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REVIEW:  Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller

REVIEW: Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller

Variables of Love by M.K. Schiller (Goodreads Author)

Dear Ms. Schiller:

I’ve enjoyed every book that you’ve written to varying degrees. When this was submitted for review, I started it right away.

The first half of the book was a bit of a struggling as we are told repeatedly that Ethan Callahan, hot math major, has fallen in heavy lust for Meena Kapoor, a senior economics student. But the second half saves the story and becomes a unique, sometimes painful, but enduring romance.

Ethan and Meena attend Stanford and each are in their last year share an Advanced Statistics. What I found a bit strange was how forced Ethan’s internal narrative was as to how beautiful he thought Meena was, how he had to meet her, and was desperate to have any kind of interaction with her at all.

Her name was still a mystery, so I just called her Sunshine. I’d never called a girl that before, but it fit because she made me feel warm, calm, and happy. I’d never seen her smile, but I knew it would be a beautiful sight….

I wasn’t capable of more than a few words in the presence of that sexy mouth of hers. It was ironic how something that created speech made me speechless.

For Meena’s part, she thinks he’s beautiful, charming, and engaging but he’s not for her. Meena will enter into an arranged marriage, as per her family and cultural tradition, following her graduation from Stanford. Meena’s staunch belief in the importance of the arranged marriage and Ethan’s more romantic, Western notions of couplehood form the unique conflict for this book. And importantly, Meena is not merely reciting childhood dictum. She believes in the arranged marriage. (And really it is important for her to have conviction or the conflict is a false construct).

“Yes, I can deny anyone I don’t like. It’s kind of cool in a way. I can ask any question, no matter how private. I can ask them how much they make, what their deepest fears are, who they idolize. Things that might take you twenty dates to figure out, I’ll know in one meeting.”

Ethan shook his head, keeping his eyes fixed on the lake. “You’re missing the best part, Sunshine.”

“What’s that?”

He ran his fingers through his hair, and it miraculously managed to fall right back in place. I had to look away from him. Ethan’s voice was quiet, but his words coursed through me like a physical presence, gravelly and deep. “It’s not the knowing. It’s the finding out.”

Ethan is undeterred. He describes himself as having success because he knows how to break big goals down into little steps. Step 1. Get Meena to smile. Step 2. Get Meena to laugh. etc.

And ultimately, no matter how hard she tries to resist, Meena falls for Ethan but she tells him that their love and their relationship, whatever it may be, has a time limit. When they graduate it will be over. Ethan accepts this, not because he believes in that, but because he is convinced he can change her mind.

But we, the reader, know Meena’s mind whereas Ethan does not so he doesn’t see (or is unwilling to see) her very real belief that Ethan is a wonderful diversion, that she’ll have significant heartbreak but that her family cultural values have meaning beyond a one year romance in college. The time limit lends a bittersweetness to each romantic encounter.

Meena and Ethan become well articulated characters. Ethan’s very logical. He writes pros and cons lists, for instance, but underneath he is quite romantic. The New Year’s Eve gift was the perfect blend of his thinking. Meena is bound up by guilt over a teenage mistake and her need to make up for it. Much of her actions are driven by the loss of her brother and the resulting pain it inflicted on her family.

There are several secondary characters who affect Meena and Ethan. They aren’t sequel bait or orbiting satellites having only tangential importance. One of Meena’s friends is Indian and is struggling with his sexual identity. On the opposite spectrum is a girl who readily has sex. I felt she was castigated overly much for her sexual freedom, although I understood it to be set in contrast with Meena’s more rigid upbringing. I just wish that Meena’s female friend wasn’t the only one villainized for her sex driven behavior.

I was a little surprised at how readily Meena disposed of her virginity with Ethan. She admitted virginity wasn’t a requirement of an arranged marriage but because she’d refrained from sex for so long, the easy capitulation to Ethan confused me.

The talk about arranged marriages was well done because it wasn’t villified. Instead it showed Meena experiencing both range of choices–from the bad to the very good. In the end, this was a battle between heart and head. Meena has to decide whether Ethan is more important to her or whether her family, her cultural values, and everything she’s ever held dear is worth tossing aside for one single individual.

The second half made this book a worthwhile read. The deep dive into cultural beliefs and the examination of the emotion of love was unique and refreshing. B-

Best regards,

Jane

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REVIEW:  Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley

REVIEW: Rules for a Proper Governess by Jennifer Ashley

Rules for a Proper Governess Jennifer Ashley

Dear Ms. Ashley:

As many readers here know, I’ve really struggled with the historical romance genre in the past few years despite it being my favorite genre in romance. And it’s not that I haven’t been trying to read it, but it’s been hard to lose myself in the books.

I was chatting with another reader and mentioned that I didn’t think historicals were as raw and earthy as I would like (because my tastes were changing as a reader). Despite the title, the story in Rules isn’t rigid and uptight. It’s a story about a small time grifter, a barrister with secrets, and two children who need more love in their lives.

The heroine is Roberta “Bertie” Frasier, a small time thief. A friend of hers is being tried for murder whom she knows is set up to take the fall for Bertie’s would be suitor’s brother. As she watches from the gallery, Bertie is convinced that she’s watching the verbal lynching of her innocent friend by barrister Sinclair “Basher” McBride. When McBride turns the tables and gets her friend off, Bertie tumbles half in love.

Her father and the suitor, however, aren’t as pleased. Her father sends her to steal something from McBride, just to get a little of their own back. She does so because the threat of being beat is a good motivator and, truthfully, she wouldn’t mind getting closer to McBride. The theft of the watch leads to McBride chasing her into a trap but Bertie doesn’t want to see McBride hurt so she helps him escape, but not before she steals a kiss from him.

McBride would have let about anything go, but not the watch. It was given to him by his long deceased wife and he treasures it. After Bertie saves him from a beating and kisses him senseless, he returns home with a sense of emptiness.

Bertie is intrigued by McBride and semi stalks him. This stalking leads her to be in the right place, at the right time, when the governess for the McBride family basically quits on an outing with Sinclair’s two children. The boy is a terror and the girl is a silent wraith. Bertie takes them to a pastry and tea shop, enjoys the heady experiences of being part of the moneyed class.

Andrew ate most of the cakes. Bertie managed to eat her fill in spite of that, and she lingered over her last scone. This was like a wonderful dream—a warm shop, clotted cream, smooth tea, and no need for money. What a fine world Mr. McBride lived in.

I love that Bertie is the instigator. She’s the one to kiss McBride, more than once. She inserts herself into his life and readily accepts his offer as governess. And she becomes instantly protective of not only McBride, but his children and his household. In some ways, the script if flipped here. Bertie is the stalker. Bertie is the aggressor. Bertie is the possessive one. But she does it in such an easy, nice way that you can’t help but love her.

She’s a creature of instinct. Every action she takes is of instinct and very little forethought. Fortunately she doesn’t come off as headstrong and stupid but rather entertaining, fun, and engaging. I read a lot of her scenes with a smile on my face.

McBride is a little harder to warm up to. He still has strong feelings for his dead wife and he’s not a particularly good father, something the story really doesn’t acknowledge. But because Bertie finds McBride fascinating and desirable and I like Bertie, I root for their inevitable pairing. There’s a surprise in McBride’s past that I really, really enjoyed. It made his relationship with Bertie all the more believable and helped soften his sometimes priggish edges.

If there’s a strong character arc change in either one, I didn’t see it. Yes, McBride falls for Bertie but Bertie is the same cheerful, sweet, impulsive woman at the end as she was in the beginning. Perhaps the changes were subtle. The most obvious changes occur in McBride as he lets go of his past and with his children as they both become more settled under Bertie’s direction. (She plays the most perfect governess, knowing when lessons should be had and when fun should be had. That might be irritating to some)

The romantic tension simmers on low for a while and I was glad for that because I wasn’t ready for the two to consummate their relationship in part because I wanted to see McBride be fully into Bertie when the physical relationship commenced.

An underlying suspense thread wends through the book as someone threatens to reveal McBride’s secrets and there are many returning characters, some that I remembered and some that I did not. Hart is still stern and stuffy and Ian is still mysterious. If Bertie was a bit too perfect, I didn’t mind but I do wish McBride was a more vibrant character. B-

Best regards,

Jane

As a side note, this book takes place before Daniel’s book.

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