Truth be told, I wanted to read Chin’s romance, and she a new-to-me romance author, because of the adorable cover. Cute house, great old-lady-pantsuit violet, and a puppy! (I love puppies, though I’m virulently allergic to them, which means a puppy-infused romance novel is an auto-sell; sadly, the puppy doesn’t show up till the last act…) For the most part, the goodness without was matched by the goodness within. I found humour, a wonderful hero, great friend-group, interesting family dynamics, and a great setting. The romance? I wish I could say I believed whole-heartedly in it. Here’s the set-up, thanks to the publisher’s blurb:
Between helping at her family’s inn and teaching painting, Elizabeth Wu has put her dream of being an artist on the back burner. But her plan to launch an arts festival will boost the local Blue Cedar Falls arts scene and give her a showcase for her own work. If only she can get the town council on board. At least she can rely on her dependable best friend Graham to support her. Except lately, he hasn’t been acting like his old self, and she has no idea why.
Graham Lewis has been secretly in love with Elizabeth forever, but it’s past time that he faces the cold, hard truth: vivacious, amazing Elizabeth will never see him as anything but a platonic pal. He’s going to help her get the festival off the ground, but after that he needs to forget his one-sided crush. Until one impulsive kiss changes everything. Can they really rebuild their entire relationship—and the festival—from the ground up? Or will it all come crashing down?
When Chin’s romance opens, Elizabeth and Graham have been best friends since they were seven and roommates for ten. Other than sharing a bed and each other’s bodies, they are a “couple”. Chin then does something skillful: she makes the narrative shift, like the ground moving beneath Elizabeth’s feet, when Graham, determined to snuff his torch, tells Elizabeth he bought a house and will be moving out. Though Graham is a dream-come-true guy, loyal, loving, smart, handsome, and funny, Elizabeth seems oblivious to his gargantuan desirability. Until she might not have him around: to laugh with, hang with, talk to, and have him help and support her. And therein was my problem with Elizabeth and this romance: Elizabeth, though near thirty, has A LOT of growing up to do and though, there are good signs, and she cares about Graham, I was never convinced she loved him enough to give him much. While Graham swears up and down being herself is enough and it’s a lovely sentiment, the best romances are about learning give-and-take, compromising, accepting happiness and giving happiness. Graham is such a nice guy, so happy with so little, I was disappointed for him. Elizabeth did some growing up, gained confidence, and there’s a lovely scene where she makes peace with her family, but for Graham, well, there’s not much. Lastly, these two aren’t sexy together. I don’t need purple-prosed, star-bursting love scenes of annoying frequency, but after they become lovers, everything fizzles.
On the other hand, there’s much to like about Chin’s Mulberry Street House. She can build a scene and infuse it with humour and humanity. I loved the bar scenes with Graham and Elizabeth’s friends, especially the couple who were having a baby. Chin writes, as I said above, a fantastic scene with Elizabeth and her family: the dialogue is crisp, the relationships, nuanced. But like the best romance, it slants toward the comedic, that is, not ha-ha, but conciliatory, loving, generous, kind, forgiving without the characters being totally cardboard-cut-outs. And Chin has definitely achieved this with the Wus. Graham’s family is harder, but equally interesting: his dad is harsh, comparing Graham to his more “successful” older brother, but his mum makes up for it. The dad doesn’t get any better, but he’s not and never has been an exaggerated romance “bad parent”: abusive, or negligent; judgmental, absolutely. Chin can also set a scene for the sheer fun of it: like Elizabeth’s taking-over the children’s table at Graham’s father’s sixtieth birthday party with dance-floor moves to “Baby Shark”. And Elizabeth and Graham’s initial love scene is wonderful too. Too bad about the ensuing fizzle.
In the end, Chin’s writing won me over, but the romance left me cold. If she had married the one with the other, I’d have loved this. I foresee Ms Chin moving into WF and had it been labelled as such, the novel would not have disappointed this romance reader. As it stands, Miss Austen deems House On Mulberry Street “real comfort,” Emma.
Jeannie Chin’s The House on Mulberry Street is published by Forever (Grand Central Publishing) and was released on March 7th. I received an e-ARC from Forever, via Netgalley, for the purpose of writing this review, which reflects my honest opinion.
7 thoughts on “Review: Jeannie Chin’s THE HOUSE ON MULBERRY STREET (Blue Cedar Falls #3)”
Gonna look this up!
I think you’ll enjoy it!
I really hate it when the romance in the genre romance novel just doesn’t sell me on the relationship, but never more than when everything else in the book is good-to-really, really good. It’s that “so. Close!” feeling of disappointment.
Yes, and, in retrospect, as I added to my review, if the pub had simply called this WF, or young adult, or coming-of-age…late, but still growing up a tad, then I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. As it stands, I really don’t see these two making it past the first year of cohabitation in that cute little house. But Chin has WF writing chops and that’s where she should head. I won’t follow, of course. 😉
LikeLiked by 1 person
I hate this publishing tendency with a passion. On the one hand, we keep hearing how genre romance keeps the lights on for most other genres (many of whom get all the publishing and advance dollars), while also constantly pushing authors to write not-quite-genre romance, because gosh, that’s not real/proper Litchur, now, is it.
This doesn’t affect women only, but boy, is it certainly rooted on misogyny.
(And don’t get me started on the fact that it’s called “women’s lit” rather than “fiction”, and that “literary fiction” is reserved for writing that eschews most romantic relationships with happy endings.)
LikeLiked by 1 person
This is very true and I could not have put it any better. I hope I get many hits so people can read your comment. Other than a few select authors, litfic is so insular and self-referential that no one wants to read it…
I love romance and I love people who write and read it, so let’s own it and not try to twist it into something it’s not.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Aw, shucks, thank you!
(I have strong opinions on this, can you tell)
LikeLiked by 1 person