Design a site like this with WordPress.com
Get started

KAIKEYI by Vaishnavi Patel

In the vein of Madeline Miller’s Circe comes a bold and sweeping debut that reimagines the life of Kaikeyi, the vilified queen of the Indian epic the Ramayana.

“I was born on the full moon under an auspicious constellation, the holiest of positions—much good it did me.”

So begins Kaikeyi’s story, that of a young woman determined to create her own destiny in a world where gods and men dictate the shape of things to come. But as she transforms herself from an overlooked princess into a warrior, diplomat, and most-favored queen, Kaikeyi’s will clashes with the path that has been chosen for her family. And she must decide if her resistance is worth the destruction it will wreak.


Title : Kaikeyi
Author : Vaishnavi Patel
Format : eARC
Page Count : 432
Genre : historical retelling
Publisher : Redhook
Release Date : April 26, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 4 star review

So, I am prefacing this review by saying I know nothing of the epic that inspired this book. I didn’t even know the name Kaikeyi. Had I heard it, I wouldn’t even know to guess what it would be about. But seeing it compared to Circe, or at least likened to this style of female-focused retelling, I had to snatch it up.

Curiously, I read the wikipedia summary after finishing this book and wow. I mean, I don’t know if it’s accurate (again, prefacing, I am Jon Snow and know nothing), but what a different spin on things. And actually it made me appreciate this story even more.

It occurred to me [..] that maybe the gods had marked me for my mother’s sins. Sons could not be held responsible for maternal sins, but daughter’s? [..] Nothing protected me.

I truly don’t even know where to begin, really. This isn’t a short book and nor is it one that you can blast through; this took me hours to read. Maybe I savoured it, maybe I just didn’t rush, but either way, it took time.

The story spans decades, from Kaikeyi’s birth until well into middle age (ish), when her son is almost full grown. We see her grow up amongst many brothers, lose her mother, and try to find a place where she belongs. Then, once married off, she is even more at loose ends having lost the connections and stability she had at home. She struggles for a time to be a wife — one of three — but is lucky enough to be married to a good man who finds more value in her than just someone to give him sons; though she eventually does. And it’s after the birth of her child, and others, that things begin to change again.

Kaikeyi, remember that you did the right thing. You are not wicked.
Then why do I feel wicked?
Because those who are good question themselves. Because those who are good alway wonder if there was a better way, a way that could have helped more and hurt less. That feeling is why you are good.”

Please note, I made a very oversimplified summary of things and omitted a lot because spoilers. There is so much more to this than the above. There are gods, and demons, magical connections, unexpected friendships, the fight to empower other women in a society that only values them to a certain extent, and more.

I was sad this ended, I could have definitely read more, and I do wish some plot points had been made clearer. But maybe that’s just because I’m unfamiliar with the source material. I don’t know. Overall, I thought this was very strong, very interesting, and would absolutely recommend. I will be very interested in Patel’s next release (can you believe this is a debut!?), whether related or not, and will definitely be picking it up.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

THE SCOTTISH BOY by Alex De Campi🎧

1333. Edward III is at war with Scotland. Nineteen-year-old Sir Harry de Lyon yearns to prove himself and jumps at the chance when a powerful English baron, William Montagu, invites him on a secret mission with a dozen elite knights.

They ride north, to a crumbling Scottish keep, capturing a feral, half-starved boy within and putting the other inhabitants to the sword.

But nobody knows why the flower of English knighthood snuck over the border to capture a savage, dirty teenage boy. Montagu gives the boy to Harry as his squire, with only two rules: don’t let him escape, and convert him to the English cause.

At first, it’s hopeless. The Scottish boy is surly and violent and eats anything that isn’t nailed down. Then Harry begins to notice things: that, as well as Gaelic, the boy speaks flawless French, with an accent much different from Harry’s Norman one. That he can read Latin too. And when Harry finally convinces the boy – Iain mac Maíl Coluim – to cut his filthy curtain of hair, the face revealed is the most beautiful thing Harry has ever seen.

With Iain as his squire, Harry wins tournament after tournament and becomes a favourite of the King. But underneath the pageantry smoulder twin secrets: Harry and Iain’s growing passion for each other, and Iain’s mysterious heritage. As England hurtles towards war once again, these secrets will destroy everything Harry holds dear.

A sexy, slow-burn, enemies to lovers historical romance, Alex De Campi delivers a steamy but tender love story. “Brokeback Mountain” meets “50 Shades of Grey” set again the vivid backdrop of Medieval Britain. Perfect for fans of Madeleine Miller’s “Song of Achilles”, the novels of C. S. Pascat, and K.J. Charles.


Title : The Scottish Boy
Author : Alex De Campi
Narrator : Richard Pearce
Format : Audiobook
Length : 15 hours, 50 min
Genre : Historical Fiction/LGBTQIAP+
Publisher : Saga Audiobooks
Release Date : March 16, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★


Micky’s 2.5 -3 star review

Headlines:
Men not boys
Romp-fest

Sigh, I have a lot of thoughts about this book and I’m sad they’re not hitting the expectations I had. The premise for The Scottish Boy was great and it started off really well, with a plot that had traction and potential. Iain was the wiley, captured wildling and Harry was the nobleman of sorts. These ‘boys’ were young adults.

The plot had a sort of loose A Knight’s Tale theme but with a gay relationship and lots of sex (full emphasis on the sex). I am reluctant to ever judge if there is too much sex in a book, that’s subjective, but for me, the constant romping overtook everything else, the plot suffered and I just got bored by it. The initial connection and hatred between Iain and Harry was really compelling and their push and pull kept me reading but I cannot lie, I wanted more depth to the plot.

The book itself felt a little overlong, 500+ pages, 15 hours on the audio. From an audio perspective, the narration was solid and definitely enhanced the experience. This was a single POV, from Harry’s perspective but with good dialogue and accents.

Thank you to the publisher and netgalley for the audio review copy.

THE SEA OF TRANQUILITY by Emily St. John Mandel

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 black-skied 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.


Title : Sea of Tranquility
Author : Emily St. John Mandel
Format : ARC
Page Count : 255
Genre : historical fiction / sci-fi
Publisher : Knopf
Release Date : April 5, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ .5


Hollis’ 2.5 star review

So, spoiler alert, this has a lot more pandemic-content than I think I expected. For some reason I thought the discussion was more centered in the older of the timelines but instead it seemed to span most of them; and we see COVID make a cameo, too. Having said that, readers now expecting a lot of page time dedicated to this might think there’s less than I claim; I suppose it depends on one’s perspective. But regardless, if you aren’t ready for that kind of content, maybe avoid this one.

As for the story itself, I have some mixed feelings about it all. I feel like this is one of those reads that you might not appreciate until the very end — because that was definitely the case with me. I wasn’t bored or disliking anything up until that point but neither was I particularly engaged with or by the characters we were spending time with. But the ending, the why of it all.. I liked that. Doubly so because I didn’t see it coming.

This also felt a little.. I don’t want to see autobiographical but it almost felt there were parts of the author’s own experience, in a few different ways, that she may have included via the book’s author’s perspective or experience. It took me out of the story a little but for the other bits I actually enjoyed wondering if Mandel had been asked these same questions, had the same experience of doing press for a pandemic novel during a pandemic, etc.

Overall this was definitely mixed for me but it won’t stop me from picking up her titles again. And, on the topic, upon skimming through the top bit of the GR page, it turns out this connects a bit to her previous release, The Glass Hotel. I never got around to reading it so I’m keen to step back and see where the bits overlap. I always love those little easter eggs. Here’s hoping that one, at least, is a win.

** I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **

PANDORA by Susan Stokes-Chapman

London, 1799. Dora Blake is an aspiring jewellery artist who lives with her uncle in what used to be her parents’ famed shop of antiquities. When a mysterious Greek vase is delivered, Dora is intrigued by her uncle’s suspicious behaviour and enlists the help of Edward Lawrence, a young antiquarian scholar. Edward sees the ancient vase as key to unlocking his academic future. Dora sees it as a chance to restore the shop to its former glory, and to escape her nefarious uncle.

But what Edward discovers about the vase has Dora questioning everything she has believed about her life, her family, and the world as she knows it. As Dora uncovers the truth she starts to realise that some mysteries are buried, and some doors are locked, for a reason.

Gorgeously atmospheric and deliciously page-turning, Pandora is a story of secrets and deception, love and fulfilment, fate and hope.


Title : Pandora
Author : Susan Stokes-Chapman
Format : Physical
Page Count : 432
Genre : Historical Fiction/Retelling
Publisher : Random House UK/Vintage
Release Date : January 27, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Creepy atmosphere
Plundering of other countries
You can literally smell the evil

Pandora was such an all consuming read. I loved how it brought Georgian England together with Greek mythology. The result was a stunning story, with clever characters, ones to really invest in and some to revile.

Pandora ‘Dora’ was the orphaned daughter of two archeologists-excavators-plunderers but they were respected experts and sellers of antiquities prior to their deaths. Dora relied on her uncle Hesakiah who quite frankly was one of the most revolting characters ever, but I loved how well he was written. He was a dodgy dealer in all the ways.

The arrival of the jar brought a creepy atmosphere to the page and the house Dora lived in. She had assistance from Edward with regards to the jar and there were some interesting side characters in Cornelius and Lottie. The Coombes brothers situation made me shudder and I could literally smell some of the things going on, kudos to the description. I have to mention Hermes, Dora’s animal companion in the shape of a magpie. He was fierce, wiley and protective; I enjoyed him on the page.

There’s a small part of me that was uncomfortable reading about the colonial aspects of plundering and acquisition even though that was historically correct. I hate element of British history, our museums are still full of antiquities that are not ‘ours’.

This was a superb debut, easy to read and not overtly historical-heavy. Dora the explorer (look someone had to say it) made for great reading and I’d jump on another release from this author.

Thank you to Vintage Books for the eARC copy.

SOMETHING FABULOUS by Alexis Hall – double review!

From the acclaimed author of Boyfriend Material comes a delightfully witty romance featuring a reserved duke who’s betrothed to one twin and hopelessly enamoured of the other.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, has twin problems: literally.

It was always his father’s hope that Valentine would marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. But, unfortunately, too many novels at an impressionable age have caused her to grow up…romantic. So romantic that a marriage of convenience will not do and after Valentine’s proposal she flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again.

Arabella’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton, has also grown up…romantic. And fully expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted cad he seems to be.

Despite copious misgivings, Valentine finds himself on a pell-mell chase to Dover with Bonny by his side. Bonny is unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing. 


Title : Something Fabulous
Author : Alexis Hall
Series : Something Fabulous (book one?)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 363
Genre : LGBTQIAP+ historical romance
Publisher : Montlake
Release Date : January 25, 2022

Reviewer : Hollis / Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★  / ★ ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

This read was a bit of a peaks and valleys situation for me. How I was feeling when this book started was not how I felt all throughout but definitely by the end I had come back around so many times that I ended on the same note I began. Which is to say.. it was fine.

You doubt my capacity? How infirm do you think I am?
I never said you were infirm. You’re very firm. Almost.. excessively firm, really.
I understand you’re trying to be reassuring, but stop it at once.

But there was so much greatness in and around the fine-ness.

What really ruined this for me was our male love interest’s sister, the one Valentine, our protagonist, is meant to be marrying. While we do — riiiight near the end — get some general insight as to what is driving her, beyond the obvious, to avoid this marriage, I’ll admit.. the damage had long been done. She was just too frustrating and ridiculous and dramatic and honestly I was glad we didn’t have more scenes with her than we did.

I’m relieved that one of you at least is blessed with some modicum of sense.
I mean, she could be captured by pirates or highwaymen or.. or vampires or anything.”
Forgive me, I spoke prematurely.”

Whereas Valentine, our Duke, for all that he was seemingly in the wrong.. I didn’t think he deserved half his bad rep? He broke my heart more often than not. Maybe that’s the benefit of having his perspective vs the others but honestly he didn’t deserve the half of it.

The twin, Bonny, well. He was a slowburn warm up, at least for me. I was tickled by his early interactions and then just mildly tolerant but overall I did enjoy him. He was definitely the right amount of outlandish sunshine-y silliness to Valentine’s.. well, Valentine.

I can’t believe you like me.”
If it’s any consolation, neither can I.

I will warn you that this is a bit ridiculous, a lot of camp, even some satire. Hall deploys all the usual tropes with a twist while also making this historical incredibly and enthusiastically, and unabashedly, queer. But heavy emphasis on the silly and ridiculous. Just know that going in.

I wish I had loved this a little more but Belle honestly did too much damage to my sanity to rate this higher. But. The good times? Were great. As was most of the banter. I’m not at all mad about the time I spent with this one. I don’t quite know if it’s to be a series, not GR definitely lists a “one” next to the series, so I’m keen to see who we would read about next. But if it’s Belle’s story.. well. Maybe not.

** I received an ARC from NetGalley and the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. **


Micky’s 3 star review

Headlines:
Silliness and camptastic
A romp across the country
Irritation to more

Stow your serious side as you enter into Something Fabulous. It’s silly but endearingly entertaining all the same. It had shades of the ridiculous but again, you tolerate it for the ride. These two characters, a lesson in rubbing one another up the wrong way were such polar opposites.

Valentine was the pompous Duke who seemed to have little insight into his own sexual preferences, desires and he had no idea how others perceived him. Self awareness was not his forte and was his early downfall in the marriage stakes. Bonny was all contrast, overtly aware of who he was, what he liked and he seemed to like Valentine.

Their banter seemed to multiply exponentially which sometimes proved a bit much for my tastes but overall, I had plenty of laughs along with these two. I did not have laughs with Belle, Bonny’s sister however. Reading this I would go from snickers to annoyance in a few pages and that dragged my enjoyment down. It took me a while to read this one and I’m blaming Belle in the background and foreground!

Thank you to the publisher through netgalley for an early review copy.

A FATAL CROSSING by Tom Hindle

November 1924. The Endeavour sets sail to New York with 2,000 passengers – and a killer – on board . . .

When an elderly gentleman is found dead at the foot of a staircase, ship’s officer Timothy Birch is ready to declare it a tragic accident. But James Temple, a strong-minded Scotland Yard inspector, is certain there is more to this misfortune than meets the eye.

Birch agrees to investigate, and the trail quickly leads to the theft of a priceless painting. Its very existence is known only to its owner . . . and the dead man.

With just days remaining until they reach New York, and even Temple’s purpose on board the Endeavour proving increasingly suspicious, Birch’s search for the culprit is fraught with danger.

And all the while, the passengers continue to roam the ship with a killer in their midst . . .


Title : A Fatal Crossing
Author : Tom Hindle
Format : Physical ARC
Page Count : 449
Genre : Historical Murder Mystery
Publisher : Century Books
Release Date : January 20, 2022

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
High seas mystery
Crew, toffs, mob and conmen

This historical murder mystery set on an atlantic crossing in the 1920s is unlike my usual reading choices but it turned out to be a good choice nonetheless. This was a story that started out with what seemed to be a reasonably easy to fathom death that may or may not be a crime. All this evolved into an incredibly knotted web of shenanigans. I was hooked from the first chapter.

The story brought two key characters in Birch, the ship’s officer and Temple, the policeman who happened to be on the boat; don’t ever believe in coincidences. Birch really had my heartstrings with his rather tragic past and depressed nature. I liked him a lot and felt him to be the intergrity compass of the piece. Temple seemed shady from the start with a slice of maybe he’s okay.

Side entrance to some stolen artwork, a lot of entitled toffs, a few characters from third class and a the crew being encouraged to hide what was happening to 2000 passengers. I read avidly, there was a bit of a lull after midway but then it picked up again.

There were some incredible twists to the plot, none more than the final twist. I would never have seen that coming and I really didn’t sense any foreshadowing even on reflection. Raymond maybe had me wondering at something but I wasn’t sure what.

This was a great debut, a great whodunnit that was really well crafted and written.

Thank you to Sarah Harwood PR and Century Books for the early review copy.

A PAINTED WINTER by H Barnard

In the misty highlands of fourth century Scotland, two Pictish brothers conspire with the Ancient People from beyond the Great Wall to attack the Romans.

Roman power in Britannia is weakening. Brothers Brei and Taran, Princes and warriors of a Pictish Kingdom, seek revenge against the Romans for attacking their city, killing their father, and taking their mother as a slave. The sudden arrival of Sorsha, a mysterious woman with an incredible gift, sets the brothers on a path to warfare.

A Painted Winter is book one of the four-part Pictish Conspiracy series. H. Barnard’s debut novel blends historical fiction and Celtic mythology in a thrilling adventure that will leave you wondering who the real barbarians are ….


Title : A Painted Winter
Author : H. Barnard
Series : Pictish Conspiracy #1
Format : Physical
Page Count : 340
Genre : Historical
Publisher : Shadowfax Publishing
Release Date : December 21, 2021

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 4 star review

Headlines:
Mysterious and magical
Druidic powers
It’s grim up north

I am not experienced in politics or warfare, but it seems to me that we first create a barbarian, an enemy, and then we take away their lands.

A Painted Winter was impressively easy to read for what could have been quite a heavy historical read, but wasn’t. I’ve found myself drawn to this era of history through a few books in the last year such as Gawain, Daughter of the Forest and The Look of a King. The Pictish/English divide and a more ancient time in history where powers of the earth were harnessed through druids, is pretty fascinating.

This story was a dual POV told from a Pictish Prince Brei and a lost but found woman from the south, Sorsha. I was much more drawn to Sorsha’s story, her POV but we needed Brei’s perspective for the grand plot of the tale. Brei wasn’t a character I liked, I was much more interested in Taran. Other sketchy characters included Serenn and Anwen.

I couldn’t help but internally cheer for Sorsha as she came into her gifts, felt more empowered and followed her path. She was strong and a fascinating character, I think there’s so much more to her yet that the reader doesn’t know and I look forward to reading more about her.

This read felt well researched and immersed you in Pictish life with some later Roman perspective. The historical elements were incredibly strong. I think my other reading in this era helped my understanding of the druid workings, even though in this book, they were depicted as being rather nefarious.

All in all, this has been a great debut and I definitely want to read more. Thank you to Shadowfax Publishing and InstaBookTours for the review copy.

DEAR MRS BIRD by AJ Pearce 🎧

London, 1941. Emmeline Lake and her best friend Bunty are trying to stay cheerful despite the Luftwaffe making life thoroughly annoying for everyone. Emmy dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and when she spots a job advertisement in the newspaper she seizes her chance – but after a rather unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the formidable Henrietta Bird, the renowned agony aunt of Woman’s Friend magazine.

Mrs Bird is very clear: letters containing any form of Unpleasantness must go straight into the bin. But as Emmy reads the desperate pleas from women who may have Gone Too Far with the wrong man, or can’t bear to let their children be evacuated, she decides the only thing for it is to secretly write back . . .

Irresistibly funny and enormously moving, Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce is a love letter to the enduring power of friendship, the kindness of strangers and the courage of ordinary people in extraordinary times.


Title : Dear Mrs Bird
Author : AJ Pearce
Narrator : Anna Popplewell
Format : Audiobook
Length : 10 hours, 40 minutes
Genre : Women’s Fiction/Historical
Publisher : Macmillan Audio
Release Date : April 5, 2018

Reviewer : Micky
Rating : ★ ★ ★ ★


Micky’s 3.5 – 4 star review

Headlines:
Funny
Down to earth view of war-time London
Female-centric

This was both a witty perspective of city life during WW2 but as you can imagine, it hit a point where it was tragic and sad too. That said, this is one of the easiest historical reads I’ve ever had and for that many points awarded. I often associate historical reads with being heavier but the funny narrative of Emmy, the protagonist, eased you into her world.

Emmy was a bit chaotic, she had a desire to make her subtle mark on society and she found herself wanting to empower women. What I liked about this story and narrative was that Emmy was all about the average woman, the problems those women faced in life, love and loss. There was so much in this witty bite of life for the reader.

I got caught up in the feels of tragedy when all was said and done and AJ Pearce has secured me for the next book because I have an intense desire to find out what’s next for Emmy (and Bunty).

The narration was superb and this actor (and voice actor) brought much to the emotional levity and temperature of the listening experience.

THE BRONZED BEASTS by Roshani Chokshi

In love they breathed. In destiny they believed. In the end, will divinity be their demise?

After Séverin’s seeming betrayal, the crew is fractured. Armed with only a handful of hints, Enrique, Laila, Hypnos and Zofia must find their way through the snarled, haunted waterways of Venice, Italy to locate Séverin. 

Meanwhile, Séverin must balance the deranged whims of the Patriarch of the Fallen House and discover the location of a temple beneath a plague island where the Divine Lyre can be played and all that he desires will come to pass. 

With only ten days until Laila expires, the crew will face plague pits and deadly masquerades, unearthly songs and the shining steps of a temple whose powers might offer divinity itself… but at a price they may not be willing to pay.


Title : The Silvered Serpents
Author : Roshani Chokshi
Series : The Gilded Wolves (book two)
Format : eARC
Page Count : 416
Genre : YA historical fiction / fantasy
Publisher : Wednesday Books
Release Date : September 21, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★ ★ 


Hollis’ 3 star review

So the end of this series is here and maybe, after loving book two so much, I should’ve tempered my expectations — after all, book one just wasn’t quite it for me — but honestly I’ve come out the end of this one just.. not knowing really how to feel.

This National Treasure-esque fantasy historical series has always leaned into “too smart for me” territory but I’ve enjoyed, even if I struggled to comprehend, the historical tie-ins, the history, the nuance, and thankfully this one maybe feel less stupid. But my intelligence or lack thereof aside, the series has always been balanced out by the delightful dynamic of the cast of characters (we love an ensemble, she continues to say, ad nauseum!) and after the events of book two, the dynamic sours and takes a turn. I wasn’t mad about it, and it was still enjoyable in its new configuration, but.. I don’t know, something was missing.

Likewise, the big conflict, the thing we’ve been leading towards, the main event if you will.. did I even really understand it? Nope. Could I visualize it? A little. Is that partially my problem? Probably! I plan to read some reviews and see if this just went wrong for everyone or, more likely, it was just me.

Additionally, the ending. How to describe it. Unexpected? Bittersweet? Lovely? It definitely went in a direction I didn’t see coming (hence the unexpectedness) and was a nice resolution to one of the other romances (hence the loveliness), but.. for how it finally did end, that last line, after all the time, all the loss..? Well, yeah, hence the bittersweetness. I also just wonder why. I don’t quite understand. Another thing I’ll be looking for clarity on in some reviews.

So, overall, this was a strange reading experience. But I’m not mad about pushing on to keep reading because the richness of this world, the diversity of the characters, the mystery of it all, the delightful ensemble banter.. there was a lot to enjoy. Would that I had ended up a higher note with it all but at least it’s not a low note! I’ll take the win.

PORTRAIT OF A SCOTSMAN by Evie Dunmore

London banking heiress Hattie Greenfield wanted “just” three things in life:

1. Acclaim as an artist.
2. A noble cause.
3. Marriage to a young lord who puts the gentle in gentleman.

Why then does this Oxford scholar find herself at the altar with the darkly attractive financier Lucian Blackstone, whose murky past and ruthless business practices strike fear in the hearts of Britain’s peerage? Trust Hattie to take an invigorating little adventure too far. Now she’s stuck with a churlish Scot who just might be the end of her ambitions….

When the daughter of his business rival all but falls into his lap, Lucian sees opportunity. As a self-made man, he has vast wealth but holds little power, and Hattie might be the key to finally setting long-harbored political plans in motion. Driven by an old revenge, he has no room for his new wife’s apprehensions or romantic notions, bewitching as he finds her.

But a sudden journey to Scotland paints everything in a different light. Hattie slowly sees the real Lucian and realizes she could win everything—as long as she is prepared to lose her heart.

Going toe-to-toe with a brooding Scotsman is rather bold for a respectable suffragist, but when he happens to be one’s unexpected husband, what else is an unwilling bride to do?


Title : Portrait of a Scotsman
Author : Evie Dunmore
Series : A League of Extraordinary Women (book three)
Format : eBook (overdrive)
Page Count : 448
Genre : historical romance
Publisher : Berkley
Release Date : September 7, 2021

Reviewer : Hollis
Rating : ★ ★


Hollis’ 3 star review

For a historical romance, this was oddly light on romance. Plenty of sexytimes, when we eventually got to that point, but Dunmore spends a lot of the word count on many of the societal issues of the time (some of which are relevant today) — yes, a women’s right to vote has been the guiding star of this whole series, and all that is twisted up with that right, but this instalments shifts to the conditions of the working class, specifically miners, unions, and the wage disparity between the genders of said working class.

You can’t tell me Dunmore doesn’t know her shit or, at the very least, puts in a hell of a lot of hours on research. Much of it was interesting, though perhaps not always compelling, but I appreciated the debates between the two main characters who took to these subjects through the lens of their very different upbringings, perspectives, and privileges.

Where this story was less interesting was the romance. However, this more or less followed the format of Beauty and the Beast or Hades and Persephone so if that dynamic is your catnip, you’ll definitely be hooked — at least by the beginning.

Hattie is definitely something of a departure from the leading ladies of the other books who were, categorically, more radical and easier to identify with because they felt more modern. Whereas Hattie, despite attending Oxford, despite supporting the suffragists movement, faces the very real realization that though she supported the cause for a woman to not be property and possessed by her husband, it takes her own marriage for her to actually understand the fight. She is very much a representation of the women of the time — granted, a certain woman — where she is soft, monied, and comfortable, having been afforded everything in her life up until this point. Which makes her exposure to self-made and rough Lucian, to the small community in the Lowlands and their working conditions, everything, a shift. She is very much the spoiled rich girl getting a wake up call. She’s not ever cruel or terrible with her attitudes — she is, at heart, a good person — but Dunmore does occasionally make her lean into her bratty petulance and she has some less gracious reactions.

Whereas Lucian.. granted, he definitely starts off a villain, he has villainous ways, but the way he starts to lean in (get it!), curve himself around Hattie, even as he unbends; his whole backstory, really, was great. The problem, however, is I didn’t feel Dunmore gave it as much time to breathe. We get a lot of time to unpack much of Lucian along the way as he unravels parts of himself in tribute to Hattie and trying to find equal footing as a result of their less than honest beginnings and yet the big moment, the big confession, doesn’t come from him. Which makes sense but somehow you lose that emotional punch. Which I feel is kind of true for most of this book. There is much to be felt in the bones of this story, the causes, the conditions, the casual cruelty of the culture, but somehow the meat, the emotions, weren’t really present. Add to that fact that the romance only felt charged in the bedroom.. and it feels unbalanced.

Particularly when it came to the a conflict/plotline near the end which, honestly, comes out of nowhere and didn’t fit with the rest. Which then leads into this whole other conflict that just.. I didn’t like. You can see it coming a mile away due to foreshadowing, and it fits in with the formula this story is based around, but. But I would’ve been fine had the formula been altered.

All this long rambling review to say : I really respect and enjoy Dunmore’s commitment to her historical setting. The research, the atmosphere, the subject matter, the critical unpacking of a woman’s lack of agency during this time, everything. Thankfully, unlike book two, this one didn’t stray into grey areas or trip itself up, it’s just in the romance that I felt some of this was lacking. So I’m pleased to say I am going into the possibility of a book four (Catriona?) with higher hopes, more in line with what I expected after book one, and look forward to where Dunmore goes next.