Fiction: “What Happens in London” by Julia Quinn

What Happens in LondonThis book is, I think, one of the best “silly little romance novels” I’ve ever read.

This book follows The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever and focuses on Miranda’s best friend (and Turner’s sister) Olivia. It takes place a couple of years or so after the first book – Miranda and Turner’s daughter has been born, and I believe they are expecting a second child – and Olivia is on her third season in London on the marriage market. She has refused numerous offers because they just didn’t feel right, and the gossip is now wondering if she’s waiting for a prince.

Sir Harry Valentine – not a prince – has just begun renting the house directly to the south of Olivia’s and her parents, and when the novel begins, Olivia has heard gossip from her friends about Harry – namely, that he killed his fiancee.

“They say he killed his first wife.”

It was enough to make Lady Olivia Bevelstoke cease stirring her tea. “Who?” she asked, since the truth was, she hadn’t been listening.

“Sir Harry Valentine. Your new neighbor.”

Olivia took a hard look at Anne Buxton, and then at Mary Cadogan, who was nodding her head in agreement. “You must be joking,” she said, although she knew quite well that Anne would never joke about something like that. Gossip was her lifeblood.

“No, he really is your new neighbor,” put in Philomena Waincliff.

Olivia took a sip of her tea, mostly so that she would have time to keep her face free of its desired expression, which was a cross between unabashed exasperation and disbelief. “I meant that she must be joking that he killed someone,” she said, with more patience than she was generally given credit for. [p. 20]

(If that passage doesn’t make you think of this –

clue threatened in public.jpg

– I’m not sure we can be friends any longer.)

Olivia feels that this is balderdash, and she does the only sensible thing – begins spying on him through her bedroom window, which looks directly into his study.

Harry Valentine was an officer in the Army; now he works for the War Office, translating documents. He speaks Russian fluently, as his grandmother was from Russia and refused to speak English around him and his siblings. Harry knows immediately that Olivia is spying on him, and instead of calling her out on it or closing the window, he decides to have fun with her, and puts on a large, funny hat while he does his translations.

This makes Olivia very confused, but no less determined to find out what’s up with her neighbor.

They are thrust together when Harry is ordered by the War Office to keep an eye on Prince Alexei from Russia – who has taken a liking to Olivia Bevelstoke.

Harry introduces himself to Olivia officially at one of the balls everyone goes to, and they have a fun, bantery conversation wherein they each basically tell the other that they don’t like them. But the next day Harry comes over to Olivia’s house and gifts her with a book (Olivia primarily reads newspapers, she doesn’t really appreciate flights of fancy): Miss Butterworth and the Mad Baron.

Against her will, she starts reading it. Then I think one day she flings open her window and yells to Sir Harry – who is in his own study across the way – that a character in the book got pecked to death by pigeons. They make a deal that Harry will read the book if she finishes it, and with that, a friendship is born without either of them really recognizing it.

And then, one day, we have a farce.

Harry comes over to work at Olivia’s house, because he flat-out states that he doesn’t want her alone with Prince Alexei. He can’t tell her why he hates him so much, because that would mean he’d have to admit to her that he can speak Russian fluently and that also he works for the War Office but also he’d have to tell her the nasty things Alexei has said he wants to do to her, and that’s really the part that wins out. Olivia agrees, mainly because he gives her no option. They start talking, and have a very nice conversation where they each tell the other secrets about themselves, and before they know it, they’re making out on the couch. Olivia has to go upstairs to fix her hair (because Harry had run his hands all through it), so he stays in the drawing room (or wherever), and then Prince Alexei and Vladimir show up.

Alexei doesn’t like Harry equally, so Harry hides behind the copy of Miss Butterworth that Olivia left behind. Prince Alexei (1) demands to know what Harry is reading, and then (2) demands to have Harry read it aloud to him.

At this point, Harry’s cousin Sebastian walks in, is very amused that Harry is reading aloud Miss Butterworth to a prince, but then tells him he’s doing it wrong, so he takes the book out of Harry’s hand and now Sebastian is reading Miss Butterworth aloud.

When Olivia finally comes downstairs, Sebastian’s audience has grown to include Harry’s brother Edward, Olivia’s butler, and three maids. Harry and Olivia sneak off to make out some more, but then there’s a loud CRASH. When they return, Sebastian has fallen off a coffee table (while acting out Miss Butterworth’s hanging from a cliff) and dislocated his shoulder.

This book is so funny. I mean, this entire conversation is a gem:

“‘Purview’ is not used correctly,” Prince Alexei said. [NOTE: this is a running gag about the first paragraph of Miss Butterworth.]

Sebastian looked up, his eyes flashing with irritation. “Of course it is.” [NOTE: this will be funnier in the next book.]

Alexei jabbed a finger in Harry’s direction. “He said it is not.”

“It’s not,” Harry said with a shrug.

“What’s wrong with it?” Sebastian demanded.

“It implies that what she sees is under her power or control.”

“How do you know it’s not?”

“I don’t,” Harry admitted, “but she doesn’t seem in control of anything else.” He looked over at the prince. “Her mother was pecked to death by pigeons.”

“That happens,” Alexei said with a nod. [p. 168]

Here’s what else I liked about it – no subterfuge! Okay, yeah, Harry can speak Russian and he didn’t tell Olivia about it, but that was it. No pre-marital sexing that resulted in a maybe-baby forcing the two into marriage early! (Yes, there was one instance of pre-marital sexing, but before the actual deed, they both admitted that a) they love each other and b) they will be married, although Olivia wanted a proper proposal.) None of the “I don’t know if I can tell her I love her / I don’t want to have children to spite my father” bullshit from the other two Julia Quinn novels I just read.

It is SO REFRESHING to have the hero and the heroine fall in love with each other honestly and not have a pregnancy at the end. (I’m fine with the traditional Epilogue, I guess – you know, the kind that shows that the couple is either expecting a child, or the woman is telling the man that she’s expecting, or the couple has a brood. I don’t like it, because I still wish that there would be more historical romances where children weren’t the desired outcome, but seeing as how I read historical romances and this has been a requirement for practically forever, I’m … I guess I’m okay with it.)

I mean, how can you not enjoy this book when Harry asks for Olivia’s hand of her father with this:

“I love your daughter,” Harry said. “And I like her very much as well.” [p. 236]

i love you and i like you.gif

Even better news – you absolutely can read this book without reading The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever. You should also read the next book in the series, which stars Sebastian. But you’ll see that book, Ten Things I Love About You, in a few months (or another year, who knows) on this very blog.

I almost forgot – this book’s Guster track is … a song I don’t think I’ve actually ever heard. It’s “Scars and Stitches,” off of their first album, Parachute, and it’s for “reading a used book, the more banged-up, the better.” I don’t know how “banged-up” my copy was, but … it’ll do.

Grade for What Happens In London: 5 stars

Fiction: “The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever” by Julia Quinn

Secret DiariesLast May, I went to London for 30 hours.

No, for real, I did.

I went to see Gillian Anderson play Margo Channing in a stage production of All About Eve. While I was there, I also tried to sit on the same bench that Daniel Craig sat on in the National Gallery in Skyfall, while staring at “The Fighting Temeraire” and waiting for Q to show up. It was a crazy adventure – but this blog post is not about that.

This blog post is about the romance novel I read on the plane and in Heathrow waiting for my other plane to depart.

Going to a foreign country for only 30 hours, I wanted to pack light. I brought my purse, which is big enough to hold a nightshirt, a set of leggings and a dress, and an extra pair of socks and underwear. I wore the same outfit flying out of Boston and flying back into Boston, and switched into the dress (wrinkle-resistant!) and leggings to go to the theatre. I slept in the leggings and nightshirt (although I was super cold, and couldn’t figure out the hotel thermostat so I’m pretty sure I slept in my plane shirt too). But since I was looking at two six-hour-plus flights (plus tube rides, plus bus rides to and from Logan), I didn’t want to carry three paperbacks with me, either.

So I borrowed The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever as an e-book through my library, and brought the next book in the series (which I owned) as the sole paperback book on my trip. And let me tell ya – I went through security like a dream.

The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever is a separate series from Julia Quinn’s Bridgerton series – soon to be a Netflix series, produced in part by Shonda Rhimes, and, spoiler alert, I read The Duke and I recently and maaaan do I have opinions on that one. Anyway. Secret Diaries is the first in what is known as the “Bevelstoke” series.

We meet Miss Miranda Cheever at the tender age of 10, attending the birthday party of her best friend, Olivia Bevelstoke, and Olivia’s twin brother, Winston. Olivia’s older brother, Nigel (but don’t call him that – he goes by Turner) accompanies Miranda home to her father after the party and they share a conversation that Miranda memorizes, because she realizes that she is in love with Turner. She begins journaling, at his recommendation, and it is a habit she keeps through the next ten years. (Hence, the “secret diaries”.)

Ten years later, Turner’s wife, Leticia, has died – and by all accounts, Leticia was a terrible human being – she cheated on Turner all the frickin’ time, and when she died (thrown from her horse), she was pregnant with another man’s child. Turner does not mourn Leticia at all, and even hesitates to go through the whole mourning phase. Miranda, meanwhile, is living with the Bevelstokes in preparation for her season in London.

Turner likes Miranda – he thinks she’s funny, and a good friend to Olivia. His feelings go no further than that – until he starts recognizing that Miranda is no longer a child. She goes downstairs one night in hopes of getting a drink of sherry to help her sleep, and comes upon Turner in the study, drinking much more than a single glass. She is surprised by his presence and drops her glass, which shatters. She is about to leave when she steps on a splinter of glass, and Turner helps to dislodge it – and then they make out on the divan that always happens to be in a study.

Following that incident, they try to avoid each other. Additionally, Olivia has been trying to match Miranda with Winston, to no avail. The entire group of people end up at a week-long house party in the country, and when the hostess starts a treasure hunt and pairs people up randomly, Olivia is paired with Turner and Miranda is paired with a lord, and Olivia wants to switch. Not being able to tell her best friend that that’s probably a bad idea, considering the making out Turner and Miranda got into, they acquiesce.

One of the clues of the treasure hunt leads Turner and Miranda to a hunting lodge on the property, and then a rainstorm starts, and they have to take refuge and, well … “isolated cabin in the woods” is a romance novel trope for good reason.

Turner agrees to marry Miranda (for taking her maidenhead, after all – and don’t get me started on that), but Miranda senses reluctance. Turner asks her to notify him in case she gets pregnant, and they both return to the party and their self-imposed separation.

Miranda makes up an excuse to go back to her father’s house, and Turner goes to visit a friend in Kent. And here’s where I started taking issue with the plot.

(First of all, you may be wondering, “Hey, Alaina, how are you remembering so much detail about the plot, considering you read this book almost eight months ago [Note From The Future: It has now been officially one year since I went to London. Goddammit, I thought I’d be better at this by now], and you were on a plane while reading it, and probably weren’t able to take notes?” Well, dear reader, I re-borrowed the e-book from the library and re-read it in February 2020 [NFTF: which is when I wrote this review in the first place, and then because of my stupid “don’t post until you have three reviews in the can” rule, I’m now posting this review more than a fucking year after I read it the first time; why am I so bad at this].)

And when I say “take issue with the plot,” I re-read Secret Diaries in close succession to finally getting through The Duke and I, which, when taken together, have very similar plot devices – namely, what I am going to call “Schrodinger’s pregnancy.”

So – Miranda goes home to be with her father (an absent-minded Greek scholar; he doesn’t really participate in any of these events. I don’t think he even has any dialogue). Olivia comes and visits her because she’s bored, and while there, Miranda is “late” and has a touch of morning sickness. Olivia convinces Miranda to go visit Miranda’s grandparents in Edinburgh and kind of hide out, while waiting for whoever knocked her up to come and find her. Once Miranda’s safely ensconced (with some very understanding grandparents, given that this is taking place in the 1820s), Olivia returns to London.

At this point, Turner returns to London to find Miranda missing. He asks Olivia where she is, and when she insinuates that Miranda is less than healthy (though doesn’t mention the pregnancy, which — good on you, Olivia), Turner goes berserk and demands to know where she is. At which point Olivia realizes that Turner is the cad who knocked Miranda up and she starts punching him and tells him to go to Edinburgh.

But when Turner gets there, and proposes again, this time more for real than at the cabin, Miranda turns him down. Because a) she lost the baby (if there was even a baby to begin with), and b) she believes he is only proposing because he thinks there was a baby.

And look, a similar type of thing happens in The Duke and I – the couple sleep together (they happen to be married by that point, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing), and then the dude takes off for a time, and comes back when he finds out she is/was pregnant. By the time he returns, the woman has lost the baby and they need to figure out how to carry on.

I just – I am not a fan of “pregnancy as plot device”. Maybe I watched too many soap operas growing up (okay, only one, but I watched All My Children for years), but “fake pregnancies” are super manipulative on both viewers and characters’ emotions. And while these books don’t go into true “fake pregnancy” territory, using the promise of a child to get two characters back together is just … icky.

Anyway. Miranda and Turner marry in spite of the Schrodinger’s baby (hm – maybe I should stop using “Schrodinger” so much), and the last third of the book deals with Turner’s inability to voice his emotions properly to Miranda, because he told Leticia he loved her and look how that turned out, so instead of telling Miranda he loves her (which he does), he says shit like “I adore being married to you,” and “I love the way you make me feel”, which – bullshit.

(This was also a problem for the male lead in The Duke and I.)

And then at the end of the book, when Miranda has given birth to a beautiful baby girl and then starts hemorrhaging and almost dies, that’s when Turner finds he is able to say those “three little words”.

The more I think about how this whole plotline went, the angrier I get. Which is too bad, because baby town frolics and declarations of emotions shenanigans aside, I think the relationship between Turner and Miranda is good and cute and bantery, which is what Julia Quinn specializes in. Maybe I’m too “modern” for this type of plot now.

Whatever. The book was okay – I was able to read it completely between one flight and waiting for the next. I may have finished it on-board the flight back to Boston, but I can’t recall. (I do know I watched Ralph Breaks The Internet and took two naps while watching it on the flight home.) This book is also not the worst historical romance novel I’ve ever read (that still remains Gypsy Lord).

If I remember correctly, the next book in the series has no such baby-slash-love problems, so I know this isn’t a Julia Quinn problem. I think it’s been a while since I’ve read a romance novel where this is the struggle between the male and female leads, and I was taken aback when I read the book again.

Two more things, and then I’m done:

1) This book’s entry for the Guster Reading Challenge is “Simple Machine,” off of Evermotion, for “reading a digital book.”

2) The “secret diaries” aren’t really a plot device – it’s just the journals that Miranda keeps. Throughout the book you’ll see entries, but it’s not like it’s a plot point.

Grade for The Secret Diaries of Miss Miranda Cheever: 2 stars

Fiction: “Notorious Pleasures” by Elizabeth Hoyt

notorious pleasuresThis is the second title in the “Maiden Lane” series of romance novels. You may remember when I read the first title, Wicked Intentions, and deemed it “The One Where The Hero Is Lucius Malfoy For Some Reason”. You may also be worrying right now about my opinion of this second book, because you may be recalling that I wasn’t really a fan of the first one.

Good news!: This one didn’t suck. I mean, it was fine. It wasn’t special or anything. It was perfectly mediocre.

I was wondering how this series would handle its through-line: y’know, how every romance novel series usually takes either the heroine’s sister or best friend, or the hero’s brother or best friend (or sometimes both, let’s be real) from the first book and makes those secondary characters the primary couple in the second novel, and then repeat with a tertiary character in the third novel in the triad. But the main couple in this book (Lady Hero Batten and Griffin Remmington, Lord Reading) aren’t related to Temperence Dews or Lucius Malfoy in any way.

(goddammit one of these frickin days I will type Lucius correctly on the first try and not Lucious. goddamn my stupid fingers and my weird brain I have no idea how that version of muscle memory even comes to exist, because even when I was writing Harry Potter fanfic [back in the days of yore and also Livejournal] I was never a Lucius stan)

Anyways.

In this case, the through-line is the neighborhood of St. Giles, and the Home for Foundling Children that the Dews family runs. It turns out that Lady Hero is a patroness of the Foundling Home (and no, I’m not looking it up – mainly because I’m typing this review on my new wireless keyboard for my Fire tablet, in prep for when I go to a conference in early October – look, I’m going to have a handful of nights where I don’t have anything planned, and I have no idea if either the Cubs or the Red Sox are even going to get into the playoffs [holy shit I just looked at the MLB standings for the first time in a month and I can definitely say NEITHER THE RED SOX NOR THE CUBS WILL PROGRESS TO THE WILD CARD GAME, holy shit, what happened to you guys], so I have an opportunity to at least get some of these reviews “in the can,” so to speak, and then post when I get home [or maybe post from the hotel, I’ll see how the tablet works with cross-posting and shit], but I’m also not bringing *two* laptops with me. And I know for a fact that I am definitely not allowed to use my government-issued work laptop to type up reviews of silly little romance novels or Wonder Woman comics. So – practice makes perfect or something.)

Holy shit so anyway, I think Lady Hero is a patroness of the Foundling Home (y’know, now that I think about it, she may have been introduced at the end of Wicked Intentions?

I’m going to have to look that up now, aren’t I?

Dammit)

I looked it up and yes, she was introduced at the end of Wicked Intentions – apparently she knows Lucius Malfoy who introduced her to Temperance and that’s how she became the patroness of the Foundling Home.

Oh shit, I guess I should pay attention to see who was introduced at the end of this book and see if they stick around for #3?

ANYWAY Griffin is actually Hero’s soon-to-be brother-in-law. Hero is engaged to Thomas, a stiff Lord or whatever, and he’s the perfect example of propriety. He’s in the House of Commons and/or Lords (because whatever), and he’s real mad at his younger brother Griffin because Griffin is a total cad and a bit of a dick.

(Apparently Thomas thinks Griffin seduced Thomas’s first wife and Griffin knew Thomas wouldn’t believe him so he pretty much went along with it because it was easier. And also it kept Thomas from knowing about Griffin’s gin-making business.)

So yes, Griffin makes gin. And at this time (1737 – I looked it up), gin is heavily frowned upon. It is apparently ye roote of all evil. Only cads drink gin. Cads and degenerates.

all about eve amen.gif

That was really the only thing that stuck in my craw with this book. I love gin. If I’m drinking hard liquor, chances are it’s gin. I’m not a fan of rum. Vodka is great with cranberry juice and other citrus stuff. I don’t like whiskey or bourbon. I’m a gin girl, and proud of it.

If I remember correctly, the whole plot starts when Lady Hero goes to check on the rebuilding of the Foundling Home and runs into Griffin in St. Giles, which if you recall, is clearly a ghetto of London in 1737. Griffin, in an attempt to distract her away from his distillery (or maybe he thinks she’s spying on him on behalf of Thomas to see if gin is how he makes his money? I can’t remember), offers to escort her to and from the Home to ensure she’s not molested or abducted or have any other number of awful things happen to her.

It also turns out (she says, after quickly skimming through the book to remember plot points) that Thomas has been sleeping with someone else while this whole engagement to Hero has been going on. So at the end of the day (and book) when Griffin and Hero agree to marry, at least Thomas’s feelings aren’t completely hurt.

So yeah. The book was fine. It was much less weird than Wicked Intentions, where the hero was Lucius Malfoy and also had a kink against being touched that he then turned this innocent named Temperance into a kinky woman herownself (which yay! Hooray for embracing your kinks, whatever they may be! [Says the girl whose sexual kryptonite is literally this –

peter o'toole smoking

– the unbuttoned white tuxedo shirt, that is. And Peter O’Toole’s eyes, always. But mainly the shirt]).

The best news I have about this book was the fact that it didn’t totally go off the rails, because that means I’ll keep reading the series. And the only reason I started reading the series in the first place is because one of these books deals with a hero whose parents died in an alley, and he decides to become Batman.

Grade for Notorious Pleasures: 2 stars

Fiction: “Dragonfly in Amber” by Diana Gabaldon

DragonflyI’m writing this at 9 p.m. on a Monday night. I’ve already taken two Tylenol PM because I’ve been fighting a headache all damn day, and I haven’t had a solid night’s sleep in at least a week (thanks, heat wave!). Let’s see if I can beat the clock, huh?

Is that a pun? Because this book deals with time travel? Oh god, I have no idea. Hey, Future!Alaina, when you review this before posting, if that’s not a pun, can you delete that? Thanks!

(Note from Future!Alaina: I mean, it’s not a pun, but it’s kinda funny. I’ll leave it in. Also, I did not finish writing this thing on that Monday (back in July, hence the reference to a heat wave), but I am pretty sure I got some good sleep that night, so – VICTORY)

Okay. Dragonfly in Amber jumps through a couple of periods of Claire Beauchamp Randall Fraser’s life. At the very beginning of the book, we are in Scotland in 1968, and we meet Roger Wakefield, adopted son of the preacher who was helping Frank Randall determine his genealogy back in the 1940s, when Claire disappeared back to the past. But here, Roger meets Claire and her daughter, Brianna! Claire and Brianna have come to Inverness after the death of Brianna’s father, Frank.

Roger takes a quick shine to Brianna, and not gonna lie, it’s a tad creepy for my taste:

But if there was any bann-calling to be done, the name linked with Roger Wakefield in the parish register was going to be Brianna Randall’s, if Roger had anything to say about it. [p. 37]

PAGE 37. He like, just met her. She’s also barely twenty, buddy – calm your tits.

Anyway, Claire manages to get Roger to help her with some research – now that Frank’s dead, she’s free to research into whether Jamie and his family died in the Battle of Culloden, which was the end of the Jacobite uprising against the English. The three of them end up at a church, where Claire finds Jamie’s grave; on the stone is etched, “Beloved husband of Claire”. Claire gives us a recap of Outlander, and then we begin the next chapter of Claire and Jamie’s life, starting almost directly after the end of the first book.

Long story short (and I mean long story – this book is over 900 pages long): Jamie and Claire have headed to France after the end of Outlander in an attempt to change history. Claire knows what happens to the Scottish clans during the Jacobite uprising – they are slaughtered by the English, and the Battle of Culloden is that final battle. If she and Jamie can somehow convince Bonny Prince Charlie to remain in France – or, failing that, keep the Prince from raising the funds for his war chest – then they can avert that certain disaster back in Scotland.

What follows is a lot of fancy dresses and scheming. Claire is also pregnant, and Jamie is still dealing with the aftershocks of the trauma dealt to him by Black Jack Randall. At one of the parties at Versailles, Claire and Jamie meet Mary … something-or-other. Whatever, the book is thick and I’m starting to fade. But whatever – Mary, to Claire’s knowledge, goes on to marry Black Jack Randall, creating the ancestry that will eventually result in Frank, Claire’s husband back (forward?) in the 20th century.

While in Paris, Jamie takes over his cousin’s wine transport company, and Claire is … well … Claire is not used to sitting still. She’s used to being active and participating in the household – doing chores, making healing poultices, that type of thing. So when she’s expected to stay home and do nothing, well – it irks her, to say the least. So she starts volunteering her time at the local Hôpital, assisting the nuns in healing the poor. Jamie doesn’t like it – because Jamie is, if nothing else, traditional – but he also knows better than to ban Claire from doing something.

There’s also a plot about a rival wine merchant who’s got it in for Claire and Jamie, because when Claire and Jamie first meet the Comte St. Germain, his wine ship has just made port and is carrying sailors with smallpox, and the local ordinances say that’s too bad, so sad, his boat has to be burned to prevent more plague. So St. Germain does pretty much anything to gain revenge against Claire, including labeling her as a white witch.

At one point, Claire and Jamie run into Black Jack Randall, who did not die during the stampede when Claire rescued Jamie from … Wentworth Prison? Hey, I was right! Anyway, Black Jack Randall shows up and Claire has to make Jamie promise not to kill him, but not because she wants Jamie to be above vengeance killing – no, she wants to make sure that Frank’s ancestry is assured. Which, as Jamie points out, is kind of a dick move, considering she chose to stay with Jamie in the last book.

Anyway, there’s a. lot. in this book, because in order to tell you about how Jamie does indeed end up getting into a duel with Black Jack, I also have to tell you about Fergus, the pickpocket that Jamie sorta hires and sorta adopts to help him steal messages from Bonny Prince Charlie, and how one morning Jamie takes Fergus with him to a brothel to pay a debt on behalf of the Prince or something, Black Jack Randall is at the brothel and decides to have his way with Fergus, who tries not to cry out during the event because it’s easier that way, which is so beyond fucked up I can’t even, and then Jamie catches them in the act and ta-da, a duel is scheduled for the following morning.

Claire finds out when and where the duel is set to take place, and shows up, just in time to see a) Jamie stab Black Jack Randall, possibly fatally; and b) Claire goes into early labor. She blacks out, and wakes up in the Hôpital with the nuns taking care of her. The baby is stillborn, who is christened Faith before being buried. But then Claire’s apothecary friend, M. Raymond, shows up and – tries to heal her? And magically it does? But it’s so weird, you guys, and also, pretty rapey, in a way.

It starts with a massage and some murmuring. But a page later –

I gasped and moved involuntarily, as one hand moved lower, cupped briefly between my legs. An increase in pressure from the other hand warned me to the silent, and the blunt fingers eased their way inside me.

I closed my eyes and waited, feeling my inner walls adjust to this odd intrusion, the inflammation subsiding bit by bit as he probed gently deeper.

Now he touched the center of my loss, and a spasm of pain contracted the heavy walls of my inflamed uterus. I breathed a small moan, then clamped my lips as he shook his head.

The other hand slid down to rest comfortingly on my belly as the groping fingers of the other touched my womb. He was still then, holding the source of my pain between his two hands as though it were a sphere of crystal, heavy and fragile.

“Now,” he said softly. “Call him. Call the red man. Call him.”

The pressure of the fingers within and the palm without grew harder, and I pressed my legs against the bed, fighting it. But there was no strength left in me to resist, and the incurable pressure went on, cracking the crystal sphere, freeing the chaos within.

My mind filled with images, worse than the misery of the fever-dreams, because more real. Grief and loss and fear racked me, and the dusty scent of death and white chalk filled my nostrils. Casting about in the random patterns of my mind for help, I heard the voice still muttering, patiently but firmly, “Call him,” and I sought my anchor.

“Jamie! JAMIE!” [p. 456]

It’s just … gah. Claire is clearly incapacitated, and it seems like this pelvic exam apparently cured her fever, and just … don’t let ANYONE cure my fever like that, okay?

Then, Claire learns that Black Jack Randall still didn’t die, but Jamie did castrate him. To which I said, GO JAMIE! Jamie ended up in prison, so Claire then had to do a favor for the King, and basically managed to paint Le Comte St. Germain as an actual witch, but then she also had to sleep with the King.

jon oliver cool.gif

But they have to leave France, because – duh. Look at all the trouble they caused in the first half of the book! So back to Scotland they go, and live on Jamie’s estate for … maybe a year? I’m not sure, it’s a while, but then Bonny Prince Charlie manages to get enough funds to go to war with England. So Claire and Jamie leave Lallybroch behind and march towards Culloden.

The end of the book comes fairly fast. Turns out, Mary (remember Mary?) is in love with Black Jack Randall’s brother, who is dying of … something. On his deathbed, Claire witnesses a pregnant Mary get married to … Black Jack Randall. And that’s how Frank survives!

And on the day of the Battle of Culloden, knowing what was supposed to happen, Jamie brings Claire back to Craigh na Dun, and makes her go back through the stones because she’s pregnant. He asks her to name the child Brian, after his father. And Claire returns to “the future”, two years after she had disappeared, and to her life with Frank Randall.

This book was very long, and there is so much that happens in it. I didn’t mind it; but I struggled in parts getting through it. I almost wish that it was split into two books – the France stuff could easily be a novel of its own. I like the story enough, but it’s starting to feel a bit … soapy. Based on the next seasons of Outlander on Starz, the next book might go between Claire-in-the-20th-century and Jamie-surviving-Culloden, and then eventually Claire goes back in time and manages to reunite with Jamie, and then they all end up in America? It just feels like … like if I were writing a soap opera and didn’t want to stop writing about the characters, so I just kept throwing them into situations, only in the case of Outlander, those “situations” are “historical battles”.

It’s not bad; don’t get me wrong, I like the story of Claire and Jamie. But I’m writing this review almost a year after I read the book, and I don’t feel any need to go out and borrow Voyager right now. I guess I want my soap operas to be quick and fast-paced.

Like Dynasty!

Grade for Dragonfly in Amber: 3 stars

Fiction: “Do You Want To Start A Scandal” by Tessa Dare

Start a ScandalFirst off: Yes, I totally hear the title as “Do You Want to Build A Snowman”. Every fucking time. It’s hilarious. But I do apologize for this book for giving you that earworm.

Secondly: Yay another short review!

So this is the … third, I think? example of the “We hid behind the curtain in a library/study/parlor and now we have to get married to preserve our virtue” trope that is starting to become as prevalent as “fucking in a carriage”. I love it. It’s so stupid.

Even more stupid are the reasons for why Charlotte Highwood and Piers Brandon are stuck behind that curtain in the first place.

1. Charlotte chases after Piers Brandon, Lord Granville to warn him about her matchmaker mother, and tells him that no matter what her mother says or what the gossip sounds like, Charlotte doesn’t have any intentions of getting Piers Brandon to marry her, but they should still avoid each other during this fortnight-long country stay to make sure they don’t allow Charlotte’s mother any chance.

2. Piers basically shrugs and goes, “okay, whatever, crazy lady, but we should get back to the ballroom before the quadrille is over or else we’ll both be in trouble.”

3. But before they can return to the ballroom, they have to hide behind the curtain because two people are coming into the library.

4. The mystery couple proceeds to fuck on the desk.

5. Once they’re gone, Charlotte and Piers start to move out of the library, only to get caught by the host’s eight-year-old son, who then proceeds to make a scene because he could hear squeaky noises, and groaning, and PIERS MUST HAVE BEEN DOING A MURDER

6. Half the guests of the ball show up at this point – including Charlotte’s mother – and in order to save face, Piers proposes to Charlotte.

SO STUPID. I LOVE IT.

Piers is only at that country estate because he’s investigating Delia’s father – apparently he’s been bleeding money, and since he’s in the running for an Ambassador post, back THEN, PEOPLE HAD TO BE PROPERLY VETTED BEFORE ACCEPTING A DIPLOMATIC POST AND SOMEONE HAD TO MAKE SURE THE CANDIDATE WASN’T SUSCEPTIBLE TO BLACKMAIL

Goddamn, I hope we can get back to a place where that shit is commonplace again.

Anyways. In between Piers spying on the Lord of the manor, and Charlotte poking her nose where it doesn’t belong, they get into some scrapes together. Nobody likes Charlotte, so when the ladies all go on a horse ride through a calm meadow, they give Charlotte Lady, who ends up throwing her into a river, where Piers manages to save her from almost drowning. One night, after some intense sleeping together (they’re engaged – once that bridge has been crossed they can do whatever they want), Charlotte gets a tray of breakfast that has a lovely sprig of something, but when she touches it she falls ill. Turns out it’s monkshood, which can be fatal. Luckily, Piers finds her quickly enough to heal her, but the fact that she was in danger closes him off from her, in the cockamamie idea that by doing so, he’s protecting them both.

This book pretty much follows the formula, which is exactly what I’m looking for in a “silly little romance novel”, and again, that is not meant to be a disparaging term. How can you make fun of a book that gave me this phrase:

“You must think me easily swayed. One dose of your masculine lip elixir, and I’ll be cured of any doubt, is that it?” [p. 42]

Masculine Lip Elixir is the name of my new rock band, by the way. It’s glam rock. We open for The Darkness. (Oh my god, is The Darkness even a band still?)

And I definitely must give it up to Tessa Dare, for allowing Charlotte’s mother to attempt to give her Ye Olde Birds and the Bees talk, using – hand to god, I’m not making this up – a peach and an eggplant as visual aids.

This book did exactly what I wanted: it gave a Happily Ever After, it was pretty hot, but above all, it was fun.

Grade for Do You Want To Start A Scandal: 3.5 stars

Fiction: “If The Earl Only Knew” by Amanda Forester

If Earl Only KnewThis was another “silly little romance novel” in my Kindle library that I ended up reading at the gym. I purchased it on my Kindle because a) it was cheaper than purchasing it in paperback form, and b) I have the second book in his series in paperback, and you know me with series – have to read ’em in order!

The second book, I believe, mentioned pirates. And ever since I read those other “silly little romance novels” about pirates, I have been searching for more silly little romance novels about pirates. (And it is hard to find them that aren’t … terrible.) This first book doesn’t directly involve pirates, but piracy is a plot point.

Our protagonists are Kate and Robert Darington, twin orphans. They have returned to London to report on the investments they have made for a few rich men. Kate dresses very … widowy? She dresses all in black, she doesn’t really talk to people, and she keeps herself very guarded.

This meeting is between the Daringtons and John Arlington, Earl of Wynbrook, and John’s younger brother and a handful of other dudes. The meeting starts and Kate starts listing off all the financial investments and the dudes are like, “Wha – why is the lady talking? We’re discussing numbers and figures and business and surely her little lady head can’t hold onto those, eh?”

Fallon oh hell no.gif

But as soon as Fallon – I mean, Kate – tells the dudes that, thanks to their investment strategies (I mean, Kate’s investment strategies; Robert is just the transportation guy), they are super-duper rich now, their opinion changes:

LiamJack in love with you.gif

So the dudes are all happy, and Kate is eager to return to Gibraltar, where their business is located, so she can go back to her “normal” life. She has one errand to do before they leave, but Robert has something else to do and can’t accompany her. So John offers to chaperone her. Kate is definitely not happy about that, but she realizes she can’t fight her brother, so she acquiesces.

Kate, Robert and John were all friends years ago. But Kate overheard John talking a bit nastily about her, and then – unrelated, I would like to mention – there was that time where Kate and Robert were going to a party with John and his family, and the bridge collapsed as John’s parents’ carriage was going over it, tossing them into an icy cold river. John’s parents didn’t make it, and John’s sister, Ellen, lost the use of her legs.

Kate feels herself to be a bit of a jinx. Kate and Robert are orphans, but also spent a bit of time in a debtor’s prison as children because of their father’s debts. The errand Kate is going on (with John in tow)? The debtor’s prison from her youth, to pay off the debts of any children currently in the prison. John had no idea of their past. And with her presence at the death of John’s parents, she feels responsible and guilty every time she sees Ellen.

And then, there are the robberies and trashing of Kate and Robert’s rooms in town. Because look, Robert is in transportation – of pirated goods.

Robert’s a pirate! Kindof. He wants to retire now that he and Kate have made oodles of money. But that’s another reason why Kate wants to return to Gibraltar – her life choices (math, finances, being related to a pirate) are more acceptable on that rock than England.

To protect everyone, John invites Robert and Kate to move in with his family at the country, which Kate hates. But over time, Kate thaws towards John and they end up with a (very tame) Happy Ever After.

… I feel like there should be More here, but to be honest, I was reading this in the middle of moving. I think we should all be lucky I even remembered to hit the button on my GoodReads saying that I had finished it. I did have enough sense of mind to comment on my Instagram page [if you want it, it’s the same as my twitter: @willbefunorelse – the username has served me well thus far] that the book was very tame. If I recall correctly, there may be only one scene of sexytimes, and that in itself was either very tame or possibly fade-to-black.

This is the only quote I highlighted while reading:

Hardships should be mitigated by becoming even more pessimistic, so no tragedy could ever make you more miserable than you already were. By expecting the absolute worst out of life, Kate was immune to the sting of disappointment, for she lived it every day. [pg. 54, Kindle Location 660]

And the reason I noted it is because I tend to expect the worst – that way you can never be disappointed. So Kate and I had something else in common besides a good head for business?

Whatever.

Grade for If The Earl Only Knew: 2 stars

Fiction: “A Fatal Waltz” by Tasha Alexander

Fatal WaltzI just chipped one of my teeth on a Dorito. Since this night’s going great already, let’s get a review ready to post, huh?

(P.S., for my readers who come here via my Facebook page and realize, “Hey, wait, I thought Alaina chipped her tooth on a Dorito back on June 24, and here it is [ENTER DATE OF POSTING HERE July 6 {holy shit am I getting caught up? I mean, no, but that’s a way better spread of time!}] – did she chip a different tooth on a different Dorito!? What are the odds of that even happening?!”

And the answer, dear readers, is No – only a single tooth(*) has been felled by a Dorito.

(*) As of this writing, which is June 24th, 2019.

(**) I should also probably mention that I have previously broken the now-chipped tooth, back when I was a junior in high school. I think the filling or rebuild or whatever you call it has finally worn down enough to need to be replaced. It has been almost twenty years since I fell off that waterfall(***)…

(***) This is only a slight exaggeration. My family and I were hiking up Angel Falls in northern Maine, and my mother was in hopes of taking my senior picture for the yearbook.(****) On the way down the waterfall, I slipped and fell head-first into some rocks, breaking my bottom teeth. I am extremely lucky that that’s all that broke.

(****) My mother is still a bit mad that I eventually submitted a picture from a roller coaster for the yearbook. It is not what was distributed to the relatives.

But as for the time difference in the tooth-chipping and this review being posted: I have gotten into a [stupid] habit of trying to be at least three reviews ahead of my posting backlog. So for instance – I’m writing this blog on June 24th, but I’ve had the reviews for Luck Is No LadySweet Toothand Persuasion in my drafts queue for a while. Once I finish writing this post, I’m going to save it, and post the review for Luck Is No Lady. And when this post finally gets published, you can rest assured that I will have reviews lined up for at least … whatever the next three books in my queue are, I can’t tell, Excel won’t open right now.

“Okay, Alaina. Yeah, okay. Okay, Alaina. So – WHY DO YOU DO THIS?!” you ask.

ron's permit-1

 

ron's permit-2.gif

I DO WHAT I WANT LEAVE ME ALONE.)

Anyways.

As I think I said when I reviewed the last book in this series – though it could have been another book, who knows, I’m not going back to figure it out – I have to do a couple of things better. Number one, I need to do a better job about reading the next book in a series without waiting over a year, because it takes me a bit to remember who all the players are when I’m reading it. And secondly, I need to do better about either taking notes or marking pages in books that I own, because I have no notes or dogears in my copy of A Fatal Waltz so this might be an even shittier “review” than I normally do.

(Considering I’ve wasted nearly 600 words on a) a chipped tooth, b) how that tooth was originally broken, and c) how that affects my blog posting schedule, I apparently don’t have that much farther to slide on my “shitty” scale.)

Okay. So. Lady Emily – remember, she’s a widow, in 1890s Britain – has gotten engaged to Colin Hargreaves, her husband’s best friend. (It’s cool, though – read the past two books if you’re concerned.) And she is invited to a weekend garden party in the country by her best friend Ivy. Emily hates a couple of the people who are also there – including Lord Fortescue, the mentor of Ivy’s husband – but because Emily loves Ivy, she goes.

In addition to the awful Lord Fortescue, there’s also Kristiana von Lange, an Austrian countess, who used to “work” “with” Colin.

Oh shit. I never mentioned – Colin’s a spy for the War Office (or whatever they’re calling the War Office at this point in British history). So that “work” is “spy stuff”, but also, think about how James Bond “works” with Vesper Lynd.

However, Colin is extremely faithful to Emily. But a good portion of the plot (as I remember it, nearly nine months later) is made up of Emily trying to reason out of her jealousy towards Kristiana. And Kristiana is not a good sport, who stands aside when her former lover becomes engaged to another woman. Oh, no – she tries to take her lover back, even though she know she doesn’t want him forever.

So anyway. All those awful people are at this weekend garden party, and Emily is pretty miserable whenever she’s not hiding in the hallway, discreetly making out with Colin.

But then Lord Fortescue is murdered, and the prime suspect is Ivy’s husband, Robert.

Emily is determined to prove Robert’s innocence, and the clues take her and her entourage – consisting of Cécile, a friend of her husband’s and confidante, and Emily’s childhood friend Jeremy – to Vienna, to investigate a plot involving anarchists who may or may not have been attempting a coup.

Colin is also in Vienna, working alongside Kristiana, trying to find the same information. He is not happy that Emily has put herself into possible danger, but he also recognizes that even as her fiancé, he is powerless to stop her.

I really wish I had done a better job about taking notes. I know there’s a lovely subplot about one of the artists Emily meets in a coffee shop, and how he’s enamored of a young woman but I think he needs to win over her mother, who happens to be an empress (?) – and I’m not going to look it up, it’s almost midnight as I’m writing this and I really should be asleep by now. Anyway, I do recall that the artist is eventually introduced to the empress and his sketches do in fact win her over, so by the end of the novel, they’re happily in love.

Also happily in love is Emily and Colin, jealousy over Kristiana be-damned. There’s another small subplot – more of a running gag, almost – involving Emily’s conservative, traditional mother, who has instructed Emily and Colin (not advisedinstructed) to hold off on their nuptials until Queen Victoria has given them her blessing – or maybe it’s that they need to hold off until Buckingham Palace is available. I’m not sure, can’t remember, and I’m not looking it up. But at the end of the book, Emily and Colin elope while on Santorini. And if that’s not the pinnacle of a romantic elopement, I don’t know what is.

santorini-view.jpg

I mean — that is goddamned beautiful.

Overall, I’m giving the book 3 stars. I think it suffered from having Emily and Colin apart so much, but that might be my personal bias. And I promise to not wait another three years before picking up the next book in the series.

Grade for A Fatal Waltz: 3 stars