Category Archives: Reviews

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round Nine

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round Nine

Hello, fellow romance novel junkies. In case you’ve wondered if I’ve totally forgotten my Buy, Borrow, or Bash review series, the answer is no. But it’s been complicated.

In the past year, I’ve read a ton of romance novels. I’ve plowed through the backlist of Anne Gracie and Miranda Neville. I’ve re-read everything by Cecilia Grant. I’ve enjoyed an old, adorable traditional series called “The Poor Relation” by Marion Chesney. I’ve even rekindled an old guilty pleasure, Highland romances, by reading some Tanya Anne Crosby!

Here’s my main problem: I just don’t have the time to patiently dissect everything I’ve read. Trying to write thoughtful critiques takes as much concentration as writing an original narrative. (Seriously. I’m not kidding.) Since I’m still in the middle of writing a novel—and being horribly bogged down by the process—well, sometimes my brain feels like it’s ready to explode. One day, a forensics crew is just going to scrape my remains off my laptop. “She died of spontaneous verbal combustion,” they will conclude. Death by too many words.

Anyway, enough of my excuses. Here are two reviews that previously appeared in The San Francisco Book Review. These versions are slightly longer and more detailed than the original versions.

 

Loretta Chase’s Vixen in Velvet (2014)

Vixen in Velvet is the third installment in Loretta Chase’s popular Dressmaker series. It features the youngest Noirot sister, the redheaded Leonie, who struggles to keep the family business afloat despite the absence of her siblings. While Marcelline wrestles with morning sickness and Sophie’s on an extended honeymoon, Leonie overextends herself with running Maison Noirot. She does everything from the juggling the accounts to promoting the shop. Leonie doesn’t have time for neither leisure nor casual flirtations.

Lord Lisbourne thinks Leonie should make time for him. Lisbourne’s only in London to look after his famous cousin, Lord Swanton, a sentimental poet with a rabid female following. As Swanton embarks on a round of public poetry readings, Lisbourne can’t help but pursue the beautiful businesswoman who ostensibly attends the events to attract new clientele. When a scandalmonger tries to destroy the reputations of Maison Noirot and Swanton, Leonie and Lisbourne are drawn together to fight the slander.

Aside from the main plot, there’s also an ugly duckling subplot and a bet about a Botticelli painting. Vixen in Velvet has classic Chase plotting, with many threads expertly woven into a shimmering whole.

Leonie’s an independent and sensible heroine while Lisbourne isn’t as dumb as some other Chase heroes. He’s devious and witty. He’s a real pleasure to follow as the action unfolds.

While I felt that the first two Dressmaker novels lacked the sparkle of Chase’s earlier novels, I keep reading because I’m interested in the development of Lady Clara Fairfax, a supporting character prominent in the series. While Vixen in Velvet originally felt like a detour from the story I wanted, it’s still an entertaining and amusing diversion, full of hilariously bad poetry and scintillating romance.

heat meter: four chilies          final rating: borrow

 

Hungry for More: Romantic Fantasies for Women (2014) 

Edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel

Hungry for More: Romantic Fantasies for Women has a subtitle that will lure readers who are bored with traditional romances but feel too skittish for BDSM narratives. Yet the twenty-one short stories vary so much in quality and specific kink. While there’s definitely something for everyone, on the other hand, there’s probably something that makes a reader feel squeamish.

The anthology explores everything from bondage, ménage à trois, and bukake. It also tackles some gray-area fantasies, like voyeurism (Tiffany Reisz’s “Bringing the Heat”) and consensual sex with a high school boy (Valerie Alexander’s “Jailbait Torch Song”). In the hands of lesser writers, these topics can be problematic. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t be erotica if it didn’t offend someone.

Greta Christina’s “Craig’s List” is the story that I found more terrifying than sexy. The main character seems hell-bent on self-destruction and I found the ending ominous. It made me wish the stories were classified by kink or labelled with trigger warnings, so I would know which ones to skip.

While it’s not as hardcore as Anne Rice’s “classic” Sleeping Beauty Trilogy, somehow I felt entirely too vanilla for this collection. For the curious and the adventurous though, Hungry for More is worth picking up, especially if you want to know what other women secretly think when they see an oversized kitchen whisk.

heat rating: five chilies          final rating: borrow

 

 

Requiem for a Dead Fandom: A Review of the Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novels

Requiem for a Dead Fandom: A Review of the Haruhi Suzumiya Light Novels

Kyon disapproves of this collection.

There are spoilers in this review. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text. 

If cosplayers and TV Tropes are the pulse points of a fandom, then the Haruhi Suzumiya series can be pronounced dead in 2015. Someone marked the Haruhi Suzumiya page on TV Tropes as “Deader than Disco” and at this year’s Fanime Con—well, I saw two Kenshin Himuras, around five Disney Princesses, and a bevy of gothic lolitas. There wasn’t, however, a North High uniform in sight. It’s as if all those diehard Haruhiists changed religions, sometime between 2011 and 2013.

That’s a great pity, too. After years of procrastinating, I finally bought the last three books—The Indignation, The Dissociation, and The Surprise—and I reread the entire series in one go. That’s roughly 2,346 pages in one week.

In hindsight, I’m glad I waited because the last three installments of the series form a meaningful, seamless arc, unlike some of the middle volumes.*  For instance, some of the short stories in The Indignation and The Wavering are entertaining and character-driven, but contribute little to advancing the main plot.

Unlike those earlier installments, The Dissociation and The Surprise are best read back to back, since they follow one continuous thread even if the narrative splits into two separate timelines, the alpha and the beta.

When I first read a partial fan translation back in 2011, I thought the author was going full Cortazar on his readers. (Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch is a postmodern classic that has confounded generations of literature majors. The reader’s encouraged to skip back and forth through chapters. Thus the narrative can be read in several ways.) Thankfully, Nagaru Tanigawa wasn’t nearly that ambitious. While it’s possible to read the alpha timeline first and then the beta afterwards (I tried), The Surprise actually loses some of its charm that way.

The Dissociation and The Surprise introduces Sasaki, Kyon’s female friend from middle school, whom everyone thinks is his ex-girlfriend. (She isn’t.) Sasaki’s just like Haruhi: she has reality-warping powers and the ability to make closed space. Moreover, Sasaki’s closed spaces are calm and nonviolent, which makes her an alternative for a suspicious trio—a time traveler, an alien, and an esper—who seek to channel all of Haruhi’s wild power into a more stable human vessel.

This alliance of well-meaning extremists try to persuade Kyon to ditch Haruhi and her supporters. Confronted with an alternative to the status quo, Kyon must choose between the opposing sides. What is “best” for the world, however, may not be good for him.

As Kyon grapples with this problem, the unexpected occurs: time unravels and things fall apart, culminating a split in the narrative’s timeline. The Surprise then takes Kyon—and the reader—for a bumpy, exciting ride.

It’s unclear whether The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya is the last installment in the series. Some websites, including Wikipedia, state that the series is only on hiatus. While I think The Surprise works well as a closing volume since it resolves some main dilemmas, it does leaves a ton of unanswered questions. This includes:

  • Kyon’s real name (Sasaki says it’s an unusual and majestic name)
  • the John Smith trump card (Kyon never uses it, so we never see if it will actually work)
  • the real nature of Haruhi’s power
  • Kyon’s gift to Haruhi
  • Tsuraya’s secret life
  • Most of the shipper stuff with a) Kuneida blurting out that he went to North High to get closer to Tsuraya, b) Koizumi exchanging phone numbers with his ‘evil’ counterpart, and c) Taniguchi’s quest for love

 

I’ve come to the conclusion, however, that these unanswered questions don’t matter so much since Kyon finally resolves his mixed feelings for Haruhi. This comes, appropriately enough, at the climax of The Surprise. His heroics would be impossible to pull off if he didn’t acknowledge that he can’t live without her. The actual moment has a subtle call-back to the first book—“Don’t let her get away.” All of this may feel redundant after the events of The Disappearance but it is Kyon’s moment to reaffirm many of his half-hearted sentiments. 

It’s no shocker, then, that The Surprise lacks Kyon’s usual gushing over his other crushes. As a couple, Haruhi and Kyon do some everyday things together, like studying. Their classmates don’t even comment on it. The sheer normalcy of it is notable.

The Haruhi Suzumiya series isn’t perfect but The Surprise still makes a satisfying ending. Yuki returns from the brink of an alien-induced fever, Asahina preserves her time line, and Koizumi opens a can of whoop ass. Even Sasaki, whose first appearance in The Dissociation grated my brain, becomes a reluctant god who tries to foil the conspirators who use her as a pawn.

The only character I wasn’t enamored with was Yasumi Watahashi, The Surprise’s version of Scrappy-do. She’s the only applicant to survive Haruhi’s battery of tests for new SOS Brigade members, and she immediately charms everyone except Kyon. For a series that can sell the vision of rival alien factions fighting over a moody teen god, Yasumi Watahashi is somewhat lackluster. The moment she appeared, I worried that she was Kyon and Haruhi’s time-traveling offspring, like a moe Rachel Summers. (She isn’t.) Thankfully, she’s used sparingly throughout the book.

Anime-only fans might be surprised that Nagaru Tanigawa introduced a brigade member so late in the series. It surprised me, since the dynamic between the five main characters is tightly written. I think it’s good that she disappears right after she ceases to be useful to the story

It’s easy to pinpoint when the Haruhi Suzumiya fandom died—somewhere between the publication delays of The Dissociation and The Surprise and the anime’s disastrous second season, casual fans got fed up and moved on. In hindsight, perhaps Haruhi Suzumiya’s mercurial success also led to overwhelming expectations, and the intense backlash against it was inevitable. Maybe, given a decade or so out of the limelight, a revival can be effected? (Cough, Kenshin Himura, cough.) I won’t lie, I’d love to see Kyon jumping out a window to save Haruhi’s life. I don’t care how long it takes for that to happen. In the meantime I have the books.

At the end of the day, two images from the anime sum up the entire series for me: Haruhi tugging on Kyon’s tie, and the quick one-two seconds between the Male and Female bathroom signs. Despite all the time travel and the science fiction shenanigans, the Haruhi Suzumiya series has always had one foot in romance, and another foot in mystery. And just like Kyon, I may grumble, but I secretly want to believe.

 

 

 * For the English editions, there are ten books in the series; in the Japanese editions, there are eleven. The Surprise of Haruhi Suzumiya originally came out in two volumes, published simultaneously. 

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Michael Cho, Derek McCulloch, and Anthony Peruzzo

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Michael Cho, Derek McCulloch, and Anthony Peruzzo

I wrote these book reviews a couple of months back; I forgot to post them on my blog, silly me. These first appeared online at the San Francisco Book Review. 

 

Reviewers aren’t supposed to toss hyperbole around lightly, but it must be said: I loved every cringe-inducing moment of Shoplifter. It’s been ages since a graphic novel spoke to me on such a personal level. I wish I had the cash to buy copies for every friend who reminds me of the protagonist: overeducated, unfulfilled, and stuck in a rut.

Shoplifter focuses on Corinna Park, a writer plagued with ennui and lack of motivation. Life hasn’t turned out as she envisioned it, and now she’s merely going through the motions at her ad agency job, where she gets to write copy for silly products that nobody needs. Corinna’s only thrill in life is minor pilfering. Corinna knows she has the potential to do great things; she just can’t fathom how to get there.

Having met a fair share of shoplifters and disenchanted copywriters over the years, I can sympathize with Corinna’s first world problems while wanting to hit her with a bat at the same time. Corinna’s doubts, fears, and failed attempts feel intensely real. I wish there were more stories like Shoplifter out there: short, elegant, and even a little groan-inducing.

 

The creators of Displaced Persons have a great love for San Francisco, as the book starts with Emperor Norton, who finds an abandoned child and promptly delivers him to the nearest orphanage. The orphan in the prologue is only one of the mysteries the reader’s invited to unravel: there’s a missing heiress, a love triangle involving twins, a drug bust gone bad, and an amnesiac. Clues include a locket, a photograph, and a house.

The main conceit of Displaced Persons, however, is that the mysteries cross three timelines, each with its own color palette. Only the cover and the last page break out into vivid color as the book tries to answer the main question: where do all missing people end up? Are they only lost to their loved ones, or are they also lost to themselves?

Displaced Persons is a high-concept, unusual work; it’s obviously a labor of love. Unfortunately, its ambitious plot is also mildly convoluted. This book might be more satisfying after a second reading. Even the sharpest reader might have difficulty keeping track of everything.  Clarity does come at the end, but one might be too disheartened by the book’s melancholic outlook to notice it.

Side Comments of the Month XV: Consume

Side Comments of the Month XV: Consume

Dear Blog,

Long time, no posts. I hope you aren’t angry with me. I haven’t updated you in three months. Your lack of activity coincides with the arrival of Titus. Titus happens to be the Kindle I got for Christmas…

As much as I love the smell of new books and the feel of paper, it’s convenient to be able to borrow books from the library at 2 AM in the morning. Here’s a list of everything I’ve read on Titus so far (in order of reading):

  • The Duchess War — Courtney Milan
  • Viscount Vagabond — Loretta Chase
  • When Patty Went to College — Jean Webster
  • The Gentleman’s Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness — Cecil B. Hartley
  • The Ladies’ Book of Etiquette and Manual of Politeness — Florence Hartley
  • The Heiress Effect — Courtney Milan
  • A Christmas Gone Perfectly Wrong — Cecilia Grant
  • To Catch A Heiress — Julia Quinn
  • The Romance of Lust — Anonymous
  • The Countess Conspiracy — Courtney Milan
  • The Actress and the Rake – Carola Dunn
  • The Wisdom of Father Brown — G.K. Chesterton
  • Songs of Innocence and Experience — William Blake
  • Lord Roworth’s Reward — Carola Dunn
  • Captain Ingram’s Inheritance — Carola Dunn
  • The Devil’s Delilah — Loretta Chase
  • The Good Soldier — Ford Madox Ford

 

Archer and Rin are ready to crack some skulls.

2. Aside from reading too much, I’ve managed to start and catch up with a couple of anime series:

  • Baby Steps (an unfortunately named series, yet interesting in its own way. Prior knowledge of tennis not required)
  • Carnival Phantasm (oh my god the sugar rush of fan service)
  • Knights of Sidonia (a good bit of science fiction)

I also finished the first season of Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works. I’m looking forward to the new season, which starts airing this month. I think it’s superior to the original Fate/Stay Night series. (The prequel Fate/Zero is still my favorite installment of the franchise, though.) 

I don’t watch a lot of western animation, but Adam and I finished The Legend of Korra. We are now currently consuming the fifth season of Archer. Such a depraved lot of characters! I love how Jessica Walter plays pretty much the same mother she was on Arrested Development. 

 

3. For live-action television, I’m ashamed to admit I binge-watched the first season of Broadchurch over one long weekend. That’s eight hours of following the red herrings and trying to fathom the shifty behavior of all the characters. That binge made for one emotionally wrecked weekend! I was so tense my nails bit into my palms, yet I couldn’t stop watching.

Hardy's ready to crack some skulls, too. Right after he takes his medication...

Broadchurch’s second season, which I’m currently watching on BBC America, lacks the  intensity of the first. It does, however, make me think of a new subtitle every week.

(These subtitles have mild spoilers. To read, highlight the text below.)

The Adventure of the Dying Detective

How Ellie Got Her Groove Back

There is Only One Bed

Everybody Lies, thus Danny’s Murderer Will Obviously Get Away with It

OMG Charlotte Rampling Plays a Barrister, I Loved her in Swimming Pool, I Can’t Stop Watching Now 

 

Hardy and Miller’s developing friendship is one of the best elements of the second season. Whenever she gives him a little punch in the arm for doing something stupid, I just have to go “aww.” They have some subtle comic moments, like the scene where Hardy offers Miller a hug and she just gives him the stink eye.

Not enough people give David Tennant the stink eye convincingly, I wonder why it’s so entertaining to watch. Suddenly I miss Donna Noble…

On a side note, I feel like I should make a David Tennant shirt. On one side it will say “The Worst Cop in Britain” and on the reverse, “the Best Doctor in the Universe.” Yeah, that sums up all my David Tennant feelings.

 

Dr. Henry Morgan doesn't crack skulls. He probably collects them. Some of them were probably his friends...

4. Still on the topic of live-action television, Forever continues to hover somewhere between guilty pleasure and good TV. I still believe this show exists to put Ioan Gruffudd in a variety of period costumes. By my reckoning, so far Dr. Henry Morgan has been shown wearing 1) Regency attire, 2) Victorian duds, 3) World War II gear, 4) an early ’80s suit, and 5) his natty modern suits and scarves.

The show’s team must be enamored (like me!) of Gruffudd’s old work: Amazing Grace and Horatio Hornblower. I suppose the man can’t help it if he looks good in a cravat and tight breeches.

Forever has yet to resolve its recurring immortal serial killer problem. Right now, it’s at a strange impasse, and sometimes it doesn’t interest me as much as the murder of the week stuff. I get the feeling the show’s making its mythos up as it goes along, à la The X-Files.

As to rooting for a lost cause, I’ve pretty much given up on Constantine. While some of the episodes were just bloody brilliant, nobody else seems to realize it.

I haven’t watched the last episode on DVR because let’s face it, I just know that the series won’t be renewed and I’ll be left agonizing for years over some unresolved cliffhanger. Gah. Matt Ryan deserves better than this.

Side Comments of the Month XIV: What I Did during my Blogging Hiatus

Side Comments of the Month XIV: What I Did during my Blogging Hiatus

I know I haven’t updated my blog for almost two months. This is when I tell people that 1) living can get into the way of blogging and 2) this is the real reason my blog is called “The Return of Lucky Parking Girl.” I’m always returning from something or somewhere. Sometimes I disappear into a haze of work, without time for contemplation; sometimes I just get lost in the corridors of my mind.

I do find my way back out again.

This amuses me so much.

1. Since I last updated, I spent a couple of weeks in Canada, visiting my boyfriend. We took a road trip to Edmonton, which is a six-hour drive from where he lives. Among the usual things that couples enjoy—superhero movies and Japanese food—we also went to a giant water park, and attended the harvest festival at Fort Edmonton.

I’ve been to Fort Edmonton before and I’ve always thought it to be a charming place. There are tons of other outdoor museums that try to capture the feel of living in the past, but somehow I adore the enthusiasm of the staff at Fort Edmonton.

For instance, we entered one of the smaller houses and found three staff members—in full costume!—slaving away on a 19th century wood-burning stove, arguing about the best way to make their fruit jelly. The girls’ aprons were stained, and their male companion took off his bowler hat. All of them had that caught-in-the-act look on their faces! Full points for verisimilitude.

 

This Constantine needs to smoke more and be less nice. Otherwise, he's a dead ringer for his comic book incarnation, a.k.a. a young Sting in a trench coat.

2. In the past few months, I’ve also gorged on pop culture. My viewing hours seem firmly divided between two genres: animation and live-action shows that feature British guys stranded in America.

For the latter, I’m all caught up with Forever (I’m so glad this is getting a full season, it’s a guilty pleasure) and Constantine (as a Vertigo fan, this show makes me happy; if they ever run out of Hellblazer canon, I hope they consider cameos from Death or Timothy Hunter). I’m a little disappointed that John Oliver went on vacation so early. His show gave me my weekly fix for investigative journalism, so I hate that it’s suddenly taken away from me! I’m not sure if re-watching the salmon cannon in action will make up for it.

Maybe I should just crawl back to Jon Stewart now that he’s finished Rosewater. I doubt if Stephen Colbert will take me back.

For all the animation I’ve watched, re-watched, and caught up to current episodes, here’s a partial list:

  • Steamboy (beautiful but exhausting)
  • Samurai Champloo (a modern classic)
  • Mushishi (Zen poetry and fake folklore, be still my heart)
  • The Legend of Korra (interesting plots)
  • Kill La Kill (good grief fan service)
  • Fate/Stay Night: Unlimited Blade Works (let’s see if this can overcome Fate/Zero as my favorite version of the franchise)

 

A Mansfield Park AU. Based on an old joke that kicked around the Republic of Pemberley for years.

3. I finally finished listening to the ten-part radio drama adaptation of Mansfield Park. Produced by BBC 4 back in 2003, it features two now-famous actors: David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch. Felicity Jones happens to voice Fanny Price, and while she’s not as well-known as the guys, well, maybe The Theory of Everything will change that.

I tend to stay away from Mansfield Park adaptations because, quite frankly, modern writers don’t know what to do with Fanny Price. For instance, the 1999 film version tried to make Fanny a feminist. It also made Tom Bertram a soulful tortured artist, instead of a spoiled heir! I thought it was awful.

So I’m really happy to report that this radio drama is probably the best adaptation so far. All the actors just nailed it. Cumberbatch made such a sweetly befuddled Edmund Bertram while Jones just had the delicacy to give life to Fanny, who retains all her hesitation and shrinking violet tendencies.

Given the limitations of the medium, Fanny has new lines and scenes that don’t appear in the book. (For instance, she tries to comfort both Julia and Maria during their romantic disappointments, only to be rebuffed.) While I feel that book-Fanny was wholly incapable of reaching out to her snobby cousins like that, compared to the changes made in the 1999 film, I think it still worked out.

Tom Bertram’s role is also expanded in this version. I suppose the writers thought it an awful waste if they didn’t give David Tennant more speaking lines. (I originally wondered why they didn’t cast him as Henry Crawford, but James Callis did a bang-up job with that role. He just oozed with charm and sleaze.)

In any case, Tennant played Tom with a jaunty bounce in his voice; during the “Lovers’ Vows” rehearsals, he just kept stealing the show. His scene near the end—where he confesses his “sins” to Edmund—was also quite touching.

So, yeah. If you want to listen to this adaptation, it can be downloaded right here. You can thank me later.

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Outside the Comfort Zone

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Outside the Comfort Zone

For the eighth round of Buy, Borrow, or Bash, I decided to read a couple of romances that are out of my comfort zone. On a whim, I picked up a Christian romance set in the Edwardian era and a holiday romance set in the Victorian era. To top this all off, I picked up a Mary Balogh novel because I’m incredibly biased against novels with the word “mistress” in the title.

(I’m not kidding. I think some words should never be part of a title, words like ho, sluttish, rapine, secret baby… you get the idea.)

So…did these romances manage to win me over to their sub-genres? Let’s take a look.

 

Carrie Turansky’s The Governess of Highland Hall (2013)

The Governess of Highland Hall is like Little Women amped up to eleven: the main character’s a saintly Beth and a maternal Meg rolled into one neat package.

Julia Foster is the plucky daughter of English missionaries, and she’s spent most of her young life in India. Now that her father is ill, her family’s returned home and Julia must take a post as a governess to help pay the bills.

A widower who came into his title recently, Sir William Ramsey hires Julia to care for his two children and his two debutante-aged cousins. He finds himself increasingly attracted to his new employee, but he tries to stifle the attraction. The estate he inherited is bogged down with debt, and a marriage of convenience is the easiest solution to all his problems.

Many obstacles are thrown into Julia’s path—territorial senior servants, Sir William’s douchey brother, an American heiress named Alice Drexel—but Julia always manages to pray and philosophize her way out of difficult situations.

Since the book is marketed as a Christian romance, there are lots of references to prayer and the Bible. Since I was raised a disgruntled Catholic, this bothered me less than I expected it would. After two hundred pages though, it got grating. I’m obviously not the target market of this work.

I also wonder if any readers of Indian descent will take offense at the historically accurate attitude taken by some of the book’s characters. While it’s almost refreshing that the book is brave enough not to be revisionist (in the sense that not all the characters are enlightened), I still question the wisdom of the portrayal. It’s treading on thin ground, really.

It bothers me, too, that Julia refers to India as a whole, and never talks about growing up in a particular region in the subcontinent.

While the book’s main conflict is resolved in the usual fashion, some of the subplots are left at loose ends. Does the housemaid reunite with her stable boy? Does the housekeeper, Mrs. Emmitt, ever accept that the former governess is now her new boss? Do I really care? Does it really matter?

I can imagine the nuns in my old high school stocking the library with this book, and other Christian romances just like it. There’s absolutely no sex, whether implied or explicit. Even a character’s unwanted advances amounted to nothing more than a drunken fumble. This romance is so clean you can serve hors d’oeuvres on it.

heat meter: one chili         final rating: borrow

 

Victoria Alexander’s His Mistress by Christmas (2012)

In His Mistress by Christmas, Lady Veronica Smithson attends a book lecture and makes the rash decision to seduce the charismatic speaker. The man she lusts for is the amateur explorer Sir Sebastian Hadley-Attwater, a well-known adventurer—in every sense of the word. He also happens to be a cousin of a good friend.

Portia, Lady Redwell, almost regrets making the introduction when she finds out what Lady Veronica’s secret intentions. For his part, Sir Sebastian is intrigued by Lady Veronica. He’s returned to England to settle down for good. He’s finally decided he wants to do all the grown-up things he’s expected to do—buy an estate and come into his inheritance—and he’s even willing to add a wife to the mix. So when Lady Veronica presents herself so willingly, it’s difficult for Sir Sebastian not to want her.

Except now, with the idea of marriage just stirring in his brain, Sir Sebastian wants something more than a conquest. He tells Lady Veronica, rather hypocritically, “One does not seduce the woman one intends to marry.”

So what does Sir Sebastian do to get his way? Of course the man decides to lie to everyone. He lies to Lady Veronica so that she visits his estate, thinking that she’s there for a liaison. He then lies to his extended family, saying that they got speedily and secretly married.

Then things happen…

This is one of those novels in which the central conceit runs out of steam way too fast. The heroine wants to be independent but she’s just going the entirely wrong way about it. She starts off as a merry widow with a coterie of female friends; I don’t understand why she feels the need to become a mistress of a particular guy, no matter how attractive. I mean, there are obviously other alternatives, like hiring a string of strapping young footmen. For a rich, smart woman, she has a rather limited imagination.

The scene where Lady Veronica tries her hand at seduction just made me go “eww.” (Really. That’s all I wrote down in my notes. “Eww.” If I can’t be bothered to make notes, it means I really want to forget the scene as quickly as possible.)

I reserve some ire for Sir Sebastian, too. For a gentleman explorer, he’s not quite perceptive. Sir Sebastian’s lack of foresight and his poor communication skills causes most of the shallow conflict in the first place.

Surely there are Christmas-themed romances that won’t make me feel like hurling the book against the wall. After His Mistress by Christmas, I almost wanted to boycott the holiday season. Maybe some other titles in this sub-genre will be more to my liking.

heat meter: three chilies          final rating: bash

 

Mary Balogh’s The Secret Mistress (2012)

This book’s title is incredibly misleading because the main plot has nothing to do with mistresses. Unlike His Mistress by Christmas, Lady Angeline Dudley’s main goal in life isn’t to be some guy’s kept woman.

Impulsive, good-hearted, and yet very sheltered, Lady Angeline is shocked when a strange gentleman mistakes her for a tart. Just because she’s in a posting inn waiting for her brother, it doesn’t mean she has to put up with the man’s lewd suggestions. So when yet another stranger leaps to her defense, Lady Angeline naturally develops a crush on this chivalrous gentleman.

Lady Angeline’s knight in shining armor is Edward Ailsbury, the new Earl of Heyward. All the rakes think he’s dull and he’s okay with that. He’s eager to differentiate himself from his older brother, the previous earl, a man who died recklessly.

Edward’s determined to be responsible and dependable. One of Heyward’s new responsibilities is to get married and secure the lineage. His back-up plan is to propose to his friend, Eunice Goddard. Yet Eunice wants to marry for love.

As the London season begins, Heyward finds himself being pushed in Lady Angeline’s direction. As the most eligible bachelor and debutante on the market, everyone thinks they make a perfect match. But nothing is easy, especially with rakes on the prowl and a pretty bluestocking with a mind of her own…

Apart from the book’s awful title, The Secret Mistress is actually a charming romance. Both the hero and the heroine are developed equally, and they sort out their misconceptions about marriage while finding each other. There isn’t much sex in it, but since I’m a sucker for straight-laced heroes who keep their passions well hidden, I’m not going to pick on Heyward’s gentlemanly behavior. Quality trumps quantity, even with sex scenes.

heat meter: three chilies           final rating: buy

 

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Si Spurrier and Paul Pope

Reviews: Graphic Novels by Si Spurrier and Paul Pope

Slightly different versions of these reviews first appeared online at Another Universe

 

In Numbercruncher, the bureaucratic Divine Calculator controls the flow of souls destined for reincarnation. Trying to buy more time for a particular only ends with despair, since it’s part of a contract to take the place of an agent when death comes again.

Agent 494 is a tired cockney tough who’s only too happy that the newly dead Richard Thyme wants to strike a deal. Thyme, however, is a cunning mathematician who doesn’t play by the rules. Thyme finds a way to go through infinite reincarnations, with all of his memories intact. What ensues between Agent 494 and Thyme is a cat-and-mouse game through lifetimes. The chase has a Death Note feel to it, with the antagonists being equally matched.

Thyme’s willing to go through endless deaths and rebirths in order to snatch a few stolen moments with his beloved girlfriend. Jenny Reed is the book’s tragic figure because everyone she loves dies in cruel and unusual ways. Every time Thyme dies, he’s wearing a different body and a difference face—so Jenny just grows more convinced that she’s cursed. (To make an old reference: she’s like Maggie O’Connell from Northern Exposure, amped up to eleven.) Thyme’s a jerk for not noticing that Jenny feels tortured, and that his reincarnations are the cause of her suffering.

Some readers may disagree with the ending but I found Numbercruncher to be an enjoyable graphic novel with a fresh take on the afterlife.

 

In Battling Boy, the eponymous character is required to embark on a Rambling—a coming-of-age ceremony in which demigods are sent to realms in need of a champion. He’s sent to Acropolis with some power-enhancing shirts, a magic cloak, and a minimum of clues. Acropolis is an embattled city: curfew is enforced because nightmare monsters swallow children whole. Local officials are helpless, and they rely on heroic vigilantes like Haggard West. Sadisto’s gang just killed West, though, leaving Aurora West to inherit her father’s arsenal of weapons and his unfinished fight.

Battling Boy has so much promise, but it’s difficult to determine how the series will flesh out in future installments. So far, it’s a fairly typical coming-of-age story, reminiscent of shonen manga: the first chapters provide solid groundwork for the elaborate setting. A reader needs patience, though, while waiting for the plot to pick up momentum. Sometimes, a reader’s patience is rewarded with something unique and mind-blowing. Sometimes, though, it isn’t.  (Am I damning this graphic novel with stingy praise? I’m sorry. Nowadays I’m overly cautious to throw too many compliments at unfinished serialized comics and story arcs. I’ve been badly burned before.)

Right now, the main strength of Battling Boy is its rich graphic elements. The personalized type, vivid colors, and unusual facial expressions are beautiful and arresting, in the way that urban decay can be beautiful.  Battling Boy is a must-have if you love Paul Pope’s unique visual style.

 

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Missed Opportunities

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Missed Opportunities

Some days, I feel horrible that I write such honest reviews. If there was ever a trio of writers I’d want to throw roses at, it would be Julia Quinn, Anne Stuart, and Kate Perry. (Kate, especially, because I met her and she’s a lovely, bubbly woman; I hope she doesn’t crucify me for my opinions.)

Yet I would not be doing my (self-appointed) task and I would be ignoring all my training—in comparative literature and in copyediting—if I didn’t point out certain elements that bother me on a visceral level.

These things probably don’t disturb other readers. Then again, other readers may not see the same missed opportunities. And nothing makes me angrier, I think, than missed opportunities: they separate the decent texts from the glorious ones.

 

There are spoilers in these reviews. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text. 

 

Anne Stuart’s Museum Piece (1984; reprinted 2012) 

I don’t know what to make Anne Stuart’s Museum Piece. It’s a pity because I liked one of her other novels. I like the concept of a romance set in the San Francisco art scene, too.

Molly McDonough is a buyer for the fictional San Francisco Museum of American Arts. She’s a dedicated professional who puts tons of effort into checking the provenance of the pieces she recommends. She grows outraged when another buyer starts snapping up all the good pieces, which drives the prices out of the museum’s reach.

Her competitor is James Eliot, a buyer who works for an extremely rich private collector. In a fit of pique, Molly drafts an insulting letter to her nemesis, accusing him of unethical buying tactics. She writes a polite version too, but in her irritated state, she accidentally sends James Eliot the wrong letter.

The letter gets James’s attention, and soon they start bumping heads more often. They argue over everything, from heirloom pieces to modern art. So far, so good. The book has many visual art references, and that’s great. What isn’t so great, however, is the romance itself.

I suppose I should call Museum Piece a contemporary romance. Yet it was written (and probably set) in 1984, and some of the details make the book oddly quaint by today’s sartorial standards. For instance, the heroine unironically uses a typewriter and wears sexy jumpsuits to dinner parties. Okay, so maybe to a reader in 2014, this might acceptable hipster behavior.

What isn’t acceptable, however, is the hero’s gross sexual behavior. When James first meets Molly, he pretty much forces his tongue down her throat. Later on, when she happens to fall asleep in his presence, he starts groping her even when she already made it clear she didn’t want to be touched.

Worst of all, at one point where Molly starts swearing at him, James actually turns her over in his lap and starts spanking her. His spanking is in earnest, mind you—it’s not play-spanking, and it’s not consensual. The heroine actually starts crying, and she promises never to curse again.

Eww.

I seriously wonder why the publishers reprinted this one.

I know fashions change fairly quickly. Yet some concepts—oh, like mutual consent—never goes out of style.

It makes me sad that the best character in Museum Piece is probably Sebastian Coddaire, Molly’s ex-boyfriend. Sebastian’s a fabulous caricature of a rising young artist. He’s so selfish, he thinks Molly exists to feed and house him so he can create his masterpieces. As a person, he’s almost as bad as the hero; as a character, at least he’s amusing.

As much as I wanted to like this book, I have to say that copies of Museum Piece belong in a private collector’s locked vault: not because it’s so precious, but so the novel goes unread by the unsuspecting masses.

heat meter: four chilis          final rating: bash

 

Kate Perry’s Say You Will (2013)

The first installment of the Summerhill series, Say You Will is a contemporary romance that features Rosalind Summerhill, a San Francisco-based fashion designer with major family issues.

Rosalind just flew back to London to be with her sisters (they’re all named after Shakespearean heroines), in time for the funeral of their father, Reginald Summerhill, the late Earl of Amberlin. The dearly departed was a jerk to most of his family, and he openly humiliated his wife Jacqueline with a longtime mistress, Tabitha Wells.

At the wake, Rosalind spots a good-looking man who turns out to be Nicholas “Nick” Long, a Formula One race car driver (and occasional endorser of designer underwear) in the crowd. Nick just happens to be Tabitha Wells’ step-son, and he was dragged to the wake incognito by Summer Wells. Summer is the earl’s illegitimate daughter, and she’s always been curious about all of her half-siblings she’s never met.

Nick’s immediately attracted to Rosalind but he goes along with Summer’s idea not to reveal their reason for attending the wake. So Nick pretends to be a lawyer (!) while Summer pretends to need a wedding dress (!!) and she asks Rosalind to design her one.

Aside from all these little white lies, the main conflict of Say You Will revolves around a missing will. Jacqueline Summerhill announces that she’s worried that Reginald left the bulk of the estate to Tabitha. Since Tabitha died in the same car crash as Reginald, her heirs might inherit everything.

Instead of doing the sensible thing in this situation, which would be to hire some lawyers and some private detectives, the Summerhill sisters decide to investigate for themselves. Rosalind takes charge, and the silliness reaches its pinnacle when the sisters break into the dead woman’s house. Instead of finding the will, Rosalind finds photos of her new boyfriend Nick and his step-sister all over the place.

If there ever was a moment meant for epic face palming, that would be it.

There’s a certain flatness about the escapades of Rosalind and Nick. For people with glamorous day jobs, both of them are bland people who only seem mildly acquainted with their work. It strains a reader’s credulity: if Rosalind is a top fashion designer, how come she’s never seen Nick before, who has underwear billboards plastered everywhere? Granted, she designs wedding gowns, but still.

Strangely enough, the most interesting section of Say You Will doesn’t involve a Summerhill sister, but a receptionist named Em Shepherd, who works at Summer Well’s law firm.

Em is convinced that she’s in love with Ben Cooke, a man who runs the local nursery. Even if she hates gardening, she volunteers all the time to be near Ben. Her horrible childhood left her scarred and Em thinks she needs a stable guy to complete her. The lady doth protests too much, though, because Em’s also attracted to Joe Winslow, a lawyer who has a big crush on her.

One character—Summer Wells—holds the two romances together, tenuously; yet the two stories aren’t counterpoints to each other in any way. It’s not like Couple A are hot and steamy while Couple B are sweet and tentative. (Do you know who mastered this trope? Iris Johansen. Read her old romances, like Midnight Warrior and Storm Winds, to see what I mean.) In the case of Say You Will, it’s almost as if they were two separate narratives crammed into the same space.

While many might find the concept of the Summerhill sisters charming, I’d have to say I enjoyed reading about Em more. Her sections of the novel felt more sincere and heartfelt, and I really wish more pages were spent on her story.

heat meter: three chilis          rating: borrow for Em

 

Julia Quinn’s Ten Things I Love about You (2010)

This reader’s confession: I’ve read more Julia Quinn than I’ve ever reviewed. Unfortunately, I made notes while reading a Quinn novel I feel ambivalent about. I feel like I have to apologize to the universe for this happenstance, this quirk of fate.

I digress.

Ten Things I Love about You focuses on a weird love triangle between a voluptuous but impoverished debutante, a gross old earl, and the earl’s heir presumptive.

The debutante in question is Annabel Winslow. She has the misfortune of being groomed to marry the earl of Newbury, a man old enough to be her grandfather. The earl is on the lookout for a nubile bride, since he’s determined to leave his estate to someone other than his much-hated nephew, Sebastian Grey.

Sebastian and Annabel meet under unusual circumstances, far away from a ballroom. After escaping her elderly suitor’s groping hands, Annabel stumbles upon a stranger who just finished a liaison with another woman. Loitering in the dark heath, Annabel and Sebastian don’t exchange names, they talk, and then they share a single kiss.

The next day, Annabel realizes her mistake once she finds out the identity of her handsome stranger. Like a dimwit, she tries to conceal her engagement to the earl when she’s formally introduced to Sebastian. And then things happen…

Ten Things I Love about You picks up What Happens in London ends. (It scares me that I actually know this without thinking too deeply about it.) Harry and Olivia Valentine show up and they’re happily married. Sarah Gorely’s gothic novels make a re-appearance too, since it’s revealed to be Sebastian Grey’s pen name. Yes, we have another secret writer on our hands, folks.

These elements usually make up a stellar Quinn novel, yet the novel itself feels lacking. The love triangle is unconvincing; it’s more like a tug of war between the two men. They have issues beyond both of them wanting Annabel. If I was in the heroine’s position, I’d dump them both. Nobody likes to be treated like the spoils of war…right?

Speaking of wars, Sebastian Grey is yet another Regency hero who suffers from bad nightmares, due to the number of people he shot during the Napoleonic wars. While this subplot is underdeveloped, one can reasonably expect that the heroine’s magic hoo ha will provide the ultimate cure.

Perhaps the cynicism of that last statement is misguided; perhaps I’m tired of the trope that love and sex can put an end to PTSD.

heat meter: three chilis           final rating: borrow (if you really like Julia Quinn) otherwise bash 

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round Six

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Round Six

Round Six of Buy, Borrow, or Bash features something unusual: two books that actually meet the five chili rating! Which book is the spiciest read for the month? Find out below.

There are spoilers in these reviews. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text. 

Marion Chesney’s The Loves of Lord Granton (1997; Kindle edition, 2014) 

Not many readers know that romance writer Marion Chesney is also best-selling mystery author M.C. Beaton. With The Loves of Lord Granton now re-issued under Marion Chesney’s other name, I wonder if her mystery fans will cross over and discover this work.

Is there anything in this text that will endear itself to mystery readers? I’m not sure.

In a sleepy village called Barton Sub Edge, the genteel but poor Hadleys have to toady to the local baronet, Sir Giles Crowne, who can take away the family living in a moment’s notice. Sir Giles has a stuck-up daughter, Annabelle, who couldn’t attract a husband during her first season in London. Out of desperation, the baronet invites slight acquaintances to visit. Annabelle’s concerned, though, that the gentlemen will be distracted by the Hadley sisters.

When the novel’s Prince Charming shows up, he’s not the upright citizen he ought to be. Lord Rupert Granton’s a scandal-ridden aristocrat and he visits Sir Giles because he’s bored with London. He’s initially bored with Barton Sub Edge too, until he meets the youngest Hadley daughter, the pretty but wayward Frederica.

Lord Granton shouldn’t even take notice of Frederica. As a sixteen-year old, she’s not yet “out,” and she’s kept in hand-me-down gowns and wears her hair down. Everyone thinks she’s odd because she reads too much and enjoys the outdoors, which is where Lord Rupert finds her.

An innocent friendship blossoms between the rake and the girl, as they share the same feelings of ennui with their social spheres. Social strictures frown upon their secret meetings, however, because Men and Women Can’t Be Friends. Every chat they have is fraught with fear of discovery. Frederica begins to think she’s a fool to sacrifice her reputation for a friend, while Lord Granton refuses to look beyond the surface of his feelings.

The Loves of Lord Granton is a quiet book and a fast read. I think of it as When Harry Met Sally… set in the Regency era. In its own way, it tries to answer that old question, “Can Men and Women Truly be Friends?” The answer is yes. Sort of.

For me, the book has a minor flaw: after it’s repeatedly mentioned that Lord Granton is attracted to Frederica’s innocence, the reader doesn’t get to see any consummation.  The closed door scene we are given just doesn’t cut it. I know it’s a thoroughly traditional romance, I just feel that a passionate reversal of the beginning could have properly concluded the book.

heat meter: one chili          final rating: borrow

 

Sally MacKenzie’s The Naked Viscount (2010) 

Edmund Smyth, Visount Motton, enjoys a spot of amateur spying. He likes it so much that when his neighbor, an aristocratic artist named Clarence Widmore, dies under mysterious circumstances, Edmund breaks into the house to investigate. Was Clarence a French spy or was he involved in something more sinister?

Unfortunately for Edmund, Jane Parker-Roth catches him breaking in. They have a scuffle in the dark, share a passionate kiss, and break a plaster statue of Pan by accident. This leads to Jane finding a hidden clue and she’s excited to search for more.

Against his better judgment, Edmund allows Jane to tag along during his investigation. Their mad search all around London raises the eyebrows of high society, and rouses the attention of Clarence’s killers.

I read The Naked Viscount about a year ago. I thought it was hilarious so I gave its sequel, The Naked King, a try—I wish I hadn’t! Her other novels, too, have gotten spectacularly mixed reviews.

In any case, though, I still found The Naked Viscount funny. The language isn’t period perfect and the premise seems too raunchy to be historically possible. (Handcuffs, for instance, existed by mid-19th century, but probably not earlier than that. Rope bindings would have been more accurate for the time period.)

With a heavy suspension of disbelief, however, The Naked Viscount can be a fun romp. The heroine is spunky and the hero possesses both a graphic vocabulary and a graphic imagination. Where else can you find a historical romance where the hero and heroine bond over removable penises and pornography?

heat meter: five chilis (Why? For the orgies at the hellfire club, the handcuffs, and the indiscriminate use of aphrodisiacs)

final rating: buy (Especially If you want to pretend it’s a fanfiction sequel to Loretta Chase’s Lord Perfect. Somehow I like the idea of Mrs. Parker-Roth Bathsheba Wingate painting a large nude of Mr. Parker-Roth Benedict Carsington that can be seen in a Harley Street gallery for Jane and Edmund Olivia and Peregrine to discover.)

 

Miranda Neville’s Confessions from an Arranged Marriage (2012) 

Minerva Montrose is a political-minded young miss who dreams of making her mark on the world through her future husband. She wants to marry someone she can help propel to the top of the English government. She thinks she’s found her perfect mark in an ambitious Member of Parliament, and she’s eager to talk to him at parties.

Unfortunately, during one of these events, the drunken Lord Blakeney mistakes Minerva for another woman in a dark library. Minerva finds her reputation threatened when half the haute ton sees (or thinks they see) him under her skirts.

The Duke of Hampton, displeased with his heir for causing a scandal, forces the arranged marriage between the two strangers. Minerva takes some time to adjust to Lord Blakeney, who’s the antithesis of everything she wanted. Instead of the bookish, politically-minded mate she hoped to marry, she finds herself shackled to a jock who never cracks open a book.

Lord Blakeney takes time to adjust to Minerva, too. Like the hero of Julia Quinn’s The Lost Duke of Wyndham, Lord Blakeney secretly suffers from dyslexia. Yes, we have another dyslexic ducal heir on our hands. He’s been hiding his affliction by paying off blackmailers and using his retentive memory to absorb knowledge orally. But now that he’s married to an intelligent woman whom he’s beginning to care for, Lord Blakeney is terrified that Minerva will reject him once she knows the truth.

Confessions from an Arranged Marriage has the misfortune of reminding me of yet another book, Madeline Hunter’s The Charmer. If you happen to like that other novel’s preoccupation with Regency-era politics (rotten boroughs, patronage politics, and hunting out Napoleonic spies) then maybe this one will suit.

Even if this book reminds me of other romance novels, Confessions from an Arranged Marriage isn’t unoriginal or trite. It’s a perfectly decent book for a little light reading, and it tackles all its subplots with deftness.

heat meter: five chilis! (Why? For the multiple sex scenes, voyeurism, and that French duke that makes his royal mistress bark like a dog)

final rating: borrow

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Writers and Editors in Love

Buy, Borrow, or Bash: Writers and Editors in Love

Round Five of Buy, Borrow, or Bash features two literary-minded Regency romances.

As a writer and an editor, I had to read both of these novels when I stumbled upon them. How do these books measure up to my expectations and my professional biases? Let’s examine the textual evidence!

There are spoilers in these reviews. To read the spoilers, highlight the invisible text. 

 

Julia Quinn’s Romancing Mr. Bridgeton (2002)

During her first London season, Penelope Featherington was slightly overweight, acne-prone, and ill-dressed. That pathetic image of her stuck in the minds of the haute ton and Colin Bridgerton, the man Penelope’s secretly loved for years.

Now considered a spinster, Penelope’s often overlooked by everyone, which suits her just fine…somewhat. What people don’t know is that Penelope’s put her years as a wallflower to good use. She has a secret: she’s been writing an anonymous society column for a decade. Writing as the witty and outspoken Lady Whistledown, Penelope cuts everyone down to size…except for Colin, of course.  No one, not even her best friend, knows her alter ego.

Colin Bridgerton has his own secrets: he has a temper, he eats too much, and he’s secretly jealous of his brothers who have a purpose in life. When he comes home from yet another aimless trip abroad, he finds that everyone has moved on with their lives—including Penelope Featherington, who doesn’t seem to be the same person he used to know.

Will Penelope and Colin go back to having the casual friendship they once had or will they get to the bottom of each other’s mysteries?

It’s usually a challenge to summarize a Julia Quinn romance due to the delicate and slow-moving nature of her characters. Somewhat like Quinn’s Just Like Heaven (one of my personal favorites), Penelope and Colin spend a lot of time talking and thinking. They don’t jump out of speeding carriages, become pirates, or chase ghosts. If you’re looking for an action-packed historical romance, this isn’t it. Romancing Mr. Bridgerton is: 1) an ode to the ugly duckling trope, and 2) a love letter to every reader who wants to become a writer, and doesn’t know where to start.

Penelope’s a great heroine while Colin is a sweet, memorable hero. It’s adorable when a male protagonist can admit to being jealous of their loved one’s superior talent. Everything is resolved nicely, and the novel ends with unicorns and rainbows. (Not literally, but you get the idea.)

heat meter: three          final rating: buy

 

Carola Dunn’s Crossed Quills (1998; Kindle Edition 2010)

Wynn Selworth can finally put his years of writing racy gothic romances behind him. He just inherited a distant relation’s title and estate, and now he has enough money to do whatever he wants. Wynn’s spending for his half-sister’s first London season, but he isn’t keen to conquer high society. Wynn’s real dreams involves taking his radical ideas to the House of Lords.

Unfortunately, his usual writing style is just wrong for political speeches! Desperate for a writing coach, Wynn decides to look for his favorite essayist. Prometheus was the pen name of Lisle, a Member of Parliament known for his fiery rhetoric. Since Lisle’s death, however, someone else close to him has taken up the nom de plume, and Lord Selworth’s determined to find out.

Since her father’s death, Philippa “Pippa” Lisle has become more than a secretary—now she’s writing in his stead. Only three people know Pippa’s secret, because her slightly seditious essays can ruin her reputation and land her in jail.

Naturally, Pippa isn’t amused when the handsome Lord Selworth arrives at her doorstep, pleading to know who the new Prometheus is. Pippa doesn’t care how much Wynn’s willing to pay for editorial guidance.

Pippa’s mother, however, thinks Wynn’s arrival is heaven-sent. The Lisles needs the money, especially now that Pippa’s younger sister needs a London season. Besides, Mrs. Lisle hasn’t given up hope that both her daughters will find good husbands…

Crossed Quills is an engaging romance: it takes an unabashed look at middle-class husband-hunting while raising the issues confronted by socially conscious writers. The combined themes surprised me, to be honest.

I never thought a romance novel could ever remind me of my left-leaning writing years, but Crossed Quills managed to do just that. Pippa’s fear of discovery is natural, and her horror of social injustices—and her calls to action—feels genuine. I love how Pippa and Wynn are both members of the vacillating intelligentsia, concerned about child labor and the price of luxury goods. And yet they scramble so hard to appear politically moderate to everyone they know! God, that’s adorable. They want to be subtle about affecting social change.     

Crossed Quills is plotted around an elegant conceit: the heroine must hide her political writings, lest she be censured for unladylike behavior, while the hero must hide his past as a successful romance novelist in order for Parliament to take him seriously. Maybe I’m over-reading, but Dunn might be commenting on gender roles, writing, and paratext. How can I not like this book?

Despite my enthusiasm, Crossed Quills has its issues. I felt that the ending was rushed, and I wished there were “excerpts” of Pippa and Wynn’s writings. It’s a missed opportunity to show and not tell: their writings could have come in the form of epigraphs. Oh, maybe I ask for too much. Still, Crossed Quills has more depth than the average historical romance.

heat meter: one          final rating: buy 

 

Some Final Thoughts

Is it unfair to compare the two books? Probably. Still, for those who care about these things, I think Crossed Quills does the secret writer concept best while Romancing Mr. Bridgerton better articulates why writers feel the need to write at all.

In a contest between our two fictional literary heroes, Colin’s diary is pitch-perfect for the era but Wynn’s gothic thought-processes is full of purple prose. It’s a pity there are only hints of Wynn’s writing style because I’m sure he falls into “so bad it’s good” territory. God, I’d love to read that.