Review: The Governess Game by Tessa Dare

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The accidental governess.

After her livelihood slips through her fingers, Alexandra Mountbatten takes on an impossible post: transforming a pair of wild orphans into proper young ladies. However, the girls don’t need discipline. They need a loving home. Try telling that to their guardian, Chase Reynaud: duke’s heir in the streets and devil in the sheets. The ladies of London have tried—and failed—to make him settle down. Somehow, Alexandra must reach his heart… without risking her own.

The infamous rake.

Like any self-respecting libertine, Chase lives by one rule: no attachments. When a stubborn little governess tries to reform him, he decides to give her an education—in pleasure. That should prove he can’t be tamed. But Alexandra is more than he bargained for: clever, perceptive, passionate. She refuses to see him as a lost cause. Soon the walls around Chase’s heart are crumbling… and he’s in danger of falling, hard.

My Thoughts:

I’m a huge fan of stories with governesses winning over their wayward charges. Case in point, who doesn’t love The Sound of Music?! And so when I read the summary for The Governess Game, I knew this book would be my cup of tea. The Cinderella vibes made for a breath of fresh air to the romance genre, as did the inclusion of two younger supporting characters. I loved that Alexandra’s career and hobby played such a central role in this story, which really rounded out her character.

I cannot think of a better word than charming to describe the characters in this book, but the word doesn’t do them justice. These characters are lovely, heartwarming, memorable, and delightful. Alexandra is a wonderful heroine. I enjoyed her wit, choice of hobbies, and kind hearted nature. Chase is purely wonderful. I found him to be particularly funny! I especially adored Chase’s young wards. I was constantly laughing at their antics and wanting to reach through the pages and give them a hug.

The story starts off strong-and in a bookshop, no less! Despite being almost 400 pages, The Governess Game moves quickly. Dare certainly has no issues with pacing and is an expert at adding romance, intrigue, and humor at just the right moments. From the very beginning, Tessa Dare tells us that Alexandra and Chase are good people, and then Dare demonstrates that through their words and actions. Dare’s strong writing is what really makes this book shine.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! Tessa Dare is one of my favorite romance writers and her newest book does not disappoint. Dare works within conventional romance tropes to update the genre and push boundaries. I highly recommend this book, especially if you’re looking for a lighter and quick read.

This book is…

charming

laugh out loud funny

sexy

endearing

a quick read

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 373

ISBN: 0062672126

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Governess Game? What other romance novels would you recommend?

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Review: A Scot in the Dark by Sarah MacLean

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Lonesome Lily Turned Scandalous Siren

Miss Lillian Hargrove has lived much of her life alone in a gilded cage, longing for love and companionship. When an artist offers her pretty promises and begs her to pose for a scandalous portrait, Lily doesn’t hesitate…until the lying libertine leaves her in disgrace. With the painting now public, Lily has no choice but to turn to the one man who might save her from ruin.

Highland Devil turned Halfhearted Duke

The Duke of Warnick loathes all things English, none more so than the aristocracy. It does not matter that the imposing Scotsman has inherited one of the most venerable dukedoms in Britain—he wants nothing to do with it, especially when he discovers that the unwanted title comes with a troublesome ward, one who is far too old and far too beautiful to be his problem.

Tartan Comes to Town

Warnick arrives in London with a single goal: get the chit married and see her become someone else’s problem, then return to a normal, quiet life in Scotland. It’s the perfect plan, until Lily declares she’ll only marry for love…and the Scot finds that there is one thing in England he likes far too much…

My Thoughts:

I thought the plot of A Scot in the Dark to be a refreshing change of pace. Instead of a typical virgin falls for friend turned lover plot, our heroine is decidedly not innocent. She makes a series of dumb choices in the name of love and now must live with the consequences. It was fun to read about Lillian and Warnick working together to save her reputation and her lack of ignorance made for some fun romps in the bedroom…and in a carriage.

Sarah MacLean always gives her female characters plenty of agency, and Lillian Hargrove is no exception. I appreciated the repetitive refrain that Lily chose to sit for the scandalous portrait. It was a conscious decision that she made, albeit a foolish one. Much of Lily’s journey is focused on owning up to her mistake and developing the courage to stand on her own two feet. And Warnick is certainly a different romantic lead than usual. His being from Scotland reinforced how little he fit in with the English aristocracy, which led to several hilarious encounters, usually him bursting out of his clothes!

Curiously, this book was a little slow in the beginning. It felt like a bit too much talk and not enough action. But the story moves along about halfway through, particularly with the addition of more characters. Other reviewers pointed out that the solution to this book’s central problem is obvious: steal the infamous painting back to protect Lily. But that never even occurred to me until it occurs to the characters in this story! Plot developments might seem obvious to some but are not so to others. This is a fun and witty novel that charms from beginning to end.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! Yes, romance novels can be a bit predictable, but that’s another reason to enjoy them. I like knowing what’s coming! This is the second book in a series and I look forward to reading the next one. Sarah MacLean books are always entertaining and I highly recommend her as an author.

This book is…

witty

charming

predictable

sexy

funny

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 342

ISBN: 0062465848

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read A Scot in the Dark? What other romance novels would you recommend?

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Review: Our Homesick Songs by Emma Hooper

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

The Connor family is one of the few that is still left in their idyllic fishing village, Big Running; after the fish mysteriously disappeared, most families had no choice but to relocate and find work elsewhere. Aidan and Martha Connor now spend alternate months of the year working at an energy site up north to support their children, Cora and Finn. But soon the family fears they’ll have to leave Big Running for good. And as the months go on, plagued by romantic temptations new and old, the emotional distance between the once blissful Aidan and Martha only widens.

Between his accordion lessons and reading up on Big Running’s local flora and fauna, eleven-year-old Finn Connor develops an obsession with solving the mystery of the missing fish. Aided by his reclusive music instructor Mrs. Callaghan, Finn thinks he may have discovered a way to find the fish, and in turn, save the only home he’s ever known. While Finn schemes, his sister Cora spends her days decorating the abandoned houses in Big Running with global flair—the baker’s home becomes Italy; the mailman’s, Britain. But it’s clear she’s desperate for a bigger life beyond the shores of her small town. As the streets of Big Running continue to empty Cora takes matters—and her family’s shared destinies—into her own hands.

In Our Homesick Songs, Emma Hooper paints a gorgeous portrait of the Connor family, brilliantly weaving together four different stories and two generations of Connors, full of wonder and hope. Told in Hooper’s signature ethereal style, each page of this incandescent novel glows with mythical, musical wonder.

My Thoughts:

At its heart, Our Homesick Songs has a simple plot: the fish have fled the village and now families must relocate. But this book is actually about much more. Because the family must find alternate sources of employment, Aidan and Martha’s marriage is put to the test. But we also learn how they met and fell in love, which is just as creative, memorable, and endearing as one could hope. Because they live in a remote village, Cora yearns for travel and adventure, seeking it out anywhere she can make it. Because the fish are gone, Finn finds his own ways to preserve hope and lure the fish to return. It is through the straightforward plot that Hooper can focus on the characters and the threads that weave them together.

In many ways, the Connor family’s story is told through Finn. He asks to hear stories from his all-knowing accordion teacher, and thus we learn about his parents’ childhoods. Through these stories, we learn that Martha adores her family and Aidan feels the weight of providing. When Aidan and Martha talk on the phone, Finn picks up and eavesdrops. It is clear that Aidan and Martha adore one another, as well as their children, making their current employment situation unbearable. Cora crafts marvelous displays and allows Finn to see the completed project. I loved Cora and found her to be clever, tenacious, and determined. But most of all, I loved Finn. He is incredibly hopeful and goes about his plans with a childlike determination and certainty. He takes care of his family however he can and in his own creative ways.

I was struck by the lyrical writing of this book. The opening line, “There was a mermaid, said Finn,” really sets the tone. Hooper uses folk songs and folklore to connect each of the Connor’s stories in both the past and the present. Beautiful imagery of the sea, ships, and mermaids cast a ‘tale as old as time’ light on this story, signifying that this has all happened before and will all happen again. Mrs. Callaghan’s stories also add to this, for she is presented as a beloved recluse who has seen all this before.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book. I couldn’t put it down and finished it within 24 hours. I would highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially to anyone who enjoys quiet stories about family life.

This book is…

quiet

beautifully written

engaging

lyrical

memorable

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 336

ISBN: 150112448X

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Our Homesick Songs? What quiet family life novel would you recommend?

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Review: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

January 1946: Writer Juliet Ashton receives a letter from a stranger, a founding member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. And so begins a remarkable tale of the island of Guernsey during the German occupation, and of a society as extraordinary as its name.

My Thoughts:

This is a book for anyone who loves words, reading, and books. I loved that the entire story is told through letters. Epistolary novels are not done very often, and are even less often successful, but this one hits the nail on the head. This style choice allowed readers to hear lots of different viewpoints, and the authors were always very clear as to whom was writing to whom. I also think the use of letters feeds into the love of stories so prominently featured here. Everyone in the literary society loves stories and books and this is made abundantly clear through their excellent letter writing abilities. And while I would never dream of spoiling the plot, the Society’s origin story is a great one!

I’m always a fan of stories set in England during and after WWII, and this book is no exception. I enjoyed hearing about how Guernsey survived the German occupation and its townspeople speak of resisting in their own quiet ways. A few characters do make difficult choices and face serious consequences, all while knowing they did what they thought was right. This book does not shy away from these choices and their consequences, but also asks the reader to ponder what they might do in this situation.

Every character in this story is well crafted. Guernsey, which is a character in this book in addition to a setting, and the people who are inhabit it are cozy, lovely, and unique. Each character imparts their own quirks through the letters they write and the heartwarming, and sometimes heartbreaking, stories they share of their past. I adored that we were even given a couple of villains to shake things up from time to time.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! I’ve had my eye on this book for a long time now, but finally gave it a go because it’s been made into a movie on Netflix. I really loved this book. I think it’s a great choice for anyone who loves reading and great heartwarming stories. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an enjoyable and easy read, especially for fans of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid.

This book is…

charming

sweet

funny

emotional

well written

Publisher: Dial Press Trade Paperback

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 290

ISBN: 0385341008

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society? What WWII novel would you recommend?

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Review: The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

My Rating: 3 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

New York Times bestselling author Beatriz Williams brings us the blockbuster novel of the season—a spellbinding novel of romance, murder, class, power, and dark secrets set in the 1950s and ’60s among the rarified world of a resort island in the Long Island Sound . . .

In the summer of 1951, Miranda Schuyler arrives on elite, secretive Winthrop Island in Long Island Sound as a naive eighteen year old, still reeling from the loss of her father in the Second World War. Although a graduate of the exclusive Foxcroft Academy in Virginia, Miranda has always lived on the margins of high society. When her beautiful mother marries Hugh Fisher, whose summer house on Winthrop overlooks the famous lighthouse, Miranda is catapulted into a heady new world of pedigrees and cocktails, status and swimming pools. Isobel Fisher, Miranda’s new stepsister—all long legs and world-weary bravado, engaged to a wealthy Island scion—is eager to draw Miranda into the arcane customs of Winthrop society.

But beneath the Island’s patrician surface, there are really two clans–the summer families with their steadfast ways and quiet obsessions, and the working class of Portuguese fishermen and domestic workers who earn their living on the water and in the laundries of the summer houses. Uneasy among Isobel’s privileged friends, Miranda finds herself drawn to Joseph helps his father in the lobster boat, but in the autumn he returns to Brown University, where he’s determined to make something of himself. Since childhood, Joseph has enjoyed an intense, complex friendship with Isobel Fisher, and has a catastrophe that will shatter Winthrop’s hard-won tranquility and banish Miranda from the Island for nearly two decades.

Now, in the summer of 1969, Miranda returns at last, as a renowned Shakespearean actress hiding a terrible heartbreak. On its surface, the Island remains the same–determined to keep the outside world from its shores, fiercely loyal to those who belong. But the formerly powerful Fisher family is a shadow of itself, and Joseph Vargas has recently escaped the prison where he was incarcerated for the murder of Miranda’s stepfather eighteen years earlier. What’s more, Miranda herself is no longer a naive teenager, and she begins a fierce, inexorable quest for justice to the man she once loved . . . even if it means uncovering every last one of the secrets that bind together the families of Winthrop Island.

My Thoughts:

Per usual, I enjoyed how Beatriz Williams used multiple characters and timelines to flesh out her story. The Summer Wives is slightly different from many of her other stories, in that the focus is primarily on one character and the narration alternates between two time periods in her life. And then we do occasionally hear from another character, but always from the same point in time. While I enjoyed reading so much from one person’s perspective, I prefer when the two timelines are more disparate, like in most of Williams’s other novels. But the overall story was interesting, and includes romance, murder, and theatre! The plot is pretty interesting throughout, despite some slow pacing at times. The last 50 pages or so are a wild ride, and I can honestly say I did not expect things to wrap up the way they did.

I really appreciated how Williams explores class dynamics and how the characters in The Summer Wives navigate these differences. The different generations handled these dynamics in their own ways, with the older adults demanding distance and safety and the younger adults wanting to shake things up, and desperately. Williams also notes how gender dynamics of the 1950s and 1960s intersect with class and race, and that no two people have the exact same options or paths before them.

I thought all of the characters in The Summer Wives were interesting and complex. My favorite character is Miranda, our protagonist. As a bookworm myself, I appreciated how much Miranda loved reading and performing. Once again, Williams crafted several great women lead characters in The Summer Wives. And I appreciate that Williams knows there are many ways to write strong women. The characters featured here are courageous, weak, outspoken, understated, violent, and cautious. That being said, I do wish a few more of the characters were more fleshed out during the 1969 timeline. I felt there wasn’t quite enough explanation as to why certain characters developed as they did, which left some of these characters feeling rushed and forced.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I enjoyed this book! It took me a few days to get into it, but once I did,I flew through the rest. Williams is great at writing historical fiction and adds just the right amount of details and atmosphere to place the reader right in the middle of the story. If you’ve enjoyed any of Williams’s previous books, or if you’ve been meaning to give her work a try, you’ll definitely enjoy this one.

This book is…

well-written

lush with detail

surprising

moving

full of unique characters

Publisher: William Morrow

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 384

ISBN: 0062660349

Available here from IndieBound.

Will you read The Summer Wives? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

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Review: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

Two families, generations apart, are forever changed by a heartbreaking injustice in this poignant novel, inspired by a true story, for readers of Orphan Train and The Nightingale.

Memphis, 1939. Twelve-year-old Rill Foss and her four younger siblings live a magical life aboard their family’s Mississippi River shantyboat. But when their father must rush their mother to the hospital one stormy night, Rill is left in charge—until strangers arrive in force. Wrenched from all that is familiar and thrown into a Tennessee Children’s Home Society orphanage, the Foss children are assured that they will soon be returned to their parents—but they quickly realize that the truth is much darker. At the mercy of the facility’s cruel director, Rill fights to keep her sisters and brother together—in a world of danger and uncertainty.

Aiken, South Carolina, present day. Born into wealth and privilege, Avery Stafford seems to have it all: a successful career as a federal prosecutor, a handsome fiancé, and a lavish wedding on the horizon. But when Avery returns home to help her father weather a health crisis, a chance encounter leaves her with uncomfortable questions—and compels her to take a journey through her family’s long-hidden history, on a path that will ultimately lead either to devastation or redemption.

Based on one of America’s most notorious real-life scandals—in which Georgia Tann, director of a Memphis-based adoption organization, kidnapped and sold poor children to wealthy families all over the country—Wingate’s riveting, wrenching, and ultimately uplifting tale reminds us how, even though the paths we take can lead to many places, the heart never forgets where we belong.

My Thoughts:

Both the story and the truth behind Before We Were Yours is astonishing in the worst possible way. The more you read and discover what really happened, the more shocked you are that such a large scale operation existed for so long and did so much damage. I’m grateful to Lisa Wingate for exposing the truth and sharing this story.

I also really enjoyed how Wingate used two time periods to tell the story. By having Avery investigate, it’s easy for the reader to identify with Avery in her search for the truth. Likewise, by alternating between past and present, it’s almost impossible to put this book down. Wingate does an excellent job of pacing Before We Were Yours and also makes great use of cliffhangers to propel the story forward.

The characters in Before We Were Yours are very well-written. Wingate does a great job of showcasing each character’s intent and motivations in order to understand where everyone is coming from, including the villains. What’s also interesting about this story is that sometimes there are clearly defined good and evil characters, but that sometimes the characters aren’t so clearly defined. And in this, Wingate reflects real life. Sometimes someone does the wrong thing for the right reasons, and vice versa.

Throughout Before We Were Yours, Wingate makes some questionable language choices. She repeatedly refers to Rill Foss and her family as “river gypsies,” which is not only a slur, but not really the correct word choice. Additionally, Rill and other characters in the 1939 timeline make crass and racist observations about anyone who isn’t white, including black workers and that someone’s closed eyes make them look like a “Chinaman.” I would presume that Wingate included these details to reinforce the time period and the lack of political correctness and awareness that is better these days. But instead these remarks felt jarring and pull the reader out of the story. There are other ways to establish that the Foss family is ‘free spirited’ or that nothing about the early 1940s was perfect.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. Wingate does an incredible job of highlighting this horrific situation in our country’s past. Wingate’s former career as a journalist aided in the research and writing of Before We Were Yours and the story unfolds in all the right ways. I highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Alice Network by Kate Quinn (read my review!) and Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton (read my review!).

This book is…

shocking

illuminating

well-written

engaging

unputdownable

This book contains content warning for…

child abuse (emotional, physical, and sexual)

Publisher: Ballantine Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 342

ISBN: 9780425284681

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Before We Were Yours? What historical fiction about a lesser known piece of history would you recommend?

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Review: The Room on Rue Amélie by Kristin Harmel

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

For fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale and Martha Hall Kelly’s Lilac Girls, this powerful novel of fate, resistance, and family—by the international bestselling author of The Sweetness of Forgetting and When We Meet Again—tells the tale of an American woman, a British RAF pilot, and a young Jewish teenager whose lives intersect in occupied Paris during the tumultuous days of World War II.

When newlywed Ruby Henderson Benoit arrives in Paris in 1939 with her French husband Marcel, she imagines strolling arm in arm along the grand boulevards, awash in the golden afternoon light. But war is looming on the horizon, and as France falls to the Nazis, her marriage begins to splinter, too.

Charlotte Dacher is eleven when the Germans roll into the French capital, their sinister swastika flags snapping in the breeze. After the Jewish restrictions take effect and Jews are ordered to wear the yellow star, Charlotte can’t imagine things getting much worse. But then the mass deportations begin, and her life is ripped forever apart.

Thomas Clarke joins the British Royal Air Force to protect his country, but when his beloved mother dies in a German bombing during the waning days of the Blitz, he wonders if he’s really making a difference. Then he finds himself in Paris, in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and he discovers a new reason to keep fighting—and an unexpected road home.

When fate brings them together, Ruby, Charlotte, and Thomas must summon the courage to defy the Nazis—and to open their own broken hearts—as they fight to survive. Rich with historical drama and emotional depth, this is an unforgettable story that will stay with you long after the final page is turned.

My Thoughts:

Room has been compared to The Nightingale and there are many similarities between the two. Both stories focus on sheltering and moving RAF pilots, as well as taking in Jewish neighbors. But Room and Nightingale differ in tone. Don’t get me wrong, Room is definitely heartbreaking. I cried several time during the last 100 pages compared to my sobbing during the last 100 pages of Nightingale. Room manages to feel like a lighter read and I think that’s because Harmel injects images and conversations about hope early on and frequently throughout the story. Also, as a reader, you know when starting this book that there will be sadness. That’s an inevitable fact about this time period. But Harmel’s messages of hope were a welcome change and a beautiful way to pay tribute to the men and women who did resist the Nazis.

Harmel writes incredible characters. Ruby and Charlotte are strong, well-rounded, and dynamic. I loved reading their interactions with one another and enjoyed their development throughout Room. These two ‘regular people’ sacrificed their own well-being and safety to do the right thing during a horrible time. Harmel makes some strong points about how chosen family can be just as powerful as relatives. I especially fell for Ruby’s involvement with Thomas and for Charlotte’s loss of her childhood. Ruby and Thomas’s love story is so pure and heartwarming. I loved reading as they fell in love. Both characters felt so real and it made their romance really come alive on the page. And as for Charlotte, I can’t even imagine what it would be like to be eleven years old when WWII broke into France. Harmel does a great job of capturing Charlotte’s resolve to help despite her limited understanding of what’s happening and why.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book! I love to read well-written historical fiction, especially ones set during WWII. And Harmel definitely delivered! Harmel uses lush language to describe locations in Room, including Paris and Ruby’s hometown in California. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of The Nightingale and The Alice Network.

This book is…

beautifully written

a tearjerker

informative

full of interesting characters

engaging

Publisher: Gallery Books

Genre: historical fiction

Page Count: 400

ISBN: 1501171402

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read The Room on Rue Amélie? What historical fiction book would you recommend?

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Review: Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

My Rating: 4 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity–and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest–until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

My Thoughts:

I really enjoyed the dual storylines of 1950s Elisa and present day Marisol. The shifting perspectives and eras kept the story moving forward and each storyline lent the other needed context. Each storyline also introduced the reader to a vastly different Cuba. While Elisa’s Cuba reeked of opulence despite the world crumbling down around her, Marisol’s Cuba showed the results of their crumbled world. I especially loved the paralleled romances between Marisol/Luis and Marisol/Pablo. Reading along as each couple fell in love was absolutely beautiful and I found myself cheering for them every step of the way.

I appreciate that although Cleeton wrote strong women into this story, they were by no means perfect. Both Elisa and Marisol took tremendous risks to protect their families and the men they love, but neither leapt at the chance to be involved with politics. These are women who did what they had to do to survive. I have tremendous respect and love for Elisa and Marisol, and it’s abundantly clear that Cleeton feels the same. This book is full of strong well-written women and it was a joy to read about them.

I loved reading the interactions between the characters in this story. They were very realistic and lent an air of truth to everything that occurred. Elisa and her sisters felt especially true to me, and I’m excited to learn more about Elisa’s sister, Beatriz, in next year’s sequel. I’d be curious to know if any of these characters are based on real-life people from Cleeton’s life, as they all were engaging, well-written, and familiar.

I hope many people read this book. It’s important talk about the realities of Cuban life and its shifting political climate. Cleeton wrote a beautiful story about one family, and I hope that many more Cuban family stories are shared through books. Cleeton also does a great job of criticizing the rampant tourist fever, along with the disconnect between tourist Havana and citizen Havana.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. While I initially thought the story moved a bit slowly, the pacing really improved once the plot picked up. This story serves as a great introduction to the complicated Cuban political climate and the mindsets of those who stayed and those who left. I would definitely recommend this book, especially for fans of Beatriz Williams.

This book is…

memorable

a page turner

beautifully written

educational

surprising

Publisher: Berkley Books

Genre: fiction

Page Count: 356

ISBN: 0399586687

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Next Year in Havana? What fiction set in another country would you recommend?

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Review: Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

My Rating: 5 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

In the first in Tessa Dare’s captivating Castles Ever After series, a mysterious fortress is the setting for an unlikely love . . .

As the daughter of a famed author, Isolde Ophelia Goodnight grew up on tales of brave knights and fair maidens. She never doubted romance would be in her future, too. The storybooks offered endless possibilities.

And as she grew older, Izzy crossed them off. One by one by one.

Ugly duckling turned swan?

Abducted by handsome highwayman?

Rescued from drudgery by charming prince?

No, no, and… Heh.

Now Izzy’s given up yearning for romance. She’ll settle for a roof over her head. What fairy tales are left over for an impoverished twenty-six year-old woman who’s never even been kissed?

This one.

My Thoughts:

The storyline in Romancing the Duke felt fresh. It was great to read about Izzy fighting for her inheritance and learn how to reclaim what is rightfully hers. I think Tessa Dare does a great job of putting her own twists on some stock romance plots. This book resolves quite nicely in the end and I hope Tessa Dare revisits these characters in a later novel. In addition to the inheritance storyline, Romancing the Duke also focuses on fandoms, their usefulness, and their innate desire to hope. Many parts of this book felt like an ode to fans and to those who love to fully embody a story they love.

I loved Izzy as a heroine. I was impressed by her determination, courage, and, most of all, her imagination. It’s her imagination that makes a twenty-six-year-old woman fear the dark. It’s what made her accept the fantastic stories of knights and devilish rogues. And it’s what made Izzy visit a strange decrepit castle only to discover she’s know the owner, not Duke Ransom. Also, there are some details about Ransom that I won’t get into here because it would spoil a pretty major plot point! The foils between Izzy and Ransom are fantastic and I loved reading their witty banter. I especially loved that they both grew up throughout the course of the story. This is not a one-sided development. Rather, Izzy and Ransom ultimately learn to work together and to help one another.

Additionally, the side characters in Romancing the Duke were very fun! Ransom’s valet, Duncan, was delightfully devoted, competent, and desperate for some real work. The vicar’s daughter, Miss Pelham, is romantic, determined, and easily excited. There is also a local troupe who enjoys re-enacting scenes from their favorite stories. All in all, these side characters liven up the page and attempt to steal the show. Tessa Dare clearly writes great characters across the board, and does not relegate side characters to mere plot devices.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I loved this book! Romancing the Duke broke me out of my reading rut. I flew through this story and loved every minute of the ride. There were a few plot twists that I definitely did not see coming. Tessa Dare is quickly becoming one of my favorite romance writers! I also loved one of her more recent books, The Duchess Deal, and you can read my review here. I would highly recommend this book, especially for fans of Julia Quinn.

This book is…

laugh out loud funny

charming

surprising

steamy

a quick read

Publisher: Avon

Genre: romance

Page Count: 370

ISBN: 0062240196

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read Romancing the Duke? What historical romance would you recommend?

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Review: What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell

My Rating: 2 / 5 stars

Verdict: Buy Borrow Bypass

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

When Evie’s father returned home from World War II, the family fell back into its normal life pretty quickly. But Joe Spooner brought more back with him than just good war stories. When movie-star handsome Peter Coleridge, a young ex-GI who served in Joe’s company in postwar Austria, shows up, Evie is suddenly caught in a complicated web of lies that she only slowly recognizes. She finds herself falling for Peter, ignoring the secrets that surround him . . . until a tragedy occurs that shatters her family and breaks her life in two.

My Thoughts:

For such a short book, I thought the plot dragged on for the first two-thirds of the story until What I Saw becomes a very different book during the last third. Many of the plot developments felt entirely unnecessary and unrealistic. Anyone paying a smidgen of attention will spot the “tragedy” coming from a mile away and feel totally underwhelmed. Evie’s relationship with Peter is horrendously inappropriate, regardless of the time period. A fifteen year old should never, ever be pursued by someone in their twenties. And because I was never able to look past this plot point, I felt Evie and Peter’s relationship was ridiculous and I actively wanted them to separate.

I found Evie’s characterization to be inconsistent. At times she behaved like a twelve year old, and at others was spouting profound comments like a grown adult. The characters in this story are largely forgettable and incredibly unlikeable. I felt zero sympathy for any character save the protagonist and narrator, Evie. And I only felt a little sorry for her because at fifteen, she’s only a child who shouldn’t necessarily know better. But the adults in What I Saw are awful to themselves and to one another. Evie’s mother, Beverly, was particularly frustrating as she would act under the pretense of Eve’s best interests, and then do something else to undermine Evie’s emotional health and well-being. Both of Evie’s parents are abusive and are perpetuating cycles of abuse.

I am pleased that Blundell touched on the Anti-Semitism prevalent after WWII. One storyline surrounding the Graysons reveals the hateful attitudes towards the Jewish community that still hasn’t gone away. I think Anti-Semitism is an often overlooked form of discrimination and Blundell did a good job of providing some historical context in this book for discrimination and the many shapes it takes.

Wrap Up:

Overall, I thought this book was okay. Thankfully, this is a quick read and I started and finished What I Saw in an afternoon. I liked the setting and the hints of post war glamour mixed with a still recovering country. I am left unclear as to why Blundell thought this particular story needed to be told. I would not recommend this book.

This book is…

forgettable

a coming of age story

troubling

a quick read

predictable

This book contains content warnings for…

sexual assault of a minor

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Genre: young adult

Page Count: 284

ISBN: 0439903467

Available here from IndieBound.

Have you read What I Saw and How I Lied? What YA historical fiction would you recommend?

I am an affiliate with IndieBound and as such, receive a tiny commission should you choose to click through any of the above links and purchase the book(s). Thank you for supporting A Word is Power!