Someone to Love (Westcott, #1) – Mary Balogh

Westscott-Someone-To-Love-Mary-Balogh

Source: Goodreads

 

Anna Snow has grown up in an orphanage in Bath, where she now teaches, supported by a mysterious benefactor for as long as she stays. A letter summoning her to London is not only surprising, for she knows no one outside of Bath, but life-shattering when the identity of her benefactor is revealed.

Avery Archer, the Duke of Netherby, is only Harry Westcott’s guardian because the boy’s father died a year too early. Avery wouldn’t even have taken charge of his nearly grown step-cousin, except that his own father promised to look after Harry in the event of the Earl of Riverdale’s death. With the Earl’s death fresh on everyone’s mind, it strikes Avery as odd that the late Earl’s wife is sending their solicitor on a fool’s errand to find Riverdale’s bastard daughter and tell her that her allowance will be cut off now that her father has died. He likes the plan even less when the solicitor instead drags the girl to London and announces that she is the sole heir to the Earl of Riverdale’s fortune and that Harry and his sisters are the real bastard children.

 

 

The premise for this series is just amazing. The role reversal is definitely unique and interesting to dive into. However, the execution could use some work. I dearly love many of Balogh’s books, but not only does the Westcott series start off with one too many side plots, but the characters all fall kind of flat. I’m hoping this is a single-book-problem like we had with Ben and Samantha in The Escape. Sometimes there’s just too much plot going on for proper character development. Granted, Balogh is just churning out new books in this series, but I would much prefer that the characters were more developed than to have a new book every six months.

 

I loved Anna, I loved Camille, I loved Elizabeth, and I loved Alexander. Avery I had trouble with because of his strange history and the side plot which goes with it that just didn’t work with the rest of the story. His public self and his private self just don’t mesh well together, and it made it impossible for me to really understand him and therefore support the main relationship. Overall, I felt the book put more character development into Camille and Elizabeth than anyone else. I have the second book from the library, so I will let you know if the characters get any better.

 

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – Someone to Hold
Book #3 – Someone to Wed
Book #4 – Someone to Care
Book #5 – Someone to Trust
Book #6 – TBA
Book #7 – TBA
Book #8 – TBA

A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #3) – V.E. Schwab

Shades-Of-Magic-A-Conjuring-Of-Light-V-E-Schwab

Source: Goodreads

The third book in the Shades of Magic series picks up where A Gathering of Shadows ends, with a familiar darkness spreading across Londons and our protagonists in peril.

I really wanted to love this book, but when I picked it up soon after finishing the second volume, I found myself burned out by the constant action. Book two was fairly fast paced, and A Conjuring of Light is a continuation of that same situation. I ended up having to put the book down for three months before I could pick it up without feeling completely drained. I don’t see this as a problem for the people who read the series as it came out because the books were released a year apart, but going forward, it’s important to note the potential for burnout if you plan to read the books back-to-back.

I enjoyed all of the characters, but much like the first volume, I found it hard to be invested in them when I couldn’t personally identify with any of them. The storyline was good, the fabric of the plot woven tightly, with nearly all of the ends getting bound up neatly in the conclusion while leaving room for universe expansion both forward and backward. Some bits, such as the history of Kell’s coat, would be entertaining to explore in the future.

While I was taking my reading break from A Conjuring of Light, my sister borrowed and devoured the series in its entirety while studying for finals. I feel that I must add that she loved all of the characters and never experienced the burnout that I did.

Overall, I enjoyed it, and it was a fitting end to the trilogy. I would definitely recommend it to fantasy readers of all kinds for its plot, its diverse characters, and its beautiful world building. V.E. Schwab has done great things with this series, and I only wish I hadn’t gotten burned out and had been able to enjoy it to its fullest potential.

 

HHC Rating: 4 Stars

 

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – A Darker Shade of Magic
Book #2 – A Gathering of Shadows

 

 

 

 

Cotillion – Georgette Heyer

Cotillion-Georgette-Heyer

Source: ThriftBooks

Kitty Charing is set to inherit the immense fortune of her scrooge of a guardian, a man who adopted her after his childhood friend, Kitty’s father, passed away. There’s only one catch: Miss Charing must marry one of the old man’s great nephews, or the whole of the fortune will be donated and Kitty left penniless when her guardian passes.

 

If you’ve never read a Regency Romance written by Georgette Heyer, go and order one right away. Heyer, the author of over 54 novels, is known primarily as the “inventor” of the Regency Romance subgenre. Unlike Jane Austen, who was technically writing contemporaries because she wrote about the time period in which she herself lived, Georgette Heyer wasn’t even born until 1902, and published her first book in 1921. Her works are unlike the Regency Romances of today in that there are actually very few romantic scenes: the books usually end with a kiss – that’s it. Today’s RR’s are more typically full of heavy romance scenes early on, and then characters dealing with the fallout.

Georgette Heyer’s stories are enveloped in the high society of the 17-1800’s, where one wrong move would get you banned from the London social season (also known as the ‘marriage market’) and ruin your societal standing in a single blow. She is well known for her historical accuracy, often explaining clothing, etiquette, and society for the benefit of the reader in ways that Jane Austen would have taken for granted that her readers understood.

 

What I’m saying is, Georgette Heyer’s Regency Romances are basically the Romantic Comedies of the 1920’s-70’s. Often hysterically funny and filled with character miscommunications, a trip through a Georgette Heyer book is never anything but highly entertaining. It’s no wonder that her books sold well even during the Great Depression.

Cotillion, in particular, is one of my favorites although The Nonesuch, Bath Tangle and Sprig Muslin are close front runners as well.  Some readers may feel they need a dictionary in order to understand the period-specific talk, but it’s actually fairly simple to get the gist of the phrasing, even if you don’t know the actual definition. For example, a ‘dashed ivory-turner’ is another way of calling someone a professional gambler.

In Cotillion, we follow Catherine Charing, who believes she is about to become a wealthy heiress, as well as five of Uncle Matthew’s great nephews, four of whom remain unmarried at the time at which Uncle Matthew makes his announcement that Kitty must marry one of them. The mayhem itself is entertaining, but as always the slow turn of the romance is fascinating to watch. You’re left wondering until the last pages who she will choose to marry, if anyone at all, and in between fending off of various romantic advances, Kitty gets up to some trouble of her own.

Overall I quite enjoyed this book, even if this was my 4th or 5th time reading it. Recommended to anyone who enjoys miscommunication stories and romances.

 

Highlights and Hot Chocolate Rating: 4.5 Stars

Peter Pan – J. M. Barrie

Peter-Pan-J-M-Barrie

Source: Goodreads

Peter Pan doesn’t want to grow up. He wants to fight pirates and indians (Native Americans), play with mermaids, and do cartwheels in the sky. The Lost Boys, however, need a mother, and Wendy Darling is just the girl for the job.

How it’s taken me nearly 25 years to read Peter Pan I’ll never quite know. Maybe I was scarred after reading Hans Christian Anderson’s The Little Mermaid and worried I’d hate Peter and Wendy and Hook. After all, I grew up watching films like the Disney animated version of the classic, as well as Robin Williams’ Pan in Hook, and more recently Finding Neverland and NBC’s Peter Pan Live!  Not to mention the numerous other films, plays, and book series based on and around this original story. This book had a lot to live up to.

I decided to read it aloud to my cousin, who’s just turned one. Sure, he can’t understand any of it yet, but this is supposed to be a children’s book. Over the course of a week, reading a chapter or two a day, we sped through it. I have to say, it seems very short at around 200 pages, but as you read you realize what a wealth of information there is. This is one of those books that is written to build your imagination. It leaves bits out purposefully so the reader will fill them in themselves.

One huge thing I noticed was the narrator’s decision to call Neverland ‘The Neverland’, and explain that it’s different and yet somehow the same for everyone. I’ve always thought of Neverland as a specific place, like Treasure Island, or Narnia, that existed in our world or an alternate dimension. But that’s only partly true. When Tinkerbell is in distress, Peter calls out to all the boys and girls of the world and asks them to believe. But here’s the thing: They aren’t all in Neverland the way the Darlings and the Lost Boys are. The children who save Tinkerbell are at home, asleep in their beds, visiting the foggier version of Neverland in their dreams. If you watch the 2003 live action Peter Pan, you get an inkling that something like this is happening, but if you haven’t read the book it is easy to assume that Peter just has extra magical powers.

The next thing I noticed was how rude Peter and Tinkerbell are. She calls him a ‘silly ass’ at least five times, and Peter regulary forgets who people are or waits until just before they die to save them. Sure, it’s supposed to be part of his hero-complex, but it doesn’t seem like heroic behavior to me. By the end, I was glad that the Darlings made it home in one piece, as even that seemed at times too much to ask.

Truth be told, I’m not entirely sure why this is considered a children’s story unless it is meant as one of warning: don’t run away from home.

If there is a hero it is certainly Wendy, though even she lives with a kind of grief throughout the rest of her days. I always hated that Peter and Wendy didn’t end up together, but after reading the original story I’ve come to terms with the reality that they are what, 10? 12 years old? and in no position to be in love, but also that Peter is not a character one should be falling in love with. In fact, when it is Jane’s turn to fly, she doesn’t reason with Wendy that she’s in love with him. She reasons that he needs a mother. Because motherly love is the only kind a girl could have for the boy who never grows up. A mother’s love is universal, and everyone is deserving of it, no matter how unheroic, prideful, or childish they may be.

One thing I did enjoy in this particular edition was the glossary at the end of the book explaining J. M. Barrie’s completely inaccurate native Americans, as well as some other rather interesting tidbits. I thought it was very nice of them to explain why the characters were written as they are, especially since so much has changed in terms of standards of political correctness since the book’s original publication. I wish all reprintings of historical works included a historical explanation of the language and characters.

HHC Rating: 3.5 Stars

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic, #2) – V.E. Schwab

shades-of-magic-a-gathering-of-shadows-v-e-schwab

Source: Goodreads

Four months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, Kell and Rye prepare for the international magic tournament known as the Essen Tasch, while Lila sails dark seas in search of a new version of herself. In another London, long gone magic is brewing, threatening to upset the balance that has kept Red London safe.

OH MY GOSH, VICTORIA. Pardon my language, but having read the last half of the book in nearly one sitting today, my emotions are in pieces. It’s not just the cliffhanger, I swear. I have the final book, A Conjuring of Light, sitting next to me, waiting for me to finish typing this review before I dive in (and presumably drown).

As hard as I found A Darker Shade of Magic to get into, A Gathering of Shadows is the utter and complete opposite. You’re thrown right in, the worlds you met in the first installment bright and welcoming alongside everything you never knew. The action is near non-stop, what with the tournament and the enemies plotting, and Kell and Lila’s constant dancing around each other’s feeling that is only amplified by Rhy’s own issues bubbling to the surface.

The writing is superb, dragging you along in its current as if you were drowning in the Isle. I was reading in a Starbucks one morning and had to leave because I kept laughing, squealing, and gasping with every sentence. I’ll admit that just about everyone felt a little flat in the first book, but not anymore. It’s as if they’ve all been hooked up to air pumps and made into 3D. I feel like I haven’t breathed since I started reading at 8 am this morning. I only took a break because it’s Sunday and I had to go the church (it’s really hard to concentrate on God when all of your favorite characters’ lives are in potential peril). And then I came home and haven’t left my room since. This book. Everything about it is brilliant. It has easily cemented its place on my 2017 favorites list, and my family and friends can now expect it to be shoved down their throats in the very near future. Also, Delilah Bard is my favorite human.

HHC Rating: 5 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #1 – A Darker Shade of Magic
Book #3 – A Conjuring of Light

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, #1) – V.E. Schwab

shades-of-magic-a-darker-shade-of-magic-v-e-schwab

Source: Goodreads

Kell is a traveler, one of only two people in existence who can move between Londons. There’s Grey London, where King George III rules a world where magic is only a legend. There’s Red London, where magic flourishes and the Thames glows with power. There is White London, where rather than be forced into subservience, natural magic has fled, leaving those with amulets and runes the only wielders of the power left. Then there’s Black London, so consumed by its own magic that it was cut off from the others. Abandoned. Forbidden. Hidden. Until now.

Kell is a collector despite the fact that moving anything except royal mail across Londons is illegal. When he is given a token from a stranger to return to Black London, he knows he’s in trouble.

Delilah Bard is a thief who dreams of adventure. When she stumbles upon Kell and the Black London token, she only sees opportunity.

Holland is the White Traveler, but despite this rare freedom, he has become hard and unbearable. Without the Black London token he is hopeless, but getting it could put him in even more danger.

V. E. Schwab’s first novel in the Shades of Magic series sweeps readers up in Kell, Delilah, and Holland’s adventures through multiple worlds where magic is alternatingly unknown, praised, and desperately sought after. Told from multiple points of view, the reader learns about the many Londons and the worlds they inhabit slowly, despite the characters’ knowledge of them. This is one adventure that is both humorous and dark while being twisting and intricate. The first few chapters moved a little slowly for me, in part because it jumps in head first, and adjusting to the multiple Londons takes some time. Once I was used to the world, I couldn’t get enough. The suspense of what would happen to my favorite characters was akin to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (See my review of that here), in that you never knew who was safe, and the dark magic would like to have a mind of its own, thank you very much.

I picked this novel up after seeing it everywhere from BookTube to my Amazon and Barnes & Noble recommendations list, and I am not sorry I did. At 390 pages in paperback, this book is a pretty good size. The organization of the work is amazing. Each section has a name, and the chapters are numbered but not named within each section. The jury is still out on whether this made reading it feel faster or slower. I’m the kind of person who prefers world-building to be upfront rather than scattered in the wind, so this was overall a slow read because I had trouble picturing things where they should be, and also keeping all the Londons straight in my head. But still, the plot was good and the characters mysterious and intriguing, so it’s a win on my list.

I enjoyed the lack of romance. There were hints, here and there, as well as diversity in race and sexuality that were very nice, but this was not a love story within a fantasy adventure, and for that I am grateful. Apparently we’re getting some steamy scenes in A Conjuring of Light, however, so I may need to reassess after I read that installment. I’m curious about Kell and Holland’s pasts, and I can’t wait to learn more about Black London when I pick up A Gathering of Shadows later this month.

Book two, A Gathering of Shadows, was just released in paperback (and conveniently arrived at my house the next day), and book three, A Conjuring of Light, comes out TODAY in hardcover. My covers aren’t going to match, but at least I’ll have all three books for the V. E. Schwab signing I’m going to on the 27th (Next Monday!) here in Boston. This will be my first book event, so I’m very excited.

HHC Rating: 3.75 Stars

Other reviews in this series:
Book #2 – A Gathering of Shadows
Book #3 – A Conjuring of Light

The Wedding Duel (Dueling Pistols, #1) – Katy Madison

the-wedding-duel-katy-madison
Source: Goodreads

Keene Davies is set to duel his one-time friend over the honor of their common best friend’s new wife. His brother’s old friend will stand as his second, but John has a secret up his sleeve. He’s brought a pair of cursed pistols to be used in the duel. The legend tells that the true winner will live happily ever after; something Keene has never intended to do.

After the duel goes awry with John’s help, Keene’s father forces him into marriage to Sophie Farthing, his rambunctious and forever in trouble cousin. Sophie knows that her prudish parents want to marry her off, but never did she suspect it would be to Keene, her childhood rescuer.

Sophie and Keene’s relationship is interesting enough to make the book, but the author actually splits the story, so we also follow Keene’s friends George and Victor, as well as George’s wife, Amelia. Jumping between points of view, Madison does a fantastic job of weaving everyone’s stories together in ever more complex ways. The number of twists this story takes while still holding onto the central two issues is astounding, and I could never quite put it down, or put it out of my mind when I wasn’t reading it. I took it out to read everywhere I went, and not all them were appropriate places for reading a romance book. At least I was reading it via iBooks, so no one could tell what exactly I was reading unless they peered over my shoulder.

My only issue with the book is that the miscommunication between Keene and Sophie was dragged out for far, far too long. One of them should have caught on sooner. It was a bit unbelievable, but at the same time, miscommunication is what happens when people don’t outright say what they mean. Sure, George and Amelia take forever to resolve their issues as well, but their’s is a much more legitimate thing to be fighting about for the 4-6 month time period during which the book takes place.

Overall, I really enjoyed it, and heartily recommend it for those over the age of 16.

HHC Rating: 3.75 stars