Thursday, May 27, 2021

May Reading Notes

Image Copyrighted by Candice Hern This month, I read more historical romance than contemporary, which is an unusual departure for me. It's becoming harder and harder to find new historicals that appeal to me. Also a departure for me, I read only two diverse books this month.

Forbidden by Jo Beverley
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Our Saturday Book Club finished reading this book this month. Our first book, and I'm so glad I joined up with Janet Webb (@JanetETennessee), Willa (@Willaful), Growly (@GrowlyCub), and Joanne Smythe (@regency_gal) to read it. These smart ladies made me really think hard about the book: the characters, the plot, the motivations and goals of the characters, and the ramifications of their actions. Looking forward to reading other books with these ladies in the months ahead.

This is a story with high angst and a wonderful resolution; there is high drama and quiet moments. As I read this book, I was reminded again and again that Beverley was a master of her craft when she was writing this series.

The heroine's husband has died, allowing her to escape a degrading, terrifying marriage that she had been forced into. Her dissipated brothers are now trying to force her into another such marriage, so she flees the family home, leaving behind everything. When she sees a nobleman offering her a bit of kindness, she seizes on a future with him by initiating him into sex—her only bargaining chip for a better life. He is honorable and requests his aunt to house her. Freed from horrible pressures, she starts to grow up from the terrified fifteen-year-old she's ever been into a young woman who knows her own mind. However, when she finds out that she is with child, he is forced against his every wish into an honorable marriage of convenience with her. The story is about how they each grow up and grow together.

The Duke's Regret by Catherine Kullman
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: This is the second book read of the Saturday Book Club. For this read, @NYSuri joined us as well. Catherine Kullman is such a find! Thanks to GrowlyCub, we chose this one for our second club read, and I loved her writing from the first few pages. It is a small book, but the story is large and leisurely, with no spare words. It is a quiet book by modern standards with less plot and more character development, which I love. All the historical details are spot-on but Kullman sprinkles them in the narrative purposefully and with a light hand. We are almost to the end of this book, and I just love it. This was the third book in Kullman's series, and I hope we'll pick up the first book in the series at some point.

The Duke of Gracechurch was forced into a marriage of convenience at a very young age with a girl not even out of girlhood at sixteen. He bitterly resented having his domineering father forcing his hand and vowed to forsake his wife and cleave to his mistress for whom he has much affection. As a result, he returns to his country seat periodically for ducal duties and getting children on his wife. Other than uncomplainingly allowing him to visit her bed, his wife leads a parallel life growing up under the aegis of the duke's mother.

Seventeen years later and after the death of his mistress, the duke takes stock of his life and realizes that he has allowed his life to pass him by. He suddenly craves warmth and closeness with the family he has discarded and sets about making amends. As you can imagine, while his kids are welcoming, his wife is not. But he is willing to exert himself and offer conciliation at every turn to make reparations.

A Wager to Tempt the Runaway by Bronwyn Scott
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: Bronwyn Scott is a writer of great talent who is able to construct story settings that are an immersive experience for the reader, whether they are a country house kitchen by lamplight, a secret cove at moonlight, or a London ballroom in the unforgiving glare of hundreds of candles. And in these settings, she skillfully drops in fully realized characters who live their lives to the fullest.

Josefina Ricci is a reckless artist, all fire and beauty. She has given a deathbed promise to her father to travel the world and shape her own destiny through her art while not being beholden to patrons. She wants to be free of all the trappings of a sheltered young woman, so she leaves Venice in a headlong rush Westwards. When the story open, Josefina is in a sleepy coastal village in England, a fixture at an art school and committed to painting a portrait in order to meet her benefactress’ wild wager. But art does not provide the headiness that smuggling does. Josefina comes and goes in the night, headless of any danger to her person.

Owen Gann is an upright citizen of the village. He comes from a humble background, a man before he could finish growing up. First a smuggler, then an oysterman, he has risen up the ranks to owning a vast international empire shipping oysters. Through sheer dint of single-minded focus — a not-quite-deathbed promise to his mother to achieve success in life — he has earned wealth and repute in the world of men who receive him with mixed feeling over his antecedents. By day, he provides employment to the denizens of the village. By night, he keeps a watch over their smuggling activities, ever vigilant for customs excise officers. My review is here.

Tokyo Ever After by Emiko Jean
Category: Contemporary YA Romance
Comments: This is what romance is all about. This is why I read Romance. Awash in tenderness, with limitless care, Emiko Jean leads with her heart. Tokyo Ever After is a story that is American and Japanese and neither and both. Like the delicate sakura, the protagonists’ love is essential to them, the very air they breathe; whether like the blossoms it will be impermanent or endure is for the future to know.

This is the story of Izumi Tanaka becoming...

A senior at Mount Shasta High School, Izumi often feels like an outsider in the place of her birth. A minor minority, she makes friends with other minority girls, and together, they form an unshakeable bond against everything life throws at them. As a single child of a single parent, she has often felt lonely, but her questions about her father have gotten instantly shut down. Naturally, she has wondered if he even knows she was born; would he accept her if he knew she existed; does he care — these are questions that circle her mind obsessively. A chance glance at a book reveals a name, expert Googling later there is a contact, a letter is sent…and highly polished Japanese officials shows up in her kitchen with its cracked yellow linoleum floor. Her Imperial Highness Princess Izumi, they call her. She’s the illegitimate daughter of the Crown Prince of Japan and he wants her to visit him at his residence, Tōgū Palace, in Tokyo.

Izumi shows up at Narita airport in leggings and a faded sweatshirt and is greeted by Akio Kobayashi, a gorgeous Imperial Guard with a stick up his backside. For ten hours, he had watched her binge-watch television and not read her critical information binder. Not quite the impression she had hoped to make. My review is here.

Book of Love by Erin Satie
Category: Historical Romance
Comments: I greatly enjoyed Erin Satie’s Bed of Flowers, the first book in her Sweetness and Light series, so I was eagerly anticipating Book of Love, the second book in the series. Satie’s stories are always unusual historical novels, and that is exactly their appeal for me. I approach her books without knowing anything about them, confident that she will sweep me away into a story of great worldbuilding and out-of-the-ordinary characters.

Cordelia Kelly was raised as a boy intellectually. But when she attains womanhood, her parents expect her to be obedient and to toe the conventional line and marry where they please. She repeatedly refuses and ends up having a dramatic falling out with her parents, especially, her beloved father. She hares off to London to fend for herself. Such courage in those times. She lands on her feet, rooming with an intrepid female writer and working on freelance bookbinding jobs. She has succeeded in commercializing her art and hobby—what she loves is putting a roof over her head. And yet, she is haunted by the prospect of poverty every waking moment.

Alistair Chandos, the Duke of Stroud, is loyal to a fault. He is the friend you want in your corner. He makes life fun and helps unstintingly when necessary. Whenever a friend needs a favor, he spares no effort. He also loves to play pranks. He thinks the only way his peers see him is as a jokester — that he has no value other than amusing them. He thinks others don’t think highly of his intelligence and so he has convinced himself thoroughly that he is lacking in the brains department, a bit touched in the upperworks. He is also certain that the reason others pay him any attention is because of his exalted title and great wealth.

Book of Love is a story of a man who has a low opinion of himself and a gem of a woman who values him highly. It is through her belief in him that he starts to believe in himself. My review is here.

Catch a Falling Duke by Eve Pendle
Category: Historical Romance
Comments:This book was a disappointment. The premise looked interesting. A duke is terribly shocked over antecedents of his patrimony—their direct involvement in slavery. He decides to chuck it all by breaking the entail and using the monites for reparations. The heroine is a farmer—not the usual, a woman with noble relations come down in the world, but a bonafide farmer. They casually meet at a roadside inn and decide to share their bodies for one night...which leads to two, three, four...and he proposes. She refuses. Their stations in life is too vast for her to bridge. Interesting premise, no? The problem was the execution of the two storylines.

I consulted with Isobel Carr, who is teaching a class on entails. Breaking an entail requires far more effort and has far more strings attached to it than merely doing the leaglese and donating the monies. I would've liked to have seen the duke actively, and in-depth, working on the process of converting the fee tail to a fee simple. He also has a duty to his tenants and to the vast number of dependants, the annuities and jointures he owes, among other financial encumbrances and responsibilities. In addition, his goal of making reparations is not shown in the great detail it should've been. This is the most interesting aspect of his character—the making of him from a wild man-about-town to a responsible, dependable man. In fact, this is the best part of the story, and it is hand-waved over.

The story has the duke completely become a not-duke by choosing to live at the farm like a farmhand, milking cows and forking hay. He completely divorces himself from his old life in town with nary a thought to its loss. I have seen enough of these kinds of stories to know their appeal to American readers—a man giving up his life for the love of a woman. However, I find characters who totally give up their former lives to become entirely new people unbelievable. To me, this person at some point in their life, after the bloom is off the romance rose, is going to regret the loss of that former person they used to be. In this duke's case, perhaps not the profligacy of that life, but definitely town and friends and the ton.

Towards the end of the story the heroine and the duke decide that they want to turn their farm into a co-op so that they can ensure that it cannot be inherited (and potentially destroyed) by one single person. So they involve everyone currently working the farm to join in. While the resulting discussion was interesting—and something not seen in a historical novel—it received far more page time than the duke's entail. That was of far more import to the story because that is his story. Their joint co-op discussion could've been off-page or make a cameo appearance in the epilogue.

While this book did not work for me, I hasten to add that I have enjoyed this author's books before. So, despite this disappointment, I will choose to read one of her books again.

Totally Engaged by Mina V. Esguerra
Category: Contemporary Romance
Comments: This book is set in modern-day Manila in the Philippines. I have read two of Esguerra's books before, and one made it to my Best Books of the year list, so I had high hopes of this one. But it was a disappointment. The story is very much of the author pulling the characters along through tried and true tropes and well-trodden genre paths to the foregone conclusion. Of writing, Stacey Abrams has said, "If there are no stakes, then there are no payoffs." This story has no stakes. And ultimately, this romance story is not romantic. There is sex, but not much of a romance. I know I am being harsh here but I was disappointed by a story that felt lackluster and like it was hastily put together.

She is a 41-year-old, who has a fashion design startup and works out of her family home. She has converted the former garage into a studio home that she rents out. Her childhood friend asks a favor to put up her 39-year-old brother for a few weeks while he finds his feet in his new job at this up and coming company. He is looking for a place where he can walk to work because he works insane hours. Enter the interfering mother, sisters, and her close friends. And suddenly, they are fake engaged, chastely share a bed one night, and start sharing their bodies. The sleeping together leads to the relationship. The interference of the relatives was cute at first, and I usually love to see characters and their families, but this went on and on.

Also, I didn't buy the heroine's sort-of amicable relationship with her mom and her desire to please her mom. The only part of the story that I found fascinating was the US immigration story. US immigration wait times are notoriously long, and what happened to the heroine is a true story. The heroine's parents applied for permanent residentship when she was very young. However, by the time their green card came through, she was over 21. She had aged out of the petition. So her family (father, mother, and sisters) went to the US, while leaving her behind in charge of the detritus of their lives and also the large family home. And from the US, the mother keeps on harping on her lack of husband and arranges failed setups. Frankly, I cannot ever imagine this leading to a meaningful relationship between the two.


Vassiliki said...

Ooooh! The Duke's Regret sounds really interesting!

Keira Soleore said...

Hope you'll pick it up. We really liked it.

Cordelia Sandra said...
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