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 in 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.

Monday, December 2, 2019

Review - A Lady of Secret Devotion

Original Title: A Lady of Secret Devotion
Series: Ladies of Liberty, #3
Author: Tracie Peterson
Published: August 1st, 2008

Publisher: Bethany House Publishers

One of the first things I noticed about this book’s general tone was that it was definitely going to be darker than the other two. Overall, I liked it, but not better than the previous ones. The books in the trilogy are pretty much on the same line, quality-wise.

One thing I noticed this book has –and the others don’t– is the number of relatable moments, in which I thought, “I’ve been there too”. Right as it starts, a few paragraphs into the first chapter, Cassandra Stover, sitting in a park, tired of searching for a job, became a relatable character, as it says:

She glanced heavenward at the wispy white clouds and tried to imagine she could hear God answering her with some profound wisdom that would change her life.

Christian or not, I believe it’s exactly how each of us feel at one point, our level of despair so great that we look up asking –anything, anyone– for the answer we so urgently need. I couldn’t write this review without quoting this part, simply because when I read it, I stopped for a moment, and thought about it. I didn’t want it to go unnoticed.

But after that, things just solved too fast. We are not two pages into this book, reading about Cassie’s unemployment and struggle, that it gets solved, and by no less than a woman who is a good person, offers the perfect position for her, and gets to love her as if she was her own daughter.

In general terms, I liked Cassie Stover. She’s a sweet, smart, resourceful woman who grew up quickly by necessity, who is not afraid to do whatever it takes to ensure her family is taken care of. She feels, hopes and fears the same way any person would, and that is well done. I think that, even though Catherine Newbury, from A Lady of Hidden Intent, was my favourite heroine in the trilogy, because of her passion for design and her determination, Cassie is definitely the next in line, because of the way she talks, and how she speaks her mind no matter what. But even so, there were some things she said that had me re-reading to make sure I had seen everything correctly, because I couldn’t believe her not to have the half a brain required to sort things out for herself. Look:

- At one point, Mark tells her his real reason to be in Philadelphia, which is not business, but catching the man who killed his friend, and she asks “If you are here to find his murderer, why not shout it to the world?

Oh, my God, Cassie, please, tell me you are joking. *face palm*. One thing is being naïve, and another, this stupid. I’m sorry, but no.

- Later, when Sebastian Jameston tells her she could own everything in her mother’s house as his wife/mistress, and she, of course, refuses, telling him she nor loves him or wants anything that belongs to him. And he says “Love? Who said anything about love? I hold no store in such fairy-tale ideals. I merely want you. I have no love for you.

True, it’s cruel, but also too obvious. I don’t think nor Cassie nor us need to be told that so literally. I think that after dealing for so long with Sebastian Jameston, Cassie should know better than to tell him she could never love him. Does she even thought he would care about something like that? After all, we are talking about a guy who had no qualms about killing someone.

And then:

- Cassie sends for the doctor because Mrs. Jameston is ill, and he suggests bed rest, after she fainted in an attempt to fulfil his son’s selfish demands. And Cassie says “Perhaps he’s thought us all rather silly, suggesting Mrs. Jameston remain in bed. If it comes from her doctor, surely he will listen.

*face palm* As I said before, one thing is being naïve, and another, completely dumb. At this stage of the game, I have to ask, do you really think he will care? Do you, really? Hasn’t he proved, over and over again, that he doesn’t give a damn about his mother, except to get money from her, and that the only thing he wants is for her to die once and for all so he can have access to everything? Come on, Cassie, don’t do this to me, or to yourself. I thought you were smarter than that. Have half a brain, and you’ll get there.

Ok, Mark Langford… I guess I have to talk about him. I liked him, but in a way or another I thought he could have been such a better character. I liked his attitude, how he smiled at Cassie from the very start, and the exchanges between the two, with ironies and funny lines. I also thought realistic how he felt towards God, how he felt forgotten by Him, having lost loved ones in unfair situations. I think it is relatable, and that sooner or later, we are all there at some point. I liked how he took the pretending game a little too far, falling in love with Cassie, although I have to say, it had a tiny bit of a cliché around it. The fake relationship that after a while is not so fake anymore, the kisses they share that are not just an act… Yes, we’ve seen this before. The only thing that felt out of place was the train accident, in which he lost his memory. It was like too big of a thing that came out of nowhere, and went out of the picture so easily, and I thought that perhaps, with a smaller, less complex incident, the author could have gotten to the same point. But then, it was well done how Tracie Peterson added God’s purpose to it, because, as far as Mark could remember his wife Ruth and his friend Richard, their connection to God, he would never have a genuine, personal experience with Him. So even though it’s not the best book ever, that part was good.

The romance, sadly, was not my favourite part. Just like in the other two books, the heroine thinks way too soon of the hero as husband material, and for me, that I enjoy a good slow-burn relationship, that is not the best way to go. Everything was happening too soon, before giving us the time to savour it and enjoy the build up of their romance. Although I enjoyed their conversations and how Cassie couldn’t refrain her tongue, having some of the funniest lines in the entire book, it wasn’t enough. I didn’t fully like it, and here are some examples of why:

- At one point, Mrs. Jameston teases Cassie about Mark, and she says: “I find his company… easy to bear.” Wow, calm down, you tiger. *eye roll* I get that it was meant to have this cute effect to make us giggle, but it didn’t work for me. Sorry.

- Later, it says “How wonderful it would be if she were married to Mark and had the right to let him hold her so intimately.

And then:

- “He was starting to have feelings for the woman—feelings that were vaguely familiar—feelings he’d vowed to never have again.

All these things they feel, how they fall in love, happened way too soon for my liking. And also, there was too much telling around their love story. At certain point, it says:

- “She was losing her heart to this stranger.

All I could think was “Don’t tell me this. Show me.

I guess now it’s time to talk about the villain, Sebastian Jameston, Cassie’s employer’s son. I didn’t like him, but sadly, not for the right reasons. I mean, the guy is hateful, and a piece of garbage, but other than that, he had no depth, and no personality. We know from the start that he is involved in some kind of shady business, around smuggling, but it never gets very clear what exactly his dealings are about, neither we get to know how he got involved in that world of crime, in the first place. Everything about him is plain obvious. His essence is being evil, selfish, greedy, lustful… Every bad quality is summed up in his character. It was the most evident thing in the world he was the one making his mother sick through poisoning her food. Hadn’t Robbie said he had in mind to alter her food, it would have been so much better, because it would have added to the mystery.

Some of Sebastian’s evil lines are:

- “There is always someone of a corrupt nature who is willing to see things my way.”.

- “I will have to find that price and pay it. Or perhaps just steal what I want, as I often do.”.

A more obvious and stereotypical villain, it never was. He talks to himself in those terms. It’s so cringy… And not subtle at all.

And, honestly, doing all that because of resentment towards a parent… It’s exaggerated, yes, but it doesn’t mean that it’s unrealistic. It happens in real life, there are many cases in which criminals are such because of neglecting parents. Sebastian Jameston is a psychopath and for that, I don’t think his mother is to blame. She may have done things wrong in the past, but it doesn’t justify his son trying to kill her, so I consider it the work of a mentally unstable person. I understand his anger, but nothing changes the fact that his character is pure evil, and that it could have been better written.

Ok, moving on.

One thing that definitely made me take a second look, and that I have to mention, is this line that Mark has:

- “A woman needs to know that she is safe and protected –that she’ll be provided and cared for.

Careful, Tracie Peterson! This kind of thing can’t be written just like that. I know this was published over ten years ago, and that such sentences may have been acceptable to certain people, and in certain time periods. But nowadays, I wouldn’t risk putting it in a book. Readers, right now, don’t react to this type of sentences the same way they would one or two decades ago. Not with the current feminist movement taking place all over the world, and considering that this trilogy is focused on women with their own opinions and mindsets, and the strength to change their lives and fend off for themselves. Mia Stanley, in A Lady of High Regard, is clearly a feminist –although she doesn’t literally say it–, and she stands up for women who are not in her same social station, but need help nonetheless. And after a heroine like that, this sentence really puzzled me, and mostly because Cassie does not contradict Mark… especially after she was raised almost entirely by her mother alone, a woman who proved to be perfectly capable of raising two children, and earning her keep, on her own, without the advantage of being “provided for” and “cared for” Mark speaks about.

And also, it’s weird that Cassie doesn’t have anything to say about it, given that we saw she has no qualms in answering Sebastian Jameston nor has the ability to refrain her tongue, being naturally ironic and sarcastic in her words.

And finally, my favourite quote:

I must fight against the regret that would see me defeated. I cannot change what has happened, but it needn’t separate me from a happy future.

I consider this a lesson for life, from Mrs. Jameston. Something to never forget.

Oh, and by the way, what’s the deal with naming people and animals after cities? Mrs. Jameston’s two deceased sons were named Bristol and Plymouth, and Mark’s horse is named Portland. Is there some sort of meaning or intention behind choosing these names? I ask because I have no idea.

Anyway, in short, I liked this book (and the trilogy), but in many ways I thought it could have been so much better, perhaps if each book had had more chapters. I liked Tracie Peterson’s style and characters, overall, and although I hope my next reads by her are better than these three, it’s a yes to her other books.

Fingers crossed!