Mini-Review: Theresa Romain’s SEASON FOR DESIRE

Season_For_DesireIn keeping with Miss Bates’ fa-la-la posting until the 25th of the month, she dipped, this time, into the e-ARC TBR and from therein pulled Theresa Romain’s Season for Desire. The cover was pretty; out since October 7th, it deserved its spot on MBRR and Miss Bates had enjoyed To Charm A Naughty Countess. For brevity’s sake, Season‘s blurb:

Like her four sisters, Lady Audrina Bradleigh is expected to marry a duke, lead fashion, and behave with propriety. Consequently, Audrina pursues mischief with gusto, attending scandalous parties, and indulging in illicit affairs. But when an erstwhile lover threatens to ruin her reputation, Audrina has no choice but to find a respectable husband at once. Who would guess that her search would lead her to Giles Rutherford, a blunt-spoken American on a treasure hunt of his own? When a Christmas snowstorm strands the pair at a country inn, more secrets are traded than gifts – along with kisses that require no mistletoe – and Audrina discovers even proper gentlemen have their wicked side.

Um, no … the novel is both more serious and yet less interesting than the blurb makes it out to be. The blurb’s fun frivolity is no where to be found. The faux seriousness of the novel, in turn, makes it drag and fizzle. A convoluted plot, too many secondary characters, and a hero and heroine who barely interact left Miss Bates cold.

What does Miss Bates look for in a Christmas romance? On the surface, twinkly lights and seasonal foods and customs, but also themes that celebrate love, hope, good will and community, an emptying of self instead of its assertion. (Frankly, she likes a little Tiny Tim sentimentality too.) Maybe this is what bothered her about Romain’s novel. Though ostensibly a romance, with a central couple and their movement to marriage and family, in truth, Season For Desire was about finding and asserting the self. Not a theme that appeals to Miss Bates in a romance novel, though it may to other readers.

Giles and Audrina suffer from a lack of confidence and an inability to self-determine their place in the world. They are both in unhealthy relationships with their families. Audrina rebels against her family’s, especially her father’s, expectations; rightly so, her father is a stickler for appearances and remains, to the end, unconcerned about his daughter’s happiness, seeing her, rather, as one of several means to saving the family fortune. Audrina is a good girl gone bad … only in so far that she pleads for her family’s acknowledgement of her value in and for herself. Giles has reacted very differently, especially to his father, Richard, who’s seeking answers to his deceased wife’s mysterious collection of puzzle-boxes and making a life-long dream of being a jewellery designer come true. Giles is along for the ride as the responsible one: in America, he is the one who worries and cares for his sundry siblings. He is all duty and responsibility and equally weighed down by the certainty that he, like his mother, will die a painful and early death from rheumatoid arthritis.

Stuck initially at the eccentric Dudleys’ Castle Parr and then an inn in York during a snowstorm, amidst too many secondary characters, and new ones appearing with every chapter, Giles and Audrina take one step forward and many steps back to being together. Frankly, Miss Bates didn’t find them terribly interesting as a couple: she enjoys a romance novel wherein the central couple spend more time working out what keeps them apart and brings them together than healing their individual neuroses and shortcomings, especially when neither impede the relationship. What does, they claim, keep them apart, the cross-class nature of their union and Giles’ hurting paws, seems shallow and uninteresting … possibly because the novel doesn’t fully explore those elements, leaving them by the wayside to solve the puzzle-box mystery, as well as work out the many secondary characters’ dilemmas, like Richard, Giles’ father, and his romance with the older, curmudgeonly Lady Irving of the rhinestoned turbans, the frail Dudleys, their daugher-in-law, Sophie, and Miss Corning who shows up, a pregnant lady, eventually Audrina’s extended family, a Lord Walpole, affianced to Audrina’s sister … see what Miss Bates means?

Romain, Miss Bates thought, wanted to tell a story that was both romance and coming-of-age, or finding-and-asserting-the-self. The combination does not appeal to Miss Bates’ sensibility. Moreover, she would say that the two themes, worthy in and of themselves, end up with one eclipsing the other … and rendering neither with any depth. Season For Desire, for example, concludes with the hero and heroine’s overwrought declarations of love and devotion; their avowals ring hollow in light of their sparse interactions and greater concern with finding a purpose to their individual lives. (Moreover, Miss Bates’ critique is a general one, not only towards Romain’s novel, but NA romance, which does not draw Miss Bates.) Romain’s Season For Desire, serious and thoughtful in intent, was less so in execution, providing no more than “tolerable comfort,” Mansfield Park, to Miss Bates.

Theresa Romain’s Season For Desire is published by Kensington Zebra Books and has been available since October 7th in the usual places and formats.

Miss Bates received an e-ARC courtesy of Kensington Zebra Books via Netgalley.

What do you look for in a holiday romance?

18 thoughts on “Mini-Review: Theresa Romain’s SEASON FOR DESIRE

  1. I want my holiday romances so sweet that Hallmark could take lessons. 🙂 I’m actually quite fond of the finding-and-asserting-self romances. That’s a theme that really works for me. But when it comes to holiday romances, I’m a total sap. Sometimes, I can find both together. Amy Lane, a m/m romance author, has a couple of holiday novellas that I love: Christmas with Danny Fit and Christmas Kitsch. They’re both about people finding & asserting their true selves, one a man who’s been living with his mother out of love and lack of courage, and the other about a young man creating a new family when his own rejects him. They’re totally sentimental and I love them. 🙂

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    • There are times when Miss B. has loved this theme as well: but it has, for her, to be subdued, or better integrated into the romance. Miss B., to her former-radical self, is sounding mighty conservative: this is most disconcerting. Bleh. BUT, in this case, the romance was weak … like tepid tea. But she did read quite a few GR reviews that said, for example, that it was a great slow-burn. She’d say there are readers who’ll find and like their way to Season For Desire.

      Miss B. too just loves the sap: sentimental, gently humorous: she’s already listed some favourite Christmas romances, so she won’t repeat herself, though she’d like to. 😉 Ah, Turnip …

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  2. I actually quite liked this story, liked in particular that Audrina had to resolve her own drama for herself. I thought they interacted plenty, lots of conversation off on their own at Castle Parr. And I did like the crazy cast of secondary characters, particularly Sophie. My biggest issue however with the ending was that I didn’t believe Giles would gave proposed with having discovered what he did about his condition and that stole the umph from his declarations.

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    • Miss B. read your GR review and it made her rethink the novel, which is good. She could see that there was a lot there, ideas and themes. BUT, Audrina and Giles were interrupted by the secondary characters, none of whom Miss Bates found particularly interesting. It’s fascinating how differently we can respond to a text. Janet’s DA post today about that very idea was fascinating.

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      • I did a expanded version on my blog, including spoilers.

        It is fascinating which is why I love reading reviews for books I have read.

        I remember reading Bahktin in college and what he had to say about personal context/dialogue with text really clicking for me. We bring so much of ourselves into our reading.

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        • So true, says Miss Bates, and to add, we bring *ourselves*, our baggage, & the flotsam and jetsam of what we’re carrying around that day … even a peevish mood … to whatever we’re reading. Which is why she’s equally fascinated by rereading and testing how her reading, as well as like and dislike, may change as she’s changed. It was interesting, for example, how much MORE she liked The Mischief Of the Mistletoe on a second reading – and she liked it a whole lot on the first.

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  3. I have several books by this author in the TBR, Hoping to get to one soon! And if you are looking for a lovely Holiday story, short and sweet (about 50 pages), The Christmas Wish by Katy Regnery is one of my favourites. I highly recommend it, it’s going to be an annual reread for me.

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  4. I’m an odd duck about Christmas-themed/holiday romances. Christmas can be… difficult for me for several reasons so I tilt more toward finding quirky offbeat holiday stories (like Falling Angel on your previous post) though I have read and loved some of the sweet traditional ones,too. There was a post/review at Smart Bitches several years ago about a short story/novella by Connie Willis called All Seated on the Ground which I knew I had to try after reading that post. It’s a wonderful mix of sci fi, mystery, with just a dash of romance. Though the romance is definitely not central to the story and is more in the background, I kind of loved the way the H/h meet and interact. Plus there are also ‘glaring’ aliens, Christmas choirs of all kinds, and a rather eye-opening and funny look at lyrics of some of the most beloved Christmas carols culminating with a wonderful climax at the Denver All-City Holiday Ecumenical Sing. Trying to figure out how to communicate with the disapproving Altairians was both funny and an interesting puzzle as well as offering a pretty good message about how we determine our degree of civilization. Of course, it’s a Christmas story so the aliens did not take over the earth or blow anything up a la Independence Day, and no one was harmed though two characters do get their just desserts. It’s just a fun and weird story. Right up my alley.

    As a matter of fact, Connie Willis’ collection of Christmas stories (Miracle and Other Christmas Stories) is a favorite of mine to pull out at this time of year. I really love the story from the title of this collection – The Miracle. There’s an ecologically conscious Christmas spirit (the Spirit of Christmas Present as in ‘Barbie dolls, ugly ties, cheese logs, the stuff people give you for Christmas’) here to give the heroine her heart’s desire, a debate on the best Christmas movie (It’s A Wonderful Life v. Miracle on 34th Street), all the craziness associated with commercialized Christmas (office parties, office romance, Secret Santa gifts, mall shopping, printed vs, handwritten Christmas cards, etc.), and a surprisingly satisfying little romance thrown in. As I said, I’m an odd duck, and these are just Christmas-y enough with the perfect dollop of quirky for me.

    These aren’t necessarily 100% ‘holiday romances’ (sorry!) but there is romance mixed in with magic/mystery/light Sci-fi and Christmas.

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    • Miss Bates found your definition of the holiday romances that work for you so interesting. It reminded her of a comment that Sunita made right here on MBRR: that her favourite books, as they are Miss B’s, are often hybrids of romance and other forms, like Mary Stewart’s, for example. Oh, and how great would it have been had Mary Stewart had written a holiday romance/mystery/gothic …

      Miss B. has the Connie Willis collection on order and can’t wait to read it!

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  5. Hi Kay, I am really enjoying the holiday romance review series – I don’t read a ton of these, as it seems that from Thanksgiving to New Year I’m pretty busy being the designated cook and hostess for my family’s holiday festivities. But I try to squeeze in a few every year to relax, and keep myself in the happy mood. I think Christmas themes and category romances tend to go together like Christmas lights and tinsel 🙂 The category format and length lend themselves to this theme and its much loved and cherished conventions. I often pick these up at my library book sale – note to self – get there this weekend! That said, I just read a different sort of Christmas romance, “The Yuletide Countess,” which I mention as Miss Bates (both yours and the Mighty Jane’s) would probably find it interesting. It’s a romance in which the neglected spinster companion staving off genteel poverty in the home of a wealthier relative, finds her true love and HEA. It’s a sweet story of a lady long on the shelf and a widower finding love, with a Christmas denouement, complete with all the regency trimmings – but highly atypical hero/heroine. Different, but a nice read.

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    • Hello and the blessings of the season to you and yours! Miss B. is so glad you’re enjoying the series: she gets the holiday romance “out of her system” this way every year and she’s loved it the past four, or five she’s done so. It’s cool to share with everyone.

      It’s true what you’ve written about Christmas themes and romance (yes, category being the best 😉 : romance fiction is a comedy in the way that Christianity is: with an HEA that is about reconciliation and unity, friendship and love, things rent asunder recovered and healed. It is a lovely marriage.

      And what a lovely recommendation: that sounds like Miss Bates would love it!

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      • Oh, I love the way that you bring the divine comedy together with something as simple as romantic fiction – thought provoking. It would be fun to think/write more about that, But I’ll settle for being thankful that we get a hint, however tiny and pallid, of divine love here on earth through loving one another.

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        • The divine comedy is what I learned from the Canadian literary critic, Northrop Frye: he was so good at delineating how Christianity is a tragedy embedded in a comedy and how narrative can be viewed through this prism as well. It’s fascinating to me.

          Your sentiment is so true. 🙂

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