Mariah Fredericks’s second Jane Prescott mystery, Death Of A New American, has a rich, layered, vivid backdrop: 1912 New York. Indeed, Fredericks’s vibrantly-rendered historical detail may be as immersive and compelling as her mystery and characters. Of the latter, her amateur sleuth, lady’s maid Jane Prescott, is eminently sympathetic: intelligent, observant, and compassionate. Jane’s lowly social status allows her the freedom to fade into the background and take in the details of the wealthy, privileged, and as aristocratic as Americans can be, families she serves. Fredericks may write about the rich and powerful, but the moral core of her mystery lies with the people of the “downstairs”. Their lives, thanks to the historical context in which Fredericks situates them, will change as social, economic, and political tides sweep over early twentieth century New York.
Fredericks has penned a novel as richly conceived historically as it is domestically. When it opens, the papers are crying the news of the Titanic‘s sinking. On the domestic front, Jane is preparing a trip to the Long Island home of the Tylers, as her mistress, Louise Benchley, prepares to marry their nephew, William. Charles, William’s uncle, is the powerful, influential, and famous-for-fighting-the-emerging-Italian-NY mafia, police commissioner. But, who is the “new American” and how and why does she die?
There are two romance authors I read for the sake of sinking into their familiar world: Betty Neels (I’m in the process of reading ALL her books, presently on 24 of 134) and Maisey Yates, incredibly prolific both. Do their books blend together and I don’t remember hide nor hair of any particular one? Absolutely. And yet, I can’t quit them. Neels and Yates, unlike in every way, share a deep, profound, abiding theme: no matter how chaste the Neels romance or carnal the Yates, the connection between hero and heroine is mystical, inevitable, and sacred. They are meant for each other: their bodies know this before reason accepts and acknowledges. Love is a realization arriving in an epiphanic moment. In Neels, the heroine believes the hero couldn’t possibly love her undeserving self, but she loves him; the hero, older, wiser, and more knowing, knows from their introduction the heroine will be his wife. In Yates, love is an agon, a passion, a difficult birth, many layers of ego, hurt, and lack of faith and hope must be divested for a character, more often than not the hero, to admit his love and need for the heroine. Once he does, however, his devotion, love, and protection are his sole purpose. The Neels and Yates worlds? One quieter, on the surface more conservative; the other, created out of the passions of the flesh and a tender antagonism.
After using every moment of my meagre work-week-reading-time to finish James’s I Want You Back, I turned the final page, exclaiming “I loved this book!” Because I prefer to have a measured response, I “slept on it”, woke up and thought, “Still love it.” And yet, had I not requested this ARC “blind”, had someone described it to me with detail, it would’ve been the kiss of death. Firstly, it’s written in alternating first-person POV, which I hate. Secondly, and this is not a spoiler because we know this from the get-go, the hero was a cheater. But that’s not all: when the heroine was pregnant, he didn’t support her, even though he was rich as Croesus, and he dragged her through the courts for custody for years, AND he didn’t give her sufficient financial support when he was making a mint as a star Blackhawks defenceman and was independently wealthy thanks to being a Lund. How can this be borne, much less forgiven by a romance reader? … and let’s not say anything about the heroine. I did that frustrated hair-tugging thing every reader knows when they embark on a book, knowing that the DNF-fairy is only pages away from sprinkling her special brand of lip-curling fairy dust. Continue reading
Given a weakness for bhangra music and Indian food, also a hot cover, I was eager to read Nisha Sharma’s first adult romance, The Takeover Effect, the first of a trilogy. I wasn’t keen on its corporate setting and it turns out there’s a lot of “corporating,” but I hoped the, sadly because scarce, unique Sikh ethos would make up for what it lacked in premise. Hemdeep “Hem” Singh, estranged son of Deepak, returns to the family fold when his father’s digital empire, Bharat, Inc., is threatened by a hostile takeover; hence, the title. Hem finds his family in disarray. Deepak has suffered a heart attack and Hem’s brothers, CEO Ajay, and West coast R&D, Zail, are scrambling to deal with the crisis. Into this critical period in their company’s future walks heroine, Mina Kohli, hired by the board, as a neutral party, to oversee the takeover details. What the Singhs do not know is that Mina’s Uncle Sanjeev has told Mina she’s to rule in favour of the takeover, thus serving his nefarious interests. What does Sanjeev hold over her?
Though I’m suspicious of new-to-me authors, I was willing to give Janice Preston a try because: a) MOC is my favourite trope and b) the word “highland” in the title always evokes a frisson of excitement and anticipation. What I found was an enjoyable, uneven romance. But, first, to the plotty details!
Because His Convenient Highland Wedding is the first of a four-book, four-author series centring around a mystery, Preston’s novel opens with a silly scene of the heroine’s discovery of a creepy tower and mysterious brooch. Flash-forward seven years and heroine Lady Flora McCrieff, having refused the lecherous old goat her father had arranged for her to marry (important to saving the straitened family estate) is in disgrace with fortune and her family’s eyes. To make up for her refusal to save the family fortune and marry within her class, her father compels her to marry second-best, wealthy but from lowly beginnings whiskey-baron Lachlan McNeill. Lachlan is looking to make inroads to the aristocracy for his whiskey and hopes Flora will help him achieve his goal. Little does he know, Flora is in social purgatory …
After Kingston’s intense, lengthy Desire Lines, I needed a romance palate cleanser and Liz Fielding’s signature gently-created world was the perfect choice. Though I fulfilled my wish for bluebell gardens, charmingly crumbling castles, and cute dogs, Fielding’s The Billionaire’s Convenient Bride also delivered an emotional punch. An ominous note rang from scene one. Kam Faulkner arrives at Priddy Castle with humiliating memories and a desire for revenge against heroine Agnès Prideaux. Agnès and Kam had grown up together, running wild and free on castle grounds and surrounding land and water. Later, as teens, their childhood bond was complicated by physical attraction. But the cook’s son and castle “princess” was a love that could not be; when Agnès’s grandfather caught wind of it, he fired Kam’s mother, winning Kam’s resentment and hatred. Kam and his mother had to leave their sole home and income source. In the intervening years, Kam worked hard and achieved huge financial success. Continue reading
Though I appreciate a medieval-set romance, I’m aware of its challenges. It is difficult for a romance author to capture the strangeness of the medieval world and still make the romance familiar. Thus far, only two romance authors I’ve read achieve this successfully (mind you, I haven’t read much medieval romance, these are the ones who work for me): Blythe Gifford (Secrets At Court is my favourite) and Elizabeth Kingston. But, like Kingston’s mentor’s books, Laura Kinsale’s, it took me a long time to warm to Desire Lines.
To look to the novel’s opening, “It began in beauty and in blood.” A beautiful, knife-laden young woman, Nan, rescues a Welshman, originally sent to the English King Edward I as obeisance from the young Welshman’s father, Welsh royalty.
(England’s 13th-century conquest of Wales is the historical context of Kingston’s novel.) Gruffydd ab Iorwerth has been knight, prisoner, and captive. He’s lived in the luxury of the English court, then hid for years in a monastery, made friends and enemies, tamed and hunted with his beloved falcons (his marketable skill, important to English lords) and been chained, starved, and beaten.
My dear friend “Shallow Reader,” loves Dani Collins and that’s rec enough for me. After the intensity of Griffiths’s Stranger Diaries and especially its Victorian-gothic length, I was happy to read a snappy category romance. Snap it did, Ms Collins’s Innocent’s Nine-Month Scandal, with my favourite kind of HP heroine, kind, generous, plain-Jane, funny, and a deliciously broody hero, not too annoyingly domineering, but definitely in the strong, caretaker arena.
Collins’s plot was HP-fare ludicrous. Rozalia Toth is in Budapest looking to find the mate to her grandmother’s earring, given to grammy, in troth, by her true-love during what may be (Collins doesn’t make this explicit) the uprising of ’56? Sadly, gram’s true-love succumbed in the riots and she travelled to America, pregnant and destitute, where she made a marriage-of-convenience with one Benedick Barsi. As grammy is now getting on, Rozalia wants to give her the chance to see the earrings as a pair. Many convoluted family connections are discussed between hero and heroine, but I admit I didn’t give them much attention. Plot isn’t why one reads an HP. Continue reading
Readers may be familiar with Elly Griffiths’s Ruth Galloway and Stephens/Mephisto mysteries. I listened to the first Galloway, The Crossing Places, and enjoyed it. I have the next two queued, but you know, too many books, so little time: a reader’s lament. I did make time, on the other hand, for Griffiths’s latest, a stand-alone murder mystery and homage to gothic lit. There’s a sly nod to Georgette Heyer: all the wins. The darn thing kept me reading in waiting rooms (nose stuffed while Kindle pressed to it), through half-hearted lunch-time sandwich-eating, and curled up in my reading chair till late. The Stranger Diaries is a heck of a engrossing read; even when the mystery faltered, Griffiths’s love of gothic lit, uncanny knowledge of teacherly ways, especially English teacherly ways, and insight into love-gone-mad-and-bad obsession saw me hitting those Kindle pages furiously.
Giving you a sense of what The Stranger Diaries is about makes for convoluted retelling, but spoilers will be avoided. Divorcée Clare Cassidy lives in West Sussex with her 15-year-old daughter Georgia. She teaches English at Talgarth High and works on her book about Talgarth High’s founder, the fictional Victorian writer, R. H. Holland, whose short story, “The Stranger,” frames Griffiths’s narrative. Continue reading
I’ve never read a writing style guide in my life. I once tried to read Strunk and White: ho-hum. ‘Sides, I thought S&T advocated a spare style and I happen to think that, except for tires in real life and heirs in romance, spares should be avoided at all costs. Instead, what I found in Dreyer’s was a fount of delight and—pah to erudition—pragmatic advice. His lessons stick: before writing this, I made sure I knew the difference between “font” and “fount”; between “practical” and “pragmatic” (not much), and how to type an em dash on Mac. I’d never done any of this before. Dreyer’s approach is quintessentially American: he doesn’t hold to rules, but he likes to be correct in a practical, educated way. If there’s a “rule,” and there aren’t many, know it, follow, or better yet, because English doesn’t go by hard and fast (that would be what happens in a romance novel), look it up:
“I have nothing against rules. They’re indispensable when playing Monopoly or gin rummy, and their observance can go a long way toward improving a ride on the subway. The rule of law? Big fan. The English language, though, is not so easily ruled and regulated.”
What I got from Dreyer? Educate yourself and don’t be redundant. His copyediting mantra is “Convention. Consensus. Clarity. Comprehension.” Reading him, I was chuffed: I laughed, I nodded in schoolmarmish agreement, snickered, and rolled my eyes at Dreyer’s sly contempt for the stuffily Puritanical “grammar police,” yes, but equally for the neologistically idiotic.