Category: book reviews (page 2 of 82)

Four Nights with the Duke

Four Nights with the DukeWhen Emilia “Mia” Carrington was 15, a poorly written poem about her unrequited love for Evander Septimus Brody, future Duke of Pindar, fell into the wrong hands. Teased and scorned, Mia swore that she was never marry Vander, even if he was the last man on earth. Years later, however, Mia is desperate to secure her nephew’s future and turning to Vander is her only option. Despite their scandalous and complicated past, Vander surprisingly agrees to Mia’s bold proposal, but only on his terms. When Vander realizes that Mia has no intention of meeting his terms, the battle between childhood enemies becomes a seductive back-and-forth between the Duke and his wife.

Four Nights with the Duke is Eloisa James’ latest novel, continuing the story of characters first introduced in Three Weeks with Lady X and loosely connected to her Desperate Duchesses series. Four Nights takes two seemingly disparate main characters and throws them into a classic and familiar “forced marriage of convenience” plot. The trope is a classic one in romance, especially historical romance, but James makes it feel fresh and new with her own twists – a heroine engaging in blackmail, a hero initially more interested in horses than wives, and one utterly hilarious (and inappropriately drunk) uncle. I personally enjoy these types of novels because there is something supremely satisfying in watching a hero and heroine fight against their circumstances until they finally realize and accept the inevitable: love will conquer all. And because it’s Eloisa James, the journey of getting to that point is the best part.

In a strange way, Four Nights reminded me a lot of many contemporary romance novels. (Bear with me here, because I think this is a good thing).  Much like real life in the 21st century, Mia and Vander’s story is messy and complicated. Vander is still scarred by the choices his parents made, while Mia wrestles with insecurities and that lingering, unpleasant memory starring Vander himself. They both must learn to communication and compromise, as they figure out what they really want. And, without giving too much away, the story thread involving Mia’s first fiancé, demonstrates that sometimes, other people – good people – do get hurt when love is on the line. So, for me, Four Nights really emphasized the universal and timeless nature of romance and love. No matter what century or country you might be in, love can be a mess. But ultimately, it’s worth it. 

While Mia and Vander’s love story is the central focus of the novel, my favorite part was not their relationship, but rather James’ sly (and, in some cases, not-so-sly) nods and odes to all things literary. Four Nights is James’ meta novel, since Mia is a romance novelist herself. The snippets of her work in progress give readers a little bit of insight into a writer’s mind, and into Mia’s internal struggle as she tries to write a fictional happy ending while finding her own.

Aside from Mia’s literary accomplishments, James’ includes a number of other little winks to beloved literary inspirations, from Mia’s nephew Charles Wallace (A Wrinkle in Time), Sir Chuffy’s frequent Twelfth Night references (and his resemble to one Sir Toby Belch) and a shout-out to fellow historical romance novelist Julia Quinn, in the form of Mia’s devotion to a Miss Julia Quiplet’s books. There’s even a passing reference to Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron (and those infamous pigeons!), a fictional book-within-a-book that appears in many of Quinn’s own novels. Oh, the meta-ness! My literary-loving heart keep leaping with joy at each new reference I discovered.

So if you love fun, tongue-in-cheek references to other literary sources, appallingly bad poetry (seriously, it’s bad), novel-writing heroines, and a devastatingly handsome duke groveling and atoning for his errors, then you will certainly want to read Four Nights with the Duke. It’s classic, wonderful, delightful Eloisa James at her best. Now, may we please have a Sir Chuffy prequel? (Please?!?)

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I also bought my own copy, because of course! 

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

A Bollywood Affair

A Bollywood AffairAt the age of four, in a small Indian village, Mili Rathod was married. 20 years later, even though Mili hasn’t seen her husband since that day, her status as a married woman has allowed her a rare freedom – the opportunity to study in America. Mili jumps at the chance for her bit of freedom, all while wondering when (or if) her husband will ever come to find her. Then, one day, someone does find her – Samir Rathod, the younger brother of Mili’s supposed husband and a hot-shot Bollywood direction. Samir tracked Mili down to secure a divorce on his brother’s behalf, but the woman he finds is not at all what he expected. As Mili and Samir are drawn closer together, both will question what matters more: family obligations, or personal happiness?

Sonali Dev’s gorgeously-written debut novel, A Bollywood Affair, is a wonderful, heartfelt and deeply emotional love story. Steeped in contemporary Indian culture (with all its diversity and variety), Dev’s book captures the confusion, hope and struggle found both in a new romance and in those trying to balance family and tradition with a modern world. And even though Mili and Samir’s romance is an integral part of the plot, Dev’s novel extends beyond romance to explore the complicated and complex relationships between parents and children, siblings and the families we make for ourselves.

A Bollywood Affair is bursting with details and descriptions that are bright and vibrant (particularly the chapters featuring a hastily-planned Indian wedding) and the precise commentary on all of the food is sure to leave you hungry – or Googling the nearest and best Indian restaurant. Dev has a way of making everything in her novel feel fresh and new. So while A Bollywood Affair does feature some fairly familiar romance tropes, it never feels that way. Moreover, Dev’s characters easily avoid stereotypes and stock characterization. There are no dastardly villains or Rube Goldberg-style obstacles standing in Mili and Samir’s way – it’s just them, with their own flaws and strengths, their own choices and behaviors and their own beliefs in love winning out in the end.

A Bollywood Affair is exquisite, a carefully planned combination of heart, hope and heat. Even if you don’t think you like romance, I defy you to read Sonali Dev’s debut novel and not enjoy. That’s a bet you’ll lose, I’m sure. And, as an added bonus, A Bollywood Affair is currently duking it out in Round 3 of DABWAHA, so go vote for it!

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

I Loved A Rogue

I Loved a RogueEver since she and her younger sisters washed ashore after a tragic shipwreck, Eleanor Caulfield has been the perfect daughter: prim, proper, well-behaved and responsible. She’s been an ideal young lady – and she’s tired of it. With her sisters and her adopted father now married, Eleanor longs for an adventure like the ones she’s read about in books. Enter Taliesin Wolfe. Once Eleanor’s constant companion in childhood, Taliesin left home 11 years ago and never looked back. But now, a quest to uncover the truth about Eleanor’s birth parents will set both of them off on an eye-opening journey. Both Eleanor and Taliesin have secrets and uncovering them may reveal what others have known for years: they’re made for each other.

I Loved a Rogue is the final book in Katharine Ashe’s Prince Catchers trilogy, and as such, it pulls together all the threads and hints from the previous two books in revealing the truth behind the Caulfield sisters’ parentage. The tone and feel of I Love A Rogue is a bit different from the previous two novels; there is a lot more rain and wind-swept moors with gloomy manor houses. But it works wonderfully with the discovery of answers and the pay-off of Ashe’s carefully planned story. The ring with the mysterious symbol, the Gypsy woman’s prediction that one sister would marry a prince, even the presence of certain characters – all come together to form a deeply satisfying happy ending for all the sisters, but mostly for Eleanor and Taliesin.

Romance novels come in many forms, and one of my favorite themes and tropes is the idea of unrequited love realized. Eleanor and Tailesin’s relationship practically defines the phrase “romantic tension” and their delicate back-and-forth dance consumes most of the novel. It can be difficult at times to watch them come so far only to be dragged apart again (there is, after all, only so much longing and heartbreak a romance reader can stand), but I was especially impressed by Ashe’s ability to craft an engaging novel based almost entirely on misunderstandings and confusion. Such stories can sometimes feel repetitive and manipulative (especially when you just know the hero and heroine belong together). Ashe, however, has created a story with just the right pace and just the right number of reasonably plausible explanations for Eleanor and Taliesin’s separation. And, of course, that makes their inevitable reunion all the more sweeter.

Though the mystery of the Caulfield sisters’ parents felt secondary to me as a reader (I’m here for the romance, people), the conclusion to that particular plot was still quite entertaining and incredibly well researched. The complicated, interwoven relationships between many of the characters did require some flowcharts (yes, I write flowcharts for my novels sometimes. I’m a nerd like that) and the pace of the last third of the novel is almost dizzying with the number of revelations flying. But there’s also the slightest sense of magic in the way Eleanor and Taliesin came together as children and then adults, in the larger context of their parents’ stories. With the Gypsy fortune that started the series off, it’s enough to make you believe in destiny.

I had a few minor quibbles with I Loved A Rogue (I personally could have done without Robin Prince’s character and some of Eleanor and Taliesin’s arguments could have simply be solved by being honest), but overall, this book was a wonderful and satisfying conclusion to the series. And should she ever decide to, I think Katharine Ashe would have eager audiences for a prequel starring Eleanor and Tailesin’s parents. (Without giving anything away – there’s so much going on there!). I Loved A Rogue is an excellent addition to the Katharine Ashe oeuvre and a pleasure to read.

Disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

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