Another funny, quirky romance from Galen, featuring the transformation of a lowly thief into lady of nobility.
Marlowe is a thief, and has been as longAnother funny, quirky romance from Galen, featuring the transformation of a lowly thief into lady of nobility.
Marlowe is a thief, and has been as long as she can remember. But, it turns out she just might be the long-lost daughter of nobility, Lady Elizabeth. Which she learns when she is kidnapped off the street by Sir Brook and his reluctant brother, Lord Dane, an Earl who does not see the lower orders in a favourable light. Poor people are just lazy after all. Lord Dane beliefs are entrenched until he’s saddled with Marlowe, who opens up his eyes to the true world of the those less fortunate.
The premise to Earl’s Just Want to Have Fun is not unique, but it’s a fun set up for a historical romance. Marlowe is a street thief. She’s rough and doesn’t give a fig about the proper rules for things, all of which initially shock Dane. At least, until these very things that he finds off putting, suddenly become charming.
Having read and loved Galen’s Love and Let Spy I was really excited to read Earl’s Just Want to Have Fun. I love that Galen writes unusual and unrealistic historical romances; that’s the great thing about the romance genre, so often the impossible is possible. Earl’s Just Want to Have Fun delivered exactly what I was expecting. It was fun. Marlowe in particular was a really fun character. She came of age in Seven Dials and it shows. The words that would come out of her mouth were hilarious, but she also had moments where she was serious, especially when she opened Dane’s eyes about life as someone poor. In contrast to Marlowe, Dane was equally funny, but mostly because he was a bit of a fuddy-duddy entrenched in his own beliefs. This was a true opposites-attract romance novel.
Lord Dane was a bit of a pill to start off. His opinions about the poor and his status as a lord were off putting, if realistic. When readers are first introduced to Dane, he's musing about the awesome speech he gave at Parliament:
He smiled, thinking of the speech he'd given at the last session. It had been a rousing denunciation of a proposed bill to allocate more funds to help the poor.
The poor! What about the military or the farmers? What about the deuced Irish problem? Dane had argued quite successfully - as the bill had been defeated - that the poor deserved their fate. They were lazy or preferred sloth to hard work. Dirty, uneducated, and immoral, the lowest classes were barely human. (p. 18-19)
As you can see, our hero, initially, is not much of a catch. After all, Marlowe is barely human according to Dane, and there are a few instances when he treats her as such. Luckily, Marlowe is no milk and water society miss; she has no problem demanding respect from Dane or sharing her opinion of his ability to live in her world:
"I said, I'm going to get Satin before he can get me."
He did not want to ask the next question, but he couldn't find a way around it. "Are we speaking of murder?"
She gaped at him. "I'm no killer. Besides, how would I mill Satin? I don't have a weapon besides my knife, and he'd just knock it out of my hand."
"Then you want me to...mill him?"
"What? You?" She started laughing, and Dane frowned. His frown turned to a scowl when her laugh continued. And continued. (p.225)
Had Marlowe not been such a strong character I don't think Dane would have worked as her hero. As it is, Dane does start learn about the real choices open to those of the lower classes, mainly due to his interest in Marlowe, while still retaining some of his naivety about how the world really works.
This was also a fast-paced read, and as a result I don’t think that it ever felt overly emotional. I found that Earl’s Just Want to Have Fun relied more on comedy and the outrageous rather than emotional depth. And this is where my small disappointment comes in. Marlowe was lost to her parents as a child, but there is not much time spent on their reunion, and I would have really liked to this to have been part of the book. Deep emotional territory is never waded into in this one. But, if you looking for an action packed tale this is a good choice.
I also didn't find the romance between Dane and Marlowe to be overly emotional either. Their initial attraction required a pretty hefty suspension of belief. I'm not convinced that any woman, when faced with abduction, would really be thinking about how attractive her abductor is. Marlowe's fear disappears suspiciously quickly. Personally, I would have liked to have seen this develop after the kidnapping aspect had been resolved. That said, Marlowe and Dane's inconvenient attraction did prove to be rather amusing from the start.
Lastly, the secondary character were also very interested and they have piqued my interest in future books in the series. For example, Marlowe's friend Gideon is of particular interest as is Dane's younger sister, Susanna. Call me crazy, but I'd love to see the author throw those two together. I can't wait to read what comes next in this series, and I know it will be something fun and not exactly historically accurate.
Doctor Death is a very interesting start to what promises to be an intriguing historical mystery series set in nineteenth-century France.
Doctor Death is a very interesting start to what promises to be an intriguing historical mystery series set in nineteenth-century France.
What makes Doctor Death stand out is it’s unique heroine, Madeleine Karno, daughter of a forensic doctor. Due to the death of her mother at a young age, Madeleine has shadowed her father in everything from visits to his patients to autopsies of the dead. Unlike her contemporaries, Madeleine has no desire to marry and be subject to the authority of a husband, rather Madeleine would much rather pursue a medical education and follow in her father’s professional footsteps becoming the new "Doctor Death". Unfortunately for Madeleine, her father has no intention of letting this happen, or even realize that this might be something that his daughter would like to pursue:
My father was reluctant to let me assist when he examined the dead. He said it could only hurt my reputation and my future – by which he meant my chances of marriage. For the most part, my father was a man of progress, absorbed by the newest ideas and the latest technology. But he was incomprehensibly old-fashioned on this particular point (p. 12).
But when her father is injured, Madeleine is allowed to take a much more active role, hence the mystery element to Doctor Death. When the bodies start piling up, Madeleine pursues every lead. She not just trying to find the murderer, she's also trying to find the source of a potentially dangerous contagion.
Doctor Death was an interesting start to the series. The mystery element was unusual and I really liked how it was medical in nature as it called on Madeleine’s scientific skills. After finding the first corpse it soon becomes clear that the bodies of the dead are carrying some sort of transmittable “bug” and tracing the origins of this forces Madeleine to take an authoritative role in the investigation. In fact, Madeleine's gender often allows her to question certain individuals when the legitimate investigators are stymied.
The narrative style was also evocative of time and place; the setting seemed almost other worldly. The mystery was told in Madeleine’s own voice and I got the sense that it was more of journal than a novel. First person narration is not always one that works for me, but I really liked how certain tidbits were recounted by Madeleine; sometimes it was about the case and sometimes it was about her own personal life. For me, this was a very effective style of writing because it gave readers a real glimpse into the life of a young woman at this time, and it was rather heartbreaking to see how bleak Madeleine’s prospects were. Only through marrying will Madeleine break free from her father’s rigid rules about her dabbling with dead bodies, but at the same time, marrying could strip Madeleine of the freedom that she does have by remaining her father’s assistance. A paradox, indeed, and it’s one that I really interested to see unfold in the next book in the series.
Doctor Death introduces readers to a very unusual young lady, one that’s more intrigued by dead bodies than marriage or homemaking. Whether this young lady will get the chance to become something other than wife or assistant is what will keep me coming back for the next book in the series. I recommend Doctor Death to those who like their mystery with great characters and atmospheric settings.
Mary Balogh’s historical romances pretty much speak for themselves. Rather than cashing in on the overt and explicit relationship that readers tend toMary Balogh’s historical romances pretty much speak for themselves. Rather than cashing in on the overt and explicit relationship that readers tend to encounter in the romance genre, Balogh leverages the emotional impact in her historical romances. In Only a Promise Balogh brings her signature emotional exploration to a marriage of convenience and it was wonderful.
Ralph Stockwood has returned from the war alone; his friends having died fighting. Ralph blames himself for encouraging his friends to go with him and would rather have not survived at all. Rather than paying lip service to this emotional turmoil and survivor’s guilt, it is quite clear that Ralph has been damaged. While recovering from his wounds, Ralph tried to kill himself on a couple of occasions, something that is not generally explored in the romance genre. With Ralph, Balogh brings home the more realistic impact on war, and it’s done very well.
While visiting his grandparents, Ralph meets his grandmother’s companion, Chloe Muirhead, whose family is steeped in scandal. Chloe’s own attempts at finding a husband during the Season have not gone well and she has resigned herself to lonely spinsterhood. When Chloe overhears Ralph discussing marriage with his grandmother, she seizes the opportunity to make one last mad attempt at marriage by propositioning Ralph. Ralph claims he cannot love another person, naturally, a marriage of convenience is the best solution.
Surprisingly Chloe convinces Ralph to take a chance on her and the two marry. Of course, marriage between two virtual strangers does not equate happiness and the often painful journey towards their happily ever after is hard fought for.
As is common with Balogh’s novels, much of the momentum of the plot is driven by the couple’s conflict within their relationship rather than from external set backs. There’s no underlying suspense plot or meddling family members trying to keep the hero and heroine apart. Instead it’s the hero and heroine's individual problems that cause the drama. While this kind of drama is much quieter than the exaggerated plots common to many romance novels, it's a style of romance that I find wholly appealing. The conflict in Ralph and Chloe's relationship originates from their individual emotional state. For Ralph and Chloe, it’s his sense of isolation and depression from his experiences in the war, and it’s Chloe’s loneliness and awkwardness, that stems from her family’s scandals and the rumours surrounding her birth. These individual problems cause Ralph and Chloe to keep each other at a distance, often lashing out at the other. Most notably, Chloe reacts when Ralph ties to persuade her to acknowledge the fact that her father might not be her biological one:
“Is this how you did it when you were a boy?” she asked him. “Is this how you gathered other boys about you like slaves? Is this how you persuaded them to do whatever you wanted them to do, even against their will and their better judgment? Is this how you persuaded your friends to go to war with you?” (p. 231).
Chloe strikes at exactly the point where Ralph is most vulnerable: his guilt. While her comments are reactive and harsh, I love that they are realistic. Chloe is not a paragon of virtue and understanding, and I love that about her. She does not want to acknowledge that her identity is in question and she’s willing to fight Ralph when he tries to convince her that she needs to come to terms with it.
These individual battles have a huge impact on Chloe and Ralph’s relationship and by dealing with them together, their relationship becomes stronger. Ultimately, we have another well-developed relationship rather than the conventional romance in Only a Promise. Balogh goes beyond the romance and shows readers the hard work that comes after, which I always appreciate as something different in a genre that I read extensively in.
Finally, I also loved how Only a Promise ended. While some could claim that this one ends a tad abruptly, I felt that it was appropriate. Ralph isn’t “cured” of his depression and his relationship with Chloe hasn’t come to it’s conclusion but rather he’s reached a point where he can participate actively in a romantic relationship with another person. I don’t think that this more ambiguous (but satisfying) ending is the norm in the romance genre, but I did think it worked really well in Only a Promise. Instead of the conventional happily-ever-after, where the hero and heroine’s baggage is resolved completely, we have an ending that shows that the hero and heroine are embarking on a promising, stronger relationship with each other. Chloe and Ralph will likely struggle, but that’s okay, since they’ve learned to overcome their obstacles and rely one another. It’s a beautiful way to end a romance.
Only a Promise is another wonderful, emotional read from Balogh. If you like you romances more subdued and more realistic, Only a Promise is an excellent choice. Balogh’s characters are never perfect, and I think readers can appreciate them all the more for their ordinary and relatable flaws.
Tina Chen is a hard working college student trying very hard to make ends meet. It doesn’t help that the money she sends home to her parents goes towaTina Chen is a hard working college student trying very hard to make ends meet. It doesn’t help that the money she sends home to her parents goes towards her mother’s vocation rather than paying the bills or ensuring that her younger sister gets her medication. After several people in one of her classes asserts that poor people simply need to try harder, Tina snaps and contradicts that none of these people, especially the insanely wealthy Blake Reynolds, have any idea what it’s like to be poor. Rather than angering Blake, it actually sparks an idea.
Blake realizes that Tina is right. He doesn’t have any idea what it’s like to be poor. He’s always been rich as the son of a tech genius (think the Apple empire). So Blake makes Tina a proposition; they’ll switch lives.
"You were right the other day," he says smoothly. "I'm clueless. I don't know what it's like to be you, or anyone like you, and I want to fix that. I offer a trade. I work your hours. I pay your rent. I live in your apartment."
"It's so cute that you think I live in an apartment," I interject.
"You get my house, my care, my allowance. You take over my duties at Cyclone, too - to the extent that's possible. We'll have to talk about that. There are details to work out. But that's the gist of it."
He shrugs, like what he has set forth is no big deal, and I'm left to boggle at him. There are so many things wrong with this that I don't even know where to start (p. 37-38).
Now the set up to Trade Me doesn’t sound particularly original, but since Milan is an awesome romance writer, it quickly becomes more because, as always, Milan writes great characters that have real problems. There is a very big reason why Blake wants to switch lives with Tina and it’s not just to prove that he can live on a lack of funds. He needs time, time to figure out his own problems and hopefully conquer them. Unfortunately, what Blake’s struggling can’t be fixed with time. I don't want to give away what Blake's going through, but it was unexpected and I really appreciate the fact that the author choose to have a guy struggle with this.
I have to admit I was very skeptical when I learned that Milan was writing a contemporary romance, and a new adult one at that. Quite frankly, I don’t like the new adult genre and I rarely read contemporary romance. However, I think Milan’s historical romances are amazing, so my loyalty to this author had me reading this one. I was pleasantly surprised by Trade Me. Like Milan’s historicals, Trade Me had an unexpected emotional depth that I think is often overlooked in the romance genre. Too often do romances feel formulaic, and what I like about Milan is that she often changes the formula giving readers a much better developed love story and original characters. Readers are actually treated to the emotions that characters are experience, even those outside of the romance. For example, in Trade Me Tina has so many emotions with regards to her family. And Tina's concerns are not easily overcome and these worries inform the type of person Tina is.
Tina has a tough family situation. Her mother is devoted to helping other Chinese refugees get permanent citizenship in the U.S., and this is often at the expense of her family and always at the expense of Tina's financial support. When Tina's mother once again uses her contribution to help a refugee financially, Tina just feels helpless and angry.
I can feel my entire future slipping from my fingers.
I don't know Jack Sheng, but right now, I hate him. I hate him so much for needing my money. I hate him because I've heard his story a hundred times before - tortured because he practiced Falun Gong in China, escaped to the US, and is now being sent back home.
This is what Blake Reynolds will never understand: that when he and his father give money to charities, it never hurts them. To them, it's just a check. It makes them feel good. It's a pat on the back, He will never understand what it means to hate someone over thirty dollars. He probably spends more than thirty dollars on his jeans. Fuck. I don't know what rich people spend on jeans. He would probably scoff at the idea that you could get a pair of jeans for thirty bucks (p. 28-29).
Tina wants to support her family and her educational decisions are based on making sure that she will be able to make decent money to financially carry them. But what’s great about Trade Me is you understand Tina’s resentment that she has to do this. She loves her family, but it would be nice if they could actually take care of themselves and she could experience some of the freedom of college life. I love that both Tina and Blake are character’s outside of their romantic storyline. Outside of their relationship Tina and Blake have real worries and because of these responsibilities readers get the sense that their eventual relationship is all the more developed and nuanced.
Has Milan made me a convert to the new adult genre? No. I’m never going to love new adult (which is why I only gave this a 3/5) and historical romance will always be my romance subgenre of choice. But, I can appreciate Trade Me for the characters if not the contemporary setting. The elements that I like about Milan’s writing are all present in Trade Me and I think she gives readers of the new adult subgenre something a little unique because of her ability to create great, lifelike characters.