Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Review - Strands of Bronze and Gold

Original Title: Strands of Bronze and Gold
Series: Strands, #1
Author: Jane Nickerson
Published: March 6th, 2013

Publisher: Random House Children's Books

*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I will start this review by saying I have absolutely no idea why I read this book. It wasn’t even in my to-be-read pile, although I’ve known it for quite some time. So basically, reading this was the epitome of a whim. Nothing more.

First, you should know, Strands of Bronze and Gold is a retelling of a French fairy tale, Bluebeard, which I read in the middle of reading this book, and it is probably one of the darkest stories I’ve ever read. As for the book, it is YA, and upon asking myself if it is historical fiction or not, I would say yes, and no. Yes, because, on the one hand, there is an entire subplot around slavery, so you can tell more or less in which time period we are in. Plus, we get an specific location for Wyndriven Abbey, in Mississippi, and an specific year (in Sophia’s letters to her sister, which not only helped us see de Cressac through her eyes, but also, was a good idea to pass through months, instead of having a row of useless chapters filled with lengthy descriptions of Sophia’s daily life). And no, because there are no specific historical facts the story could have been built around, except for what you can guess, if you have an understanding of American history.

Ok, the setting. It was amazingly done. The writing is good, the descriptions are detailed and wonderful, and the dresses, the jewels, and the rooms in the Abbey were absolutely beautiful. But sometimes they were too long. Lots and lots of descriptions forced on the reader when the story would have benefited from more action to move the plot forward. Yet, even with all those details, the creepy atmosphere is really well done. You can never shake the feeling that there’s something sinister in the air, everything is a massive gothic stage ready for the creepy to occur, including the classic element of the pretty girl running away from the monster.

Another thing I appreciated is that, even though I knew the fate of de Cressac’s wives because I had previously read the fairy tale, all those women got to have their own voice and name, and, even if briefly and superficially, a personality of their own. Just, everything was definitely creepier than I was expecting, but again, what good can come from marrying an obsessive psychopath with a redhead fetish?

As for Sophia Petheram, the protagonist… She was a test to my patience. The first thing I will say is that she could definitely have used her brain more often. I didn’t completely hate her, but I didn’t love her, either. Sometimes her naivety was too much; events would just happen right in front of her, and she still wouldn’t realize things. She and Bernard de Cressac have nothing short of an abusive relationship, when he showers her with things she doesn’t ask for, nor needs, not allowing her to have a say in the matter, and getting angry when she doesn’t react the way he was expecting. I get that, at first, de Cressac is captivating for her, and she kind of thinks herself in love with him, to the point of saying:

It was as if I were only truly alive when I was with him.

Even through her fascinated perception, the sense of dread continues, like there’s something really dark there, that those feelings aren’t natural. It’s easier to believe it’s a spell. And it’s not long before de Cressac reveals himself as an obsessive pervert, something that was left very clear in the scene in which Sophie and de Cressac play music together, which, if I understood correctly, it’s a metaphor for sex (starting with his cello mentioned as the “instrument between his knees”). Besides, there were moments in which I literally asked Sophie “Are you an idiot?”. She wasn’t even smart enough to shut her mouth when she had to, going to de Cressac to tell him her every thought. Plans to leave and go back with her siblings? Tells de Cressac. Meets Gideon Stone in the forest? Tells de Cressac. *face-palm* Seriously, girl, don’t make me punch you in the face, haven’t you learned so far that he’s a control freak and a jealous, dangerous man, who had no qualms about killing an innocent cat just because you were nicer to it than to him? Do I have to be the one to tell you to just act, instead of babbling about your intentions?

True is that Sophie goes through the loss of her innocence as the story progresses, but sometimes I wondered, does she really not realize how creepy her situation is? She doesn’t think for a second that what de Cressac is doing is wrong. His horrible temper aside, forcing his presents on her, making her dress for him in the outfits he chooses, his forced kisses, later licking her fingers (and other areas)… And this:

I have told you, ma belle, you do not need to be anything but decorative.

It can’t get more direct than that. She can’t be told in any clearer way that she’s just a doll for him. And still, she doesn’t think there’s anything shady there (let alone does something). And at one point, she thinks:

Perhaps it wasn’t true, but it seemed as if I were as much in Bernard’s power as any slave on the plantation.

*face-palm*

I don’t know what’s worse here. The fact that she still thinks it may not be true, or how long it took her to finally understand it. When I read that, I couldn’t help rolling my eyes, like, really, Sophia, did you JUST realized that? I honestly thought she would be smarter than that, because it’s not like he disguises his obsession, and literally calls her “decoration”. As I told you, things would happen right in front of her, impossibly clearer, and she would still doubt them. And one of the most idiotic ways in which she did that was near the end, when she goes to the garden folly (which de Cressac had previously forbidden her to visit), finds the door open and enters, not thinking for a second how strange that is, like saying “oh, this perpetually closed, forbidden place, that I shouldn’t be in, is open. Maybe I shouldn’t go in there.” Anyone with half a brain would realize it is a trap, after de Cressac left her the keys. But even that was too much to ask from Sophia.

As for finding out de Cressac actually killed his other wives, I definitely think she could have figured it out way earlier in the book, instead of needing to see things as literally as finding their teeth in de Cressac’s room. I mean, the clues were all over the place, and with the wife named Tara –who presumably killed herself–, more than with the others, as it literally says that the housekeeper doesn’t know how “she was able to use one of the armory’s jeweled knives when it was always kept locked.” *face-palm* Oh, my God, DUH!! You have to be kidding me. It can’t take you THAT LONG to figure that out. It just can’t. I mean, I get that Mrs. Duckworth refused to see her master was evil, denying his wretchedness to the very end, but Sophie, please, connect the dots, and don’t do this to me!

Bernard de Cressac is one creepy character, and I really hated him (which is pretty much the point). He has a horrible temper, is unpredictable, and multi-faceted. Right from the get-go you can tell he’s a pervert, and that being Sophia’s godfather is something he assumed as a start, his intentions being very different from the duties of a father-like figure. He’s already creepy in the way he talks, all smooth compliments, and in the topics he chooses. And if it wasn’t enough to bring up the topic of Sophie’s underwear before one of her first dinners in the Abbey, he makes her dress in the revealing outfit of an Indian dancer, when he isn’t dressed in the same fashion (bear in mind Sophia is only 17 years-old). And, to one’s surprise, Sophia’s does not catch on his dark intentions, doing as he says, without questioning.

Last night he told me he liked me in white (“so pure and innocent”). Something white, then…

Really? You just don’t see it? It’s not like he’s very subtle. And if that wasn’t enough, not even de Cressac being angry at her because she kept old love letters, his selfishness, his temper, his constant presents, making her believe her siblings have forgotten her by keeping their letters from her… are clues to her. None of them. He’s not a love interest, but their relationship is abusive, and insanely obsessive. And Sophia is not the strong heroine I thought she would be, ready (or at least willing) to fight it.

By saying things like “I want you simply to enjoy yourself all the day long and then dress yourself beautifully at night to please me”, he’s not only clear with his intentions, but he’s also disgusting, and completely irredeemable (which is the point of the book). Nothing happens with his character, not there’s a revelation about his past, that could possibly redeem him. He not only forces himself on her, but he also backs her into a corner by using her love for her family against her, helping them with their financial problems, so she can see that, by marrying him, she could save them. And, in a subtler note, at one point Sophia thinks roses are common in romance, and later, for the ball, her sister Anne appears with them in her hair, sent by de Cressac, which I interpreted as him marking the difference between her and her sister, like Anne is the common one, who does not stands out, and Sophia is the star of the ball, and of Bernard’s “affection”.

Am I looking to much into it? I don’t know, maybe.

As for Gideon Stone, the love interest, I don’t think there was enough about him, he felt depthless and brought out of nowhere, and aside from their friendly conversation in the forest, he does NOTHING. Not to help her, or save her, or anything. I feel the story could have been told perfectly well without him. Sophia says she loves him, but they don’t even kiss, not even after they agree to marry, and there’s not a solid reason why they like each other to the point of love. They start exchanging letters in secret, and the only one we read by him is about an incident with a man from the village and his oxen cart, and I… *face-palm* I mean, yes, it’s the start of trust between them, but it would have been better if the author had decided to show me some of the later letters in which there’s already a relationship between them, instead of dumping that random event on me.

Another thing I noticed was how many side characters the author introduced, like Talitha, Charles, Odette, Daphne, Peg Leg Joe… All of them having little to no influence on the main storyline, just like the slavery subplot. With the main characters reduced to heroine and villain, and little else, so many side characters weren’t really necessary. Among them, only Odette –Sophia’s French maid– has some meaningful role, before dying. We don’t even get closure around Talitha and Charles’s dilemma, because although they managed to escape, I really thought they would be back to help Sophia, but they didn’t.

Another thing I noticed was that the mystery seemed to be permanently growing, but without answers, and without taking the opportunities given by the circumstances, to deepen the plot. For example, more than once, de Cressac both didn’t show up, and went away, because of his business. He’s always doing something around that, and, I believe, it could have been an opportunity to make him even worse. We know he owns a plantation, and that doesn’t ask for a lot of questions, we wouldn’t really look into that, and, in my opinion, it’s a good opportunity for a shocking plot twist. You know, he’s shady, and disturbing, he’s always out in business… But that is exactly what he’s doing. The chance to make him even creepier went down the drain.

And finally, a word in a couple of things I noticed. Sophia said a million times that she was using the dead wives’ hair for the tapestry she planned to give him as a gift, and for that, I really thought one of his lines in the chapel scene would be “you thought I wouldn’t realize those are my wives’ hair”, or something around it, as de Cressac seemed to always be up to everything happening in the Abbey. But it didn’t happen. And, by the end, when de Cressac got his leg trapped in the forest, and Sophia ran away, the suspense was going great, I felt scared for her, in that dark, creepy surroundings. But when she reached Anarchy’s house, and she gave her the tea and left her alone, shaking with terror, I was not expecting such an abrupt end. You move to the next chapter, and everything is already passed. It’s a new day, the sun shines, de Cressac is dead, and she and Gideon are finally together.

WHAT?

No. It doesn’t work for me.

So, those are my thoughts on Strands of Bronze and Gold. Good atmosphere, well done setting and mystery build-up, and a terrible villain, but with a heroine who lacked a functional brain, a lot of side characters who did nothing, and an under-developed subplot that could have been interesting, but it wasn’t. Add to this a dash of wasted opportunities to make the book richer, better, darker, and there you have it: a not so great gothic retelling of an already creepy fairy tale.

As for the rest of the series, having such a start, I don’t think I’ll read them, unless I have another weird whim moment, and I pick them up.


***
Thank you so much for reading! I hope lockdown is not being to harsh on you, guys.
See you soon!



Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Review - A Lady of Quality

Original Title: A Lady of Quality
Series: Ladies in Waiting, #3
Author: Louise M. Gouge
Published: July 1st, 2013

Publisher: Love Inspired Historicals
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I wanted to like this book. I really did. But, as expected, it just was more brain candy, dashed with a little mystery, and a plot that, sadly, fell short. It definitely had potential to be better, but I felt like the author could have done so much more, and in the end, she just didn’t, going down the obvious road, instead of the original one. But, again, it’s not like my hopes were crushed. Just like with the other books in the trilogy, I knew where I was getting into.

For starters, Catherine du Coeur, the heroine herself, was a full promise. The very first chapter shows her being brave enough to pose as a man and enter a fencing academy, ready to do anything to avenge her father’s fall from grace. She is presented as courageous, and independent, right from the get go, but that soon evolves into a damsel in distress, prone to get herself into trouble, from which she has to be rescued by the hero. And… what can I say? I definitely expected more from a heroine who seemed so resourceful, so smart and creative, good at fencing, unlike most women at her time –and to the point of saving the hero during the highwaymen scene– and clever enough to manage to escape after being kidnapped and locked up. Don’t tell me this had no potential, that it couldn’t have been better. That we could have been spared the damsel in distress in favor of a woman who seemed perfectly capable of solving her problems herself.

The hero, Lord Winston –who, by the end, changes his name to Lord Hartley– was not everything I was expecting him to be, but he didn’t fail in being the dashing hero who comes to the rescue of the troubled lady. Just as it happened in the other two books in the trilogy, the idea of marriage comes before you can even grasp what the story is going to be about. It’s chapter two, and Winston is already thinking of Catherine as wife material. I mean, even he himself thinks it is too soon for that. But, by the end of the book, they actually say that he and Catherine have only known each other for seven weeks. And that is definitely too soon, even for the Regency period, to say you love someone and want to spend the rest of your life with her/him, when not two minutes earlier you were ready to kill him (speaking for Catherine).

Plus, at one point, Winston is thinking he needs a wife, but none of the girls he meets attract his attention. And it says:

Perhaps if she were plain, she would not be inclined to silliness. He would leave the silly girls to their soldiers.

And my first thought was WHAT?? Beauty equals IQ level now? I get that a plain girl may be less used to being praised and everything, but that is honestly not fair. Being beautiful does not mean you are stupid, the same way being ugly doesn’t make you smarter. Catherine Hart is not a stupid girl, and yet, she’s beautiful. That statement, from Winston’s side, is so ridiculous, that I want to punch him in the face!

Plus, Winston had moments in which he was unbelievably dumb! At one point he thinks Catherine reminds him of the boy in the fencing academy, who did not want to reveal his face, and even after she literally grabs a sword and saves him from the highwaymen, fighting with unusual skill, HE STILL DOES NOT CONNECT THE DOTS. *face-palm* The villain has to tell him about it, and only then, he realizes it! Oh my God, how stupid can you be? What has to happen for you to actually understand it?

Another thing that bothered me in this book was the constant repetition. It seemed that author was unable to think of anything original, so she kept using the same elements, over and over again. For example, every single time Winston and Catherine planned to go outside, something happened to them: Catherine getting attacked, the carriage crash, and the highwaymen. That is honestly a lot for a romance novel. And although they say that, in the second accident’s case, it was clearly something planned, that someone meant to harm Winston, it never gets clear. Which leads me to talk about the villain, Mr. Radcliff. Did he plan those incidents? But, aside from that, it’s completely obvious that is him. All the time. The mystery is not good, because there is no room to doubt anything, and honestly, the guy’s reason? COME ON!! Making all that mess, only because Catherine’s father married this Miss Beecham, whom he wanted to wed? Moreover, that woman does not appear in the entire book, we only have her name, and hence, we don’t know anything about her, nor about her story with Radcliff, as to think, perhaps, that they had an especial bond, but she was forced to marry du Coeur, and was unhappy for the rest of her life, when she actually loved Radcliff. I mean, there’s NOTHING there that justifies Edgar’s actions. No insight, no delving into the past, not a single word to tell us that there was a real damage because that marriage could never be. And to care about something like that, I honestly need to know more.

As for the story behind Winston’s parents bad relationship… *face-palm* It was not serious enough as to justify that his father –a cold, cruel man– banished his mother to the country, never allowing her to go to the city, only because she told him –and I quote– that “He had enjoyed his youth and was cheating me out of mine.”. Seriously? That’s it? Oh my God! One would think she had murdered someone! And again, we find ourselves with wasted potential. Because, actually, Winston not being his father’s son (as I thought it would be revealed) may have been a somewhat worthwhile plot twist, putting the character in real danger: no longer an heir, with no money or title, marriage prospects in tatters, to the point that the only woman who would have him wouldn’t care about it, truly loving him for himself… You know, real consequences to real difficulties, and two people fighting for their love in a society in which marriage is just another day in the market.

I think I said this in another review, of another book, but I think that, if there’s something a book shouldn’t be, is repetitive. And A Lady of Quality may be one of the most repetitive books I’ve ever read. I lost track of how many times Catherine said that Winston had ruined her father and she had to make him pay for it, constantly reminding herself that she should not have feelings for him. At one point, it says:

She struggled to subdue her giddy emotions, for she must not forget that this man was her enemy.

Ok, are you saying it any more times? Because, for the love of God, I get it!!

However, I liked one or two things about this book. They don’t make up for the shortcomings in the whole story, but I want to mention them either way.

Just like in other Christian books I’ve read, God uses an accident to make people stop for a minute and spend time with Him. We often complain God doesn’t give us what we want, but as the same time, we do not spend time alone with Him to actually understand why not, to LISTEN to what He wants to tell us. Plus, this book, focused mostly on revenge, is a reminder of what God says in the Bible:

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19).

At certain point, Catherine drops her desire for vengeance, getting to know the truth, which is not the case with Radcliff, who ends up in jail. But with his death due to the fevers that, by the time period, ravaged prisons and slums, the heroes end up not carrying the guilt for the villain’s death. Letting God take up the problem with His wisdom, they spared Radcliff’s blood on their hands, which, in general, is a good message. One the Blakemores helped to deliver, as they were my favourite characters in the entire book, not only because of their protection and care over Catherine –knowing the truth the whole time and not letting her do anything stupid–, but because they were a happy couple, and they loved and cared for each other during the whole story.


And finally, a few things that that felt out of place, or lacking.

The first one, what are these characters doing, dancing a waltz? It’s so anachronistic that I have to mention it. As romantic as waltzes are in historical romances, in Regency England, it was considered improper, and the upper classes did not dance it. Already in the previous book, Greystone sees his mother dancing the waltz with his uncle, and that is wrong! Especially for a woman like Lady Greystone (but that is another story). They should not be dancing something that, actually, was frowned upon.

The second one, Greystone’s cameo by the end, coming to help Winston look for Catherine, who had been kidnapped by the villain. He does nothing. I could have cut him out of the scene, without making any difference in the plot.

The third one, I was expecting to know something about Anna and Major Grenville, from the first book, or at least, a little about Beatrice and Lord Greystone, since they had their own stories, and it would have been nice to know a tiny bit of what happened after their happy ending.

So, long story short, I had enough brain candy for now. I was hoping I would be surprised by this book, and that it would be deeper than what the cover suggested (you know, don’t judge a book by its cover), but it’s not that I’m crushed because it wasn’t. My expectations weren’t that high, after all. But I’ll repeat: it could have been so much better! I recommend it if you like Regencies, it’s entertaining enough as to keep you busy for a while, and take your mind off reality when you need a break. But, sadly, not much more
.

***
Thank you so much for reading!
See you soon!



Saturday, February 29, 2020

Review - A Suitable Wife

Original Title: A Suitable Wife
Series: Ladies in Waiting, #2
Author: Louise M. Gouge
Published: November 27th 2012

Publisher: Love Inspired Historicals
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. But, although it’s better than the previous one, it’s still brain candy, and I was not expecting a lot from it. It’s a solid three-star book, and as such, I have both good and bad things to say about it. Even though the cover already tells the general tone of the book, it did become fully realistic at some parts, and had elements that I was not expecting to find in a Love Inspired book, like a murder and a hanging.

The protagonist, Lady Beatrice Gregory, was a good character. I liked her general attitude and responses, and how, for a woman in Regency England, took the reins of her household, understanding that she couldn’t rely on others, especially on the ones that supposedly should be responsible for her, like her wastrel brother. She only had herself, and so she acted, having a certain rebellious streak –not very strong, but there nonetheless–, in moments like this:

They had come to be entertained by actors, but they themselves were performing roles neither wished to play. But as the daughter of an earl, she deserved courtesy and would demand it. If she must perform, at least she could write her own lines.

Beatrice understood long ago that she had to find her own path and her own solutions to her problems, and that she couldn’t count on others for that. But not because of any personal conviction, but because she has already assumed that she will never marry, because of her brother’s reputation. She has no further plans for her future, and that was rather sad, considering the potential she had to be her own person.

Something that really bothered me, was this:

Still, her sense of injustice cried out that any man who did not see how different she was from Melton did not deserve her notice or her heart.

This is Beatrice in Chapter ONE!! She and Lord Greystone haven’t had a proper conversation yet, and she’s already thinking of him as husband material! But, of course, by then he is already utterly enchanted. Their attraction is based on outer beauty, instead of personality, and in general, their whole romance is a bad case of insta-love, tinged because she wants him to see she is not like her brother… which he does! But instantly. And instant romance… not my thing. Definitely.

A good thing between them is that they can always be honest with each other, from day one. And they obviously feel attracted to one another. But, as it had to be, they are constantly scolding or stopping themselves when they think of each other, constantly repeating that the other is not interested (which is never true). Like when Beatrice thinks this:

It seemed that every five minutes she needed to remind herself that the viscount had no interest in her, and she must not permit herself to be wounded by his aloofness.

You said it, not me. And you don’t have to tell me every five minutes that you do that, every five minutes. But, again, there’s too much repeating that nothing should happen between them! I ended up almost yelling at my book “we get it! Please move on!”. And then, again:

She must forget the pleasant shivers that swept through her at his touch, must forget the way her heart leaped when he turned those blue eyes in her direction, whether accompanied by a smile or a frown.

It’s like the author is constantly reminding you that they are meant to fall in love, and hence, end up together (like the cover itself isn’t enough). Although, as I said in my review of my previous book, it’s entirely my fault, I knew where I was getting into when I picked up this trilogy. And the repetitiveness continues, especially with Lady Beatrice. Like, at one point, upon entering the ballroom, she’s looking for Lord Greystone, who is not there, and she thinks:

Lord Greystone, the gentleman who owned her heart, had not attended the Drawing Room.

Is it necessary to clarify it again? It’s not like we can forget it. And later:

But she really must cease all this thinking about a gentleman who clearly had no thought for her.

Oh my God, the unnecessary drama! Bear in mind that she thinks this after they have already talked about their feelings, and said that they have an understanding and want to make their relationship official. It bothered me that she thought that way, after he told her that he did care for her. Trust him a little more!

Another thing I noticed is that Beatrice constantly compares Greystone with her brother and father. Both appear to have neglecting parents in common, and in her case, also a brother who wants to marry her off to a horrible man named Rumbold, to settle his gambling debts. We are talking about the same spineless brother who supposedly is the earl and owns Melton Gardens, a state Beatrice herself had to manage because of his incapability, and whose reputation prevents any respectable bachelor from forming an attachment with her. He is, from every point of view, a negative figure. But something that almost made me laugh came when he told her that this Rumbold guy was in love with her, and she wonders:

But how could a gentleman form an attachment with a lady whom he had never met and had seen only briefly across a room?

How funny that she says so about the villain, when Lord Greystone himself did the exact same thing, and they felt attracted to each other in an instant. How come that it’s wrong with one guy, and right with the other?

On the other hand, I liked that we got to know a little more about the eldest Greystone brother in this book. As he is the only sibling that remembers their father, and how violent he was, his story is different from the others’. But there seems to be a problem with fathers in this book, in general. One the one hand you have Beatrice, who doesn’t want to marry a man who could be neglecting the way her father was, and on the other, you have Greystone torn between wanting to find a wife, and at the same time, scared to become a man like his father. It’s a realistic kind of fear, though. I’ve seen it happening in real life, so it’s not something I fully criticize. But, my point is, even with all his insecurities and fears, Greystone falls head over heels for Beatrice, based on her beauty, and at one moment, he says:

Like a smitten schoolboy, he had fallen wildly in love with her outward beauty and graciousness. But were there hidden faults beneath that exquisite face, that flawless deportment?

Duh, Greystone. If you don’t know by this stage of your life that every single person has faults, no matter how beautiful they are on the outside, I can’t help you. Sorry.

But that’s not the only moment in which it happens. Like when he’s worried that Beatrice may prefer his rival, Winston, and thinks:

Greystone had known her for such a short time and had no idea whether or not she was at all fickle.

You don’t know that, and yet, you say to love her? Really?

Ok, enough about that.

The other characters were interesting, and I liked most of them, especially Mrs. Parton, who hires Beatrice as her companion, but still treats her as the lady she is, being an earl’s daughter, and was smart enough as to consider her as her own person, disconnected from her brother’s ways. She even protects her from him, and is the first person who tries to match her with Greystone, knowing love when she sees it. And she’s kind, generous and funny. A lovable character. As for Greystone’s mother, the woman that in the previous book was a robot, we finally get some glimpse into her past that justifies her attitude! And it is perfectly understandable. Knowing a little more about her husband finally explains her bitterness, and it’s possible to see how she is like that. I liked that, even though she’s cold and ruled by duty, she was strong enough to never give up on their children, who grew up to be respectable men, in despite that being married to such a violent man would have cost her life. That is a strong woman for me. And it’s a shame that she can’t marry Uncle Grenville because of the law; they should definitely take Edmond’s advice and go to Gretna Green, because, at this stage of their lives, they should care very little about what others would think, and a lot for their overdue happiness.

As for the storyline about Melly and his bad habits, I thought it was well done. The Christian aspect is amazingly done, in the sense that I didn’t expect this book to get so raw and realistic. Melly was the cause of everything wrong in his sister’s life, gambling away her dowry, and wasting the family’s fortune, to the point of using her as means to an end, to pay his enormous gambling debts. And it was a little shocking that it took no less than a murder for him to notice what he was doing, because seeing Rumbold’s mistress laying on the floor hit him with the fact that the one ending like that could very well be his sister. I never saw that coming in one of this Love Inspired books, but it definitely has a good way of showing how God is in true repentance, that He always loves us, and seeks us, no matter how far we go. When he surrendered himself to God and asked for His help out of despair and honesty in his heart, he found a way. His story shows how God can use even the most difficult situations as the door that leads to something good.

As for the plot around the two little chimney-sweep boys, I didn’t really care a lot about it, and much less about the stolen necklace subplot. It was more than obvious that Lucy was responsible for it, there was no mystery there. Even though I wasn’t exactly eager to read about both side storylines, I saw how the author used both situations for Beatrice and Greystone to know one another in moments in which they were not in society and could be utterly themselves. Not bad. But I thought that Greystone and Beatrice would end up adopting the boys as their children instead of just sending them to school.

As for Winston, Greystone’s rival, I think he proved to be made of a harder paste than everyone thought, facing the thugs in the Thames alone, after rescuing the boys. I honestly laughed out loud when he said:

I say, Greystone, do you have any more brothers, or may I proceed in my search for a wife without further interruptions from your family?

Haha, poor thing! But still, both this book and the previous one, have subtle introductions to the protagonist of the next one. In A Proper Companion, Mrs. Parton said she had hired a prestigious lady to be her companion, but her name was never mentioned, and now, this Miss Hart, Lady Blakemore’s companion, is going to be the protagonist in the next book. And with Winston! No Greystone brothers on the way, luckily for him.

So, in short, this is a book that it wasn’t exactly bad, but it could have been so much better! Especially if both Beatrice and Greystone would have talked more before surrendering their hearts. A witty banter between them would have been a lot more fun to read.

There’s one book left, and I don’t have a lot of expectations on it, but I’m definitely open for more brain candy. Hope it’s good!


Monday, February 24, 2020

Review - A Proper Companion

Original Title: A Proper Companion
Series: Ladies in Waiting, #1
Author: Louise M. Gouge
Published: June 1st, 2012

Publisher: Love Inspired Historicals
*THE FOLLOWING REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS*

This is the kind of book I call “brain candy”, where you don’t have to look beyond the cover to know how it will be, which, truth be told, is the case with every single romance book (both historical and contemporary) in the Love Inspired Series. Sometimes, this kind of read is just what you need. It’s fluffy, romantic, and not very complex, perfect for when you need a break, and it will keep you entertained for a while, even when it’s not that big of a deal.

In short, it is a sweet Regency romance, completely clean, and proper. Sometimes even too much. As I told you, the cover itself is everything you need to know how the story will be like. Except that Anna Newfield, the heroine, is never, ever, dressed in pink. Never. She is in mourning the entire time, always in black and gray, as the book opens with her father’s funeral. In general terms, I liked her, but I can’t say I loved her. She is sweet, and nice, and everyone who meets her, likes her. I get that she is the daughter of a minister, and grew up with every possible good quality taught to her since she was born, but no one is realistically that selfless, and good. She always thinks of others first, and that is pretty much what makes Edmond Grenville fall in love with her, but Anna… I mean, she was not as deep as I was expecting her to be. She was supposed to be this brokenhearted person over her father’s dead, and his brother missing in action in America, and yet, when she becomes Lady Greystone’s companion, it randomly says:

Clearly she must not comment on anything unless asked. But, oh, how hard that would be when so many things sparked her interest, from the squirrels gathering acorns in the woods to the children playing outside the wood frame houses.

What are you, a Disney princess from the 30s? Oh, my God *face-palm*

This book was completely predictable, but I won’t complain a lot, because, from the moment I picked it up, I knew what I was getting into. But I would like to point a few things out. The fact that a book belongs to the Christian fiction genre does not mean that God has to be mentioned in every single page. It’s not like the reader has time to forget about the character’s faith and need to pray, anyway (which is not wrong), but sometimes the Christian content was too much for a romance novel. Obviously, the story is clean and wholesome. But to the point in which the characters tend to think and talk too much, instead of acting. Too much telling, and little showing for my taste. There’s a lot of building up in Anna and Edmond’s relationships, with them enjoying each other’s company and discovering how unique the other is, but not being able to talk about how they feel because of this or that roadblock. They barely act on their love. And they never, ever kiss. I get that they did not want to kiss in a church (by the end), but, I mean… they had a whole carriage ride to get there. I shouldn’t be the one to explain to them it is the right moment to share the kiss you’ve been thinking about for the whole book. Have half a brain, and you’ll get there.

As for Major Edmond Grenville, he was a perfect Regency gentleman, with both its advantages and disadvantages, as a third son, and I actually found him to be very human, with all the doubts and hesitations that a person like him would have, that is, not knowing what do with his life, torn between following his heart and his own decisions, and fulfilling his mother’s expectations and plans for him. His dilemma felt realistic, and I could understand the knot formed in his mind, because how is it that no one cares about him because he is the third son, but at the same time, they all want to make the decisions for him, choosing his path and saying “do this, or that”? I understand if he’s begging his relatives to please, make up their minds. And I liked that, in the end, he was able to stand up for himself, face his mother, and say “this is not what I want, nor what I think I should be doing”. Good for him. Making the decision of not fulfilling the expectations of others is not only a problem found in the Regency era, but in the history of humanity, and sometimes, it’s one of bravest things we can do in life.

In general, this book hinted many interesting things that would have been good to know about, had the book been longer. All it has are hints of things, but never any deepening on them. Like with Lady Greystone’s bitterness, which led her to become a robot, ruled exclusively by duty. In fiction, when someone is like this, it’s because of some tragedy or interesting fact in their pasts, but here, her attitude is never truly explained. There’s a tiny insinuation that she was never loved, nor by her father or her husband, and that she may have been in love with her husband’s brother in the past. But again, everything is very vague. We never get any details about her oh, so terrible past that led her to be this unfeeling automaton. And since she seemed to love her eldest son more than the other two, I thought that, perhaps, he may be this Uncle Grenville’s son. But again, nothing about it. The opportunities to make the story richer and more complex were wasted!

Actually, that happens a lot. Edmond, Lord Greystone, and their mother, the three of them hint a difficult past, or at least, one in which their conduct was reprehensible. But we never get to know what could have been so terrible. And the mother! One would think that Anna came to this family to change things, to transform that attitude with her sweetness, following God’s plan through (and in despite of) her pain. But the book ends with Lady Greystone being exactly the same person she was when it started, not moved at all by Anna, the supposed heroine. Again, they were both good opportunities to deepen the plot, but they ended up going down the drain!

One thing I thought would go as usual and I was surprised when it didn’t, was the elder brother’s sickness. Since Edmond was the forgotten third son, his inheritance was not a big deal and he had no women interested in marrying him. But when his brother fell ill, I thought the usual, cliched plot would follow: him dying, and Edmond becoming suddenly rich and a catch. But it didn’t happen, which was good! But… still, the whole sickness thing led nowhere, it didn’t really change the plot, or the character, whatsoever. Nothing comes from it. I mean, the man gets closer to God thanks to Anna’s intervention, but from then on, he is only background noise, just as the minister brother, and his wife, Mary.

And well, the surprisingly miraculous ending in which Anna discovers the story her mother never told her, that revealed a rich grandfather who left her money before he died. Miracle? Perhaps. But it doesn’t work for me. She has nothing, and no one, and suddenly, BOOM!! Fifty pounds a year, from a deceased relative she never knew and didn’t want to have anything to do with her family, and she’s not destitute anymore.

Bravo! *sarcastic applause*

Oh, and another thing. Apparently, Anna’s brother, the perfectly brave and Christian Peter Newfield, was dead in America after saving Major Grenville’s life. But they said it SO MANY TIMES, that he was obviously alive. I never doubted it for a second. And it turned out to be true. Great.

So, in short, this book is not as bad as I thought, but again, I did not have a lot of expectations on it. I will read the rest of the trilogy, as this are the kind of book I’m needing lately. Fluffy, romantic, books, that I can read with a weary brain that needs a break. Hope they are good!