Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"Whitney, My Love," by Judith McNaught

The Chick: Whitney Stone. She's in love with her neighbour, Paul Sevarin, and will do anything in her power to get him.
The Rub: Too bad there's a guy out there willing to do anything in his power to get her - and because he's got boyparts, his stalking is far more effective and romantic.Dream Casting: Ashley Rickards.

The Hero: Clayton Westmoreland, Duke of Westmoreland. He gets what he wants.
The Rub: ...But he doesn't always want what he gets.Dream Casting: Rufus Sewel. Or the Devil. Whichever.

The Plot:

Clayton: One way, or another, I'm gonna find ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.
One way, or another, I'm gonna buy ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.

One way, or another, I'm gonna wed ya,
I'm gonna wed ya, wed ya, wed ya, wed ya.
One day, maybe next week,
I'm gonna own ya. I'll own ya! I'll own ya!

But I'll suspect you're a whore,
So I can mistreat you some more.
What are apologies for?

One way, or another, I'm gonna deflower ya,
I'm gonna getcha getcha getcha getcha.
Then I'll discover I'm wrong,
And then I'll woo ya. I'll woo ya! I'll woo ya!

One way, or another, you will forgive me,
You will forgive me, give me, give me, give me.
And then, I'll re-suspect you,
I'll re-mistreat ya. Mistreat ya! Mistreat ya!

Whitney: Wow, you're a total jerkface.
Who wants to keep me in my place.
I should spray you with mace.


Whitney: I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I just love it when you get all shouty!

Clayton: Love you. Now go make me a sandwich.

Whitney: HOORAY!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Evil Misogynist Wrathful Abusive Bastard Hero

1 Hoydenish Doormat Self-Blaming Deserves Better Heroine

2 Sexual Assaults

1 Rape Forceful Deflowering

Several Enabling and Victim-Blaming Relatives

1 Wimpy Romantic Rival

1 Less Wimpy But Still Ineffective Romantic Rival

1 Bitchy McBitchFace
The Word:
How does one begin to review the most offensive, frightening, repulsive book one has ever read?

Well, I suppose I could begin with an apology to Fern Michaels, who previously held that esteemed title on on this blog. I may have hated your writing, Ms. Michaels, but the worst you ever did was inaccurately use the English language and include too many dogs.

And before you get all up in arms, I read the sanitized re-issue of Whitney, My Love, where the hero almost whips and almost rapes Whitney. How almost romantic.

But this really isn't a romance. This is a dark, psychological horror story of how a mentally-unhinged stalker and psychotic mastermind emotionally, physically, and sexually abuses a teenage girl into loving him. And he wins in the end. Hooray.

But maybe I should back up, and talk about Clayton's victim sexual obsession romantic interest: Whitney Stone. She starts out the novel as a pretty hateful little hellion with a budding stalker career of her own: she's determined to pursue and catch her hot gentleman neighbour, Paul Sevarin, with or without his consent. Her antics have already resulted in considerable damage to Sevarin's pride, personal property, as well as his person when one of her more brilliant attempts leaves him with a broken leg.

The entire neighbourhood kind of hates her because she takes her Angst and Daddy Issues out on other people in the form of "harmless" but actually quite dreadful and humiliating pranks. Finally, Dear Old Daddy has had enough of Whitney's crazy and decides to pack her off to France with her kinder and more tolerant uncle and aunt. There, Whitney comes to her senses and decides to clean up her act and win over Sevarin the old-fashioned (consensual) way.

Unfortunately, in France, she comes under the gaze of Clayton Westmoreland, who, after three years of silently watching her and one conversation during a masked ball, decides he must possess her. Despite the fact that he doesn't love her because he doesn't believe love exists.

Our Totally Rational Hero then hands Whitney's debt-ridden father a crisp cheque for one hundred thousand pounds in return for Whitney's hand in marriage, under the condition that Daddy Dearest keep Clayton's betrothal and true identity a secret so that Clayton may have a chance to court Whitney and give her the pretense of having a choice.

However, while Clayton has no problem putting a hundred thousand pounds towards new servants, dresses, and jewels for Whitney - he's not paying for backtalk. When they first meet, Whitney takes an immediate dislike to him, since he spends a great deal of their first conversation talking to her boobs. When they meet again at a ball, Clayton tries to get handsy and Whitney tells him off. Clayton responds by sexually assaulting her for the first time, on page 137:

It happened so quickly, there was no time to react. A hand like a vice shot out and seized her wrist, spinning her around back into the shadows, and jerking her into his arms. "I think," he enunciated in an awful voice, "that your problem is purely a matter of inexperienced teachers."

His mouth crushed down on hers, mercilessly bruising her lips, forcing them to part from sheer pressure.

Whitney writhed futilely in his iron embrace while tears of impotent rage raced down her cheeks. The more she struggled, the more insolent and punishing his mouth became, until she finally grew still, defeated and trembling in his arms.
Clayton really knows how to put the sensual in non-consensual. This sort of behaviour continues for much of the first half of the novel - he continues to spar with an increasingly-irate Whitney until his store of Amused Tolerance for Feminine Defiance runs dry (which doesn't take that long), after which he swiftly resorts to force, manipulation, or outright violence.

As I mentioned in my article over at Heroes and Heartbreakers about "How Alpha is Too Alpha?", an overly-aggressive hero is only tolerable if the heroine is capable of taking care of herself, and if the power in their relationship is evenly divided. The lack of this is exactly this novel's main problem. Through the entire novel, Clayton has all the power in their relationship. He's bought and paid for Whitney, and he's a hugely powerful and influential Duke. Whitney never wins a single argument or confrontation with Clayton, because Clayton has no qualms with crossing the line and using force once the argument doesn't turn his way.

What's worse, and what made this novel tear at the insides of my heart and brain, is how Whitney - and every other "good" character - slowly comes over to Clayton's side of things through copious amounts of victim-blaming. The worse he gets, the worse Whitney blames herself. Oh, if only she could control her fiery temper, then she wouldn't try poor Clayton's patience so badly he tried to beat her with a riding crop! Oh, if only she hadn't hurt Clayton's feelings, he wouldn't have sexually assaulted her for a second time! Oh, if only she'd put a stop to other people's gossip, than she wouldn't have embarrassed Clayton into trying to rape her! Oh, if only she hadn't been so stubborn and just capitulated to Clayton's advances, Clayton would never have had to get angry and force himself on her.

Woe is Whitney, her uncontrollable uppityness just keeps getting her into scrapes! GOOD THING SHE FOUND A MAN STRONG ENOUGH TO KEEP HER IN HAND.

Book - meet wall. Literally.
But enough about violence against women - let's talk about how this book fails as an actual book. For a novel that really is all about Clayton Westmoreland, we get little to no backstory or character development for him. He just shows up as a Big Dark Duke and we're supposed to go, "Oh, that's cool. Don't bother telling us any more about your life and personal interests and foibles and fears. You're hot and rich, which is clearly all that we care about when it comes to romantic heroes. No personality necessary."

In later books, Judith McNaught at least tries to give her asshat heroes some sort of backstory or motivation for why they're total assholes about and around women - like a slutty mum or a slutty ex-lover or several slutty mistresses (seeing a pattern here?). Clayton has none of that. He's the product of a love match and he has a fond, positive relationship with his mother. His ex-mistress is not only not a Raving Psychotic Bitch, but she's actually kind of awesome and nice. There's absolutely no development or reason given for why he's so incredibly suspicious and cruel towards Whitney. None.

And this book needs a reason - because the primary source of drama in this novel is Clayton's Mindbogglingly Irrational Ignorance and Distrust of All Things Whitney. Clayton's mind follows a pretty simple pattern:
  1. Clayton loves Whitney totally and utterly, until,
  2. Clayton comes across a scrap of iffy circumstantial evidence,
  3. Clayton jumps to the absolute worst of conclusions (Occam's Razor? What's that? Whitney totally cheated on me with zebras! Not horses!)
  4. Clayton knocks Whitney around and acts like a jackhole
  5. Clayton finds out that whoops, he was totally wrong
  6. Clayton apologizes and is quickly forgiven, and is totally in love with her again, until,
  7. See #2.
The biggie, of course, is when he overhears gossip of Whitney and Paul's engagement (that Whitney had been unable to quell) - and he immediately assumes that Whitney has been cheating on him and by the time he tracks her down he's also convinced she banged a hella lot of other dudes, including stableboys. This, of course, precedes the scene where he drags her off to his estate, literally rips her clothes off, and takes out his trust issues on her hymen, consent-optional. He then apologizes by showing up at a wedding she's attending and looking sadly and soulfully at her until she feels sorry for him.

Whitney, My Love would have been slightly more palatable if this had been the worst and last thing Clayton did. But no.

At that same wedding reception, Whitney's rude to him while they dance - and he then assumes she's an uncontrollable slut again and dumps her again and starts dating some nasty bitchy rival and has to be dragged back, kicking and screaming, by his brother and Whitney herself to see fucking reason. Yes. Whitney, sixty pages after being pretty much raped by Clayton, has to go and BEG Clayton to take her back.

You'd think that would be end. You'd think that discovering he stole his soulmate's virginity for the wrong reason (because there is a right reason?) would make a guy a little more careful about interpreting ambiguous signals, BUT NO.

After he wrongfully accused Whitney of Ho'ing it up and was proven wrong ON TWO SEPARATE OCCASIONS, after they're married and Whitney's preggers, he comes across a scrap of a letter Whitney had written about possibly being pregnant months ago and a) assumes Whitney's kid ain't his, b) decides Whitney's a dirty, dirty whore who never loved him and c) conveniently forgets THE FIRST TWO FUCKING TIMES HE CAME TO THE SAME CONCLUSION AND TURNED OUT TO BE TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY AND UTTERLY WRONG.

And by this point, Whitney won't even let him apologize - the book implies it's because she wuvs him too much let this proud glorious manly man debase himself by admitting he could be wrong about anything, but I like to think it's because even Whitney doesn't want to stretch the story out any longer.

Again - there's no character development, backstory, or motivation given for why someone like Clayton would jump to all these heinous conclusions about Whitney. His actions also beg the obvious question of why Clayton would bother paying 100,000 pounds for a woman he's clearly afraid to leave alone with a vibrating showerhead. But whatever.

This book - ugh. I've never felt so angry reading a book. I also wrote an article about it over at Heroes and Heartbreakers - but even now, I still feel so full of words and emotions about how terrible, how hurtful this book was. It said so many wrong things about men (particularly, how men who are respectful and take "no" for an answer are weak and simply don't "want" it enough) and incredibly, offensively wrong things about women (particularly a scene where a secondary female character finally uses her "natural feminine wiles" - to lie in order to manipulate her man into proposing marriage. Wonder why all McNaught's heroes suspect women are lying, conniving, sluts?).


Wednesday, October 19, 2011

"The American Heiress," by Daisy Goodwin

The Protagonist: Cora Cash. A spirited and insanely wealthy heiress to a flour fortune, despite her mother's machinations and the gossips from two nations, she nevertheless manages to marry for love.
The Rub: ... or does she? As she wades deeper into British society as a newly-minted Duchess, she discovers secrets and lies surrounding her aristocratic husband and his circle of friends.

The Supporting Cast:

Ivo, the Duke of Maltravers: An impoverished aristocrat who inherited the title when his beloved brother suddenly died, he guiltily devotes himself to his estates and holdings - longing to bring them up to the standard to which they used to exist. And this fetching, lovely, and besotted flour heiress could very well be the answer to all of his life's problems.

Teddy Van Der Leyden: When Cora wanted to elope with him, he held back, self-conscious about how her vast wealth would affect their relationship. Now that she's married to a Duke, he's kicking himself for his hesitation.

The Double Duchess: Ivo's mother, who scandalized society by marrying the Duke of Buckingham right after her previous husband, the Duke of Maltravers, died. Likes sex. Dislikes American daughters-in-law.

Bertha: Cora's loyal African-American lady's maid, who shares a relationship with a white footman.

Mrs. Nancy Cash: Cora's social-climbing mother. Suffers from severe burns on the right side of her face from an electrical-dress accident. Yes, you read that correctly.

Lady Charlotte Beauchamp: Cora's "friend" and Ivo's former mistress who is willing to do just about anything to get back into Ivo's good graces - if she isn't already.

Sir Odo Beauchamp: Charlotte's cruel and vaguely-creepy-but-in-an-unexplained-way husband.

The Word: When I first picked up this novel, I was expecting a good story, some interesting history, and a heaping spoonful of well-written scandal. What I got was, more or less, an historical romance novel.

Not that there's anything wrong with that - as you can clearly see by the content of my blog! I love romance, historical romance especially. It's just that when I pick up a novel marked as fiction, my expectations are slightly different, story-wise. I expected a different sort of narrative focus, and while there is some of that, it's mostly a highly romantic tale - which makes me wonder, why wasn't this published and marketed as a romance?

A lot of times, these sorts of situations make me think of the Romance Novel Catch 22 - There are no good romance novels because when a novel is truly "good," it's no longer marketed as a romance - because there are no good romance novels. That's why my local Chapters considers Jennifer Crusie's novels to be "Women's Fiction," which is ridiculous.

Anyway, American Heiress has a basic concept quite familiar to readers of historical romance (Lisa Kleypas' books in particular) - Cora Cash is a fashionable, spoilt, free-spirited and unbelievably wealthy heiress who is taken abroad by her mother in order to land an impoverished British aristocrat to marry, essentially "purchasing" his title and the cachet that comes with it.

Cora agrees to the scheme mainly out of guilt. Back in New York, she thought she was in love with Teddy Van Der Leyden, the scion of a less-wealthy but incredibly old-school New York family, but when her mother's head literally caught fire at the sight of them kissing (I'm not kidding, you have to read it to believe it), Cora assuages her guilt by crossing the Atlantic.

And, entirely by accident, she succeeds at her plan - by falling off her horse in a wood belonging to Ivo, Duke of Maltravers, a handsome, duty-bound aristocrat with a mountain of debts and a crumbling estate. After a brief, sudden courtship, they are betrothed, and after a money-drenched spectacle of a wedding, Cora finds that adjusting to traditional English life is not as simple as she assumed.

Again, romance readers will know exactly where this is going. Culture shocks abound - Cora realizes she cannot buy tradition and history, something her husband and his friends value highly. Ivo has a Dark Past that would do any Alpha Romance Hero proud - he's got a Bitchy Whore Mother, a Bitchy Whore Ex-Mistress, and a Mysteriously-Dead-In-An-Accident Older Brother. And nobody's really sure, least of all Cora, if Ivo's Bitchy Whore Ex-Mistress is really an Ex at all.

It's a delightful book if you love opulent detail, high-society shenanigans, and ssssecretsss. Since this book is almost-but-not-quite a romance, the story has the liberty to explore a larger circle of characters instead of entirely focusing on the main two. The points of view gracefully bounce around most of the main characters, allowing the reader a peek into everyone's particular story. There are lots of secrets and angst, so believe me, even though the book begins with Cora paying her maid $75 to make out with her and a woman in a dress made out of lightbulbs spontaneously bursting into flame, it's not all downhill from there.

It's also written quite well, with a reliable balance between wordplay, detail and story-telling. There are some historically-questionable moments (like death duties and the fact that Bertha somehow believes that interracial marriages would be tolerated in 1890s London) but oh! The descriptions of clothes! The high society parties! The barely-veiled bitchy one-liners!

However, if you are a romance reader and read this book with the same expectations, you are going to be disappointed, because the character who receives the least explanation and development is Ivo. True, he is the novel's central mystery, as Cora has to wade through suspicions and self-doubt to discover whether she was married for love or money. However, their relationship isn't particularly well handled, his character is often crude and inconsistent, and the conclusion to their story was surprisingly, unbelievably abrupt, with little payoff. Just for all the hoity-toity "romance is trash" types - a romance novel would typically have handled the ending way more gracefully than this book did.

Nevertheless, this was a fun book. Not necessarily realistic and not necessarily consistent, it was still well-paced, well-written, and just plain entertaining (barring the sudden conclusion).B+

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Future Plans, and So Forth

So, it's been a while since I've done a personal entry on this blog. What's next for Gossamer Obsessions?

More reviews! Thankfully. I'm currently writing the review for The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin, but I have also started reading one of Judith McNaught's most infamous novel, Whitney, My Love and I am LiveTweeting it - click on the little origami twitter bird on the upper right hand corner if you would like to follow along as I explore that historical novel's unique brand of WTFuckery.

I've also started writing for Heroes and Heartbreakers - my first article came out on the 13th, but I've sent another one in. Not only do they publish my opinions - but they pay. Pretty much the closest I can get to free money.

I'm also participating in NaNoWriMo this year, and trying to get into the social aspect of it a well. I've actually tried to change the way I write my first draft of my latest venture, change it to the point of writing my first draft on computer and paper. Normally I just did it longhand, but it's frankly gotten too slow (I've been working on it - not very steadily, mind you - since July, and I'm barely a couple of chapters in) and my hand cramps, and it's inconvenient.

So yeah. When I'm out of the house, at work or a coffee shop, I'll write my novel in my fancy notebooks with florid handwriting. But at home? I'm going to actually try the laptop, and just discipline myself from overediting and becoming distracted. I don't know if I'll ever be as prolific as some of my favourite authors, but I need to move faster than this snail's pace I've been setting lately.

So let's see how that goes. 'Ta, readers.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

"The Summer of You," by Kate Noble

The Chick: Lady Jane Cummings. When her father's illness threatens to become public, she's ordered by her brother to pack up and move to their summer cottage in Reston, a.k.a. the middle of nowhere.
The Rub: There's not a lot to do in Reston except hang out with the locals - and the most interesting local might also have a highwayman past.Dream Casting: Bryce Dallas Howard.

The Dude: Mr. Byrne Worth. Determined not to burden Society or his brothers with his struggle to regain his health and sobriety, he retreats to a little house he inherited in Reston, hoping to be left alone.
The Rub: Since Byrne became the mysterious newcomer with a dark past, the curious townsfolk - as well as Lady Jane - aren't likely to let that happen.Dream Casting: Matt Bomer.

The Plot:

Jackass Brother Jason: How DARE you take our sick father to doctors who might help him! That's so irresponsible! *takes off to nearest pub once the family arrives in Reston*

Byrne: Did you lose one Jackass Brother?

Jane: I don't suppose you could be prevailed upon to keep him?

Byrne: *arched eyebrow*

Jane: Wow, you are automatically more interesting than anyone else in this town.

Anyone Else In This Town: Stay away from him! He's a criminal!

Jane: On what grounds?

Anyone Else In This Town: On the grounds that we don't like him!

Jane and Byrne: ...

Jane: I don't care - let's get it on!

Jackass Brother Jason: GROSS.


Byrne: Did I mention I found out who the highwayman is?

The Town: Oh, jolly good.

Byrne: So no apology, then? For locking me up and avoiding me and treating me like dirt?

The Town: ....oh look, a distraction! *runs away*

Jane: Don't worry - let's get married and make you a magistrate! That'll show 'em!

Byrne: HOORAY!
Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Sick Father

1 Packet of Incriminating Letters

Several Jars of Jam

1 Silver-Tipped Cane

1 Instance of Skinny-Dipping

1 Annoying Brother

1 Secondary Romance
1 Stolen Doctor's Bag
The Word:
We were first introduced to Lady Jane in Kate Noble's previous book, Revealed, as heroine Phillipa's social nemesis. Her story begins during the celebration of Phillipa and Marcus' wedding, when her relentlessly selfish and callow brother Jason (recently returned from the Continent) tracks her down during the party to give her a scathing set-down.

Jane and Jason's father, the Duke of Rayne, has been slowly succumbing to dementia, and both siblings know that the formerly brilliant intellectual would hate to have his mental deterioration made public. However, Jane and her father's stay in Town, not to mention Jane's various dealings with doctors regarding her father's situation, has exposed their father to public scrutiny.

Jason decides to nip the problem in the bud by ordering Jane and their father to their estate in the Lake District. Appalled at her forced social exile, Jane nevertheless believes the change in scenery would be beneficial to her father - but she refuses to allow Jason to skip out on his own responsibilities yet again and blackmails him into accompanying them.

However, their carriage barely slows down in the Lake District village of Reston before Jason skips off to be the pretentiously annoying prick that he is and, unsurprisingly, winds up flat on his face in a mud puddle after several pints too many at the local Disreputable Pub. He is rescued and returned to Jane relatively undamaged by none other than Byrne Worth, Marcus' older brother from Revealed. It seems he now lives in a tiny cottage on Jane's property that he inherited from his aunt, and the locals of Reston shun and avoid him - partly because he is incredibly rude and unpleasant, but mostly because they fear he's the mysterious highwayman who's been terrorizing the village for the last few months.

For Jane, stuck between the Rock of a Beloved Parent's Illness and the Hard Place of being the most Popular Person in the Countrified Middle of Nowhere, going off to thank and then befriend Byrne is a joyful escape. They bond and grow even closer as they decide to solve the mystery of the local highwayman, all the while avoiding nosy locals, lovestruck secondary characters, mischievous children, and of course Jason, who just can't seem to get through the day without being a Royal Jackass to at least one person.

Let's start with what I didn't like - unlike Revealed, the plot here is light and meandering, if not outright aimless. Jane's ploy to spend more time with Byrne routing out the highwayman is just that, a ploy - when the highwaymen are revealed, it's a last minute "aha" moment that Byrne does on his own. Also, I don't feel we got to know a hell of a lot about Byrne. His main plot is that he wants to (and mostly has) overcome his opium addiction and his bum leg by himself without help from anyone, but apart from that we don't really dig into his psyche or his motivations very much, and I was disappointed - especially considering his brother Marcus Worth is one of the greatest romantic heroes ever (even when he's not in his own book!). However, I did enjoy that Jane liked getting physical with Byrne but was able to break it off before things went too far too fast.

What I did like was the setting, the humour and the description. I'm a visual reader with romances (particularly historical ones) and it was very easy to visualize the scenes in this book and it made the humour quite enjoyable. It's difficult to write humorous novels because comedy is so dependent on timing - and how do you control that with words that are read and not spoken or acted?

In the first Kate Noble novel I read, Compromised, I compared Kate Noble to Julia Quinn. I find the comparison comes up once again in The Summer Of You, only in this case, Kate Noble comes out the winner. Like Quinn, she creates a lovable cast of characters and a humorous social atmosphere in the town of Reston - however, unlike Quinn, she's not afraid to give her setting realistic friction. Reston is countrified, and Noble demonstrates that it's not necessarily a good thing - just a different thing. There are deep-seated resentments and prejudices and very real flaws in everyone, including our protagonists, and Noble's writing actually acknowledges that they are flaws, and not just cutesy "quirks." This gives her setting a gritty edge that makes the humour and moments of positivity pop out more.

I've found that Julia Quinn's writing of late (particularly in her latter Bridgerton books) never really paints her characters (those who aren't obvious villains of course) in any sort of negative light. Eloise's invasive and shrewish nature is never called out - other characters just say she's "inquisitive" and laugh it off. Or Hyacinth - who is incredibly rude and self-centred, but that just makes her "unique." Quinn never really acknowledges that her characters have anything wrong with them other than low self-esteem (that's usually cured by the HEA). In Summer of You, Jason eventually comes around, but his selfish and lazy nature isn't just shrugged off by Jane as "just who he is." That being said, he's played the part of the Asshole Brother so well I'm not sure how he'll actually do as a romantic hero in Noble's next book, Follow My Lead.

However, if you like humour, good heroine characterizaton and a gentle storyline and don't mind slow pacing and loose narrative focus, you're sure to enjoy The Summer of You.B

Saturday, October 08, 2011

"A Summer to Remember," by Mary Balogh

The Chick: Lauren Edgeworth. After being humiliatingly abandoned at the altar, this well-bred lady has no intention of entering into marriage ever again.
The Rub: While marriage is out of the question, a bogus engagement to a scoundrel is perfect - and it keeps her well-meaning relatives from meddling.
Dream Casting: Keira Knightley.

The Dude: Christopher "Kit" Butler, Viscount Ravensberg. What's the best way to avoid an unwanted engagement? Fake another engagement - to a different woman.
The Rub: His relationship with Lauren may be false, but his feelings for her are increasingly real. But how will he convince her that the best ending to a fake engagement is a real wedding?
Dream Casting: Hugh Dancy.

The Plot:

Well-Meaning Relatives: Lauren, you should get married again.

Lauren: Um, no.

Kit's Drunken Friends: Bet you 50 bucks you can't marry Lauren Edgeworth by the end of June!


Lauren: LOL NO.

Kit: *shamed* For pretendsies, then?

Lauren: Let me think about it -

Kit: COOL! Let's go swimming!

Lauren: NO.

Kit: Let's climb trees!


Kit: Let's have awesome Pity Sex to get me over my Guilt Issues!

Lauren: What is wrong with you?

Kit: Wheeeeeeee!

Freyja Bedwyn: Hey y'all, I'm here to provide romantic tension and also to show off what a fabulous bitch I am. *BITCH GLARE*

Lauren: *Bitchier Bitch Glare*

Freyja: Touche. Exit stage left!

Kit: Awesome! Now we can get married now!

Lauren: NO.

Kit: ...

Lauren: And now YES!

Romance Convention Checklist:

1 Half-Naked Fist Fight

1 Fake Engagement

3 Rowdy Friends

1 Crippled Brother

1 Set of Guilt Issues

1 Set of Abandonment Issues

1 Bitchy Romantic Rival

The Word:
We first met Lauren in One Night For Love, when her world was shattered into a million emotionally unstable pieces when her wedding to the Earl of Kilbourne collapsed when he discovered his previous, thought-dead wife Lily was very much alive. She spent most of that novel wandering around looking ghastly and making everyone feel guilty, but in A Summer to Remember she's regained her poise and is trying to recover and move on.

However, her well-meaning relatives keep trying to match her with suitable gentlemen, and everyone is so kind and pitying towards the poor, rejected spinster, that Lauren is slowly going mad all over again.

Salvation unexpectedly arrives in the form of Kit Butler, Viscount Ravensberg. He's also having matchmaking problems, you see. Formerly the black sheep of the family until an unfortunate death made him the heir, he's discovered his father intends to announce Kit's engagement to the sister of one of their neighbours. Stung by his overbearing father's controlling behaviour but aware of his duty, Kit decides the more mature and responsible way to say, "suck it, Dad!" is to marry someone else before his dad can make anything official.

But because he is still a bit of an irrepressible cad, Kit allows his drunken friends to make a wager out of it. Kit needs a respectable bride, and there's no one more rigidly proper in Society than Lauren Edgeworth - but surely she's far too high in the instep to consider someone with such a rakish reputation.

Kit sets about seducing Lauren Edgeworth with enthusiasm, and he's unwittingly aided by Lauren's friends who are so stuffily opposed to his presence that Lauren finds herself acceding to his outlandish overtures just to spite them. However, to this reader's very great relief, the whole "seduction as wager" plotline quickly dissolves before the end of the first act when a) Kit realizes he likes Lauren in spite of himself and b) Lauren sees right through Kit's facade.

However, given a brief taste of flirtation and romance, Lauren agrees to the arrangement of a false betrothal. While she's accepted her future as one of quiet, staid spinsterhood, she will pretend to be Kit's fiancee to fend off his father's matchmaking antics if, in return, he will provide her with one adventurous, romantic summer before they both part ways.

Of course, part of the arrangement involves Lauren travelling with Kit to his family estate in order to celebrate the birthday of his grandmother, and that's where she discovers that the sunny, charming Kit hides quite a wealth of dark family history beneath his cheerful smile, beginning with a younger brother who followed Kit into the war but returned a maimed cripple, and continuing with the coldly resentful family members of Kit's intended fiancee, Freyja Bedwyn (yes, those Bedwyns). Freyja, it turns out, was once the love of Kit's young life before she spurned him, and she is definitely not pleased to find their positions reversed, and in favour of a milk-and-water-miss like Lauren, no less.

Despite all this history and drama, Mary Balogh never resorts to histrionics. This story is a slow, steady, quiet exploration of English scenery and character development, as most of Balogh's novels are. And, since Lauren and Kit are fascinating characters, generally I enjoyed it - although, and this may just have been due to the mood I was in while reading it, I found myself getting a little impatient with the pacing three-quarters through.

Thanks to life dealing her a Royal Flush of Abandonment Issues (from her parents, her father's family, and eventually the Earl of Kilbourne), Lauren's lived her life striving for approval from others, never putting so much as a toe out of line, desperate to appear perfect and poised and worthy of love and security. At the beginning of the novel, it's hard not to pity her, having endured rejection after rejection.

Her dependence on propriety is so ingrained that it takes quite a bit of effort on Kit's part to shake a few curls loose, and convince her to live for herself. Balogh uses a nice bit of word play on the difference between "lady" and "woman" in regards to Lauren's behaviour - she's spent so much time being the perfect lady that she's had no time to explore the kind of woman she really is. And once she does - again, to Balogh's credit - she doesn't immediately transform into the Secret Hoyden Who Loves Wearing Pants. She's actually pretty normal, just a lot happier.

It's also interesting to compare Lauren to Freyja - as the novel frequently and explicitly does. Freyja does embody the typical wallpaper heroine who Cares Nothing For Society's Strictures (at least in this novel), and these types of heroines regularly do triumph over the proper and well-bred misses - and Freyja would have done just that if this novel had been written by, say, Judith McNaught. Thankfully, Mary Balogh's got this - and it's compelling stuff to watch just how Kit (and Lauren) discover Freyja wouldn't be a perfect match for Kit - this novel is about how Kit grows up and moves on from his reckless past, while Freyja clearly hasn't.

As per the usual, Mary Balogh crafts a solid, enjoyably romantic novel that looks upon stock romance characters from a different perspective.