LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #11: Historical Romances

Today’s Little List of Reviews features three historical romances that I’ve recently read! All three are new to me authors, and two series I will continue with and one I will not!

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #11: Historical RomancesTitle: Knight of Desire by Margaret Mallory
Series: All the King's Men #1
Published by Forever
Published: July 1st 2009
Genres: Romance
Pages: 354
Format: Mass Market
Goodreads

FEARLESS IN BATTLE
His surcoat still bloody from battle, William FitzAlan comes to claim the strategic borderlands granted to him by the king. One last prize awaits him at the castle gates: the lovely Lady Catherine Rayburn.

TENDER IN BED
Catherine risked everything to spy for the crown. Her reward? Her lands are declared forfeit and she is given this choice: marry FitzAlan or be taken to the Tower. Catherine agrees to give her handsome new husband her body, but she's keeping secrets, and dare not give him her heart. As passion ignites and danger closes in, Catherine and William must learn to trust in each other to save their marriage, their land, and their very lives.

I had an omnibus of the first two in this series, but I decided I liked the original covers and I don’t think the third book was going to be released in the newer format, and I’m a completionist. So. I enjoyed this for the most part. I think it was more due to the setting and the history involved with the medieval setting than the actual characters themselves. The heroine was true to form, discovering herself after being married to a terrible man who held no regard for her. But the hero got annoying after a while. Like yes, you’re a decent person for not forcing yourself on her, but he kept complaining about the heroine’s trauma repeatedly, and it got tiresome after a while. Overall, I’m going to continue the series and hope the heroes get better in the subsequent titles!

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #11: Historical RomancesTitle: Wicked Intentions by Elizabeth Hoyt
Series: Maiden Lane #1
Published by Grand Central Publishing
Published: August 1st 2010
Genres: Romance
Pages: 382
Format: eBook
Source: Library
Goodreads

A man controlled by his desires . . .
Infamous for his wild, sensual needs, Lazarus Huntington, Lord Caire, is searching for a savage killer in St. Giles, London's most notorious slum. Widowed Temperance Dews knows St. Giles like the back of her hand-she's spent a lifetime caring for its inhabitants at the foundling home her family established. Now that home is at risk . . .

A woman haunted by her past . . .
Caire makes a simple offer-in return for Temperance's help navigating the perilous alleys of St. Giles, he will introduce her to London's high society so that she can find a benefactor for the home. But Temperance may not be the innocent she seems, and what begins as cold calculation soon falls prey to a passion that neither can control-one that may well destroy them both.

A bargain neither could refuse.

I didn’t really care for this one. I liked the heroine and her work the most and that she felt torn toward duty and her desires, but like…………… so much of this was over the top for me, even for a historical romance. I don’t know what it was, honestly. I kept reading it though, I enjoyed the writing itself, but the story wasn’t for me. The hero was pretty terrible to the heroine and never makes any effort to forgive himself towards her for it. There was also a buildup to bondage but nothing was ever fully committed to on the page, so it’s teasing but in the not fun way??  I don’t think this series is for me either, because I read the first couple of chapters from the second in the Maiden Lane series and didn’t like where the story was going to go. I have another first book in a series by Hoyt, so I’ll give that one a go soon to see if it’s just me with this particular series or if it’s the author I don’t mesh with.

LITTLE LIST OF REVIEWS #11: Historical RomancesTitle: Never Kiss a Duke by Megan Frampton
Series: Hazards of Dukes #1
Published by Avon
Published: January 28th 2020
Genres: Romance
Pages: 358
Format: Mass Market
Source: Purchased
Goodreads

A disinherited duke and a former lady are courting much more than business in the first novel in Megan Frampton's newest titillating series, Hazards of Dukes.
Everything he had ever known was a lie…
Sebastian, Duke of Hasford, has a title, wealth, privilege, and plenty of rakish charm. Until he discovers the only thing that truly belongs to him is his charm. An accident of birth has turned him into plain Mr. de Silva. Now, Sebastian is flummoxed as to what to do with his life—until he stumbles into a gambling den owned by Miss Ivy, a most fascinating young lady, who hires him on the spot. Working with a boss has never seemed so enticing.
Everything tells her he’s a risk she has to take
Two years ago, Ivy gambled everything that was precious to her—and won. Now the owner of London's most intriguing gambling house, Ivy is competent, assured, and measured. Until she meets Mr. de Silva, who stirs feelings she didn't realize she had. Can she keep her composure around her newest employee?
They vow to keep their partnership strictly business, but just one kiss makes them realize that with each passing day—and night—it becomes clear to them both that there's nothing as tempting as what is forbidden…

While I liked this one, liked the characters, liked the writing, nothing much happened. This was definitely the set up to the series, had a lot of supporting characters that I’m looking forward to reading about in the rest of the series, and Frampton’s writing is engaging! The chemistry between the hero and heroine was believable and sparkling, but aside from the development of themselves and their relationship, the heroine hires the hero to work in her gaming den, they fall in love, the hero finds out some things about being and not being a duke, and it’s a happy ending. I’m not sure I’ll purchase the rest of the books aside from the fourth I bought thinking it was part of a new series, but I’ll definitely read them from my library!!

BOOK REVIEW: Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John Mandel

BOOK REVIEW: Sea of Tranquility, by Emily St. John MandelTitle: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel
Published by Knopf Publishing Group
Published: April 5th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
Pages: 272
Format: ARC
Source: Publisher, Edelweiss
Goodreads

The award-winning, best-selling author of Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel returns with a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon three hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal--an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She's traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive's bestselling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.
A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

Sea of Tranquility continues and adds to the story and world Mandel explores in Station Eleven. While this book can certainly stand on its own, there is a richness added to it if you have already read Station Eleven and The Glass Hotel. Each of the stories are connected, as if Mandel is creating a kind of multiverse, and each of the stories explore characters making the best of things in the worst of times. 

Sea of Tranquility is a matryoshka of interconnected stories, each connected by a singular event occurring at different points in time. The first story takes place in 1912, in which Edwin, the exiled son of an English family, ends up on the Island of Caiette on which he has a strange experience in a forest with visions of a station of some kind and a violin. The second story occurs in 2020, in which Mirelle wants to discover the mystery behind a glitch in a video that is set in a forest and set to violin music. The third story occurs in the future, in which Olive has published a book in which there are scenes echoing the experiences of Edwin and Mirabelle with the forest and the violin. When she meets a man named after the main character in her book, Olive’s life is turned upside down, and Gaspery-Jacques Roberts discovers more about his purpose and the nature of reality. 

One thing I have truly enjoyed about Mandel’s writing is that it’s quiet, it builds up to something more almost without you realizing it’s happening, and the end results, to me anyway, are satisfying and emotionally resonant. I reread Station Eleven this year, and it’s strange to revisit a pandemic novel during an actual pandemic, but there’s a lot of hope in it, hope that there is something greater in humanity to overcome the strangeness of life. Sea of Tranquility is about finding out what it means to belong, how technology affects us throughout the years, and is wistful, wishful, adding onto that hope that even though in the future we’ll face pandemics, strife, and fear, it’s connected. We’re all connected.

Many thanks to Knopf Publishing Group and Edelweiss for the eARC! All opinions are my own.

BOOK REVIEW: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan

BOOK REVIEW: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine ChanTitle: The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan
Published by Simon & Schuster
Published: January 4th 2022
Genres: Fiction, Dystopia
Pages: 336
Format: ARC
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Chan’s The School for Good Mothers is a reflection on the government’s hold on social services, children, and women’s bodies/lives. In a similar vein of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, the events in this book teeter on our society’s imminent future, serving as both a criticism and a warning. 

Frida’s marriage has crumbled at the birth of her daughter, her ex-husband leaving her for another woman, and she is struggling coming to terms with her new life as a mother and an ex-wife. She leaves her daughter home alone for a couple of hours, to go to work, to escape the tedious and difficult reality, and she finds herself entangled with Child Protective Services as a result of her misjudgment. 

She knew it was wrong to leave her child behind, knew it was not the best choice, and she hopes for some sympathy in her break in good judgment when the agency reviews her case. Frida is told that there is a new program being offered for reform for these “bad mothers,” and she is sent off to a reform school just outside the city with other mothers who have also made bad judgments for their children (ranging from relatively mild to extreme).

These schooled mothers are now under constant observation and evaluation with childlike animatronic dolls that record the mothers’ every move. Privileges are taken away if the mothers don’t adhere to strict rules and performances. The surveillance has an undercurrent of violence that is difficult to ignore, especially in contrast to the school for fathers that is seemingly much more relaxed.

The concept of a “perfect mother” can be incredibly damaging to anyone trying to live up to societal expectations, and especially to those with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues that can interfere with day to day life, activities, and care. Lapses in judgment can happen to any of us, but how is a year’s worth of strict instruction and surveillance a better course of action than compassion and resources for parents navigating the raising of children? How are we to consider motherhood today, especially considering the shift of raising children from being a family/community task to being the task of a nuclear, “traditional” family with the figurehead being the mother? How are we to consider the “ideal motherhood” that’s rooted in heteronormative Western whiteness in contrast to the way in which other cultures view motherhood, parenthood, and the raising of a family?

Written in a clinical, stark style that fully showcases the horror simmering underneath the surface of the perception of perfect motherhood, The School for Good Mothers is a chilling, disturbing read that begs a second consideration of what it means to be a mother, what’s expected of mothers, and how we perceive motherhood in our society.

Review copy from Simon & Schuster via Edelweiss, thank you!

BOOK REVIEW: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, by Cassandra Peterson

BOOK REVIEW: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark, by Cassandra PetersonTitle: Yours Cruelly, Elvira: Memoirs of the Mistress of the Dark by Cassandra Peterson
Published by Hachette Books
Published: September 21st 2021
Genres: Memoir
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

The woman behind the icon known as Elvira, Mistress of the Dark, the undisputed Queen of Halloween, reveals her full story, filled with intimate bombshells, told by the bombshell herself.

On Good Friday in 1953, at only 18 months old, 25 miles from the nearest hospital in Manhattan, Kansas, Cassandra Peterson reached for a pot on the stove and doused herself in boiling water. Third-degree burns covered 35% of her body, and the prognosis wasn't good. But she survived. Burned and scarred, the impact stayed with her and became an obstacle she was determined to overcome. Feeling like a misfit led to her love of horror. While her sisters played with Barbie dolls, Cassandra built model kits of Frankenstein and Dracula, and idolized Vincent Price.

Due to a complicated relationship with her mother, Cassandra left home at 14, and by age 17 she was performing at the famed Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas. Run-ins with the likes of Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., and Tom Jones helped her grow up fast. Then a chance encounter with her idol Elvis Presley, changed the course of her life forever, and led her to Europe where she worked in film and traveled Italy as lead singer of an Italian pop band. She eventually made her way to Los Angeles, where she joined the famed comedy improv group, The Groundlings, and worked alongside Phil Hartman and Paul "Pee-wee" Reubens, honing her comedic skills.
Nearing age 30, a struggling actress considered past her prime, she auditioned at local LA channel KHJ as hostess for the late night vintage horror movies. Cassandra improvised, made the role her own, and got the job on the spot. Yours Cruelly, Elvira is an unforgettably wild memoir. Cassandra doesn't shy away from revealing exactly who she is and how she overcame seemingly insurmountable odds. Always original and sometimes outrageous, her story is loaded with twists, travails, revelry, and downright shocking experiences. It is the candid, often funny, and sometimes heart-breaking tale of a Midwest farm girl's long strange trip to become the world's sexiest, sassiest Halloween icon.

We all have our own scars. Let them be a blessing and not a curse.

Elvira is a horror/Halloween/spooky season icon, so as soon as I heard about this book, I immediately put it on my wishlist. I only knew of Elvira as the iconic character, and I knew nothing about Cassandra Peterson or about the creation of that character. Peterson’s memoir is conversational in tone, lending to the quality like you were sitting next to her while she told you about herself and her career.

I tend to go into reading Hollywood memoirs expecting a little gossip, a little scandal, and insights about the industry – especially after the Golden Age of Hollywood – and this one particularly delivers. Sometimes celebrity memoirs can feel superficial, but this one has a lot of depth and introspection about the highs and lows with a sense of vulnerability and humor that I appreciated. And it has an undercurrent of empowerment running through it, as surviving in Hollywood as a woman is no easy feat.

As far as celebrity/Hollywood memoirs go, this one felt authentic in the sense that you know Peterson wrote it herself. It is her story, unfiltered, and her voice shines throughout. If you’re interested in the Hollywood/entertainment scene in the 1970s and 1980s, enjoy horror, and enjoy celebrity memoirs, this might be something you’d enjoy!

Content warnings include: drugs, sex, sexual assault, emotional abuse, fatphobia.

Many thanks to Hachette Books for sending a complimentary review copy my way!

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)

BOOK REVIEW: Tender is the Flesh, by Agustina Bazterrica (trans. Sarah Moses)Title: Tender Is the Flesh by Agustina Bazterrica, Sarah Moses
Published by Scribner
Published: August 4th 2020
Genres: Fiction, Horror
Pages: 211
Format: Trade Paper
Source: Library
Buy: Bookshop(afflilate link)
Goodreads

Working at the local processing plant, Marcos is in the business of slaughtering humans —though no one calls them that anymore. His wife has left him, his father is sinking into dementia, and Marcos tries not to think too hard about how he makes a living. After all, it happened so quickly. First, it was reported that an infectious virus has made all animal meat poisonous to humans. Then governments initiated the “Transition.” Now, eating human meat—“special meat”—is legal. Marcos tries to stick to numbers, consignments, processing.

Then one day he’s given a gift: a live specimen of the finest quality. Though he’s aware that any form of personal contact is forbidden on pain of death, little by little he starts to treat her like a human being. And soon, he becomes tortured by what has been lost—and what might still be saved.

I finished this book almost two months ago, and I still think about it at least once a week. I read a lot, so it’s rare that a book will stick with me for so long because my brain just jumps to the next thing because yay distractibility, but Tender is the Flesh is going to stick with me for a while.

Essentially, animal flesh becomes inedible, and the government enters the “Transition” in which “special meat” is processed for consumption. “Special meat” is human meat, and Bazterrica holds nothing back in the description of that transition. Marcos, the main character, is a processor at one of these processing plants, and the first third of the novel is him methodically trying to distance himself from what he is participating in.

When he’s given a live female specimen, though… that’s when everything turns upside down. While he begins to treat this female specimen with a sort of kindness and gentleness, the violence of everything else, including of Marcos’ own doing, amplifies, and the novel turns more gruesome and brutal as it devolves into how brutal people (especially men) can be to one another when it comes to power and control.

This was a book I could not put down because I needed to know what happened next, how this would all resolve, and the last page of this novel is one of the most chilling conclusions I have ever read.