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Hester Browne

REVIEW:  The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne

REVIEW: The Runaway Princess by Hester Browne

Dear Ms. Browne,

In all fairness, the title does promise what is delivered. But I found that I didn’t care for a woman who would consider this acceptable behavior. The romance is like one of the heroine’s mother’s fairy cakes or ‘light as air’ sponge cakes. And even the farting dog and images of Amy hauling a wheelbarrow around during her daily work as a garden designer aren’t enough to ground this story for me. Perhaps had I read it 25 years ago, I could have totally bought into it but today reality has reared its ugly head too often and I need more to get me to believe in a Royal HEA. I feel that this review is going to be like slamming the oven door on the souffle of this book.

The Runaway Princess by Hester BrowneAmy Wilde is a simple Yorkshire lass who’s found her niche in London as a garden designer. She works with her friend Ted, who supplies a lot of the muscle, and lives with posh society roomie Jo, who can keep you entertained for hours with the scoop on her outrageous family, and dog Badger, who never met a smelly thing he didn’t want to roll in. Jo specializes in wild parties and there’s always a crowd who show up at their flat but one night a truly over the top man appears, complete with an entourage that includes three pencil thin women and one harried looking man. Amy and the harried man, who introduces himself as Leo, talk and flirt a little as Leo attempts to fix some damage that OTT Rolf caused. Amy’s natural Yorkshire reticence keeps her from being as verbally dazzling as Jo keeps trying to help Amy to be but Leo reappears anyway and the two begin to date.

Leo’s obviously loaded and well known in the ritzy circles of London but Amy believes that he’s the investment banker he’s introduced himself as. It takes Jo to open Amy’s eyes to the fact that Leo is actually Prince Leopold of Nirona, a wealthy European principality. Suddenly Amy’s in a whole new world and feeling overwhelmed by it. Still, she can’t fight her attraction to Leo any more than he seems to want to fight his with her. A romantic proposal later and Amy’s now being featured – and trashed – in the paparazzi tabloid website YoungHot&Royal. It takes a sudden reversal of the succession at his grandfather’s deathbed to thrust Leo from fifth in line to being the Crown Prince. And where Amy thought she could manage being the wife of a minor royal, now she’s not so sure if she can handle what her future will be if she stays the course. But…will she?

I used to want to be a Princess – lovely clothes, priceless jewelry, adoring crowds, what’s not to want? Then I grew up and followed – along with the world – the saga of Princess Di and the Duchess of York and, backdating a bit, learned that Princess Grace was miserable too. Suddenly, the perks didn’t seem like nearly enough for what you’d have to give up – which seems to basically be your entire life. And not only your life but that of any one near or dear to you who might make a salacious story if only as a 9 day wonder has to deal with it as well. Plus most of the time, it ends in divorce or bitter unhappiness. Really, who wants this? Okay, there are some who seem willing but for me, the price is far too high.

So, in the beginning, I can understand Amy’s heel dragging and dismay as she gets a wider and more complete glimpse of what she’s facing. I like that the book is upfront about the high cost of looking good enough to be front page all the time, the effort and constant maintenance that it takes to be a modern Royal – even if only a second tier one. The routine, file books and organizational calendars could be soul sucking. Knowing the press and paparazzi are lurking to catch you out and gleefully publish the results could make me want to hide under a flowerpot. Just the duties alone would be daunting but add to it the complex mix of years-in-the-making issues Amy and her family have got simmering and I might have not only second but fifth thoughts as well. And certainly the time to question if this is truly what she wants should be now since she already realizes that she and Leo really aren’t talking things out.

But to do a runner as she does? Whoa, talk about a way to bring her relationship with Leo crashing down because believe me, were I Leo, I would take a few steps back and reconsider given Amy’s (repeat) actions and her lack of communication with him. This is the heart of my problem with this book. These two are supposed to be building towards a lifetime together and they can’t even talk to each other. It was obvious to me that they were both having issues – Leo just a little but Amy a whole lot. Lotsa lot.

Let me elaborate. Were I Leo, I would be very hesitant about picking things back up with Amy because of the way she lied by omission to him. The issue with her family is one thing but the crack Nirona spin doctors and lawyers are ready to do damage control about that. No, it’s the fact that this woman who said she loved me and was going to spend a life with me hadn’t trusted me. Not with a major secret in her life but also not with her fears, doubts and issues with my heritage/lifestyle and what would be expected of her and also of how my family was used to using money to fix all their problems. There’s lip firming, words bitten back and silences enough here to raise all kinds of red flags. And all that’s before Amy’s runner. Were I on the receiving end of that I would be as devastated as Leo and need a lot of time to be sure Amy was over her fears and ready for what her future could be. I would need a lot of talking and airing of the issues we hadn’t talked about much less dealt with before being ready to take the plunge – whether I was still in love or not. As Amy showed, love doesn’t conquer all fears nor make everything all right.

I also felt that as much as Amy does try to meet Leo in the middle between their two former lifestyles – it’s Leo who changes and gives and meets her the most. Amy does change, – some – and does learn but it’s Leo who bends the most. Leo who’s almost a saint anyway. Seriously, a few flaws would have made him more real to me instead of him coming off like a cardboard cutout paper doll. He’s wonderful, handsome, intelligent, thoughtful, charming, polite – a great chap all around – but he’s not real. He’s a fairy tale and I’ve lost my belief in real live fairy tales now.

Jo and Ted are fantastic characters and I ended up enjoying their presence in scenes a bit more than Amy’s. Generally I adore chick lit but I have to see the heroine grow and it helps if I can at least sympathize with if not like her. Here, I felt I really needed Leo’s side of the story since a lot of the time I felt like he was getting the shaft end of this relationship. Plus he’s too fantastic for any reality and Amy’s meltdowns and repressed feelings don’t make her the most sympathetic of heroines. I finished the book convinced they’re in love but not truly convinced that they’re ready for marriage or have a good shot at a HEA. Amy’s matured but I don’t think enough. Yet. C-

~Jayne

 

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REVIEW: Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne

REVIEW: Swept Off Her Feet by Hester Browne

Dear Ms. Browne,

I’ve heard of the “Little Lady” books but no, shame on me, I’ve never read them. But when a friend of mine told me about “Swept Off Her Feet” and that she’d really liked it, the blurb got me interested in it. After she assured me that there’s no faux brogue dialog I was in. I’ll go ahead and say that if I’d read this back in March when it was first released, it would have been a recommend read from me. As it is, it’s probably going to be on my best reads of 2011 list.

Swept Off Her Feet Hester BrowneEvie Nicholson loves her work as a buyer for an antiques dealer in London. But as she’s more interested in and, as the blurb says, “spins fanciful attachments to” the personal history of the little items, what she comes back from auctions with doesn’t always meet her boss’s approval. But her sister’s invitation to a ball held in a Scottish castle might be Evie’s road to redemption.

Kettlesheer Castle is the site of an annual ball held on Valentine’s Day and Alice’s boyfriend Fraser is the boyhood chum of the current McAndrews heir, Robert. Alice has finagled an invite for Evie to go and assess certain family pieces for possible sale as the upkeep on the drafty old place is enough to bankrupt small nations. Past McAndrews were the types who never threw *anything* away, so antiques dealers have long salivated at the thought of what might be tucked away in the Castle. Evie’s boss is hopeful of some spectacular finds and sends her up to Scotland with strict instructions on what to look for. Evie, being Evie, is more drawn to the personal stuff though she can’t seem to get tough businessman Robert interested in his family’s past or the romantic daydreams Evie spins about the place.

With the ball fast approaching, family and friends – including one calculating young woman who’s angling to become the next mistress of Kettlesheer – are in a frenzy of preparation even as Evie is down on her knees checking dovetailing. Will she find the spectacular pieces needed to save the family finances? Can she get Robert to view his heritage as more than a draining, lifelong anchor around his neck? And what will the two of them do about the feelings obviously simmering between them and waiting to boil over during the magical candlelit gala?

I see this book as a sort of evolution of the standard Chick Lit book. Evie has a tatty job but it’s one she really loves. It’s pretty obvious from early days who the hero will be and Robert is front and center through most of the book. Evie and Robert don’t initially hit it off as Evie has a semi-crush on Fraser – who is clueless about it and devoted to Alice the entire book – but these two don’t snipe at each other either. Robert is aware of the soundtracks Evie plays in her head as she swoons around Kettlesheer and imagines herself in Jane Austen settings there but though he shakes his head and doesn’t understand or share her romance with the place, he never mocks her – just gently teases her at times.

Robert may be a tough businessman but he’s also a bit of a romantic – at least for Evie. He’s practical to her daydreaming but they “fit.” The scene where he shows up before the ball with some of his great grandmother’s fancy gewgaws for Evie to wear, then sits back and enjoys watching her get excited over them shows me that he does know what she likes and that he wants to please her. Points to him for wanting to make his woman happy. Even if they hadn’t shared a kiss yet. When that “plane going down” kiss did happen, I sighed.

Most everyone in the book is good hearted, though not in a Sally Sunshine way, and even the calculating young woman is treated kindly and isn’t a total beeyotch just for the plot. The story is also brimming with humor and I literally laughed out loud more times than I remember. The teaching-Evie-to-reel scenes were fantastic though I winced when I read how true to life they were. Since I have two left feet as well, I can sympathize with her bewilderment during the Eightsome Reel and would probably end up on my ass after a twirling as well. Though after watching a full fledged 51st Division Reel on youtube, I think I’d be itching to get out and try it myself. The Hamilton House sounds like flirty fun too.

This is a happy book. A fun and funny book that put a smile on my face. I think Robert and Evie will be a good team together with each complimenting and bringing out the best in each other. The humor comes from the situations in the story and not from Evie being made to pratfall for laughs. The characters seem fairly realistic and not exaggerated merely for the plot. And it’s an excellent sign when I finish a book and immediately want to go back and reread my favorite bits. Think I could get an invite to the Kettlesheer Ball next year? A-

~Jayne

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