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REVIEW:  A Minor Inconvenience by Sarah Granger

REVIEW: A Minor Inconvenience by Sarah Granger

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Duty, honor, propriety…all fall in the face of love.

Captain Hugh Fanshawe returned from the Peninsular War with a leg that no longer works properly, thanks to a French musket ball. Now his fight against Napoleon is reduced to quiet, lonely days compiling paperwork at Horse Guards headquarters.

His evenings are spent dutifully escorting his mother and sister to stifling social engagements, where his lameness renders him an object of pity and distaste. But his orderly, restricted life is thrown into sudden disarray with the arrival of Colonel Theo Lindsay.

Theo is everything Hugh is not—a man of physical perfection and easy yet distinguished address. Surprisingly to Hugh, Theo appears to be interested in making his acquaintance. Lindsay turns out to be a most convivial companion, and Hugh finds great pleasure in his company. Their friendship deepens when they become lovers.

In spite of himself, Hugh falls desperately in love. But when a French spy is suspected at Horse Guards, Hugh discovers nothing is as it seems…and the paper he shuffles from day to day could be the instrument of his lover’s death.

Dear Sarah Granger,
Sirius: I have never read any of your books before, and when I read the blurb of this book I thought it might be a good one to try. I actually have not read that many m/m romances in this setting and I rarely read historical m/f romances, which I know have been plentiful when it comes to the settings featuring the Peninsular wars. I found the setting to be way too general, and with a few little changes (Hugh could have returned from any war, really, instead of mentioning Wellington we could have had other military reader) it could have taken place at any time in the 18th or 19thcenturies when some war was almost always taking place. I wanted more indicators of the time and more importantly I wanted to read about the people from that time and I did not think I was getting any of it. Kaetrin, was there anything special that attracted you in the blurb?

Kaetrin: I liked the cover first (apparently I am that shallow) and then the blurb looked interesting. I’m fascinated by how gay men managed their relationships back then without being arrested etc and I like spy stories. I felt that some of the setting aspects were a little wallpaperish – but, for me, it wasn’t all that much different from the usual m/f Regency fare. It’s possible I “imported” my previous read to this story. I hadn’t read much about the Horse Guards before and I was interested in that. I felt the story had little snippets of information in it that added to the setting – like the names of the different regiments and their uniforms for example, but it wasn’t super-heavy on world-building. I will admit to some skimming of some parts of the story – I was much more interested in the interactions between Hugh and Theo.

I felt I got to know Hugh fairly well as it is told from his deep third person POV.  Theo was more opaque – which he kind of had to be for the story to work at all really (I don’t think it’s spoilerish to say that later in the novel Theo is suspected of being a spy).  Hugh is a detail-oriented, earnest and dutiful man who is unaware of his own attractiveness.  His mother and older brothers treat him as a cripple and this adds to his lack of self-esteem.  They’ve basically told him he can’t expect to get a wife anymore these days.  These insults were laid on him so casually and he internalised them to the point that he felt pretty worthless.  His young sister Sophia and his friend Lady Emily are much more sympathetic characters – they are supportive of Hugh and think he’s selling himself very short.  When Theo comes along and treats him as the handsome, whole man he actually this, this makes a big impact on Hugh.  Even more, Theo makes serious attempts to help Hugh regain more function and encourages him to do things (such as horse-riding) that he no longer thought he could do.

Sirius: I liked the cover too :) and I love spy stories myself. I agree with you about Theo, but I had the same problem with both of them; and actually with almost every character in the story. Both Hugh and Theo bored me out of my mind. I do not make this claim lightly – more often than not a book affects my emotions and/or my mind in some way (be it positive or negative). But here I thought that both main characters were almost completely devoid of personalities, except that of being generic good guys. But they did not feel like believable good guys, they felt flat to me. You said that you felt you knew Hugh well because of the third person limited point of view. I do not think that even when I finished the story I knew him well at all. Either that or he really had that little substance to him. You do make a good point about him lacking self-esteem because of his injury, but for me it was just not enough to allow me to imagine him as a well-realized, fully fleshed character.

A very good example of me not knowing Hugh well was when Theo and somebody else in the story tell Hugh that he was being a typical Hugh (paraphrase). I remember thinking, what does that mean, being a typical Hugh? The clarification eventually followed – apparently it meant that he was being clueless –but until the author told me that explicitly I didn’t know, because I saw no examples of Hugh behaving in a clueless manner. As much as I usually want to like my romantic leads, while I was reading this book I was really hoping I could hate them for something, because it would have been better than me completely not caring what would happen to the guys next in the book.

Kaetrin: Oh, I thought that was in reference to Hugh’s habit of being a little slow on the uptake and generally imparting a benevolent meaning on anything. He tended to see the best in people (except perhaps himself) and didn’t notice when someone was using him or had ill intent. The only exception to that was Stanton – the “havey-cavey chap” who was interested in Sophia and whom Sophia was swooning over. Stanton had a bad reputation and Sophia, while pretty, did not come from wealth. This was a time when Hugh immediately intuited that Stanton wanted to get into Sophia’s pants and nothing more and he was determined to thwart those attempts.

I think you’re right about most of the secondary characters though. Sophia’s little side story did move the greater story along as Theo’s help was needed later on and this could either be the nefarious machinations of a master spy or the kind-hearted actions of a good friend and lover, but there wasn’t very much of the other characters. They seemed very broadly drawn. I would have liked to have known a bit more about Emily. Because Hugh was someone who tended to only see the surface of things, he didn’t understand everything he saw and thus the information for the reader was sometimes opaque. It was clear to me, for example, that Emily (somehow) knew that Theo was gay and Hugh as well but Hugh never picked up on that. Sometimes I’m a bit like Hugh and there were parts in the story I wish had’ve been more obvious – some of the things Emily said for example, because I don’t think I entirely grasped all the subtext.

Sirius: I think a little more depth in Sophia and Emily would have gone a long way to improve the story for me. They both seemed nice and Hugh seemed to love them both as a sister and dear friend respectively. And you also make a good point about Emily potentially being an interesting and sensible character, someone who can read people around her fairly well. Unfortunately I thought that the author just barely scratched the surface with them.
Theo as a spy master (suspected or real I will not say since those would be real spoilers) was another lost opportunity to me. I *wanted* to be glued to the pages when the spy storyline unfolded, but I thought that it lacked the suspense and the urgency of the moment. What did you think about espionage plot?

Kaetrin: Well, it felt a bit uneven to me. There was one part where a prominent person within the Regiment was murdered but this was dropped into the story almost as an aside. There was no outcry described. I’d have thought it would have been the talk of the Horse Guards but it didn’t even rate a mention. I felt like I’d missed a few pages there. The part between where Theo is suspected and the ending seemed a bit rushed and not super well set up. The bits leading up to it were well done I thought – there were things that Theo did which made sense when one understood the nature of their relationship but which could look suspicious otherwise and, of course, Hugh wasn’t free to confess their status. I think much more could have been made of it than there was. I read it primarily for the romance though, so, while I thought it was a bit of a lost opportunity in some ways, it didn’t make a huge impact on me.

I wanted to ask you, Sirius, what you thought of the sex scenes. I don’t know if I am just a pervert but I was a little frustrated by them. The bedroom door was open but it felt like the pair were under the covers (to continue the metaphor). There was a bit of detail but not all that much. I found myself a bit dissatisfied with it actually. I would have done better with either fade to black or more explicit sex I think. And, I’ve never heard a penis called a “yard” before. I mentioned on Twitter that maybe that means it was three feet long and a friend responded that maybe it just needed regular mowing! LOL.

Sirius: I do agree that Theo’s activities make more sense in retrospect, you make a really good point, I am just trying to figure out why I could not feel the rush, the excitement, the worrying over what was going to happen.

Oh yes – the sex scenes. I was dissatisfied with those – I am a tough customer to please with sex scenes even in a book I love otherwise, because in romance sex is usually just the icing on the cake for me. I can do completely without those and am ok if it is only “fade to black”, etc. Here, believe it or not I was waiting for the sex scene because I desperately hoped that it would finally show me some chemistry between Theo and Hugh. Granted, I usually prefer unresolved sexual tension between the characters which is being built and built till it explodes in a sex scene, but I decided that I would take what I could get. Sadly there was nothing for me to take from these sex scenes.

Kaetrin: I thought Theo and Hugh had some chemistry but I would have liked to have seen it explored better on the page. Like I said above, I did find myself skimming this one a little but I enjoyed it okay. There was something which bothered me at the end. I found it all a little… vague. Theo and Hugh were happy (it is a romance, after all) but there was no indication how they were going to continue their relationship. There was no discussion of how they would go forward. Given that being gay back then was criminal offense, I expected to see at least some discussion of it but it just kind of… ended.

Sirius: Actually, I would have liked to see how both men came to be so at ease with their attraction to other men in the first place. I mean, I know that Hugh was uneasy about visiting the bordel, but this is the only time I remember him being uneasy about it. And I read it more as being a fear of visiting something illegal, rather than worrying about being attracted to other guys. To me it sounded weird when the people like Hugh and Theo who were presumably growing up in a Christian European culture were not worried at all about whether their act was a sinful one, etc. I mean, if they were to grow throughout the book and eventually understand that there was nothing wrong with them, I could buy it, but as it stood, not really. I guess I should be grateful that they at least knew that it was dangerous to show their affection in public. I agree that ending was too abrupt and I would have liked to see more discussion of their relationship myself, but I guess I was already too disappointed and this was just one of the many disappointments that I had.

Kaetrin:  Because the story was told entirely from Hugh’s POV, I didn’t really expect to see anything about how Theo came to be comfortable in his homosexuality.  Personally, I felt that Hugh’s motivations were clear enough.  Also, as the third son he wasn’t necessarily expected to marry and have heirs so he didn’t need to worry about that, and in a weird way, his mother writing him off now he’s injured worked to his benefit as she stopped pressing him to marry.  I suppose there could have been more angst about his sexuality but I didn’t feel like it was entirely absent either.

Sirius:  I really wanted to love this book and there were glimpses of what I could have loved, but it just was not developed enough for me and I did not care about the main characters. Grade D.

Kaetrin:  I liked A Minor Inconvenience better than you did Sirius – it was a harmless evening read; entertaining enough but not earth-shattering either. I’d give it a C+.

 

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REVIEW:  Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

REVIEW: Being Sloane Jacobs by Lauren Morrill

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Dear Ms. Morrill,

When I picked up your novel, I somehow managed to misinterpret the back cover copy. For some reason, I thought the two heroines were twins separated at birth who randomly meet and switch places. No, I have no idea why I had The Parent Trap stuck in my head. I quickly realized my mistake but kept reading anyway. I’m glad I made that choice.

Being Sloane Jacobs is about two girls who share the same name: Sloane Jacobs (surprise). Sloane Emily Jacobs is rich and privileged. She’s the daughter of a U.S. senator. She’s a former figure skater whose mother is pushing her to make a great comeback. By contrast, Sloane Devon Jacobs comes from a working class family that lives in Philadelphia. She loves ice hockey but has a bit of an anger management problem.

Both girls have things wrong with their families. Sloane Emily walked in on her father getting far too friendly, shall we say, with a member of his staff. Her father, of course, is doing everything he can to make sure she keeps what she witnessed a secret. After all, the political landscape thrives on scandal like this. Sloane Devon’s mother is an alcoholic who got sent away to rehab. She feels abandoned and a large of chunk of her anger on the ice stems from the displaced resentment towards her absent mother.

When Sloane Emily is sent to Canada for figure skating camp, she accidentally runs into Sloane Devon, who’s also been sent to the same city for ice hockey camp. A luggage mix-up due to their names gives them a ridiculous idea. Both of them want to pretend to be someone else for a while. Why not switch places?

I won’t lie and say Being Sloane Jacobs is a deep, meaningful book. It’s not. It’s fun and light. I found it very enjoyable, in no small part because both girls are athletes. There’s a charming scene where Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon compare “battle scars” from their physical exploits and it’s details like that, which stick in my head.

While Sloane Devon initially scoffed at figure skating, I like that she realized immediately it’s hardly a cakewalk and is far more than just looking pretty on the ice. There’s a part of me that’s a little disbelieving about her mindset. I mean, I’m not a figure skater. I can barely roller skate. But I can tell that is a hard sport. Not only do you need the grace and flexibility of a ballerina, you need the strength to generate enough speed to jump. Never mind landing without falling. It’s obvious the amount of physicality involved. But I guess I can accept her attitude. Sloane Devon is a tomboyish jock at the start of the book. If she’s used to the rough play of ice hockey, I suppose I can believe she’d think that about “girly” sport like ice skating.

On the other hand, I wish we’d spent more time with Sloane Emily learning the strategies involved in ice hockey and how she learned to play on a team. I imagine going from singles ice skating to a team sport is rather jarring. The novel tries to play it off as Sloane Emily trying to hide her lack of hockey knowledge and just sticking to the basics. But knowing “the basics” doesn’t automatically make you a great team member who knows strategy. Maybe I just don’t know the rules and gameplay of hockey well enough.

Both girls have their own love interests. The romantic subplots were nice enough but I felt that both boys were ciphers. They didn’t feel like fully fleshed out characters, especially when compared to the two heroines. I wasn’t sure I bought that Sloane Emily’s love interest had reformed from his player ways. How do we know that? Because he says so? Sloane Devon’s love interest had a better presented conflict but even so, he came off somewhat flat.

I will say the novel does require a heavy dose of suspension of disbelief. Sloane Emily and Sloane Devon are not twins. They just share the same name. Sloane Emily is the daughter of a prominent senator whose family is always plastered in magazines and newspapers. She used to be a competitive figure skater. It’s hard to believe both girls can just pass for each other with no one noticing for most of the book. Especially when they’re learning new to them sports at the same time. It worked for me but I had to actively not think about this detail.

Maybe my love of female athletes who love sports, or learn to love sports, is clouding my opinion but I liked this novel. I think it’s a good, fast read for anyone wanting fleshed out female lead characters who are both strong and flawed but in different ways, without one “type” being presented as better than the other. That said, the shallowly drawn supporting characters — especially the love interests — really detracted from the book. This is a case where I point to many things I enjoyed but can also say it’s missing that indefinable spark that boosts a novel from good to great. C+

My regards,
Jia

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