A writing update is at the end of this post. But first, a (long-winded?) book review!:
A couple days ago I finished reading Marguerite Kaye’s latest novel, The Lady Who Broke the Rules. This is the third installment in a series Harlequin/Mills&Boon is doing along the idea of a Regency “Upstairs, Downstairs,” or “Downton Abbey,” where the adventures, heartaches, scandals, and triumphs of both the upstairs nobility and their downstairs employees of Castonbury Park are explored. Each book is written by a different author, an interesting endeavor where we can see different viewpoints on the same subject. There will be eight books in all in the Castonbury Park series, the final one coming out in the UK in March 2013.
At first, I was going to hurry and read the first two books in the series, which are available in e-book format in the US, but won’t be out in paper until November. I decided, however, that this would be a good opportunity to test how well the books stand alone. The answer to that is: very well. I was not confused in the least. The stage was set so well in this book that it could easily stand alone (but there is an over-arching plot-line that connects all the books together, and this was handled in what I thought was an expert way in this book; I was not confused by the fact I hadn’t read the others, but my curiosity is very piqued, and so I feel I must go back and read the first two!).
If anyone follows my reviews, they will know that I don’t often give 5 star reviews. 5 stars to me means that the book/story/movie really had something special about it. Let’s get back to that later, though.
Kate, the heroine of this tale, is not your average Regency heroine, in that, as the title states, she breaks the rules. Her reputation is, she thinks, in shambles thanks to events and people in her past, so she goes forth and does what is in her heart. This doesn’t mean she doesn’t care what people think about her; I think she cares a great deal, and is hurt by this, but she doesn’t let it control her life to the extent that she is a complete shut-away and does whatever is asked of her in order to gain approval. She is her own person. I found Kate to be very much a multi-dimensional character, and I found her to be very refreshing.
Virgil is our hero, and he is a freed African American slave with a painful past. One of my favorite things about this book is how yes, of course this guy has baggage and pain from his past, and he has some issues he needs to move past, but the story doesn’t just linger on this in order to have the reader feel sympathy. Virgil is a strong character. He has moved beyond slavery to become a powerful businessman who uses his influence and money to help others. He’s a genuinely good person who doesn’t whine about his past.
The love story is, once again, refreshing. We have a white English woman and an African American man, but this is not a story merely about racial difficulties. It’s about overcoming obstacles in the past to find true love and happiness in the future. I found the descriptions of the characters to be sensual and “enough.” I felt like I was there; there were just enough details to know what these people looked like, and enough sensations to really be there in the story, but the balance was so carefully kept; I didn’t feel like someone was being described to me, like I was on the outside. Detail came out through action, as characters noticed things, which kept me fully engaged, almost like watching a movie.
I can’t express how much I *love* the direction some of the Harlequin novels have been taking (and this is the second of Kaye’s books I’ve seen this in) as far as dealing with social issues. These issues of course were relevant in the Regency times, but they are also just as important to think about today. Both the hero and heroine of this book have causes close to their hearts, and it really warmed me to see them working for them. So often I’ve read Regencies and other historical romances where, as a friend of mine so aptly put, there’s nothing going on but “balls and duke-screwing.” (I’m sorry, I had to). There is more to Kaye’s characters–they aren’t just thinking about having heirs and keeping their reputations intact; they are bigger people because they focus on bigger things.
I’m trying not to give anything away, because I think this book was superb. Many aspects of the book could have swiftly fallen down the tunnel of cliche with another author, but in the hands of a master, these aspects proved to strengthen the story, and make its message more powerful. This is a true love story.
All these thing combined made me give The Lady Who Broke the Rules five stars.
PS–Love Aunt Wilhelmina. LOVE her, especially the turbans. Wonderful example of secondary character who is very endearing (and gosh, I want to know more about her) but who does not take over the story. Her actions toward the end of the story made me cry.
Aaaaaaand, as for my own writing… It’s going very well. I had an opportunity to read over my entire novel, and while it needs polishing (and I’m not sure I will have time to really make it shine as it should if I am in the final 25 in SYTYCW), I think it works. I think it is a story readers will (hopefully) enjoy, in spite of there being a few too many “to be” verbs here and there (and those can easily be fixed in the future). The important things is that the story is there, and hopefully my hero and heroine are compelling.
There are a couple days left to vote, we’re getting down to the very end and I’m getting so nervous! Unlike other contests that are judged on my writing alone (which I have control over), the first round of this one is based solely on popular vote (which one can HOPE is based on the quality of writing, but we’ve all seen how these things work!). You can read my pitch and first chapter here, and if you like it, please vote!
As far as other writing goals go, things are on track. Towards the end of the month, I’ll be setting up the stage for my next story, and I hope to have a great chunk of that book written during NaNoWriMo. I think I’ve proven to myself that I can write fast and not have a big pile of mess at the end, as long as I plan things ahead a little bit! The conference in Seattle is coming up very quickly, where I will find out where I placed in the GSRWA Emerald City Opener contest. I also find out about the SFA-RWA’s Heart to Heart contest that same week. Very exciting to know I will place either 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in both of them. Those were the first two romance contests I have ever entered, and it brings me such happiness to know people are enjoying my story.
Well, back to work!