Tuesday, November 30, 2010

His Christmas Pleasure, by Cathy Maxwell. A Review by Debra

Christmas-themed romance stories that come out this time of year are usually reminiscent of THAT Christmas tale.  You know, the one where this one sells his watch and that one cuts her hair and both sacrifice what they hold dear in order to give something to the other. His Christmas Pleasure, by Cathy Maxwell, is no exception. While this novel has that theme running through it as well, there is something quite refreshing about a historical romance where there is no rake; the male protagonist is reformed even before the heroine gets to  him, and in that, this story is different.

Andres Ramigio, Baròn de Vasconia of Spain, has a reputation, but it’s not self-inflicted. Women seem to fall into his path, quite literally, and the one woman he has the misfortune to fall in love with, spurns him quite publicly. Abigail Montross, niece of a duke and daughter of a banker, is in love with an Earl’s son who is looking for more than a tradesman’s daughter for a wife. Set up in an arranged marriage by her father, she has already been engaged to and jilted by  another man. When she seemingly rescues Andres from his own father’s fate, their two lives become entangled in ways neither one of them expect. And after Abby’s father proposes another arranged marriage, she desperately looks for a way to avoid it. The Baròn has already seen the good in Abby, and unwittingly provides her with an escape. When he talks to Abby about a solution to their problems (he needs funds, she needs a way out),  it’s already evident that he’s halfway in love with her, which in turn, makes us love him even more.

When Andres persuades Abby to marry him, he’s the one who wants a proper wedding and a blessing from her parents. She’s the one who convinces him to elope. When they reach Stonemoor, the property given to him in Northumberland in exchange for a promise never to return to London, Abby realizes her new husband is not quite what he seems, but our faith in Andres is confirmed when he confesses all.

When Abby receives disturbing news from home in the middle of major misunderstanding with her new husband, and then hightails it back to London, there is little question that Andres will follow her, even if it means losing his home and his new livelihood in the process.

There are some wonderfully written scenes in this book. The showdowns between Andres and Abby’s determined father, the confrontation between Andres and a cuckolded husband, the coach ride that Andres and Abby share, the proposal scene in a garden with a roomful of women watching through a window, and of course, the final scene in the book where everything all comes right again, in a very surprising way, all reflect Cathy Maxwell’s ability at story-telling. This is a fun, quick story that will no doubt get the reader into the holiday spirit.

It was my Christmas pleasure to read it.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Jane Austen Ruined My Life, By Beth Pattillo. A Review by Debra

Part fiction, part truth, Jane Austen Ruined My Life is the story of Emma Grant, a recently divorced Jane Austen scholar who makes a return visit to England after receiving an invitation by a woman claiming to have Jane Austen's long lost letters.

Emma is fleeing her ex-husband and her teaching assistant, who together engineer Emma's professional downfall while having an affair. After losing her position and tenure, the invitations from Mrs. Parrot dangling the long lost letters, is too much to resist. With no job or job prospects, no husband and no happy ending in sight, she takes off for London and the home of her cousin. There she meets Adam, her best friend from graduate school, who is in London and staying with Emma's cousin on pretenses of his own. When Emma meets Mrs. Parrot, she is given a series of tasks to perform involving visits to most of the sites of Jane Austen's life. We get to hear Emma read excerpts from the letters, and can almost imagine that they do, in fact exist.  At the end of this literary treasure hunt, she is promised that all of her questions about the lost letters will be answered, and she is faced with a moral dilemma of her own and a decision that may lead her to accept or reject the true love of her life.

Beth Pattillo takes us, along with Emma, on a discovery of the heart. When Emma is tempted to betray the trust of the holders of the letters and offer them up for publication, she discovers that Jane Austen's fiction may have been the catalyst for earlier mistakes and bad decisions, but they  are not what keeps Emma from now truly living her life and finding professional and personal fulfillment. Like the real Jane Austen,  Emma doesn't need to compromise her honor and her principles to prove her worth. While her decision at the end of the novel is probably not the same one I would have made, we see Emma's life as she begins to see it; as a process meant to be worked through and lived despite setbacks and betrayals, and despite an elusive happy ending.

This book is a quick, absorbing read. The trek through Austen country was informative to this uninitiated reader. The water spray at the Cobb, the writing desk in Chawton, all these places come alive for Emma and for us. If you are an Austenphile  (and who among us isn't) this is a book you will definitely enjoy.