Mine Till Midnight (CBR9 #7)

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I said in my review last year of Lisa Kleypas’ Devil in Winter that I was particularly interested in seeing the character of Cam Rohan given his own book since Kleypas had taken the time to develop his character in an interesting way. Mine Till Midnight is that book, and the pairing of Cam and Amelia Hathaway five years after the events of Devil in Winter delivers on the promise, but falters a little in the overall package. It is much closer to the kind of check-in story I was hoping to find in A Wallflowers Christmas.

Mine Till Midnight (ugh with that title – its grammatically incorrect. House Grammarian takes issue) is Cam and Amelia’s story, and it works well: he knows he needs change in his life, so wants to finally abandon his gadjo ways and go back to being a Rom. Instead, the change he needs turns out to be a life with Amelia and taking on the various aspects of the life of her family as she tries to pull them up to respectability but will accept survival without embarrassing themselves. She is take charge and family focused, often to her own detriment.

Amelia’s family is a mess. Her older brother Leo is in a serious depression following an illness and the death of his fiancée, sister Win also suffered the same bout of scarlet fever and is physically diminished, Poppy is in need of a proper debut but they cannot provide one for her, and youngest Beatrix has a slight kleptomania problem in addition to any number of other things. Add in de facto brother Merripen, a gypsy who was adopted by the Hathaway parents following his abandonment and who is desperately in love with Win but won’t say anything about it because of propriety you’ve got one hell of a mess. When the Hathaways inherit, Amelia thinks things will improve, but instead things deteriorate.

Amelia is, to me, a standard eldest sister. Perhaps that is why I was drawn to her: I see some of myself in the way Kleypas builds the character of Amelia. She puts family first, worries over the details that others are only partially aware of, and does not want to let herself love after a heartbreak. Cam is taken with her looks and personality, and finds within himself the desire to put all the various Hathaway troubles to rights especially if that means binding himself to Amelia for good.

As I said, this is a good historical romance. Nevertheless, I’m rounding from 3.5 down to three stars so there must be a reason. There are a couple:

  1. The supernatural stuff. Cold rooms, ghostly presences, a change in the eyes. It was unwelcome, to me, in this continuing of the Wallflowers universe.
  2. All plot threads are left dangling to the last 50+ pages to be resolved. Something could have been resolved earlier, and some receive just a single sentence.
  3. Consent issues. Several times Amelia tells Cam that she does not want to sleep with him wherever they are (often a potentially public or unsecure location) and he goes right about moving things along regardless of her wishes. This is a historical, and in many ways I’m able to make the mental divide between the realities of then and now (particularly with Kleypas since she tends to do a better job than most of sticking with historical accuracies), but given the climate of the world around me right now the idea that Amelia’s bodily autonomy was not respected more often than not left a bad taste in my mouth. Sure, readers love a take charge lead, but taking charge doesn’t mean ignoring your partners input.
  4. Too much story set up for the next books. We spend a lot of time with the fall and redemption of Leo, and many pages are spent with Merripen and Win setting up their book (which is the one I avoid, right?). Some of Kleypas’ best writing is in these scenes, but in combination with the Leo and treasure hunt (seriously, WTF?) it was all too much.

I am looking forward to checking in with the Hathaways during the year, and hopeful for continued sightings of the various Wallflowers.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Come join us and say fuck you to cancer.

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Dukes Prefer Blondes (CBR9 #1)

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Here we are again lovelies. It’s the beginning of another Cannonball Read and I am telling you about a romance novel that I enjoyed and picked up based on the suggestions of other cannonballers. It’s the system at its finest, really.

We almost read this one for Book Club last year, and part of me wishes we had, and another part of me thinks this one would have been a little too tropey as well. And I say that knowing full well that it ended up on Mrs. Julien’s best of list for CBR8.

I don’t normally struggle with reviews, but I’m having a tough time coming up with my point of view on this one. Dukes Prefer Blondes didn’t really grab me out of the gate, and that might be my own fault for reading it before bed on vacation. The book is also fourth in a series, and I haven’t read any of them. You don’t need to, but I could tell there was backstory I wasn’t quite piecing together in the early part of the book.

Our romantic pair in this outing is Oliver “Raven” Radford and Lady Clara Fairfax. She was raised to marry a duke (I believe see book 1 of the series for further details?) and he is a barrister like his father and third in line to a dukedom, but his cousin is only a few years older than him and it looks as though he will continue his life just as it is. Of course, that’s where Lady Clara arrives needing his help to find and rescue a boy from a nefarious crime figure. Drama Ensues.

The parts of the book which focus on the relationship building between Raven and Clara worked for me, particularly when he needs to convince her family to let them wed. But the narrative felt uneven in places, as though the three distinct acts of the book were actually three novellas all about the same characters. I’m not complaining, really, just processing as I type. Ah, I’m a little rusty at this reviewing thing

So, to recap: yes, read this book, but your mileage may vary.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read, now in its ninth year. You can join us in reading, reviewing, and saying fuck you to cancer until January 13, 2017 when registration closes. Otherwise, please just come on by and read reviews or keep an eye out for our Book Club posts. All are welcome.

Scandal in Spring (CBR8 #80)

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Here we have the concluding story of the Wallflowers quartet (ok, not quite, there is a Christmas book about a brother that I have already requested from the library even though Mrs. Julien marked it two stars…) and we have arrived at Daisy’s story, our last remaining Wallflower. I’ve had ups and downs with these books this year, but mostly this book ends the series on a good note.

Scandal in Spring shows that Kleypas has learned from her previous outings.  I still feel It Happened One Autumn suffered greatly in the pacing department (I was bored, and that’s never okay) this fourth book tempers the drama of the third, The Devil in Winter with the more reasonable pacing and practicality of the delightful first book, Secrets of a Summer Night (beware the beginning of that review, I probably owe the book a rewrite as it has grown on me in the last several months).

Daisy is the final remaining Wallflower and her father is done waiting for her to find a match. Lillian already nailed the most eligible bachelor in England and his business is secure, now he just needs to marry her off. In order to accomplish this goal, he gives Daisy an ultimatum: find a wealthy peer to marry or marry his protégé Matthew Swift. Daisy is not pleased about this idea.

Kleypas balances the unveiling of Matthew as not a bad man like Daisy’s father as well as moving Daisy out of the kid sister side kick role well. So much so that by the time the deed was done and these two were heading in the same direction I was not expecting the capital S scandal which is unleashed on them in the final quarter of the book. Matthew tells us it’s out there, but not what it is, and it’s a big one. This book rounds up to four and not down to three because Kleypas gives the plot time to unravel itself as it should to be even vaguely historically accurate (which she generally is, her 1840s England is recognizably 1840s) even though she doesn’t necessarily give it the page real estate it could have used. These plot points also continue to round out the cast of characters and build some good will towards them.

I’m on board with Lisa Kleypas and will be moving on to her Hawthorne series in 2017.

This book was read and reviewed as part of the charitable Cannonball Read. Won’t you think about joining us? Registration is open until January 13th, 2017. 

A Spy in the House (CBR8 #74)

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It isn’t a book’s fault when you’ve read a version of it better suited to your own personal tastes. I feel poorly for nor liking A Spy in the House more, since as a straight on 1850s historical fiction mystery should be right up my alley. I am a fan of Alex Grecian’s Murder Squad series which starts with The Yard, which is the same basic set up, but 40 years later. But I was left underwhelmed.

I think it may be because Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series is more recently in my memory and it was quite a bit more enjoyable for me. Here’s a synopsis from Goodreads so you can decide for yourself if this book sounds like fun to you:

Rescued from the gallows in 1850s London, young orphan (and thief) Mary Quinn is surprised to be offered a singular education, instruction in fine manners — and an unusual vocation. Miss Scrimshaw’s Academy for Girls is a cover for an all-female investigative unit called The Agency, and at seventeen, Mary is about to put her training to the test. Assuming the guise of a lady’s companion, she must infiltrate a rich merchant’s home in hopes of tracing his missing cargo ships. But the household is full of dangerous deceptions, and there is no one to trust — or is there? Packed with action and suspense, banter and romance, and evoking the gritty backstreets of Victorian London, this breezy mystery debuts a daring young detective who lives by her wits while uncovering secrets — including those of her own past.

While I was finishing this book and contemplating both my star rating (2.5) and my review in general the twittersphere blew up about a YA book The Continent, and one of our favorite authors, Courtney Milan, got involved in the discussion, which meant that I got caught up quick. What it basically boils down to is that persons of color in The Continent were mishandled (racist and demeaning descriptors of POC, per the reports), and people spoke out via the methods available to them. The author and her supporters are falling back on a free expression.

But what stood out to me was Milan’s point and emphasis about reading more POC authors, which is actually how I got to this book in the first place, and realizing that I as a white reader need to be aware of my reactions to what I’m reading.  I can’t just sit back and say “I didn’t connect with this for some reason” and not look into the idea of is it simply that this book is handling a viewpoint different than my own, and different to the conventional story arc? I stepped back from this review and thought about it long and hard. Was the trouble I had because the narrative was typical and from a POC author? I’ve come to the conclusion of no, that my real struggle with this book is that it is Y. S. Lee’s first book, the pacing is slow, and it’s a bit more YA than I prefer. But if you are looking for more insight into the conversations surrounding representation in books, particularly YA, Becky Albertelli and Justina Ireland had a great threads on Twitter as well.

 

It Happened One Autumn (CBR8 #51)

After being less than won over by the first book in the Wallflowers series by Lisa Kleypas, I decided the thing to do was to keep going. I figured out later that my real issue was with the secondary plot line and have warmed to the style of Kleypas’ writing in the intervening weeks. In the Wallflowers series, Kleypas tracks the lives and loves of four women passed over by the eligible men of the ton and the friendship they develop along the way.

Book two, It Happened One Autumn features American dollar princess Lillian Bowman and the extremely eligible Marcus Marsden, Lord Westcliff. We met both characters in the first installment, Secrets of a Summer Night, Westcliff is best friend and business partner of the swoon worthy Simon Hunt. Westcliff’s protector personality and the adaptability of his character, while still being loyal to tradition, are made clear at the end of that book and I found myself quite taken with the character who is constrained by his title and position, and appears to be content with who he is, even if he knows he doesn’t always come up to the mark against his friends Simon and Sebastian (more on him later). Lillian comes from new money, and in the social landscape of the United States in the 1840s, it was at times difficult to marry off these women, as neither social strata wanted them. Using that, and adding some truly hideous previous behavior on Lillian’s part, Kleypas weaves in the recognizable history I appreciate in these, and gives us a clear picture of the characters we are dealing with, while simultaneously setting them up as diametrically opposed (although I really didn’t need to hear one more time how Marcus was the heir of the oldest noble line in all of England blah blah blah).

For the first half of the book, another house party at Westcliff’s estate, we the reader are supposed to be enamored of free-spirit Lillian’s take on life and how it keeps running at odds with Westcliff’s propriety and be won over by the chemistry they can’t seem to ignore, even though they can’t stand each other.

I was bored.

Boredom is a grave sin in nearly any genre, but it is particularly terrible in romantical fluff books. The set up was good… it was just reminiscent of the previous book in the series. Kleypas writes the hell out of her scenes and her characters, and as Mrs. Julien says “not-fantastic Kleypas is still very damn good”, but I definitely felt as though I was treading water. There were fantastic scenes in there… they just weren’t nearly close enough together to keep the tediousness at bay.

My other complaint is how evil our next hero was made.

Enter Sebastian, Lord St. Vincent. A new character introduced at the beginning of the book and set up as Marcus’ rival for Lillian’s affections. He is in need of the money she brings to the marriage mart, and infamous rake that he is, the proper families likely won’t have him. Lillian seems to fit the bill, and she’s available, until Marcus makes his move (and it’s a good move).  If Kleypas had left it here, with the rake as legitimate competition for our heroine’s hand, and then let that play out as it did and leave him without the money he needed I would have been fine. I would even have been on board with *SPOILERS* Marcus’ mother orchestrating Lillian’s kidnapping and attempting to loop Sebastian in, and Sebastian not doing anything to help Lillian escape. *END SPOILERS* But with the lengths the last quarter of the book goes to in order to villainize Sebastian, I have epic Romance Trope Concerns. I adore a reforming a rake storyline (although Wounded Hero is really more my cup of tea), but Sebastian was already established as a rake… I don’t know that I needed more, and it’s never a good sign when you are editing a book in your head as you read it.

The next book, with Evie and Sebastian is universally loved (I think) around the Cannonball – I remain cautiously optimistic, but the two drawbacks combined on It Happened One Autumn keep this at three stars.

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

When a Scot Ties the Knot (CBR8 #48)

Okay, Tessa Dare finally got me.

The third book in the Castles Ever After series, When a Scot Ties the Knot (oof, the titles on these) hit all of my particular romance novel loves:

  1. Independent lady making her way in the world
  2. Marriage of Convenience plot
  3. Steamy sexy times
  4. Scotland
  5. Wounded Hero
  6. Historical setting
  7. Interesting, but not overtaking, side characters
  8. Comedy/quirkiness/whimsy in some regard.

Those eight things in some order will almost guarantee a four star review from me if executed well, and the truly wonderful ones will get the full five stars. For me, this was a truly delightful read and earned itself the full five stars (on rounding up).

Dare, for those not in the know, does not stay even remotely historically accurate. Sometimes I love a book that sticks to its time period, and sometimes I love a fun, feminist, anachronistic romance novel which takes the barest bones of history and adds what it likes too. In this case we have Captain Logan MacKenzie, recently returned home from war on the continent in the Napoleonic Wars, arrives on the doorstep of Madeline Gracechurch, prepared to marry her. After all, he has a half dozen  wounded men needing a place to settle, and what better place than the castle of the woman who caused him so much hope and anguish for so many years?

The only problem… Maddie thought she’d made him up, and had also killed him off.

In her sixteenth year Maddie had lied about meeting a Scottish officer in order to avoid having a London season, due to her crippling social anxiety (which Dare explains in place of letting her have a lesser, more realistic aversion to people and crowds). Unfortunately for her, the name Maddie pulled out of air belonged to a real man, and he’s not above blackmail.

Enter the marriage of convenience, which gets a bit of a twist as they go with a handfasting which doesn’t bear the full weight of law until the marriage is consummated, and Maddie manages to put off the full act while she tried to find the letters so she can burn them, and she can follow her dream of being an illustrator while figuring out how to give Logan his dream of safety for his men. But we are treated to some satisfying funky bass along the way, as sexy times are very sexy when men respect their lady’s ideas, mind and person – and Logan does. The other part of Logan’s personality which made me swoon? He has a tragic origin story, which puts him on par with Griffin from Any Duchess Will Do. (Bonus part three? Dare doesn’t really hid that Logan is verra similar to Sam Heughan’s Jamie from Outlander.)

This is a Tessa Dare book, and she writes good, charming, whimsical stories with characters that have great emotional chemistry. She also writes great side characters. Seriously, all of Logan’s men and Maddie’s aunt were amusing on the page and added to, but did not hijack, the story. Yes, there is a quirky subplot around mating lobsters, but it’s nowhere near as distracting as the traveling cosplayers of Romancing the Duke, or the terrible ermine. I rounded that one down to four stars, I round this one up to five, and they are both better than Say Yes to the Marquess, which I rounded up to a four. I have a feeling I’ll be revisiting these eventually, they work for me.

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

Venetia (CBR8 #41)

With our book club this year I have added the personal goal of reading the runner up choices as well. I figured if it sounded interesting enough to a gaggle of Cannonballers to earn their vote, surely it deserves my reading attention as well. First up on that quest is Venetia one of the runners up to The Bollywood Bride.

I’m not sure if listening to this one via audiobook caused me to not realize how much I was enjoying the story (weird word choice and craft issues can definitely stand out while listening, some things just sound wrong) but when I went about recounting the story to crystalclear I realized how much I loved the main characters of the titular Venetia and her paramour Lord Damerel. These characters are grown-ups with defined personalities, intelligence, senses of humors, and histories. All the things which make us love romance leads.

Let’s unpack them a little: first we have Damerel: an older confirmed rake who doesn’t care much about anything any longer. Or at least he thinks he doesn’t, but underneath there’s a kind man which his growing friendship with Venetia brings out. He starts out intending to seduce her—but respect for her and her brother soon make him realize that he can’t do that. Which leads to a moral conundrum for Damerel: his life has been so reprehensible that he’s no longer accepted in society (his two elderly aunts are trying to find an appropriately on the shelf/desperate wife to help make him respectable enough that they can make him their heir instead of his fop of a cousin), and marrying a sweet younger lady like Venetia would make people despise him even more. Which brings us back around to Venetia – witty, resourceful and not easily fazed by events that would make most ladies throw up their hands in despair (seriously, her brother sends home a pregnant wife and terrible nuisance of a mother-in-law that Venetia is told nothing about and she moves smoothly along like things like this happen all the time to ladies used to running the family estate in their brother’s absence). She’s 25 years old–just about on the shelf by Regency standards. Because her father was a damaged soul, Venetia has spent her entire life in a small town with a very limited circle of friends and acquaintances, but she’s nevertheless well-read and socially adept, if rather innocent in the ways of the world, at least according to everyone else. She knows what she does not know and thinks that’s fine enough.

It’s charming to watch Venetia’s developing relationship with Damerel, they trade all manner of inside jokes (usually literary quotes and allusions that went over my head a bit) and they just understand each other. Their relationship is in turns witty and heart-wrenching since these are two characters who likely shouldn’t end up together on paper, but you as the reader are rooting for them in a major way since the other two men attempting to win Venetia’s heart made me want to punch them through the page and even Venetia is *this close* to rolling her eyes and hitting them with rolled up newspaper. There was also way more smolder than you might expect from a romance written in the 1950s in the style of Austen. Heyer never gives you anything more than a kiss, but that doesn’t stop her from making heat rising off the pages when these two are together.

This book is definitely worth the read.