Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Gentleman's Kiss: A Romance Collection

A Gentleman's Kiss

When I saw the authors listed in this group, I was excited to read their latest novellas.

Let’s begin with the summary:

Are you ready for some good old-fashioned romance in a contemporary setting? Then you’ll enjoy these nine stories of modern women who are forced to slow down and take a new look at dating and romance when new men enter their lives. For some it will take vacation time, others will discover [it] through music, while some need the gentle nudges from both God and Grandma. Delight in discovering how chivalry is not dead despite the stresses of today’s world.

And now, my review:

As I mentioned, I was excited to read these authors’ latest novellas. I’ve long been a fan of Barbour novella collections. But as soon as I received it I saw the story’s individual copyright dates were 2003 and before. Why wasn’t this made plain? Either way, I wanted to see if the writing was as strong as I’d expect from these accomplished authors. I began with the first story and was soon disappointed. There were a slew of characters to track in the opening pages and no hook. I flipped to another one and got a little further into the story before the writing bogged down. So, I tried a bit later in the collection. This one fizzled out. Another felt like a repeat of the first novella, opening in almost exactly the same way—was this a mistake for the ARC version? One of the stories was set in Paris, and I wanted to love it, but the romance didn't progress believably. The final one I attempted to read (there are nine in all; I didn’t attempt all of them) was chock full of reader feeding, which makes for dull reading. All of these rookie mistakes can mostly be explained away by the timing. This was over ten years ago, after all. Writing and editing trends have changed since these novellas came out. I'm sure the writing skills of these authors has as well. As an editor I see writing at all levels. I was hoping to see high level writing here in my "leisure" reading. I choose recent and upcoming releases for that reason.

Overall, I was disappointed in this collection. I understand re-releasing titles, hoping to find a new life for them. I even respect that. But to not let readers know that it’s a re-release feels like a betrayal. Even on Amazon’s page for this title, there isn’t an easily spotted list of copyright dates for the original titles, only author bios. I wish these authors and this publisher the best, but I'll be more cautious in the future. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Lord Fenton's Folly by Josi S. Kilpack

Lord Fenton's Folly

I discovered Shadow Mountain Publishing and their Proper Romance collection in the fall of last year. What a find! Wholesome romances, great stories. And look at that cover!

Let’s begin with the summary:

 Lord Fenton is a gambler and a dandy, and he will be stripped of his wealth and position unless he rises to his responsibility—one of which is to marry. Far from being a giddy groom, Fenton chooses the unobjectionable Alice Stanbridge simply because he had known her as a young girl and his mother feels Alice would make a good wife.

Alice, however, has harbored feelings for Fenton since their first meeting years ago, and his proposal is a dream come true. Not only would a match with the most-eligible bachelor in London secure her future, but it will also give her a place of distinction and admiration. Had anyone admired Alice for anything before now?

When Alice learns that she is not only an unwanted wife, but a demanded one, however, she closes her heart. Only when Lord Fenton faces the greatest trial of his life does he begin to find love beyond the folly. Could a great love come from a beginning such as this?

And now, my review:

As I mentioned, I enjoy these Proper Romances. When I read the summary for this story, I had certain expectations. The summary implies a pining heroine, and we had a taste of that, but Alice (our “heroine”) didn’t pine away the entire story. This showed her strength, which I liked. Yet both main characters, in their hateful bickering, chose a base response.

As this story moved into the second act, the heroine made a heart choice to interact with the hero in a certain way. At this point, I almost gave up on her. There had to be a way for her to show strength and not be a doormat for the hero, but in a noble way. Either way, at that point in the story neither main character is acting nobly or heroically. Readers will see the characters’ motives and weaknesses but it’s challenging to root for either one, to respect or admire either one because neither took the high road.

Lord Fenton has a drinking problem, which element carried on far into the story. The title warns us this character acts foolishly and believes lies, but there was a lot of focus on this alcoholic aspect, which made this unheroic character even more so. Fenton took a lot longer to transform, which wore on me as I read.

Now for some positive elements: I liked how the hero and heroine brought out the best in each other, eventually. I enjoyed the regency time period, the prose, the settings, the evident research of the author. The story was multi-layered, and I could imagine the novel playing out as a movie as I read. Well done.

Fenton was a character! He’s a dandy—a clown, a macaroni—following through on ridiculous bets and living a lifestyle that shames his father. Fenton’s highly entertaining as the early London scenes play out. At first, I liked his clowning around. It’s well-written and unusual in novels that I’ve read. But as in all books in the romance genre, I longed for his heroic side to appear in his adult years.

His mother, in her warm, loving way, makes a match for him. She is admirable, dignified and respectable. The story would have lacked redemptive qualities without her, for most of the story (until the hero and heroine turned).

Fenton struggles to be an adult, to face the tough elements of life, to be decisive. For a while he blames this on his need to shame his father, but all that tactic has done is deny him the process of growing up. He has sabotaged himself. I enjoyed his relationship with his mother—again a redemptive element in the story. He trusts Mom to advise him. And his mother’s love helps him commit to change. This relationship demonstrated Fenton’s human side, which was key in showing elements of him that we could cheer.

Overall, despite my long critique, I enjoyed this story. The novel was highly entertaining, even if outside the traditional genre box with all its accompanying expectations. If readers aren’t expecting heroism, they may not mind the delay toward both MC’s (main characters) acting heroically. And the read is fun while we get there, which is the point of a keeping readers hooked.

Watching for more Proper Romances from Shadow Mountain.