Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Oooh, new historical fiction! This one about Queen Victoria! You already know I’m pretty much going to eat this up. Especially when I previously enjoyed other books by this author.

Victoria front cover (St. Martin's Press)

Victoria front cover (St. Martin’s Press)

THE PLOT: The story covers a relatively short period in Victoria’s life: from right before her ascension to the throne up to her engagement to Prince Albert. Most of the plot centers around Victoria’s fascination with her much older Prime Minister, Lord Melbourne; but there are also the twists and turns of people trying to manipulate the sheltered teenage queen.

There’s her mother’s companion, John Conroy, who was sorry that Victoria didn’t become queen before her 18th birthday and therefore require a regency. (Which, of course would have been run by her mother and him…so, mostly him.) Her paternal uncle, the Duke of Cumberland and King of Hanover, is annoyed that England didn’t have laws preventing a female from inheriting the throne, which would have made him King of England. Her maternal uncle, the King of Belgium, is adamant that Victoria should marry his nephew Albert so she is “guided” by the Coburgs.

Everyone agrees that she must marry quickly so there’s a steadying male influence on the giddy young girl. The one thing they all agree on is that the husband cannot be Lord Melbourne, no matter how much Victoria might wish it.

MY TWO CENTS: I didn’t realize that Daisy Goodwin had written the Masterpiece drama coming to PBS, starring Jenna Coleman and Rufus Sewell. This book is kind of the novelization of that. I was already looking forward to it, so reading this just helped build more excitement.

This book is a pretty quick read. It’s broken into four parts, and the chapters within each part are fairly short. It’s easy to pick up and put down, although I mostly just wanted to keep reading once I was in it.

I felt very connected to the character of Victoria. She seemed very authentic to me, both as an 18-year-old girl, and a very sheltered individual who is suddenly queen. Her mother and Conroy certainly didn’t do her any favors by keeping her so isolated. How could she learn to relate to people when she wasn’t allowed? How could she learn to be a good queen in a vacuum? And some of her early major missteps reflect that.

I really enjoyed this book…right up until Albert’s entrance, which was about 75% of the way through. The rest of the book focused on the not-quite-a-romance between Victoria and her Lord M. People keep trying to push Albert at her (in his absence), and she wants nothing to do with that path. She didn’t like Albert the last time she saw him, and the more people push, the less she’s interested.

Then, right after Lord M breaks it to her that he could never be her husband, Albert arrives. Victoria goes from “I want nothing to do with him” to “maybe I want to impress him” to “Okay, I’ll marry him” in way too short a time. Unfortunately, the rush to engagement does make her seem fickle or giddy. I guess I would have preferred for Albert to show up sooner in the narrative so they could work out all their awkwardness more slowly. Or maybe the end of the book just needed to be longer. I felt that the coverage of the Victoria/Lord M story was appropriate and built nicely throughout the book, while the Albert-focused chapters were rushed. Victoria and Albert’s story was supposedly a great love story, but you don’t get that feeling here. You feel that she settled, and so did he. (Maybe it won’t seem that way in the miniseries? I hope not.)

COVER NOTES: The cover is reminiscent of Goodwin’s book The American Heiress. Simple but elegant. I wonder if that is Jenna Coleman as Victoria, and the rooms are from sets used in the production.

BOTTOM LINE: An enjoyable, quick, easy read. A little too rushed at the end for my taste. Looking forward to checking out the Masterpiece Presentation on PBS!

TEACUP RATING: Four out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 22, 2016, in hardcover and eformats.

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

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The Dangers of Desire (Sinful Suitors #3) by Sabrina Jeffries

I can’t believe we’re already on to Book 3 of Sabrina Jeffries’ “Scandalous Suitors” series. I’m starting to lose track of who’s related to whom at this point, so I’ll try to step it out in “My Two Cents” down below. You know, in case that’s the kind of thing that boggles your mind, too.

The Danger of Desire front cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

The Danger of Desire front cover (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster)

THE PLOT: Miss Delia Trevor is trying to find the man who cheated her brother out of all the family’s money, causing her brother to kill himself and leave his wife and infant son behind. All she has to go on is that the other gambler was a nobleman with a tattoo of the sun on his wrist. Disguised as a young man, Delia has been roaming the gambling hells of London, searching for this man. And her gambling winnings are helping to hold off foreclosure of the family estate.

Warren Corry, Marquess of Knightford, is still feeling guilty over what happened to his cousin Clarissa before her marriage. So when Clarissa asks him to find out if any scoundrel is hounding her friend Delia, he agrees, although he’s afraid Clarissa is also trying to push an unmarried friend into his path. And Warren is determined to remain a carefree bachelor for as long as possible. More importantly, he doesn’t want a wife who would realize he suffers from recurring night terrors, which makes him feel like a coward.

When Warren discovers what Delia is really up to, he’s both horrified and intrigued. She would be ruined in an instant if she were discovered masquerading as a male, and he knows she’s still keeping some crucial piece of the puzzle from him. Together, they might be able to find out the truth about what happened to Delia’s brother…but they might be sorry they did.

MY TWO CENTS: All right, here’s where we’re at with this series. Book 1, The Art of Sinning (reviewed here), was about Jeremy Keane (who was related to the author’s previous series) and Yvette Barlow. Then there was a short story, “The Heiress and the Hothead” (reviewed here), which featured Jeremy’s sister Amanda Keane and Lord Stephen Corry, Warren’s brother. Book 2, The Study of Seduction (reviewed here), was about Yvette’s brother Edwin and Clarissa, cousin of Warren and Stephen. Got all that?

This tone of this book was a little bit lighter than that of Book 2. Granted, there is still a man who drowned himself, but it wasn’t one of the main characters (obviously). Delia isn’t a perfectly gorgeous heroine with the figure of a model, which is always nice. And if Warren is a typical “I’m not getting married, no way…until I meet this particular woman” hero, at least there’s another layer in his avoidance of marriage. Layers are good.

I think the romance came together pretty well. Delia and Warren seem well matched. And once she finds out his secret, they can overcome the “he married me, but he’ll never love me” nonsense that sometimes seems required in romance. (WHY aren’t there more romances where the man professes undying love the whole time, but the woman is standoffish? Who cares about realism?)

What interested me the most was the “man with the tattoo” mystery, and that didn’t disappoint. It also helped set up at least the next book in the series, if not more.

COVER NOTES: Carrying on with the theme of the hero staring directly at the fourth wall, this one isn’t as entertaining as Book 1’s cover. The colors are pleasing pastel, and the fabric of her dress is awesome. The hero is pretty darn attractive.

BOTTOM LINE: Lighter in tone than the last book, with an ending I didn’t see coming from the beginning. (Well, except for the part where the couple ends up together!) Totally enjoyable.

TEACUP RATING: Four plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available November 22, 2016, in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: The Pleasures of Passion, about Delia’s sister-in-law Brilliana and Clarissa’s brother Niall, will release June 20, 2017. Then, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a book on Warren’s brother Hart, but that hasn’t actually been announced to my knowledge.

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

Hold Me (Cyclone #2) by Courtney Milan

I apologize to readers and the author for the delay in this review; I was a little distracted with the WORLD CHAMPION CHICAGO CUBS!!! (Sorry, I’ve waited all my life to say that and I’m going to use every opportunity to get it out there. WORLD CHAMPIONS! CUBS! THESE WORDS GO TOGETHER AT LAST!

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Ahem. Okay, I will get focused—at least for a bit.

Hold Me is the second full-length book in Courtney Milan’s contemporary “Cyclone” series. We met Tina’s roommate Maria Lopez in Book 1, Trade Me (previously reviewed here).

Hold Me front cover

Hold Me front cover

THE PLOT: Maria Lopez leads a double life. By day, she’s a college student with a rough family history. By night, she runs a popular website discussing statistical data of theoretical apocalyptic events. She keeps this identity hidden, but a lot of professors and really smart people love her blog and beg to meet her and possibly hire her astonishingly smart self for projects. (Although they assume she’s probably a guy.) One fan she comes to know as Actual Physicist has, only through texting and email, become a best friend and maybe even more. But they’ve agreed to keep their identities secret and not meet, so the relationship hasn’t progressed to the next level.

When Maria and her brother’s friend, Professor Jay Thalang, meet for the first time, they immediately hate each other. Jay assumes he knows everything about Maria just from her appearance and dismisses her. Maria understandably bristles at this and doesn’t hesitate to tear him apart. There’s a physical attraction, but so much animosity that they’d probably never get past it…if they weren’t already in love as Em and Actual Physicist. Of course, they don’t know this yet.

What follows is a complex love story between two people with a lot of baggage between them. Even if they find out who the other is, is there any way to work through A) the way they met; B) Jay’s issues with his past, and C) Maria’s abandonment issues?

MY TWO CENTS: I should just talk about how much I LOVE THIS BOOK and leave it at that, but I have to say something else first. I’ll try to keep it brief.

This is the first romance I’ve read with a transgender person as one of the leads. When I realized we were getting a book about Maria, I had a split second of, “Do I want to read this?” I’m sorry for even that split second. I consider myself an LGBTQ ally, but it took Courtney Milan writing this book to make me understand that claiming that title takes more than just accepting that all people have human rights. People also deserve representation and inclusion. They don’t deserve me wondering if should dare read a book about them, like they’re some sort of forbidden element, or the mysterious “other.” Am I afraid that reading book will change my gender identity or sexual orientation? No. Do I enjoy books that represent the extreme complexities of human emotions in relationships? Yes. Do I believe that all people everywhere, regardless of gender, orientation, race, size, ethnicity, or religion, experience these emotions? Yes. Therefore, it would be ridiculous to turn away from a book from a favorite author when she’s representing a group of people that doesn’t include me.

And here’s the thing: this is a romance with problems you would find in any other romance. The conflict in the story doesn’t come from Maria being transgender or Jay being bisexual. Those things help create the characters, but they’re not the point. It’s more like the transitive process in interfering with the relationship development. For example, Maria is terribly skittish of love because her parents threw her out when she was 12. This tends to throw a roadblock into believing others can love and accept you unconditionally. There are no roadblocks involving her gender identity specifically.

As far as the story goes: it’s not just that I didn’t want to put it down; I didn’t even want to be bothered with going to work if I could be reading this instead. It’s enthralling. The reader is caught up in, “WHEN will they figure out who the other is? Will Maria and Jay make up in person before they find out they’re already in an online relationship? Who figures it out first? How will they react?” And then, actually making a relationship work is like a whole other (equally complicated) story.

One more thing: I love how the world of the Cyclone series was getting more fleshed out in this book. Adam and Blake Reynolds only make brief appearances, but Tina has a meatier role. So does Angela Choi, who will be a main character in the upcoming book Show Me.

COVER NOTES: Once again, the author had photos taken to represent the characters accurately. So we see representations that are the correct ethnicities (imagine that!) plus Jay and his tattoos, and Maria being gorgeous. Too bad her awesome shoes aren’t on the cover, too, but one can’t demand everything.

BOTTOM LINE: Are you hesitating in reading this book? Please don’t. It’s a fantastic love story. You will love it, you will love the characters, and you will learn something—about statistics, or human nature, or both.

TEACUP RATING: Five plus out of five teacups.

ON SALE DATE: Available now in paperback and eformats.

NEXT UP IN THE SERIES: Find Me, about Tina and Blake (again), should be out sometime in 2017. The description is on Courtney Milan’s website now. Also coming soonish is After the Wedding, the next book in Milan’s historical Worth saga.

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

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