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REVIEW:  The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

REVIEW: The Mark of the Midnight Manzanilla by Lauren Willig

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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

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GUEST REVIEW:  The Baron Next Door: A Prelude to a Kiss Novel by Erin Knightley

GUEST REVIEW: The Baron Next Door: A Prelude to a...

Elaina started reading romances in high school, but only started telling people she read romances within the last few years. Historicals will always remain her favorite, although she finds herself reading other genres depending on her mood. Favorite authors include Elizabeth Hoyt, Lisa Kleypas, Tessa Dare and Meredith Duran. She’s always on the hunt for innovative historical romances—especially non-Regency historicals—so drop her a line if you have a recommendation.

 

The Baron Next Door: A Prelude to a Kiss Novel by Erin Knightley

Dear Ms. Knightley:

You’ve been on my radar for a while now as a new-to-me historical romance author, although it’s only until now that I’ve sat down and read one of your books. I was also intrigued to find out that your romances do not include any sex scenes—not even fade-to-black sex scenes. This is rare in romances, I’ve found, especially secular romances.

The Baron Next Door tells the story of Hugh Danby, retired army officer and newly made Baron Cadgwith, and Charity Effington, daughter of a viscount and Hugh’s next-door neighbor. Both have come to Bath for the summer, although for entirely different reasons. Hugh suffered a severe head injury in the war, which now causes him acute headaches, to the point of being bedridden. He has come to Bath to try the waters in hope of some relief.

Charity comes to Bath after having recently ended an engagement with her fiancé: he fell in love with another woman, and she was kind enough to release him from his promise to her. She travels to Bath with her grandmother to take part in the summer music festival. Charity not only plays the pianoforte but writes her own music. She plans to enter the music festival to show off her skills, although there are a few snags to this plan along the way.

Charity’s music, however, is unbearable for Hugh, as their homes are so close together that the sound of her piano playing triggers his headaches. Thus, when they first meet, it is when Hugh has suffered from an attack and rudely asks Charity to stop playing so he can have some peace and quiet. Charity, unsurprisingly, doesn’t take his command to stop playing well. The two start out on an awkward footing, one assuming he is an unmitigated ass, the other just wanting to be alone and in silence.

The strengths of this novel lie in the depiction of the hero, Hugh: his attacks are described in heartrending detail, making his brusque and rude behavior toward Charity plausible and even sympathetic. He believes himself a broken man and undeserving of a woman like Charity. I enjoyed watching Hugh come alive again with Charity’s help and overcoming his fears to embrace love and companionship.

Charity, however, remains a rather static character throughout the story, and quite honestly, I wanted to shake her more than once. She’s rather sweet and naïve, devoted to her music and not much else. Misunderstandings abound, usually with Charity taking offense without examining why Hugh is acting strangely. When Hugh opens up to her but then later leaves abruptly during a party when Charity is urged to play, she takes offense and assumes the worst. Hugh explains his infirmity, Charity feels guilty, rinse, repeat. Charity continues to assume the worst in Hugh, and this happens again and again as the novel progresses.

The novel also suffers from lack of actual romance in the first third, which features more of Charity and her two friends and fellow musicians, Sophie and May, than it does her relationship with Hugh. May, in particular, and her history is beyond farfetched to me. You see, May was born in the East Indies, grew up there, and is sent to Bath after her mother dies. May, we come to find out, is actually named Mei-li, although she is described as the quintessential English rose; neither of her parents is Chinese. Add to that, she describes her homeland as the East Indies—not England, as she does not consider herself English—and May becomes one of the most improbable characters I’ve encountered in a novel.

You will never convince me a 19th century English couple would name their daughter a Chinese name just out of sheer love for the country they’ve been sent to colonize. It’s a bizarre choice and threw me from the story, not to mention the sugarcoating of English colonization that results from this choice. There is also this weird blending of India and China into one mega-country, which seems odd considering how devoted May is to her “homeland” of China, which makes this entire part of the novel seem sloppy and unbelievable.

And the crème de la crème of this exotification is that May has brought along her Chinese maid Suyin (who we never see, mind you), who just so happens to be an expert in tui na, a type of Chinese massage. Of course, Suyin the Chinese maid is a magical masseuse from the East Indies. And conveniently, Suyin is able to teach Charity her massage techniques to help Hugh with his attacks. Convenient, those foreigners.

Overall, though, I enjoyed Charity and Hugh’s romance, as it was both sweet and heartwarming once they stopped misunderstanding each other. The parts where they talk on their respective balconies are the strongest and most romantic parts of this story, especially when Charity plays for Hugh. The story remained a solid B until the ending that brought in conflict for conflict’s sake mixed in with one of the most obnoxious romance tropes ever, a trope I wish would be banned for all eternity from romances.

So, with all that combined, I have to give The Baron Next Door a C+.

Sincerely,

Elaina

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