Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Duchess Deal by Tessa Dare (Girl Meets Duke #1)

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Since his return from war, the Duke of Ashbury’s to-do list has been short and anything but sweet: brooding, glowering, menacing London ne’er-do-wells by night. Now there’s a new item on the list. He needs an heir—which means he needs a wife. When Emma Gladstone, a vicar’s daughter turned seamstress, appears in his library wearing a wedding gown, he decides on the spot that she’ll do.

His terms are simple:
– They will be husband and wife by night only.
– No lights, no kissing.
– No questions about his battle scars.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s pregnant with his heir, they need never share a bed again.

But Emma is no pushover. She has a few rules of her own:
– They will have dinner together every evening.
– With conversation.
– And unlimited teasing.
– Last, and most importantly… Once she’s seen the man beneath the scars, he can’t stop her from falling in love…

When a new Tessa Dare romance is in the offing there is an expectation that:

  1. There will be banter, lots of it
  2. There will be hilarious jokes and puns
  3. The meet-cute will be unusual (cf. being chosen as a future Duchess while covered in sugar when one is the barmaid, writing letters to a fake fiancé who turns out to be a real person, inheriting a castle with a grumpy Duke still living in it, proposing that the local rake accompany you on a road-trip to a scientific conference with a dinosaur fossil in tow (that one has the drrrrtiest math jokes), etc.)

The Duchess Deal delivers on all three. And turns the Beauty and the Beast story on its head.

The Duke of Ashbury (Ash), sporting horrific facial scars from Napoleonic battle wounds and freshly jilted by his fiancé, finds himself bearded in his den by a seamstress in a wedding dress. Despite his growling, and insistence that the garment in question is so awful it belongs on a bawdy-house chandelier (among other insults), Emma Gladstone stands her ground and demands to be paid for the work done on his ex-fiancé’s wedding dress. Ash, who was recently reminded that he’ll need a male heir to prevent something untoward happening to the dukedom, decides to kill two birds with one stone – he offers to marry Emma instead.

Emma, with infinite good sense, does not agree to this immediately. (Yes, I am here for a romance heroine to take at least a few days to consider whether getting yourself permanently hitched to a dude one does not know well, in an era where divorce was almost never granted and then never to the woman’s benefit, is a good idea.) But in the end Emma agrees, with a few conditions of her own.

I loved this book. So good, I read it through twice over before marking it as “read.” Emma is one of the best romance heroines, with a solid moral center that feels natural as opposed to contrived. Her gift is knowing how to make someone look and feel good in their own skin; she covers Ash in it and loves him even when he can’t figure out how to love himself as he is now. Ash is another in Tessa Dare’s lineup of heroes physically and mentally damaged by war. His psychological reaction to having burn wounds is so real and true (though, maybe not the “Menace” bit, but you have to love that, too). The secondary characters are all wonderful. Khan, Penny, Alex, and Nicola are the best and while Penny, Alex, and Nicola are all set up as the next heroines in the series, I do wish that Khan could have had a relationship of his own. (Maybe in a novella? Please?) Breeches’s introduction to the story was a hoot and the servants’ plotting to get Emma and Ash to fall in love so Ash won’t be an insufferable pain-in-the-ass forever was my favorite B-plot.

(Props to the cover designer who at least put the male model in profile so we don’t have the mismatch of a totally unscarred dude on the cover.)

The Duchess Deal is out today!  Go get it!  Happy reading!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, twice, and I have a copy pre-ordered, too.

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mini-review · stuff I read

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

Summary from Goodreads:
The enchanting story of a bookshop, its grieving owner, a supportive literary community, and the extraordinary power of books to heal the heart

Nightingale Books, nestled on the main street in an idyllic little village, is a dream come true for book lovers–a cozy haven and welcoming getaway for the literary-minded locals. But owner Emilia Nightingale is struggling to keep the shop open after her beloved father’s death, and the temptation to sell is getting stronger. The property developers are circling, yet Emilia’s loyal customers have become like family, and she can’t imagine breaking the promise she made to her father to keep the store alive.

There’s Sarah, owner of the stately Peasebrook Manor, who has used the bookshop as an escape in the past few years, but it now seems there’s a very specific reason for all those frequent visits. Next is roguish Jackson, who, after making a complete mess of his marriage, now looks to Emilia for advice on books for the son he misses so much. And the forever shy Thomasina, who runs a pop-up restaurant for two in her tiny cottage–she has a crush on a man she met in the cookbook section, but can hardly dream of working up the courage to admit her true feelings.

Enter the world of Nightingale Books for a serving of romance, long-held secrets, and unexpected hopes for the future–and not just within the pages on the shelves. How to Find Love in a Bookshop is the delightful story of Emilia, the unforgettable cast of customers whose lives she has touched, and the books they all cherish.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop is adorable as all get-out. If you get a kick out of the foibles of the picturesque English villages of Midsomer Murders but could do without the murdering, this is for you. When Emilia’s father dies, she inherits his bookshop – including the financial problems it has – and the array of villagers who want to help her keep it open while dealing with their own problems. There’s about one love story too many plot-wise and extreme heteronormativity among all the characters, just FYI (the laws of probability should give us at least a few people who aren’t straight, the village isn’t that small). This was just the right book for the hot days of late summer with a glass of iced tea or lemonade.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

 

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

33621427Summary from Goodreads:
Isma is free. After years of watching out for her younger siblings in the wake of their mother’s death, she’s accepted an invitation from a mentor in America that allows her to resume a dream long deferred. But she can’t stop worrying about Aneeka, her beautiful, headstrong sister back in London, or their brother, Parvaiz, who’s disappeared in pursuit of his own dream, to prove himself to the dark legacy of the jihadist father he never knew. When he resurfaces half a globe away, Isma’s worst fears are confirmed.

Then Eamonn enters the sisters’ lives. Son of a powerful political figure, he has his own birthright to live up to—or defy. Is he to be a chance at love? The means of Parvaiz’s salvation? Suddenly, two families’ fates are inextricably, devastatingly entwined, in this searing novel that asks: What sacrifices will we make in the name of love?

Home Fire is the first Shamsie book I’ve managed to finish, which is a shame because I love her actual sentences. She’s always lost me when she jumps settings/characters from one time point to another – I just lose interest. This novel is much more intimate, more compressed so I didn’t feel like I was starting over with each section. I wished I had more of the story from Isma’s point-of-view, though, because I found her perspective most interesting: she is the good daughter, the “good immigrant,” the one who raised her siblings, did everything right, got herself to graduate school in the US.  Her earnestness contrasts so much with the suspicion which all Muslims, especially those with familial ties to jihadists, etc., are viewed. It is a heart-breaking story about fanaticism on both sides of the terrorism divide, the hard-liners who create policies that condemn those who step out of line no matter which side of the divide you wish to escape or repent of. The last 20 pages or so are superb.

Shamsie borrowed the frame of Sophocles’s Antigone for her characters to rail against.  Now, don’t worry.  You don’t need to have read the play to understand what’s going on. I vaguely remembered Antigone from the Oedipus cycle and had no trouble with the plot of Home Fire. I did, however, read through the play after reading the novel and Shamsie did a wonderful modernization/retelling; the character parallels are very deftly done. I wouldn’t recommend the reverse, reading the play first if you haven’t already, since I think that might spoil a plot point or two.

Comment specific to the Man Booker 2017 longlist: this is the 3rd of the 13 longlisted books I’ve read, the other two being The Underground Railroad and Lincoln in the Bardo. While I liked this one a great deal, the other two destroyed me while I was reading them (one with raw power of truth through fiction, the other with exquisite rendering of language and setting). I’ve got the other long-listers on my reading list but Home Fire is in a runner-up position for me.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss (the Sophocles I already owned).

Austenesque · mini-review · stuff I read

The Genius of Jane Austen: Her Love of Theatre and Why She Works in Hollywood by Paula Byrne

32497929Summary from Goodreads:
Perfect for fans of Jane Austen, this updated edition of Paula Byrne’s debut book includes new material that explores the history of Austen stage adaptations, why her books work so well on screen, and what that reveals about one of the world’s most beloved authors.

Originally published by Bloomsbury Academic in 2003 as Jane Austen and the Theatre, Paula Byrne’s first book was never made widely available in the US and is out of print today. An exploration of Austen’s passion for the stage—she acted in amateur productions, frequently attended the theatre, and even scripted several early works in play form—it took a nuanced look at how powerfully her stories were influenced by theatrical comedy.

This updated edition features an introduction and a brand new chapter that delves into the long and lucrative history of Austen adaptations. The film world’s love affair with Austen spans decades, from A.A. Milne’s “Elizabeth Bennet,” performed over the radio in 1944 to raise morale, to this year’s Love and Friendship. Austen’s work has proven so abidingly popular that these movies are more easily identifiable by lead actor than by title: the Emma Thompson Sense and Sensibility, the Carey Mulligan Northanger Abbey, the Laurence Olivier Pride and Prejudice. Byrne even takes a captivating detour into a multitude of successful spin-offs, including the phenomenally brilliant Clueless. And along the way, she overturns the notion of Jane Austen as a genteel, prim country mouse, demonstrating that Jane’s enduring popularity in film, TV, and theater points to a woman of wild comedy and outrageous behavior.

For lovers of everything Jane Austen, as well as for a new generation discovering her for the first time, The Genius of Jane Austen demonstrates why this beloved author still resonates with readers and movie audiences today.

Oooh, a book about Jane Austen and theatre and adaptations?  Yes, please!

The first two-thirds of Byrne’s new edition, retitled The Genius of Jane Austen, are excellent overviews of the Georgian theatre and playwriting during Austen’s lifetime and her opinion of play-going as reflected in her letters (tl;dr: she liked the theatre and had decided opinions on actors).  Even plays that Austen read as a child were reflected in the juvenilia and the plays she wrote to be performed by the family as entertainments. Byrne starts to fall off in examining the influence of theatre on the novels – two chapters examine Mansfield Park (which with it’s home theatre scenes shows the heaviest theatre influence), one each for Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Emma, and none for Persuasion or Northanger Abbey. There is a nice chapter about Austen adaptations on the big screen (and small) that was added for the new edition but there wasn’t a good conclusion or final chapter to the book.

Dear FTC: I bought my own copy.

mini-review · stuff I read

Morningstar: Growing Up With Books by Ann Hood

Summary from Goodreads:
A memoir about the magic and inspiration of books from a beloved and best-selling author.

In her admired works of fiction, including the recent The Book that Matters Most, Ann Hood explores the transformative power of literature. Now, with warmth and honesty, Hood reveals the personal story behind these works of fiction.

Growing up in a mill town in Rhode Island, in a household that didn’t foster the love of literature, Hood nonetheless learned to channel her imagination and curiosity by devouring The Bell Jar, Marjorie Morningstar, The Harrad Experiment, and other works. These titles introduced her to topics that could not be discussed at home: desire, fear, sexuality, and madness. Later, Johnny Got His Gun and The Grapes of Wrath influenced her political thinking as the Vietnam War became news; Dr. Zhivago and Les Miserables stoked her ambition to travel the world. With characteristic insight and charm, Hood showcases the ways in which books gave her life and can transform—even save—our own.

Morningstar is a delightful little memoir about finding yourself in books. Ann Hood didn’t grow up in a family of readers but she found her way to books and never left. She organizes each chapter into a “lesson” she learned while reading. I did so love the moment her teacher realized she read far above her peer group – if you’ve read Little Women, you’ve been there.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.