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

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? 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 that 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 leaded 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!

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Review - April Lady

Original Title: April Lady
Series: -
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1957

Publisher: Arrow (2005 edition)

No. Just no. I tried, but I just couldn’t with this book. I really wanted to like it. After all, I’ve seen Georgette Heyer being praised as the Queen of Regency novels, but, so far, Her Majesty is proving that she’s not up to the title. With this one, there’s two of her books I’ve read (the other one was Arabella), and although, yes, granted, she has a special writing style, it was completely impossible for me to get past the stupid plot and characters in April Lady.

I should probably tell you, first of all, that if you come to this book looking for a romance, you can turn away and look somewhere else, because you are not going to find it here. It’s not a romance. It’s supposed to be a romantic comedy about a misunderstanding between husband and wife, with quirky characters and all that stuff, but it fell so flat, with such a lacking plot, and stupid characters, that it was irredeemable.

I’m actually angry at this book. It’s not the worst book I’ve ever read, but it’s definitely a strong competitor in the category.

Let’s start with the writing. As I said before, Heyer definitely has a particular way with words that distinguishes her, as she’s often sarcastic, and very good describing both places, and people. But the narration in April Lady is utterly and completely maddening. For starters, the title is never explained, and the chapters are so long, that more than once I found myself drifting away as I read. But actually, what caught my attention was the use of certain terms, like “queer”, and “ejaculated” (on dialogues), that, definitely, are not used for the same thing in contemporary literature, and reading them all the sudden was a tiny bit shocking. After all, today we use those terms in completely different contexts, and with different purposes. But that was not the only thing that bothered me. Dialogues in general were irritating, useless, and plagued with slang. I had to stop every few sentences to try to translate some words, because the paragraphs are so full of them that I didn’t understand a single thing, and much less, what the whole thing meant, like when Dysart is explaining to Nell how he won the money on the horse race. Completely irritating, and difficult to follow. I just wanted him to shut up!

Ok, the plot. Sorry, I mean “plot”. The whole storyline is as shaky as the flame in a candle. And my apologize to the author’s fans, but one single debt over an unpaid dress is too weak an idea to sustain an entire book. And, as I said before, the romance does not exist. The couple in question is already married at the beginning of the book, in what they think it was a marriage for convenience for the other part. Nell, the heroine, thinks Cardross only married her because he needed a wife and she was young and pretty, so that’s why he chose her, and nothing more. And Cardross thinks she only married him because of his fortune, because of her penniless family, who had their hopes on her good match. Classic misunderstanding, that could have been solved if they just talked a little more. But that is impossible because, for a romance to be told, basically there has to be two people involved, and Cardross is completely absent from the book (even being the protagonist’s husband and supposed love interest!). He’s always either dining out, traveling, or simply, not there. And that’s a romance that goes wrong right from the get-go. If the author is trying to develop some sort of relationship, they basically have to be in the same room for more than two or three pages in a fifteen-chapter book. No development, no dialogue, no nothing… Except disappointment from my part.

Nell is a completely helpless heroine. There’s a hint of her trying to be her own person, but not because of conviction or strength, but because she doesn’t want her husband to think badly of her. Her entire life revolves around Cardross and what he will think of her, and her shopping habits. And it ends up giving the poorest image of women in general, as, apparently, according to this book, we have only one purpose in life, which is being extravagant, shopping, and catching a wealthy husband that will pay for everything. That’s sad, and makes the feminist inside of me want to start punching things.

I mean, Cardross offered to pay for every single thing Nell decided to buy, right? He gave her the green light to spend as much as she wanted, but one dress, combined with stubbornness and stupidity, led to this book’s entire story. And actually, a single word from Nell would have solved everything. I understood that she meant to pay for it herself, but she was never truly willing to assume the responsibility, and much less to do the sacrifices it required. Dysart –her even stupider brother– kept telling her that to get a money she didn’t have, she had to sell some of her jewels, but she kept refusing, writing to him, going to see him, and in general, waiting for him to solve all her problems. Granted, Dysart owned her a great deal. But she definitely could have been more active in her insistence over him to finally pay back, and rescue her from her difficulties, as she did with him and his gambling debts.

Oh, my God, Dysart! I couldn’t stand him at all. I spent the whole book wanting to punch him in the face, and not only because of him being an idiot, but also, for the way he talked! If he wasn’t written to be her brother, I would assumed he was the love interest, because he is a lot more present in the story than the actual husband. And the last couple of chapters in which he is there with his friend, Mr. Fancot, who is drunk and starts singing nonsense, made me want to flush the book down the nearest toilet! I can tell it was meant to be funny, but for me, it was completely irritating, and impossible to understand with that cursed dialogue filled with slang Dysart uses!

The characters in general are plain depthless, they have no personality, nor a life, apparently. But none as much as Lady Letitia, Cardross’ half-sister. She’s a Regency stereotype. She’s a young woman who’s only interests are shopping, and get what she wants. She’s absolutely self-centered, and by the end of the book, she gets what she wants, but she doesn’t change at all. She has zero reasoning capacity. What she wants, she gets. She doesn’t care about anything, or anyone, else. She stole the necklace without a second thought about how it would impact on Nell, or Cardross, but there were no consequences for her. She is the biggest brat in the world. And the worst part is that so her story starts, and so it ends. She does not get better, nor learns anything… No lessons whatsoever. But, yes, she got what she wanted. And actually, her love interest, Mr. Allandale, was the best character, as he proved to be a full gentleman, honorable, and ready to do the right thing no matter what. But with one, secondary person that is what a Regency character should be, it’s not nearly enough. And it never will be.

As for the other characters, there’s not a lot to say. Selina, Mrs. Thorne, and Mr. Hethersett are basically background noise. In any case, Mr. Hethersett is the most relevant one, saving Nell from the usurer, and going after Dysart to make him pay his sister back. Oh, and another thing. When Mr. Hethersett ventures into the gaming den to find Dysart, and sees him in the middle of a bet, what followed made me want to skim a lot of the book, as it was paragraph after paragraph describing the game, how the dice rolled, how this, and that… Too many details on something I couldn’t care about in the least, and actually, if a reader is here for the romance, I don’t think it matters too much to get so many details about gambling. It makes no difference if each movement is described, or not.

The sudden final resolution in which Cardross finds out about the debt and tells her that she should have told him about it, had me rolling my eyes. So that means the whole plot could have been solved if husband and wife would have sat to have a conversation? Oh, my God.


I guess even that was too much to ask from this novel.

And then, they tell each other that they are actually in love with each other and that their marriage was not a complete waste of time and money. How surprising. It warms my… Oh, no wait. It doesn’t. I couldn’t care less.

So, in short, the third time’s the charm. I will give the author another try by reading one of those titles that are said to be her best work, like The Grand Sophy, or Frederica. Literally, anything, will be better than this. And yes, in despite of everything, I’m still curious about what makes her books classics, and Heyer herself, the Queen of Regency novels.

Am I being an idiot? Yes, completely. But who cares? There must be something there I haven’t discovered yet, and I guess one more try will do the trick. I just hope those are as great as the general opinion says they are.

Thank you so much for reading! 
See you soon!

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Review - A Heart's Rebellion

Original Title: A Heart's Rebellion
Series: London Encounters, #2
Author: Ruth Axtell
Published: March 4th, 2014

Publisher: Revell


Not bad. Not bad at all. Actually, I’m surprised. Of how much I liked this book, and of Ruth Axtell’s writing style, which became better in this story. One of the first things I noticed is that the book seems to have a mix of Jane Austen elements in it. As I read, I couldn’t help noticing a lot of things from Mansfield Park and Northanger Abbey, like the hero being the second son of a wealthy family, who is a clergyman (as both Edmund Bertram and Henry Tilney are), a heroine who has two very different suitors, one of them honourable and the other one, a scoundrel, an elder brother who is a reprobate, and eventually falls ill… Everything set on the Regency London society, which, funnily enough, never appeared in Jane Austen’s books (except for a brief mention in Lady Susan).

One of the first things I noticed, that is very well done, is how realistic Jessamine Barry is as a character. I think we have all been there at one point of our lives, with our hearts broken and our expectations in tatters, believing God forgot about us. Her character is deep that way, being fully real, as her attitude and reaction is natural, although a little tiring from time to time, because all she can think of is Rees’s rejection. Her broken heart is written as one of the worst expressions for a woman in her time period, and most of all, a Christian woman. In society, even today, there’s a constant scrutiny about what a person does and does not, and for Jessamine, being in pain, but constantly hearing about Rees and his wife, and most of all, that she is young, beautiful, and pregnant with his child, is like being stabbed over and over again. After feeding that dream for so long, being encouraged by Megan and her mother, it’s only natural that she is bitter, sad, and can’t give her attention to another man, no matter how nice or gentlemanlike he is.

I liked Lancelot Marfleet, and I noticed that he is realistic, too, in the sense that he carries the burden of being his family’s only hope, in despite of not believing it to be God’s purpose for him, and he feels constantly divided. He’s convinced he’s not meant to inherit a title; he’d rather be in India as a missionary than in a drawing room or a ballroom. His brother has been married for ten years, but he and his wife could never have children, so now it’s his responsibility to beget an heir, and to take his brother out of gaming dens, to salvage his family’s good name. I liked that his interest in Jessamine was genuine, in despite of her rejection, and I especially liked the fact that he had other interests besides the woman he falls in love with, and his duties as a vicar. More often than not, characters in romance novels tend to be very flat, their entire lives being their love interests, never showing any other passion, or signs of having living a life before them. And I liked that it wasn’t Lancelot’s case.

And talking about passions, Lancelot’s biggest one is botany, and that was what tired me a little in this book. Scientific names, constant naming of plants and describing of flowers… Not wrong, but too much. I know that the characters had botany in common and they used it to bond, but still, it was tiresome. It slowed down the book a tiny bit for me. But it gave an awesome frame for their first kiss, in the Kew Gardens, and although Jessamine rejected him for that, it was still passionate, romantic, and beautiful.

Someone I loved in this book was Céline, now married to Rees. I liked how Jessamine, even though she wanted to hate her, just couldn’t, and Céline became a good friend to her, treating her with respect and even offering a ball for her and Megan, for their coming out in society. She knew about Rees and Jessamine’s past, and also knows that he left her because he fell in love with her. And even though she knew Jessamine had genuine reasons to hate her, she still prayed for her and called her “my sister”, and when she disappeared in the ball, she helped to find her with real concern. She acted both as a Christian, and a lady, honouring her own name, her husband, and her friends, in despite of knowing that Jessamine felt less than love for her.

One of the things I liked the most about Jessamine and Lancelot was the way changes came into their lives, and the people who started the book, and the ones who finished it, weren’t the same. These two characters are written in a realistic way, that face the consequences of their decisions and actions, and take up the challenges of life in despite of it not being the way they want, or think it’s meant for them. One the one hand, it’s noticeable how the Jessamine who loved Rees, and the one who loves Lancelot, is different, because it’s also a different kind of love. Jessamine not only loved him, but the dreams she had and that were encouraged her whole life, but in this story she learns that when God closes a door, He opens a window, because true love goes beyond what society dictates, and because, without her broken heart, she wouldn’t have met Lancelot. And as for him, I liked how he helped Jessamine get closer to God, and even when he could no longer be a vicar, having the responsibility to take over everything his brother was supposed to inherit, hadn’t he died, he understood that it’s not necessary to pledge yourself to the church to show you are a Christian. I liked that Lancelot understood he could still work for God and use his own daily life as a testimony of his beliefs, in despite of not being able to fulfil what he thought was the thing for him in life, that was being a vicar.

I liked that in both books in the duology, both Rees and Lancelot help their ladies with their faith, and help them to live according to what God has planned for them. There’s even a reminder of God saying “vengeance is mine”, and that we need to trust Him, for His justice will be delivered at the right moment, and not a minute later. Even though we get angry, and impatient, and believe that He has forgotten us, as it happens to Jessamine.

Just, there’s something I want to mention, that made the book lose points, and made the feminist inside of me get very angry. Jessamine changed her appearance, cut her hair and wore striking dresses with deep necklines, because of her heart’s rebellion and her pain, things that, of course, led her to attract the attention of unwanted men, who threatened to ruin her reputation. St. Leger even drugged her, kidnapped her, and could have raped her, hadn’t Lancelot and Captain Forrester arrived in time to the rescue. And even after she was safe, back in Céline’s house, the scandal barely silenced, she felt guilty because she was completely convinced she deserved what had happened to her. Her anger, her flirting, her dresses and her attitude… And that makes me so ANGRY! The pervert of St. Leger kidnaps her and takes her to an inn, treating her as he would treat a prostitute, almost raping her, but she is the one facing ruin, she is the one who carries the guilt of what happened, while St. Leger walks away with no consequences for him! The whole thing is left as something she had coming because of how she dressed and how she flirted, but nobody says anything to him! Oh, how I would have liked one of the men shooting him, just to make him pay. But it didn’t happen, sadly.

Anyway, the good thing that came from this is that, even though Jessamine considers herself ruined and unmarriable, Lancelot still prays for her and acts out of love, in despite that he saw her at her worst. His love was genuine, because any other man would have ended any kind of relationship with her after finding her in such a compromising position. But that only proves that his interest was real, and still thought she deserved to be loved, in despite of her mistakes. She wasn’t the perfect woman, he was able to see it, and still, he loved her. That’s why I like him and I was glad when they were married, and could be happy together, after everything that happened.

So, long story short, A Heart’s Rebellion is a good book, better than I expected, and I wouldn’t discard more books by Ruth Axtell in the future. If you like overall clean, wholesome Regency romances, you should give her a try!

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Review - Moonlight Masquerade

Original Title: Moonlight Masquerade
Series: London Encounters, #1
Author: Ruth Axtell
Published: March 1st, 2013

Publisher: Revell

This book, definitely, has one of the most attractive covers in Regency fiction I’ve ever seen (besides the fact that the dress’s hem reminds me of a carpet’s fringes). As for the story, well… It was going great. Really great. And then the last couple of chapters left me frowning, thinking “this was going so well, what happened?”, and “this could have been so much better”. Don’t get me wrong, though. It’s not a bad book, and, actually, it’s better than many other historical novels I’ve read. But I didn’t fully like it, and you’ll see why.

One of the first things I noticed is how well done the balance between showing and telling is. After so many books in which everything is told and there’s no real, deep connection to the characters, in this story, we get to know Céline and Rees through their actions and thoughts, as the plot progresses. They are both fully human, with feelings, and reactions, and overall, particular traits, in contrast with other two-dimensional characters I’ve read, by other authors. Ruth Axtell really knows what she’s doing there. The writing is raw and intense. I especially liked how Céline didn’t forget to treat her servants as people, always addressing them by their first name, asking them how they were faring, and overall, showing them utter respect. And that’s something Rees notices, having expected to find the soulless traitor to England he was sent to investigate. It’s well done.

So, I liked both Rees and Céline, overall. But when the book starts, they have already met and he’s already working in her household as a butler. And I wish I had been there when they first met. I want that first encounter, that first impression of one another… It would have been great. And although he knows he’s there to spy on her and unmask her loyalty to the French, he feels attracted to her right from the start:

She smiled in reply—a devastating smile that always left Rees weak in the knees.

Really? Already? I mean, I get that the author tried to take this to the forbidden romance terrain, but this happens way too fast. From his first days working on Lady Wexham’s townhouse, he already feels attracted to her laughter, her smile… and he doesn’t even know the woman! And the same happens for Céline. She feels intrigued by him, and it says:

But this—what was this sudden longing she felt whenever her eyes met MacKinnon’s, to be caught up in his embrace? A butler, or a spy? She must be mad.

As I said, too soon, and out of nowhere.

But leaving that aside, Céline is a great character. She’s smart and resourceful, and can stand on her own, she’s no damsel in distress, and was able to pick up on Rees’s real intentions soon enough. I loved how she was able to outsmart him, and laid a trap for him to meet her contact, Roland, without being bothered. I like that she does this because there’s many people to think about, like Valentine, her maid, and Gaspard, her cook, who are both French and are in danger because of the war. She’s not selfish, and she’s ready to do what she has too. She’s brave, in despite of the horrible life she had, under her mother’s pressure, and then, married very young to the first man who would have her, because of her lack of fortune. Her past is told quite well, and right in the moment we need to know it. It didn’t feel forced at all, and it’s very well sewn together to the rest of the story.

As for Rees, I liked that he didn’t turn into a lovesick idiot, in despite of not wanting to get Lady Wexham harmed during his mission. He may have fallen into her traps to distract him, but that doesn’t make him a moron. He is able to tell when she’s lying to him, and when she tells him she will be leaving London, he immediately picks up on her. He doesn’t buy her stories and connects the dots, knowing right away she’s going to France. But it was really great when she left that supposed coded message on the cook’s room, and when he managed to crack it, it was an apology from her. A really great way to tell him “I know you are not who you say you are. And I’ve known all this time.”. Really well done.

Oh, my God, the masquerade scene! I have to talk about it. It is amazing, I loved it. It’s what I mean when I talk about showing instead of telling. I could see everything mixed up with the action, instead of having every costume explained to me, and I ended up so invested in the story, with a smile on my face, imagining everything they were going through, with the colours, and the music… Fascinating. Their first dance, wearing masks, both knowing who they were dancing with, but believing the other didn’t… And their first kiss! Oh, dear, that was one swoon worthy moment, it had everything I like in a first kiss. The whole thing was amazing, and really well written.

But after that, there were some a lot of moments like this:

When had his objective gone from uncovering her clandestine activities to protecting her from her enemies?

There were so many questions like this! All of them translated in “why should I care?”, to let us know that they are falling in love. It’s a little too obvious, although not as much as I’ve seen in other books. Also, there were many times of them yelling No! to themselves, every time they thought about each other, and that got a little repetitive. But aside from those aspects, it was good that this two people had time to get to know one another (especially during his recovery after being shot), and have meaningful conversations, that could justify their feelings.

But after that, things by the end of the book became close to a history lesson. After Céline leaves England, and later she and Rees are reunited in Paris, they kept talking about political decisions, the war, Napoleon, monarchy… Their romance had too much of that. Instead of talking about themselves (they had reasons to clarify things between them, after all), they kept talking and talking about the war, and the king, and Austria and Russia, and so many other things that just tired me so much! Their love is constantly tinged with political aspects, it’s never just feelings and sentiment. He even calls her “my dear, sweet republican” *eye-roll* Really? There’s no other thing to call her? How romantic of you, Rees.

Honestly, after such an intense and romantic first kiss, I was expecting more of them together at the end. The epilogue was so strange, because, although it was supposed to wrap up the ending, it didn’t. It was just the continuation of what the previous chapter left in suspense, that was Rees asking Céline to go with him abroad, and marry him. It wasn’t enough for me. And even more, after all that talk about her thinking she was barren, and was not willing to tie Rees in a marriage in which they wouldn’t have children, I thought the epilogue would show them with a family of their own. I was left wanting to read about their happiness together!

As for the rest of the characters, my favourite was Valentine, Lady Wexham’s maid. She’s outspoken and has a strong temper, but also, she’s Céline voice of reason. She’s direct and bold, and I liked her general attitude, and how she took care of her mistress with such deference. The only thing I wish the book had was some footnote translating her French expressions, but overall, it’s well done, it shows how they are not completely adapted to life in England.

Something I wanted to quote from the book is this:

He had spent hours sitting on the banks of the creek, walking or riding the fields and forest, his thoughts going around and around, praying for direction, and all he felt was he must wait. […] Wait and see things through, even when he saw nothing good ahead.

It was the most relatable quote in the book. I think most of us can think of a situation in which we have felt like this. The need to do or have something, not knowing where to go next… Yes, we’ve been there. And it’s frustrating, but it always has a purpose, in God’s plan.

And finally, a word on Céline’s activities, and the robbery scene. As soon as she burned the original papers belonging to de la Roche, she packed up to go back to London, and honestly, that had me rolling my eyes. If she didn’t want the move to be obvious, she shouldn’t have departed so soon, and so suddenly. She could have waited a day or two to avoid looking guilty. And then, during the robbery in which Rees gets shot, they all suspect that they were sent from Hartwell after de la Roche noticed his papers missing, but there’s never an actual clarification that it was what actually happened. As for de la Roche himself, the villain, it definitely could have been better written. I was left wanting some more intrigue and deception, more mystery and plot twists… More of everything.

So, in short, this book was good enough, but it lacked in many aspects. I will read the next one, that’s for sure, I just hope it’s good. This one wasn’t bad, but it could have been better.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Review - A Dangerous Engagement

Original Title: A Dangerous Engagement
Series: The Regency Spies of London, #3
Author: Melanie Dickerson
Published: September 12th, 2017

Publisher: Waterfall Press

A funny thing about this series is how the rating decreased as I read. The first book was a four-stars; the second, a three-stars; and the last one, a two-stars. I thought a lot about the rating, but I ended up deciding that, if I went for three, I was being overly generous. Sadly, I don’t have a lot of good things to say about this book, so I’ll try my best to soften the blow. I’m not gonna lie, I had low expectations from this one. Melanie Dickerson hardly is one of my favourite authors, but I just hated the idea of leaving this series unfinished, having only one book left. I needed closure.

It’s not the first time we see Felicity Mayson, the heroine, and it was only fair that she got her own adventure. She had already been there in both the previous books, but just as a secondary character, a friend to Julia Grey and Leorah Langdon, without really meaningful dialogue or action on her part. Here, we get to know her better, but… I just didn’t like her. She’s supposed to be this woman with her own ideas and plans, who wants to do unusual things for a lady of her time, like writing in favour of women, and learning Chinese to go away as a missionary, but she turned out to be a prim and proper young lady, impressionable, and overall, a drama queen. She’s not the strong character I was hoping to read about, as she fainted all the time and had to be rescued and carried to safety by the love interest. And I found it strange, because right from the get-go we know she wants to do all those “unladylike” things, but from the way she is, it’s not very likely that she would do good as a missionary. With her constitution and propensity to pass out, she wouldn’t last a week in China.

Moreover, at one point, Lady Blackstone tells Felicity she saw a kindred spirit in her, when she heard she often visited the Children’s Aid Mission and basically cared for other people, so she decided to make her join her cause. But other than that, nothing else justifies why they want Felicity to work for them. No talents, no special personality traits… Nothing. They make her come, tell her out of nowhere what they are up to, and so, she can’t leave. Awesome. But my point being, that conversation in which Lady Blackstone found out about Felicity is the kind of thing I would have liked to read about, instead of having someone telling me it happened at some indeterminate moment in the past.

As for the dangerous engagement that gives us the novel’s title, at first, I was really shocked, wondering how the hell did she even accepted Mr. Ratley’s proposal without any hesitation, or doubts or anything. Honestly, I’m really on the fence when it comes to this, because, on the one hand, it’s understandable that she accepted him. That’s her level of despair, given that every possible suitor she could ever have was deterred because of her lack of fortune, and having twelve other siblings, her marriage prospects were lower with each passing day. But also, having her friends’ example, Julia’s and Leorah’s, who married for love and only love, I thought her attitude would be different. That’s why I have mixed feelings. She’s not like her friends, she’s not a romantic girl, and has this “accepting the first man who would have me” kind of mindset, because that is what she has been taught her entire life. Without money, she would be lucky to be proposed to. So, on the one hand, it’s wrong and rushed, but on the other, kind of realistic. She didn’t have much of a choice, and she wasn’t like Leorah, who, undoubtedly, would have chosen spinsterhood instead of marrying someone she barely knew.

Some things were just not well done, I felt the narration, and the dialogue, somewhat weak at some points. I have a few examples. Look:

- Felicity is talking to Mr. Ratley, and asks “Are you interested in horticulture, sir? Or botany, perhaps?”, and he goes “No. That is, I know a little of subjects, but very little. I was a soldier before my father died and left me substantial fortune.

I wonder, what has one thing to do with the other? What’s the point of that? It’s not what she asked. Also, things like these:

- Aunt Agnes says “Lady Blackstone is your aunt. She would not be involved in such a plan.

Again, what has one thing to do with the other?

- “Philip rarely made time to see his brothers anymore. He had grown tired of their pranks and tricks a few years past, and their conversations had become strained. But they would have to respect him after he saved the country and the monarchy.

One second earlier he was poetically admiring Felicity’s beauty, and then, he thinks this. And then, he comes back to the present. What? It comes out of nowhere, and serves to no purpose. There are definitely more pressing matters ahead, it has nothing to do with the current situation they are in. I could cut it out, and nothing would change.

Philip McDowell (a.k.a Merrick), is our hero. And in the most literal sense of the word, because Felicity completely depends on him. She’s a damsel in distress and he’s her knight in shining armour. He’s a redhead and has blue eyes. He’s brave and committed to his cause, but other than that, we don’t know anything about him. Has he any passions in life? Any personality traits? Any talents? Anything, besides being his father’s forgotten fourth son, with no fortune to his name? Anything about his training to be a spy? Nothing? Really? He must be a superhero then, because later, when they find out he’s been working against them, they tie him up and lock him in a shed, and somehow, he manages to escape, not only without anyone seeing anything, but also, with enough time to saddle a horse. *eye roll* Not only we don’t get more information about his miraculous escape, but no one inquires any further on how he did it, or who helped him. *face-palm*

About the revolution that is cooking up in Doverton Hall, right from the moment he gets there, the opportunity for a good mystery went down the drain. They are readying their weapons to go for a shooting, and they say:

We will assassinate several of the highest people in government—Lord Liverpool, cabinet members, and as many from the House of Lords as possible—then the rest will be thrown into confusion. We can capture the royal family and execute them as well while our armed men from outlying areas will march on London and seize the government buildings and institutions.

It’s too soon, and too literal. We are not many chapters into the book, that there’s already no room for mystery, or anticipation, or wonder. They even give the specific date they will get into action, and it felt like a slap in the face. I was not given time to warm up to this plot, that I already knew all their evil purposes. We don’t have time to wonder what a hell is going on here, as to be shocked when the truth is finally revealed. How lucky for Philip to find out so soon, how convenient that they talk about it right in front of him. Plus, he hasn’t investigated a lot, when Mr. Cartwright comes and literally says:

- “Perhaps now we can speak more freely about our revolution.

A spy’s job never made easier. *eye-roll*

As for the rest of characters, I felt like it was potential there, to both enlarge the mystery, and deepen the romance, that wasn’t exploited. The villains are just so easy to hate, but there’s very little insight into their past. We know a thing or two about Lady Blackstone, but nothing about Mr. Ratley, although he’s one of the main characters (a part of the engagement the title itself mentions, after all). I often found myself thinking that the plot gave opportunities to do something, and the author just wouldn’t take them. For example, at one point, both Lady Blackstone and Mr. Ratley go out of the picture, she, going for a ride, and he, to see the falcons. And that’s what they actually do. See what I mean? All I could think was “Really? That’s all? Aren’t they using that as an excuse to go somewhere else, or see someone? Or even each other?” Because at one point I thought they may be secret lovers, which they weren’t. Oh, and it was totally obvious that they were responsible for the dead man that showed up in the garden. I mean, a man who supported their cause was killed and left in the house’s grounds, suggesting a traitor among them, and they never mentioned the topic again, or searched for a culprit. A more obvious move, impossible. *eye-roll*

Another thing I would like to say is, why making the villains so plain… evil? I mean, it sounds evident, but hear me out. Even when they are painted to be the bad guys, I thought their general goal was correct. They made the choice to stood up for injustice, and to save all those mistreated people, sent to an early grave because of their poor working conditions in mills and factories. But obviously, they chose the wrong method. My point is, Mr. Ratley was very easy to hate. He was disgusting, intense, and said things like this about Felicity, in a mocking tone:

- “She is an ornament on my arm, my brightest jewel.

For one, I wouldn’t marry someone who calls me this. But, I mean, this is all there is about him. He’s a revolutionary who only wants a wife because she’s pretty and can have his children. And little more. He doesn’t do a lot, he’s just like this giant bat always lurking over Felicity and becoming more disgusting by the hour, threatening to imprison her through their wedding. And with that, it’s clear what the author is doing, that is, making very easy for us to see who is superior, if Mr. Ratley, or Philip. How wonderful it would have been to have us doubting! A challenge and an interesting plot would have been to write Ratley as a man hard to hate, given his motives for the uprising, that comes to help others who suffer. I think that if Ratley had been this man that has good intentions, but is doing things the wrong way, it would have added depth to his character, and made Felicity’s decision a hell of a lot more difficult. I’m talking about a love triangle here, I know. But I can stand it if it well written, after all (and has a good point).

Oh, and also, having a lot of people in the house, supporting their cause, was a wasted opportunity too, because the whole plot revolves around a very small cast of characters. The rest of the perpetrators are only a handful of violent men who drink a lot. Nothing more.

Another thing I thought, that would have led to some interesting plot twists, was that Lady Blackstone could be Felicity’s real mother. For the way she talked and caressed her cheek from time to time, I thought that would come up at some point. But it didn’t (I’m not disappointed for that, though). As for her character in general, the only thing that came out as a shock about her was that she had killed her first husband. In self-defence, but still. She’s the mastermind behind the whole plan, but some things had me rolling my eyes. Like when Felicity asks permission to go to church with her aunt on Sunday, and she says yes, even after everything that happened. And there was I, thinking she was smart. One minute she trusts Felicity, the next she frowns at her, then she has her room searched, and then, she trusts her again. Oh my God *face palm*. Woman, please, make up your mind!

And then, there’s Agnes Appleby, Felicity’s aunt, who is always there but nobody pays her any heed. Her portrayal is almost cartoonish, and repetitive, as she is always tugging her sleeves because she’s nervous, or reading a book. By the way she was described, I couldn’t help but imagine her as an old, frail woman, well past seventy years-old, and I was shocked when they said she was only thirty-five. At one point I thought, “I bet this woman is smarter than she lets on”, and I turned out to be right, but… *sigh* I knew what they were going to do the moment the parson was introduced, out of, literally, nowhere. I thought “they are going to give him a book with the papers inside so he can mail them to the Home Office”, and that, my dear friends, was EXACTLY what happened. I don’t have to explain my disappointment any further. The plot wasn’t very complex in general, but I never thought I would guess the exact thing so fast.

Ok, the romance… I guess I have to talk about it. It’s not good. However, two positive things I will say about it. At least, the attraction is subtler than in other books I’ve read, they don’t think of each other as spouse material right from the get-go. And I liked that Philip sees beyond her physical appearance, he recognizes her beauty but likes her because of her mind and intelligence, her bravery in despite of being scared. That is well done. But, well… as I told you before, Felicity is a drama queen, and the romantic plot let us see just how much. At one point she tells Philip she wants to do something meaningful in life, like being a missionary and learn Chinese, and the next moment, it says:

Felicity blushed at how much personal information she had revealed to this stranger. She had never opened up that much to anyone except a few friends and her mother.

How exaggerated! True, she didn’t tell that to anyone, and it is the beginning of trust between her and Philip, but it makes it sound like he just saw her naked. It wasn’t THAT much that she revealed, after all. Come on! *eye roll*

And also, things between them get too obvious, too soon:

- “There was something about him that drew her to him.

- “At least now he could go back to admiring her pretty eyes, delicate brows, and perfectly shaped mouth. […] He probably should not be noticing the latter.

I don’t know what has to happen for authors to stop using this trope. The feelings that they shouldn’t be having, the thought they have to stop because they go too far... Like here:

He did not care specifically for her. And she shouldn’t wish he did. She shouldn’t. But she did.

I just don’t see the connection between them. They fall in love because the author said so, and nothing more. *face palm*. And then:

Protecting her could lead to mistakes, and a mistake could cost him his mission, the respect of his colleagues, and public humiliation, not to mention his life and the lives of others.

I guess that if it costs his life, the rest doesn’t matter too much, don’t you think?

Anyway, and some point, and without any meaningful dialogue or enough interactions to support it, Felicity decides she loves Philip. But she barely knows the guy! Three weeks she stayed in the house with him before everything went to hell. And it was enough for to fall in love with each other? Sure!

Also, she thinks this:

He did not care for her, and how could she form an attachment to him when she was engaged to someone else? It was indecent.

Yes, because the way Ratley treats her is the most decent thing in the world. *eye-roll* She has all these notions of decency and decorum, but it only made her character all the more boring. And she didn’t have decency in mind when she had to kiss Ratley over and over again to distract him, and give Philip time to search for Lady Blackstone’s papers.

Anyway, moving on to the happy ending. Lady Blackstone and Ratley locked both Felicity and Agnes in the house, and Philip, obviously, comes to the rescue. She does nothing to attempt to escape, or even says anything intelligent while she’s captive. Philip comes and solves everything, and in the end, when everything is said and done, oh, so casually, he gets a fortune and a title. That is, all those things Felicity does not have, and that’s why no one wants to marry her. How convenient. Everything about that ending was so rushed! We didn’t even see Ratley and Lady Blackstone pay for their crimes! It felt like the author tried to put everything she did not in the rest of book, that make for a good Regency read, in the span of ten pages, or so. Balls, dances, dresses, flirting, formal courting, society… All this, to make their engagement more believable. Everything that in normal circumstances would lead them to get married, ended up crammed in there, and well... It wasn’t good. Even more, Felicity asks Philip:

Are you not scandalized that people are gossiping about me being engaged to that insurrectionist?

Please, tell me you are not serious. If anyone should be scandalized, it wouldn’t be him, of all people. It’s only logical.

It’s sad to think that my favourite part in the whole book was to see Julia and Leorah again. They came in, and I smiled as if I had suddenly seen old friends of mine. I loved when Leorah was mentioned as Viscountess, and said she was pregnant, and also Julia, with her third child! But, see what I mean? I was more excited by that couple of pages about them, than with the whole book about Felicity herself. And I think that speaks volumes.

So, long story short, in many aspects, I thought this book could have been so much better, with potential to make the story bigger, richer, and overall, more entertaining. But it wasn’t like that, and I think I’m done with Melanie Dickerson. She writes beautifully, but her plots are, sadly, not everything they could be. Others will love her books, and I totally respect that. Though, I admit that I liked the first and second book in the trilogy, with their faults and shortcomings, I’ve definitely read better.