Saturday, February 29, 2020

Review - A Suitable Wife

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

Publisher: Love Inspired Historicals

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

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

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

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

Something that really bothered me, was this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ok, enough about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, February 24, 2020

Review - A Proper Companion

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

Publisher: Love Inspired Historicals

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 death, and his brother missing in action in America, and yet, when she becomes Lady Greystone’s companion, it randomly says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bravo! *sarcastic applause*

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

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

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 of 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 have 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!