Mar. 18th, 2013

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 This was an impulse buy. I'd set up a roleplaying Twitter account with some friends (and I've neglected it lately, sorry guys), and, in keeping with the character, I'd been friending other historical personages, so Twitter started suggesting things like museums and authors of historical novels. Jolie Beaumont came up on the recommendations, and I saw "Regency mysteries", which sounded like fun, so I clicked through, and the price point was low enough to make me decide "what the heck," so I bought it.

Eh. Well. My impulse buy threshold is about on par with a cup of Starbucks coffee. Which I'll pay for if I'm taking advantage of their wifi. But I'm never really crazy about Starbucks -- I don't mind dark roast (my morning fix at home is Café Bustelo), but, in my opinion, they over-roast their coffee to where it tastes burnt. With this book? I got what I paid for.

THIS REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. IF YOU DON'T WANT THEM, STOP READING NOW.

Now, I'm a sucker for Regency romances, but I'm also a tough audience, because with all the research I did for my own novel, I'm unfortunately good at spotting errors. Ms. Beaumont clearly did some research for this -- there were a few cool details that I hadn't run across before, like funeral biscuits and burnt wine -- but she didn't do quite enough, or didn't really grasp some of what she did learn, or, worse, decided to ignore things that were inconvenient to her plot. And it really threw me out of the story.

For one thing, I got very confused trying to figure out when the story was actually taking place. Very near the beginning, there's a reference to the first cantos of Byron's Childe Harold's Pilgrimage being published just a few months before -- which would put it in 1812. But, later, there's a reference to the heroine's husband having served in the Peninsula -- and that's from 1808-1814, and, fine, he might have come home partway through and sold his commission, but she's supposed to have married him four years prior to the events of the novel, and, best as I can tell, she married him after he came home. Did he (and all the other characters who served with him) sell out after the retreat from Corunna? It puzzled me, and distracted me from the story. Now, maybe if it were actually the third canto (late 1816) or the fourth (1818) the dates would work better, but... it was a problem.

It was also a problem for me that the heroine didn't mention his status as a returned soldier during her first reminiscences of meeting him, and it only came out midway through the book. The impression given prior to that was that he was purely a young wastrel about town, and the revelation felt inconsistent, to say the least.

That was a problem I had throughout the book. The pacing of plot revelations was seriously uneven. It's tough to write a well-paced mystery -- this is why I don't write them -- but I notice when it's done poorly. Likewise, I notice when details are implausible. The husband either commits suicide, or is murdered, by slitting one wrist with a penknife? And nobody thinks to question the method until very late in the novel? It takes a long time for someone to bleed out like that. Even with early 19th century medical knowledge, someone should have picked up on that.

And then there was the heroine's inheritance, or lack thereof. I understand that for the premise to work, she had to be left penniless. HOWEVER. She came to her marriage with fifty thousand pounds, an estate in Yorkshire, and a sugar plantation in Jamaica! (Side note: I was also annoyed at the author for glossing over the plantation's slaves as "workers" and "laborers". Nope. Wasn't that pretty.) There is no way her grandfather could have been so eager to get her married (and the point of getting a girl married is to make sure she's provided for) that he would have ignored so much as a widow's jointure in the settlements. It beggars belief.

A lot of the numbers in the story beggared belief. A fortune of fifty thousand pounds, and she only had the one suitor? That's a pretty damn big fortune. That's how much the heiress Willoughby jilts Marianne Dashwood for has. PLUS the conveniently un-entailed estate. The viscount husband's Restoration-era family seat has two hundred rooms? Blenheim Palace has 187. And it wasn't just money. Please, PLEASE don't ask me to believe you can leave Yorkshire on the afternoon mail-coach and arrive in Brighton on the same day. Argh.

Also don't ask me to believe that an earl's disinherited younger son became a Bow Street Runner. That's one heavy load of disbelief to suspend.

I also found the romance elements in the plot hard to believe. I couldn't feel any romantic tension between the heroine and the man we're told she was attracted to -- the one who'd allegedly won her former home as a gambling debt from her late husband. And his insane wife, shades of Jane Eyre? Who's occasionally just lucid enough to reveal a plot point to the heroine that the author then conceals from the readers? Uh-uh. Nope.

A small point that also niggled at me was the characters' disregard for manners. I don't care how snobby Lord March is, or how distracted, he should stand up when a lady enters the room. Stuff like this happened throughout.

Pretty much the only thing I can say in the book's favor is that the heroine was fairly engaging and likable. I did want things to come out well for her. And, if the plot had been better paced and more believable, I could have forgiven the historical blunders, but it just wasn't good enough for that.

It wasn't until after i finished that I noticed that Ode to a Dead Lord was self-published. This is the problem with that "Purchase with 1-Click" button: if I hadn't been so quick on it, I might have noticed, and stayed away. Because this is a book that could have benefited greatly from a good editor. 
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Promises Made Under FirePromises Made Under Fire by Charlie Cochrane

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


Charlie Cochrane is one of my favorite m/m authors, and in this book, she delivers once again.

It's set in WWI, beginning in the trenches, and shifting back and forth between there and England when the protagonist has leave, and concluding after the war. As you might expect, it's a story woven through with loss. But it's anything but tragic.

As you also might expect of a story of romance between men set in the time period, it's a story of secrets and careful deceptions, and the efforts that men have to make to build relationships in the face of social and legal sanctions. I'm addicted to this trope even while it makes me cry out at the injustice of it -- there's hardly a better way to put obstacles in the way of two characters getting together without making them do stupid things or requiring a specific and persona villain. So the cautious, uncertain way the romance builds had me cheering the boys on.

There was also an element of class conflict, and the way it was handled was both deft and a surprise; to say more would be a spoiler, so I won't. But I love class conflict, and I really enjoyed it.

As is typical of Charlie's books, what sex there is is described only in the mildest and least explicit of terms. But don't think there wasn't any sexual tension. She can get more out of a light touch on the arm than many authors can get out of a full-on sex scene. I was listening to the audiobook version in the car, and I squeaked out loud when the characters finally kissed!

A note about the audiobook: it's lovely. I bought it intending to use the WhisperSync function to switch between the ebook and audiobook versions, but I wound up listening to the entire thing. The narrator read at a pace and level of expressiveness that I could easily follow along -- and that is rare for me with a book I don't already know very well, and doubly rare if it's not a book I've chosen on the strength of the narrator's voice. (Why yes, I will gladly pick up just about anything narrated by Paul McGann and Samuel West, and I'm loving the Georgette Heyer titles narrated by Richard Armitage, though, again, the Heyer titles are ones I know essentially by heart.) If you like the audiobook format, or even if you don't usually but think it might be convenient, I heartily recommend this one.

It's a beautiful story, and I give it four out of five stars.



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August 2013

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