Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens, Book One by Alison Weir

I have been badly neglecting my reviews, but I’m going to try (again) to catch up here a bit. This nonfiction by Alison Weir was released way back in September; it probably won’t be long now until you can get a paperback copy.

Queens of the Conquest front cover (Ballantine Books)

THE COVERAGE: This book covers the first queens of England following the conquest. It starts, fittingly enough, with William the Conqueror’s queen Matilda, followed by Henry I’s two queens, Matilda of Scotland and Adeliza of Louvain. Next is Henry’s daughter, Empress Matilda, here referred to as Maud. She was meant to inherit the crown when her brother died, but was passed over in favor of her cousin Stephen. We also get coverage of Stephen’s wife, Matilda of Boulogne. We just get to Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and don’t go into Eleanor (who, let’s be honest, really should just get her own book…which Weir has already written).

MY TWO CENTS: People who read this blog know that I love Weir’s nonfiction. I had also looked forward to this book for years, ever since she first announced that she would write it, and then announced she would split it into several volumes. So why did I have such a very hard time getting into it? I will admit that I was sick for much of the fall/winter, and maybe that dulled my excitement over this book. But it took me a long time, and finally the purchase of the audio version, to get through it all.

While some of the lack of interest may have been just about my personal issues, I just don’t remember every struggling with a Weir nonfiction this much before. I felt like right out of the gate, part of the problem is that there are relatively few primary sources about the Conqueror’s Matilda. There’s a lot of “they probably…” and “they might have…” and some stories Weir passes on as legends that probably aren’t true. I felt like, “So what am I learning here?”

Then, there’s a stupid problem that normally shouldn’t have bothered me: too many Matildas. Everyone is Matilda. Four out of five queens here are Matilda, even though Weir smartly refers to the Empress as Maud instead. But we know darn well she’s really a Matilda. Is it Weir’s fault that Matilda was the most popular name of 11th and 12th-century English queens? Of course not, but it still somehow affected my enjoyment, and my attention span. Another problem: a lot of the other names are unrecognizable in present culture. Half the time I felt like I was reading a Star Wars novel instead of English history. Again, that’s just the way it was back in the mists of time.

Overall, I feel that maybe I just wasn’t in the right frame of mind to read this book. I intend to reread it at some point, and may even revise my review at that point. But for now, I owe the author and publisher a long-overdue review, and I’m afraid this is it.

BOTTOM LINE:  I looked forward to this book for a long time and then didn’t enjoy it. It might have been the book or it might have been me, so I will probably reread at some point.

TEACUP RATING: I’m going to be fair and give it three out of five teacups, because I really think it just wasn’t a good time for me to read this book.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in hardcover, e-book formats, and audio.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review, plus purchase of the audio file.


The Ladies of Ivy Cottage (Tales from Ivy Hill #2) by Julie Klassen

This is the second book in a Cranford-like series focusing on a small English village in the 1800s. Book 1, The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill, was previously reviewed here.

The Ladies of Ivy Cottage front cover (Bethany House)

THE PLOT: This volume focuses more on characters who were more secondary in the first book: Mercy, who lives with her aunt and runs a school; and Rachel, who came from a good family but lost everything. Rachel was being courted by Sir Timothy when her father’s downfall was revealed, and he backed away. Rachel has lost her home to her father’s heir, who wants to marry her. But Rachel would rather find some way to make it on her own (even if genteel ladies aren’t supposed to enter trade) and moves in with Mercy and her aunt. And just maybe, she’s still carrying the torch for Sir Timothy.

Meanwhile, Mercy, the “homely spinster daughter” according to her parents, runs a school at Ivy Cottage even while longing for a child of her own. She may get her chance when a local man wishes her to adopt his secret granddaughter. But of course nothing is simple. Mercy’s parents want her to give up the girl and the rest of the school and marry a teacher. Is there any hope for a little unexpected romance for Mercy?

MY TWO CENTS: I really enjoy Julie Klassen’s books, and I’ve found that a series works even better for her. We do get to revisit the more prominent characters from Book 1, Jane and Thora, and I’m sure we’ll see them again with some resolutions in Book 3. We met Rachel and Mercy in Book 1, too, but we really get their major development here.

As for our main characters, I really admire them both. Each has an easy way out that she refuses to take. Rachel struggles with accepting charity or an easy yet loveless marriage, and then chooses using the resources she has to start up a library. Despite being marginalized by her own mother, Mercy refuses to give up belief that she deserves happiness of her own choosing. However, neither of these plots seem anachronistic. The women aren’t rebels or early feminists; they’re just trying to do their best in the world of their time.


COVER NOTES: We see the backs of Rachel and Mercy, wearing appropriate fashions for the time. The titular cottage is on display, and how much would you love to live there??? (With indoor plumbing added, of course.)

BOTTOM LINE: I’m very much enjoying this series, and I think  Julie Klassen has moved to an “auto-buy” status for me.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback, hardcover, and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The Bride of Ivy Green will be released in December 2018. Check out the author’s series page at talesfromivyhill.com.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve (Maiden Lane #12.75)

Heavy work deadlines and more illness have caused me to miss posting some reviews prior to release dates, again. I had planned to play catch-up all through my week of vacation…which was spent battling some sort of respiratory flu with high fever. Let’s see if I can remind people about a couple of things that came out at the beginning of December…

First up is the (almost) finale to the “Maiden Lane” series. (Why do I say almost? Because Hoyt revealed in her newsletter that newletter subscribers will get a special story in serial format about Joseph Tinbox and Peach, titled Once Upon a Missive. So if you’re a “Maiden Lane” superfan but somehow not on Hoyt’s newsletter list, I suggest you subscribe.) In the meantime, we finally get the story of Lord D’Arque in Once Upon a Christmas Eve.

Once Upon a Christmas Eve front cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: Adam Rutledge, Lord D’Arque, is no fan of Christmas, but he his a huge fan of his grandmother, so they’re off to celebrate Christmas when their carriage is wrecked. The closest house where they can find shelter happens to belong to Godric St. John and his wife Megs (of “Maiden Lane” #5, Lord of Darkness. Megs is related to a bunch of other characters, and I’m not going through them all!) The St. Johns are having a party that includes Godric’s sister, Sarah St. John. Sarah has her own reasons for still being unmarried, but her mother has invited an assortment of unmarried young men to try to turn her head. Of course Adam is entirely unsuitable, yet the two are drawn together. Adam will have to pass some tests to prove to Sarah that even unsuitable young men can be honorable.

MY TWO CENTS: What amazes me is that this story was written prior to the #METOO movement. Its release just couldn’t be more timely. You would think that society would have progressed somewhat from the late 1700’s in terms of treatment of women, sexual assault, and slut-shaming, but…maybe not as much as we should have.

So this story focuses very much on the meaning of consent, and gives the hero the chance to show that he is a champion of putting blame where blame truly belongs (which also ends up winning him the approval of his chosen lady’s family). Don’t worry, there are no graphic scenes describing sexual assault; the two instances explored in this book are just enough to make the point. And guess what? Men who stand up for women and their rights are hot.

COVER NOTES: Sarah wears this gown, and I’m always a fan of clothes from the story appearing on the cover. Plus, it’s gorgeous.

BOTTOM LINE: A timely story that wraps up a couple of characters we’d hoped to see again with deft but deferential handling of harassment and assault, which seems pretty universal given its setting and current events.

TEACUP RATING: Four-and-a-half out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in eformats.

NEXT UP FROM AUTHOR:  Hoyt has announced a new three-book series deal, although I don’t think we have any specifics yet. Also, don’t forget that Maiden Lane started out a as a three-book series, so there’s no reason to believe that this one couldn’t expand as well. I’m ready for a whole new world from Elizabeth Hoyt!

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.



Once Upon a Maiden Lane (Maiden Lane 12.5) by Elizabeth Hoyt

Finally, FINALLY, we get the story of Mary Whitsun! If you don’t know who Mary Whitsun is, either you’re not a true “Maiden Lane” fan or it’s time to go all the way back to the beginning and start rereading!

Once Upon a Maiden Lane cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: I honestly just don’t want to give too much away here. Mary Whitsun was one of the original children in the foundling home run by Temperance Dews, Winter Makepeace, and their family way back at the beginning of the series. You know, when the Ghost of St. Giles was  running around. Now grown, Mary has become a nursemaid to the children of Temperance, Lady Caire. In this novella, her true origins are revealed. (Or are they? Wait…yes, they are.) And her true identity may win her an unexpected true love…or will it? (Maybe.)

MY TWO CENTS: So I didn’t totally love the last full-length Maiden Lane book, Duke of Desire (reviewed here), but I DID love this novella! I was partially disappointed in Duke of Desire because we didn’t see many of the other characters. It didn’t make me want to go back to the beginning and read the whole series over. This story definitely does that! (Yes, you get to see the Duke of Montgomery from Duke of Sin, previously reviewed here). And on a related note, if you’re a Loki fan and haven’t seen Thor: Ranarok yet, do go.)

Readers have been asking for a long time for grown-up Mary to get her own story, and Hoyt delivers. It’s a darling story for a character who’s been with the series from the beginning. It’s also a reminder that the “Maiden Lane” series covered all classes. Sure, lots of characters were dukes or otherwise noble, but not everyone was. Some were servants. Some were illegitimate. We even had a pirate. So why not explore the story of a foundling girl who maybe goes from rags to riches? (And that’s all I’m going to say.)

If you want to know the timeline here, this story is chronologically the last in the Maiden Lane universe. Book 1, Wicked Intentions, starts in February 1737. Book 12, Duke of Desire, takes place in April 1742. Once Upon a Maiden Lane is set in September 1747, while the very last novella, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, jumps back to Christmas 1741. (Review coming soon!)

COVER NOTES: This is likely a gown that Mary wears in the course of the story. Also, that gown is just stunning. LOOK at the fabric in that skirt.

BOTTOM LINE: LOVED IT. Mary Whitsun’s long-awaited story doesn’t disappoint! It made me think it’s time to start over with Wicked Intentions and reread the entire series.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 14, 2017, in eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  The very last “Maiden Lane” entry will be Once Upon a Christmas Eve, available December 5, 2017. I’m going to be devastated when this series is over.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Right Kind of Rogue (Playful Brides #8) by Valerie Bowman

If you’re not familiar with the “Playful Brides” series, all the books are based (loosely) on famous plays. Book #8 is based on Romeo and Juliet (although obviously not a tragedy, because…romance.) This one gives us the story of Hart and Meg, first introduced in Book #6, The Legendary Lord (previously reviewed here). I was really looking forward to this particular couple, but did it meet my expectations?

The Right Kind of Rogue front cover (St. Martin’s Paperbacks/Macmillan)

THE PLOT: Poor Meg Timmons has been in love with her best friend’s brother, Hart, forever. Too bad their families are enemies for a mysterious reason (actually, there are enough clues to figure it out before the big reveal). Meg’s family is dirt poor, so Meg can’t afford the kind of wardrobe it would take to really capture Hart’s interest at balls…or anyone else’s interest, for that matter. Hart’s sister Sarah tells Meg that Hart has finally decided to find himself a wife, but Meg despairs of ever winning him. Enter meddler extraordinaire Lucy Hunt, Duchess of Claringdon (star of Book 1, The Unexpected Duchess).

Lucy takes Meg under her wing, dressing her in new gowns and jewels designed to capture Hart’s attention, and drags her to society balls and parties. Hart takes the bait, and a relationship begins to develop…just not quickly enough for circumstances. So when the meddling eventually goes too far, misunderstandings and mixed messages may tear the lovers apart.

MY TWO CENTS: First, let me get this out of my system: This book suffers from a surplus of Lucy Hunt. I know, she’s known for being kind of a lovable manipulator, but in this story she gets downright annoying. I’ve never been a fan of how she calls everyone “dear,” the way a diner waitress will refer to customers as “hun,” but it seems especially overdone in this title. Plus, she just couldn’t quit and wouldn’t butt out the two or three times Meg told her to.

Second, I was really enjoying this book right up until Hart became an ass. For the first half of the book, Hart defends Meg from her horrible family. He offers to dance with her at balls, thereby making her more visible to eligible gentlemen. He likes her. They develop a friendship. He confides to her the horrible thing that caused him to break up with the woman he almost married. This is all fun relationship building. So you would think the rapport Hart and Meg have developed before the “big misunderstanding” occurs would see them through…but it doesn’t. Hart takes the first opportunity to turn against Meg, and I never forgive him for that.

I really thought after a scene of our duo being safely rescued after “accidentally” being locked in the silver closet, and after Hart confessing how much he’s afraid of being trapped into marriage, that we would not get the “trapped into marriage” trope. And that even if we did, Hart would realize that gentle Meg, his friend, would not be the architect of that trap. Nope; we get Hart raging around like an animal for the second half the book while Meg doesn’t know what to do.

I have no patience with this. If I were Meg, the conversation on their wedding night would have gone something like this:

Hart: I refuse to consummate the marriage! Therefore, you will never have the happy marriage you want, or children, or a family!

Meg: But what I really wanted was to be rich, stay in London, be free of my parents, and never have a man touch me, so actually I have everything I want. Toodles.

Hart: Well…in that case, we WILL consummate the marriage!

Meg: So you’re so much like your father that you’ll do the exact opposite of whatever anyone tells you just to be contrary, even if it’s something you don’t want?

Hart: … (disappears in a puff of logic)

So yeah, first half, good (as a bonus, there’s lots of descriptions of gorgeous gowns…I was really loving the Cinderella aspect of the story!) but second half…I’m not a fan.

Is it like Romeo and Juliet? Well, the families are enemies. A surplus of interference almost does them in (metaphorically). And there’s plenty of verbal poison floating around. Romeo and Juliet is even mentioned a few times, which makes sense in the context of the time period.

COVER NOTES: Between this one and the one for the next book, it looks like the series theme was reinvented again, somewhat. Still a clinch couple, back to more of the headless man pose of the first five books, but with a lush landscape added instead of the one solid color. The colors and florals are pretty and romantic. I like the cover on its own; less so when I realize this is probably the pivotal scene that turns the tide of the book.

BOTTOM LINE: Good up until the hero was a jerk and a friend became downright annoying.

TEACUP RATING: Three out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN SERIES:  A Duke Like No Other, focusing on Mark Grimaldi, will be available May 1, 2018.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Duke of Desire (Maiden Lane #12) by Elizabeth Hoyt

I’m so sad that we’re at the last full-length novel in the “Maiden Lane” series! In my opinion, though, this one plays out very much instead like the end to the miniseries focusing on the Lords of Chaos instead of the full series finale. Maybe it’s because of the two novellas still to come in the next months.

Duke of Desire front cover (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette)

THE PLOT: The Lords of Chaos (an extreme, sexually violent kind of Hellfire Club) have kidnapped Iris, Lady Jordon, mistakenly believing that she is the new bride of the Duke of Kyle. Raphael, the new Duke of Dyemore, is attending the revel to save the woman he believes is the Duchess of Kyle, but also to find out the identity of the group’s new leader. Raphael’s father had been the previous “Dionysus” of the Lord of Chaos (you may remember him from Book 7, Duke of Sin, previously reviewed here.) Raphael plans to destroy the group once and for all, even if he dies in the process.

Raphael claims Iris as “his” plaything for the night in order to rescue her. Iris doesn’t get his intentions right away, though. She doesn’t take to the “lady in distress” role, and ends up shooting her would-be rescuer. The two of them escape to his estate, but Raphael is in a weakened condition. He’s afraid the Lords of Chaos will pounce on them both if they realize he’s in a vulnerable state. Iris is doing her best to nurse him back to health, but of course she’s drawn to the enigma that is Raphael. But Raphael has been so damaged by his father that he has no intention of entering into any kind of relationship with anyone, ever. He insists on marrying Iris immediately to make sure she’s protected, but he doesn’t want her getting close, emotionally or physically.

MY TWO CENTS: If it weren’t for the Lords of Chaos connection, this would almost read like a standalone book and not part of a series…let alone the series finale. I was a little disappointed that more series characters weren’t involved (for example, we do get Kyle at some point, but not Alf).

Let me make this clear: this book is absolutely about sexual violence. Raphael has been very, very damaged by his father. He also has a massive scar on his face (although you’d never know it from the cover), and it’s a bit of a mystery about how the scar was inflicted. But everything is tied to the Lords of Chaos, which is clearly why Raphael wants to end them.

His relationship with Iris is more of a breakthrough on his part, a march back to humanity. He really has no urge to become a person again, but feeling responsible for Iris is the first step. That is one thing that doesn’t thrill me about this book: Iris doesn’t really grow as a character on her own. Her character is pretty much just a catalyst to Raphael’s growth.

This is not a “fun” romance. It’s dark. In fact, Raphael thinks of himself as the darkness and identifies Iris with light. If this weren’t a romance novel, you would sincerely wonder if both characters will survive the book. It’s a good story and a fitting ending to the Lords of Chaos arc. I just don’t love it as the end to the “Maiden Lane” saga, which is why I’m thrilled that two more novellas are coming. We better get a “and here they all are together” wrap-up. I know we had something like that with the last Christmas story, but the series wasn’t over yet, so…yes, please.

COVER NOTES: The model is attractive enough and I like the coloring, but…WHERE IS THE SCAR??? If they didn’t want to show on the scar on the cover, use a profile shot! I think about the cover for Kerrigan Byrne’s The Duke, cleverly shot to hide the missing hand. I also dislike that the publisher is reissuing all the previous books with the “single man” cover. I’m very “eh” about that. I like consistency in a series, and I guess they’re going back to make it consistent with the way the series has evolved over the years…it’s fine. I liked the old covers.

BOTTOM LINE: A good finale to the Lords of Chaos arc, but not a fitting finale to the series. It’s full of darkness, violence, and a romance that helps heal the damaged main character.

TEACUP RATING: I’m wavering between three-and-a-half and four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR:  I will shortly be reviewing the penultimate novella in the series, Once Upon a Maiden Lane, which is at long last Mary Whitsun’s story and releases November 14. Then I’m assuming we’ll get the real series wrap-up in the final novella, Once Upon a Christmas Eve, which releases December 5.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

The Scot Beds His Wife (Victorian Rebels #5) by Kerrigan Byrne

I can’t believe we’re already at the fifth installment of the “Victorian Rebels” series. This one is the first to go in a completely different direction with the title (more on that later). I’ve blogged about all the other previous books in the series, but this one links most directly to Book 3, The Highlander, previously reviewed here.

The Scot Beds His Wife front cover (St. Martin’s Paperback/Macmillan)

THE PLOT: Gavin St. James was horribly abused by his father, just as his brother Liam was. But his reaction was to divorce himself from the Mackenzie clan while trying to become self-sufficient by acquiring the property next to his. It belongs to Alison Ross, a young woman who moved to America as a child.

In the American wild west, Samantha Masters has just saved Alison Ross’s life by killing her own husband who, with his brothers, were robbing the train on which Alison was traveling. To repay and help Sam, Alison sends her to Scotland, as Alison Ross, to save Alison’s property from being taken by the horrible Mackenzies. Since Alison left as a child and has no intention of returning, no one will ever know that Sam isn’t Alison. She can use Alison’s identity to safely hide from her husband’s vengeful brothers, and the law, while holding on to Alison’s property.

Gavin assumes he’ll be able to smooth talk, or seduce, Alison into selling him her property. He is stunned by the crass, sharp-shooting, pants-wearing girl who immediately becomes his enemy. But as they clash they’re  fighting their intense attraction. Sam knows she can’t keep her true identity from Gavin forever. And another secret Sam is keeping will surely tear their fragile new love apart.

MY TWO CENTS: If you’ve never read a “Victorian Rebels” book, know this going in: they are not gentle, well-mannered romances. They are gritty and grimy and harsh.They use what some would consider foul language, and there are very little boundaries in the sex scenes, which are quite graphic.

Sam is a very different heroine for Byrne’s “Victorian Rebels” series. Often the heroine is more ladylike to offset the brutality of the hero. But in this instance, the heroine stuns the hero with her swearing, shooting, pants wearing, and other shocking bad-assery. I really liked Sam. Her backstory made her a sympathetic character, and her bravery, quick thinking, and capability made her someone to admire. All of these were more important than the lies about her identity, which she sees as a necessary evil to staying alive.

In contrast to other previous Rebels heroes, Gavin is a little more bad-boy, a little less violently dangerous and damaged. Yes, he definitely still has issues. But butting heads with Sam turns his world upside down, and he starts rethinking all the barriers he’s set around his life.

You get to visit a bit with the characters from The Highlander, and also get to witness what may be the funniest wedding ceremony in romance history. (Someone can disagree…I’d be very interested in comments on hilarious weddings.)

If you’ve been reading the series (and The Highlander in particular), then you’ve already made your peace as a reader with Liam. But Gavin has not, so that adds some interesting tension to the storyline. We also see the setup for the Rook’s story as sort of a framing device here. It’s not really necessary to read the other books before reading this, but if you’re not already hooked into the series, you’ll probably want to check out Liam’s story and go on to the Rook’s, which we don’t see wrapped up within the course of this story.

A note on the title: This is the first title that is longer than two words, the previous books being The Highwayman, The Hunter, The Highlander, and The Duke. Byrne had announced previously that her next books were going to have titles like The Rogue and The Sinner, and then The Rook’s book would be The Savage. I’m not sure why changes were made; maybe because too many romance books already have those exact titles? I don’t mind breaking the pattern so much within the series; see Elizabeth Hoyt’s “Maiden Lane” series…each set of three books within the twelve of the complete series go together. And that’s where I figured we were going when this was announced along with Inspector Morely’s book, The Rogue Takes a Wife.  But it doesn’t look like Morley’s book is up next, again. And I really, really despise this book’s title. First, I hate “beds” as a verb. It’s crass without being as crass as the language used in the book, which I find much more honest. It’s like they couldn’t put **** on the cover, so they used this mamby-pamby synonym instead. Second, I hate that the title is like, “LOOK! This book is about SEX!” It’s really about a lot more than that. I won’t deny that the sex is hot and very earthy, but both characters have had plenty of sex before they ever meet each other. That’s not what this is about. But I guess “The Scot Realizes He Can Open Himself Up to Emotional Connections” isn’t going to grab as many readers.

Further title notes: Byrne had previously announced in an interview on Fresh Fiction (link here) that The Rook’s book would be called The Devil Steals a Bride, and then Morley’s book would be The Thief Takes a Lady. But it looks like those plans have been changed again (see below in Next Up).

COVER NOTES: I had complained previously about this cover being far too much like two other St. Martin’s releases this year. It’s the first one in the series that shows the couple from farther away, showing their full bodies. I think the blue is lovely, and the swatch of Mackenzie plaid at the bottom is a nice touch. I wish we’d seen Sam in something a little less girly…her riding clothes, maybe? Complete with guns?

BOTTOM LINE: A good read with an interesting heroine who is very different from the other Victorian Rebels heroines so far. I was actually more interested in her solo story arc than the hero’s.

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP FROM THIS AUTHOR:  The book advertised in the back of The Scot Beds His Wife is The Duke With the Dragon Tattoo. Is this the next “Victorian Rebels” book? The heroine is named Lorelai, who I can’t find in any of the other books. Is it about the Rook (and we all know his real identity, right?) And THEN maybe we’ll get Morley’s book? And then I’m crossing my fingers for a book about Callum and the real Alison. There’s definitely a story there.

Note: Review is based on an ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

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