Tag: HEA-Seal-Of-Approval

Having Read Amor Towles’s A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW

Gentleman_In_MoscowI read Towles’s Gentleman In Moscow on the recommendation of two friends whose reading opinions I value. They did not steer me wrong: Gentleman is a wonderful book about a wonderful man, a “gentleman” by birth and a “gentle man” by temperament. It was an opportune time to read Towles’s novel: with Russia playing strongman and all of us emerging from endless lock-downs…what better book to read than one about a Russian character, Count Alexander Rostov, sentenced to a life-time’s house arrest in the Metropol Hotel overlooking Red Square? Yet there isn’t much of the topical in Towles’s Gentleman: to start, the timelessness of the Count’s setting, a storied old hotel which keeps its character through history’s vagaries, offering elegance, steadfast grace and service, comfort and civility to its guests as its denizens. History happens “out there,” in Red Square and beyond: revolution, war, famine, oppression, genocide, injustice, while the hotel carries on. Nevertheless, the snake is never far from the tree: cruelty and evil worm their way in, but in the inimitable characters of the Count and his friends, the Metropol’s loyal staff or devotees, we read about the circumvention of malevolence via cunning goodness, the heart of the novel’s theme. As such, Towles’s Gentleman is a comedy in the Fryian sense, moving toward possibility, towards, as the Count would agree, faith, hope, and love (with his charmingly, parenthetically exclamatory and the “greatest of these is love!”).

From the back-cover-blurb, some of the plot’s detail: “When, in 1922, thirty-year-old Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, he is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel near the Kremlin. An indomitable man of erudition and wit, Rostov must now live in an attic room as some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history unfold. Unexpectedly, the Count’s reduced circumstances provide him entry into a world of emotional discovery as he forges friendships with the hotel’s denizens. But when fate puts the life of a young girl in his hands, he must draw on all his ingenuity to protect the future she deserves,” bringing us from that 1922 tribunal to 1954 and the Count’s 65th year as we turn the final page.   (more…)

Wendy’s TBR Challenge: February is Fairy-Tale Month!

The_Man_Behind_the_ScarsContinuing with my category romance reading for Wendy’s TBR Challenge 2022 I was happy to see this month’s fairy-tale theme. After all, what are romance novels but fairy tale retellings? And what is closer to fantasy and wish-fulfillment than the HP category romance? Which is why I chose to read Caitlin Crews’s The Man Behind the Scars. When an HP is done right, you stay up reading till past your it’s-a-work-day bedtime, as I did with Crews’s little HP gem. It’s over-the-top and groans under the weight of its melodrama, but I enjoyed it. Is the premise ludicrous? Yes, that’s what makes it fun. The scarred hero, Rafe McFarland, eighth Earl of Pembroke, is lurking in the shadows of a society wedding when Angel Tilson, “former model and tabloid darling,” spots him. On the lookout for a rich husband, one waltz later, Rafe and Angel are engaged! She needs money and he, an heir. Before you know it, they’re ensconced in Rafe’s “remote Scottish estate” as husband and wife and the interplay of two lonely people who feel unworthy of love prove how much they deserve it.   (more…)

Wendy Superlibrarian’s TBR Challenge: January Is “Quickie” Month!

Nanny_PlanAm going to do my darndest to stick with Wendy’s TBR Challenge this third year of our pandemic. Grateful to Wendy for hosting and, eons ago, launching me on a love of category romance. I am going to use the challenge to get through some of my VAST category romance TBR. If you like, you can check out the other great participating blogs and Wendy’s treasure-trove of reviews at her blog, linked here.

As Wendy quipped, this month’s theme is “quickie,” which I took to mean category-length romance (yay to my category romance reading plans!) rather than, um, a fast-paced amorous encounter. What I pulled from the TBR was one Wendy herself lauded…which is how it ended up in my TBR, Sarah M. Anderson’s The Nanny Plan. I’d read Anderson’s Lawyers in Love series and enjoyed it and this one had a cute baby on the cover, so I was pretty much a goner from its first appearance on Wendy’s blog. (more…)

I Read Lisa Kleypas’s DEVIL IN SPRING

Meh. I can’t say I loved this, but Kleypas always manages to keep me reading and I was entertained. The heroine, Pandora, was amusing and Gabriel, her hero, matched her wit for wit, banter for banter. Moreover, Gabriel is eldest son to Sebastian and Evie, my favourite Kleypas couple in my favourite Kleypas romance, Devil In Winter. Catching glimpses of their latter married years was one of the novel’s delights, but it didn’t make up for a narrative that splits right down the middle with an entertaining first half and an eye-rolling, here-we-go-again second. Here’s the back-cover blurb:

Most debutantes dream of finding a husband. Lady Pandora Ravenel has different plans. The ambitious young beauty would much rather stay at home and plot out her new board game business than take part in the London Season. But one night at a glittering society ball, she’s ensnared in a scandal with a wickedly handsome stranger. After years of evading marital traps with ease, Gabriel, Lord St. Vincent, has finally been caught-by a rebellious girl who couldn’t be less suitable. In fact, she wants nothing to do with him. But Gabriel finds the high-spirited Pandora irresistible. He’ll do whatever it takes to possess her, even if their marriage of convenience turns out to be the devil’s own bargain. After succumbing to Gabriel’s skilled and sensuous persuasion, Pandora agrees to become his bride. But soon she discovers that her entrepreneurial endeavors have accidentally involved her in a dangerous conspiracy—and only her husband can keep her safe. As Gabriel protects her from their unknown adversaries, they realize their devil’s bargain may just turn out to be a match made in heaven . . .  

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I Read Mary Balogh’s SILENT MELODY

Silent_MelodyI had mixed reactions to Balogh’s Silent Melody: puzzled, enthralled at what she could do with the genre, dismayed at what she did with the genre, and always aware there was something fearless about what she did in Silent Melody. If we consider the romance from the perspective of today’s romance cognoscenti, it would be in its “representation” of its deaf heroine. On this level, I’m sure Balogh’s representation invites the damning “problematic”. I didn’t find it “problematic”, but I did dislike it for reasons having nothing to do with the heroine’s sensory challenge.

I think Balogh’s purpose was, not realism, but an exploration of a sensory deprivation and how, from it, she could build a character of strength, will, determination, and independence. There are, I believe, two things that stymied her: Balogh equated Emily’s deafness with an ability to commune with nature and she could not avoid, in the telling, that most pernicious romance pitfall, the lapse into plot-centred melodrama.

To start, a little background, since I haven’t said a thing about the hero. Lady Emily Marlowe lives with her sister’s family, Anna and Luke, the Duke of Harndon, and brother to the hero, Lord Ashley Kendrick. She is beloved, privileged, wealthy, and roams the vast estate, dishevelled and barefoot, at her will. She is beautiful, kind, highly intelligent, and a talented artist. The love her of life, Ashley, left seven years ago, to make his fortune with the East India Company. He returns a wealthy, broken man, guilt-ridden and tormented because he was away the night of a fire that killed his wife and infant son. Reunited with his family and Emily, merely fifteen when he left and his then-companion of forest and dell, he feels unworthy of forgiveness and love. Nevertheless, his family loves him and Emily was and is still in love with him. (more…)

I Read Bliss Bennet’s NOT QUITE A MARRIAGE

Bliss Bennet’s Not Quite A Marriage, in her new series, The Audacious Ladies of Audley, was everything I would expect from Bennet: carefully researched, with nuanced characters, and a romance that builds slowly but surely towards a satisfying conclusion. I was gleeful with enjoyment for the novel’s first half, with shades of “worthy of Balogh” phrases dancing in my head as I considered what I would write for this post. Unfortunately, the second half wasn’t as marvellous and the reason was that Bennet left her romance to wander in and out of the narrative like a weakly-conceived secondary character, while exposition dominated the room. It was frustrating reading because I thought she did not focus on the novel’s strongest aspect, the relationship between hero Spencer Stiles and heroine, with the unlikely and unfortunate name of Philadelphia, thankfully shortened to Delphie. (more…)

I Read Lucy Parker’s BATTLE ROYAL

I have, of late, like Hamlet, lost all my mirth and romance seems stale and, dare I say it, puerile. I read one of my favourite contemporary romance authors, Lucy Parker, to get my romance-mojo back, her latest and first in a new series, Battle Royal. While there were aspects I loved, and it sustained my interest throughout, by the end, I was left with “meh, it was all right.” I loved the baking-rivals-turned-lovers, Dominic De Vere and Sylvie Fairchild, and it satisfied my great love for the The Great British Bake-Off, but it was 100 pages too long and unravelled in a disappointing way. (more…)

The Great Betty Read #40: Neels’s THE LITTLE DRAGON

Little_DragonI did so enjoy my latest Betty read, The Little Dragon. I especially appreciated the non-OW conflict. Instead, we have a heroine (who skips!) with an unreasonable hatred of wealth. Utterly unconvincing because she reaps its benefits when the hero throws delicious dinners and beautiful clothes her way. But I don’t want to make Constantia sound like a hypocrite. She’s just not terribly smart and can’t recognize either the irony of her position, or the evidence of her husband’s wealth! (That it’s a marriage-of-convenience-troped romance made it all the better for me.) It’s a bit silly, but I loved the dynamic between Constantia and Jeroen and its accompanying Betty accoutrements: food, flowers, clothes, treats, cuddle-able animals, adorable children, extended warm family, a beautiful, graceful home (where hot drinks are served in Meissen cups), and a gargantuan, handsome doctor-hero who is described with my favourite Betty adjective, “placid,” and whose actions are accompanied by the adverb, “lazily”. He even smiles “lazily”! He is the ideal of Betty safety and security, comfort and strength; when Constantia gazes at him, she sees someone who is “solid and safe and very handsome”. I loved how Betty conveyed the hero’s kindness, through acts and second-hand. The children tell Constantia about the new doggie addition to the household, magnificently named “Prince,” given his humble beginnings: “Oom Jeroen found him in a ditch and brought him home to live with us.”

The Little Dragon is standard Neels fare. The blurb summary: 

She swore she would never marry a rich man! As a private nurse to wealthy spoiled people, Constantia had seen the misery too much money could bring. Jeroen van der Giessen, though, was only a poor overworked G. P., so when she found herself stranded in Delft without money or passport, and Jeroen offered marriage, Constantia accepted. At first she was quite happy with her loveless marriage, though she thought Jeroen was being recklessly extravagant–until she began to discover things, about herself and him, that took away all her new-found happiness… (more…)

REVIEW: Susanna Kearsley’s THE VANISHED DAYS

The_Vanished_DaysReading my umpteenth Kearsley novel, I noticed something in her narrative I hadn’t beforehand: a common emotional trajectory that may be characterized as melancholy mood to joyful conclusion. Because they are the most historical of historical romances, their melancholy comes from Kearsley’s initial presentation of her characters as trapped by history. But she builds their strength, intelligence, and virtue and proves to us how these qualities can sometimes defeat history’s choke-hold. She writes about ordinary people (when considered through the lens of big-name, big-battle, big-power sweep) but extraordinary in how they wrest happiness out of what appear to be insurmountable obstacles determined by history and its cruel, expedient masters, men of power over honour. At their centre are women and child characters who are victimized but not victims, exercise agency within constricting circumstances and yet are often trapped by forces beyond their capacity to fight back. In the end, characters escape to a happy life by circumventing evil using wiles without losing their essential goodness. The Vanished Days‘ Lily Aitcheson and her helpers are such. Her story is told in a dual-timeline alternating between childhood/youth and the novel’s “present-day”, the early 1700’s. Her story is narrated by one Adam Williamson, who is tasked to investigate Lily’s claim for compensation as the widow of a man who perished in Scotland’s 1698-Darien-colony-bound fleet. The blurb fills in historical detail further: 

There are many who believe they know what happened, but they do not know the whole of it. The rumours spread, and grow, and take their hold, and so to end them I have been persuaded now to take my pen in hand and tell the story as it should be told… Autumn, 1707. Old enemies from the Highlands to the Borders are finding common ground as they join to protest the new Union with England, the French are preparing to launch an invasion to carry the young exiled Jacobite king back to Scotland to reclaim his throne, and in Edinburgh the streets are filled with discontent and danger. When a young widow, Lily Aitcheson, comes forward to collect her lost husband’s wages, former soldier Adam Williamson is assigned to investigate her petition. As Lily tells her story, Adam has only days to discover if she’s being honest, or if his own feelings are making him blind to the truth. But sinister figures lurk in the background – is Adam being used as a pawn in an increasingly treacherous game?

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