My Favorite Trope…Revenge:The Sins of Lord Lockwood by Meredith Duran

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Steamy romance sizzles between a resurrected earl and his repentant bride in USA TODAY bestselling author Meredith Duran’s latest historical romance.

BACK FROM THE DEAD, AN EARL SEEKS VENGEANCE…

Liam Devaliant, Lord Lockwood, was born into a charmed life. Charismatic, powerful, and wild, he had the world at his feet—and one woman as his aim. His wedding to Anna was meant to be his greatest triumph. Instead, in a single moment, a wicked conspiracy robbed him of his future and freedom.

…BUT WILL HIS LONG-LOST COUNTESS PAY THE PRICE?

Four years later, Liam has returned from death with plans for revenge. Standing in his way, though, is his long-absent bride. Once, he adored Anna’s courage. Now it seems like a curse, for Anna refuses to fear or forget him. If she can’t win back Liam’s love, then she means at least to save his soul…no matter the cost.

Source: GoodReads

The wronged hero seeking revenge, is a very  common trope in romance.  Just off the topic of my head I can think of at least two other books I’ve read that shared this theme.  It’s a trope I like quite a bit.  I blame the 2002 version of The Count of Monte Cristo for that.   I have probably watched that movie way too much.  That aside though, I am always willing to read a book that has this trope.

However, to be blunt about it a lot of them are kind of (okay, really) bad.

The Sins of Lord Lockwood though wasn’t halfway bad.  I mean, there were parts that I got annoyed with the book but as far as this trope goes it actually handled itself pretty well.  The hero didn’t go in full blown jerk mode like many heroes do after they’ve been wrongfully imprisoned and then make erroneous claims about what their wife/significant other had been up to while they were away .  Still though, it didn’t quite get into perfect territory for me.

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I think one of the things that annoyed me about The Sins of Lord Lockwood were the flashbacks.  On one hand, I do appreciate them.  On the other hand they felt out of place and I was so engaged in the present storyline I really didn’t care to read them.  It probably would’ve been better-for the story-if they had just been inserted prior to the present events.

I also had some issues with how Lockwood escaped and really the entire plot against him.  I felt like a lot of things were slopped over.  Again, the bones for a good story were there and I enjoyed it, but I was left with a lot of questions.

From looking at other reviews for the book, apparently a lot of the meat of the plot is in Duke of the Shadows which I have ordered in part because I am curious to have some of these questions resolved.  So, I guess as many holes in the plot as there are, at least Duran holds my interest…

The leads both were decently formed.  You can clearly see that Liam was altered and shaken up by his ordeal.  I will say that as illy placed as the flashbacks were, they did a good job showing Before Liam to the audience.  And I will also give Liam points for not being a total jerk like some heroes who suffer a similar ordeal (cough, Jordan from Some Kind of Wonderful, cough).

As for Anna, I liked her.  Honestly, she did seem a little forgettable to me.  But I liked that Duran had created a character that was fairly independent for the time period.  I wish that her interest in the sciences was dabbled into further.

Really, the biggest complaint I have with this book is that there were a lot of things about the plot that I wanted developed more.  I guess as far as complaints go that’s a lot better than hating the characters or finding the plot outright stupid, but still it leaves me a little disappointed.

If you’re a fan of this trope, you probably will want to pick this one out.  It does a fairly decent job with the plot line and I did learn a couple of things about the penal colonies in Australia during the period.  However, it wasn’t fully a wow read for me.

Overall Rating: A solid B.

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Double Feature: Letters To the Lost And More Than We Tell by Brigid Kemmer

I’ve been a bad blogger lately.  Though to be fair work has been extra cray cray.  And last weekend cooking dinner for the week took longer than I’d like-I usually do one pot dinners, but I had the bright idea to make six sides last week in addition to my two meats and dessert for the week.  Needless to say, I hated myself by the time I finished my last dish ( a leek salad) and told myself that cooking this week would be a lot simpler-probably helps that I’m going out of town but I still  kimchi soup and a cucumber salad, as well as marinated some vegetables for some Korean brisket tacos (I made the meat a few weeks ago and the brisket was fantastic).  Regardless, I did make plans to write up some reviews though.

I read Letters to the Lost and More Than We Tell in the span of one weekend, pretty much back to back. Overall, I liked the series.  Though I really don’t know if it would classify so much as a series.  It’s true it did fall into many of the cliches that angsty teen novels fall into.  But I felt they overall were decently crafted.  And while you didn’t have to read Letters to the Lost to understand More Than We Tell, it certainly added to the reading experience.

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Juliet Young always writes letters to her mother, a world-traveling photojournalist. Even after her mother’s death, she leaves letters at her grave. It’s the only way Juliet can cope.

Declan Murphy isn’t the sort of guy you want to cross. In the midst of his court-ordered community service at the local cemetery, he’s trying to escape the demons of his past.

When Declan reads a haunting letter left beside a grave, he can’t resist writing back. Soon, he’s opening up to a perfect stranger, and their connection is immediate. But neither Declan nor Juliet knows that they’re not actually strangers. When life at school interferes with their secret life of letters, sparks will fly as Juliet and Declan discover truths that might tear them apart.

Source: GoodReads

I was skeptical about reading Letters to the Lost, in part because the premises sounds so depressing.  And to some extent, I guess it is.  I mean, the book does deal with death and grief and that in general is depressing.  There’s no way around it.  But at the same time there were light hearted moments to the book as well.

I think the best way to summarize this book is like if You’ve Got Mail got hit by a big stick of morbid.

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You’ve Got Mail retellings are really popular in YA and a part of me wonders why.  Yes, I get the romantic side of having this weird attraction to this mystery person that you’re sending letters to but at the same time there is a creepiness about it.  And I really felt that creepiness with Juliet and Declan’s relationship especially when one party realized who the other party was and their handling of the situation.

Honestly, I liked neither lead.  Declan has anger management issues and quite honestly I could see him easily becoming abusive.  Grant it, when he and Juliet are together he’s not abusive towards her.  But he was verbally abusive towards her previously and was not above manipulating her.  I did not like him.  However, I will give Keemerer credit for making him realistic.

I thought the backstory was well done and it explained the motivations for this character.  Did I like him? No.  But I understood at least where he was coming from.  And to be fair I liked him more than Juliet.

Oh, Juliet

I think that name is cursed.  I can’t remember one book or show I’ve seen where a character named Juliet wasn’t a total goody goody asswhipe or a bitch.

This one goes more into self absorbed bitch than goody goody mode.  But still.  Throughout the book, Juliet is extremely depressed-which again understand the character’s actions BUT at the same time, I thought she was on the self pity train a bit too much.  I kept waiting for an adult in the book to force her into counseling.

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Of course that didn’t happen though. Should I be surprised..no this is YA.  Rather, than having the MC see an actual counsel we just have the school counselor shame her for grieving.

Ugh.

Still though, character faults and  lack of counseling aside, I enjoyed this book.  While it was pretty formulaic I thought the story did explore grief an death in a respectful enough way.  Again though, I just really didn’t care for the characters.  However, I did feel like for the most parts their behavior was understandable which is better than a lot of YA books out there.

Overall Rating: A B+

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Rev Fletcher is battling the demons of his past. But with loving adoptive parents by his side, he’s managed to keep them at bay…until he gets a letter from his abusive father and the trauma of his childhood comes hurtling back.

Emma Blue spends her time perfecting the computer game she built from scratch, rather than facing her parents’ crumbling marriage. She can solve any problem with the right code, but when an online troll’s harassment escalates, she’s truly afraid.

When Rev and Emma meet, they both long to lift the burden of their secrets and bond instantly over their shared turmoil. But when their situations turn dangerous, their trust in each other will be tested in ways they never expected. This must-read story will once again have readers falling for Brigid Kemmerer’s emotional storytelling.

Source: GoodReads

I liked More Than We Can Tell a bit better than Letters to the Lost.  The story at least wasn’t as morbid.  I mean, I’m sorry I still can’t get over the slight morbidness of a meet cute by a tombstone.  Anyway….like its predecessor More Than We Can Tell discuses some heavy issues while having decent characters.  Though, again I do not care for the heroine.  I don’t know if it’s just a Kemmerer thing but her female leads are blah.

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Emma has a bit of too stupid to live going on with her and she is ridiculously judgmental.  I get it, it is YA.  She is a teenager, but as savvy as she made herself out to be throughout the book, you’d think she’d have just a smidgen more of common sense.  She’s also completely absorbed and says some hurtful things to her bestie, her mother, and Rev.  Honestly, I wanted her to get smacked down a little bit more than she actually did.

I enjoyed Rev a lot more than I liked Declan.  And I was glad that he actually had competent adults to confide in.  his parents were great.  It was actually quite refreshing to read about parents like Rev’s in YA.

I thought that Kemmerer did a pretty good job with dealing with Rev’s past.  I would’ve much rather dealt with a book in his viewpoint than Emma’s.

Emma’s plotline is relatable enough.  Any woman or girl whose been on the internet has more than likely been harassed by some sort of troll.  God knows, I have dealt with enough on my review of What Happened, but Kemmerer veers the plot into Lifetime territory.  While I get that events like what happened int he climax of the book happen in real life, but what happened to Emma was a more dramatic version of events of what usually happens to someone who gets caught up in this situation.

It’s odd, I enjoyed More Than We Can Tell, but I really did not view it as a romance.  I read it as almost two separate stories about the characters.  Unlike Letters to the Lost which romance was a primary element to the story, the romance in More Than We Can Tell was secondary.  The characters really didn’t interact that much, and quite honestly I almost could’ve done without it.

Not that it was bad, BUTit really almost was out of place in this book.

That aside, I did enjoy More Than We Can Tell more than Letters to the Lost, while one of the subplots might’ve  gone in a Lifetime-ish fashion.  I think that overall, the sequel was better.

Overall Rating: A B+ close to an A- but no dice.

Cut the Cheese: Olivia Twist by Lorie Langdon

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Olivia Brownlow is no damsel in distress. Born in a workhouse and raised as a boy among thieving London street gangs, she is as tough and cunning as they come. When she is taken in by her uncle after a caper gone wrong, her life goes from fighting and stealing on the streets to lavish dinners and soirees as a debutante in high society. But she can’t seem to escape her past … or forget the teeming slums where children just like her still scrabble to survive.

Jack MacCarron rose from his place in London’s East End to become the adopted “nephew” of a society matron. Little does society know that MacCarron is a false name for a boy once known among London gangs as the Artful Dodger, and that he and his “aunt” are robbing them blind every chance they get. When Jack encounters Olivia Brownlow in places he least expects, his curiosity is piqued. Why is a society girl helping a bunch of homeless orphan thieves? Even more intriguing, why does she remind him so much of someone he once knew? Jack finds himself wondering if going legit and risking it all might be worth it for love.

Olivia Twist is an innovative reimagining of Charles Dickens’ classic tale Oliver Twist, in which Olivia was forced to live as a boy for her own safety until she was rescued from the streets. Now eighteen, Olivia finds herself at a crossroads: revealed secrets threaten to destroy the “proper” life she has built for her herself, while newfound feelings for an arrogant young man she shouldn’t like could derail her carefully laid plans for the future.

Source: Goodreads

Gender bent Oliver Twist SOLD.

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That being said, Olivia Twisted had its own fair share of issues.  It was overall an enjoyable reading experience, but I have to tell you I cringed and kept thinking this book could’ve been better if written by someone like maybe Courtney Milan whose research skills about the justice system of the period were spot on.

Here, I was groaning at how watered down everything was.  But hey…I get it, it’s fiction.

What really bothered me though was how big of a goody goody Olivia is.  She is so saccharine sweet I wanted to throttle her.  And she’s not even in a Disney movie so she doesn’t have the excuse of being literally two dimensional for an excuse.  I was hoping by the premises that this character would have shades of gray.  But nope, she is pretty much a Disney princess which wouldn’t be such a bad thing if she wasn’t such a dumb ass  to top things off.  Seriously, bitch had be rescued every other chapter.  And had the villain actually had a brain he could’ve gotten rid of her half a dozen times…

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The hero of the book, Jack, is your typical YA fair-brooding, blue eyed, and borderline stooge.  He even has a typical YA name (seriously, Jack is like the John Doe of YA)  He does some dubious things and there’s a half ass explanation for the shit he does so I guess it makes him acting like ass okay (it doesn’t).  But obviously, we’re suppose to love him.  We’re suppose to love this ship.

And I get how one could love it in theory…but loving a ship in theory versus  the reality of a ship is a bit different. Honestly, I could care less about Olivia and Jack.  The fact that Jack dreamed about Olivia being pregnant with his child  shortly after they reconnected just made me cringe.  Everything about them made me cringe, and made me wonder how this story could be written differently.

Honestly, I think had it been an adult historical romance I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more.  The years of separation thing could’ve came off better than it did-at least it would’ve seemed a bit more realistic for Jack to have been a crime lord turned gentlemen and honestly it might’ve been good to adult the situation up a bit-see Olivia’s Disney princess like syndrome.

Oddly enough, despite the cringe I enjoyed the book and it was easy to get through.  Upon recollection, I’m trying to figure out what I enjoyed about it.   Maybe it was the tropes?  I am a fan of gender bending in books and I like the long lost lovers/friends trope but I’ve read other books with these tropes before and have hated them and DNF’d them.  But I didn’t DNF this one.  Maybe it was the potential with this one?  There were a lot of things about Olivia Twisted besides the tropes that made it intriguing, but I knew halfway through the book that this book wasn’t going to quite work but I continued to read it.  And I don’t know why…

I think my overall thoughts about this one is disappointment.  Like I said, lots of potential but it decided to go the cringe route which is a shame.  If you are interested in reading a Oliver Twist retelling this one might be okay.  I mean, even though it was cringe worthy I enjoyed it.  Honestly, it was sort of like watching The Swan Princess.  That movie was deeply flawed and I cringed all the time but a part of me thoroughly enjoyed it.  That’s sort of this book.

Overall Rating: A B-

Perfect in Theory BUT: Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

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From acclaimed author Alyssa Cole comes the tale of a city Cinderella and her Prince Charming in disguise . . .

Between grad school and multiple jobs, Naledi Smith doesn’t have time for fairy tales…or patience for the constant e-mails claiming she’s betrothed to an African prince. Sure. Right. Delete! As a former foster kid, she’s learned that the only things she can depend on are herself and the scientific method, and a silly e-mail won’t convince her otherwise.

Prince Thabiso is the sole heir to the throne of Thesolo, shouldering the hopes of his parents and his people. At the top of their list? His marriage. Ever dutiful, he tracks down his missing betrothed. When Naledi mistakes the prince for a pauper, Thabiso can’t resist the chance to experience life—and love—without the burden of his crown.

The chemistry between them is instant and irresistible, and flirty friendship quickly evolves into passionate nights. But when the truth is revealed, can a princess in theory become a princess ever after?

Source: GoodReads

In theory this should’ve been my favorite book of the year.  It has a blurb by Meg Cabot.  It is described as a grown up Princess Diaries and the main character is a self assured WOC in STEM of all things.  All those things alone had me sold on this book.  However, upon execution…there were some things that this book needed to work on.

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Still though, I liked this book.  The characters were both a joy to read about.  Naledi especially.  Her character seemed to be fully fleshed.  Several of the issues she faces are issues that young professional women face on a daily basis.  Thabiso is also entertaining though a little less realistic.  He’s a bit more or less of a spoiled brat, but a lovable spoiled brat.  Reading their interactions made the book.

What didn’t work for me was the pacing.  God did this book drag in the middle and then wrapped up surprisingly fast.

The biggest drag was the whole “Big Misunderstanding” plot otherwise known as Assholes in Romance.  Big Misunderstanding is probably the most overused tropes in romance and I have a love hate relationship with it.

When done correctly it can be one of the most heart wrenching uses of tropes.  I still get weepy eyed when I read that book.  Other times this trope is used I will throw the book agains the wall and tell the fictional characters how stupid they are.

With A Princess in Theory I was more in the get on with it mode than anything else.  I thought the big secret was only there to make the page count longer and it really annoyed me.

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Also, for all the hype and heartache the big misunderstanding caused the payoff was sort of weak.

Really, payoff concerning any aspect of the plot in this book was kind of lackluster.  I was hoping, for example, that Naledi’s past would be filled out more but it fluffed over into more or less a stupid epilogue than anything else.

Le sigh.

Also, Naledi’s professional ambitions are also fluffed over in a lot of ways as well.  While at the beginning I thought that her being a woman of color in STEM was going to be a driving force in this book her career is pretty much an after thought after the princess bomb is dropped.  Even though it’s true that Cole at least attempts to somewhat enthuse Naledi’s studies into the big end plot it just doesn’t work.

Overall, I don’t have any regrets about reading this one.  It was an enjoyable read and I will definitely be checking out more from this author, but it is definitely flawed.

Overall Rating: A B.  Flawed but so much fun.

Same Old Same Old: Hello Stranger by Lisa Kleypas

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A woman who defies her time

Dr. Garrett Gibson, the only female physician in England, is as daring and independent as any man—why not take her pleasures like one? Yet she has never been tempted to embark on an affair, until now. Ethan Ransom, a former detective for Scotland Yard, is as gallant as he is secretive, a rumored assassin whose true loyalties are a mystery. For one exhilarating night, they give in to their potent attraction before becoming strangers again.

A man who breaks every rule

As a Ravenel by-blow spurned by his father, Ethan has little interest in polite society, yet he is captivated by the bold and beautiful Garrett. Despite their vow to resist each other after that sublime night, she is soon drawn into his most dangerous assignment yet. When the mission goes wrong, it will take all of Garrett’s skill and courage to save him. As they face the menace of a treacherous government plot, Ethan is willing to take any risk for the love of the most extraordinary woman he’s ever known.

Source: GoodReads

I binged on Lisa Kleypas a couple of years ago.  I found her books to be fun and engaging.  Sure, they were a bit monotonous at times-banter and then a plot sort of slips in about the three quarter mark of the book-but still the characters made me enjoy her books.

Her most recent series the Ravenels have been either hit or miss for me.  Unfortunately, Hello, Stranger a book I was eagerly awaiting turned out to be a dud for me.

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Hello, Stranger tells the story of the Garrett Gibson the Ravenels unofficial family doctor in the series and Ethan Ransom who is apparently a bastard Ravenel-though we’re only given pretty much a blanket overview of Ethan’s origins towards the end of the book.  To be honest, Ethan’s origins really don’t play as important of a role to the book as I thought they would other than I guess sort of provide him with a safe house and a way to connect Garrett to the family…

Most of the cameos from the other characters in this series were very brief in this installment.  I’ve almost forgot about Cassandra or for that Sebastian’s son who was the hero in the last book-Funny, I can’t even remember his name as I’m writing this.  I just refer to him as Sebastian’s son.  That is not a good thing.

What’s worse than that is both Garrett and Ransom seem oddly cardboard like too.  In most of Kleypas’s books I feel like I truly know the characters by the time I close the book.  Honestly, with Ransom and Garrett I felt like I knew them better when they were supporting characters rather than leads.

I was really excited about reading Garrett’s story too since she was breaking glass ceilings long before anyone else was.  Honestly though, I was a little disgusted when at one point in the book a fellow doctor mansplains Garret and she shrugs it off as if the mansplainer was right.  No, the mansplainer was not right.  The church’s views on birth control are crap and in my opinion Garret did nothing wrong in voicing her opinion to that ignorant patient.  But hey…

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The whole spy angle was very tedious and more or less there to add the hero almost dies plot twist.  Kleypas loves this trope.  She has used it in both Devil books, a couple of times in the other Wallflower books, and I vaguely recall it being used in one of the Bow Street Runner books too.  While it can be sort of exciting…now it really is monotonous  after awhile and I know that even though said hero or heroine should die given their wounds their not because hello…that would defeat the purpose of having a romance.

To be fair though, I guess having Garrett be a doctor sort of made this trope a necessity but it was still for the most part eye roll worthy.

I think what bothered me about this book more than anything was the lack of the development with the relationship between these two characters.  They are clearly attracted to each other physically but I did not get their emotional connection.  And honestly, I skim throw the physical scenes.  Book sex scenes always make me roll my eyes-sorry, not sorry.

The best part of the book might’ve been West-who is getting his own book next year.  It’s funny because I said the best part about Pandora and Sebastian Son’s book was Ransom and Garrett.  So, am I going to be disappointed next year when West gets his own book?

Probably.

Kleypas’s fans might want to pick this one up.  While it is lackluster it was enjoyable enough to unwind to after a hellish week.  However, it’s not the best she has to offer.  If you want to read Kleypas at her peak I recommend either the Wallflower series if you like historical romances or the Travis series if you’re more into contemporaries.

Overall Rating: A B- I enjoyed it enough at the time but it is fairly forgettable and disappointing from an author of this caliber.