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REVIEW:  Follow a Star by Christine Stovell

REVIEW: Follow a Star by Christine Stovell


May Starling’s had enough of her demanding career and even more demanding ex. Responding to a ‘crew-wanted’ ad, she follows her dreams of escape only to find herself at sea with red-haired Bill Blythe.

Bill warns May that close-quartered living can create a boiling pot of emotions, but even May is surprised by the heat building up inside the vintage wooden boat. And when May and Bill tie up at Watling’s Boatyard in Little Spitmarsh, May’s determined to test her new-found feelings on dry land.

But May’s dream of escaping her former life is in danger of being swept away when several unwelcome blasts from the past follow her ashore, all seemingly hell-bent on reminding her it’s never that easy to clear the decks.

Dear Ms. Stovell,

Sometimes it’s the smallest or oddest things that will catch my attention when offered a book to potentially review. Here it was the thought of cool water during a hot summer and the place name Little Spitmarsh. I just love the idea that a place with such a name could exist.

Since your bio states that you’ve sailed, I knew that these portions of the book would be believable. As story moved into the sailing part, it immediately brought to mind something I first heard about while reading Kate Fox’s “Watching the English” namely the BBC Radio 4 broadcast of the Shipping Forecast. Let me tell you my reading day would have been made if that had been mentioned in the book.

For the most part, I like May but Bill gives me pause.

Bill starts by not only jumping to conclusions about May each time he thinks she maybe, might, possibly be a gold digging, money hungry, promise breaking flirt – he practically leaps on his conclusions, tackles them to the ground, and throttles them up until the point at which May busts his nuts and tells off his miss-conclusions. Then he’s as meek as a lamb until he thinks bad thoughts again. Bill is like a weathervane. He flips this way and then flips out based on his opinion of what May has done or not done. He spends a lot of the novel thinking the worst of her in any situation. He does usually do a complete 180 after May yells back at him but then off he goes again… Very disconcerting. It would make me wonder about Bill’s mental state on a constant basis. May has enough difficulties from her old manager without this added.

Bill does have that guy way of avoiding deeper emotions by talking about something else such as when he masks his feelings by discussing the tidal flows around Little Spitmarsh rather than dare tell May what he actually feels for her. I lost count of the number of times the phrase “ginger builder” gets used..There is a whole lot of emphasis on Bill’s hair! Are redheads so unloved in the UK? I guess based on the sperm banks now telling red headed men not to bother, they are.

May makes strides in personal growth, getting some agency and sticking up for herself. She recognizes Aiden as a problematic asshole and is trying to overcome him while rising above his manipulation. Cheers to her for doing this basically by herself. She has some family and friend support but pulls this strength from herself above all. May might start out a touch unsure of herself but when Bill shows his arse, she answers and lets him have it. By the end she is woman, hear her roar.

I do like the humor sprinkled through the story – especially May’s black humor after their near miss with the gigantic cargo ship. “Oh there you are. And there. And there too…”

1/3 of the way in and a new couple is introduced? I’m okay with the call back to the obvious previous book couple of Matthew and Harry but now B&B couple too? It just seemed strange to me. I also got tired of May’s hippy dippy parents hogging time away from Bill and May.

I did change my mind about various characters along the way. Some whom I thought would turn out differently ended up on my “like” column – including Thunder and Fiona. Aging rocker Thunder turns out to be a darling – he’s got a real Bill Nighy vibe going and turns out to give May the most support in her effort to break free of her past.

The Mummy Brigade scene was hilarious and as someone who is very “your child is nice but let him/her stay over there please,” I feel as May and Fi did in the cafe. But then Fi’s sudden realization of the evils of the world to an unborn fetus – soft cheese, shellfish, cat litter boxes is noir-ly comedic.

All the loose ends get neatly tied up in boat knots. I don’t think there’s a single undotted i or uncrossed t. All are nicely finished off, in ways that make sense and seem to promise happiness but all almost too ship shape and Bristol fashion. Like the nautical terms I threw in?

Overall my feeling is this is a nice little story. Fairly harmless for the most part with some issues but still worth a look for a contemporary English romance with lots of local color and English flavor. It’s also a good bet for sailors and people who enjoy tidal marshes and seacoast settings. I’m definitely going to have to look up a Cornish Crabber, a Dallimore sloop and a Folkboat. Still after all the flips and flops that Bill engages in over the course of the story, I’d like a little more time to be sure that this time he’s not going to suddenly change his mind and think the worst of May again. B-


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REVIEW:  In For a Penny by Rose Lerner

REVIEW: In For a Penny by Rose Lerner

In For a Penny cover Dear Ms. Lerner,

I’ve been having a hard time finding historical romances to read, and Janine suggested that I take a look at your older romances. I actually read A Lily Among Thorns a while ago and it didn’t leave much of an impression, but In For a Penny turned out to be much more enjoyable.

Nathaniel Ambrey, Viscount Nevinstoke, is heir to an earldom but has little to occupy him, so he spends his time running around town and having fun with his friends. He meets Penelope Brown at a ball and is drawn to her appearance and interest in music, but does not give it much further thought.

Soon after, however, Nev’s father is killed in a duel. The late Earl of Bedlow was, as Nev notes to Penelope earlier, good at spending money but not at making it. This leaves his family in crushing debts, and although Nev sells everything he can, it’s not enough. When his younger sister Louisa suggests that she might help the family’s financial situation by marrying a merchant, Nev thinks of a better idea: he’ll propose to Penelope, who has a fortune settled on her by her father.

In another book, Nev might have set out to court and seduce Penelope without telling her the reasons until later. Fortunately, In For a Penny is not such a book. Nev tells Penelope exactly what his situation is, but also tells her that he would not have proposed if he did not like her and thought that they could get along well together. Much to her shock and that of her parents, Penelope accepts, and the two are soon married.

Penelope and Nev then set off for his estate, Loweston, where it turns out that things have gone very badly for the tenants in recent years. The two of them are essentially strangers at this point, and they try to find a way to build a life together while also dealing with the many problems and challenges facing them at Loweston. Their neighbor Sir Jasper is convinced that the workers are criminals about to revolt and treats them accordingly, and the local vicar is not helping matters, either. Nev has cut himself off from his friends after his father’s death, convinced that he has to be responsible and avoid any of the temptations that eventually lead to his father’s ruin, and he and Penelope are essentially on their own in a situation that neither has been trained to deal with.

Penelope and Nev are wonderful characters. They’re young, even for a historical, and it shows: nineteen year old Penelope is not long removed from finishing school, where she struggled to fit in. Her parents started out poor, and while they are now wealthy, their money was made from a brewery and they lack social graces and connections. As a result, Penelope has always been made to feel like an outsider who could never be a lady. She doesn’t know how to deal with the angry tenants, and is insecure in her relationship with Nev. While the two get on well, she knows that he would have never chosen her where it not for her wealth. Penelope has a good head for numbers and experience in bookkeeping from her father’s business, but she doesn’t feel like there is much more that she can contribute.

Nev is twenty three, and until his father’s death, he had no responsibilities at all. He has no idea how to fix the situation his father left and being in a position of authority is new to him. He admits to Penelope early on that he is not particularly clever when it comes to business, and is happy to rely on her in this area. While he very much likes Penelope, he feels like he doesn’t have enough to offer her and believes that she deserved a better husband and life.

Although Penelope and Nev don’t believe that they are good enough for the other, it’s easy for the reader to see that they are wrong, and to root for them to get to know each other better and realize this too. Both are very caring and trying to live up to their new adult responsibilities. They share an interest in music and enjoy each other’s company, and they are just a good match in many ways.

I really enjoyed your writing and the dialogue, which reminded of older regency historicals at time rather than the modernized ones that we often see these days. You write about the period in a way that felt fresh and interesting, which is something that I appreciated. I also liked the secondary characters, especially Penelope’s parents. Often when a heroine comes from Penelope’s background, she is embarrassed about her origins and her parents are depicted as being interested mainly in her marrying a title. But Penelope loves her parents, and they are warm and very kind people, both to their daughter and to others. The last thing they want is for Penelope to marry a fortune hunter. They do come to like Nev for the person he is, and are supportive of their daughter and son in law.

In For a Penny was in A-grade territory for me for much of the story, but I did become frustrated with Penelope and Nev’s difficulty in communicating their feelings. At first this really worked for me, because the two barely knew each other when they married and I liked that it took time for them to build a relationship and trust each other. But eventually I just wished that they would stop feeling so inadequate and believe the worst about how the other person felt about them and the relationship. Both Nev’s former mistress and Penelope’s former suitor both eventually arrive at Loweston, though for different reasons, and Penelope and Nev can’t help but wonder if the other wouldn’t have been happier if they had been free to pursue those relationships.

It’s not unrealistic for two people who are young, inexperienced, and who married after a very short acquaintance to take time to learn to trust and communicate. My problem was not so much with the pacing but more because I felt the conflict was resolved artificially, as the story descended into melodrama in the latter part. It felt over the top and unnecessary, and I wish that Penelope and Nev had been given the opportunity to work out their differences and express their true feelings without it. Instead, the resolution struck me as rushed and too tidy. This wasn’t enough to spoil the book for me, but I was expecting something different and this seemed too conventional for the book and the characters. As a result, In For a Penny gets a B from me.

Best regards,

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