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REVIEW:  The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

REVIEW: The Splendour Falls by Susanna Kearsley

splendour-falls

Emily Braden couldn’t resist the invitation to join her charming but unreliable cousin, Harry, on a visit to the town of Chinon—where, according to legend, Queen Isabelle hid her treasured jewels during a
siege in the 13th century. But when Harry vanishes and Emily begins to search for him, she uncovers the mystery of a different Isabelle. A mystery that dates back to the German occupation during the Second
World War. As Emily explores the city, with its labyrinthine tunnels and ancient history, she’s drawn ever closer to the mysterious Isabelles and their long-kept secrets…

Dear Ms. Kearsley,

I know I’ve mentioned before how much your novels remind me – in a good way – of Mary Stewart’s mysteries of the 50s and 60s but they do and this one in particular did. English heroine goes on supposed care-free holiday in a foreign country only to find herself in the midst of something wrong that she can’t quite put her finger on. There might be a romance, or there might not depending on how the men of the novel are presented on any given page. Then Events Escalate and she finds herself battling for justice and perhaps even her life. Yep, it reminded me of those Stewart books.

I love how everything is there. The clues and hints needed to solve what is going on are provided as the story proceeds. As one character says, you only need to look at them from the right angle and – voice – everything slots into place and makes perfect sense. Of course one must arrange them correctly, and view them properly and understand them …. But at the end of the book all the pieces to the puzzle are there for which I thank you.

The details of Chinon are a delight to read. I can see myself wandering down the streets to the river, looking over the steep drop of the chateau wall, watching the sun rise and make the golden, white walls glow over the blue roofed town. I would especially enjoy a trip to the Chapelle of St Radegonde. How does one get permission to have the keys? And I would never make the mistake of complaining about the fact that people speak so much French there! Heaven help you but I hope you didn’t actually run into any Garland Whitakers during your time there. But a nice, leisurely 3 hour lunch in a quiet restaurant with a charming Frenchman? That I could do.

Since this is primarily a romance book site, I know readers will want to know, “But does Emily find romance?” Well, there were times I wondered that as I was reading the book. There are several potential men scattered along the way and I wavered back and forth about which one could or would be romantic interest and who was actually trying to kill her. Congratulations for keeping me guessing until almost the end of the novel. I would love to have got a bit more payoff at the end but the way Emily’s Special Someone charges to her rescue does say a lot for him.

This is a delightful, modern gothic mystery with a romance. It’s evocative of the time and place and people and filled with fascinating characters who come to life off the page. And a great cat. B

~Jayne

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REVIEW: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

REVIEW: Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn Jewel

Dear Ms. Jewel,

I loved your 2009 book, Scandal, and very much enjoyed Indiscreet, which came out later the same year. So when I learned that you were publishing a new historical called Not Wicked Enough I got excited, and asked Jane if she could send me the ARC. Having now read it, I have mixed feelings about Not Wicked Enough. The novel has quite a bit of elegance and charm, but it’s in a lighter vein than Scandal and Indiscreet and was not quite as satisfying to me.

Not Wicked Enough by Carolyn JewelLily Wellstone arrives in Bitterward, the home of her widowed friend Ginny, at night and in the middle of a downpour. Occupying the entrance hall is an unsmiling gentleman in rough clothes. Yet despite his ill-fitting attire, Lily correctly identifies him as Ginny’s older brother, the Duke of Mountjoy. Lily and Mountjoy converse and when Lily mentions that she is rarely tired enough to sleep before four in the morning, Mountjoy shows her to the library.

Once there, Mountjoy learns from Lily that she is a wealthy heiress, the owner of Syton House, a very prosperous property, and that she was once disowned by her father for her wild nature. Lily offers to leave Bitterward before Ginny learns of her arrival, but Mountjoy, who finds her uncommonly attractive, welcomes her into his home despite the misgiving that Lily may “disrupt his peaceful country existence.”

Mountjoy is not wrong about that, since Lily proves to be a “managing” kind of woman, a bit like Sophy in Heyer’s The Grand Sophy, but more whimsical and less madcap. Lily likes to take others in hand and assist them in finding happiness by enticing them to have fun.

Lily’s first and foremost project is Ginny, who has been mourning her late husband too long, to a point of isolating herself and not allowing herself to enjoy life. Under Lily’s encouragement, Ginny begins to blossom once more, to wear colors and smile again.

But Lily does not confine herself to amusing Ginny alone, she also engages Mountjoy’s near-fiancée Miss Jane Kirk, and his brother Nigel, in such experiments as writing with glowing (and flammable) phosphorous ink. Which would be bad enough, to Mountjoy’s thinking, even without Jane’s suggestion that she write “Mountjoy has not smiled these seven years.”

Although Mountjoy and Jane are not betrothed, the entire neighborhood, Mountjoy included, expects they eventually will be. That Jane is shy and even fearful in his presence is disconcerting to Mountjoy.

Mountjoy and Lily encounter each other at night, when Lily wanders the house or the gardens because she has difficulty sleeping. The first time they meet in the garden, they kiss and then restrain themselves from succumbing to their mutual attraction.

That same night, Lily shows Mountjoy the medallion she says she received from a gypsy king in thanks for rescuing his dog. The gypsy king promised the medallion would unite its wearer with the person with whom he or she “is happiest in love.” But Lily does not expect that will happen for her, since she has already met that man.

Lily loved and still loves Greer, a soldier she meant to marry who died in the war before their union could come to pass. It’s been five years since Greer’s death, but Lily does not believe she will ever love again. Nonetheless, she still has an appreciation for a man’s body and has not forgotten carnal pleasure.

Thus it happens that Lily and Mountjoy become lovers, although neither of them admits that is what they are. During their nighttime encounters, one thing leads to another, and another, and another. Eventually they become what today would be termed “friends with benefits,” neither intending to fall in love with the other, although they like each other very much.

Lily will never love again. Mountjoy will someday marry Jane. Yes, he should stay away from a gentlewoman who is also his sister’s friend. Yes, she shouldn’t touch her friend’s brother. But when there is so much pleasure to be had, how can they keep their hands to themselves?

Not Wicked Enough has considerable strengths to recommend it. First, the characters are delightful. Lily, for all she takes charge of others’ happiness, is endearing because of her generosity of spirit. Her desire to bring joy to her friends makes her appealing, as well as charismatic and outgoing.

Although she had a lonely childhood, Lily looks forward rather than back, and displays a great deal of strength of character regardless of the occasional moment of vulnerability. Her love of color, clothing, and other beautiful things, her sense of whimsy and adventure make her stand out in Mountjoy’s eyes like a bright, exotic flower.

Mountjoy is just as appealing, though in a subtler way. He was a gentleman farmer who came to prominence when it was discovered he was the heir to a dukedom, but he continues to dress like a gentleman farmer in an attempt to prove something to people who are superficial enough to dismiss him on the basis of his garments.

And that is not the only difference between him and Lily. Whereas she is extroverted, he is shy of crowds and social occasions. While she looks for ways to enjoy life, he is dedicated to hard work. And when she takes risks, he feels protective of her. (I especially appreciated that despite those protective feelings, Mountjoy does not attempt to control Lily but gives her the freedom to be herself. He also acknowledges at times that she is in the right and he is in the wrong.)

The affection between these characters is palpable, for all that it grows out of a physical relationship. Their energetic lovemaking sessions are filled with humor and teasing, and I could see them bonding with each other in a way that reminded me of some of Susan Johnson’s earlier erotic romances.

To add to the novel’s strong points, your writing style has a beautiful clarity that I love. There is smoothness to the writing that made me want to savor the words.

Still, while I liked Not Wicked Enough I found myself reading a few chapters and then putting the book down for the day. The reason, as best as I can articulate it, has to do with the relative absence of either external or internal conflict.

While Mountjoy was almost engaged, his near-betrothal never felt like a real obstacle to me. Although he kept thinking that he ought to propose to Jane, his heart was never in it, and it was also evident that Jane’s affections had settled on someone else.

Yes, Lily believed her own heart belonged with Greer and she could never love another, but since she rarely thought of Greer except to repeat this mantra, it was hard to feel that her disloyalty to Greer ever truly upset her. I also didn’t get much indication of what Greer had been like as a man, so I did not feel that Lily was haunted by her past love.

Additionally, the subplots didn’t have much forward momentum except near the very end of the book. Lily’s cousin the Marquess of Fenris skulks around Bitterward’s neighborhood for much of the story, but doesn’t really reveal his motives until close to the end. Nor do we find out the reasons behind Nigel’s odd behavior any sooner, although I guessed what was going on there early on.

Because of the above, and because Mountjoy and Lily were such good friends and lovers, and clearly got on like a house on fire, I didn’t feel their relationship faced real obstacles. The stakes felt relatively low, and consequently I wasn’t deeply driven to find out what would happen next. I also don’t know how much this book will stick with me. Still, while I read about them, the characters charmed and entertained me, and I enjoyed their sexy relationship and the hours I spent in their company. B-.

Sincerely,

Janine