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Alexis Hall, A Lady for a Duke

This historical was truly amazing—and I think it will become a classic in the genre. It was wonderful to read a historical romance with a trans heroine and I hope that, after Viola, we see more books in the genre with trans main characters.

As I often proclaim, I am trash for childhood friends-to-lovers and so, going into this read, I was super excited that this book was going to feature one of my favorite tropes. And this trope worked so well for Viola and Gracewood’s story; childhood friends to lovers always involves the two main characters reuniting but having to rediscover each other and that aspect of the trope melded perfectly with their story.

The set-up of the book is that, two years before, Viola and Gracewood fought in the battle of Waterloo. Viola is wounded in battle and, by the time that she recovers, she is presumed dead—and she seizes this opportunity to finally live as herself. She gives up her title, her wealth, and her relationship with her best friend, Gracewood, to live as the person she has always truly been: Viola Carroll. She returns to live at her ancestral estate not as its heir, but as the paid companion to her sister-in-law, Lady Marleigh. Therefore, when she does encounter Gracewood again, he has to relearn who Viola is and how she is a different person (now and in the past) from the friend that he loved so much and thought he knew so well.

Gracewood also returns to Viola changed—he has been traumatized psychologically and physically by fighting in Waterloo and has been marked deeply by his grief over losing her in that battle. When they reencounter each other, he is still in the depths of that sorrow and struggling to find his footing in pretty much every way. As Gracewood and Viola come back to one another and build a relationship based on their new and true selves, A Lady for a Duke totally soars. There isn’t unnecessary angst or suffering (and Viola being trans thankfully—and very intentionally according to Hall’s author’s note—is not the central conflict in the narrative), but that doesn’t mean that this book doesn’t have high stakes. For these two characters, the stakes feel so high. Their relationship is so special and, as a reader, the idea that they wouldn’t work out is unbearable. Even though I knew that there was an HEA coming (of course!!), I was so invested in Viola and Gracewood finding happiness.

Overall, Hall creates a gorgeous, affecting love story here. A Lady for a Duke is, in my opinion, required reading for anyone devoted to historical romance as a genre and was, start to finish, an absorbing, incredible read. Also, the epilogue was one of the best I have ever read. Highly recommend!

Adriana Herrera, A Caribbean Heiress in Paris

I LOVED this book. First, I just need to highlight the historical research that went into this work—in some historicals, careful research is palpable and A Caribbean Heiress in Paris is one of those books. From the handling of European colonialism and slavery in the Caribbean to the rendering of the rum and whiskey businesses, Herrera just gives us such a strong sense of history, this particular time period, and the stakes inherent to her characters' lives. It was a real pleasure to read for this reason and I would recommend this book for the handling of history alone.

That said, this vivid historical setting unfolds alongside a searing hot, hot, hot love connection between Evan and Luz Alana!! They have smoldering chemistry and this book was SO steamy—they even have sex at the Eiffel Tower....YES. I loved how they were both distillers—Luz Alana makes rum and is beginning a cordials business based on her grandmother’s recipes and Evan is devoted to making whiskey. They just really seemed like a perfect match from the beginning.

Herrera also delves into the inherent political tension in their relationship with subtlety and grace. She shows Evan having to confront and acknowledge how much more privilege and power he is afforded as a white Scottish man than Luz Alana is as an Afro-Latina woman from the Dominican Republic. He also learns to listen to Luz Alana in scenarios where she is experiencing racism and sexism and how to follow her lead instead of trying to assert control. I really appreciated the depth and nuance in their conversations about race, gender, and colonialism and how it effects their identities and personal histories. I also thought the depiction of Luz’s entrance into Scotland as a kind of complicated homecoming was really compelling and well done—her father was Scottish, so Luz has a very personal connection to this country that she has never seen before. The scene where she visits the beach on Evan's estate and holds the Scottish and Hispaniola coastlines in her mind at once was really powerful.

The marriage between Luz and Evan begins as one of convenience (although they agree from the start that they will be intimate during their time together) and that aspect of the book was just delicious. Also, if you don’t like third act breakups, then I very much suggest this romance. I was bracing myself for the break up in the third act and I was so glad when it never came. I am not against third act breakups by any means, and I think certain relationships really need it, but these two didn’t—it just would have been too painful and not in a good way. To me, the lack of a third act break up showed how well Herrera knows her characters. I loved that, instead, Luz and Evan have conflict in the third act but that it isn’t a big tumultuous separation. The third act felt very true to their dynamic and, for this reason, this third was actually my favorite part of the book.

I really recommend this book, especially if you love 19th century historicals but yearn for a more global cast of characters, don’t like third-act break ups, or love steamy connections. If all three of these descriptors apply to you as they do to me, then you are sure to love A Caribbean Heiress in Paris!!!

Joanna Shupe, The Bride Goes Rogue

The Bride Goes Rogue was my first Joanna Shupe and I was not disappointed! This book was REALLY sexy and I very much enjoyed the scenes between Preston and Katherine. I also really liked the clever set-up here: Katherine and Preston’s fathers betrothed them as children and, for the past year, Katherine has presumed that they would be married (it doesn’t hurt that she has seen Preston from afar and finds him very attractive). When her father encourages her to visit Preston’s office to discuss wedding dates, Katherine decides to do just that—but Preston quickly tells her in no uncertain terms that they will never get married. He hates her father for abandoning his father when his business began to fail and so he wants nothing to do with Katherine or her family.

In amazing Romance novel fashion, however, Preston and Katherine soon meet again. Angry about Preston rejecting her, Katherine decides to go to a masked ball at Madison Square Garden and have a steamy liaison with whoever strikes her fancy. When she sees a handsome man in a mask, they go to his private rooms and have a very heated encounter, keeping their identities anonymous. When they decide to meet up for a second tryst the next day (sans masks!), Katherine quickly discovers that, of course, the handsome gentleman is Preston—and he is just as shocked as she is. The rest of the book features these two trying to reconcile their deep attraction for one another with the history between their fathers.

All in all, it is a really juicy premise and I enjoyed it immensely. I also loved the old New York setting. At one point, Katherine and Preston go up to the Hudson Valley to their vacation homes there and I adored this novel setting as well.

My only quibble with this book concerned certain aspects of the emotional dynamic between Katherine and Preston. I thought Preston held out a bit too long in his resolution not to marry Katherine when he was clearly obsessed with her. I almost wanted them to get married sooner and I felt that would have been more satisfying and exciting to me from a historical and narrative tension perspective--they are living in this restrictive society, etc., and I would have liked if Preston had freaked out more about having compromised Katherine, who is very much a debutante type. That said, I mostly read 18th century, Regency, and Victorian romances set in Great Britain/Europe, and so that might have been a difference between the historicals I am used to and the time period of The Bride Goes Rogue. Most of my context for the Gilded Age is Edith Wharton novels, so it is definitely a period I know less about. Generally, I think these characters skewed super modern in their sensibilities (but, again, maybe I just think that because of what I am used to reading--the Gilded Age is a lot closer to the present than, say, a Regency) and so I would definitely recommend this book to readers who like historicals that have a more contemporary feel.

The Bride Goes Rogue was a great historical romance with A+ steam and I think it will please readers (like myself!!!) who want a historical that won't skimp in any way on heat.


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