Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

About Dabney Grinnan

http://www.thepassionatereader.com/

I loved romances when, back in the mid 70's, in junior high, I read every Barbara Cartland novel I could check out from the library. Then, thanks to a savvy babysitter, I got my hands on the hot stuff. To this day I can remember how astonishingly steamy I found Rosemary Rogers' Sweet Savage Love. I abandoned romance when I went to college and didn't pick one up again until 2007 when I got my first Kindle. Since then, I’ve read countless romances; loved many, liked more, hated some. Most of what I read is historical and contemporary romance, but I’m open to almost any genre. I like my books to have sizzle, wit, and plots that make sense. I’d take sexy over sweet any day. I’m a sucker for smart heroes and smart-mouthed heroines. When not reading or writing about reading, or wishing I could rule the world, I'm meddling in the lives of my kids--I have four, ages 17 to 21--, managing my husband's practice, doing bossy volunteer work, and hanging out with Dr. Feelgood.

Posts by Dabney Grinnan:

REVIEW:  The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

REVIEW: The Story Guy by Mary Ann Rivers

Dear Ms. Rivers:

I’d had your novella, The Story Guy, in my TBR for a while.  Then, last month, on Twitter, I saw a link to a post you’d written for Wonkomance, the site you and several other authors I respect run. The post, entitled Love Actually, a meditation on the nature of love that starts with an exploration of First Corinthians, knocked me off my feet. It’s glorious, eloquently sad, and wrenchingly real. I then began to read The Story Guy which turned out also to be glorious, eloquently sad, and wrenchingly real. It broke my heart, knitted up the aching pieces, and left me murmuring yes, yes, the greatest of these is love.

The narrator of The Story Guy is Carrie West, a librarian “staring into the second half” of her third decade. Carrie’s content with her life with one exception.

I like my job. I like that I have small niches of friends, of three different generations, that all do different kinds of things in our artsy rust-belt city.

I like that I am an only child and can have my parents’ attention to myself when I need it. I like my noisy apartment that I’ve rented for more then ten years. I could get serious about dating, but dating is something I don’t like unless I already know I like the person, have already cultivated at least a tiny bit of a crush out in the wild, away from the pain of a first coffee date.

When it comes to sex, I admit to feeling empty.

One night, as Carrie is perusing the MetroLink page for her city, she clicks, as she often does, the link for Men Seeking Women. She does this not because she’s looking for love but rather because she loves the voices there.

It’s what I imagine men might really be thinking and never say. They yell and cry and woo and break themselves open before their post slips off the page.

Suddenly, she sees an entry with the single word Wednesdays in the heading. Curious, she clicks on it and sees a picture of a man, dark-haired and handsome, grinning at someone not in the frame. Carrie reads his ad.

I will meet you on Wednesdays at noon in Celebration Park. Kissing only. I won’t touch you below the shoulders. You can touch me anywhere. No dating, no hookups. I will meet with you for as long as you meet me, so if you miss a Wednesday we part as strangers. No picture necessary, we can settle details via IM. Reply back with “Wednesdays Only” in the subject line.

The STory Guy by Mary Ann RiversCarrie, after thinking about it for a nano-second, emails the guy, tells him she’s “intrigued,” and sends him her IM handle. He responds–his name is Brian–and, after chatting, the two agree to meet the next day, Wednesday, at the teahouse shelters in the Park.

They talk, share a few details about their lives and then, they kiss. And kiss. And kiss.

For both of them, the kiss is intense, jarring, maybe the best kiss of their lives. When they break apart, as the end of the hour nears, Carrie starts to suggest meeting sooner than next Wednesday but Brian makes it clear he doesn’t want that. This baffles Carrie and by Saturday night, alone in her apartment, obsessing over Brian, she’s desperate to talk to someone about mystery that is Brian. She calls up her intern Justin–I love Justin–who agrees to meet her at Cluck You Chicken, a Jamaican dive around the corner from Carrie’s apartment.

Justin is witty and wise and listens to Carrie’s tale. When she asks him for advice, he tells her to break the rules Brian has set and to IM him. When Carrie asks why, Justin says,

(I) just bet something interesting will happen if you try to talk to him without the whole date thing. Sure, maybe he is just a normal-seeming guy with a weird sex thing and it’s all bad news, and I recommend staying kind of disengaged until you find out, but he may be a story guy.”

“A story guy?”

“Yeah, a good guy with a bad story doing something stupid.”

“Explain to me why a story guy is better than a pervert.”

“Story guys are like life highlighters. Your life is all these big blocks of gray text, and then a story guy comes in with a big ol’ paragraph of neon pink so that when you flip back through your life, you can stop and remember all the important and interesting places.”

Carrie gets home, takes Justin’s advice and soon Brian responds. They IM into the night, carefully talking about and yet around why Brian limits himself to one hour, once a week, of kissing.

Brian is a story guy. Or, as Justin says, later in the novella, he’s “a Russian novel.” The reasons behind Brian’s rules are calamitous, inestimable, and relentlessly demanding. And so damn sad, it’s exquisitely unbearable.

As Carrie falls for Brian the limitations of his life become slowly clear to her. She realizes there’s no easy way to love Brian, that the life he lives outside of that one hour he gives himself a week is a life with challenging complications and etched with sorrow. Yet, as she determinedly inches her way into the margins of Brian’s life, she sees the person she could be, the kind of love she can offer Brian.

If I wanted, I could choose to make my life a place that Brian could step into. He didn’t have any room to move, but he still found that hour, once a week. I can choose to give that hour to him and make it the most expansive time in the universe. I could. If he wanted me to.

I have a life to live.

The Story Guy is a love story. But it’s also a life story, a story about how we do and don’t define our lives. It effortlessly illuminates the gifts of love, of time, of grace, of sacrifice that surround us and that we rarely savor. Each chapter takes place in an hour or less. Every hour, whether crowded with longing, sadness, comfort, and/or joy, is an hour Brian and Carrie must live in, learning as they love to demand more from time, to make each hour as replete as possible. Brian’s circumscribed vision of his possibilities begins the story; Carrie’s expansive vision remakes it.

The truth of The Story Guy isn’t that we should live like we are dying, but that we should live, consciously aware of the choices we have, embracing the decisions we make, and owning the paths we chart.

It’s an amazing work, made more astonishing that it’s Ms. River’s debut. Her prose is implacably assured; her pacing, irreproachable. The Story Guy gets an A. Read it.

I’ll leave you with the lovely last line of the novel.

It’s Wednesday, though, and the time in front of us is immeasurable, the hours crowded past every capacity.

Dabney

 

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REVIEW:  The Secrets of Mia Danvers by Robyn Dehart

REVIEW: The Secrets of Mia Danvers by Robyn Dehart

Dear Ms. Dehart:

The Secrets of Mia Danvers is implausible. It features Jack the Ripper as the villain. The heroine is beautiful, blind, abandoned by her family, and a stellar sculptor. The high and mighty hero pursues another woman while seducing his true love.

These elements should have made your book a chore to read but, surprisingly, they didn’t. The Secrets of Mia Danvers won’t make it onto my list of ballin’ bodice rippers (my favorite historical romances), but I enjoyed it. Readers looking for an easy summer read probably will too.

The Secrets of Mia Danvers by Robyn DehartThe book opens with a mother behaving badly. Mia Danvers is sixteen years old and was blinded in a recent accident. Her mother (and two sisters) essentially abandon her. They take her to a small cottage near Hyde Park on the edge of the Duke of Carrington’s land where they leave her to live out the rest of her life alone. Mia is saved from utter desertion by her governess Rachel who, after taking the mom to task for her egregious behavior, announces she will stay with Mia as an unpaid companion.  The evil mom and sisters drive away and Mia begins her new life.

Boom: six years have passed. Mia’s become not only able to navigate her life in the cottage, she’s a successful sculptress, and can make her way around the estate. It would have been intriguing to see how Mia learned to do all this, but that information isn’t shared with the reader. I rather wish it had been. It would have been interesting to see Mia adapt.

One night Mia is out taking one of her regular walks about the estate when she hears a murder taking place. She can tell by the sound the killer has slashed the woman’s throat. She also takes in the very distinctive smell of the tobacco he smokes. The killer walks away whistling, unaware there’s a witness to his crime. Mia goes straight to the current Duke of Carrington to inform him of the crime committed on his property.

The Duke, Alex Foster, is new to the job. His elder brother was killed in a duel over the wife of a Marquess. Now it is up to Alex to carry on the Carrington mantle. First thing on his now-I’m-a-Duke-to-do list is to marry a worthy Duchess. He’s already got one in mind, the lovely Juliet Beckinsale who was his brother’s intended.

Alex is contemplating his responsibilities when Mia is announced by his butler. He is at first displeased to see her. It’s late and she’s dripping on the carpet.

“Madam, what is it that you think I can assist you with? I do not like being disturbed this late in the evening. Nor do I appreciate you soaking everything in your wake.”

She blinked and took a few shuffling steps forward. “My Lord, my name is Mia Danvers, I live in the cottage at the edge of your estate.”

“My God.” He’d never met her before, at least he did not remember if he had, but she’d lived on their property for nearly eight years. An agreement between his late father and her parents, an agreement that had been written into his father’s will. Alex remembered his mother saying once that the poor girl was mad. But up until now they’d never had any trouble with her. In fact, she’d kept to her own and out of sight, so Alex had never questioned her living arrangement. He studied her now, taking in the frantic, almost crazed, expression on her face. It might be time to reexamine the situation, search for a way around his father’s odd demand.

“Miss Danvers, what are you doing away from your cottage?” he asked, voice firm and authoritative. She needed to know this sort of behavior would not be tolerated, regardless of what his father had agreed to.

She craned her neck awkwardly to the right, then moved in that direction, heading straight for the fire crackling in the hearth. But she ran right into a chair. With her hands she felt around the piece of furniture, moving around it as she did until she stood directly in front of the fire. She silently warmed herself for several moments before she spoke.

“I witnessed a murder tonight. On your property.”

Alex thinks she’s nuts. He tells her obviously she couldn’t have witnessed anything and dispatches her back to her cottage. However, when three hours later, the body of a young woman is discovered on the edge of his property, he begins to believe her. He summons her the next night and is taken aback when she, using her highly developed sense of smell, deduces he’s been out on the town.

“I can smell perfume on you, a couple of varieties as well as scented waters for hair rinses. Decidedly feminine smells so it seems logical that perhaps you’d danced tonight,” she said.

He stopped walking, just stood still. The fact that she could know that simply by the smell of him felt awkwardly intimate. As if he stood before her an open book ready for her to peruse and discover any of his secrets. Not that he had any. He lived a reputable life. He was a good man with very few vices.

This is one of those plot things you just have to buy into in order to enjoy this story. Mia has a Sherlockian ability to identify smells. The book is full of revelations like the one above. She can identify almost any smell, even when many are combined.

Mia thinks Alex is a bit of an ass. He seems, to her, arrogant, rude, and a bit of a prude. He’s just the sort of man she might have had to marry had she not had her accident which, somewhat unbelievably, makes her almost glad it happened. Mia is completely in charge of herself and she has no interest in anyone telling her what to do.

Alex thinks Mia’s hot. When he learns of her pedigreed background from his mother, he wonders what if she’d never been blinded.

She was a Danvers, a well-bred lady. That fit. She was lovely and graceful. And had she not been denied a Season of her own, she no doubt would have had her selection of suitors. Perhaps he would have thrown his hat in her ring. She was different enough to be interesting, but of good breeding to ensure she could have made a good duchess. He shook his head. It was a futile thought. Blind girls weren’t the stuff of duchesses.

(Wanna bet?)

Alex and Mia spend time together trying to track down the killer whom the reader realizes is Jack the Ripper. I enjoyed the mystery aspect of The Secrets of Mia Danvers although if Ms. Dehart’s new series (this is book one in Dangerous Liaisons) continues to revolve around the famed killer, I’m not sure I’ll keep reading. I have a limited tolerance for entertainment based on the Ripper.

That said, in this book, the plotting is sound. The Ripper continues to kill even when he learns there’s a witness to one of his murders. The suspense ratchets up as Alex and Mia hunt the Ripper who, in turn, stalks Mia. The killings are vividly described but not gory and each time the Ripper kills, he leaves behind more clues for Mia and Alex to track.

I was less enthused about the relationship between Alex and Mia. Alex is all lust lust lust for Mia even as he tells himself he’s better than that. He courts his putative fiancée even though he’s rounding the bases with Mia. For her part, Mia is seriously sexually assertive. She figures since she hasn’t a future with any regular guy, she might as well go for broke with Alex. Their interactions are steamy and well-written but lack the emotional underpinning needed to ground their relationship. And while it’s cool that Alex, for most of the book, treats Mia as his intellectual equal, I found the disparities in their power structure disconcerting.

The better romance which is given far few pages is that of Rachel and Edward, the Earl of Fairbanks. Rachel rejected Edward years ago for reasons she’s always regretted and has never loved another. Edward is a close friend of Alex’s and thus again encounters Rachel. In the few pages Ms. Dehart devotes to their love story, she shines. I’ve rarely read a romance so sparely etched that has such lovely resonance.

The Secrets of Mia Danvers is a pleasant way to while away a few hours. Even with its stubborn blind heroine, the novel plays out along expected lines. However, it does what it does well. It gets a B-.

Sincerely,

Dabney

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