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REVIEW:  The Derby Girl by Tamara Morgan

REVIEW: The Derby Girl by Tamara Morgan

“Roller derby girl Gretchen “Honey Badger” Badgerton lives in the moment, no apologies. Like every woman in Pleasant Park with a pulse, she finds Dr. Jared Fine irresistible, but she’s taken by surprise when her unattainable new neighbor asks her out.

On paper, Jared is the perfect man: gorgeous, wealthy and charitable. But his golden image is just that, and opening an upstate practice is a welcome chance to start a new life. When Gretchen stops to help him with a flat tire, he’s intrigued by her feisty attitude—and her sexy body art. There’s something refreshing about being with a take-charge woman who doesn’t expect him to be anything but himself.

Though Gretchen is hesitant to shatter Jared’s “bad girl” illusion of her, she has to face facts: she’s fallen for the good doctor. She’s used to putting everyone else’s needs before hers, but as their relationship heats up, can she handle having someone take care of her for a change?”

Dear Ms. Morgan,

A friend of mine told me that I had to read this book. I was hesitant but she insisted. After checking out the cover and reading that Gretchen is a) a roller derby woman and b) she’s covered with tattoos I decided that, yes, I had to read it too.

Derby-GirlFrom the opening scene, I knew that this one was going to be different. A militant roller skating pixie meets up with an assholic, egotistical plastic surgeon and proceeds to put him in his place effortlessly. Poor Jared is thrown off balance when this tiny woman, who looks like her face has gone 10 rounds with an abuser, acts like she’s going to change his tire for him. I don’t think Jared is in charge of the relationship from that point on. Jared, bless him, does want to bust up whoever has done this to her before realizing what’s caused the bruising and blood.

Gretchen is such a breath of fresh air – to me and to Jared who seems bewildered by how (usually) easy she is to get along with. Gretchen doesn’t play games, Gretchen calls it like it is, Gretchen sees a problem and nails whoever is responsible for it and then doesn’t hold a grudge. She’s actually amused by Jared’s assness. Plus her tattoos and vintage/slashed clothes are great! But she has her limits of what she’ll put up with.

And Jared can be an ass. He knows it, his coworkers know it but he is amazed that Gretchen is willing to skewer him, explain why his latest action was assholic and then, when he’s fixed the problem, go with the flow again. Gretchen is unlike any woman he’s met. Gretchen gives him oodles of second chances and when he’s finally made her smile – truly smile – he feels like he’s won the lottery. I’m not sure though about a plastic surgeon with an abundance of free time on his hands. I guess in comparison to his 24 hour “on” life out in the field in the third world it would be easier but I’m sure this feeling won’t last long.

Sly, deadpan humor is what makes me happy so I was very happy reading this book. I love a lot of the secondary characters too – the cranky gran who isn’t the “cute old person” – she’s just cranky, Gretchen’s friend Caitlyn who shares her roller derby passion and the way Jared bonds with Wally during late night insomnia. I honestly thought I was going to bust a gut laughing during the dinner scene in the epilogue and, considering I usually despise epilogues, that’s saying something. Poor Jared was about to explode from apoplexy when Gretchen served up who he thought was the main course.

But some of the characters were underdeveloped to me. Gretchen’s sisters sort of morphed into one faceless “villain” and Jared’s dad showed up as fairly one dimensional. I also felt I was missing some backstory on Jared’s friends and his relationship with them. I understood it because it was spelled out but I didn’t “see” enough of it for it to mean much to me beyond annoyance at not understanding it.

Jared goes through some wrenching changes. Gretchen challenges him “to act better, to think more, to become worthy.” And just when he thinks he’s seen the light and “gets it,” Gretchen lowers the boom and spells out to him how little he still understands her and their relationship. It’s here when I also finally got why Jared had left his position with the humanitarian group to join his friends in their spa. Being a martyr and using the toughness of the job as a penance for all his past faults finally caught up with him after wearing him down for years as well as making him lonely.

But what finally saves the future of this relationship for me isn’t that Jared is no longer an assholic man – to some. But that he has changed for the better for his relationship with Gretchen however – and this is a big however – he’s not holding her responsible for keeping him changed. He’s committed to doing that himself and trying to make her happy even as he continues to see the real her, the person deep down and underneath her tattoos and faux bravado. Even as he helps her to finish herself, to reach for and obtain what she wants in life.

The romantic relationship had me believing in it and their future together. But the fuzziness of some of the secondary characters and feeling that I was missing some vital backstory detracted from my overall enjoyment. B-

~Jayne

 

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REVIEW:  Seduction in Silk by Jo Beverley

REVIEW: Seduction in Silk by Jo Beverley

“A curse, a bachelor, and a spinster with a gun.

Perry Perriam has no time for marriage, but when he’s named heir to Perriam Manor he must marry a stranger or his family will lose the ancient estate. There’s a strange curse in the mix as well.

Claris Mallow has survived her parents’ tormented marriage and even though she’s living in a cottage on a very small income she has no intention of marrying anyone. She’s even willing to make her point with a pistol!”

Dear Ms. Beverley,

I look forward to my annual trips to the World of Malloren “where all things are possible.” Included in this novel are: discovering all about curses, 18th century road conditions, how the village folk view any deviation from their quiet and hum-drum existence, marble statue renovation, what to put in a basket designed to lure young women into marriage, exactly why it’s so vital that romance heroines be willing to get their younger brothers into Eton, Introduction to Estate Management for Young Ladies, and how the powerful and wealthy enjoyed themselves in London – including ways to further society – which could be done with their clothes on. Some of these things I had great fun delving into and some … well … didn’t hold my attention quite as much.

seduction-in-silkI did like Claris and Perry. Well, I’ve been waiting for Perry’s story for two books now and he didn’t disappoint. Claris made me happy because when Perry arrives at her humble Lavender Cottage offering what he thinks will be a quickly snapped up marriage proposal, Claris sets him back on his heels a bit when she says the unthinkable “no.” Ah, now Perry actually has to pull out his vaunted social skills and try again. And she still says “no.” Stunned and running out of time before his bedamned distant cousin’s fiendish will conveys the Perriam family homeplace out of the family for good, Perry must throw himself upon the mercy of his friend Ashart’s wife Genova who helps him fill a basket with tempting delights to woo a young woman. And even then Claris almost turns Perry down again until her unconventional grandmother provides him the key.

I’ve read this scenario in countless books but here it works. The reason lies in the fact that you don’t just tell the reader that Perry can help smooth her younger brothers’ way in life or that he can provide a place for Claris’s grandmother and companion as well as a comfortable home for her. One thing I think you do really well in your books is explain history. You take the time to lay out WHY the twins need Eton and the connections they’ll make there, WHY they need the polish and social greasing of wheels and you don’t just have Claris clasp her hands, cast her eyes Heavenward and (almost happily) whine that she must sacrifice herself on the Altar of Family.

It’s nice to see bits and pieces of past couples – ooh, that sounded either naughty or gruesome. Since Claris is now moving in this world with Perry it makes sense. The story is truly in the World of Malloren with intrigues and behind the scenes maneuvering. The mighty and powerful are shown being just that and influencing events though it’s sad to see beginnings of the Madness of King George. I enjoyed seeing signs of why this is Age of Enlightenment and of scientific discovery. Yet also the age of childhood death, illness and bad roads to travel on.

Another thing that tickles my fancy is that not all the marriages of their family members are deliriously happy. In fact Perry’s family boasts a fair share of unhappy unions. This seems so much more realistic. Bonus hot chocolate sauce added because it’s not all happy siblings who love each other either – Perry can’t stand some of his brothers and doesn’t think much of his overbearing father – yet filial duty to him and to the Earldom is still the order of the day.

Perry and Claris initially plan to live separate lives – which would not be unusual for many couples in this day and age – though we of course know this won’t hold here. He prefers town and she the country yet soon each is starting to change the other slightly, to expand horizons and ideas. But I’m glad this switch didn’t arrive too quickly as both were set in their preferences in addition to having family obligations on Perry’s side. You set up some good reasons for this to be a source of conflict and take the appropriate amount of time to settle things.

It’s realistic that they’re not in love and that lust and pleasures of marriage bed come first only to slowly lead to a growing relationship and then move to love.

But Claris’ sudden change from wanting Perry to “get out!” the very afternoon of their marriage to “I want a baby” seemed too fast. It’s almost literally overnight. I didn’t buy that. She’s been around babies, having almost raised her two younger brothers from infancy, so a day watching other mothers with their children x a few scenes of Perry en dishabille isn’t enough to convince me of this change of heart.

And then there’s the curse. Claris has never even heard of this curse before Perry arrives and tells her of it, along with his proposal, yet suddenly it takes over her life. She thinks about it often, she obsesses about whether or not it might effect her marriage, children and family, she single mindedly follows clues like a blood hound and just will not let it go. Even after almost all of her adult family members tell her she’s taking it far too seriously, she won’t give up. I never quite bought into this either. Beyond the little details of daily life that her quest provided me, I shifted into skim mode after a while.

The other issue that yielded delightful little nuggets of 18th century life mixed into a somewhat ultimately boring plot thread was Perry’s turn at seeking a traitor in London. He works extensively with Cyn Malloren and Rothgar – yah! which lets us see a bit of how each of them is doing. This shows him doing the little influential things that caused him to be in such demand in London and showed how much Rothgar valued Perry’s help. Plus the post war London political scene is neatly laid out but the nitty gritty of tracking the two possible spies lost my attention way before the resolution.

Once Perry and Claris begin to grow closer together emotionally, I fell right in with their blossoming romance. I could see and accept how each began to change in their views on the lifestyle the other wanted to live so that by the end of the book, I could see them being happy in either town or country. Perry’s decision to defy his father and cleave to Claris seemed the perfect culmination of the book. But Claris’ change of heart about sex, coupled with the curse and the slow resolution of the spy issue caused me to lower the grade to a B-

~Jayne

 

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