In 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?