Tag Archives: review

Blog Tour + Review: A Royal Kiss and Tell by Julia London

Thank you to NetGalley and Harlequin for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. A Royal Kiss and Tell debuted May 19th.

I adored last year’s The Princess Plan, so I made sure to be first in line for an ARC when the sequel was posted on NetGalley. I love your typical snag-a-duke historical romance, but the Royal Wedding series takes the fantasy to the next level with handsome princes and court intrigue. Let’s get the details out of the way, then get to the review…


A Royal Kiss & Tell
London, Julia 
FICTION/Romance/Historical/Victorian 
Mass Market | HQN Books | A Royal Wedding #2
9781335136978
$7.99 USD | $10.99 CAN

Blurb

Every prince has his secrets. And she’s determined to unravel his…

Every young man in London’s ton is vying for Lady Caroline Hawke’s hand—except one. Handsome roué Prince Leopold of Alucia can’t quite remember Caroline’s name, and the insult is not to be tolerated. So Caroline does what any clever, resourceful lady of means would do to make sure Leo never again forgets: sees that scandalous morsels about his reputation are printed in a ladies’ gossip gazette…all while secretly setting her cap for the rakish royal.

Someone has been painting Leo as a blackguard, but who? Socially, it is ruining him. More important, it jeopardizes his investigation into a contemptible scheme that reaches the highest levels of British government. Leo needs Lady Caroline’s help to regain access to society. But this charming prince is about to discover that enlisting the deceptively sweet and sexy Lady Caroline might just cost him his heart, his soul and both their reputations…

Author Bio

Julia London is a NYT, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of historical and contemporary romance. She is a six-time finalist for the RITA Award of excellence in romantic fiction, and the recipient of RT Bookclub’s Best Historical Novel.

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Buy Links

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Review

I adored the first book in this series, The Princess Plan, last year, and was so excited to get a chance to read this second book! Like the previous book, the characters in this book are excellent; one thing that London does so well is craft characters who feel solid and utterly unique. On that note, I can see a potential for some readers to be turned off by the MC, Caroline; she’s impetuous to an extreme and isn’t shy about making her opinions known. These traits often land her in sticky situations that can get cringy, so anyone super sensitive to cringe might find this a tougher couple to fall in love with. I was quite taken with her, though. 🙂

Due to the royal focus and the invented kingdom of Alucia, this series has a slightly more fantasy feel than your typical historical romance (a genre which, let’s be honest, is its own strain of fantasy, anyway.) Anyone looking for historical accuracy should perhaps keep browsing, but for those of us who just want to imagine a scenario where we get to fall in love with a dashing prince, this book is just perfect. The dialogue is great and the prose is strong, with the right amount of whimsy that doesn’t cross into saccharine sweet or precious territory. I also appreciated the court intrigue plot thread; astute mystery readers might unravel the mystery before the end, but I didn’t anticipate the twists and turns myself. All in all, this was a great read, and I’ll definitely be first in line for the next in series.

Short Tuesday Returns! #43: “The Black Beast of Belterre” by Mary Jo Putney

Short Tuesday makes a triumphant return this week–hurrah! Normally I reserve this spot for horror-tinged SFF, but I thought I’d do something a bit different this week, so actually turned to a novella by romance author Mary Jo Putney. It’s a Beauty and the Beast retelling, which anyone who’s spent a little time around these parts will know is super interesting to me right now. You can buy it off Amazon for $1.99… (I receive no commission for this link.)

I really enjoyed this novella, which flew by for me in about an hour and a half. It’s branded as a Christmas novella, but Christmas has the smallest of influences on the story–I didn’t feel weird at all reading it in May. I didn’t much get along with the last work I read by Putney (strangely, also Christmas-themed), due to 3rd POV reasons, but I didn’t experience any of those frustrations here.

This is a tale as old as time (har har): a man with confidence problems reluctantly falls in love with a smart and charming beauty. It’s a retelling of the classic fairy tale, but sticks strictly to those bare roots of the story–the magic is in the budding romance between the MCs, rather than curses and talking teapots. I was definitely aching for these two MCs to get together; the male MC’s insta-love wasn’t off-putting to me at all. A fair warning that anyone looking for sex scenes won’t find them here–there is definitely romantic longing and tension, but the one sex scene is top down and detail-free. I wouldn’t have minded things to get a bit more X-rated, but I can understand from a pacing standpoint why Putney didn’t go there.

I’m really happy I read this short story–one, because I’m on a Beauty and the Beast tear, but also because it gave me a second chance to read this author. I think we might have gotten off on the wrong footing; I’ll probably give one of Putney’s full-fledged novels a chance some time. This novella definitely has a thumbs up from me. 🙂

Short Tuesday #42: “No Exit” by Orrin Grey

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read Orrin Grey’s short story “No Exit.” (Not to be confused with No Exit by Taylor Adams, which has been making the rounds the last couple years.) You can read it here for free here…

I loved this short story! It features an MC whose sister was involved in a brutal, ritualistic killing at a rest stop by a cult based in Kansas. The bleak setting and the author’s rock solid voice had me sold from pretty much the first paragraph.

“No Exit” read extremely Lovecraftian to me, not just in terms of the evocative descriptive details and the too-monstrous-to-understand world-building, but also the format. I’m no Lovecraft expert, but a lot of what I have read by him involves pages and pages of exposition and set-up without any actual scenes, followed by a horrifying conclusion where we at last get a POV scene that thrusts us front row center into the madness. In this day and age where the popular writing style has such a focus on “show, don’t tell” and close first POV, it requires a really talented writer to pull off this kind of a story.

This is a fun one that has an eerie, slow crawl to the visceral details at the end. I can actually kind of see it as pairing well with another Nightmare Magazine favorite of mine, “Methods of Ascension” by Dan Stintzi. Anyway, I really enjoyed this and would love to read more by this author!

Short Tuesday #41: “Good Girls” by Isabel Yap

This week I was watching my favorite streamer play the game Dreadout 2, which is set in Indonesia, and it got me very curious to get better acquainted with horror from Southeast Asia! I feel like East Asian horror is fairly well understood in the West, but we don’t hear much about horror from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, etc. Googling didn’t get me far, so I threw up a post on Goodreads for fiction requests and got some interesting responses, one of which is Isabel Yap’s story “Good Girls.” You can read it here for free here at the now defunct Shimmer Zine…

I had a really great time reading this short story! Yap’s language is very evocative, but the plot doesn’t get bogged down in language. The story is split between two different settings, the Philippines and California, and it has all sorts of textural details that just get me more interested in Southeast Asian horror. The imagery of the piece really caught me, and I was a big fan of the sudden, extreme body horror details. Normally I’m not big on trigger warnings, but anyone with young children or an aversion to icky might want to pass this one up. It reminded me of a short story by a Chinese author I read eons ago in college with a detail about an ant and a baby (no idea what it was or who the author was, but if anyone knows what I’m talking about, leave a comment below).

Also, can we talk real quick about one of Yap’s other works, Hurricane Heels? Because it totally sounds like a Sailor Moon send-up, and I would be really on board for that.

Anyway, this was a fun one, and it just wetted my appetite more for horror from this region. I’d love recommendations if anyone has them!

Short Tuesday #40: “Today’s Question of the Day in Waverly, Ohio” by Adam-Troy Castro

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read “Today’s Question of the Day in Waverly, Ohio” by Adam-Troy Castro. You can read it here for free here…

I thought this short story was a really fun read! It’s quite short, and the set-up is fascinating: a mysterious entity who interviews a small town under the pretense of being a news crew, then deletes their memories of the interview. Aliens, perhaps? I’d really like to see more of this type of framework, as well as some expansion on the purpose of these interviews.

I thought the dialogue was great, and I enjoyed the wide spread of people who were interviewed, from a grocer to a truck driver to a reverend. I did start to lose interest when one of the interviews got political near the end, and I thought the ending interview was a cheap way to end the piece, but the whole framework of the short story really worked for me. It was short and sweet; if you’re looking for a quick read with a great hook, I’d try this one out.

Short Tuesday #39: “Alligator Point” by S.P. Miskowski

This week I returned to Nightmare Magazine to read “Alligator Point” by S.P. Miskowski. You can read it here for free here…

This short story didn’t inspire much horror in me, I’m afraid to say. Not much is happening throughout the story–you get some vague details about a woman escaping an abusive relationship with her two daughters, but nothing really comes together into a tangible story, to the point that I skimmed back through a couple times because I felt like I was missing something. (Maybe I am; correct me if I’m being an idiot over here!)

In terms of scariness, there’s not much here beyond a foreboding mood and a scary dream. Don’t get me wrong; in the right hands, an eerie mood and some well-written bad dreams can pack a wallop, but this short story wasn’t doing it for me. That’s a real shame, because I’m a sucker for horror set in the swampy South (Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, for example). Maybe with some expansion (this short story weighs in at a scant 2700 words) there could have been something here, but as is I can’t recommend it.

Short Tuesday #38: “Elo Havel” by Brian Evenson

This week I went back to Old Faithful, i.e., Nightmare Magazine, to see what new short fiction they had on offer. I didn’t actually realize until I got to the end of “Elo Havel” that it’s by Brian Evenson, who wrote the excellent short story “Cult.” You can read Elo Havel for free here…

I liked “Elo Havel” okay, but it didn’t measure up to “Cult” in my opinion. The writing is strong, and there’s a lot of forward momentum, but the letter framework and the ending took away from the overall piece. This is one of those short stories that feels like it could be part of something larger, but because there isn’t any continuation of the story, what readers do have to work with ends up feeling hollow and incomplete. What’s going to happen to the main character? How did he even end up receiving a letter in his current state–did it just simply appear? Why is he so impatient to take action, when it seems he has all the time in the world in his changed state?

Some short stories manage to make their ambiguity satisfying, but that’s a tightrope line that most often ends in disappointment. I’m definitely up for reading more by Evenson, but “Elo Havel” was just so-so for me.

ARC: Shall We Dance? by Shelley Shepard Gray

Thank you to NetGalley and Blackstone Publishing for sending me a free advanced reader copy of this book for an honest review. Shall We Dance? debuts January 28th.

Shall We Dance? started with a cute premise; a woman getting to know her two birth sisters purchases a dance studio and moves in with them above the studio. As she’s getting to know them, she’s simultaneously falling in love with her hot cop student.

Unfortunately, the plot spiraled off into a side plot that took away most of the attention from the main romance: the hot cop’s sister is hard at work overcoming her PTSD from a gang rape when she realizes she’s being stalked by one of her previous attackers. Normally I’m a big fan of strong subplots in romance, but this was such a large part of the book that it often felt like the romance plot between the MC and the cop had been entirely abandoned. Wooden dialogue did not help, nor a host of missed opportunities for good scenes. One of my romance pet peeves is when the author skips over important life events, and this book missed several, namely the proposal and the wedding. Surely I am not the only one out there who thinks it is absolutely senseless to gloss over a wedding when the entire point of the book is supposed to be the romance? Anyone with me on this? Because I see it allllll the time.

Anyway, Shall We Dance? remains very surface-level from start to finish; it never got past lukewarm for me, whether in the character relationships, the chemistry, or the plot. There will of course be sequels to this book–romance authors adore their big families!–but I won’t be picking up the next in the series.

Short Tuesday #37: “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?” by Neil Gaiman

This week I took a look at Tor.com for Short Tuesday to read “I, Cthulhu, or, What’s A Tentacle-Faced Thing Like Me Doing In A Sunken City Like This (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W)?” by Neil Gaiman. You can read the story for free here…

This was one of those short stories that I can tell is technically great, but that I had a difficult time fully immersing myself in. A good heaping of that is due to the whimsical tone of the piece; I don’t have an issue with whimsy per se, but it has to hit me right. The Sookie Stackhouse series is just perfect in this regard (for example, I adore the notion of a vampire Elvis–excuse me, Bubba), but anything that veers tonally towards Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Good Omens I’m going to have a difficult time with. I never want my fiction to have a smarmy, “aren’t we all so clever for liking this” feel. I mean, just look at the title of the piece; I couldn’t even type it in right to my WordPress blog tags. 😡 Or maybe I’m just in a grumpy mood today, lol.

So this story was mildly entertaining for me, but I was happy it was short. As always, the Lovecraft touches are a winner for me, and Gaiman’s breadth of language was a breath of fresh air. If you like Neil Gaiman and Lovecraft, this story’s a no-brainer, but personally it was only okay.

ARC: A Violet Fire by Kelsey Quick

Big note at the beginning of this review is that not only did I receive an ARC of A Violet Fire for a free and honest review by the author, but that Kelsey Quick and I have become author buddies along the way! I helped her with some of the late-stage editing of AVF, provided cover feedback, and we also talk shop about author stuff. So this review is biased fo sho! But I still wanted to get up a review. 🙂

I had tons of fun reading A Violet Fire. Anyone who’s spent time around these parts knows I’m a big vampire fan, and A Violet Fire was just the right strain of different to keep me glued to the page. I loved the world-building; save for The Passage by Justin Cronin, which I didn’t entirely get along with, I’ve never read a vampire book where vampires have taken over the world. The premise here is simple and makes for great romantic power dynamics: vampires in this universe own humans like cattle, and our human MC, Wavorly, is a blood supply unit of hot vampire bad boy Zein. Yeah, it sounds a little fucked up on paper, but if you’re like me and love a Beauty and the Beast backbone, then this is a book to put on your list.

Quick has a voice for YA, and the book moves swiftly. It does have a first book feel; by that I mean that you can tell it’s gone through a lot of editing and has some patches, but I don’t really deduct for that since every author has a first book. It was all the little touches I enjoyed most: Wavorly’s friendships, the way she uses French to her advantage, her insistence on human dignity, the dark and lush imagery. Reading AVF is kind of like eating candy; the two are nothing alike story-wise, but I was reminded of the momentum I felt when I read The Selection a few years back. It’s just fun.

I’m excited for the sequel to AVF, which I believe is slated for release next year. Vampires are back in YA, thank the lord! And a big congratulations to Kelsey again; as I said in my interview with her, I’ve never seen an indie author put so much effort into a release, and I admire her as a fellow author businesswoman. I will definitely be reading book two.