BOOK REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbor, by Hester Fox

BOOK REVIEW: The Widow of Pale Harbor, by Hester FoxTitle: The Widow of Pale Harbor by Hester Fox
Published by Graydon House
Published: September 17th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Romance
Pages: 352
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife's death, so he moves to Pale Harbor, Maine, where there is a vacancy for a new minister. Gabriel and his late wife had always dreamed of building their own church, and Pale Harbor is the perfect opportunity.

But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town of Pale Harbor. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople know that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a widow who lives with a spinster maid in the decaying Castle Carver on the edge of town. Sophronia is a recluse, rumored to be a witch who killed her husband.

When Gabriel meets her, he knows the charming, beautiful woman cannot be guilty of anything. Together, Gabriel and Sophronia realize that the mysterious events have one thing in common: they all contain an element from the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And when the events escalate to murder, Gabriel and Sophronia must find the real killer, before it's too late for them both.

The Widow of Pale Harbor is an atmospheric historical romance with ties to Edgar Allan Poe’s writing that kept me gripped from beginning to end. Sophronia Carver lives in Pale Harbor, Main, and must come to terms with accusations of witchcraft, murder, and unsettling incidents that keep happening to her and to her immediate surroundings. Gabriel Stone arrives to the sleep coastal town to fill the vacant minister’s position, but from what in his past is he running?

As the incidents begin to escalate, Sophronia and Gabriel realize that these incidents are the work of a twisted individual. Once they realize that the incidents are inspired by the works of Edgar Allan Poe, they must discover who is behind it all or risk being the next victims of a gruesome attack. In the midst of all of this, Sophronia and Gabriel realize that their attraction toward each other is undeniable, but parts of their respective pasts are holding them back. Gabriel accepted the position in Pale Harbor as a testament to his dead wife, even though he has little care for Transcendentalism or preaching in general. Sophronia must reconcile her past, the accusations of murder thrown toward her, and her limited freedoms before opening up her heart to someone else.

I love the Gothic as a genre. It’s claustrophobic, evoking a sense of dread and wonder at the same time, and delightfully creepy. I love the visuals of a woman scorned in some way standing on a moor overlooking her estate in contemplation, and The Widow of Pale Harbor satisfies every one of those want and hopes I had when I learned about Hester Fox’s second novel. This is a worthy sophomore work, and it’s definitely one to check out if you’re interested in Gothic-style fiction, mysteries, and Transcendental America. Fox wove all of this into a compelling and complex narrative with all sorts of delightful and macabre twists, and it’s one of my favorite reads of the year.

Thank you to Graydon House/Harlequin for sending me an advance reader’s copy to include in a promotional book tour! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Rogue Most Wanted, by Janna MacGregor

BOOK REVIEW: Rogue Most Wanted, by Janna MacGregorTitle: Rogue Most Wanted by Janna MacGregor
Series: The Cavensham Heiresses #5
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Published: June 25th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 371
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

There’s one creed all Cavensham men subscribe to: they fall in love completely and decidedly. But what happens when the woman you fall in love with swears she'll only marry you as a last resort? Rogue Most Wanted is the next book in the sparkling, romantic Cavensham Heiress series by Janna MacGregor.

SHE NEEDS TO MARRY SOMEONE

Lady Theodora Worth needs to marry fast in order to keep her estate. It’s been her heart and home for years, and she’ll not lose it to anyone. There’s just one problem—as a woman who was raised in isolation by her grandfather, she’s completely incapable of pouring a cup of tea, never mind wooing a man. She’ll need a little matchmaking help from her sprightly next-door neighbor in order to find a convenient husband…

IT’S JUST NOT GOING TO BE HIM

Lord William Cavensham’s heart was broken years ago, and since that day he vowed to never love again. But his spirited Great Aunt Stella is determined he’ll marry or not inherit a single penny from her. And she’s got just the woman in mind—her beautiful and completely hapless next-door neighbor, Thea…

Thea and Will agree there’s no sense in marrying each other. Will wholeheartedly believes he’s incapable of love, and Thea refuses to marry the first man she’s practically met. But Will may be the rogue Thea wants the most after all…

When I started reading Rogue Most Wanted, I hadn’t realized it was the fifth in the series, but I ultimately think that it didn’t detract too much from the story. Once I got near the end, I realized that a lot of the other characters and couples mentioned in the book were probably from previous works in the series and my Goodreads perusal proved me right. Anyway, MacGregor’s Rogue Most Wanted continues my adventure in historical romance, and this one fell a little more flat for me than the others. I didn’t feel as if Will was much of a rogue. That little bit of his history in the frame chapter that may have proved otherwise didn’t seem to carry to the present. He was a total romantic through and through, even as much as he fought it.

The second half dragged a bit more for me than the first, and it felt as if some of the plot devices were being forced to work rather than them feeling effortless in the course of the narrative, like the extended family member who tried to lay claim to the title. He just seemed to show up when it was convenient for the storyline rather than to actually cause some mischief. The consistent misuse of the word “jilted” bothered me. I know the standard meaning of the word is to abruptly leave someone, but for all I’ve been familiar with the word, it’s been associated with someone literally in the act of getting married being suddenly left at the altar with no explanation necessary. Will’s previous lover that scorned him has a better feeling in the context of the story. But that’s just me being picky over semantics.

What I did love about this book was that all of the women were strong, independent, and real. They had depth to them, even the side characters, which was palpable and believable. It showcased the struggle of women having a place in a man’s world, possessing land and title, and what it meant to be a woman who possessed such things. I also liked that it showed the deeply personal struggle one undertakes when caring for someone with dementia. It’s never easy watching someone you love fall into disarray and no longer know themselves or anyone else around them.

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Paperbacks and Netgalley for a complimentary e-ARC to read and review!

BOOK REVIEW: The Duke is But a Dream, by Anna Bennett

BOOK REVIEW: The Duke is But a Dream, by Anna BennettTitle: The Duke Is But a Dream by Anna Bennett
Series: Debutante Diaries #2
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Published: July 30th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 311
Format: ARC
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

Once upon a time three young ladies vowed to record their first London seasons…and to fill in the gaps of their finishing school educations. Thus began The Debutante Diaries—and London will never be the same…

HE’S COME TO HER RESCUE

Miss Lily Hartley is the anonymous mastermind behind the ton’s latest obsession: The Debutante’s Revenge, a titillating advice column for ladies on the marriage mart. To keep her identity secret, Lily delivers her columns disguised as a chimney sweep—which is all well and good, until she unwittingly lands in the middle of an ugly tavern brawl. Fortunately, the devastatingly handsome Duke of Stonebridge sweeps in to rescue her.Unfortunately, Lily’s dressed as a boy—and holding rather incriminating evidence linking her to the scandalous column. Drat.

SHE’S LOST HER MEMORY

When Eric Nash, Duke of Stonebridge, sees a helpless lad receive a nasty blow to the head, he’s outraged. But when he discovers there’s a beautiful woman hiding beneath the chimney sweep’s cap, he’s positively stunned. Nash would happily escort her home, but she’s forgotten her name—leaving him little choice but to take her in himself until he can locate her family. But the closer he gets to finding them, the more he doesn’t want to let her go.

WILL THEY FIND LOVE?

Lily’s trying to figure out exactly who she is…in more ways than one. With so much at stake—her column, her reputation, and even her heart—she needs a plan, and she needs it fast. Before Nash finds her family. Before he learns who she is. Before they fall totally, completely, and utterly inconveniently in love.

Me? Reading and reviewing more romance? If you asked me a year ago that I’d be where I am now with regards to reading more of what’s often categorized as “romance,” I probably wouldn’t believe you. But there’s a lot of things that have happened in the last year that I have trouble believing, so here we are. I requested a few romance titles that sounded interesting to me on Netgalley, and The Duke is But a Dream caught my eye because the protagonist, Lily, writes a regular advice column called “The Debutante Diaries” that has captivated all of London. When she gets into a scuffle dressed as a boy, Lily is hurt and has amnesia, and a duke comes to her rescue.

For the most part, I enjoyed this! It was well-paced and kept me wanting to find out what happened at the end, but ultimately it felt timeless in the sense that I couldn’t tell you in what era in the past this book was set. I read historical romance for those details, but this seemed to gloss a lot of those historical placement markers and favored a more modern approach to language and behavior. I hadn’t realized this was the second in a series either, and I might check out the first one from the library to see if the first sets up that historical placement a little more because I know series in general rely on that first book to set up everything while the rest follow on the hopes that the reader recalls the setting of the first!

It’s enjoyable enough for me to look out for the next book in the series once it’s released and to check out the first one! Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press and Netgalley for an e-ARC to review. All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: Love at First Like, by Hannah Orenstein

BOOK REVIEW: Love at First Like, by Hannah OrensteinTitle: Love at First Like by Hannah Orenstein
Published by Atria Books
Published: August 6th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher
Goodreads

Eliza Roth and her sister Sophie co-own a jewelry shop in Brooklyn. One night, after learning of an ex’s engagement, Eliza accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing a diamond ring on that finger to her Instagram account beloved by 100,000 followers. Sales skyrocket, press rolls in, and Eliza learns that her personal life is good for business. So she has a choice: continue the ruse or clear up the misunderstanding. With mounting financial pressure, Eliza sets off to find a fake fiancé.

Fellow entrepreneur Blake seems like the perfect match on paper. And in real life he shows promise, too. He would be perfect, if only Eliza didn’t feel also drawn to someone else. But Blake doesn’t know Eliza is “engaged”; Sophie asks Eliza for an impossible sum of money; and Eliza’s lies start to spiral out of control. She can either stay engaged online or fall in love in real life.

Hannah Orenstein’s Love at First Like is her follow-up novel to one of my favorite reads of last year, Playing With Matches. In Love at First Like, Eliza owns a jewelry shop with her sister Sophie in NYC and, after finding out via Instagram that her ex-boyfriend is engaged, accidentally posts a photo of herself wearing a diamond ring on her left hand. Overnight, the post causes a social media stir and brings a lot of attention (and customers!) to her Instagram and her store. With it comes a lot of press and pressure to reveal more information about the ring, herself, and her new fiance. She has two choices – reveal the truth about the sensational post or find someone to be her fiance. When she meets Blake, Eliza feels enough of a connection with him to pursue a relationship with him and hopes his interest is reciprocated enough to actually be her fiance. However, when Blake finds out the truth, Eliza’s lies force her back to reality and to confront herself.

I’ve read a few reviews on this and noticed that some where really turned off by Eliza’s determination to fulfill her accidental Instagram post and bring success to her business, calling it careless and selfish, but would we say the same thing about a man who does the same? I don’t necessarily think so. I liked Eliza’s determination to see her business succeed and that it did take something like this to show her what she really wanted for her personal and professional life. It takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there personally and professionally, and Eliza did both. Maybe she could have done some things differently, but I think that would have detracted from the lessons learned.

I thought this was cute, enjoyable, and a good examination of modern dating and the questions we ask ourselves when putting ourselves out there. It touches on how we compare ourselves to others on social media, and the reservations we have in revealing our “true” selves, thoughts, and feelings. I also liked seeing some of the characters from Orenstein’s first novel make an appearance as well! I think the only bummer for me in the whole fake dating trope that I like is that I like it when both sides of the relationship are “in” on the fake dating, but it’s a variation on the trope and it works in this novel!

Thank you to Atria for sending me a copy to review! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The Earl Next Door, by Amelia Grey

BOOK REVIEW: The Earl Next Door, by Amelia GreyTitle: The Earl Next Door by Amelia Grey
Published by St. Martin's Paperbacks
Published: May 28th 2019
Genres: Romance
Pages: 294
Format: eBook
Source: Netgalley
Goodreads

What does a Wickedly Wonderful Widow really want? One noble suitor is about to find out. . .

Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, is all on her own after her husband’s sudden death. The good news? Losing him allowed her to find herself. Finally, Adeline is free to do, go, and be as she pleases. She cherishes her newfound independence and is not looking for another man to wed. But seeking out a new lover? Well, that is a whole ’nother story. . .

Lord Lyon, son of the two-timing Earl of Marksworth, wishes to have a respectable, loving wife someday. When he meets the beautiful and self-reliant Adeline, Lyon is instantly smitten. But Adeline would rather have the handsome suitor in her bed than to take his hand in marriage. It’s a scandalous proposal—and one that’s hard for Lyon to refuse. Unless the fire of his passion can melt Adeline’s resolve. . .and he can find a way to be the Wickedly Wonderful Widow’s lover for all time?

Only within the last year or so have I started reading romance, and I fully admit to having a lot of biases associated with the genre for the longest time until, you know, I actually started reading it and following some romance writers on Twitter and realizing there’s a lot more to the genre than I expected. Much in the same way I read fantasy to be delighted by magic systems and a subversive reality and science fiction to explore strange and familiar worlds, the romance I’ve read has offered a little swoon-worthy escape from the drudgery of every day. And since I tend to gravitate toward historical romance, I get to enjoy the commentary and dives into women’s spheres while escaping for a little bit.

Amelia Grey’s The Earl Next Door is about Adeline, Dowager Countess of Wake, who lost her husband at sea. Her two friends, also widows, have joined with her to open up a school for young girls who have also lost family members at sea. Her next door neighbor, Lord Lyon, Earl of Marksworth, first assumes she is running a house of ill-repute and then is later rudely awakened and frustrated by the house of school-aged girls disturbing his mid-morning sleep.This sets off the attraction, sparks, and tension between Adeline and Lyon that continues through the rest of the book.

I thought it was an easy, fun read, and perfect for a week that was more than a little stressful! To me, the ending was a little contrived, but ultimately it works with the story itself, and I’m curious to see how the rest of the series pans out because I loved Adeline’s two friends so much!

Many thanks to St. Martin’s Press for an advance review copy! All opinions are my own!