time by Michael K. Hill

While searching through a pile of old VHS videos, comic book collector Keith Nolan comes across one with a hand written label. With only the number “3” on it, Keith has no idea what is on the tape in his hand.

When he plays the tape he sees Lindsey Hale. Enamored, Keith talks to his television screen. And somehow, despite the tape being from 1989, Lindsey answers back.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

A Different Time by Michael K. Hill is one of those books that I could easily see being made in to a movie. Either for the big screen a la The Lake House or in to a Hallmark movie; either way I think it would translate to that format quite well.

Switching between the two characters, Lindsey and Keith, we are introduced to them separately and follow the sequence of events that leads one person to make the video tape and the other to find it.

The love story in A Different Time is very sweet. Keith falls hard for Lindsey and she in turn falls hard for him.

Because of the vast time difference between when Lindsey makes her tapes and Keith sees them, there is really only one way for their story to end. Still, when we learn what happens it comes as a shock just as it does for Keith. Knowing how it will end does not make it any easier.

And for any reader, once you reach the end of the book and know what happens with Lindsey and Keith – I advise them to go back and re-read the beginning. And smile.

Many thanks to Michael for contacting me and asking me to read his book. I sincerely enjoyed it and can easily recommend it for any one who enjoys a bittersweet romance.

The Watchmaker's Daughter (Glass and Steele #1) by C.J. Archer

India Steele is desperate. Her father is dead, her fiancé took her inheritance, and no one will employ her, despite years working for her watchmaker father. Indeed, the other London watchmakers seem frightened of her. Alone, poor, and at the end of her tether, India takes employment with the only person who’ll accept her – an enigmatic and mysterious man from America. A man who possesses a strange watch that rejuvenates him when he’s ill.

Matthew Glass must find a particular watchmaker, but he won’t tell India why any old one won’t do. Nor will he tell her what he does back home, and how he can afford to stay in a house in one of London’s best streets. So when she reads about an American outlaw known as the Dark Rider arriving in England, she suspects Mr. Glass is the fugitive. When danger comes to their door, she’s certain of it. But if she notifies the authorities, she’ll find herself unemployed and homeless again – and she will have betrayed the man who saved her life.

The Watchmaker’s Daughter is the first book in C.J. Archer’s Glass and Steele series. Like most first books in a series, it’s primary purpose is to introduce the readers to the characters of the series as well as give them a feeling for the universe they live in. For Glass and Steele, on the surface the characters reside in Victorian era London. But further reading shows that there is more beneath the surface.

Like in her other books, Archer has done a good job in creating a universe that is both familiar and new. As this particular series is to be set in Victorian England, not as much time is spent world building as Victorian England is already a fairly well known time period. What was disappointing though was that while there is supposedly magic in this universe, it is hardly mentioned.

Another thing I found disappointing was how little time was spent on some of the characters. More than enough time is spent on Mr. Glass and Miss Steele; not surprising since these two are the main characters of the series. But as far as the rest of Glass’ crew – these individuals that are his close friends and that he supposedly trusts with his life? Very little is given on them aside from physical descriptions and barely a hint towards any kind of back story. It is my hope that in future books this is rectified and these incredibly interesting characters are given more page time.

For the first book in a series, The Watchmaker’s Daughter does pretty well. It offers enough story to stand alone while hinting at possible future plots. The main characters are interesting without being too cliched and the slow burn romance between them is a nice treat. At current count there are over 10 books in the series and I’ll slowly but surely be making my way through them.

Provided for Review: Postcard from Paris by Holly Willow

When Poppy finds a postcard from Paris, sent by an aunt she didn’t know existed, she books a flight to France to investigate. Just days after arriving in Paris, she accidentally lands herself a job thanks to a case of mistaken identity. To complicate matters further, she soon starts to fall for her new boss. Falling in love with your boss is never a good idea and she knows it. But when he makes her an offer she can’t refuse, her heart just might win the battle against reason and logic.

This book was provided for review by the author. Thank you!

Trigger Warning: Mentions of mental illness, emotional abuse, and suicide. While the actual events happen before the book begins, they are still mentioned.

Poppy Parker is a self confessed workaholic. All of her adult life she has been focused on her career at Belle Cosmetics, working her way up the corporate ladder. Just when she has the position she has been working towards in her sights, it’s snatched away. And when she tries to resign, her boss refuses and instead instructs her to take a small sabbatical.

To add insult to injury, Poppy’s fiance Daniel agrees to take a job in Hong Kong just weeks before their wedding. A job that will have him away for six months. Poppy is sure she can handle things on her end but even that is put in to doubt when she learns that Daniel hasn’t been all that honest with her.

Take all of that, plus a postcard from an aunt that Poppy never knew existed, and she finds herself booking a ticket to Paris, France.

Postcard from Paris is pure fluff. Of the best kind. It’s like cotton candy, ice cream, or any other sweet treat. It’s like a Hallmark movie, complete with dramatic moments and of course a happily ever after.

As I was reading Postcard From Paris, I was reminded of Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City. In it there too is a large apartment building with an eclectic cast of characters presided over by a loving, larger than life landlady.

The characters themselves are all quite likable, even the ones who are supposedly more gruff. Poppy is immediately relatable and most any reader will see an aspect of themselves in her. The same can be said for the majority of the characters, a reader is likely to identify with at least someone.

The book itself is quite well written. Willow uses language in a wide variety of ways – to evoke the pain of being passed over for a job to the joy of finding oneself in a new city and hopefully on the path to a new life. She also a nice grasp with pacing as the story moved along at a decent clip without ever feeling too laggy.

There was one small plot point that I didn’t particularly like and felt kind of shoehorned in. To go further in to it could be constituted as spoilers so I will only say that if you have read the book, then you likely know what I am talking about. It had no real bearing on the rest of the book and in my opinion, it wasn’t necessary.

Otherwise, I quite enjoyed reading Postcard in Paris. With the summer months fast approaching, I think this would be the perfect poolside read. Or the perfect sunny read on an otherwise dreary day. Many thanks to the author, Holly Willow, for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I urge my readers to go check it out!

The Witch of Willow Hall by Hester Fox

Two centuries after the Salem witch trials, there’s still one witch left in Massachusetts. But she doesn’t even know it.

Take this as a warning: if you are not able or willing to control yourself, it will not only be you who suffers the consequences, but those around you, as well.

New Oldbury, 1821

In the wake of a scandal, the Montrose family and their three daughters—Catherine, Lydia and Emeline—flee Boston for their new country home, Willow Hall.

The estate seems sleepy and idyllic. But a subtle menace creeps into the atmosphere, remnants of a dark history that call to Lydia, and to the youngest, Emeline.

All three daughters will be irrevocably changed by what follows, but none more than Lydia, who must draw on a power she never knew she possessed if she wants to protect those she loves. For Willow Hall’s secrets will rise, in the end…

Trigger Warnings: Incest (mentioned, happens before book starts), Animal Death (mentioned), Human Death, Suicide Attempt

The Witch of Willow Hall is one of those novels that is absolutely perfect for curling up with on a cold winter night. Though it is a novel that was written recently, it’s style is very reminiscent of gothic novels that were so popular once upon a time. Dark and moody, the story takes numerous twists and turns from beginning to end.

I did have a few issues while reading The Witch of Willow Hall. One being the scandal that sends Lydia and her family from Boston to New Oldbury. Lydia makes mention of it several times, stating how terrible it is and how it has brought such shame to the family, but it isn’t until a good halfway through the book do we the reader actually learn what the actual scandal is. I personally think making mention of it earlier in the story would have made it more impactful.

Sadly, I found the plot surrounding witches and how they impact the family to be rather lacking. Very little mention is made aside from a handful of ghost sightings for Lydia until almost the end of the book. And even then the great reveal is lackluster. Like with the aforementioned scandal, if they had been given more attention in the actual narrative I think they could have further enhanced the story.

As a fan of gothic novels, I enjoyed The Witch of Willow Hall. It is hard to believe that this is Ms. Fox’s first novel as it was quite well written. Fans of this kind of moody storytelling would likely enjoy it as well and I urge them to try it out.

Grave Mercy (His Fair Assassin #1) by Robin LaFevers

Seventeen-year-old Ismae escapes from the brutality of an arranged marriage into the sanctuary of the convent of St. Mortain, where the sisters still serve the gods of old. Here she learns that the god of Death Himself has blessed her with dangerous gifts—and a violent destiny. If she chooses to stay at the convent, she will be trained as an assassin and serve as a handmaiden to Death. To claim her new life, she must destroy the lives of others.

Ismae’s most important assignment takes her straight into the high court of Brittany—where she finds herself woefully under prepared—not only for the deadly games of intrigue and treason, but for the impossible choices she must make. For how can she deliver Death’s vengeance upon a target who, against her will, has stolen her heart?

Why be the sheep, when you can be the wolf?

Grave Mercy is the first book in Robin LaFevers’ His Fair Assassin series and it is a thrilling start to what I hope will be an equally thrilling continuation.

Set in an alternate universe that is based on a real point in time in our own, Grave Mercy takes place in a time where old ways and new ones often butt heads. Where women are seen more as a commodity then as a person and if a woman wants to live her life on her terms, she has to make her own way. And oftentimes that way comes in to conflict with those around her.

Like some reviewers, I have mixed feelings when it comes to this book. There were points where I was just tearing through the book, eager to know what happens next. While there were other passages that I found incredibly tedious or the characters boring. That is not to say I didn’t enjoy the book, I did, but there are portions that I wish LaFevers had either pared down or omitted completely.

What I can say is that LaFevers does an incredible job of taking a real moment in time and giving it just the tiniest of alterations to create something new. The time period Ismae lives in and many of the people she encounters were real people. A good deal of the events she is witness to did indeed happen. And while LaFevers fudges timelines a bit for dramatic effect, she does so in a way that is completely believable.

Unfortunately, while there were a good deal of strong points in Grave Mercy, there were several weak points too. For me, many of them center on the character of Ismae herself. According to the book, she is trained as an assassin and as such has the ability to get close enough to her target without them suspecting her. And while we do not see much of this training and what it entails, on more than one occasion Ismae finds herself in a situation that is obviously over her head. She flounders in ways that bring attention to herself when she is trying to keep attention off of her.

The romance angle was also a bit off-putting, if only that if felt forced at times. When Ismae first meets Gavriel it’s obvious that these two end up together and it comes as no real surprise when they eventually do.

Overall, I really liked Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers. Like I said at the beginning, it is an exciting start to a series and I am eagerly looking forward to eventually reading the rest.

The Palace of Lost Memories (After the Rift #1) by C.J. Archer

The king’s magnificent palace was built in a matter of weeks. No one saw the builders, no villagers are allowed beyond the gilded gate, and only one servant has ever left. The haunted look in her eyes as she was recaptured by the palace guards is something Josie, daughter of the village doctor, has never forgotten.

For Josie, the palace is a mystery that grows more intriguing after she meets the captain of the guards, a man known only as Hammer, as mysterious and captivating as the palace itself. Whispers of magic fuel Josie’s desire to uncover the truth, but an ordinary girl like her can only dream of ever being invited inside.

When the king decides to take a wife from among the eligible daughters of the noble families, the palace gates are finally thrown open and the kingdom’s elite pour in. In a court where old rivalries and new jealousies collide, the king’s favorite is poisoned and the doctor is summoned. As her father’s assistant, Josie finally sees inside the lavish walls, but she soon learns the palace won’t surrender its secrets easily, for not a single resident, from the lowest servant to the king himself, has a memory from before the palace existed.

In the search for the truth, Josie is drawn deeper into danger, and the answers she seeks might shake the very foundations of the kingdom.

Josie is the daughter of the village doctor. She loves her father as well as what he does and she works hard to learn as much as she can in order to work beside him. The problem lies in that women cannot become doctors and the best that Josie can hope for is to become a midwife. Josie has no problem being a midwife, she cares for her female patients greatly; what she desires though is to be like her father regardless of what stands in her way.

The Palace of Lost Memories is a mix of historical fiction and fantasy. Set in it’s own land it abides by mostly familiar rules. Science and superstition walk hand in hand and while there are whispers of magic, there is no proof set in stone. Such is the land that Josie and the other characters of the book must navigate.

The author, C.J. Archer, does a decent job of creating a setting and building a mystery in it. The character of Josie is an interesting one and it is easy to sympathize with her in wanting more that what is expected of her. The castle inhabitants, such as the Captain of the Guards Hammer, is also nicely done. Throughout the story information comes to light and both we the reader as well as Josie realize that not every one is as they seem. There is no real black and white, instead each person is a shade of gray.

The mystery surrounding the castle and its inhabitants could have been given a little more attention in my opinion, however. The fact that we are given barely any clues as to what occurred is a little aggravating. If this mystery is to be the main draw of the series, than I believe the readers should be given something more.

Overall, I enjoyed reading The Palace of Lost Memories. Currently there are a total of five books in the series. It is quite likely that I will eventually read and review the rest of the series, so keep an eye out!

Provided for Review: The Pursuits of Lord Kit Cavanaugh by Stephanie Laurens

This book was provided for review by NetGalley. Thank you!

A Gentleman of Means

One of the most eligible bachelors in London, Lord Christopher “Kit” Cavanaugh has discovered his true path and it doesn’t include the expected society marriage. Kit is all business and has chosen the bustling port of Bristol to launch his passion—Cavanaugh Yachts.

A Woman of Character

Miss Sylvia Buckleberry’s passion is her school for impoverished children. When a new business venture forces the school out of its building, she must act quickly. But confronting Kit Cavanaugh is a daunting task made even more difficult by their first and only previous meeting, when, believing she’d never see him again, she’d treated him dismissively. Still, Sylvia is determined to be persuasive.

An Unstoppable Duo

But it quickly becomes clear there are others who want the school—and Cavanaugh Yachts—closed. Working side by side, Kit and Sylvia fight to secure her school and to expose the blackguard trying to sabotage his business. Yet an even more dastardly villain lurks, one who threatens the future both discover they now hold dear.

Trigger warnings: Kidnapping, mentions of stalking, some violence

I do not often read nor review romance novels mainly because, at least for me, they tend to blur together after a while. There are only so many ways for characters to meet and interact and fall in love and the romance genre has been around for a very long time.

Now this is only my personal opinion because when the chance to read Stephanie Laurens’ newest romance came up on Netgalley, I jumped at the chance. Of the romance authors I have read, she is one I consistently come back to. Her characters are engaging and somehow she brings a breath of fresh air to a sometimes stale genre.

Like with most of Ms. Laurens’ series novels, we are first introduced to Lord Christopher ‘Kit’ Cavanaugh and Miss Sylvia Buckleberry (love that name!) in the first novel – The Designs of Lord Randolph Cavanaugh. It is something I have come to associate with her books as it gives the reader a sneak peek of who she will be writing about next. This holds true with this book as well because at the end we were introduced to Lady Eustacia Cavanaugh, sister to Randolph and Christopher and subject of the third novel of the series.

As with many of her other historical romance novels, Ms. Laurens has a way of staying somewhat true to the time period while bending the rules a bit. She doesn’t break the rules of propriety outright but she does give them a hearty bend at times. I personally find it adds to the enjoyment of the story though I know there are more rigid historical purists out there who would disagree.

The only part of the novel that I didn’t like and thought felt forced was Sylvia’s kidnapping and Kit’s subsequent rescue. Before this, she had mentioned the feeling of being watched only in passing and then suddenly a person with a beef against her father (who again was mentioned only briefly) shows up. I will not go too much further in to what happens next only to say that the whole sequence of events felt completely out of place in regards to the novel. It felt more like something out of a bad B-movie.

On the whole, I enjoyed The Pursuits of Lord Kit Cavanaugh. The overall story flowed quite well despite a few minor bumps. While it isn’t necessary to read the first book in the series, readers might want to just to get a better feel for the family dynamic that is common to Ms. Laurens’ books and to receive a proper introduction to the characters. This author has long been a personal favorite and I will continue to look forward to her new writings.

The Pisces by Melissa Broder

Lucy has been writing her dissertation about Sappho for thirteen years when she and her long time boyfriend Jamie break up.

After she hits rock bottom in Phoenix, her Los Angeles-based sister insists Lucy housesit for the summer—her only tasks caring for a beloved diabetic dog and trying to learn to care for herself.

Annika’s home is a gorgeous glass cube atop Venice Beach, but Lucy can find no peace from her misery and anxiety—not in her love addiction group therapy meetings, not in frequent Tinder meetups, not in Dominic the foxhound’s easy affection, not in ruminating on the ancient Greeks. Yet everything changes when Lucy becomes entranced by an eerily attractive swimmer one night while sitting alone on the beach rocks.

Trigger Warning: Animal death. While it might be considered a bit of a spoiler, I still believe it’s something that readers should be notified of.

Dearest reader, writing this review for The Pisces is probably one of the more difficult ones I’ve had to do. Simply because I wanted to like this book and I was so disappointed.

Not because I don’t like romance novels and not because I don’t enjoy the “chick lit” genre, I’ve read more than my fair share from both. I was disappointed because the main character Lucy was just SO unlikable! She is selfish and self-centered, not caring if her actions hurt any one around her. She is an addict in every sense of the word.

One instance that comes to mind is when Lucy and Theo (the merman) have sex on the couch in Lucy’s sister’s house. Lucy had just started her period and of course some blood ends up on the white couch cushions. Instead of trying to clean the mess up, Lucy simply flips the couch cushions over and thinks no one will notice. But of course her brother in law notices and when called on it Lucy only shrugs.

On the whole, I thought The Pisces was downright crude and base. While there is certainly nothing wrong with a woman exploring her own sexuality, when she does it at the expense of others then something is definitely off.

I’m so glad I didn’t purchase this book like I had intended to and instead borrowed it from my local library. If you are truly curious and want to read it, I encourage you to do the same.