Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall (2022)

Heat Factor: A little bit of feisty bedroom action in an otherwise very gentle book

Character Chemistry: So. Much. Angst.

Plot: How to buck oppressive expectations + Interrogating gendered expectations

Overall: I expected this book to make me cry, and it totally did not.

Continue reading “Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall (2022)”
The Great Smut Debate (with debate inked in cursive by a fountain pen)
The Great Smut Debate

The Great Smut Debate: HEA vs HFN

Note: Since we’re talking about endings, this post may contain spoilers.

There are so many feelings you have when you close a book for the last time. And a big part of that feeling for romance novels is about the ending. We in romance know that the end is going to be happy (or vengeance will be in our very angry reviews), so oftentimes the community expresses to outsiders or newbies who ask how we can read something so predictable: “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” That’s very true. BUT, dear readers, BUT it’s about the ending, too. It’s about the author’s choice to use a HEA (Happily Ever After) rather than a HFN (Happily For Now) resolution to the story. Or vice versa. Did it match the rest of the story? Is it a satisfying ending for the struggles our protagonists overcame? What about a realistic ending? Do we like certain endings because they’re OUR preference or because they match the narrative we’ve just concluded?

Well. We’re going to talk about all of that. 

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Recommended Read, Review, TBR Challenge

TBR Challenge: Tales of Old

May’s theme prompt for Super Wendy’s #TBRChallenge 2022 was “Tales of Old.” Here are the books we chose to tackle our TBRs this month.

Holly Read: The King’s Man by Elizabeth Kingston (2015)

Welsh Blades, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

When Erin reviewed Desire Lines, which is the third book in this series, I thought, “That sounds like a Holly book.” I’m pretty sure this is the first ebook I ever purchased.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

Gotta love a good medieval romance.

What are your thoughts on the book?

Holy Shamoly, Elizabeth Kingston can write. There are some standard Medieval romance scenes—for example, the our hero wakes up wounded, thinks he’s in Hell, and mistakes the heroine for an angel—but Kingston’s prose really elevate these moments so that though the beats feel familiar, they are not cliché. 

I loved the journey for both of the main characters. Rannulf is the king’s fixer (and given that the king in question is Edward I, known for his ruthlessness, well…) who needs to learn to forgive himself. Especially for killing his adoptive father, who was admittedly horrible, but who Rannulf also loved deeply. Rannulf’s psychology was absolutely fascinating, and I appreciated the new spin on the Bad Romance Dad. 

Gwenllian is a certified bad-ass and leader of men, who must give it all up when she marries Rannulf—and while she’s sad to leave that part of herself behind, she’s also relieved to no longer have to lead. So actually, her psychology is also fascinating. She is torn between her past and her future, between her love of her homeland and her duty to her king, between her mother and her husband. 

A note: there is a lot of gender essentialism in this book, but it absolutely works here, given the time period and the characterization. Just so you know not to expect any Woke Knights, because Rannulf is decidedly unwoke. And even though Gwenllian is a woman in pants, there are none of those scenes where “she must be a woman because of her pretty violet eyes.” Rather, her armor is a central part of her identity, which causes an existential crisis when she must set it aside for more womanly pursuits.

I loved this book. Highly recommended for the nerds out there. 

Buy Now: Amazon

Erin Read: The Madness of Lord Ian Mackenzie by Jennifer Ashley (2009)

Mackenzies & McBrides, Book #1

Why was this book on your TBR?

It’s a pretty famous (and lauded) historical romance and, bonus, I found a used copy at the library book sale one year.

Why did you choose this book for this month’s challenge?

I wanted a historical romance that was also an older publication for this month. A double whammy, as it were.

What are your thoughts on the book?

It’s always a little nerve-wracking, wondering if a book that everyone seems to be excited about will live up to the hype. In this case, readers, it does. For me, anyway.

There is ton of period, er, relevant ableism and also a little bit of homophobia, but those terms are used to refract ideas for the reader, taking something we in a modern age see and (more or less, anyway) understand, and shifting it slightly so that we can see something about the period in question (1881 Edwardian London, Paris, and Scotland). Ian’s “madness” is not well understood even by his brothers, who love him dearly, but we recognize it as neurodiversity, more specifically as autism. Because of his ND, Ian’s father had him committed to an asylum, where he spent his youth and young-adulthood until his older brother inherited the dukedom and could get him out. In Paris, we meet one of the men who had been in the asylum with him—and who had been committed solely because he was gay. Ashley providing us with insight into the setting is also shedding some light on the historical treatment of individuals who do not fit the “normal” mold. I like it when authors poke at readers like that.

This book also features what feel like older protagonists—although apparently Ian is 27 and Beth is 29, so they’re not that old—but Beth is a widow who grew up in London’s East End, so she’s savvy and no-nonsense. This gives us a heroine who, when confronted with a murder connected to Ian’s past, trusts her gut and Ian and doesn’t engage in furtive questioning of the hero’s integrity or motives. She knows the limits and lengths of her power (she’s an heiress thanks to inheriting a fortune) and doesn’t let people cow her. I also like that. Very much. 

There’s a lot here about letting people be who they are, loving them as they are, and sharing vulnerabilities with the people one loves and is loved by. Also Beth and Ian are pretty horny and not shy about it, so that’s fun. 

Buy Now: Amazon | Bookshop

Want to join us in tackling your TBR? June’s theme is After the War.


Review: The Emma Project by Sonali Dev (2021)

The Rajes, #4

Reviews of The Rajes, Book #1, Book #2, and Book #3

Heat Factor: They have a lot of sex, but it’s almost entirely fade to black. 

Character Chemistry: They critique each other out of love.

Plot: They’re working together to make the world a better place, but their families would have a conniption if they dated.

Overall: A nice finish to a solid series.

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Review: Dreams of Fate by Skylar Shoar (2021)

Heat Factor: He’s a photographer and there’s a “draw me like one of your French girls” moment, so…pretty steamy. But not heavy in bedroom scenes, and more towards the end of the book.

Character Chemistry: It’s SO fraught. They’re clearly meant to be together but there’s a best friend in a coma and that really messes with things.

Plot: Blair awakes from a coma having met the man of her dreams…in her dreams. When she wakes up, she realizes that he’s a real person stuck in a coma as well, in the same hospital she was in. As she pieces everything together, her life becomes entwined with the life of her dream guy’s best friend, Regan, and she begins to realize that she’s going to have to choose. 

Overall: If you’re thinking “Oh, cute. A Sleepless in Seattle remix.” You’re WRONG and you should get your tissues.

Continue reading “Review: Dreams of Fate by Skylar Shoar (2021)”