Month: July 2017

Contemporary romance review: ‘Just Good Friends’ by Rosalind James

Posted July 15, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

This one just didn’t do it for me. I liked the opening, with Kate running from a murderous stalker, and the early scenes between Kate and Koti, our hero and heroine, sparkled with genuine antagonism. Their fights were good fun! But before too long they’re all over each other, the fights get further and further apart, and I began to lose interest.

The characters are more interesting than hesitant Hannah and perfect Drew from the first book in the series (review here). These two are far from perfect! Kate is quick to fire up at the merest hint of a slight, and Koti is the arrogant, spoilt, gorgeous, entitled rugby player. He has a certain roguish charm, but he’s also a heart-breaker, and he has to do a lot of growing up in this book.

So the foundation for the story was solid, but once the flirting stopped and they got horizontal, the story went downhill fast. I like some steam as much as the next girl, but some of the sex scenes here felt gratuitous, and I couldn’t quite reconcile multiple-orgasm Kate with guilty-about-masturbating Kate. How does that work? Plus, she was pretty free and easy and *trusting* for a girl just recovering from a stalker.

Then once past the half way point, we began to get deep into Maori culture and New Zealand history, and I kind of zoned out. This is interesting stuff, but it felt clunky dumped like this in the middle of the story, and especially so towards the end, when I was just waiting for the long-expected event signalled right at the beginning.

Not a bad book, and I liked the characters, but it wasn’t as easy a read as the first book, and I skimmed quite a bit to get to where something – anything – was happening. Three stars.


Book review: ‘Forgotten and Remembered’ by Bree Wolf

Posted July 5, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 5 Comments

Here’s the premise: a widower with a small daughter decides to marry again in order to provide the child with a mother. His bride, Rosabel, is chosen without a word being exchanged between them, on the basis that she has a way with children. She accepts because he’s a duke and why wouldn’t she? But she has trouble coming to terms with her new role and he has trouble overcoming the past.

I struggled to finish this book, skimming the latter half, but let me say right now that lots of people love this book, and all the author’s other books, so I’m in a very small minority. That’s OK, I’m used to it. I’ll come to why I didn’t finish it in a moment, and it gets pretty ranty, so you have been warned.

Firstly, what I did like. The author can write, there’s no doubt about that, and I can see what she was aiming for here. The new wife is lifted straight from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, the second wife who hasn’t a clue why the guy married her and is too timid to ask, who is terrified of the servants and feels unworthy and unwanted. There’s even a parallel to Mrs Danvers in Miss Rigsby, the daughter’s governess, who bosses the new wife (a duchess!) around dreadfully.

But Rosabel discovers her role as mother to the poor neglected daughter, and learns to be a lioness protecting her cub. I didn’t find her transition particularly believable, but I was in full-on ranty mode by then, so maybe that coloured my judgement. And of course the husband finally unbuttons enough to fall in love and there are some nice, if long-drawn-out, scenes where they eventually get it together.

So… onto the ranty stuff, and I apologise to the author for this, since she tried to warn me, but, mea culpa, I took her words at face value, and that was my big mistake.

In the ‘From the author’ section for this book on Amazon, she says that she’s not aiming for “complete historical accuracy”. Further, she says: “Let me be clear: I am not saying I completely ignore historical facts. Not at all. I always strive to capture the flair of the times I write about. However, I occasionally bend the rules a little to allow my characters to experience something that would otherwise be denied to them. For example, if I need my characters to waltz, then does it truly matter if the waltz was only introduced to English society a few years later? To me, it doesn’t. After all, it is about the opportunities it creates. However, if it matters to you, then allow me to offer some friendly advice: do not read my books for you will only be disappointed. This post is meant as a guide to help potential readers decide if my books would suit them because I know how annoying it is to read a book that was not meant for you.”

Now, I’m all in favour of this. Extreme pedantry has no place in a book where the objective is light-hearted entertainment to while away a few hours in a pleasant manner. It’s the relationship between the characters that matters more than the precise style of gown worn or the date a certain object was introduced or invented, and if authors wish to gloss over the exact details to minimise wordiness and get on with the story, that’s absolutely fine. I have no problem with characters waltzing a little earlier than they should have done, or a heroine stepping out without a chaperon if the plot needs her to bump into the hero.

But (you knew there was a ‘but’ coming, didn’t you?) this should never, ever be an excuse to just skip the research and write a story about modern people who happen to wear bonnets and breeches. Besides, a very modest amount of googling elicits enough authentic-sounding snippets to make for a convincing read. It’s not hard, for instance, to look up the correct forms of address, and work out that dukes and duchesses are addressed as ‘your grace’ and ‘Duke/Duchess’, and never as ‘my lord’ or ‘my lady’. The author got this partly correct, but I cringed every time the hero and heroine addressed each other as ‘my lord’ and ‘my lady’.

Other aspects are harder to get right, but the information is out there, and it’s frankly lazy to make no effort to discover the ways in which Regency society differed from our own. Consider the betrothal and wedding, for instance. The hero talks to the heroine’s uncle, and he agrees to the marriage, without any involvement from the heroine. Wrong. The hero might ask permission to pay his addresses first, but then he makes his offer to the lady herself, who accepts or rejects him. Yes, she has the choice, always. Then there’s the two-week engagement. Wrong (unless the hero’s about to go off to war or for some other time-constrained reason). You don’t want people thinking there’s been some hanky-panky in the orangery, and besides, it takes a while to organise an entire new wardrobe for a soon-to-be-duchess, which is what would be needed, both for the requirements of rank and also because she’s now a married woman – very different clothes. Long engagements weren’t usual, but a few months wasn’t out of order, and, to be honest, I didn’t really see the need for haste in the story.

Then there’s the wedding itself. The bride gets up and has breakfast (wrong), puts on her wedding dress (wrong), is driven to her husband’s house (wrong), there are lots of guests (wrong), he kisses her after the ceremony (very wrong), there’s a dance afterwards (wrong) and speeches (wrong). And the next day, she discovers that her new husband has a daughter – ha ha ha ha ha! He’s a duke, for goodness’ sake, he’s in Debrett’s, his entire lineage back to whatever medieval king first elevated some humble knight is in print, including the name of his dead wife and his daughter. You’d have to be peculiarly dense not to manage to find all that out. And since there’s only a handful of dukes in the entire kingdom, everyone would have known his story anyway. It would have been in all the papers (yes, they had newspapers then, and although they didn’t print society gossip, except in the most oblique way, the death of a duchess would have been widely reported).

None of this is at all difficult to look up, and the fact that the author didn’t bother is not merely disappointing, it’s extremely annoying. I’m not talking here about minor quibbles like whether they would have waltzed in 1805 or not; I’m talking about an author who has very little idea about the Regency era, and hasn’t found it necessary to inform herself. What she should have said in her warning is something like: ‘Any resemblance to any real historical era is entirely accidental.’

I will say, however, that this is far from the worst example I’ve seen. I’ve read of one heroine who lived on a ranch near London, several who travelled on public coaches alone and one earl who held a contest to decide who to appoint as his next heir {eyeroll}, and there’s hardly an author in the Regency genre these days who knows the difference between Lord Smith and Lord Charles (no, they’re not interchangeable).

This is not a bad book, if you don’t mind throwing out almost all attempt at historical accuracy. Sadly, I do mind, but since it’s mostly my own stupid fault that I read the book anyway, despite the author’s warning, I’m not going to give it a star rating or post this review elsewhere. And in future, when an author says: ‘I bend the rules a little’, I shall know to keep well away.


Contemporary romance review: ‘Cinder & Ella’ by Kelly Oram

Posted July 3, 2017 by Mary Kingswood in Review / 0 Comments

As a romance, this has one of the most depressing openings imaginable. Teenager Ella is texting her best friend, Cinder (named after a famous series of fantasy books), when – bam. Big car accident. Her mother, who was driving, is killed, and Ella suffers terrible injuries, including horrible burns. After eight months, she’s finally well enough to be released into the care of her only remaining family, her father, who left her and her mother when Ella was eight, and his second wife and step-daughters.

To say the transition is difficult doesn’t really come close. As is clear from the title, this is a modern retelling of Cinderella, so the step-sisters and step-mother hate Ella, and the father isn’t very sympathetic either. He insists Ella attend the posh private school the step-sisters attend, even though she’d much rather go to the local public school. Cue all sorts of bullying and general unpleasantness. This part of the book really isn’t a very cheery read.

Meanwhile, her friend Cinder hasn’t a clue what happened to her and is thrilled when she finally makes contact again. But he doesn’t know about her injuries and she doesn’t know that he’s really Brian Oliver, a huge heartthrob actor. He’s trying to escape a bad-boy reputation through a fake engagement to his current leading lady, Kaylee. Cue all sorts of misunderstandings.

Now, there’s a lot that didn’t work for me, especially in the first half of the book. The wicked step-sister trope just doesn’t work in modern times – would anyone really be quite so spiteful to a horribly disfigured and disabled girl? Hard to believe. And in the real world, the school would undoubtedly have been shut down if even half the goings-on had really happened. It just wasn’t credible to me, and it gave me the same sort of queasy feeling that the Dursleys do in Harry Potter. No normal human being is quite so horrible to a child. I also felt a bit unsure about the fact that, disfigured as she is, Ella’s face is untouched. And the only genuinely nice people seemed to be the gay couple and their daughter. And then there’s Brian, pushed around by his own management team, and too wimpy to say no to anything they or his fake fiancee suggest. Plus he’s an arrogant jerk. So not scoring too highly on the likability scale.

But then, after a whole swathe of misunderstandings, our two heroes finally meet at a fantasy convention and this scene is completely awesome and redeemed the book utterly for me. The end of the book is one gigantic weepy-fest, with more and more emotional outpourings from everyone, and yes, it’s all horribly over the top but I loved it. And the fairytale ending was well-nigh perfect. So three stars for the first half and five stars for the second half – four stars overall.