Some Shorter Fare, pt. 2

[Pt. 1 is here]

I’ve recently read a few novellas. So, I’ve decided to write a few of them up. They have no connection other than their shorter length.

This post will include reviews of:

  • A Scandalous Affair by Karen Erickson
  • The Dress of the Season by Kate Noble
  • Asher’s Invention by Coleen Kwan

[WARNING: Spoiler alert!!]

Karen Erickson’s A Scandalous Affair will be published by Carina Press on July 30. The plot summary from Erickson’s website:

From the moment Daphne, Lady Pomeroy, meets the mysterious Marquess of Hartwell at a masquerade ball, she’s determined to seduce him. The handsome, charming man cannot possibly be the cold, calculating lord who Society calls “Black Hart.” Risking everything, the lonely widow invites the elusive Hartwell to her dinner party . . . for two.

Hartwell’s arrogant reputation is built on a lie. For he has a shameful secret that keeps him in the shadows: a stutter—his downfall since childhood. He’d rather keep his mouth shut than look the fool. But he’s shocked to discover that in Daphne’s company—and in her bed—his stutter vanishes.

After one wanton evening together, Daphne is hurt when the lord lives up to his Black Hart name. Yet his reasons for leaving surprise even him. Now he must confess everything or risk losing Daphne forever…

Overall, I thought it was…okay. There was one thing I absolutely LOVED about this novella: Daphne taking the lead, steering her own course:

But wishes and dreams didn’t come true when a lady did nothing in trying to achieve them. For once, she was going to attempt something she’d never done before. She was going to experience life to the fullest. Not to please anyone but herself.

Daphne knows what she wants and it is Hartwell. She has no problem being the more aggressive of the pair.

Beyond that, though, I found the novella to be predictable. Hartwell’s “shameful secret”, his stutter, is a story I’ve read before, even explained by the same kind of harsh family experiences. The reason he leaves her after their “wanton evening together” was anti-climatic. Their falling in love seemed forced, or perhaps too quick (which is as much a product of the short space in a novella as it was Erickson’s story-telling, I think). At the end when Erickson wrote:

He’d changed so much. Was a completely different man than the one she was introduced to only a short time ago. He’d come a long way, as had she.

I felt like it was too much, pushing too hard.

I give A Scandalous Affair 2 out of 5 stars.

I actually think Kate Noble’s The Dress of the Season did a much better job with pacing, the chemistry between the characters, giving us a different-enough story to hold my attention throughout.

A description of the work from Noble’s website:

Harris Dane, Viscount Osterley, orders a very fine and scandalously cut dress to be made for a certain lady he wishes to woo. While with the dress designer, he also orders a pair of gloves to be sent to his ward, Miss Felicity Grove, to wish her well for the new Season. But when Felicity accidentally receives the dress, along with Osterley’s affectionate note, it sets into motion a tale of scandalous misunderstandings and love in the last place you look.

My favorite thing about this novella is similar to what I liked about A Scandalous Affair: the strong-willed character of Felicity:

“You don’t have to be afraid of me,” her voice became a low, husky whisper. “You don’t have to be afraid to want me.”

He couldn’t look at her then. Couldn’t let his body take in what she was saying. Her breath hitched and he knew that what she said next took all her courage.

“What if . . . what if I wanted you, too? Would that be so wrong? Why couldn’t we be happy together?”

I also appreciate Noble’s clever writing:

“It’s not very pleasant,” she said, putting her chin as high as it would go. “Are you certain it’s good rum?” “No, but it is excellent scotch,” he replied sardonically.

And the way she created suspense with these characters, making it unclear for quite a while as to what was really going on with these people, especially Harris. I was not thrilled at the Harris/Osterley split that she created to explain him, even though I understood what she was doing.

Again, there were pacing issues, things happening more quickly than you expect or want. But I’m beginning to believe that is a normal side effect of the novella, especially when I am used to novels. But overall, I just really enjoyed this novella:

He let out a ragged breath. “Do you have any idea what you are asking of me?”

“I do.” She met his eyes. “I’m asking you to let go. I’m asking you to be happy. And to . . .” She searched for the words. “And to take me with you.”

He stared at her for what seemed like an eternity, before he grabbed her by the forearms and pulled her to him. “Thank god,” he whispered harshly, before crushing his mouth against hers.

Glory.

I give The Dress of the Season 4 out of 5 stars. I definitely recommend this one.

The final novella of this post is Asher’s Invention by Coleen Kwan. It will be published on June 25 by Carina Press. Summary of the plot from Kwan’s website:

Five years ago, Asher Quigley broke his engagement to Minerva Lambkin, believing she was an accomplice in a scheme to steal his prototype for a wondrous device. Minerva swore she was innocent, though the thief—and Asher’s mentor—was her own father.

Now, sheer desperation has driven Minerva to Asher’s door. Her father has been kidnapped by investors furious that he’s never been able to make the machine work. Only Asher, now a rich and famous inventor in his own right, can replicate the device. He’s also become a hard, distant stranger far different from the young idealist she once loved.

Despite their troubled past, Asher agrees to help Minerva. He still harbors his suspicions about her, but their reunion stirs emotions and desires they both thought were buried forever. Can they rebuild their fragile relationship in time to save her father and their future together?

This is what Kwan calls a “Steampunk romance.” I will admit that I had to look up what that means. According to wikipedia (where all knowledge lives):

A genre which…incorporates elements of science fictionfantasyalternate historyhorror, and speculative fiction. It involves a setting where steam power is widely used—whether in an alternate history such as Victorian era Britain or “Wild West“-era United States, or in a post-apocalyptic time —that incorporates elements of either science fiction or fantasy. Works of steampunk often feature anachronistic technology, or futuristic innovations as Victorians might have envisioned them, based on a Victorian perspective on fashionculture,architectural style, and art.

Yup. This is definitely steampunk. Mechanical dogs, airships, and the invention around which the entire story revolves: a”perpetual-motion machine”, one that is “frictionless.” According to Kwan:

He had devised a machine which, once set in motion, would run for a thousand years, according to his calculations. A thousand years…. it promised an endless supply of cheap energy. Industrial-strength millennium machines would power factories, trains, airships, generators.

I liked the action in this novella. I skimmed some of it but I thought it flowed well and was suspenseful. I did not figure out who the bad guy was until he was revealed.

I did like the two main characters and their chemistry. But, I never quite understood why Asher was so angry and accusatory when Minerva arrived but then turned around and forgave her so quickly (it was implied he had already come to the conclusion that she had not colluded with her father before she ever arrived on his doorstep so why was he so mean when she did show up?).

I also had to re-read the end a couple of times. I was unsure of what had happened and why he leaves and immediately returns. I was confused.

At the same time, I appreciated the way Kwan ended the novella:

“I’m sorry, Asher, but I can’t marry you.”

“What!” His shocked dismay was painful to witness. “Whyever not?” Are you…are you not in love with me?”

“I am in love with you. I’ve always loved you. That’s what makes this all the more agonizing.”

He pulled to his feet and yanked at his rumpled waistcoat. “You make no sense. If you love me, then why on earth won’t you marry me?”

She pinched her lips, dreading he wouldn’t understand her. “Because I’m not ready to marry you.”

At the very end, even following this scene, Kwan honored Minerva’s independence and her desires by having Asher honor those things.

I give Asher’s Invention 3 out of 5 stars. It’s a fun read.

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