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Kathryn Smith

REVIEW:  When Marrying a Scoundrel by Kathryn Smith

REVIEW: When Marrying a Scoundrel by Kathryn Smith

This is a review from lazaraspaste, one of our guest reviewers for the summer.  ┬áNext Tuesday we’ll do an introduction of all the new summer reviewers.

When Marrying a Scoundrel by Kathryn SmithDear Ms. Smith:

Having read boat loads of romances over the years has taught me something about titles. Essentially, any romance novel’s title will either reveal or conceal the actual contents of the book. Some books’ titles tell you exactly what to expect as a reader. They let you know, quite clearly, what sort of romance you are about to read. This is not the case with your new book, When Marrying a Scoundrel. It is a title that suggests many things to me and alone, without reading the back blurb, I would have guessed that this might be a story of the spinster/rake variety, a tale of a scoundrel tamed. Moreover, there’s something rather Regency-esque about the word “scoundrel,” perhaps because my mind has been conditioned to associate certain adjectives and nouns with certain historical periods. Scoundrel just sounds like it ought to be set in the Regency period.

But neither of these first impressions turned out to be true. Delightfully, this book was not about a spinster and a rake or an unhappy debutante and a fortune hunter. There was, in fact, no marrying going on. Instead, we get the story of an estranged couple who meet again after a ten year long separation. The marriage of the title has already taken place. Further unseating my expectations, the book was not set in the Regency period but in the late 1870′s. How refreshing! Despite many new authors writing Victorian era romances, they are still outnumbered by the Regency. Napoleon may have failed to conquer Russia–having been dead for nearly 200 years– but that has not prevented him from near total conquest of Romancelandia. Viva La France!

In any case, I’m always happy to see time periods other than the Regency (though I am fond of it) and I’m equally glad to see a story about reunited lovers.

Sadie Moon, né O’Rourke, is London’s most fashionable fortune-teller. She reads tea-leaves for the ton, both at private parties and at Saint’s Row, a kind of miniature Las Vegas or indoor Vauxhall where the bohemian and bourgeoisie can rub up against the aristocracy. In some cases, literally and in the shadowy recesses of the back garden. The novel begins here, with Sadie waiting for her next client.

“It was bad luck to tell your own fortune. Sadie Moon had known this from a very young age, ever since Granny O’Rourke first set her on her knee and showed her the images made from the tiny brown leaves on the bottom of the teacup. When Granny had asked her how the images made her feel, Sadie hadn’t hesitated to peer inside the rim and take a good look.

And then she promptly burst into tears.

Sadie had seen a casket–her mother’s. Less than six months later her mother was dead, leaving Sadie and her two older brothers to Granny’s care.

Nothing good ever came from trying to read the leaves at the bottom of your own cup. A fact Sadie would have done well to remember before absently turning over her cup on its saucer, and spinning it three times widdershins before righting it and peering inside.”

That, I have to say, is a good beginning, even a strong one. You avoid the opening info dump so common to many authors and manage to make me immediately interested in what Sadie sees. What Sadie sees is the face of her long-estranged husband, Jack Farrington, who shows up that night under the new moniker of Jack Friday. He is older, richer and resentful. The story that follows is a pleasant and enjoyable read. I liked both Sadie and Jack and enjoyed seeing them come together. Unfortunately, I think that the strongest part of the book is the beginning. I have three quibbles about the meat of the story.

First, the secondary characters were a veritable who’s who of future heroes and heroines. And while this is standard practice in romance, I don’t particularly feel like playing a Where’s Waldo? with the supporting cast. For example, the best friend Indara seemed to be there and half-Indian for no apparent reason. She was conveniently present as the plot demanded but otherwise was unnecessary. Certain descriptions about her suggested she may have a future novel of her own. Of course, I could be wrong about that but that’s how it felt. Obviously, the Duke of Ryeton and his duchess, Rose have already had their book and I’m assuming all the Kane brothers would eventually have their own as well. That’s fine. I expect that. But their inclusion in this story at times felt forced and unnecessary. Like the cameo appearance of a character from the previous half-hour’s sitcom on the next half-hour’s, it smacked a little of Sweeps week.

The second two quibbles are connected. Quite frankly author, there seemed to be no purpose in making Jack and Sadie Irish. In fact, it worked against you. The main conflict in Jack and Sadie’s marriage is the class difference between them. Jack’s abandonment of Sadie ten years before is based on that difference–though perhaps not in the way the reader might expect. Still, it is at the heart of their misunderstanding and their hurt. Had they been English, the class difference would have been just that–a matter of class. But in making them Irish, you dipped into a period of Irish/English history that probably should have been left alone. In the late Victorian period, the Irish Question was intensifying–to say the least–and the class difference would not have merely been the division between nobility and commoner but Protestant and Catholic. Or to put it another way, their class difference would have been the measure of their religious difference. In all likelihood, Sadie would have been a Catholic and Jack a Protestant. I’m no historian and I’m sure there are/were exceptions to this, but not many. You did not touch on this point in any way, shape or form. The question of Sadie’s fortune-telling abilities was more a part of the contentions between the two than the religious difference. That would have been fine, but the time period and their nationality definitely made me question their religion. Protestant and Catholic relations are some of the most defining elements of Irish politics and identity, even today. Or so many The Cranberries albums have lead me to believe.

In any case, the Irish religion thing did not detract from my enjoyment of the book overall. I did feel the book was about a chapter more than it should have been. . . though not necessarily the last chapter. Sadie just held on to her objections way too long and I think it would have been more understandable had the matter been not just about class, but religion.
Regardless, the book was a good and entertaining read. I spent a very pleasant afternoon with it, ensconced in my chair listening to the rain against the window and reading about how Jack and Sadie forgave each other and got back together. B-

Best,

lazaruspaste

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This is a mass market published by Avon Books, part of the Agency five.

Dear Author

REVIEW: Before I Wake by Kathryn Smith

Dear Ms. Smith:

book review This was an interesting departure from the historical paranormals you’ve written and I think the setting and characters are a good fit for you. The voice sounds very natural. Before I Wake is more of an urban fantasy with a dash of romance than a true romance. It features Dawn Riley, a Nightmare. She is able traverse between the corporeal world and the dream world. She is an anomaly, one that both frightens and attracts those that inhabit the Dreaming.

Dawn can affect the dreams of others and did so once with terrible consequences. Since then she has hidden from her talents and rejected her Dreaming abilities. She doesn’t totally get away from dreams, though and is currently neuropsychologist studying under a top researcher in the field of sleep research.

One of Dawn’s clients, Noah, is an artist. She finds him attractive, but the client/patient relationship prevents any type of consummation of her feelings. Noah and Dawn flirt, though, and when his dreams and her dreams begin to overlap, the client/patient relationship walls fall down.

Dawn is being stalked in her dreams, as is Noah and others. It appears that Dawn might be the only one to combat this and to do so she must embrace her power and her past.

There are some really nicely done conflicts particularly the storyline involving Dawn’s mother who, in the corporeal realm appears to be in a coma, but is actually asleep, dreaming so that she can be with her lover and Dawn’s father Morpheus. Dawn’s struggle over her love for her mother and her distaste at what her mother is doing to her corporeal family is moving. Dawn’s is a near impossible position as she sees her father and siblings mourn for her mother and spend obscene amounts of money on medical care when her mother is choosing to be asleep. It’s like the dark side of the HEA.

Another dark side was the initial sex scene between Dawn and the Dreamkin that was part forced and part willing and Dawn wasn’t quite sure what it was, leaving the reader a bit unsure. I think those ambivalences always make a story more interesting.

Noah is also an interesting character. He has no special power and in a fight in the dream realm, he’s fairly useless. Yet, he’s interesting and sexy in his own right. However, there is a guard of Morpheus’ that is given a significant amount of page time and I can’t help but wonder at the future of Dawn’s relationship with Noah given that this isn’t really a straight up romance.

I had a couple problems with the story. One big and one small but both took me out of the story.

The dream world setting is not one often done in romance and from that aspect, I think this is a fresh romance setting. While I thought that the book was innovative (because I didn’t immediately connect it to The Matrix until you drew references to it and because I’m not familiar with Gaiman’s work), I found that the frequent references to The Matrix disruptive. It’s possible that you brought up similarities preemptively so a reader wouldn’t close the book and cry foul. For me, everytime the Matrix was mentioned, I looked for Matrix-like similarities. The most troublesome aspect was that the naming of the Dream King Morpheus. Now I understand that Morpheus is the Greek god of dreams and that is the name of the Gaiman character Dream, but using that name with the Matrix and Gaiman references made Morpheus too derivative in my eyes and every time he appeared, the image of Laurence Fishburne superimposed himself onto the pages, bringing with him all the characteristics of Laurence Fishburne’s character such that I was no longer in your story but some strange conglomeration of your story and the Matrix.

And possibly that was your intent, but for me, I found it distracting.

The second thing that bothered me was the constant use of brand names. Everything had a name. Dawn isn’t just at a drugstore she is at a Duane Reade. She doesn’t just fantasize about movie stars, she fantasizes about David Boreanz and Clive Owens. She watches Smallville, reads Lisa Kleypas, wears Clinique Black Honey gloss and Xai Xai lipgloss from Cargo, uses a Benefit bent fine brush for smudging her eyeliner and Benefit mascara. When she ate Indian food, we found out it was chicken tiki masala, sag peneer, chana masala, and lamb vindaloo, basmati rice, and naan. It was detail overload.

While this book didn’t work for me on every level, it was different enough for me to try it again with the second series. C+

Best regards

Jane

This book can be purchased in mass market from Amazon or Powells or ebook format.