Category: Book Review

Book Review: To catch a husband

Here, I (slightly apprehensively) present the first romance novel review! I’m not sure if this is how book reviews are meant to be done but as I said before, I’m hoping this does something to improve my writing so please don’t review the review – that would be too scathing for my fragile ego.

Author Sarah Mallory, Mills and Boon 2011

Kitty Wythenshawe is off to London for her first Season with her Godmother, the start of a slightly desperate search for a husband to help pay the bills. After her father’s death 10 years earlier, her mother and aunt were forced to work for a living (Oh the humanity!). Now, she’s after a rich husband to make sure that she can improve their station in their old age. She becomes loosely acquainted with the infuriating Mr Daniel Blackwood, an industrialist with whom she is at odds from the beginning. Their first meeting involves him being in a crap mood (standard) and her being snotty (also standard). It also involves a man in a horse-drawn cart refusing to ask for directions – I’m still not sure how I feel about that bit.The plot follows the standard “regency historical romance novel” blueprint of parties, suppers, picnics and walks in Hyde Park. At each social occasion, shockingly, she runs into the belligerent Mr Blackwood. While she tries to find her footing in society, she meets a number of youngsters, making friends her own age for the first time, and develops a promising attachment to her Godmother’s nephew, Lord Harworth. All this time, she’s also constantly having run-ins with good old Dan.

The book takes an interesting turn when Kitty is dragged by her friend Ann to a slavery abolition meeting and her liberal leanings (and background) come out. There she sees Dan and it becomes an ongoing plot-point that the two share a social conscience (unlike all the Un! Prin! Cip! Led! people in their immediate society). This does give them common ground and some depth to the development of their relationship instead of just falling in love at first sight. These extra details about slavery (and industrialism) also sent me into a Wiki-hole. This is a good sign, but I’m not going to get those hours back *shakes fist at sky*.  The two characters had a  lot in common personality-wise. I know I’m one of those people who finds it too easy to throw herself into the story so every disagreement or argument they had was so very frustrating! How can they not tell they like each other? How does she miss that fact that he’s frowning out of jealousy and not because he doesn’t like her? Can’t he see she’s just doing it to help her mother? You’re in lurrrrrve come oooooooooooooooooooooooooon (I am such a sucker.). It was doubly obvious with this novel for some reason, I feel like they were at odds more than usual perhaps? So when he ends up being the only person she tells her true feelings and situation to it felt a little strange that they werestill always arguing. Push-pull, love-hate, I like you, No I changed my mind now I don’t. I did enjoy their fights though, when I wasn’t yelling at them in my head.

After a dramatic ride through another (ill-fated) abolition meeting Kitty and Dan have a cold night riding back to the Harworths’ alone where they once again miscommunicate and miss the chance to roll around in the grass and lock themselves to each other. She ends up accepting Lord Harworth and her ‘best friend’ Ann nabs Dan (after discovering he’s loaded!). Kitty and Dan confess their love for each other (a smidge too late). Finally, Kitty grows some ovaries and tells Lord Harworth she can’t marry him – his mother loves that, since they discovered she was poor post-engagement, she’s barely managed to control her disappointment – and is promptly shipped back to her cottage, to spend out her days in poverty with her mother and aunt.

She’s depressed, he’s depressed. They’re all depressed. Somehow his mother works out who she is and that they love each other and sets up a fund for them to live comfortably while her son marries another woman. They, predictably, end up breaking up in a scene where it is hinted at that Ann knew that Dan and Kitty were in love all along (bitch! Or did she work it out after? I don’t know, it’s a bit fuzzy) and she gives him an out. This scene also has a nice touch where the Harworth’s are given a chance to be somewhat nice. It falls flat for me, unfortunately. Throughout the book the Blackwoods and Kitty are made out to be shining beacons of goodness, deep special snowflakes. The rest of them are quite shallow, selfish people. Even the Godmother starts out well-meaning and soon descends into a rather frightening money-grubber.  All snark aside, this was really the only sticking point for me. I mean, why are all these people so awful? Surely they must know nicer people with a bit more depth. Those characters needed some love and attention.

They get together, they get it on and they get married. And! It turns out he’s going to be a Lord anyway… Nice touch. This last bit was nicely developed – sometimes the happy ending is a bit rushed in romance novels but this flowed well.

Overall: I loved it. Isn’t it obvious? There were little issues – no novel is perfect – but I really enjoyed this read. My favourite scene was actually the Godmother’s first experience with her drunk son. He passes out at her feet after spewing on himself. Her insistence that it must be due to oyster poisoning is worth a giggle. Good job Sarah, you made me laugh and you made me mad. I like it.

 

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In defence of Mills and Boon

I can’t remember when I began my romance (ha!) with the romance novel but for many years, serious and geeky occupation notwithstanding, I have been addicted to them. Many mock, but I’m very open about this and I will defend them as decent reading material to the death (or at least to the cliffhanger before a hero rides to my rescue). I’ve heard (I wish I could remember where so I could cite it!) them referred to as vitamins – a shot to the arm. They revitalise me, I feel relaxed and energised after a stint with a respectable bodice ripper (the heroine is always respectable. She would most likely never refer to her butt cheeks on a blog). I still clearly remember the day I submitted my MSc thesis – exhausted and euphoric I drove to a TradeMe seller’s house and picked up a box of 25 Mills and Boon’s from the 70s, at 50c a book. I spent a week at home in bed reading until I was ready to face the world again. It cemented what I anticipate will be a lifelong relationship.

Unfairly maligned on a regular basis by people who feel that such frivolous reading matter is beneath them, they are easy prey for reading snobs.

I love the very specific tone of the genre. The writers tread a thin line of trying to make the heroine both relatable and aspirational – they have to make her stand out in a genre where heroines are a dime a dozen. You want to be her, but you also feel like you have a shot at being her (if only), so rather than a twinge of jealousy, readers are supportive. As I am not restricted in my romance reading material to the past few decades, I’ve noticed that the heroines have moved with the times – the female leads are stronger, the heroes have a gentle side (one often only we are privy to). A romance novel provides the comfort of the fact that I know how it will end but the enjoyment of the twists and turns the plot can take along the way. Criticise if you will, but there’s something to be said for that!

All the sub-genres are worth a try – medical, sexy, historical are but a few – I guarantee that after a couple of trials, most people would find one that they enjoy.

I’m going to run a feature (primarily for myself, seeing as I have no readers!) where I do a book review for each romance novel I read. I read quite a few so it feels like an opportunity to hone my critiquing skills and my writing skills. They won’t be particularly new on the market, most will definitely be several years old, but the process is the same for all of them so I may as well! I’d love to know one day I managed to convert at least one person to loving them as much as I do!