Tag: Second-Chance Romance

REVIEW: “Manda Collins’s THE PERKS OF BEING A BEAUTY: Contrite Mean Girl Gets Her Man”

Miss Bates hasn’t recovered from her snark regarding novellas, so don’t expect her to make nice in this review. Even though The Perks of Being a Beauty is better written and better all-around than The Misbehaving Marquess and Hot Under the Collar, Miss Bates is even less enamoured of the novella than in her previous reviews. Collins is in firm control of the form here; she doesn’t let the plot take over from the romance. She maintains a nice balance of character and narrative. Her transgression comes in the form of backstory; because Perks follows from her Ugly Ducklings series and centres on the bully-girl in those books, she provides a lot of filler to help the reader understand the heroine and how she arrived at this point in her life.  After the first few chapters set up the love story, backstory takes over and makes for tedious reading. Therein lies the problem that Miss Bates has discussed before: because these novellas come from an understandable desire to sell an upcoming series or bolster a previous one, authors write them as marketing fodder, which should not diminish what is a pleasant read. So is blanc-mange … and even though Miss Bates is a 19th century spinster who often partakes of blanc-mange, she still prefers a cake-pop.

Amelia Snowe is the mean girl brought low by circumstance and a desire to make amends for her former nastiness. Her mother’s death has left her destitute and debt-ridden, working as a debutante’s companion in the bosom of an up-and-coming nouveau riche family, the Smithsons. Our hero, Quentin Fortescue, younger son of an aristocrat, Amelia’s childhood sweetheart and rejected suitor, reunites with Amelia when he attends the Smithsons’ house-party. Quentin’s addition to the party makes for an odd number of men and Amelia is recruited to “make up the numbers,” much to the chagrin of her haughty and resentful mistress, Mrs. Smithson. When straws are picked for partners in the scavenger hunt, of course Amelia and Quentin are thrown together. Here is another problem that Miss Bates finds with the novella: because length does not allow for a natural development of the romance, coincidence reigns and coincidence does not make  for convincing characterization or interesting plot.  Expediency seems the best an author can do under the circumstances.

One of the initial strengths of this novella, unfortunately not sustained, is the honest and open conversation between the re-united sweethearts. What is less convincing is the habit of authors, like Collins here, to endow their historical characters with modern sensibilities. Though it’s obvious that Quentin is attracted to her and willing to take up where they left off, Amelia resolves that she doesn’t want him. Let’s be realistic: why would a young woman of straitened circumstances, whose future holds nothing more than a journey from one genteel but menial job to another, reject a young, healthy, handsome and rich man? Though some reviewers have disliked Grant’s upcoming A Woman Entangled for the heroine’s mercenary attitude, it makes perfect sense to Miss Bates, all the more so when one considers her own straitened circumstances and spinster status.

Quentin is a lovely hero, forgiving, generous, and even more possessed of a modern sensibility. He is as much hero as psychologist, nursing Amelia through her self-hatred, even while making love to her (which, by the way, they do without thought for reputation or consequences, such as, well, pregnancy). When Quentin learns of the extent of Amelia’s bullying behaviour, he recognizes how she’s been trying to amend for it through reparation to those she wronged and by being a loving and nurturing companion to her ward. He is a dear when he soothes her self-recrimination thus, ” … you had no one to rely upon. And that made you a little … hard.” In lines such as these, you can see where Collins’s strength lies. Does this novella do it justice?

Miss Bates would say, these snippets of goodness are not enough to render a rating of more than “Tolerable comfort.” Mansfield Park (Collins’s novella is available on June 18, 2013)

As for the novella trend, Miss Bates is not pleased and joins Mr. Knightly in saying, “It was badly done, indeed.” Emma (Miss Bates thanks her readers for their forebearance as she spouted snark regarding novellas. She promises not to repeat the activity, unless you enjoyed it, in which case, let her know. She has plenty snark left over.)

This honest review was made possible thanks to a courtesy ARC from St. Martin’s Press via Netgalley.

REVIEW: “Leigh LaValle’s THE MISBEHAVING MARQUESS: Ain’t Misbehaving”

These days, says Miss Bates, romance novellas are like samples at the Costco: a delectation of good things to come, if you’re willing to dish out for a lifetime supply of candied ginger. Thus, Miss Bates has come to feel manipulated by the novella (she’s got one more to review and then she’s swearing off … ), even LaValle’s Marquess, which she enjoyed. Now, Miss Bates does not want to detract from the review at hand, which is a fairly positive one, but the romance novella, such as it is, annoys her. Why can’t publishers stand behind a stand-alone? Why does every romance novel spawn a series? Why does every series have a novella launch, or bridge between two longer books, such as this one?

To start, this marquess hasn’t misbehaved; he has merely pouted … a lot. The marquess, Jamie Forster, has been in a snit for five years because he thought that his wife, Cat, betrayed him mere weeks after their marriage. Even though she’s sworn up and down that she did not, immaturity and hurt pride ensued nevertheless. He nursed his amour-propre in parts unknown until making his appearance in the opening chapter in the marchioness’s sitting-room.

For five years, Cat has been holed up on this country estate, atoning for her non-sin by saving widows and their children from the workhouse. She is renovating cottages in which to house them and building a lace factory to provide work. She’s grown up; she’s changed. Jamie has as well; though he still harbors some hurt, he recognizes that his actions were hasty and immature. He sets out to win his wife back. Cat rightly wavers. Even though she still loves him, can she forgive and trust him? Ah, the marquess eats humble pie to redeem himself. He also bears gifts from his travels that would warm any woman’s heart, or in this case, thaw it.

This story was quite enjoyable. The prose was fairly smooth, a trifle overly impassioned in places, but it read with relative ease. It didn’t break any moulds, or enthral Miss Bates, but it didn’t jar either. Jamie and Cat are likeable and their hurt feelings make sense. LaValle handled the perimeters of the novella’s shorter length well and made the romance front and centre, unlike Miss Bates’s previous read (see her review of Jackie Barbosa’s Hot Under the Collar). She conveyed Cat’s and Jamie’s hurt and love and anger convincingly. She also developped their growing desire to release the hurt and anger in order to forgive each other, love each other, and give their marriage a second-chance. Miss Bates loves a second-chance romance.

In the end, however (Miss Bates picks up the snark again), LaValle’s novella is serviceable. It tells a nice story about two likeable people learning to forgive each other their wrongs and admit their love. By all means, read it; it is a pleasant way to while away an hour. And an hour is about as long as you’ll remember it after you’re done. (LaValle’s novella previously appeared in the anthology Three Weddings And A Funeral.)

Miss Bates would read one of Ms LaValle’s romance novels on the basis of this sampling, but for this diminutive effort, she can only say, “Tolerable comfort.” Mansfield Park

This honest review is the result of an e-novella offered by Heart Bay Publishing via Netgalley.