Fairest of All
By: Serena Valentino
Publisher: Disney Press
When the Evil Queen first appeared on movie theater screens in 1937, Walt Disney set the gold standard for all screen versions of fairy tale villains to come. She was gorgeous, menacing, and altogether overwhelming -- a scene-stealing villain, the embodiment of unrepentant evil. Or was she? As it is no secret that I adore fairy tales and film and novel re-tellings -- or re-imaginings -- of these classic tales of good versus evil, it was a foregone conclusion that when I stumbled upon Fairest of All I'd one day read it.
Here, Serena Valentino crafts a backstory to the Evil Queen of legend, positing a history that, were different choices made, could have allowed for a very different -- and altogether more positive -- outcome of the Queen's relationship with her stepdaughter Snow White. Much like Elphaba's story in Wicked, the television show Once Upon a Time, or (presumably) the upcoming film Maleficent, this novel attempts to reassess the Queen in light of her upbringing, if not exactly excusing or attempting to justify her behavior outright, but rather to offer a plausible reason as to why the Queen would go to such drastic measures to remove Snow from her life.
The young Queen is one eager for a place to belong, desperately in love with her husband and eager to be a mother to her new daughter. But she's terribly insecure, crippled her father's emotional abuse and eager, desperate for the validation being in a family can provide. However, when that haven is threatened, the door is opened for this insecure Queen to seek affirmation elsewhere -- even if its at the hands of a mirror whose power stems from her greatest oppressor.
I love the ambition behind this novel, and the fairly plausible manner in which Valentino attempts to flesh out the canon of the film. It is a bit simplistic in its rendering, however, as she introduces great ideas only to leave them less than fully developed, perhaps giving the target audience less credit than they deserve. Valentino knows her source material, and peppers her story with film and other Disney canonical (including my favorite, a Sleeping Beauty shout-out!). Her prose, while occasionally reminscent of Grimm or Perrault, can be somewhat simplistic and stilted, filled with awkward descriptions and "flourishes," but on the whole this is a pleasing addition to Disney and fairy tale lore. I'd love to see Valentino explore the backstory of other famous villains, like Ursula, or perhaps Cinderella's enigmatic nemesis -- a veritable treasure trove of opportunities are waiting in the wings, and Valentino's passion and imaginative flair for this type of fiction holds promise. About the book:
For anyone who's seen Walt Disney's Snow White, you'll know that the
Wicked Queen is one evil woman! After all, it's not everyone who wants
to cut out their teenage step-daughter's heart and have it delivered
back in a locked keepsake box. (And even if this sort of thing is a
common urge, we don't know many people who have acted upon it.)
for the first time, we'll examine the life of the Wicked Queen and find
out just what it is that makes her so nasty. Here's a hint: the
creepy-looking man in the magic mirror is not just some random spooky
visage-and he just might have something to do with the Queen's wicked ways!
After surviving the onslaught of Hitler's Blitz on London, the women of Article Row -- Olive and her daughter Tilly, and their lodgers Agnes, Sally, and Dulcie -- continue to struggle to adjust to life under the ever-present specter of war. Working as a nurse at St. Bart's, Sally continues to see the worst of the Blitz's impact on London, but finds solace in her relationship with George, a young doctor whose affections have helped her forget her own breach with her family back in Liverpool. Agnes is blissfully happy to be engaged at long-last to her boyfriend Ted -- the only thing marring her joy is her future mother-in-law's refusal to open her heart to the one-time desperately lonely orphan. Dulcie is as incorrigible as ever, exasperating and endearing herself to her fellow lodgers by turns, and dating an American pilot -- and determinedly ignoring disturbing signs that he's less than enamored of her than she'd like to believe. And while Tilly is blissfully happy dating Drew, the dashing American reporter, Olive fears that in wartime Tilly's passionate nature will only lead to heartache. But even as Olive fights to protect her headstrong daughter, the widow finds herself increasingly drawn to the attentive -- and very married - neighbor, Archie Dawson. As each woman strives for happiness in an increasingly war-torn London, they find that the only constant they can rely on is change, as they strive to hold on to the hope of a better world in the midst of unimaginable sorrow and loss.
My Sweet Valentine, the third outing in Annie Groves's Article Row series, continues to be a warm-hearted, poignant portrayal of life on the home front during the horrors of the Blitz. Whereas previous installments of the series gave relatively equal page time to each woman's story, this volume focuses primarily on Tilly and her romance with Drew, and its impact on her relationship with Olive. In the second volume, Home for Christmas, Grove introduced -- albeit in a very gentle fashion -- the changing moral values of the time, and the impact a potentially rash liason or even marriage could have on a young woman's life, with a couple's future so uncertain thanks to the realities of the war at home and abroad. Groves further develops this theme here, giving, I think, a very realistic portrayal with Tilly of a "good girl" struggling to navigate rapidly changing social mores of the day and reject or reconcile them with her conservative upbringing.
That said, I do feel like the book suffers for focusing so much on Tilly and Olive's oft-times stormy relationship, and relegating the other residents of Article Row to minor supporting players. One of the main reasons I enjoyed London Belles and Home for Christmas was the sense of community Groves managed to build between these very different women, brought together by shared need and the rigors of life on the homefront. Agnes all but disappears, left to suffer off-stage with her future mother-in-law's patently obviously disapproval, with only a brief update on the state of her relationship with Ted. Dulcie fares somewhat better -- Groves offers a tantalizing glimpse into the development of her unlikely friendship with an erstwhile suitor, now horribly wounded and rejected by his family. I love Dulcie because at first glance she seems like such a selfish character -- but underneath that bold-as-brass exterior lurks a heart of gold.
Of the lodgers, Sally fares best here. Groves continues to explore the toll Sally's fractured family life took on her emotional well-being, and while her reaction to her father's remarriage is extreme, and certainly the stuff of soap opera, Groves manages to imbue Sally's story with an appreciable level of emotional authenticity. Groves continues to explore Sally's changing moral views here, particularly vis-a-vis her intensifying relationship with George, contrasting her more mature decision-making process with Tilly's youthful, impetuous nature. It's a contrast that brings into sharp relief the error of focusing so much on Tilly -- likable enough, but incredibly immature -- and that quality, coupled with Olive's smothering, wears thin in a novel of this length (400 pages).
Sadly, Annie Groves passed away shortly before this novel was published, but with it she cements her status as a master when it comes to writing nostalgic, warm-hearted, female-centric wartime fiction. While My Sweet Valentine is far from perfect, focusing on -- at this point -- my least favorite resident of Article Row, it is a solid entry in the series. I particularly appreciate how, despite the story's gentle tone, Groves never shies away from exploring the stark realities of wartime, delivering brutally honest sequences exploring the emotional impact the Blitz has on survivors. She's at her best when exploring the human toll of war on the homefront, and its catalyst as an engine of social change. Though the prose is still occasionally clunky and repetitive, and the characterizations uneven, I enjoyed revisiting Article Row, and I look forward to finishing the concluding, posthumously published volumes in this saga -- Only a Mother Knows and A Christmas Promise. About the book:
An emotional portrayal of the lives of four women as Valentine’s day approaches, in 1941 wartime London
brought enough problems and upsets for young hearts, especially young
female hearts, without them having to carry the added burden of the
Tilly is passionately in love with the dashing American
journalist, Drew. But he is harbouring a secret that threatens their
burgeoning love. At the same time, Dulcie’s brother Rick walks back into
her life, the man who she longed for all those years ago…
is comforted by the loving arms of her caring train driver fiancé Ted.
And Sally could not be happier with her talented surgeon boyfriend at
her side, especially since he’s risked his life to visit her at the
stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve.
For Tilly’s mother, Olive,
the cold heart that had been frozen since her partner died, is beginning
to thaw. But the man she pines for is betrothed to another. The net
curtains on the well-to-do Article Row have been twitching, and prying
eyes have seen the way she’s been looking at Sergeant Dawson…
the clock strikes midnight at the Hammersmith Palais, three couples
stare deeply into their lovers’ eyes. The confident and stunningly
beautiful East Ender, Dulcie, is left alone once more, abandoned by her
boyfriend at this most precious of precious moments.
But the women
of No. 13 Article Row know that joy is short lived in the London of
1941. It’s a treacherous place, especially for the tender-hearted. As
Valentine’s Day approaches, the perils of war threaten life as they know
it and all matters of the heart.
Marrying the Captain (Channel Fleet #1)
By: Carla Kelly
Publisher: Harlequin Historical
Nana Massie, the only granddaughter of a poor but respectable Plymouth innkeeper, has every reason to distrust the naval men upon which her and her beloved Gran's livelihood depend. The illegitimate daughter of a lieutenant, now a lord of the Admiralty, she fled the education her father provided when he revealed his true plans for her future -- selling her as mistress to the highest bidder to cover his debts. She's resigned herself to a life of struggle and poverty, sure that no one could ever overlook her less-than-honorable antecedents. But when Captain Oliver Worthy, sick and exhausted, arrives at the Mulberry Inn, in spite of herself Nana begins to dream of a future unencumbered by the stain of her parentage.
Post Captain Oliver Worthy's ship limped into Plymouth, badly in need of repairs. Delivering the latest intelligence on Bonaparte's movements to the Admiralty, he receives a startling commission from his superior, Lord Ratliffe -- to stay at the Mulberry in Plymouth while his ship is in dry docks, and report on his daughter's movements. While Ratliffe is ostensibly concerned, Oliver is wary, even more so as he becomes acquainted with the lovely Nana. With his return to war looming, Oliver becomes increasingly concerned about protecting Nana from her father's schemes, and hatches one of his own -- can the man who swore to never marry take the risk of claiming a bride?
Oh people, this book. It's not that it was bad, exactly...more terminally boring. The period of the Napoleonic Wars and its impact on the personal and professional lives of naval men and their families is one rife with possibilities of conflict, tension, and genuine drama. And this coming from a woman who loved the Horatio Hornblower television series! Sadly, the possibilities of the time period are never fully realized on the page. Kelly flirts with adding a dash of spying intrigue to the plotline involving the historical Charles Lefebvre-Desnouettes receiving British military secrets from Nana's father, but an possible intrigue feels so half-baked, too little, too late, by the time it appears in the storyline to raise the stakes for Nana and Oliver's future.
I could overlook a sluggish plotline if I had been able to become invested in the characters. While Nana and Oliver are perfectly nice people, and share some perfectly nice moments, I never felt any spark, any investment in their relationship. This was greatly hampered by the heroine's name -- I cannot take a grown woman who calls herself "Nana" seriously, especially when she's described as being practically a waif, with child-like eyes. :P She has a perfectly good name - Eleanor - why not use it, and let me imagine Oliver falling in love with an ADULT? So we have the child-like Nana making eyes at the war-weary Oliver. And all they do is think about how a relationship could never, ever work between them...for PAGES and PAGES. I'm all for a little angst, but not at the expense of relational development. I need sparkling dialogue and sharp characterizations -- not endless, depressing introspection. And I'm all for a man who is in touch with his emotions, but the amount of crying going on between Oliver and Nana is a bit overwhelming. :P
Despite my issues with this story, there is a sweetness to Oliver and Nana's romance, and as always it is refreshing to read a story where the parties involved consummate the relationship after marriage (however, it's worth noting that the wedding night squicked me out beyond belief...terribly, awkwardly written, blech...). Kelly clearly has a passion for this time period; however, the manner in which it translates to the page left me rather apathetic. There IS a sweetness to the romance, and some solid history for those interested in this time period. Kelly seems like a pretty popular author, and I've heard great things about the third installment in this series -- while I may try it someday, at this point I'm in no hurry. About the book:
Ever since her father tried to sell her as a
mistress to the highest bidder, Eleanor Massie has chosen to live in
poverty. Her world changes overnight when Captain Oliver Worthy shows up
at her struggling inn. Despite herself, Nana is drawn to her handsome
Oliver planned to stay in Plymouth only long enough to
report back to Lord Ratliffe--about Nana. But he soon senses that Lord
Ratliffe is up to something, and Oliver will do anything to keep this
courageous, beautiful woman safe--even marry her!
Well, I've (obviously) fallen a bit behind in my Downton Abbey blogging, seeing as season four concluded on Sunday. But never fear, my goal is to catch up THIS WEEK, starting with part seven!
After the near-death experience with Downton's newest residents -- pigs! -- Mary (Michelle Dockery) and Blake (Julian Ovenden) are quite chummy. YES. I approve of this development, as the only other option on the horizon is Gillingham, and I think he's an idiot. (I wish Napier was a serious contender, but then who would Fellowes bring back at random times just to go SEE! SERIES CONTINUITY! I FORGET NO ONE!) Mary and Branson (Allen Leech) go to visit the pigs (because that's a thing now), now under the care of Tim Drewe (Andrew Scarborough), the farmer who took over the family's tenancy following his father's death. Edith (Laura Carmichael) tags along for this visit, because visiting pigs IS a thing now and heck, anything is better than thinking about her pregnancy. Drewe is, apparently, a Pig Whisperer, and so Mary and Branson offer him the job of seeing to the animals' care. And because he's SO GOOD WITH PIGS, Edith gets STARS in her eyes, and we all know what she's thinking, right? The Pig Whisperer is the perfect man to RAISE MY BABY!! Oh, Edith...I suppose there are worse measures of one's character...and desperate times call for desperate measures...but at this moment this sorta feels like a new low. :P
With Robert (Hugh Bonneville) still in America getting his brother-in-law's scandal squared away (or something...still not sure WHAT exactly he's supposed to be facilitating regarding that mess), Cora (Elizabeth McGovern) is all stressed out organizing the annual church bazaar. I love how these annual events show up once, never to be repeated. LOL! She tries to get Rose (Lily James) to help, but that initiative is a non-starter (no surprise there, eh?), as Rose has better things to do, like arranging not-so-clandestine meetings with Jack Ross (Gary Carr) in neighboring Thirsk. This is NOT GOING TO END WELL, as the couple is spied by Branson getting cozy in a tea shop. Branson is completely out of his element in attempting to deal with something of this nature, so he foists the scandal-in-the-making off on Mary, who I believe I shall start calling The Fixer. *wink*
Edith is becoming increasingly desperate (and unhinged -- see above: random farmers make great fathers!), leading to a surprise visit to Downton from Rosamund (Samantha Bond). While Rosamund attempts to disguise the true purpose of her visit as being a dutiful daughter visiting her recently ill mama, Violet (Maggie Smith) of all people isn't fooled in the least. Maggie Smith has been an absolute GEM this season, as is her norm, but this hour she was on fire -- the Dowager's quips and looks and brilliantly funny moments kept coming at a rapid-fire pace throughout the entire installment! ABSOLUTE HEAVEN. (Also, Edith is supposed to be FIVE MONTHS pregnant in this episode? That is RIDICULOUS.)
Rosamund decides that rather than give the baby to a local farmer, she and Edith will take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Switzerland so she can LEARN FRENCH. Because going to Switzerland for that makes SO MUCH SENSE. Violet, smelling a rat, holds court (literally, this woman is a QUEEN of the screen!) -- and neither Edith nor Rosamund have a prayer of keeping their secret when faced with her eagle-eyed gaze, confirming Violet's suspicions that Edith is pregnant. The Dowager insists on paying for their trip -- and can I just tell you I LOVE these moments when Violet's heart is revealed, showing just how far she'll go for any member of her family. (Side note: I really hope that Edith's baby daddy doesn't just disappear in Germany. That would be a really lame send-off.)
Back-tracking a bit to catch up on a few other notable happenings, among them Ivy (Cara Theobold) receiving a letter from Alfred (Matt Milne), where he PROPOSES MARRIAGE, in between telling her about his father's death and his impending visit to Downton as a consequence. What the HECK, Alfred?! Ivy is taken aback to say the least, as is Mrs. Patmore (Lesley Nicol), but we all know Mrs. P. is more worried about Daisy's reaction than Ivy's future, right? LOL. To make a LONG story short(er), Ivy decides (thank goodness) to refuse Alfred, Daisy goes off on her (again) for breaking his heart and driving him away from Downton, and Mrs. P. takes pity on her and suggests she go visit her father-in-law Mr. Mason (Paul Copley), a.k.a. the only other person in Daisy's life with any sense. More on THAT in a moment. :)
Wishy-washy Gillingham (Tom Cullen) returns to Downton, again, because he JUST CAN'T QUIT MARY, but not before Anna (Joanne Froggatt) tearfully confesses the identity of her attacker -- Gillingham's valet. Mary is outraged and wants to do something, anything, to bring Green to justice, but Anna insists that the secret must be kept between them so Bates (Brendan Coyle) doesn't go off on the guy and end up in prison again. To Mary's credit, she tries to stop the visit, but wires are crossed and it's too late as Gillingham is already en route. When they arrive Bates comes out of the shoe-shining room (seriously, did anyone else notice that while Robert is in America, he is practically LIVING in there??) to notice Anna's reaction to the creep, and to hear that they live in Piccadilly (cue revenge plotting music).
After saying goodbye to Gillingham, AGAIN, Mary is sent into crisis management mode when Rose tells her that she's engaged to Jack Ross. Now, apparently Rose wants to marry Jack to really stick it to her mother, whom she hates (when did this start? also, your mother has been halfway across the world for MONTHS...get over it!), so you know this is a love match for the ages. *eyeroll* Mary plans a quick trip to London, accompanied by Anna, in order to try and talk Jack out of marrying her cousin. This whole storyline was really pointless, wasn't it? Because when they meet, instead of fighting for Rose, instead of having anything remotely resembling a meaningful conversation on the impact of interracial relationships during this time period, Jack has ALREADY decided to break the engagement. I repeat: What. Was. The. POINT?! Completely expected side note: while Anna is in London, Bates takes a day trip to York, which even Carson (Jim Carter) think is weird, but goes along with...yeah, sure, I buy that... :P AND Gillingham breaks his engagement. AND Mary gets him to agree to fire Green, but keeps Anna's secret.)
How are we all feeling about Branson's potential new love interest in the form of schoolteacher Sara Bunting (Daisy Lewis)? I'm...wary. Intrigued, but wary -- mainly because thus far she seems so set on accusing him of abandoning his principles by working for the Crawleys. I DID think the scene where he comes upon her with a broken-down car was cute, and I do like how her often annoyingly intrusive questions and assumptions force him to take stock of his relationship with the Crawleys -- and, at least thus far, make him realize that he IS a part of the family. He might not agree with them, but he does care about them, and that care is reciprocated. So in the sense that she is kind of forcing him to come to terms with his new life, I approve. But the constant needling about his politics...that could get old really fast. :P
Getting back to Violet being awesome -- she invites Isobel (Penelope Wilton) for tea because Mary's godfather, Lord Merton (Douglas Reith), who we met way back at the beginning of season three, is coming over. She apparently has no patience for his rather dour ways, but finds more entertainment in the occasion than she expected when Merton shows an unexpected interest in Isobel! Violet's shock and awe face was killing me -- and the icing on the cake was when Merton sends flowers to both women, care of Violet, and Isobel's arrangement is bigger! LOL! Not that I'm fond of Merton (yet), but I do think this is a VERY promising development for Isobel -- and while she's frustrated me on occasion, honestly I wouldn't wish the doctor on my worst enemy so a new guy is good! :)
Things actually happen for Molesley (Kevin Doyle) here! Concerned for Baxter (Raquel Cassidy) after overhearing Thomas (Rob James-Collier) bullying her about secrets, he attempts to befriend her, encouraging her to not let Thomas try to turn her into O'Brien 2.0 (well, not exactly those words, ha!). She starts looking at him like he's hung the moon or something, and he can just barely deal with it, and they share a cute moment at the fair when he beats Jimmy (Ed Speleers) at a strength test at the bazaar. Perhaps Molesley's never-ending sad-sack bad luck is finally turning around! Color me SHOCKED!!
During the bazaar, Daisy (Sophie McShera) pays a long overdue visit to her father-in-law, who encourages her to let go of her bitterness over the Ivy/Alfred situation and say goodbye, wishing him well and leaving their friendship on good terms. She takes his advice (of course, because when has he ever steered her wrong?), bringing him a basket of food as a peace offering of sorts and sincerely wishing him well. It's a wonderful moment, and so sweet to see how proud Mrs. Patmore and Mrs. Hughes (Phyllis Logan) are of her maturity. Also, not gonna lie, it's fun to see Alfred second-guessing himself and realizing that all this time, he may have been pining after the wrong girl (DUH). GO DAISY!
Wrapping things up, Robert and Thomas return from America during the bazaar, which is a hit (convenient timing, that). Gillingham shows up to give Mary the SHOCKING NEWS (not) that his valet was killed by "stumbling" (sure...) into the street and getting hit by a car. But poor Anna...instead of getting to feel relieved that she'll never have to see her rapist again, she's NOW worried about what Bates really did on his day off. He is such a sly fellow, eh? :P AND Blake shows up, just to tell Mary that HE CAN'T QUIT HER EITHER, and it's ON with Gillingham because he is NOT giving up without a fight.
EXCITING TIMES, right?! Finale recap coming soon!! :)
*Photo copyright Masterpiece/ITV/Carnival Films. No copyright infringement intended.
Julia Midwinter, the only child of Lady Amelia, the formidable leading citizen of the small village of Beaworthy, aches to escape the confines of the only home she's ever known and the stifling restrictions her mother has constructed around her life. Lady Amelia is a model of duty and responsibility, long-ago family tragedy causing her to forswear frivolous, potentially dangerous pursuits such as dancing -- for in the euphoric atmosphere of a public ball, one small slip can lead to morally bankrupt chaos. Frustrated and alone, Julia embraces every chance she can to raise her mother's ire, indulging in reckless behavior and flirtations, desperately seeking a sense of belonging, of life within the staid confines of Beaworthy. When the handsome Alec Valcourt arrives from London, she's immediately drawn to his good looks and charm -- particularly when she discovers that his chosen profession is that of dancing master, the one occupation her mother abhors most of all. Positive Alec can breathe new life into Beaworthy, Julia seeks every opportunity to further their acquaintance -- but the erstwhile dancing master proves to be a deeper riddle, and a more reticent recipient of her flirtations than she'd ever dreamed possible. Could the dancing master and his forbidden trade be the key she's long sought to breathe life into her restless spirit?
Alec Valcourt and his mother and sister retreated to his uncle's home in Beaworthy, fleeing rumors and disgrace in London, hoping for a fresh start. A third-generation dancing and fencing master, Alec hoped to bring his passion for the more graceful social arts to his new home, and perhaps establish his reputation anew, and restore honor to the Valcourt name. But Lady Amelia's ban on dancing proves to be a formidable obstacle, one a young man of little money and scant reputation can scarce afford to challenge. Against all reason he finds himself drawn to the fiery Julia, the one woman in the village forbidden to him by class and virtue of his profession. Spurred by Julia's passion for change, the unlikely pair finds themselves inexorably drawn into a delicate dance of their own making, one that threatens to bring to light long-held, painful secrets, and hold the promise of restoring life and dance to a community shadowed by guilt and condemnation. But exposing secrets doesn't come without a price -- a price Julia, Alec, and Amelia must each decide if they're willing to pay, for the chance to dance in the light of freedom requires both forgiveness and grace.
Julie Klassen's latest Regency romance is an exquisite exploration of the power of art and faith to transform a life. For one such as I who professes to be something of an Austen aficionado and an avid lover of both costume dramas and fiction that brings this time period to life, I'm rather nonplussed to admit that prior to delving into this novel I'd never heard of or realized the critical importance of a dancing master in developing the social skills that make up such a part of this time period. The role of a dancing master is a fascinating one to consider -- a purveyor, if you will, of valued social skills, but still outside the realm of complete acceptability into the highest echelons of society. His talents may be valued, and utilized, but there is a line that cannot be crossed, as Alec and his family tragically discover.
Considering the time period and subject matter, I was surprised The Dancing Master unexpectedly reminded me of a twentieth-century literary classic -- Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Porter. While Julia has far too many of her own immature traits and insecurities to overcome in order to be classified as a Pollyanna figure, in my view the over-arching theme of both stories is strikingly similar -- finding the good in every situation. Like Pollyanna's "Glad Game," Beaworthy and her residents have been stifled by Lady Amelia's desire to unofficially legislate a specific moral code in the wake of her personal family tragedies. It's only when truths are revealed and forgiveness offered that Amelia is able to at long last lay to rest the demons that have haunted her, freeing both her and her village to once again embrace the community and artistic expression offered by the long-dormant art of dance.
Julia is a fascinating heroine. Initially a bit prickly, her headstrong nature reminded me of Austen's Emma -- only even lacking that classic heroine's belief in her rightness. This is a girl intensely frustrated by her life and desperately seeking a sense of belonging, her bravado eventually revealed to mask intense pain. Although her mother offers love and affection, the secrets she holds dear -- and that Julia senses -- prevent the two from reaching an accord. It's only when the secrets surrounding Julia's birth are brought to light that she realizes that the acceptance and security she longs for cannot be found in another individual; rather, it's only in the grace of faith and forgiveness, freely offered and accepted, that she finds a lasting balm for her soul. I adore the slow-burning romance Klassen develops between Alec and Julia -- he is SUCH a gentleman, and while young and struggling to establish his career, he has an honorable core that makes him the perfect match for the fiery Miss Midwinter.
The Dancing Master is a joy from start to finish, an exquisite novel saturated with the understated beauty and power of the very art form it extols. Like Austen and Heyer, Klassen excels at building a community in her novels, and never more apparent than here as this is far more than Alec and Julia's love story -- instead, it is the tale of a community renewed and transformed, a love story, if you will, to the transforming power of faith and fellowship. I initially thought that perhaps this would be Klassen's most Austen-esque novel to date, missing the thread of intrigue that has peppered her earlier work, so I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong. Through carefully-meted detail and expertly-sketched characters, Klassen unfolds a tale of love, loss, and betrayal worthy of a Bronte sister. Once again the cost of secrets are weighed against the power of truth and forgiveness, all while skillfully illuminating a fascinating quarter of nineteenth-century English society. Klassen's novels are experiences to savor, and The Dancing Master is no exception -- a romance for the heart and soul. About the book:
Finding himself the man of the family, London dancing master Alec Valcourt moves his mother and sister to remote Devonshire, hoping to start over. But he is stunned to learn the village matriarch has prohibited all dancing, for reasons buried deep in her past.
Alec finds an unlikely ally in the matriarch's daughter. Though he's initially wary of Julia Midwinter's reckless flirtation, he comes to realize her bold exterior disguises a vulnerable soul -- and hidden sorrows of her own.
Julia is quickly attracted to the handsome dancing master -- a man her mother would never approve of -- but she cannot imagine why Mr. Valcourt would leave London, or why he evades questions about his past. With Alec's help, can Julia uncover old secrets and restore life to her somber village...and to her mother's tattered heart?
Filled with mystery and romance, The Dancing Master brings to life the intriguing profession of those who taught essential social graces for ladies and gentlemen hoping to make a "good match" in Regency England.
Marguerite de Fleurignac, who once graced the halls of Versailles, has been left to forage in the French countryside following an attack on her family's chateau that saw her ancestral home turned to ash. But Marguerite has more to fear than wrath against once-powerful French aristocrats -- as the head of La Fleche, an organization responsible for ferreting those "sparrows" out of the country that find themselves condemned by the Committee of Public Safety, she stands to be branded a traitor to the Republic. La Fleche has been betrayed, and so Marguerite desperately goes to ground, hoping to see her network of spies and contacts safely dissolved -- but escaping the clutches of the radical Jacobins determined to make an example of her organization, and leaving behind the life-saving work that has consumed her life since the onset of the Revolution is more difficult than she'd ever dreamed. When a bookseller stumbles upon her gutted hiding place, Marguerite is sure she cannot trust him -- but equally determined to use him to guide her to Paris and her father. But the merchant is more than he seems, and Marguerite never expected his unwanted presence to blossom into an attraction that threatens everything she holds dear...
William Doyle, one of the British Service's top agents, was sent to the de Fleurignac chateau to find Marguerite's father, the man believed responsible for providing lists of British agents to the French government, who are then assassinated. With the Service bleeding its best and brightest, the lists must be destroyed, and there is no one better to lead William to the mad listmaker than his daughter Marguerite. Under the guise of Guillaume LeBreton, an scarred and unassuming merchant, William and his knife-wielding compatriot, a street-smart boy known as Hawker, agree to guide Marguerite to Paris. But much like himself, his enemy's daughter is more than she would seem, a woman of fire and intelligence who has him questioning his future with the Service. When a threat against Marguerite blinds William to the danger at his doorstep, the spymaster finds himself facing the guillotine, and as the erstwhile head of La Fleche Marguerite faces her greatest challenge yet -- rescuing the spy who has managed to capture her heart.
When I stumbled across The Forbidden Rose on a friend's "to-read" Goodreads shelf, I was immediately intrigued as I've always found the French Revolution to be a fascinating time period. And having cut my teeth reading historical fiction such as Rafael Sabatini's Scaramouche and Baroness Orczy's The Scarlet Pimpernel, I resolved to give Bourne's fiction a try immediately, and I'm so glad I did. But first I need to get this out of the way -- I have no idea what this cover or title has to do with the story itself. Marguerite and William spend nearly all of the novel dressed in sensible peasant's clothing, a far cry from the cravats and rich silks represented here, and as for the "rose" in the title -- I suppose that refers to Marguerite, but if that is the case a bird reference would've been much more appropriate. Not to mention the general design of the cover made me fear a sexed-up plotline -- and while that is an element of the storyline, this novel is happily more of a historical, suspense-laced adventure then the bodice-ripper cover could lead one to believe. But I digress. *wink*
Bourne excels at weaving complex, thrilling plots and crafting compelling characters. She does an excellent job penning characters that feel authentic to the time period, damaged and struggling with what they've seen, experienced, and been forced to do in a time of war and revolution. While I would've liked Marguerite and William to develop more of an actual rapport and relationship before commencing a physical relationship (I feel like Bourne was chalking up the "insta-lust" as a "natural" off-shoot of two lonely people in wartime finding each other attractive...or something :P), by the halfway mark I was completely sold on their romance. I love how caring for Marguerite forces William to re-assess his dedication to the Service, and how his desire for her well-being allows Marguerite to blossom, to dream for the first time since the onset of the Revolution for a hope-filled future.
And I ADORED the supporting cast of characters. From the beloved friends (and in one case, former lover) that make up La Fleche's network to Marguerite's mad but mathematically genius father and villainous cousin, to the heart-breakingly youthful Justine, working as a spy under the protection of one of Paris's most notorious madames, the individuals that people Marguerite and William's world are as colorful as the mad, bloody, exhilarating and dangerous by turns time in which they lived. But Hawker, Doyle's youthful spy-in-training and jack-of-all-trades outshines them all, stealing every scene in which he appears. With a maturity that belies his years and attitude in spades, Hawker is a force to be reckoned with and the character I most look forward to seeing develop as the series progresses.
While Bourne spends a significant amount of time reconciling Marguerite and William's disparate views on each other's work, and teasing the "mystery" of the extent of her father's involvement in contributing to Robespierre's Terror, once they reach Paris, this story is absolute GOLD. From William's imprisonment, forcing the ironclad-spy to face his mortality, to Marguerite's desperate efforts to stage a rescue, all set against the backdrop of events leading to Robespierre's downfall, Bourne spins a thrilling and complex web that captivated my imagination. From the halfway mark on, I literally could not turn pages fast enough, so eager was I to see the next twist unfurl on the page with heart-stopping intensity. This is the type of romantic, high adventure tale that I simply adore, hearkening back to classics the like of Sabatini and Orczy that define the genre.
Although I wasn't sold on the initial, wholly physical beginning as the foundation to William and Marguerite's relationship, as The Forbidden Rose progressed I grew to love how Bourne established a rapport between them. Once the intellectual and emotional connection was established I was sold, as they proved to be two characters who not only needed each other, but made each other the best version of themselves. And once in Paris, the story transforms into an exhilarating thrill ride, a fast-paced, old-fashioned adventure that kept my fingers flying to turn the pages. The Forbidden Rose is a fabulous adventure, shot through with a ribbon of sweet romance, and with a wealth of possibilities for future (chronological) installments waiting in the wings thanks to her colorful, compelling supporting cast (seriously, Doyle's boss is AWESOME - an 18th-century version of Judi Dench's M) waiting in the wings to star in their own tales, I cannot wait to revisit Bourne's fiction, and soon. About the book: Marguerite de Fleurignac, once privileged aristocrat, is on the run, disguised as penniless British governess Maggie Duncan. William Doyle, England's top spy, has a score to settle with her, recognized when he pulls her from her burned-out chateau. Drawn inexorably into mad revolutionary Paris, they gamble on a inadmissible love destined for betrayal.
At eighteen, Anthony Bridgerton -- the eldest of the expansive family's brood of eight -- assumed the mantle of leadership in his family following his beloved father's untimely death. As the firstborn, Anthony viewed his father as a larger-than-life figure, a constant north star, the man against all others -- including himself -- could be measured and found wanting. To lose such a man to a freak accident like a bee sting was a tragedy even an eighteen-year-old Anthony could barely fathom, and holding his father in such esteem, Anthony instinctively determined that there was no way he could surpass his father even in years -- and so he must be destined to die at thirty-eight. With that deadline looming over his life, Anthony threw himself into the position of surrogate father and head-of-household with a fervor born of his desire to honor his father and his own deep and abiding love for his close-knit family. But with a very different kind of fervor he set himself to embrace all the vice and passions offered to a leading member of the ton, and in the process earned a reputation as one of London's most unrepentant rakes. However, when Anthony realizes he is a mere ten years away from that fateful age of thirty-eight, he decides that this season he must embrace his familial duty and at long last take a bride and have an heir. His one stipulation is that the woman in question must be one he could never love, for love would make his inevitable mortality unbearable. And so he sets his sights on this season's jewel, Edwina Sheffield -- she's beautiful and kind but leaves him cold, the perfect bride -- but he never counted on Edwina's older sister to be equal parts interfering and alluring...
At twenty-one, Kate Sheffield is finally enjoying her first season in London -- or she should be, if she was viewed as more than the radiant Edwina's older sister. Kate is resigned to the fact that she'll likely end a spinster, and that her younger half-sister will be the one to save mother and herself from an unenviable future of genteel poverty. She doesn't resent her sister's beauty or acclaim, but rather she resolves to use her position as the older sibling to make sure that Edwina marries well -- more than a wealthy man, Kate wants her sister to marry a good one. And thanks to the infamous Lady Whistledown's gossip column, she's positive that Anthony Bridgerton is the last man in the world who could make her sister happy. When Kate meets Anthony, sparks fly -- she's determined to protect her sister from a rake of the worst sort (never mind his smoldering glances and smiles that turn her weak in the knees!) while he's maddened by her intractable opinion on his character and therefore his marriage to Edwina (never mind that it's her sister's lips he wants to kiss and whose image, uninvited, fills his dreams). Viscount Bridgerton will marry a Sheffield -- the only question is, will it be the sister he's chosen or the one who drives him mad, whose self-proclaimed mission in life is to foil his plans?
After falling in love with the quirky, exuberant Bridgerton clan in The Duke and I -- my introduction to Julia Quinn's writing -- I knew I wouldn't be able to long resist the pull to revisit their world. Everything I loved in Daphne and Simon's story reappears here in Anthony's tale -- the warmth, wit, and humor that I'm fast learning is a hallmark of Quinn's effervescent writing. From the first moments of Anthony and Kate's introduction, I was powerfully reminded of the spark that characterizes one of my all-time favorite romances -- that of Beatrice and Benedick in Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, with perhaps just a dash of the fire that sparks between another Kate and her unwanted suitor Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew. Here Quinn takes the familiar trope of warring, would-be lovers and breathes fresh life into it through her whip-smart characterizations and the situations -- from the ridiculous to the sublimely romantic -- that gradually weave a seductive web around Anthony and Kate, forcing them each to realize the one truth they'd rather die than admit -- that they just might be each other's perfect match.
I had some trouble buying Kate's self-proclaimed role as gatekeeper of her sister's future, particularly since she has such a warm relationship with her stepmother Mary, and Edwina never appears to be lacking for commonsense. That aside, Quinn sketches Kate's insecurities regarding her own self-worth and desirability with a sensitive brush. In a less accomplished author's hands, Kate's qualms, her self-image issues and fears could have become a farce, but as Kate begins to fall in love with Anthony, Quinn's deft characterization illuminates the fears, doubts, and self-image issues that have cause Kate to buy into the lie that she is somehow less than her beloved sister and makes her transformation all the sweeter. It's a delicate balance to achieve, but Quinn is a master at tapping into one's most closely-held doubts and fears, and seeing them excised on the page with warmth and compassion.
Overcoming fear is an over-arching theme throughout the novel -- not only Kate's fears of rejection, but Anthony's fear of his own mortality, birthed out of his beloved father's death. I loved Quinn's honest treatment of fear and grief here, for no matter the cause, she never belittles its oft-times crippling impact. As someone who has often fought her own battle with fear, I loved Quinn's honest, compassionate portrayal of such. As I discovered in The Duke and I, her often frothy, humorous writing belies the weightier subject matter she introduces as obstacles in her romances -- there she touched on the subject of the emotional abuse Simon suffered as a child, while here she delves into the emotional toll losing a parent has exacted on both Anthony and Kate's lives, and the danger in allowing one's fears to dictate how one lives life, and the liberty found in opening oneself to love, affirmation, and healing. It would've been easy, given the subject of Anthony's fears, to have his character seem less than "heroic," given the emotional component and the expectations of heroes to live up to their alpha potential in novels of this ilk. But in the hands of a master craftsman like Quinn, Anthony's character shines with depth, all the more alluring for the honesty with which his reluctant, unexpected love story inspires him to transform his life.
Quinn's trademark humor and breezy, fast-paced writing style make her second installment of the Bridgerton series shine. While Anthony and Kate's budding relationship is a tick more physical (*ahem*) initially than the intellectual camaraderie that characterized Daphne and Simon's early encounters, Quinn is fast proving herself to be a master at crafting relationships ultimately founded on a bedrock of emotional and intellectual compatibility. And for all Kate and Anthony relish trading verbal jabs when they first meet, it's their journey from adversaries to lovers, with a friendship founded on respect and honesty, and of, as Kate resolves, making the conscious decision to fall in love anew every single day that made my heart sing. The absolutely delightful dynamic between the close-knit Bridgertons, from the infamous Pall Mall game to the delicious, needling camaraderie between Anthony and his younger brothers (oh, I cannot WAIT for Colin's story!), the humorous antics of Kate's beloved corgi Newton -- all these elements are just the proverbial icing on the cake. The Viscount Who Loved Me is a thoroughly engaging, swoon-worthy love story -- a romance crafted of equal parts passion and intellect, Anthony and Kate's reluctant romance is a story to cherish. About the book: 1814 promises to be another eventful
season, but not, This Author believes, for Anthony Bridgerton, London's
most elusive bachelor, who has shown no indication that he plans to
marry. And in all truth, why should he? When it comes to playing the
consummate rake, nobody does it better...
--Lady Whistledown's Society Papers, April 1814
this time the gossip columnists have it wrong. Anthony Bridgerton
hasn't just decided to marry--he's even chosen a wife! The only obstacle
is his intended's older sister, Kate Sheffield--the most meddlesome
woman ever to grace a London ballroom. The spirited schemer is driving
Anthony mad with her determination to stop the betrothal, but when he
closes his eyes at night, Kate's the woman haunting his increasingly
Contrary to popular belief, Kate is quite sure that reformed rakes to not make
the best husbands--and Anthony Bridgerton is the most wicked rogue of
them all. Kate's determined to protect her sister--but she fears her own
heart is vulnerable. And when Anthony's lips touch hers, she's suddenly
afraid she might not be able to resist the reprehensible rake