Because most of the books I’ve read this year so far have been given the full-length review treatment, there are only two covered in detail in this column. My other reviews for this time period are linked at the bottom of this post.
Back in December Kelly raved about this short book, which features a friends to lovers marriage of convenience between a computer programmer heroine and a pastor hero. I was drawn in by the premise, that although this book featured a hero who was a minister, it was not a Christian romance. I prefer books that don’t preach about Christianity, but at the same time I have a fondness for characters whose faiths are in evidence.
Marriage for Christmas is a simple story and for me the simplicity was both part of its charm but also occasionally a source of frustration.
Best friends Jessica and Daniel already love each other as friends when Jessica proposes that they marry to help Daniel secure the position of minister in their hometown. Daniel resists the idea at first, telling Jess he doesn’t plan on falling into romantic love again after the loss of his first wife. But Jessica wears him down with her explanation that she wants kids and their friendship-love will be enough for her. What Daniel doesn’t know is that Jessica has been in love with him for years.
The relationship development in this one is lovely and romantic. There is sex and it is sexy. though Jessica is a virgin which is unusual for her age and explained by her love for Daniel. Thankfully, Daniel is not a rake.
There is humor and it is funny, involving disagreements over Jessica’s dog. There is emotion as Jess gradually breaks down Daniel’s stubborn emotional barriers. These two are already friends so when Daniel tries to shut her out, it’s difficult for him to accomplish but also hurts Jessica. A good thing Jessica is even more stubborn than Daniel and there is a happy ending for this sweet couple.
Still, while I enjoyed the book I didn’t love it as much as Kelly did. One thing that bothered me was that there was a lot of emphasis in the story (mostly from Jess herself) on her lack of domestic skills like cooking. This struck me as a little too 1950s.
Another issue was that Daniel suffers a crisis of faith yet this seems to have no impact at all on his ability to do his job as a pastor. I didn’t find that believable.
I also wanted to know when Daniel first fell for Jess romantically, as well as when he realized it, but these questions were left unanswered. B-.HQN
I adored the first novel in this two book series, The Lotus Palace, so it should come as no surprise that I enjoyed The Jade Temptress as well. We have a great group review by Jayne, Sunita and Willaful. Sunita and Jayne gave this one a straight A and Willaful rated it a B+. My own grade is the same as Willaful’s but that still puts this book head and shoulders above most historical romances I’ve read recently.
The Jade Temptress takes place in Tang Dynasty (specifically 848 AD) China centers on the lovely, enigmatic and famed courtesan Mingyu, and on Wu Kaifeng, a strong, straightforward police constable.
When Mingyu stumbles on the dead and headless body of her “protector,” General Deng, she summons Kaifeng to the scene of the crime. As he investigates the murder, Kaifeng encounters again and again the woman who has secretly fascinated him since he arrested her the previous year.
Gradually—very gradually—Mingyu and Kaifeng get to know each other, but after a powerful bureaucrat obsessed with Mingyu crosses paths with them both, things come to a head on several fronts.
Mingyu falls into a type of heroine I really appreciate – the sort who may appear cold on the outside, but it’s because she’s walled off parts of herself that the hero can reach. I loved her elegance and wit, as well as her loyalty to herself and her appreciation of the value of her skills as much as I did her loyalty to Kaifeng and to her sister, Yue Ying.
Kaifeng is what some might call the strong, silent type. He doesn’t speak unless he has something important to say, and like Mingyu, he doesn’t wear his emotions on his sleeve. In fact, he’s so solid and dependable partly because his emotional reactions are often more muted than those of other people, which makes it all the more moving when he recognizes his feelings.
The mystery is well-executed, with procedural elements like forensics and interesting clues.I would say the mystery aspect is handled better here than in The Lotus Palace, but for me, The Lotus Palace was more romantic.
The reason for the latter is this: I desperately wanted Mingyu and Kaifeng to share something of their past heartaches with each other earlier than they did. Neither of these two had an easy childhood and I wanted that to come to the surface of their relationship a bit more and a bit sooner than it did.
It takes three-quarters of the book for Kaifeng to open up to Mingyu about what he suffered, while Mingyu never shares her own painful past with him. It would have been out of character for Kaifeng or Mingyu to navel gaze or cry, and I would not have wanted that, but I did want a greater sense of emotional intimacy between them and just a little bit more in the way of shared confidences could have fulfilled that for me and edged the book into A level terrain. B+.HQN
Here are the other books I’ve reviewed between January and March:
Howl’s Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones — B-
The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin — A-
Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie — A
Moth and Spark by Anne Leonard (Joint review with Kaetrin) — C+/B- for me and B-/C+/B for Kaetrin