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About Suzanne

Suzanne loves historical romance most of all, but also enjoys smutty paranormal romances, contemporaries, young adult, and epic fantasy. She worked four years in a bookstore, where she was in charge of organizing and maintaining the romance section. She keeps immaculate yearly spreadsheets of every book she's read, the number of re-reads per book, and her personal rating. Doesn't everyone?

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REVIEW:  The Governess Club: Sara by Ellie Macdonald

REVIEW: The Governess Club: Sara by Ellie Macdonald

The Governess Club: Sara

Dear Ms. Macdonald,

To be honest, I found your story by happenstance on Amazon and investigated further because I really like yellow dresses. Great cover you have there. Still, many gorgeous covers have masked terrible insides, so I never buy a book on Amazon without reading an excerpt. I clicked the ‘Look inside!’ option to perform my due diligence. Just like that, you stole my free time.

Within paragraphs, I was voicing the words out loud, as I often do when no one else is home, unless I’m possessed with a particularly low level of shame (which is usually) and people are in my home and I do it anyway, because I love me and they love me and they have to put up with me.

In any case, I’m one of those who enjoys acting out the characters as she reads them. It’s more fun. But it doesn’t always work, because the dialogue has to be right and the physical and emotional descriptions have to be on target for me to be satisfied. I don’t want to act out bad dialogue (unless it’s very bad, in which case, sign me right up).

It was a pleasure to see such efficient syntax. That might sound like a boring compliment to most, but I’m an editor and I think you’ll understand. Most people don’t even realize it’s happening: the absence of clutter. Without the clutter, every word can strike the reader. Again, I’m not just talking about the mind. I mean everything. A story is not just a story. In the right hands, it’s a full-body experience. I think you have the right hands.

You gave me a complete character with baggage and virtues, all in the length of an Amazon excerpt. I promptly hit the ‘Buy now with 1-Click’ option, and here we are. Only 99 cents? Pfffft.

It was my first time reading a book of yours, and this was apparently the third in the series, so I didn’t actually know what the Governess Club was. I caught on okay, but at times it referenced too much to other plots or characters of which/whom I had zero knowledge. Still, the main characters made up for the mild confusion.

Sara was so gentle and selfless; so reluctant to treat herself or stand up for herself. She was vulnerable—enormously so—but not in an annoying way, which is a tricky balance. I wanted to take her hand and encourage her. I wanted her to know she could be happy and live a better life. I was pleased that Sara came to the same conclusion without much delay.

And then we have Nathan Grant. So unfit for company. So furious at the world and filled with misanthropy. It’s a problematic trope, because in the wrong hands, this is an instant cliche. But I found myself waiting for every word he said, every sneer, every caustic laugh he made through his hatred of people and of himself.

I understood why he left London and politics, and enjoyed that you didn’t rely solely on external means. It wasn’t any failure of his in the political arena that prompted his escape just before the novel’s start. No, it was instead highly internal: a personal disgust of how the people around him acted and manipulated. That disgust turned to self-doubt for his own identity, since he felt like one of them. You took the actions of someone else and brought it all inward, making the hero question the way he lived his life and the sort of man he thought he was. He didn’t know what kind of man he wanted to be; he just knew the kind he couldn’t be anymore.

It was the same dilemma our heroine experienced, except they had wildly different personalities and goals. But they were both trying to figure out what their actions said about themselves as people. They both found themselves lacking and they both wanted to change that. It was harder to figure out how to accomplish that.

I could see, absolutely see the cogs whirling in Sara’s brain as she realized the way she lived her life wasn’t right. It wasn’t what she deserved. The Sara she knew as herself was in conflict with the Sara everyone else saw. Even her dearest friends thought of her as some other, milder, simpler creature. That realization was painful. It was a breakthrough that necessitated change through action, and there we have our plot.

He turned and looked at her, his face unreadable. “You haven’t thought this through.”
“That is likely.”
“You will be ruined.”
“Only if people find out. As you just admitted to a distaste for marriage, I assume you will wish for discretion as well.”
“What about your vicar?”
She swallowed. “We will not speak of him.”
“This will change your life.”
“Isn’t that the point of adventure?”

In Nathan, she found a supporter like she’d never had before. Everyone else tried to help her gain confidence, but they went about it the wrong way, because they didn’t understand her enough. He succeeded in aiding her transformation. He insisted she be the strongest version of herself. To be the Sara he saw; a different woman than everyone else saw, including herself.

“As soon as I offered you some sort of challenge, you backed down. This is your adventure. You came to my house and stood up to me then; if you had not, we would not be here. If this is going to work, you must be able to stand up to me. If you do not, it is no longer your adventure.”

One of the most pleasurable things in a romance novel is watching and expecting the interactions. The first time, the second time, the third, and how everything is tweaked from encounter to encounter. Seeing their perceptions of each other change. Thinking, “Oh, he is going to fall for her so damned hard; I can already see it.” “She’s talking differently. She’s making different choices. He is her personal witness to this transformation.” “They are so right for each other.”

My one major hangup is that they fell in love too fast for my taste. It was way too convenient and pressed for time. I don’t think they experienced enough together to make the claim of love credible. I so nearly believed it. I really wanted to.

Another issue I had was a misunderstanding involved in the last act, where the vicar was just ridiculous and no one spoke up and everyone just denied, denied, denied. No, thank you. The tension was too manufactured and dissipated all too quickly once actual communication happened.

Still, I will be sure to search out your other stories and read them. I had an great time and I look forward to more.

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REVIEW:  The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

REVIEW: The Game and the Governess by Kate Noble

B00GEEB578.01.LZZZZZZZ

Dear Ms. Noble,

An egotistical hero doesn’t usually spark my interest. I didn’t need another narcissistic Prince Charming. Seen it all a million times, and my immediate reaction is: Meh. However, the success of an overused archetype is due to an author’s treatment of it. The way you painted Ned in words, you made him vulnerable in his egotism, and that is why it worked.

His friends harbored a veiled resentment for him, believing he was only well-received because of his title. His exasperation at that thought was tangible. He wasn’t naive enough to think that everyone would like him to the same degree if he were lower class, but he was genuinely confident of his appeal as a good friend and person.

“And by the by, I resent the implication that I am nothing more than my title.”

“Now, Ashby, he didn’t say that,” Rhys began, but Turner strangely kept silent.

“Yes he did. He said that life is different for an earl than it is for a secretary. And while that is true, it im­plies that any good thing, any bit of luck I may have had in my life, is incumbent upon the fact that I inherited an earldom. And any lack of happiness Turner suffers from is incumbent upon his recent bad luck. Whereas the reverse is true. He is serious and unsmiling, thus he has bad luck. With his mill, with women, with life. I am in general of a good nature and I have good luck. It has very little to do with my title. It has to do with who I am.”

I could tell he was in for a kick in the pants when he proposed the swap with his secretary. I admit: I am a huge fan of the nobleman-in-disguise trope. From my first favorite, Man of My Dreams by Johanna Lindsey (not a great novel, but cherished in my memories), I have been an absolute sucker for this concept. It gets me almost every time, and it got me here.

Ned is privileged, and knows he is, but he’s not fake. He is a real person (insofar as a fictional man can be called real) who’s very aware he’s afforded attention and luxuries by virtue of his title, and he has the audacity to think he’d do well even without that title.

When his role is reversed with his secretary, people do not treat him well, and the marvelous thing is that he doesn’t get upset with them. He forgives them immediately and shrugs and tries again. He’s so amiable that I found myself charmed by him, very suddenly and surprisingly. Of course, he got his comeuppance on a number of occasions, and acted with blindingly foolish assurance of his own appeal, and he was immediately and repeatedly called out on it. Until then, he never truly comprehended the liberties he could take as a nobleman that no one would dare take as an untitled secretary. It was a rude awakening but he managed it well after admitting how stupid and disrespectful he’d been. The appeal for me was in the fact he was willing to apologize and admit fault. We need more heroes who accept defeat with grace.

I also enjoyed his backstory. Ned didn’t join the world of the nobility until he was nearly a teenager, when his uncle’s heir died. He and his mother lived in neither comfort nor privilege. He hauled water from the well like any normal citizen. It wasn’t something he talked about, really ever, but I think his formative years made a huge impact on his personality. This is why, although he’s admittedly egotistical, he was never insufferable. He was grounded in the reality of his former upbringing. I loved him.

And I loved Phoebe, our heroine, as well. In her youth, she wrote the earl a furious letter, saying in no uncertain terms that he was to blame for her father’s death. It’s an impassioned, pained letter with zero subtlety. A genteel lady with the nerve to damn a nobleman to hell in a personal letter? I’m so there.

But even better, we see her years later, when she’s rid herself of that anger. I could see how she matured and I liked the result. She just wanted to disappear and be unnoticed by the earl. She hadn’t forgiven him, but she no longer wanted to make him suffer for the pride he maintained that inadvertently ruined her father. Thank goodness for heroines who reflect on their actions and who do what’s right for their own mental health from the get-go. The tension of their history is still palpable without any need for a silly vendetta.

At first, she didn’t give this jumped-up secretary a moment’s notice, but he kept coming back. He obviously liked her from the start, and the inevitable happened: she started to like him back, just as I liked him. They fell in love so naturally.

No matter what, his life would have led to this moment. If he had stayed in the village and never been made the old earl’s heir, they would have met here. He would have owned his mother’s cottage, had some sort of profession, and he would have known Phoebe Baker as the governess of the Widcoate children. They would have danced here.

Or, if he had still been the earl, but a better one–one who had caught Mr. Sharp and prevented him from ever meeting her father, they would have met in London, during her season. He and the light-haired girl with dimples and laughing eyes would have danced at Almack’s, or in some other elegant ballroom.

The main antagonist was Mr. Turner. If I met him in real life, I would slap his face. He started as Ned’s best friend and destroyed their friendship because he needed to win the bet, because his entire family’s livelihood was riding on it. Okay, so your whole fictional family depends on the mill, but does that mean you become a complete bastard? Why not just be honest and let Ned know the great significance of the mill in your life, rather than play this silly game and betray the friend who has helped you for years?

Ned’s fatal flaw was that he did not understand how much the mill meant to Mr. Turner. He trusted in him as his friend and faithful secretary, never imagining how far Mr. Turner was willing to go in order to save his family’s mill; how malicious and unethical he would turn. One action of his near the end of the novel upset me so much that I could barely enjoy the lovely subsequent scene with our hero and heroine. I was angry at both you as an author and at Mr. Turner, that swine. But then I reminded myself that it would be okay, that they would love each other sincerely and that there would be a happy ending, and I was able to focus.

There were a number of things that frustrated me about the book: the whodunit villain in the end with flimsy reasons, the ruthless actions of an unlikable antagonist (but then, I suppose he’s supposed to antagonize), and the general way things seemed rushed near the climax. The timing could have been better for many things, with a more paced redemption and reconciliation.

But I really, truly enjoyed this book. I would give it a B except for the fact that I read it all in one go, in a few hours’ time, and that makes it a B+ for me. I couldn’t put it down. I had a lot of fun reading it. I loved the hero and heroine both, especially the hero, who had a lot of room to improve and was just so relentlessly optimistic the whole way through that I couldn’t help but appreciate who he was as a character and person. I’d fall in love with him, too, and he wouldn’t have to be an earl.

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