The Virgin’s Daughter (Tudor Legacy #4) by Laura Andersen

Yay, the alternate reality of the “Tudor Legacy” series continues! If you aren’t familiar with this series, but it seems appealing to you, you need to start with the first trilogy: The Boleyn King, The Boleyn Deceit (reviewed here), and The Boleyn Reckoning (reviewed here).

The Virgin's Daughter (Random House)

The Virgin’s Daughter Front Cover (Random House)

****SPOILER WARNING: This review will contain spoilers for the first three books.****

THE PLOT: Like the first trilogy, this new trilogy takes place in an alternate reality where Anne Boleyn gave birth to a legitimate, living son after Elizabeth. Unfortunately, Henry IX, known to his family and friends as William, pretty much self-destructed from rage and jealousy, and tried to take his two former friends, Dominic and Minuette Courtenay, with him. After his death, his older sister Elizabeth becomes queen and marries Philip of Spain.

Twenty-two years later, Elizabeth is the target of the Nightingale Plot. She is divorcing Philip and fighting to make sure their daughter, Anne Isabella (or Annabel to her family), stays the Protestant heir to the English throne. Elizabeth turns to her oldest friends, Dominic and Minuette Courtenay, and their children for help. Of course, Minuette’s oldest daughter, Lucette, is also Elizabeth’s niece through William, and her mind is Tudor-sharp like her aunt’s. Walsingham sends Lucette to spy on the Courtenays’ old friends, the French LeClerc family. One of Renaud’s two sons is the Nightingale mastermind, but which one? Nicolas, the respectable, wounded widower, or Julien, the reckless charmer?

In the meantime, Lucie’s brother, Stephen, is sent to help guard the imprisoned Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, and may be falling under her influence. The last two Courtenays, twins Pippa and Christopher (Kit), are Princess Annabel’s best friends. But can they keep her safe? And what hope does poor Kit have when he realizes he’s in love with Anne, even as suitors start to compete for her hand?

MY TWO CENTS: If you’re familiar with my blog, you know I love Tudor nonfiction and fiction…and I especially love these books! I’m just amazed at how the author has created this parallel world, and how decisions she made in the earlier books are addressed again here. (Example: Guildford Dudley didn’t marry Jane Grey, who never tried to usurp the throne from Mary Tudor, who was never a legitimate heir because Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn was never invalidated. But Guildford did marry and have a son, who is one of Elizabeth’s favorites, like his uncle Robert before his execution.) The author must have TONS of notes on the ripple effect each historical change has on so many other factors.

As far as characters, I liked Lucette even more than I did her mother, Minuette, in the earlier books. Lucie is a perfect blend of the best of the Courtenays and the best of the Tudors, yet still makes mistakes. For example, she’s so intelligent and quick at puzzles, yet the mastermind still stays one step ahead of her. I liked the other Courtenay offspring as well, and can’t wait to find out what Stephen does next, how Pippa develops, and if Anne and Kit can have a future.

I could complain that I figured out where the Nightingale Plot was ultimately headed, but I think the ride was and will continue to be enjoyable. Also, the ending showdown was suspenseful enough to keep the reader guessing. After all, Andersen did prove in the first trilogy that anyone is expendable.

My one tiny gripe, which is a really tiny stupid gripe, is…the title. In this reality, Elizabeth was married for 20 years to Philip and bore his child, so she was never really “The Virgin Queen.” I realize that the title will attract those interested in Tudor historical fiction, but it kind of doesn’t make sense with the plot. Very, very small point, though.

BOTTOM LINE: I love how Laura Andersen is careful to pull all the relevant threads into her world and make it a realistic “what if” scenario. I enjoy these books so much, and can’t wait for the next one, The Virgin’s Spy.

TEACUP RATING: Five out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available May 26, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

The Beautiful One (Scandalous Sisters #1) by Emily Greenwood

So does this cover scream Titanic to you like it did me? It got my attention immediately, and I wanted to check out what this author was about. Disclaimer: This story is actually much more “Beauty and the Beast” than Titanic.

The Beautiful One Front Cover (Sourcebooks Casablanca)

The Beautiful One Front Cover (Sourcebooks Casablanca)

THE PLOT: Poor innocent Anna, the daughter of a country doctor, has been the object of a terrible violation. Her father’s apprentice, Jasper Rawlins, spied on her personal moments and made all sorts of drawings of her unclothed. Then he sold them to the ribald Marquess of Henshaw, claiming that the subject posed willingly. The nobleman doesn’t care…he’s showing the pictures of “The Beautiful One” far and wide in Society, promising to release the mysterious model’s at a fabulous party. He even wants Anna to pose for a risqué portrait with him to be unveiled at the party. Once Anna’s identity is revealed, she’ll be completely ruined. Unprotected, with no alternatives, Anna goes into hiding as a seamstress at a girl’s school. Her plans to hide to awry when the school expels one of its students and sends Anna as the girl’s chaperone to escort her to her uncle’s estate.

Will Halifax, Viscount Grandville, lost his beloved wife in a riding accident and has been behaving like a hermit in his period of deep mourning. He is not amused when his niece, Lizzie, is delivered from her school, hoping to live with him. With no desire to return to society and no interest in sponsoring his niece’s debut, he tells Lizzie’s chaperone he’ll be finding another school for her. Anna sees the girl’s loneliness (she’s lost her parents, too) and fights for her to stay with Will. Will treats Anna poorly until they start to bond, and a gentle, tentative romance begins. But will their relationship survive the revelation of “The Beautiful One?”

MY TWO CENTS: The style of this book reminded me very much of Grace Burrowes. It was quiet and slow-building with very little (if any) humor and no spying, danger, or other action. For me, this means it got a little long in the middle while Will and Anna were building their romance, but Anna wasn’t confiding her troubles to him. If Anna had just told him what was happening, Will probably would have taken care of it much earlier. As it is, the anticipation (and frustration) of Rawlins, Henshaw, and “The Beautiful One” builds until the last minute, and then is over very quickly. Personally, I would have enjoyed faster pacing throughout.

Having said that, it’s a sweet story with a catalyst I hadn’t heard before, although the general premise is familiar. Will is very “beastly” indeed at first, and the arrival of Anna, Lizzie, and then Will’s brother and stepmother bring light and life back into his home. Gradually he comes back to life, and learns a few things about love in the process. I really like Will. Of course, it’s hard to dislike a landowner who buries his grief in crafting better homes for his tenants, no matter how cranky and miserable he is otherwise.

BOTTOM LINE: Perfect for fans of Grace Burrowes, but not for readers who want a lot of humor or action and danger in their romance. I felt that it got a little slow by the middle, and then wrapped up too quickly.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available June 2, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

Take Another Look by Rosalind Noonan

Twins separated at birth? Family psychoses? Slow-burn murderous plots? Count me in!

Take Another Look Front Cover

Take Another Look Front Cover (Kensington)

THE PLOT: Jane Flannery made a big mistake when she chose abusive Frank, a crooked cop, for a boyfriend. When she got pregnant and he tried to force her to have an abortion, she knew she had to get away. She moved away, changed her name to Jane Ryan, started a new life, and severed contact with her family. But when she found out she was having twin girls, she knew she didn’t have the resources to keep both. Jane kept Harper, the bad-tempered twin with colic, and gave serene Louisa to a loving, wealthy couple.

Now, 14 years later, Jane often worries that sullen, difficult Harper has inherited her father’s family’s mental illness and brutality. Is she a normal, petulant adolescent girl? Or does she have the kind of anger management issues that would lead her to try to take out a sports rival with a baseball bat?

Things get even more complicated when Louisa, now called Isabel, and her adoptive mother move to the small town. Isabel’s father has died, and her mother has had health problems. Isabel wants to connect with her birth family before they become all she has left. The girls couldn’t be more different. Harper is an athlete who is most comfortable in a team uniform. Isabel favors pink and spends her time cooking and designing clothes. The twins bond, but Jane remains uneasy. Has one of the twins really inherited Frank’s madness…and if so, which one?

MY TWO CENTS: I don’t think I will ever stop looking for a stories that are reminiscent of V.C. Andrews (the fantastic original author, the real Virginia Andrews, and the early ghostwritten stories that were good). The summary for this book hooked me…reunited twins, one good, one evil; family shenanigans including sabotage and framing; manipulation; abuse…even (WARNING) pet trauma is in there. For VC fans, it was like a cross between Heaven and Ruby.

I had two main problems with this book. The first was that there was a LOT of setup time; I think I was at about 55% before Isabel even showed up in the story. There was a lot of description about Jane and Harper’s day-to-day, Harper’s angst with her friends and team sports, Harper being moody…I guess it was all setup for Harper’s character, but it seemed a bit long before the action really kicked in.

My other main problem was that it was too predictable. From the time Isabel showed up, talking about her recently deceased adoptive father and sick mother, I knew what was going on. (Maybe I’ve just read too much V.C. Andrews?) But the twins switching places, attempted boyfriend stealing, the garden no one should enter, keeping the classroom pets over the holiday…I had seen it all before. The ending had a bit of a surprise to it, and that was fun. Just when I was wondering if it could wrap up by the end of the book, it did…although a sequel is highly possible.

One more thing: ***MAJOR SPOILER*****

 

WHY was Jane so worried about Harper inheriting Frank’s madness, but not Isabel? Was it because Isabel had the façade of calm, cool collection? But if she was so convinced of the nature versus nurture thing, shouldn’t she have been at least suspicious of Isabel?

 

**END SPOILER**

 

BOTTOM LINE: Mostly predictable, but also well-written and an easy read. Worth the read if you like this kind of story. I would totally read a sequel.

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

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

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

The Unlikely Lady (Playful Brides #3) by Valerie Bowman

The Unlikely Lady is the third book in Valerie Bowman’s “Playful Brides” series, in which each book is based on a classic play. Book 1, The Unexpected Duchess, is loosely based on Cyrano de Bergerac. Book 2, The Accidental Countess, is a retelling of The Importance of Being Earnest. The Unlikely Lady, the most enjoyable of the three (so far), is based on Much Ado About Nothing.

The Unlikely Lady Front Cover (St. Martin's Press)

The Unlikely Lady Front Cover (St. Martin’s Press)

THE PLOT: Jane has every intention of becoming a spinster so she can avoid society and just read her books in peace. She’ll break the news to her mother right after her friend Cass’s wedding, where she plans to cause some sort of scandal that leaves her ruined and, therefore, on the shelf. For extra entertainment, there’s the neverending “merry war” betwixt her and her other friend’s cousin, Garrett.

Garrett would never admit how much he enjoys arguing with Jane. He would claim he just puts up with her because she’s his cousin Lucy’s friend and partner-in-crime. In the meantime, he has problems of his own. He’s haunted by survivor’s guilt, and to add to it, the widow of the soldier who saved Garrett’s life has wangled an invitation to the wedding and seems intent on hooking up with Garrett. He’s not interested.

At a masquerade party during the pre-wedding festivities, Jane goes masked but without her eyeglasses, and Garrett is just drunk. They end up in the library together getting quite cozy…each without realizing who the other is. Whoops. But their meeting is witnessed by Lucy and Cass, and the friends plot to trick the unlikely couple into getting together. They tell Jane that Garrett is in love with her, and tell Garrett that Jane is in love with him. This helps them to at least lower their defenses enough to start really getting to know each other. But then there’s the widow, who wants Garrett for herself, and will make sure Jane believes that Garrett is a two-timing dog. Can this mess possibly end in true love? (Hint: It’s a romance! Based on Much Ado About Nothing!)

MY TWO CENTS: I love Jane. I love Garrett. I love Garrett’s library. What more is there to say?

Seriously, though, this is a fun takeoff on Much Ado with a few twists and turns. I identify with Jane and am glad she realized that Garrett was more than just a pretty face who likes to pick fights. They truly seemed like a good couple, one who naturally belonged together.

I will admit that I’m not a fan of Lucy, and I didn’t love The Unexpected Duchess, the book that focused on her. She’s a little less prominent in this book, which I liked. I also recommend trying this book if you read the first one and didn’t like it…this one may be more to your taste.

BOTTOM LINE: So much fun, you won’t want it to end. Looking forward to book 4, The Irresistible Rogue, based on The Philadelphia Story

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

ON SALE DATE: Available May 5, 2015, in paperback and eformats.

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

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