The Rake’s Intimate Encounter by Ann Lethbridge
I’m still not sure I completely understand the set-up of this novella. I realize it’s a prologue, so to speak, for Lethbridge’s historical series for Harlequin but even so I felt like I was dumped midway into a story without any map to point me in the right direction.
Anthony Darby has accompanied his friends (the characters of the forthcoming novels, if I’m guessing correctly) to an exclusive club where the ladies of the ton can live out their greatest fantasies. I know I’m probably the least knowledgeable about historicals of any of the Dear Author bloggers, but something about that rings false. Please correct me if I’m wrong. It might have helped to get more background into the club’s existence and its owner, but I can only assume that’ll be explored in one of the forthcoming books.
At any rate, Tony is skeptical about the whole thing and doesn’t intend to indulge himself despite his friends’ encouragement. That is, until he meets Margaret, the widow of a Russian count. Their attraction is instantaneous and they waste no time acting upon it. What makes their rapid capitulation interesting is that it goes against a belief both of them held: no more emotional commitments.
What charmed me most, however, was the ending. One of the ongoing criticisms readers (myself included) have about these quick reads Harlequin offers is that the storylines often don’t work well at the short lengths — plotlines get dropped, characterization is short-changed, and the endings often turn out unbelievable. But for a change, I found this ending believable and refreshing. It might not be what some readers are used to, from a romance story, because nothing is explicitly definitive but I was left with enough optimism to believe that Tony and Margaret will get their HEA. B
The Unlacing of Miss Leigh by Diane Gaston
This novella, on the other hand, is the perfect example of how different a novel is from shorter fiction formats and how a story can suffer when treated like a very, very short novel.
Here we have another Margaret, this time a poor vicar’s daughter who’s answered an advertisement for a lady’s companion. Of course, what she didn’t realize what that the man who’d written the ad was not looking for a lady’s companion — at least not in the sense she’s assumed. He was looking for a mistress. Our hero is Captain Graham Veall, a veteran of the war against Napoleon. Unfortunately, he was severely scarred in battle and has become something of a recluse.
If you think this sounds like a Beauty and the Beast story, you’d be correct. To his credit, Graham corrects Margaret’s mistaken assumption immediately. But to his surprise, Margaret decides to accept his offer. She needs the money, after all, to send her younger brother to school and in exchange for two months of her time, Graham will support both her and her younger brother for the rest of their lives. A small price to pay, right? Of course, Margaret has an ulterior motive. Once she figures out his true identity, she realizes he’s the boy who saved her as a child and for whom she’s carried an unrequited crush ever since.
Where this novella stumbles is during those two months Margaret spends as Graham’s mistress. I think it lasted a paragraph. Maybe two. To say it was glossed over is an understatement.
Novelists have said, both here at DA in the comments and elsewhere, that writing short stories is hard. I have no doubt that is true. A novel and a short story (or novella) aren’t the same thing. There just isn’t the space in the shorter formats to go into the same amount of detail you can get from a novel. Where I’ve grown used to seeing those “shortcuts” is in the worldbuilding or characterization. What I didn’t expect was to see the shortcut in the actual plot.
And for that reason, I actually think this one would have worked better as a full-length novel. Despite the storyline’s strict adherence to convention, Beauty and the Beast stories are among my favorites. I could have done without the care bear epilogue though. C-