When a Scot Ties the Knot

When a Scot Ties the KnotWhen she was 16 years old, Madeline Eloise Gracechurch faced her looming debut of her first London season….and panicked. Eager to escape the demands of society (and desperate to avoid making herself look foolish), Maddie invents a fictional suitor – Captain Logan MacKenzie and begins writing letters to a man that doesn’t exist. So, though, her small, innocuous fib turns into an elaborate lie, one that continues for years, until Maddie pretends to mourn his death. Imagine her surprise, shock and disbelief when one Captain Logan MacKenzie appears on her doorstep many years later, very much alive – and very determined to turn their imagined courtship into a real one.

Like many young girls, I kept a diary when I was in middle and high school. I wrote about my life, my friends, and yes, even my crushes. I recorded all the little details that seemed so incredibly important at the time and which, in retrospect, make me laugh and cringe at my younger self – who apparently spent an inordinate amount of time pondering the trendiness of my fashion choices (it was the 90’s – there was a lot of flannel). Thankfully, though, these diaries remain in my possession, stored away in a box, never to see the light of day. The heroine of When a Scot Ties the Knot, Madeline Eloise Gracechurch, was not so lucky. 

For Maddie, her letters to her imaginary suitor become a diary of sorts; she unburdens herself in these letters, writing things she’d never tell anyone else, because she is convinced the letters are going nowhere. For Maddie, the letters to Captain Logan MacKenzie (and all his various nicknames: MacWhimsy, MacFantasy, Imaginary MacFigment, and perhaps most telling, “dear, silent friend”) represent a chance to be completely honest. Naturally, she’s mortified when it turns out Logan is very real, very handsome, and very determined to marry her. When a Scot Ties the Knot (the third book in Tessa Dare’s Castles Ever After series) is wonderfully, romantically typical Dare: funny and sweet, with just the right blend of humour and heart. It presents a new spin on that old adage: be careful what you wish for.

“She felt as though she’d spent her youth stuffing heartfelt wishes into bottles and tossing them into the ocean – and suddenly, years later, they’d all been returned.”

Dare excels at writing unconventional, offbeat heroines who don’t quite fit in, and Maddie is no exception. Painfully shy with a paralysing fear of crowds, Maddie cannot stand to spend much time in society. And while she is a talented artist, she prefers drawing the natural world (bugs, insects and the like) to more “proper” subjects. Most of all, she’s never really felt beautiful or special, which is why she’s driven to continue her masquerade for so long. Her letters to the not-so-fictional Captain MacKenzie gave her the ability to pursue her passions and carve out a life for herself in a world that would have rather placed in her a specific and confining role.

“Sometimes a woman doesn’t quite fit in with her expected role. We do what we can to make our own way, carve out a space for ourselves.”

I loved how Dare developed Maddie’s character, demonstrating that while she may have been odd (who else keeps two pet lobsters named Fluffy and Rex?), she was wonderful just as she was. And, most importantly, Logan comes to love her precisely because of who she is – not who she could be – even while he helps Maddie find the strength to become an even better version of herself. As for Logan….well, he’s not a romance hero for nothing. He maintains an unwavering loyalty to his men, with a steely determination to provide them with a better life. There’s also the fact that he’s an avid reader (!) – which, incidentally, turns out to be a major aphrodisiac for Maddie and *ahem* myself. Sure, he blackmails Maddie at the beginning of the novel in an attempt to get what he wants, but when Dare begins to reveal more of his past and his reaction to Maddie’s letters, it’s not difficult to forgive the man who is only just learning how to find his own dreams and desires.

When a Scot Ties the Knot is delightful, charming and entirely enjoyable – and Maddie is easily one of my favourite Dare heroines, if not the favourite (watch out, Minerva Highwood!). It’s a novel that celebrates women who don’t fit into moulds, soldiers who need someone to help them believe in a life beyond the battlefield, and the kind of love the blooms when you least expect it. This book is an excellent addition to Dare’s body of work and a highly recommended read for romance fans.

I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. 

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Book News, Aug. 15th

See how much time I have, bookworms, now that my thesis is finished?! All these August posts! I’ll do my best to continue this forward momentum in the autumn, but my first semester as a PhD student (and *gulp* university teacher/instructor) looms ahead of me. At any rate, in between catching up on Poldark and reading as much as humanly possible, I’m also having fun. Today, my friends J, S, and I are off to our favourite comic book shop for a signing with Kieron Gillen (if you aren’t reading The Wicked + The Divine, you need to rectify that PRONTO). Then it’s free Shakespeare in the park in Dublin – a post-modern Taming of the Shrew. Most excellent – as is this week’s book news:

  • In adaptation news…
    • Colin Farrell has been cast in the film version of J.K. Rowling’s Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Farrell will portray a wizard named Graves, though there is no additional information about how Graves fits into the story of Newt Scamander. Production on the movie is already underway, with the film expected in theatres in November 2016.
    • The television adaptation of Lev Grossman’s The Magicians has seen a bit of a casting shake-up. Last year, Sosie Bacon (daughter of Kevin) was attached to star as Alice in the series, but now Syfy has announced a new actress – Olivia Taylor Dudley – as the series’ Alice. The 12 or 13 episodes (it’s a little unclear) will air on SyFy in 2016, though there’s already a trailer available. Plus, according to Buzzfeed, the series will draw from all three of Grossman’s books, which means we’ll get crazy Julia’s story from the beginning.
  • Game of Thrones – there’s an app for that. Random House Digital has developed an app for George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire / A Game of Thrones to act as a bridge for fans of the television show who may not have (or don’t intend to) read the books. The app features character biographies (quite handy when you’re trying to figure out who’s killing who), interactive maps, and – apparently – “anti-spoiler” protection to keep fans from reading entries that may reveal secrets from the show. Though considering the show has caught up to all the books now, I wonder how relevant that particular feature now is.
  • It’s no secret that as an introvert, reading is a huge part of my daily life, and something I consider essential for my mental sanity. Turns out, I’m not the only one. Over on Book Riot, Nikki Demarco has an excellent post about how and why reading can be considered self-care. Whether reading to recharge or to be inspired, Demarco hits on the main reasons why so many people (and, likely, a disproportionate number of introverts) gravitate towards reading. I’m trying to banish the idea of “guilty pleasures” because you should never feel guilty for taking care of yourself. Book Riot’s post is a good place to start.
  • I’ve written (somewhat obliquely) about diversity and reading diversely, mostly in my Book News posts. I kept thinking about writing a more explicit post about how and why to read diversely (especially as a mostly middle-class white person), and then Kelly Jensen did it – and she did it better than I could have. On the Stacked blog, Jensen writes an excellent post about how to commit to diverse reading when you’re white. It’s really, really good, both in its intent and by having specific, concrete examples of how you can start reading more diversely. I need to do better, and Jensen’s post is a good kick in the butt to do just that.
  • Judy Blume to the rescue! After a husband in Brooklyn accidentally threw away his wife’s copy of Blume’s Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret, (and put up “lost book” signs in Brooklyn as well), Blume found out about the story via Twitter. Though she couldn’t replace the original book with its sentimental value, Blume did send the wife a brand-new, autographed copy of the book, and with any luck, helped save a marriage.
  • It may not result in giving you the throne a la Arthur and the sword in the stone, but there’s still a chance you can help the British Library solve a mystery. A 13th century sword with a strange and as-yet-undecipherable inscription is part of an exhibition at the Library, which has asked the public for help decoding the message. There’s no indication if any reward or prize comes with deciphering the message, but chances are you probably won’t get to rule Britain. C’est la vie.

As always, happy reading.

Not Being Silent

I spend a good amount of time lurking on Twitter, following various threads of conversations that happen in the book publishing and book blogging world. I rarely jump in, partly because it seems I retain my introversion even online, and partly because sometimes it’s more important for me to listen and not say anything. Often in these cases, my voice wouldn’t add anything to the conversation when there are already smart, intelligent, thoughtful people saying the things that need to be said.

Then there are times when that silence can become complicit in perpetuating mistakes, prejudices, biases or any number of other things. This is one of those times.

On social media, and particularly within the romance community, the last few days have brought a great deal of conversation about For Such a Time, a romance novel written by Kate Breslin. It was recently a finalist for a RITA Award, which (if you’ve read my Book News, you’ll know) is the romance community and its professional organisation, Romance Writers of America (RWA)’s equivalent of an Emmy, an Oscar or a National Book Award. The novel – which, full disclosure, I haven’t read – purports to convey a romance between the an SS officer who heads a concentration camp during the Holocaust, and a Jewish woman.

I’ll pause here so you can let all of the horrifying implications of that plot sink in. (*pauses*)

There are many, many, many things wrong with the premise of this book, with its writing, its publication, and its promotion as one of the “best” romance novels of the last year (and, consequently, there are many people who apparently didn’t realise those things when pushing it along its way). There are also many people who have rightly pointed out all the ways For Such a Time gets things wrong:

(It is also worth reading through the Twitter timelines of Locke, Dahlia Adler, and K.K. Hendin, as they tweeted about this extensively earlier in the week.)

I’ve retweeted and reblogged some of the comments made about this novel, but mostly I stayed quiet, because I didn’t feel like I had a right to jump into the conversation. I’m not Jewish, so I can’t pretend I understand the offensive nature of this book in the same way Jewish readers (and descendants of Holocaust survivors) can, even when I do find its premise completely repugnant. Then I read through Locke’s Tumblr post again, and this struck me:

Part of this is that anti-Semitism in America wears many masks, and one of them is silence. It is as violent as the others. Silence is not neutrality. Silence allows, if not fosters, oppression, aggression, and erasure. If you are silent on this book, please take a moment to examine why you are silent.

However well-intentioned my initial silence was, it doesn’t do anyone any favours. It simply contributes to other people believing that it’s okay to publish and promote a book like For Such a Time, when it is absolutely not. It says, however tacitly, that I either don’t care or don’t think there’s anything wrong with this book. And that’s not true. I’m not going to read this book because I don’t want Kate Breslin, her agent and her publishers to get another penny from a story that thinks a Nazi officer makes a compelling romance hero. (He doesn’t.) But more than that, I’m not reading this book because I refuse to condone the ignorance, blindness, and arrogance that went into its creation.

But it’s still hard to know what to say when it’s not my voice that needs to be heard. So, I’m not going to be silent, but I will make sure that I listen to the people who are far smarter than I am on this subject, and I will do my best to lift up their voices. In this post, I’ve linked to a few of the folks who have written about this issue from their own unique perspective, and I urge you to read what they’ve said. I’ll also do my best to update the links if/when I come across more responses (Locke has started a similar roundup here).

I also urge you to educate yourself about the Holocaust, even if you think you already know what there is to know (we can always keep learning – in fact, it’s best if we never stop). If you’re in the U.S., the Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. is a good place to start; the museum’s website also has a whole section on educational resources. The Yad Vashem organisation also serves to preserve the living memory of Holocaust survivors.

I love being a romance reader and I’m always trying to encourage friends and family to move past their preconceptions of these novels to see how great romance can be. But For Such a Time is not the kind of romance novel I, as a reader, want associated with this genre.

9 Aug. Update – 

More links, as promised:

  • Scott Eric Kaufman at Salon wrote an excellent article about the outrage over this book;
  • Katherine Locke published her own update earlier today, further clarifying her thoughts amid some of the new information that has come out in the last few days.
  • On Friday, 7 August, RWA released an official statement on the backlash against this book, which many (myself included) found unsatisfying in many ways (it is also worth noting that this book received praised from Romantic Times (RT) and Library Journal, but neither of those publications have said anything in response);
  • Go read K.K. Hendin’s brilliant post, “Why am I angry?” because it is indeed brilliant.
  • Newsweek posted an article about the book and its backlash today, which featured a statement from author Kate Breslin (the first, and to my knowledge, only statement she’s made so far). I’m not linking to it here, because I think it’s a terrible article, not the least of which because it asked an a$$hole Gamergater to comment (because that’s relevant how……?). But since it’s the only statement from Breslin that I know of, I’m mentioning it here. (Her statement leaves much to be desired as well, naturally.)

11 Aug. Updates:

  • Laura K. Curtis read “That Book” (as it’s know being referred to on Twitter, and elsewhere) so that you don’t have to. Curtis makes some excellent points specifically about the theological failings of the story.
  • I must have missed this earlier, but Alexis Hall had a really informative post about the specifics and details of the RITAs and how a book like this one could end up a finalist for an industry award. Hall’s post makes some good points about the nature of the RITAs and why problems like this will continue to arise unless the process is changed or re-conceived.
  • BBC Radio covered the controversy on its morning show today; I haven’t yet listened to it, but if I’m reading the website correctly, Sarah (Smart B*tches) Wendall was interviewed for the segment.
  • On Dear Author, Janine and Sunita have a lengthy discussion about the book. It’s not really a review, but their thoughts with all the problematic aspects of the book. Fair warning: I found it incredibly difficult to read the details of this book.

12 Aug. Links:

  • Bethany House, the publisher of Breslin’s book, finally released a statement. It’s one of those “we’re sorry YOU’RE offended” non-apologies that makes you want to scream and tear your hair out because it demonstrates that they really haven’t listened to anyone’s legitimate and well-articulate concerns and criticisms of the book.
  • On the other hand, K.K. Hendin rewrote Bethany House’s statement to demonstrate what it really says. It’s funny, but in that soul-crushing “oh god that’s actually real” kind of way.
  • And now Anne Rice has jumped into the fray? Because apparently all the people legitimately upset by this are a horrible Internet mob trying to censor a book or something? I’m tired just trying to think about how she justifies that opinion. The Mary Sue has the story.
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