Friday, February 5, 2016

The Painter's Daughter by Julie Klassen

The Painter's Daughter

I so enjoyed this author’s early novels, so I was very glad to read this book for review.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Sophie Dupont, daughter of a portrait painter, assists her father in his studio, keeping her own artwork out of sight. She often walks the cliffside path along the north Devon coast, popular with artists and poets. It's where she met the handsome Wesley Overtree, the first man to tell her she's beautiful.

Captain Stephen Overtree is accustomed to taking on his brother's neglected duties. Home on leave, he's sent to find Wesley. Knowing his brother rented a cottage from a fellow painter, he travels to Devonshire and meets Miss Dupont, the painter's daughter. He's startled to recognize her from a miniature portrait he carries with him--one of Wesley's discarded works. But his happiness plummets when he realizes Wesley has left her with child and sailed away to Italy in search of a new muse.

Wanting to do something worthwhile with his life, Stephen proposes to Sophie. He does not offer love, or even a future together, but he can save her from scandal. If he dies in battle, as he believes he will, she'll be a respectable widow with the protection of his family.

Desperate for a way to escape her predicament, Sophie agrees to marry a stranger and travel to his family's estate. But at Overtree Hall, her problems are just beginning. Will she regret marrying Captain Overtree when a repentant Wesley returns? Or will she find herself torn between the father of her child and her growing affection for the husband she barely knows?

And now, my review:

This was a multi-layered story. Once again, evidence of Julie’s extensive research manifests in well-written prose and descriptions. I also liked the varied settings—one of which was near the sea. That made for a great escape as I was reading.

I like reading romances where the man and woman are pretty much strangers, but get married early in the story. We get to watch them begin to like and then love each other. This story provided that journey.

I found several fun passages and even some sections where I laughed aloud. That’s part of what makes for an enjoyable read, in my opinion. Though the author tackled some deeper subject matter, this occasional lightness provided a balance.

The story contained subtle romance. That understatement makes for a strong impact, in my opinion, and we had that here. But there were other aspects (also attributable to genre?) that didn’t work for me—telling before showing. These out-of-order moments jarred me from the story, as did the POV missteps.

As a critique, I found some places of missed opportunity. Like the opening. I wondered why the author didn’t build up to the meeting of the hero and heroine by showing the effect that carrying her portrait (without knowing who she was) had had on him during battle. If we’d had that going in, we might have felt the impact of their meeting more keenly. Also, they share a picnic a little later in the story, but because we don’t have a buildup of mutual attraction with anticipation, some aspects came off as a bit… creepy. Later, when we do have this attraction with anticipation, the story heats up while remaining wholesome. These two are married after all.

I despised the villain in this story, which is probably the point. (smile) But I cheered when he began to see his own treachery and allow that to begin to change him.

Overall, I felt the story went on rather long, with some contrived conflict and a few predictable elements. All that said, I haven’t changed my mind about this author. I’ll be watching for her next book.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Gentleman's Kiss: A Romance Collection

A Gentleman's Kiss

When I saw the authors listed in this group, I was excited to read their latest novellas.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Are you ready for some good old-fashioned romance in a contemporary setting? Then you’ll enjoy these nine stories of modern women who are forced to slow down and take a new look at dating and romance when new men enter their lives. For some it will take vacation time, others will discover [it] through music, while some need the gentle nudges from both God and Grandma. Delight in discovering how chivalry is not dead despite the stresses of today’s world.

And now, my review:

As I mentioned, I was excited to read these authors’ latest novellas. I’ve long been a fan of Barbour novella collections. But as soon as I received it I saw the story’s individual copyright dates were 2003 and before. Why wasn’t this made plain? Either way, I wanted to see if the writing was as strong as I’d expect from these accomplished authors. I began with the first story and was soon disappointed. There were a slew of characters to track in the opening pages and no hook. I flipped to another one and got a little further into the story before the writing bogged down. So, I tried a bit later in the collection. This one fizzled out. Another felt like a repeat of the first novella, opening in almost exactly the same way—was this a mistake for the ARC version? One of the stories was set in Paris, and I wanted to love it, but the romance didn't progress believably. The final one I attempted to read (there are nine in all; I didn’t attempt all of them) was chock full of reader feeding, which makes for dull reading. All of these rookie mistakes can mostly be explained away by the timing. This was over ten years ago, after all. Writing and editing trends have changed since these novellas came out. I'm sure the writing skills of these authors has as well. As an editor I see writing at all levels. I was hoping to see high level writing here in my "leisure" reading. I choose recent and upcoming releases for that reason.

Overall, I was disappointed in this collection. I understand re-releasing titles, hoping to find a new life for them. I even respect that. But to not let readers know that it’s a re-release feels like a betrayal. Even on Amazon’s page for this title, there isn’t an easily spotted list of copyright dates for the original titles, only author bios. I wish these authors and this publisher the best, but I'll be more cautious in the future. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Lord Fenton's Folly by Josi S. Kilpack

Lord Fenton's Folly

I discovered Shadow Mountain Publishing and their Proper Romance collection in the fall of last year. What a find! Wholesome romances, great stories. And look at that cover!

Let’s begin with the summary:

 Lord Fenton is a gambler and a dandy, and he will be stripped of his wealth and position unless he rises to his responsibility—one of which is to marry. Far from being a giddy groom, Fenton chooses the unobjectionable Alice Stanbridge simply because he had known her as a young girl and his mother feels Alice would make a good wife.

Alice, however, has harbored feelings for Fenton since their first meeting years ago, and his proposal is a dream come true. Not only would a match with the most-eligible bachelor in London secure her future, but it will also give her a place of distinction and admiration. Had anyone admired Alice for anything before now?

When Alice learns that she is not only an unwanted wife, but a demanded one, however, she closes her heart. Only when Lord Fenton faces the greatest trial of his life does he begin to find love beyond the folly. Could a great love come from a beginning such as this?

And now, my review:

As I mentioned, I enjoy these Proper Romances. When I read the summary for this story, I had certain expectations. The summary implies a pining heroine, and we had a taste of that, but Alice (our “heroine”) didn’t pine away the entire story. This showed her strength, which I liked. Yet both main characters, in their hateful bickering, chose a base response.

As this story moved into the second act, the heroine made a heart choice to interact with the hero in a certain way. At this point, I almost gave up on her. There had to be a way for her to show strength and not be a doormat for the hero, but in a noble way. Either way, at that point in the story neither main character is acting nobly or heroically. Readers will see the characters’ motives and weaknesses but it’s challenging to root for either one, to respect or admire either one because neither took the high road.

Lord Fenton has a drinking problem, which element carried on far into the story. The title warns us this character acts foolishly and believes lies, but there was a lot of focus on this alcoholic aspect, which made this unheroic character even more so. Fenton took a lot longer to transform, which wore on me as I read.

Now for some positive elements: I liked how the hero and heroine brought out the best in each other, eventually. I enjoyed the regency time period, the prose, the settings, the evident research of the author. The story was multi-layered, and I could imagine the novel playing out as a movie as I read. Well done.

Fenton was a character! He’s a dandy—a clown, a macaroni—following through on ridiculous bets and living a lifestyle that shames his father. Fenton’s highly entertaining as the early London scenes play out. At first, I liked his clowning around. It’s well-written and unusual in novels that I’ve read. But as in all books in the romance genre, I longed for his heroic side to appear in his adult years.

His mother, in her warm, loving way, makes a match for him. She is admirable, dignified and respectable. The story would have lacked redemptive qualities without her, for most of the story (until the hero and heroine turned).

Fenton struggles to be an adult, to face the tough elements of life, to be decisive. For a while he blames this on his need to shame his father, but all that tactic has done is deny him the process of growing up. He has sabotaged himself. I enjoyed his relationship with his mother—again a redemptive element in the story. He trusts Mom to advise him. And his mother’s love helps him commit to change. This relationship demonstrated Fenton’s human side, which was key in showing elements of him that we could cheer.

Overall, despite my long critique, I enjoyed this story. The novel was highly entertaining, even if outside the traditional genre box with all its accompanying expectations. If readers aren’t expecting heroism, they may not mind the delay toward both MC’s (main characters) acting heroically. And the read is fun while we get there, which is the point of a keeping readers hooked.

Watching for more Proper Romances from Shadow Mountain. 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Noble Masquerade by Kristi Ann Hunter

A Noble Masquerade

Oh, what a fun story by a new-to-me author! And, as I put this blog post together I found her novella free for Kindle on Amazon. Find A Lady of Esteem: a Hawthorne House novella here. Can't wait to read it! Now, back to this story.

Here’s the summary:

Lady Miranda Hawthorne acts every inch the lady, but inside she longs to be bold and carefree. Approaching spinsterhood in the eyes of society, she pours her innermost feelings out not in a diary but in letters to her brother’s old school friend, the Duke of Marshington. Since she’s never actually met the man she has no intention of ever sending the letters and is mortified when her brother’s mysterious new valet, Marlow, mistakenly mails one of the letters to the unsuspecting duke.

Shockingly, this breach of etiquette results in a reply from the duke that soon leads to a lively correspondence. Insecurity about her previous lack of suitors soon becomes confusion as Miranda finds herself equally intrigued by Marlow, a man she has come to depend upon but whose behavior grows more suspicious by the day. As the secret goings-on at her family's estate come to light, one thing is certain: Miranda’s heart is far from all that’s at risk for the Hawthornes and those they love.

And now, my review:

This poor heroine has strong emotions, but being a lady means holding those emotions in check, especially in the Regency days. So she pours out her heart to “Marsh” in letters as a form of diary. They’ve never met, so having him see any of them is a terrifying thought. She’d make a fool of herself and all of her mother’s “ladyship training” would be for naught in the downfall of her reputation as a foolish and silly girl. What a hook, then, for all of that to be at stake.

I laughed aloud over a few scenes and remained hooked through the entire story. The author did a great job with pacing and including engaging elements. I did find some POV missteps, but I’ve seen those before in this publisher’s books of the same genre. (The editor in me snags on those instances every time. I'm guessing their style guide leaves room for non-purist POV.) Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed this story! (Let me say, I enjoy this publisher's fiction, whether historical or contemporary. They've found another winner in this author.)

I loved the undertones, the understated but strong romance—which is indicative of regencies, I think. The male banter between Ryland and the heroine’s brothers was fun, and it was easy to picture the characters carrying on.

I’m excited to watch this new author’s career. Loved this book. Looking forward to her next one. And I'm thrilled to read her novella for free on Kindle (see link above for info).

Highly recommended!