Wednesday, 14 March 2018
Rating: 3.5 stars
Spoiler warning! This is book 2 in a series, and as such, the review will contain some spoilers for the plot of book 1. If you want to remain unspoiled, start at the beginning with Air Awakens.
Left no choice after her trial and sentencing, Vhalla Yarl, former librarian apprentice is marching to war for the Solaris empire. She's considered property of the empire and has to use her new and unfamiliar Windwalker powers to help the Emperor and his forces win their conquest of the rebellious north. Two of her new friends from the Tower of Sorcery, her mentor Larel and the cheerful Tower librarian Fritz, have joined the army to help train her and keep her company in the battles to come. Both the younger prince, Baldair, and Crown Prince Aldrik feel responsible for Vhalla, and do their best to help train her, in both magical and mundane fighting, as the army marches towards their destination.
Vhalla is still struggling with nightmares after the attack on the capital, which led to her arrest and keeps seeing her dead friend's face in her dreams. She's unsure exactly what is expected of her in battle, but pretty sure that the majority of senators wouldn't care at all if she's killed, no matter how useful her Windwalker powers might prove to the empire. She's also confused about her developing feelings for the Crown Prince, and his mercurial treatment of her. Sometimes he completely ignores her, while at other times, he appears to return her feelings. Not that it would matter if he did love her, as how could the heir to the empire ever have a future with a lowly commoner, indentured by the Crown?
In many ways, Fire Falling has even more structural problems than Air Awakens. While Vhalla's friendships with Larel and Fritz (I like these characters and both friendships are done really well), as well as non-magical characters Daniel and The Other One? (I'm sorry, I can't remember the names of absolutely everyone, and The Other One was pretty damn non-descript) are developing, and she's being trained in both normal combat and her magical powers, sometimes in a group, other times alone in Aldrik's tent, there's also huge stretches of marching and not much happening. We get hints of another love triangle, because Aldrik has a magically powered lady friend who he's spending a lot of time with, and who's clearly very jealous of Vhalla, but it sort of fizzles out to nothing and again, mostly serves to make me roll my eyes at its being included at all. Then, suddenly, in about the last third of the novel, there's a sudden burst of action and danger, changing the status quo again and leading to a tense finale - before the book literally ends on a cliffhanger.
Impossible as the love affair between a crown prince of the empire and a commoner former library apprentice may be, I'm going to go out on a limb and say that because I've read a whole bunch of books, the end game of the series, no doubt after much of the introduced cast members so far have been killed off so that Vhalla and/or Adrik can be sad and suffer some more, and all sorts of angst and horrible war has taken place, is the two of them ending up together. After a lot of back and forth and "OMG, he could never love me!", they do declare their feelings for one another, and it's all rather sweet for a short while, before everything goes to hell again.
Having now read two books, I'm not entirely sure I can stick with this series. There are too many sections of the books where nothing happens, followed by sections of just a ridiculous amount of action, killing off a supporting character, and then the plot veers off somewhere entirely unexpected for the last third - and what does happen seems to be about the ruthless emperor, the concerned, possibly jealous younger prince, Vhalla and Aldrik's impossible love and one or more really rather forced love triangles. I can already see the outlines of another one all ready for book 3, but I'm not sure I can take the melodrama. I'm going to take a break for now, certainly.
Judging a book by its cover: None of the people on this cover appear to have limbs going the wrong way unless you look at the cover carefully, as was the case with Air Awakens. We still get the same anime style, and in the acknowledgements, the author makes it clear that she absolutely adores the covers. I think the lighting could have been better, and would have liked to see the armour on the characters more clearly. Also, not at all how I picture Aldrik and Vhalla (my mental image is pretty much Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley, as their Star Wars characters.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Tuesday, 13 March 2018
Rating: 3.5 stars
Vhalla Yarl is a librarian apprentice living in the huge central library in the capital of the Solaris empire. The empire has been at war for ages, trying to conquer the lands in the north and through this conquest uniting the whole continent under one power. One evening, there's a state of emergency declared, one of the princes has been injured, and all the librarians are needed to help research a possible cure. Remembering how the younger, charming prince, known colloquially as "The Heartbreak Prince", once saved her when she was falling off a shelf in the library, Vhalla works tirelessly through the night to find as many texts as possible, taking copious notes.
Shortly after, she finds herself abducted and taken to the Tower of Sorcerers. It seems Vhalla has latent magical powers, and they showed themselves in the notes she wrote about possible cures. The injured prince in question also wasn't the younger one, but the older, aloof Crown Prince, himself gifted with magical powers. Like most common folk, Vhalla has grown up on stories of how terrifying the sorcerers of the land are, and rejects any possibility that she might herself have magic. She insists on returning to her position in the library, but keeps seeing strange things, and starts a correspondence with someone leaving sarcastic notes in the books she reads in secret while stacking the shelves. Soon, she's researching magic and sorcery and learning that her prejudices were probably wrong. Unsurprisingly, her mystery mentor turns out to be the Crown Prince himself, who has rather unorthodox views on how to get Vhalla's power to manifest once and for all.
Even after the rather startling event that triggers her powers fully (or possibly because of it), Vhalla is still reluctant to commit to becoming a sorcerer. There is a ceremony where she could eradicate her magic instead, and she wants a month to decide which choice to make. Everything suggests that Vhalla may be a Windwalker, however, the first such to manifest in over a hundred and fifty years. The sorcerers in the Tower and Crown Prince Aldrik would really prefer it if she chose magic, rather than stay an anonymous librarian.
So while I had at least one Elise Kova book on my TBR-shelf (thanks again, random e-book sale where a book that someone recommended cost $2.99 or less), I had never actually read anything by her when this book was selected as the February 2018 pick for Vaginal Fantasy. It seemed like a quick read, the book was on sale on Kindle, so I got it and glommed it. Librarian heroine, elemental magic and a dark broody sorcerer prince who's most likely going to end up being the love interest? I can work with that.
This is the first book in a series of five, and while some people have rated each book in the series highly, glancing through the reviews, the latter books in the series may or may not go a bit off the rails and some people seem to have rage-quit the series later on. While I didn't love this book, I also didn't hate it, and there was a lot of interesting potential here, but there may be a bit too much set-up for the books to come.
The names of the characters might have been created in a "YA fantasy name generator". There's a lot of strange ones here. Because apparently you can't write YA without it, there are hints of a love triangle, of course, and I rolled my eyes both at the presence of it, and the third part - one of Vhalla's childhood friends at the library, who obviously has loved her for ever, but doesn't really start mentioning it until the Crown Prince starts showing his interest in Vhalla, and is extremely "nice guy" and rather emotionally manipulative about the whole situation - no, thank you. That we then sort of get a second love triangle of sorts, because of course Vhalla's other childhood friend at the library has always fancied whats-his-douche, but hasn't wanted to say anything because she was happy to sacrifice herself and pine in silence if Vhalla liked him back - yeah, too much drama drama for me. That whole thing did not read well.
Then the story takes an incredibly sharp turn into something a lot more serious and gory in the last third, and there's such a rapid tonal shift that I initially thought my book was missing a chapter or two. As this series is apparently pitched as Avatar: the Last Airbender (which I've never watched, but I know deals with elemental powers meets Throne of Glass, I guess the last third is where the author felt the need to get it to the latter influence in a hurry - heroine with unusual powers forced to use them in aid of the crown.
The world building in the book is promising and I liked most of the characters enough that I'll most likely check out at least the next book in the series, mainly to see if the central romance goes anywhere interesting and Vhalla's powers develop in a cool way.
Judging a book by its cover: See, while I like the anime style cover, this drawing also gives me a headache. When I look at it more closely, it's obvious that the girl is wearing a shirt with long, trumpety sleeves, and it's not that her elbow has somehow dislocated and her arm is hanging limp and twisted down the side of her body. Also, she's wearing some kind of hood or cloak that's whirling in the wind. See, our protagonist has wind powers, and the way the wind is blowing her hair and shirt is clearly meant to be represented on the cover - but I think it's done n a very messy way, and I'm not sure what direction the wind is supposed to be coming from, as her hair is blowing one way and her clothes appear to be swirling in different directions. It's not great. I'm also pretty sure Vhalla is supposed to have darker hair than this girl has.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Monday, 12 March 2018
Rating: 3 stars
Doctor Garrett Gibson is the only female physician in England, trained in France and licenced before they got around to changing the rules so other women couldn't follow her example. She has a good job, working as a staff physician at Winterborne's department store. She also does pro bono work in the poorer parts of town, and it's on her way home from one of these jobs that she finds herself accosted by three thugs. While she's been trained in self defence, things start take a turn for the serious until Ethan Ransom shows up to lend a hand. The former Scotland Yard detective has been keeping an eye on Garrett, worried that someone would indeed attack her and overwhelm her. He clams her defencive moves are far too mannered, and offers to teach her to fight dirty, so she can properly defend herself in future.
Ethan Ransom has been attracted to the intelligent Dr. Gibson for months, but working in a secret branch of the government, he can't allow himself to get attached to anyone - his job is too dangerous. Yet he can't really stay away from her, and when he ends up in a near-death situation, Dr Gibson needs to use all of her skills to patch him back together again. Ethan also needs to swallow his resentment of his Ravenel relatives, so he and Garrett have somewhere to lay low while the people who want him dead are brought to justice.
I was so excited when it was announced that Lisa Kleypas was returning to historicals, and yet with each book, I get a bit more disappointed, because her stories just aren't up to the standards of her earlier historicals. I had high hopes for Dr Gibson's book, mainly because she's been such an interesting supporting character in two of the other books in the series. I wasn't as thrilled by the prospect of Ethan Ransom (clearly related to the Ravenels in some way, as he has the tell-tale eyes of most of the family members) being the hero, as his presence in the latter half of Devil in Spring suggested that it would involve shady government conspiracies (that part being my least favourite subplot of said book) of some sort, and I wasn't wrong. Ethan is basically working for an early version of the Secret Service, but some of his superiors are corrupt (seriously, the villain in this book isn't described as having an elaborate moustache he can twirl, but he might has well have had), and since Ethan wants to blow the whistle on them, he needs to be killed. SPOILER - he doesn't die.
What didn't work for me in this book:
- The stupid government conspiracy subplot and the nefarious scheme to have Ethan killed
- Ethan's "Irish brogue" - despite the fact that he was born and raised in London. I don't care how Irish his mother was, he would not have had a full-on Irish lilt, so that was just dumb
- The complete lack of time spent developing Ethan and Garrett's relationship. They've only met a couple of times before the start of this book. Then it's established that Ethan has pretty much been stalking Dr. Gibson every Monday when she does her charity work in the rough parts of town, because he fancies her, but considers her way too good for him (for reasons). Then they have one sparring session and go on one date, before they have a one-night-stand and suddenly they love each other passionately. Not very satisfying at all, in what is supposed to be a ROMANCE.
- The stupid villain. He was way over the top.
- Ethan's "Oriental" training, both in martial arts and those of the bedroom - in India. Elyse over on Smart Bitches, Trashy Books says it much better than I ever could. Thankfully, Lisa Kleypas apologised very eloquently and I suspect she will do better in future.
What I did like:
- Doctor Gibson's medical expertise. Kleypas has clearly done her research here and the bits where Garrett gets to ply her trade are excellent.
- West Ravenel - charming, funny and very likable supporting character. To me, he improved every scene he was in, and I desperately hope that his book (the next one coming up) is better. It won't take much.
I don't see myself completely abandoning this series. Lisa Kleypas has written so many good novels in the past that I'll keep reading these books in the hopes that she'll strike gold once more with one of them. I really hope Avon hires a better cover designer, though.
Judging a book by its cover: I have ranted before about the awfulness of the covers for Lisa Kleypas' Ravenel series, but I think we may have hit a new low. There is NOTHING period appropriate about this contemporary monstrosity of a ball gown. It shows WAY too much skin for anything worn by anyone respectable in the 19th Century. Then there's the incredibly lurid pink background - I just can't with this cover. I saw a theory online that the reason they're using the wholly period-inappropriate dresses are to trick Kleypas' contemporary fans into picking the books up - well, they're going to be disappointed when they find themselves reading a Victorian historical.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Audio book length: 10 hrs 47 mins
Rating: 2.5 stars
Henry "Monty" Montague is a young bisexual lord sent off on a grand tour of Europe, accompanied by his best friend, Percy (who Monty has a massive crush on) and Felicity, Monty's younger sister. For the first part of their journey, they are accompanied by an elderly tutor, but once they leave Paris, hijinks really ensue due to very poor decisions made on Monty's part and soon the three young people are left to fend for themselves, on a crazy adventure through much of Europe - involving highwaymen, pirates, alchemy and more.
This book appeared on SO many "Best of 2017" lists. I read so many favourable reviews of it, on a number of websites. The premise is so promising. Young, handsome queer nobleman travels through 18th Century Europe with his biracial best friend and feminist younger sister, having all sorts of adventures. It literally took me six months to finish the book. To be fair, for much of those six months, I simply wasn't reading (or listening, as the case may be), because I didn't actually care enough to pick the book back up again.
I can see why this is a book that was loved by many. I really liked Percy and Felicity. A lot of important issues are dealt with over the course of a book that really does have a lot of plot twists and adventure. You'd not necessarily expect a romantic historical romp to have a queer main character or deal with matters of parental abuse, racism, the treatment of the mentally ill, feminism and so forth. I just really couldn't with Monty. I get that for all that he is white and privileged and rather spoiled, he also doesn't have the easiest time of it. His father is clearly the worst. Being bisexual in the 18th Century - not great. But for all of his legitimate complaints, he's also a self-centred, impulsive idiot who gets his companions into a lot of trouble time and time again and pretty much without fail makes every situation all about himself - even though both Percy and Felicity have a lot more they could complain about. Being black or female in the 18th Century - less great than being a rich, white, cis-gendered male. I kept hoping Monty was going to learn some sort of lesson and improve, and he does, eventually, but to me, it was just too little, too late.
In the end, I did finish the book, but I also returned the audio book to Audible for a refund of a credit, because there is absolutely NO way that I will want to revisit this book again. It seems that Mackenzi Lee has a sequel coming out later this year, all about Felicity, which I may give a try, because I liked her a lot. I just hope Monty stays far away from the main narrative, because I have had it with that guy.
Judging a book by its cover: "A dizzying, dazzling and roguishly romantic romp" says the cover quote. Sadly the main romantic plot of the book could be said to be Monty's love of himself (yes, he fancies Percy, but so much more page space in the book seems focused on how much he fancies himself). I will give the cover designer kudos for picking a cover model who looks as spoiled and entitled as Monty acts for much of the book. The drawn on title and little doodles (a sailing ship, a violin, playing cards - all things that appear in the story) add whimsy.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Sunday, 11 March 2018
Rating: 3.5 stars
Clara Morgan is legendary in the hospitality business for her ability to turn around pretty much any struggling hotel or guest house. When she's not busy rebranding hotels, she runs marathons and other endurance races. What she rarely, if ever, does is stay in one place for very long. She has an apartment in Manhattan, but travels both domestically and abroad so often that she hardly ever has time to spend there. She never puts down roots anywhere and is careful not to get herself too attached to anyone or anything. Her childhood growing up in the foster care system, being handed from family to family taught her that that's a recipe for disaster. While her friends are all finding partners and getting settled, establishing relationships and traditions of their own, Clara is perfectly happy focusing on her career. Or is she?
Clara's current assignment could lead to her becoming partner, if she pulls it off successfully. The prestigious Bryant Mountain House in Hudson Valley is in desperate need of a face-lift and makeover and Clara is just the woman for the job. She just needs to convince Archie Bryant, fifth generation Bryant and soon to be current owner and manager (when his father retires shortly) that while the hotel is a gem, they're spending far too much money keeping up traditions that no one is very interested in and that they'll be going out of business if they don't renew and update and attract new customers. Archie's not going to give up on a hundred and fifty years of tradition and doesn't want social media stars in his family's hotel anyway. However, he doesn't want to lose his family business altogether either and if that means taking some advice from Ms. Morgan - he may just have to swallow his pride and accept the help.
Buns is the concluding volume in Alice Clayton's Hudson Valley series and features a lot of things that are normally total catnip for me. You have the "enemies to lovers" plot trope - Clara and Archie pretty much hate each other on sight and keep arguing vehemently, until they basically can't keep their hands off one another. There's the "competence porn" aspect - with both Clara and Archie being consummate professionals, very good at their jobs. There's a section where one of the couple nurses the other one back to health (I have no idea why this is a trope that works for me, it just does) There's the larger supporting cast of these novels, the inhabitants of the little town of Bailey Falls and the couples from the previous two novels, all of whom I like - and yet, the book failed to entirely wow me.
While Clara is extremely good at her job, and her reluctance to establish roots and crippling fear of abandonment due to her childhood seems perfectly natural, I never entirely understood why her two very supportive friends, who really seem to know the extent to how bad it was for her growing up, never convinced her to see a therapist. As it's obvious that Clara is deeply private and rarely shares the extent to her lonely and sad childhood with people, I can see why her boss or colleagues never mention it to her - but Roxie and Natalie, her two besties, and heroines of the previous two novels in the series, really should have done her a solid and insisted she get some professional help to process her traumas. This would have been a very different book if that were the case.
Archie's fine, if a bit stuffy and set in his ways. A widower for some years, he has issues of his own to work through, having been with only one other woman, who he'd known since childhood, before meeting and falling for Clara. In a lot of romances, the complications are due to faults of both sides of the couple, but here it's pretty much all on Clara when the relationship falters in the third section of the novel and it's pretty much all due to her crippling fear of abandonment. There's the requisite grand gesture towards the end where she wants to prove her love to Archie, and will say it was pretty spectacular.
With the four books I've read by her so far, Alice Clayton continues to be one of those authors who's books are perfectly fine, but nothing extraordinary and where I struggle to entirely remember the plot a week or two after finishing the novel. Not bad by any means, but she continues to be on my "buy on sale" list and won't graduate any higher based on this book.
Judging a book by its cover: This is another example of the cover designer clearly just having been given a vague idea of the contents of the book. There's a shirtless guy and buns in both the literal and metaphorical sense. See what they did there? Yet the model looks nothing like Archie is described (also, I'm unsure if he ever actually wears jeans over the course of the novel), and the baked goods in question that are mentioned at several points are hot cross buns, not at all what we're seeing in the forefront on this cover. How hard is it to get these little details right, people?
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Rating: 4 stars
August Faulkner, the twelfth Duke of Holloway is a known ladies man and ruthless business man. Very few people know how extensive his holdings actually are, though. He's just bought the Haverhall School for Young Ladies and is planning a trip to Dover to persuade the current Baron Strathmore to sell the family's struggling shipping company to him for a large sum as well. Then he discovers that Lady Anne, his beloved younger sister, has run away to spend the summer with the Haverhall School's summer program, and decides to combine fetching her back with charming the Haywards into selling him their family business.
Miss Clara Hayward and the Duke of Holloway shared a dance at a ball ten years ago, an occasion neither has forgotten. Clara is therefore taken aback when the Duke shows up, claiming to want to keep an eye on his sister. While the regular terms at the Haverhall School for Young Ladies is everything you might expect from a prestigious boarding school for the wealthy and titled, the summer program is meant for specially selected ladies who dream of something more. For twelve weeks, Clara works with them to increase their confidence and teach them self-worth, and they get to try their hands at professions that ladies are normally excluded from. She doubts Holloway would approve. His presence and his attempts to charm her are also very distracting to Clara, who may have had an unusual upbringing, but needs to keep her reputation spotless if she wants to continue as headmistress of her school.
While Clara and Holloway share an attraction, does their relationship have a chance of survival if Clara discovers why the Duke really came to Dover? Can she find happiness with the man who's already purchased her beloved school and wants to take over what remains of her family's business?
This is the sixth Kelly Bowen romance I've read, and as in all the others, A Duke in the Night has a very capable and unorthodox heroine. To society in general, Miss Clara Hayward is all good breeding and proper manners, from a wealthy background, but so educated that she's been relegated to wallflower and spinster status. Since Clara has no intentions of marrying and subjecting herself to the whims of a husband, her reputation suits her just fine.The wealthy families who send their daughters to her school don't know just how unusual an upbringing Clara and her siblings have had, with parents who encouraged them to pursue their interests and learn what suited them. Clara's younger Rose is a talented artist, while her brother Harland, the current baron, is a practising physician. Any whiff of impropriety, such as if Miss Hayward were rumoured to be the mistress of the Duke of Holloway, could destroy her career. So while she enjoys the flirtatious banter between herself and Holloway, Clara needs to stay unaffected.
Most of society also don't know that the Haywards are struggling financially, because their popular parents left their children in quite a lot of debt. Their public image is still one of success. Of their formerly successful shipping company, only two ships remain, and due to storms and inclement weather, they are currently missing. Both Rose and Clara are doing whatever they can to help their brother keep the company solvent, but there is absolutely a strain on their finances. Initially, Rose and Harland are concerned about Clara's reputation when Holloway shows up. They both feel she's free to make her own choices, but are not blind to the attraction between their sister and the duke, who doesn't have the best reputation when it comes to ladies or business.
Holloway's determination to buy the Hayward's business is the main conflict in the story. Faulkner may be a duke now, but he's one of those off-shoots on the family tree that only inherited the title after a whole slew of distant family members kicked the bucket and passed the title onto him. Faulkner grew up in abject poverty on the streets, stealing and doing whatever he could to make money to support his father and sister, stuck in debtor's prison for years. Now that he's a duke, Faulkner spends an absolute fortune lavishing fancy dresses and jewelry on Lady Anna, determined that she will have everything she missed out on when she was a child. What he fails to do, is listen to what his sister actually wants. She wants nothing so much as a chance to run a business of her own, trying her hand at hotel management.
Faulkner can't forget his years of starvation and poverty and keeps buying struggling enterprises and turning them around for a profit. He uses middle men and acts through corporations, so very few people actually realise just how wealthy and successful (or ruthless) the duke is. The duke seems incapable of just enjoying the wealth and power he's already amassed and resting on his metaphorical laurels, so to speak. Until he comes to terms with having enough, he's never going to find happiness with Clara.
While Clara is worried about the duke's reactions to her summer program, he turns out to be surprisingly understanding and progressive, if he occasionally needs a little time to come to terms with each new revelation. He keeps insisting that Clara keeps challenging him, and she does. Both protagonists in this may be somewhat anachronistic in their opinions and beliefs, but it felt refreshing with a thoroughly alpha hero who was nevertheless willing to be questioned and wanting to improve.
There is a minor subplot in the story with a rather predictable antagonist. While I didn't like the character or the subplot, I was surprised at the way the story played out and overall, this was another solid historical romance from Ms. Bowen. Based on the sample chapter at the back of the book, Clara's sister Rose is the next one to find her happy ending.
Judging a book by its cover: As with the prequel novella The Lady in Red, the title really doesn't have much, if anything, to do with the book. Yes, there is a duke (like in pretty much half of all books set in historical Romancelandia), but where the "in the night" comes in is uncertain. I don't know if scowly, brooding man on the cover is better than lady with partially undone dress, or yards and yards of fabric making up the skirt, but this is a pretty generic cover. I like the shades of blue in the background, but this could be the cover of almost any historical romance novel, and it's not exactly memorable.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.
Thursday, 8 March 2018
Rating: 4 stars
Lady Charlotte Beaumont has been overlooked and ignored by her family for her entire life. Generally isolated at a remote country estate, she's had the opportunity to hone her artistic skills, way past the bland watercolours ladies of her station are normally allowed to paint. She's also become quite a talented forger, and tries to use her skills to negotiate a deal with the infamous King of the London Underworld. He acknowledges her skill, but also calls her bluff. Nevertheless impressed, he agrees to help her, in return for the original painting she's trying to sell him a forgery of, and a favour to be called in at a later date. This is how Lady Charlotte is introduced to Miss Clara Hayward and her prestigious boarding school, Haverhall School for Young Ladies. Clara and her sister help Lady Charlotte become "Charlie" Beaumont, a promising young painter.
Flynn Rutledge has worked very hard to be one of the two painters to restore the murals at the Church of St. Michael, and initially feels both threatened and a bit offended when he meets the other young man who's been accepted to the job. It doesn't take him long to realise that Charlie Beaumont, despite being young, is extremely talented. Soon they are working well together and developing a slow friendship until a fateful evening when they are set upon by bandits, and Charlie jumps into the fray to defend Flynn, ending up being stabbed as a result. When Flynn removes Charlie's shirt, he realises why his workmate has been so secretive.
The two painters soon become lovers, but Charlotte still keeps certain things secret from Flynn, knowing that the man hates and distrusts nobility because of his history. He didn't mind that Charlie turned out to be a woman, but how will he react if he discovers that his lover is of noble birth?
This novella is sort of a bridging story between Kelly Bowen's Season for Scandal series, featuring underworld kingpin King towards the beginning, and her new series, The Devils of Dover, by introducing Clara Hayward and the Haverhall School for Young Ladies. While Clara's school is a very prestigious and expensive boarding school for young women in the highest echelons of society, she also offers a "summer program" for women who want to try their hands at professions not considered ladylike. With the help of Clara and her sister, Lady Charlotte finds herself disguised as a young man and granted a very sought-after commission at St. Michael's church. The architect in charge of restoring the building has worked with Clara before and knows Lady Charlotte's real identity, but clearly wants the most talented artist for the job, no matter what their gender.
Flynn is one of those heroes from a very poor background, who has had to work extremely hard to gain the position he has attained so far. His ultimate, and nearly impossible, goal is to have a painting displayed at the Royal Academy (it was his mother's fondest wish before she died). He was used and discarded by a noblewoman in the past, hence his distrust and scorn for the nobility.
Charlotte may come from a rich family, but she has clearly never really felt loved and taught herself to paint to alleviate the loneliness of being left in the country by herself for pretty much years on end. She clearly has absolutely no scruples about forging famous paintings, nor about giving them up in order to secure herself a better life (nor should she - her family are clearly the worst). She's very worried about how Flynn will react if he ever discovers her true identity. She's never been as happy as when she's painting the church murals with him. She never intends to return to her family and doesn't see why her noble title should get in the way of their happiness.
This is a tightly paced and very satisfying story, and it also made me more interested in reading more about Lady Clara and her unorthodox summer school for enterprising young ladies. This story really can be read entirely stand-alone to all of Ms. Bowen's other books though, which is also a bonus.
Judging a book by its cover: Neither the cover nor the title have ANYTHING to do with this novella. At all. Based on the cover and title, you might be forgiven for thinking this was a Christmas story, probably featuring a lady wearing red at some point. Nope. None of that at all. The novella is not set at Christmas, and no woman in the story at any point wears red. I genuinely wonder if Kelly Bowen told her publishers she was writing one story and then changed her mind, but the cover was already commissioned, so they kept it? Or they just slapped any old cover they had leftover on this story. It's a mystery.
Crossposted on Cannonball Read.