Category: book reviews (page 2 of 83)

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]

Dangerous Books for Girls

Dangerous Books for GirlsTowards the end of her book, Dangerous Books for Girls: The Bad Reputation of Romance Novels Explained, Maya Rodale sums up the problem with the current discourse surrounding the romance genre as a whole:

“Romance novels feature nuanced portrayals of female characters having adventures, making choices, and accepting themselves just as they are. When we say these stories are silly and unrealistic, we are telling young girls not to expect to be the heroines in their own lives.” (pg 180)

The rest of Rodale’s exploration of the history and development of the romance genre is exactly like the excerpt above: insightful, intelligent, unapologetic, and eminently quotable. (I would have used my Kindle’s highlight tool for the entire thing, but that seemed a little bit excessive in hindsight.) Rodale is the author of many successful historical romance novels (among them her Writing Girls series, which is one of my favourites) and she wrote Dangerous Books in part to address, head-on, the lack of critical acclaim and respect that most romance novels (and, indeed, most romance authors and readers as well) seem to get.

Stemming her own her graduate school research on women’s fiction and backed by extensive one-on-one interviews with romance industry insiders as well as two comprehensive surveys (one for romance readers and one for non-romance readers), Rodale grounds her book in historical details and demonstrates how the romance genre grew and evolved from the burgeoning publishing industry in the 18th and 19th centuries. It’s incredibly well researched, drawing from a variety of academic sources and the aforementioned interviews and surveys. (Be still my academia lovin’ heart – there are even footnotes!)

Throughout the book, Rodale breaks down the stereotypes about romance novels, romance authors, and romance readers, highlighting over and over why “there is no room for guilt when reading for pleasure.” Covering everything from the actual covers of romance novels and the enduring appeal of Alpha heroes to the financial realities of many romance authors and the need to change the way we talk about fiction that is written by women, about women, for women – all in “a culture that doesn’t place much value on women.” Rodale’s book is also incredibly accessible; she writes as if she’s talking to and with her friends, with an easy conversational tone that conveys the passion she so clearly has for this topic. Additionally, all of her survey data is available on the website for the book, along with expertly designed infographics highlighting the results of those surveys.

I loved every minute of reading this book; even in the middle of writing my own MA thesis, when I was knee-deep in academic journal articles and book chapters (and when, you might assume, I wouldn’t want to touch another nonfiction, footnoted book with a ten-foot pole), I couldn’t wait to get back Dangerous Books for Girls. Moreover, I think this is an important book – a book that needs all the love and attention it can get. Because, as Rodale points out, the romance genre is “inextricably linked with the status of women in our society” and changing the perception of these novels may ultimately require also challenging and changing deeply held principles on gender roles and sexuality – a daunting task, to say the least.

If you love romance novels, if you’re indifferent, even if you dislike them (or especially if you dislike them), do yourself a favour and pick up Maya Rodale’s Dangerous Books for Girls. You’ll be surprised by how much you learn.

“Romance novels have been – and still are – the dangerous books that show women again and again that they’re worth it.”

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

Four Nights with the Duke

Four Nights with the DukeWhen Emilia “Mia” Carrington was 15, a poorly written poem about her unrequited love for Evander Septimus Brody, future Duke of Pindar, fell into the wrong hands. Teased and scorned, Mia swore that she was never marry Vander, even if he was the last man on earth. Years later, however, Mia is desperate to secure her nephew’s future and turning to Vander is her only option. Despite their scandalous and complicated past, Vander surprisingly agrees to Mia’s bold proposal, but only on his terms. When Vander realizes that Mia has no intention of meeting his terms, the battle between childhood enemies becomes a seductive back-and-forth between the Duke and his wife.

Four Nights with the Duke is Eloisa James’ latest novel, continuing the story of characters first introduced in Three Weeks with Lady X and loosely connected to her Desperate Duchesses series. Four Nights takes two seemingly disparate main characters and throws them into a classic and familiar “forced marriage of convenience” plot. The trope is a classic one in romance, especially historical romance, but James makes it feel fresh and new with her own twists – a heroine engaging in blackmail, a hero initially more interested in horses than wives, and one utterly hilarious (and inappropriately drunk) uncle. I personally enjoy these types of novels because there is something supremely satisfying in watching a hero and heroine fight against their circumstances until they finally realize and accept the inevitable: love will conquer all. And because it’s Eloisa James, the journey of getting to that point is the best part.

In a strange way, Four Nights reminded me a lot of many contemporary romance novels. (Bear with me here, because I think this is a good thing).  Much like real life in the 21st century, Mia and Vander’s story is messy and complicated. Vander is still scarred by the choices his parents made, while Mia wrestles with insecurities and that lingering, unpleasant memory starring Vander himself. They both must learn to communication and compromise, as they figure out what they really want. And, without giving too much away, the story thread involving Mia’s first fiancé, demonstrates that sometimes, other people – good people – do get hurt when love is on the line. So, for me, Four Nights really emphasized the universal and timeless nature of romance and love. No matter what century or country you might be in, love can be a mess. But ultimately, it’s worth it. 

While Mia and Vander’s love story is the central focus of the novel, my favorite part was not their relationship, but rather James’ sly (and, in some cases, not-so-sly) nods and odes to all things literary. Four Nights is James’ meta novel, since Mia is a romance novelist herself. The snippets of her work in progress give readers a little bit of insight into a writer’s mind, and into Mia’s internal struggle as she tries to write a fictional happy ending while finding her own.

Aside from Mia’s literary accomplishments, James’ includes a number of other little winks to beloved literary inspirations, from Mia’s nephew Charles Wallace (A Wrinkle in Time), Sir Chuffy’s frequent Twelfth Night references (and his resemble to one Sir Toby Belch) and a shout-out to fellow historical romance novelist Julia Quinn, in the form of Mia’s devotion to a Miss Julia Quiplet’s books. There’s even a passing reference to Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron (and those infamous pigeons!), a fictional book-within-a-book that appears in many of Quinn’s own novels. Oh, the meta-ness! My literary-loving heart keep leaping with joy at each new reference I discovered.

So if you love fun, tongue-in-cheek references to other literary sources, appallingly bad poetry (seriously, it’s bad), novel-writing heroines, and a devastatingly handsome duke groveling and atoning for his errors, then you will certainly want to read Four Nights with the Duke. It’s classic, wonderful, delightful Eloisa James at her best. Now, may we please have a Sir Chuffy prequel? (Please?!?)

Note: I received an advanced copy of this book from Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review. I also bought my own copy, because of course! 

[Photo Credit: Goodreads]

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