On the Way to the Wedding (CBR8 #82)

Image result for on the way to the wedding julia quinn

The end of 2016 finds me reading and reviewing quite a few Romance novels. This is my third in recent weeks. I decided to read the second four books in Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series this year, which meant it was time to make sure I hit that goal and finally get to Gregory’s book, On the Way to the Wedding.

When I started the Bridgerton series in 2015, I knew from the romance readers around Cannonball Read that these were peak Quinn books, and I was starting with perhaps the cream of the crop for this author. I didn’t care, given the variety of my reading habits I knew I would and could stretch these books out over a few years. 2015 saw me read, review, and highly enjoy (well, mostly) The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, An Offer from a Gentleman, and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton. I ended on a high note; I waffle back and forth about whether Benedict or Colin’s book is my favorite.

2016 started off with a bit of fits and starts as far as Bridgerton books were concerned. To Sir Phillip, With Love and When He Was Wicked were set concurrently with Romancing Mr. Bridgerton and reading them separated over many months did not help the experience, although Eloise in To Sir Phillip was a delight to me. It’s in His Kiss moves forward to the next year and embarks on the story of youngest Bridgerton Hyacinth and her love Gareth. The Eloise/Phillip and Hyacinth/Gareth books were the high points for me in the second half, and while I fell hard for book eight’s pairing of Gregory and Hyacinth, their book didn’t completely live up to the characters Quinn built.

At this point, nearly 300 words in, I feel I should say that this book is firmly a 3.5 rating for me. It was a perfectly serviceable Bridgerton book, and Quinn continues to excel at building great characters, but she doesn’t always know what to do with them, specifically when providing an antagonist. I personally find that Quinn’s style is at its best when the problems remain within the character’s own personalities, (Sophie’s distrust, Colin’s blindness to what’s been right in front of him, Hyacinth’s bullheadedness), but where there is some sort of external dilemma… Quinn struggles. I’m not alone here, either. Malin, in her review of this book, says Quinn “rarely manages to do good antagonists and the books where there is no outside party trying to interfere with the lovers are generally better.” Mrs. Julien is with us too: “the only challenge is that it seems to be hard for her to shift gears when the going needs to get tough.  Everything glides along beautifully, but when the action in On the Way to the Wedding gets ratcheted up, it’s too sudden a tonal shift and jarred with the carefully crafted buoyancy of the rest of the story”.

The outside antagonists in On the Way to the Wedding are the men contracting Lucy’s betrothal to Lord Haselby. Both are odious, overbearing, and violent. One is worse than the other, and when the true levels of his treachery are uncovered the novel takes a decided turn in tone, heading for suspense. Up until this point this is just another fluffy, light, whimsical meditation on what love is, and what falling in love feels like, or doesn’t. I was on board. This was the good stuff: if you’re already spoken for and your best friend is a stunning beauty, what is your understanding of falling in love? Particularly if you haven’t laid eyes on your betrothed in years? What if you are the last unmarried sibling in your family where everyone has found a truly loving pairing, how does that affect your thoughts on the ease of finding love? This is what I am here for.

And then… the sturm and drang of it all gets well out of proportion. Thankfully Quinn balances this against reappearances by several beloved siblings and Violet, but you know something’s off when not even Colin can pacify me. It’s also a nitpick, but we as the reader never find out how exactly these two crazy kids overcome the various obstacles to their wedding and if they are ever properly accepted in polite society, since the epilogue skips ahead 12 or 13 years. Is it answered somewhere else? I have questions.

With this I conclude my reading of the main books of the Bridgerton series. I’ll be on the lookout for more Quinn, but next year’s Romance reading will be focused on Lisa Kleypas’ Hawthorne series, and perhaps Loretta Chase’s Dressmakers series. Oh, and I really should make time for the last book in the ridiculously named Stud Club series.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Reigstration to join us for CBR 9 is open until January 13, 2017.

It’s in His Kiss (CBR8 #53)

In the continuing story of my bad travel experiences this past weekend (5 hours is a long delay, friends) I also started (and finished on the 8 am flight home) another book. When you need a warm blanket of a book, you go back to your comfort reads, which I am convinced are a different genre for everyone. For me, that meant it was time to pull up the next Bridgerton family book on my nook.

I love the Bridgertons. This book was starting on second base, if you’ll allow the sports metaphor. But, like some of the other later books in this series, which kick off with Romancing Mr. Bridgerton, I feel that Julia Quinn was relying on our affection for the characters. It’s in His Kiss is the seventh book, and chronicles the meet cute and engagement of youngest Bridgerton Hyacinth and Lady Danbury’s rakish grandson Gareth St. Clair.

Like the first book in the series, The Duke and I, it remained nice to read about characters that were meant for each other, and not in the star crossed lovers’ sort of way, but in the well matched people in intellect and interest who have the hots for each other way. I didn’t initially buy into Gareth and Hyacinth’s connection as much as much as Daphne and Simon. But, I’m on the record that I find Julia Quinn’s strengths to lie squarely with how well (and quickly) she is able to flesh out her characters. Hyacinth and Gareth are another in a long pair of fully realized characters who spend the time getting to know each other, and that’s where this work also shines. Quinn spends quite a bit of time in the Bridgerton books laying out the meaning of family – both having it and not. In Hyacinth and Gareth, we get both in each character. Hyacinth has a large and loving family, but was born after her father’s death and has had that hole in her life. Gareth had a small nuclear family, and a lot of fall out surrounding the identity of his father, and a terrible relationship with the man he grew up with, and his mother’s death. But he, like Hyacinth, does have a healthy relationship with a maternal figure. The characters are able to talk about these various relationships, and their ramifications, and grow together.

One of the weaknesses in Quinn’s writing, which showed up in When He Was Wicked, is that she will let a story stall out at an emotional point and spend more time there than strictly necessary. While this story is in danger of that on two different fronts (Gareth’s true parentage and why he proposed in the first place) Quinn manages to use the two to counterbalance each other and keep the story moving.

We are however missing the grand band of Bridgerton siblings in this outing. We see Gregory and Anthony, and get a name drop for everyone else. Hyacinth gives us a slightly more meaty mention of Benedict and Sophie’s marriage as a way for she and Gareth to overcome their own problems, which was nice. It was good to see the support between the characters, and the acceptance of struggles as surmountable.

This is a middle of the road Bridgerton book, but that is still a four-star book by my standards.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

When He Was Wicked (CBR8 #31)

The sixth book in the Bridgertons series brings us to the elusive Francesca. She’s rarely, if ever, mentioned in the other Bridgerton novels, except in passing generally explaining why she isn’t around (too young, too married, too widowed, too far away in Scotland). I’ll admit that I was concerned going into a book with a character we had so little invested in, but the last time I had that worry we got the great Benedict and Sophie in my second favorite Bridgerton book, An Offer from a Gentleman.

I was however, underwhelmed this time.

When the book opens in 1820, Francesca and John, Earl of Kilmartin are happily married (their marriage had previously taken place off-page between An Offer from a Gentleman and Romancing Mr. Bridgerton), when tragedy strikes and John goes to sleep and never wakes up. Quinn also takes the time to introduce John’s cousin Michael. He was visiting the pair when John dies, and he happens to be in love with Francesca. However full of issues this set-up might sound, Quinn navigates it well, instilling Michael with a sense of honor and respect so he keeps his feelings hidden from everyone, including Francesca. When it all becomes too much he removes himself to India to settle into the title he just inherited, and try to create the space he needs in order to keep his relationship with Francesca in its appropriate box.

Fast-forward four years later, and the main portion of this story comes together. Francesca decides to come out of mourning and is considering re-marrying because she has a deep desire for children. Off to London she must go. Michael finds himself ready to return to England and stop running from the sadness of “taking over” his cousins life, thinking he is prepared to re-enter the life of Francesca, but a couple months in London without her would be best. So sorry, they both arrive at the same time (oh romance novels, you do love a plot convenience) and he is still 100% in love with her.

I found Quinn’s writing about the characters’ internal struggles both helped to build their relationship on a deeper emotional level, and let me feel like I knew the characters. They both feel that they mustn’t have romantical feelings for one another, but I think Quinn just did a better job with Michael than with Francesca. Some of my favorite moments in the book are when Michael basically has the internal reaction of the nopetopus in regards to his still being in love with Francesca.

no scared nsfw nope gross

He feels if he gives in to this last boundary he will be completely ruining the love and respect he felt for his cousin. It will be like he wished for his death. Quinn plays this to the full, and plays with all the various subtexts it offers. She just seems to leave Francesca in the NO place for far too long.

KingfisherWorld upset damn cricket oh no

I found myself frustrated with Francesca’s behavior. It’s not that I couldn’t understand it, just that it dragged on. It is one of the weaknesses in Quinn’s writing, that she will let a story stall out at an emotional point and spend more time there than strictly necessary. This book also left me wanting as far as Quinn’s usual sarcastic humor goes. It’s there, it’s just… not as great as it usually is. And finally, When He Was Wicked lacked the other Bridgertons: and the family dynamics of that bunch are what really make the books sing (Eloise’s book To Sir Phillip, With Love shows that in spades. Once the family is in on the shenanigans everything gets turned up to 11).

spinal tap it goes up to 11 gif

And Colin felt off. Colin is my favorite. There is no denying it, he is, but his characterization felt off. Believe me, I LOVED that he was the one to put in Michael’s head that he actually, could, in fact, marry Francesca and the world would not end. I just wish those interactions had been more and more in line with Colin in the other books. And here’s my last bit of annoyance before I conclude this review and tell you to go ahead and read all eight of these books, Quinn seems to have retconned her previous books (specifically Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) to put Francesca and Michael in town during the events of books four and five. I DON’T REMEMBER HER BEING THERE. I don’t know if its because I read the book six months ago, or because Francesca wasn’t memorable, but the fact that these three books are intended to overlay just didn’t work for me in that all I kept thinking was “Her? She was there?”

Anyway, read these books and you too can write 750 words about your feels as regards romantical fluff.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

To Sir Phillip, With Love (CBR8 #13)

I devoured this book in one sitting. There’s really not much else you need to know about it. It isn’t my favorite Bridgerton book (books #1 so far would be An Offer From a Gentleman), but it is quite good.

Eloise Bridgerton is the fifth child of Bridgerton brood and 1824 finds her firmly on the shelf after turning down many marriage proposals, and newly alone following the marriage of her best friend and fellow spinster Penelope. At loose ends, Eloise decides to accept an invitation from widower Sir Phillip Crane, whom she has been corresponding with for over a year, to visit him at his country home to see if they suit.

However, because this is Eloise, she doesn’t actually answer his invitation and instead shows up one morning unannounced.  Sir Phillip, were he actually expecting someone, thought she would be more fitting with his mental image of a twenty-eight-year-old spinster, and it leaves him confused, perplexed, and without much idea what to do with her now that she’s here. Also, did I mention that he has twins from his first marriage and a lot of baggage about his deceased wife (who is also Eloise’s distant cousin)? Because that’s all in here too.

I’m on the record as stating that I find Julia Quinn’s strengths to lie squarely with how well (and quickly) she is able to flesh out her characters. They are fully fledged people with personalities and quirks all their own, and give great dialogue. (Which was unfortunately missing in my most recent read). I was all too happy to see the Bridgerton brothers stomping onto the scene once they realize where Eloise has run off to. But, that wasn’t where the book shined best, instead it was in the neatly wrapped up relationship between Phillip and Eloise, because we are treated to a couple who do know each other, but not as well as they might have hoped or expected, but in turn find themselves enraptured by the character of the other (as well as their physical attributes). This, plus the interplay with the various dynamics of family and responsibility make for a truly enjoyable read.

My only regret is that I didn’t read this book in closer proximity to Romancing Mr. Bridgerton as several of the important plot beats are the same. But, several months’ delay didn’t seem to lessen my enjoyment overmuch. I am also having trepidations about the next Bridgerton book When He Was Wicked which is Francesca’s book, and loathed by many a cannonballer. My greatest concern so far is that Francesca has been entirely absent from the books, and we just don’t know the character. I had similar concerns about Benedict going into his book, but I do not have hopes that Quinn will be able to pull this trick off twice.

For now, I’ve completed a quarter cannonball and am on pace for my goal of 91 books for the year!

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.

Romancing Mr. Bridgerton (CBR7 #91)

I bring you today another review of a Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series book. The book, it should be noted, was quite lovely. The first three books in the series: The Duke and I, The Viscount Who Loved Me, and An Offer From a Gentleman all take place in quick chronological proximity. Book number four – Romancing Mr. Bridgerton – takes a jump forward in time, about seven years in fact. The younger siblings are now grown and interacting with the older ones, and at least one Bridgerton has been married and widowed in the intervening years (she shows back up in book six I believe).

This story however focuses on Penelope Featherington, wallflower extraordinaire, and third brother Colin Bridgerton. Penelope has been in love with Colin for twelve years, and it started as a rather cursory love. One typical of the age she was upon first laying eyes on him (don’t we all fall hard and fool heartedly at that age?). Colin has been unable to settle down into the life of a younger brother of a titled family and has taken the luxury provided to him by his father and brother’s forethought and spent much of the past six years travelling around Europe.  He has returned just in time for the season, a boring one at that, just in time to be placed back into relatively constant contact with Penelope. He’s not intending to get married and settle down to life in London, but that just may be what happens anyway.

This novel has two stories interweaving throughout: Colin and Penelope and their discovery of who the other truly is in tandem with the social upheaval of Lady Danbury offering a thousand pounds to anyone who can uncover the anonymous gossip columnist Lady Whistledown, who features heavily in the first four books of the series. Everyone has their guesses, but who is the mysterious writer?

I truly enjoyed this book, and Colin’s preoccupations with having a life’s work and not just resting on his laurels. His decision to marry Penelope arrives quickly, but makes sense. The one drawback of this book? Not a whole lot of sexy times.

If you, like me, have not read this series now’s the time. Get to it!

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

CBR7 An Offer From a Gentleman (CBR7 #76)

I love a retelling of a classic story. I particularly have a soft spot for Cinderella. I mean, let us never underestimate the glories of Gus Gus.

gus gus

While this retelling did not feature delightful animated mice, the third Bridgerton novel by Julia Quinn tells us the story of second son, Benedict and the woman he falls in love with at a masquerade ball. However, Sophie is the by blow of an earl but following his death has been relegated to the life of lady’s maid at the hands of her vicious step-mother. She leaves the ball at the stroke of midnight, never telling Benedict her identity. Its two years until they see each other again, but Benedict doesn’t recognize Sophie the maid he rescues from rape as the same bedeviling woman he only knows as her.

This novel worked for me on all levels. Sure, there are a lot of convenient plot points (Benedict happens to fall ill immediately after saving Sophie which requires her to stay at his cottage in the country with him, the nasty stepmother lives next door to Benedict’s mother),  but I just don’t care. This was a light, easy read that dealt with some tougher points (the life of maids, no upward mobility, etc.) that also featured more great family dynamics within the Bridgerton clan, which I really do think is Quinn’s specialty. We meet some of the younger siblings for the first time in any depth. But this time Colin was largely missing, which is sad, but Anthony was too, and that was not.

I’ll be putting in my request for Colin’s book from my library soon.

Read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Viscount Who Loved Me (CBR7 #58)

Image result for the viscount who loved me

As a relatively newly emboldened romance reader I have been attempting to expand my horizons. With a steady supply of suggestions there have been plenty of options for me. After happily reading Julia Quinn’s The Duke and I, I made sure to request The Viscount Who Loved Me from the library. I hadn’t been overly impressed with Anthony Bridgerton, head of the Bridgerton family and eldest of eight siblings. Mostly because while his overprotective treatment of his sister Daphne felt appropriate to the 1813 setting of the book, I couldn’t make peace with the terrible way he treated his supposed best friend, Simon. But, Quinn has a way with words and specifically with family dynamics and interactions so I was willing to give this book a fair shake (and it wasn’t hurt by my need to read a series in order).

The Viscount Who Loved Me finds us a year later, and the 1814 Season is well underway. The Sheffield sisters have made their debut the same year, with Kate taking the wallflower position in regards to her younger, more beautiful, sister.  When Anthony Bridgerton starts sniffing around, Kate decides to do everything in her power to keep this infamous rake away from her sister who deserves to have a love match, even if Kate and their mother are hoping for a financially advantageous match to help alleviate their situation. Anthony has decided to finally marry this Season, but purely for the production of an heir. You see, he believes that sine his father and paternal uncle both died in their thirties that he is destined to do the same. Therefore, an advantageous, but loveless marriage is deemed to be the solution to his limited years. It would simply be too difficult to have to leave a true love behind.

Where I have seen other reviewers dinging the book and the character of Anthony it has been on this count. While it made for occasionally boring reading (we cover the same ground with Anthony several times) it is a believable hang-up, even if his solution seemed odd to me. My bigger problem is this: if Anthony is so convinced of his impending death (in 9 years or less) why not just remain a bachelor and let his brother Benedict inherit the title and his future progeny would inherit the estate/title? I know this is a historical romance novel and therefore marriage almost MUST be on the table, but couldn’t the setup have been Benedict on the marriage hunt and Anthony caught off guard and falling for Kate that way? Regardless, the set up kept me annoyed at Anthony more than it ingratiated me to him.

My other major complaint is that for the second book in a row in the series (of which I am only two books in) the lead couple is forced to marry after being caught in a compromising position. Again, I can see why from a writer’s perspective this would be a useful trick to keep the timelines moving given both Simon and Anthony’s backstories, but it felt like overly familiar territory.

Happily I can report that there were things which did work for me – basically anytime Anthony or Kate’s families appeared on page. Both group dynamics were handled expertly and I believe that this is Quinn’s true gift as a writer (although with such a small pool to choose from I could be jumping the gun on that regard). But even here I have a niggling concern… the aforementioned Benedict. He is the next Bridgerton in the series and we know nothing about him. With the amount of time third brother Colin spent on page this book, and the last, I was expecting book three to be his. But no, Quinn is diving into the story of Benedict. And I will be along for the ride, as I’ve already requested the book from the library for next month. But I remain cautiously optimistic.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. 

The Duke and I (CBR7 #45)

Sometimes the best historical romances read like historical fiction right up until the leads fall believably and irrefutably in love. Then it just gets better. This is very much one of those books and because of it I’ll be reading the rest of the Bridgerton books.

It was so nice to read about characters that were meant for each other, and not in the sickeningly sweet, star crossed lovers’ sort of way. Our two protagonists, Simon and Daphne, were simply well matched people in intellect and interest who had a deep and abiding connection and the hots for each other. In the real world these would be the friends you would look at and say “Yes! About time you two!” So let’s talk about them as the book’s Lady Whistledown’s Society Paper would say Ah, my gentle reader…

Simon Basset is the Duke of Hastings. My heart ached for him from the first pages of this book, a flash back to Simon’s childhood, much the same way my heart ached for Robert in The Duchess War. I wanted to see him overcome the obstacles that were set before him, to become the man he was capable of being. And he did become quite a man, although one with the hang-ups and baggage to be expected with his upbringing. Then there is Daphne, and happily enough, since at least half the story is told from her perspective I loved Daphne as well. She is dependable, down-to-earth, and funny. But what I loved about her most was her sometimes quiet and sometimes not so quiet strength. But more about that later.

The Duke and I is the first in a series of eight books, one for each of the Bridgerton siblings. This is good news for me, since I did like the family dynamics between the siblings and their mother and the humor they brought to any situation. I look forward to even more scenes of Violet Bridgerton putting her children in their places, something she does frequently. By having so much interaction with the Bridgerton family we are also given the chance to see Simon experience the natural ebb and flow of familial interactions, something he had not experienced himself.

The plot of the book is based around a fake relationship between Simon and Daphne. Daphne has been out for two seasons, but the handful of proposals she’s received have been less than stellar. Simon has returned from several years abroad and is intent on never marrying, and staying clear of the ton social season. However, he soon realizes that he is not going to be able to steer completely clear, but if he is seen to be pursuing Daphne, sister of his best friend from school, the various Mamas will leave him be, and Daphne’s social capital will improve. Much like Courtney Milan, in other hands that would be the end of the plotting and the two would fall in love. But with Quinn, we’ve got more to unpack.

Because this is a story about a truly well-suited pair, Quinn goes further and deeper into the emotions and expectations of her characters. Which brings us to the problem of *that* scene (spoilers from this point on). There is a scene in the book, after much back and forth and manipulations about getting married at all, and whether or not Simon can or won’t have children Daphne makes a choice. The choice she makes is to attempt to get pregnant against Simon’s wishes.  I obviously didn’t have enough of a problem with that scene to drop the rating of the book, but it certainly had me stopping and saying out loud to the book “Oh, Daphne don’t be that character.” There has been a problem in Romance novels of rape, and loving the rapist, but The Duke and I was only published in 2000, after the heyday of these problems in the genre. Over the course of the rest of the book, and even in the scene leading up to the act, Quinn brings out the ambiguity from both sides of what has happened, and works through the issues, which kept me from being mad at the book.

As I said I was pleased with this book and looking forward to the rest of the series, even if older brother Anthony annoyed me to almost no end. (I found him to be bit of a hypocrite. Sure, he hadn’t seen Simon in 5 or 6 years, but he seemed to forget that Simon was a man he respected, and that he cared about his best friend the minute Simon and Daphne became an item and Simon became his enemy.) However, hopefully he’s calmed down some in The Viscount Who Loved Me.

The book was read, reviewed and suggested as part of the charitable Cannonball Read.