Author: Cindy Anstey
Genre: historical fiction
Published: April 19 2016
Source: ARC from publishers for review
Juliana Telford is not your average nineteenth-century young lady. She’s much more interested in researching ladybugs than marriage, fashionable dresses, or dances. So when her father sends her to London for a season, she’s determined not to form any attachments. Instead, she plans to secretly publish their research.
Spencer Northam is not the average young gentleman of leisure he appears. He is actually a spy for the War Office, and is more focused on acing his first mission than meeting eligible ladies. Fortunately, Juliana feels the same, and they agree to pretend to fall for each other. Spencer can finally focus, until he is tasked with observing Juliana’s traveling companions . . . and Juliana herself.
For all that I hate to damn any book with faint praise, my thoughts upon finishing Love, Lies, and Spies were simply, "Ehhh, that was not bad. Could've been much worse. " The novel does have a few things working for it, but it feels so generic; the plot and premise both feel familiar from the start, the romance is inevitable if somewhat endearing, and the writing is serviceable but not particularly noteworthy. In short, there was nothing egregiously wrong with this novel, but there was nothing much to make it stand out or to make me love it, either. Love, Lies, and Spies is a light, cute historical YA read, but it's also one I probably won't remember a year from now.
Juliana Telford is the main character and a heroine with potential to grow, almost more than anything else. The bones are there to create a fully realized and dimensional person; the author just needs to spend more time developing the character. I loved her drive for knowledge and her passions (science! ladybugs!) but she wasn't very accessible to me as a reader. I connected with her perspective more than her male counterparts, but the third-person narration used here makes them all feel rather distant. It's also frustrating to read two such characters bent on acting secretively just for the purpose of propelling the plot. It may work for other readers to create a kind of romantic tension, but all it does for Love, Lies, and Spies is slow the pace and hinge the story on overused plot devices.
Because I wasn't entirely invested in the characters as individuals, the central romance was also a harder sell for me. And while this is a historical novel with a bit of mystery to it, as the title suggests Love, Lies, and Spies is very concerned with the evolving relationship between Juliana and Spencer. The tropes I am fond of in a romance - hate to love, fake dating, best friend to more -- all tend to feature relationships that evolve over time. The method here wasn't quite instalove... but it wasn't quite lengthy enough to cultivate believable romance or shippy goodness. I wanted to ship the ship, but the book didn't do the work of making me see how these two characters fit together. There are moments of cuteness and I do like them together -- it just felt too rushed.
Despite my issues with some of the story's development, I did have fun while reading Swoon Reads' latest novel. The voice is engaging and feels right at home for fans of Heyer or even These Vicious Masks from earlier this year, though without the paranormal aspect. Cindy Anstey's debut has good bones and the potential for more if there is ever a sequel or companion. I would be curious to see how Juliana's life would progress from where it left off here. It wasn't a smash hit for me, but I can say that Love, Lies, and Spies would make for a good "borrow from the library" book for historical YA fans.