Romance, Historical, Contemporary, Paranormal, Young Adult, Book reviews, industry news, and commentary from a reader's point of view

England

REVIEW:  Red Dirt Duchess by Louise Reynolds

REVIEW: Red Dirt Duchess by Louise Reynolds

Red Dirt Duchess cover - Calbre

Dear Ms. Reynolds:

I decided to read Red Dirt Duchess because it was set in part in outback Australia and because the heroine sounded interesting. The Australian setting was nice and Charlie was indeed an enjoyable heroine, but it wasn’t enough to overcome some weaknesses in the plot and characterization. Before I move on, I’d also like to note that there are no duchesses in the book and that Charlie has dark hair, so I’m at a loss as to how the title and cover were chosen.

Jonathan Hartley-Huntley is a travel writer – exclusive resorts and other expensive attractions – for Aristo magazine. He’s educated, polished and successful. His editor Caro sends him to middle-of-nowhere Bindundilly, an assignment that he believes to be her idea of a punishment when their supposedly no-strings affair does not lead to something more serious. If this were a historical romance, Jon would be the rakish aristocratic hero with a severe case of ennui who doesn’t get along with this family and doesn’t know what to do with his life. In a contemporary, he’s mainly lacking in direction and initiative: he’s mainly focused on holding off his mother, who wants him to marry and produce heirs (he’s the second son of an earl), and avoiding Caro, who is the sort of woman his mother would choose. That said, he’s more appealing than the description suggests.

At Bindundilly, Jonathan meets Charlie Hughes, who runs the local hotel/pub. Charlie is the daughter of an artist father and a mother who struggled on and off with drug addiction; she had an unconventional childhood, and she misses her parents, both now gone. She moved to Bindundilly with her father a few years before his death, and likes living there. Charlie and Jonathan hit off pretty quickly. She finds it entertaining to oversell the dangers of the Australian outback to Jon, and he enjoys playing along to see how far she’ll go with it. They end up kissing and consider doing more, but both know that there’s no real possibility of a relationship given their very different lives and they decide to leave it at that.

Charlie’s father painted a mural on one of the pub’s walls that reminds Jon of a painting at his family’s home, Hartley Hall; this painting is personally meaningful to him and is tied to a childhood trauma that remains unspecified for much of the book. Charlie knows very little about her father’s background, other than that he was British-born, and before Jon leaves, he suggests that she should travel to England to see the painting and try learn more about her father.

It’s not clear why they think that this is the best way for Charlie to look into her father’s past, but a few weeks later, she impulsively takes Jon up on his offer. Maybe Google wasn’t working that day. Once the action shifts to England, the book loses much of its charm. I was again reminded of historical romances, because anyone who’s read certain classics should be able to predict the rest of the plot: Jon’s family, especially his mother, doesn’t approve of Charlie; she makes friends with the sassy and ultra-competent butler; the older Lady Rushton, a friend of the family, immediately takes to her; Charlie saves the day when there’s an emergency at a glitzy wedding being hosted at Hartley Hall (the family rents it out for events as a source of income); surprise relatives pop up, and so on. Jon’s family is the most stereotypical cold upper-class family imaginable and Caro is a standard-issue bitchy ex (though not an outright evil one, at least). It was all just too cookie cutter to really be engaging.

The thing is, this could have been a really nice romance. Charlie and Jon have chemistry, especially in the early parts, and they clearly enjoy each other’s company and like one another. Charlie is confident in herself and mostly happy with her life, and while she feels out of place in England, she doesn’t view herself as unworthy or less than the people she meets. When she steps up to help at the wedding – of a reality TV star known mostly for taking her clothes off – she’s happy to help make the couple’s day special and is the one person who never condescends to them. She recognizes her parents’ faults but loves them nonetheless, and wants to be with Jon, but not if he can’t stand up for himself and make his own choices rather than his mother’s. Charlie, and to a lesser extent Jon, deserved a better and less generic story. C-/C

Best regards,
Rose

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle

REVIEW:  The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

REVIEW: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

manzanilla

In October of 1806, the Little Season is in full swing, and Sally Fitzhugh has had enough of the endless parties and balls. With a rampant vampire craze sparked by the novel The Convent of Orsino, it seems no one can speak of anything else. But when Sally hears a rumor that the reclusive Duke of Belliston is an actual vampire, she cannot resist the challenge of proving such nonsense false. At a ball in Belliston Square, she ventures across the gardens and encounters the mysterious Duke.

Lucien, Duke of Belliston, is well versed in the trouble gossip can bring. He’s returned home to dispel the rumors of scandal surrounding his parents’ deaths, which hint at everything from treason to dark sorcery. While he searches for the truth, he welcomes his fearsome reputation—until a woman is found dead in Richmond. Her blood drained from her throat.

Lucien and Sally join forces to stop the so-called vampire from killing again. Someone managed to get away with killing the last Duke of Belliston. But they won’t kill this duke—not if Sally has anything to say about it.

Dear Ms. Willig,

I always eagerly anticipate a new Pink Carnation novel, partly to see who will be the main characters and partly to see what amazing title it will have. When I saw the vampire element in the description for “The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla,” I thought “How cool. She’s incorporated elements of a popular paranormal genre into a historical story at a point in time when it might actually have happened.” Well done. What wasn’t so well done for me was the way the circular dialog made the action seem like it dragged along.

As the book gets going, I was dismayed at the very cutesy opening and dialog between Sally and Lucien which reminds me a lot of the “around and around and around” stuff I last noticed in ““Night Jasmine.” Especially when they’re talking and arguing over the dead body of the young woman at Lucien’s sister’s coming out ball. They seem to stand there and discuss the situation for a good 15 minutes before doing anything. And unless it’s a very, very small dwelling, The Happy Home Life scene at Turnip’s house seems a bit too cosy for Lucien to be able to overhear what happens in another room parlor, smell the cinnamon from the kitchen and hear jam smeared Parsnip running from the nursery.

Still, the plot and possible reasons for French spies being involved in Lucien’s family’s murder is clever and realistic. I’m all over historical plots that actually use history in them and have it make sense.

But the first 2/3 of the book seemed to be little but Sally and Lucien twittering and nattering at each other and no doing. It’s very bubbly and very sparkly but it got maddening after a while when action got sacrificed for fizz. Forward motion in the plot lumbers along at a stultifying pace all in the name of more dialog that goes nowhere. I know this is a series that takes jabs at the overabundance of historical spies but even with that I have my limit of tolerance.

Yet just as I was wondering if I needed to start skimming, it clicked into place for me. I will admit to feeling exactly about Sally and Lucien as you wanted – namely that Sally is a yappy puppy, busy body and Lucien had been ignoring his ducal duty. How do I know this is what you were aiming for? Because Sally and Lucien call each other on it which leads to them beginning to examine their behavior and improve themselves. At this point, things definitely started looking up.

The way Sally charges to Lucien’s rescue is rather sweet and yay for the fact that she actually manages to do some good while charging. The villain’s identity and reasons for why he does as he does make sense and don’t appear out of the blue. And the stoat – I have to say I love the stoat plus the fact that we get to see lots of Turnip and Arabella.

I’m also getting more into the slow but steady relationship between Colin and Eloise. This little bit of story is crucial for them and I think the book ends in a great place with options and a twinkling future. Eloise might just have a dazzling career vs boring academia.

If this book didn’t totally rock my reading world, I have to say I’m stoked about whose story is next. I’ve been waiting for this one. C+

~Jayne

AmazonBNKoboAREBook DepositoryGoogle