Review: Just One of the Guys

Just One of the Guys
by Kristan Higgins

4 Stars
Genre: Contemporary
Subgenre: Chick lit (IMO)
Heat level: Sort of steamy
Amazon Link

I don't think I've read a Harlequin in a while, so this one caught me by surprise. It's sort of crosses the line from romance into chick lit, but in a good way. (Nothing wrong with chick lit, but romance readers often seem to want something more traditional.)

The heroine (Chastity) was absolutely awesome. She's smart, snarky, full of life, but with a vulnerability that makes her completely identifiable. Like most of us, she has body issues. The entire story is told from her POV, and she's so funny, I had to stop working out while I read because I was laughing so hard.

I also like that she was at that vulnerable age - thirties and unmarried. That age appeals to me because when they find their 'happily ever after,' I figure it's going to last a little longer than the HEAs in a teen romance.

I really liked the hero, as well, but I wish we had gotten more from his POV. Or at the very least, I wish there had been more interaction. There was enough to not frustrate me, but I still wanted more. The focus on the heroine's life and perspectives is one of the primary reasons I say it dipped a toe over the line into chick lit. Nevertheless, the author did a decent job of giving him a fleshed-out background and motivation.

The second big element that may surprise some traditional romance readers is the drama that surrounds Chastity. Her family is a mess. I wasn't crazy about the way some of their drama was wrapped up. It didn't feel like an HEA to me, although they seemed perfectly content with life giving them less than a fairy-tale ending.

Finally, although this wasn't a clean romance, there wasn't a lot of swearing. (I'm trying to remember if there was any.) And, although the storyline contained sex scenes, we were forced to endure a play by play.

All in all, well worth the read, and I will definitely be picking up more by this author. Reading through other reviews, some of her fans that didn't like this book named other books of hers they really liked. I'll move on to those, but I think this one is a great one to start with if you haven't read Kristan Higgans before.

Review: A Terrible Beauty

A Terrible Beauty
By Stephanie Patterson

5 stars
Genre: Historical Romance
Subgenres: 1850s (Victorian?), Crimean War
Heat Level: spicy
Amazon Link

Between A Terrible Beauty and a head cold, I haven’t had much sleep the last couple of nights. I could have read this in one sitting. In fact, I would put it right up there with some of the best books I’ve read this past year.

Let me go through some of the things I really liked about the book, and then I’ll bring up one thing I had to overlook:

Stuff I liked:
I admit I never knew much about the Crimean War and the nurses like Florence Nightingale who gave up comfortable lives to save soldiers on the front lines. I learned a lot in this book without feeling like I was being fed a history lesson. This book is gritty, but it needed to be.

The heroine is easily one of my favorites. She went from being the talk of the ton to a nurse in the front lines in the space of a few months. Some authors talk about how they torture their characters. Patterson really does, but every step of it was believable.

The plot is tightly woven. Before they see the error of their ways, the hero, heroine and secondary characters are always scheming. Patterson manages to thread these schemes together like pieces of a puzzle to create an amazingly intricate whole.

The heat level is spicy, with several explicit loves scenes and one rather crude one early on, but it is a necessary component of the plot and reveals quite a bit about the character of the hero if one bothers to read closely. I could have done without some of the later love scenes, but they weren’t overly gratuitous.  

I like the overall theme. Essentially, you never really know why someone acts the way they do until you hear (and really listen to) their side of the story.

Last but not least, a Terrible Beauty is available on Kindle Unlimited (at least as I write this), so it was low risk to give it a try. I LOVE finding new authors this way, and I have already downloaded the next book in the series, Mrs. Lady.

One teensy tiny thing I didn’t…
There are quite a few typos in the book and the use of commas is sketchy at best. The typos aren’t egregious…it’s usually a missing article or the use of “nor” when it should be “not.” It’s the kind of stuff an author doesn’t often catch, but a copy editor should have. I might have set a less well written book aside, but the story was so captivating it became easier and easier to overlook these errors.

Review: Once Upon a Marquess

by Courtney Milan
Amazon Link

5 Stars
Genre: Historical Romance
Sub-genres: Victorian
Heat level: spicy

I was in the mood for a “sure thing” this weekend. No, not that John Cusack movie from the 80s, but a book that I knew I would like even though I’ve never read it before. I have a list of go-to-authors for just such an occasion. Courtney Milan is one of them.

Side note that won’t go into the Amazon version of this review: One of the things I’ve never noticed before is how many of Milan’s romances are self-published. I’m sure there’s a story behind that, but her writing is invariably tight. I have no doubt the path she chose is not an easy one, but she may be a good role model for other authors who are thinking of self-publishing. Now back to my review…

The characters in Once Upon a Marquess are certainly memorable. If any of you are familiar with Asperger’s, every one of these characters is somewhere on the spectrum – with the possible exception of the heroine who’s just trying to hold it together and her younger brother who, while not an “aspie,” just doesn’t fit in. These peculiarities also make her characters endearing, real, and occasionally more than a tad bit annoying but in a good way. (Reminds me of a certain child of mine.)

The writing is tight and most of the storyline believable, or at least well within the range that “suspension of disbelief” covers. The era is Victorian, not something I’m deeply familiar with, but it felt believable. There was slightly more swearing than you’d find in a traditional romance from another era, but this may be indicative of the Victorians. They always seemed to have a bit of a dark streak, to me. The heroine’s habit of “swearing on water foul” is particularly ingenious, and I’m thinking of acquiring the habit myself!

I wasn’t sure where to put the heat level, precisely. There’s a great deal of chemistry between the hero and heroine, some kissing, but only one love scene fairly late in the book. If you’re looking for smutty (I wasn’t), this isn’t it. If you’re demanding chastity (I wasn’t), this isn’t that either. But if you’re in the mood for a romantic love story that leaves you sighing at the end, this one is just right.

I already have book 2, After the Wedding, queued up in my TBR pile.

Review: Only a Kiss

Amazon Link

Only a Kiss
5 stars
Mary Balogh
Genre: Historical romance
Subgenre: Victorian, Regency (Post Napoleonic)
Heat level: spicy

Only a Kiss belongs to that special collection of historical romances that fall between a Regency and the Victoria era. I often refer to these as Post-Napoleonic, though that's not an official category anywhere. They read a lot like a Regency, but often feature heroes (or in this case a heroine) that fought in the Peninsular War. I have a particular fondness for these novels because they tend to be a bit more weighty.

Only a Kiss is the 6th novel in Mary Balogh’s Survivor’s Club series, It features Imogen, the only woman in the survivor’s club, a group of seven that came back from the war damaged in various ways. Mary Balogh is one of my go-to authors, so of course, I’ve read every other book leading up to this one. However, I don’t think these necessarily need to be read in order. Some of them have more interaction between the survivor’s, but there isn’t a ton in this one. If you wanted to start here, you could.

I was really looking forward to reading Imogen’s story. She’s an intriguing member of the club, being the only woman, and I was eager to learn how she earned her membership. Her story is very well done. I even cried when she revealed the depth of her suffering to Percy Hayes, the hero of the story. Despite being an avid romance reader (and an author) I wouldn’t say I cry easily over these things, so hopefully that tells you how well-done I think this is.

I had some very minor issues with Only a Kiss, such as a few passages here and there that were hard to make sense of, but all in all, it’s a good solid read. Definitely one you can take with you to the beach or snuggle up in front of a fire with for an entire afternoon.