fiction, review

Married to the Viscount

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: facebook.com/dastanbooks)

After a long journey, Sabrina Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series has finally come to an end. It has been too far away from the main characters of the Swanlea sisters, and it really, really should have stopped two books ago. Be that as it may, Married to the Viscount, which was first published in 2004, seems to me a nice, sweet end for a series which has to pass a twisted road before reaching its peak. It has, thankfully, a quite different type of female character and a quite nice premise. It’s not the best in the series, and it’s certainly not Jeffries’ best work also, but it is enough to compensate for the failure of the previous two installments.

Set in a Regency era of early 1820s, the story opens with the long voyage the Viscount Ravenswood takes to America with his younger brother, Nathaniel. Nat intends to have some shares in a medical company owned by Doctor Mercer in Philadelphia, so he needs Spencer Law, the Viscount, to see around and then support him to buy the shares. Upon their arrival, they get to see Abigail Mercer instead, and Spencer can’t help but fall in love with her, instantly. Unfortunately, as much as he adores her, he never has any intention to marry and settle down with a family, so he avoids having some serious relationship with the half-Indian woman. But Nat has another plan.

Back to England, Spencer finds that he is married to Abby Mercer. On the one hand, it’s a miracle to him for he is indeed in love with her, but on the other it’s a pure disaster for it undoubtedly ruins all his plans for his life. But Nat has her dowry and disappears, so although Abby knows she cannot remain married to the Viscount, she cannot get back to America, either. Spencer offers her a stay in London as his sham wife until he can locate his brother and recover her dowry, and Abby happily accepts the offer in the hope of convincing him that they truly can live happily ever after.

The cheerful, innocent, yet determined Abby Mercer can indeed make a balance for the stubborn, commanding, officious Viscount Ravenswood. She is not the common stubborn woman we usually find in Sabrina Jeffries’ historical romance novels, despite being so determined, but she’s nevertheless a strong woman of her own character. Once she says:

“A woman of character stands by her choices.”

However, that’s not the most interesting thing about her. It’s her portrayal as an American that attracts me so much: She has a loose tongue, an inappropriate, unladylike manner, and, borrowing the old-fashioned European term for Americans, uncultured. She is all the European people have in mind about Americans, and the fact that Jeffries made an effort, with quite a success, to put that kind of character in contrast with the English people of the old Regency era is so brilliant, and I’m very appreciative of it. To match her, Jeffries created the character of Spencer Law. This was not the first time I found a stubborn man in her stories, but the deep-rooted fear and everlasting wound he has make him just realistically the way he is. He might be despicable and disgusting at some point, but at least he has a good reason for being so, however inexcusable it is in the eye of the reader.

Married to the Viscount is actually a quite nice story, a pure drama without trying to act like a spy novel or being mysterious with a crime feature. It’s somewhat unusual to have this kind of love story, except that it disgracefully falls back into Jeffries’ same pattern with a taste of “agreement” between the two main characters at the beginning of the book. The storyline is a bit clumsy where Abby and Spencer has a quarrel in one chapter, and then in the next chapter they suddenly jump to two weeks after and their war in silence breaks up in a sexual intercourse. I know this is a romance, a bodice-ripper if you will, but I really hope that a problem between two people is not easily settled with sex. But, despite the poor plot, the narrative is nicely written and sweetly delivered. It makes you smile at some parts and laugh at another. Jeffries might not put some jokes along the book, but it’s still quirkily, groggily funny.

Overall, Married to the Viscount by Sabrina Jeffries is a consolation for a broken heart after having two disappointments. It’s nice, it’s sweet, and it has quite different characters. It’s still not the best in the series, but I liked it enough to recommend it to all historical romance fans.

Rating: 3/5

fiction, review

Dance of Seduction

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: facebook.com/dastanbooks)

A sappy romance never goes well with a spy/crime story, to my thinking, but sometimes an author needs an idea. Sabrina Jeffries is not the first romance writer to borrow the idea of marrying romance to crime, and not the first one to fail in executing it, either. The 2003 Dance of Seduction is definitely the reason why I said so. Despite my initial low expectation of the book, it’s still hard to have an adequate opinion about it at the end. I never even expected it to exist, to be honest, for I hoped the Swanlea Spinsters series would have just stopped at the third installment. But a reader can only hope.

Subsequent to the revealing story of Sebastian Blakely, Sabrina Jeffries seems to decide that it is just appropriate to have a romantic tale of his twin brother. Morgan Blakely, or preferably known as Morgan Pryce, is thrown by his employer the Viscount Ravenswood into a mission to capture a sly criminal named Specter. To accomplish the mission, Morgan has to settle in Spitalfield, running a shop near the Reformation Home managed by Lady Clara Stanbourne and acting a dangerous criminal himself. But the lady has a dream to reform all the ex-pickpocket children in Spitalfield and she doesn’t want this mysterious, handsomely intriguing man to ruin her effort. She is thus determined to get him out of Spitalfield. However, in the middle of her meddling, she’s unexpectedly yet uncontrollably caught in the charm of the disguising captain and unable to untangle herself from the fact that she is in love with him. Then the question is, does he feel the same way, too? And if he does, will he marry her? And if he will, can he surrender to Clara’s demand to stay in London instead of setting sail again?

While reading Dance of Seduction, I had this question in my mind: is it so hard to create a different character? I found the description of Morgan Blakely very much like Daniel Brennan: he’s sinfully wicked, he’s humorous, he’s funnily charming, and he eats a lot. The fact that he is more burdened by his horrid past than Brennan is the only difference I could find. It’s not that his is not an admirable character, but reading the same portrayal continuously in the same series by the same author is just tiresome. And, as his couple, Lady Clara is as annoyingly stubborn as any female character in the series. What makes her worse is that she’s more horrible and meddlesome. I could bear reading Lady Juliet Laverick, to a certain degree, but I couldn’t stand reading Clara. What’s more, her stubbornness blends with ignorance and innocence, making her ridiculous as both a woman and a person. As a result, a deeply hurt man and a strongly stubborn woman create not only an endless argument, but also an unrealistically longer plot than it should be. Together, they blast the whole book.

As a romance spiked with some criminal case, Dance of Seduction has failed to maintain a balance. Sabrina Jeffries might have never intended to make such kind of story at all, she might have aimed to write a purely historical romance, but the lack of a proper atmosphere can still pique any reader, expectant or not. It might be better than any other historical romance of the same kind I’ve ever read so far, in its premise, story, plot, and even in its description of characters, but unfortunately not in its climax. I wished I could’ve had more fight, more gun shooting, more argument, more violent atmosphere. Instead, the climax is so dull. The very long narrative has to poorly end up in a short, unbelievable peak of line. And what’s more disappointing, I didn’t find Jeffries’ typical funny jokes, nor even a single hilarious, witty dialogue. Nothing entertaining. Nothing to laugh about. The good thing about Dance of Seduction is its nice storyline, which is surprisingly very much different from any other Jeffries’ works I have devoured.

All in all, Dance of Seduction is not really a huge disappointment, but it’s not a marvelous historical romance, either. Its crime component doesn’t successfully blend with the basic idea, making it more or less a patch of unattached decoration. I won’t recommend it, but I’m sure Sabrina Jeffries’ fans will give it a try.

Rating: 2.5/5

fiction, review

After the Abduction

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: facebook.com/dastanbooks)

Sometimes, as genius as an author might be, they can unconsciously follow the wrong path after walking the more favorable one. After the Abduction is a vivid example of Sabrina Jeffries’ failure to keep up her good work. At least, in my opinion. First published in 2002, the book fails to convince me that it has the quality of both A Dangerous Love and A Notorious Love, or that it’s not only a bodice-ripper historical romance anyone can enjoy. Its lack of strong foundation of a premise and superb characters shake my previous opinion that Jeffries’ Swanlea Spinsters series has something more about it.

Two years after her abduction, Lady Juliet Laverick is looking for the man who kidnaps her in the past. When she comes to see Sebastian Blakely in a digging mission with her sister Lady Rosalind and brother-in-law Griff Knighton, she has a very bad feeling that he is the culprit, the man who takes her away from her family to trade her for a tidbit of information about his brother, the man who fills her dreams for over two years. Oddly, the man doesn’t use the same name, and Juliet believes it’s only a camouflage, a mask he deliberately puts on his face to hide the actual truth. Somehow, Juliet can sense that Sebastian Blakely is Morgan Pryce who seduces her into elopement with him, from his eyes, his voice, his attitude and behavior. But no matter how hard Juliet forces him into a corner, Sebastian won’t admit that he is Morgan Pryce and keeps lying about his true feelings and identity. It’s going on and on and on until Sebastian finally gives up and Juliet gets the truth she wants. But this hide and seek continues to go on when Juliet demands Sebastian to reveal himself to her family and he refuses to do so. All you get for almost hundreds of pages are only their pride, dignity, selfishness, and stubbornness. There is not much of a story.

Despite her great effort, Juliet Laverick still looks childish and immature to me. She may be already grown up, in how she looks and how she behaves, but her stubbornness and childish insistence make her look like the much younger version of herself. I don’t view stubbornness as a bad thing, sometimes we need to be stubborn. But her stubbornness is too much to bear. I know that the trait has been Sabrina Jeffries’ trademark in almost all of her stories, but that doesn’t mean that all of the readers have to accept it voluntarily. And the character of Sebastian Blakely doesn’t seem to balance her, either. He has the family’s dignity to defend and a beloved brother to protect, which makes him just as poorly headstrong. His cool, calm, collected behavior only strengthens his annoying nature and worsens the already disgusting narrative. His firmness in keeping his secret may be admirable, and his determination to protect his brother and his family’s name is quite understandable. But all those things only drag the story too far away to be irresistible, or enjoyable.

Sabrina Jeffries is a brilliant romance writer, at least in my opinion, but I don’t find anything great about Juliet and Sebastian’s story. Instead, the side story in which Griff Knighton and Lady Rosalind are battling with trust to each other and still longing for children gets more of my attention. Their marriage problem seems to me more significant to make a story, rather than the urge to know who has kidnapped you in the past or having a Stockholm syndrome after it. The whole narrative is so frustrating that it’s even too far away from being good enough. And there is nothing new, too, since Jeffries hasn’t gotten out of her usual pattern of plot yet. After the Abduction is a huge disappointment to me, it has no compelling story, no deep characters, no emotions, no lesson to learn, no heart-wrenching moments, no serious problem, no funny jokes nor nice humor, no witty conversations. Everything is dull. The only good point about this book is its style of writing, which is, I have to admit, still nice to follow.

All in all, I can say that I seriously won’t recommend After the Abduction to anyone, unless you’re a die-hard fan of Sabrina Jeffries. The fact that it received a certain award doesn’t help me to have a better opinion of the book. And I’m so sorry about it.

Rating: 2/5

fiction, review

A Notorious Love

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: facebook.com/dastanbooks)

A historical romance, to my thinking, is just the right and the best kind of narrative to explore sexuality, what with its prissy female characters, strict rules of propriety to break, and wickedly rake gentlemen, but if you toss in some issue of insecurity, then it’ll be a blast. That is pretty much what Sabrina Jeffries presents in A Notorious Love, the second book of her Swanlea Spinsters series. Beginning months after the first story ended, it invites you to look on the journey the two main characters, Lady Helena Laverick and Daniel Brennan, are going through in an attempt to save her sister, while, in between, saving herself from a loveless, lonely life. Unlike its predecessor, A Notorious Love is not full of hatred and vengeful atmosphere, but it is guaranteed to wrench at your heart even more and make you fall in love with the gallant hero.

While Griff Knighton and Lady Rosalind are going on their honeymoon, an unexpected disaster falls upon the Laverick family in Swan Park. Lady Juliet, the youngest girl, has eloped with a mysterious, unknown man whom Lady Helena believes to be a fortune hunter, or worse. At her wits’ end, she then comes to Daniel Brennan, Griff Knighton’s former man of affairs, for help. Daniel’s notorious reputation as an erstwhile smuggler is the only guarantee Helena has to track and find her running sister. As much as her heart is still hurting after what happened in Swan Park last summer, and albeit she has to risk her own reputation in society, Helena has no choice. Saving her sister is more important than keeping her distance from someone who has deceitfully toyed with her feelings.

Daniel cannot bring himself to say no to Helena’s fervent request. And even though it is very much dangerous especially for a noble lady like Helena to come along, he has no choice but bringing her with him. On the road, the sparkling feeling between them, which has been swept away since Griff married Rosalind and Daniel went back to London, starts to ooze again. It’s not that they do not realize it, but they stubbornly smother it. However, being together, their flaring desire and longing cannot be clamped shut no matter how hard they grip them and keep them locked in one part of their lying hearts.

A Notorious Love has as much interesting characters as A Dangerous Love. Daniel and Helena might not trigger the reader’s hatred towards them,but they are not ordinary characters, either. Like her sister Rosalind, Helena is portrayed having a physical lack, only hers is worse by far. Her deformity, and her painfully broken heart, stop her from believing in love and in any man. The strict rules of propriety she strongly holds with iron fists seem to be only her shield to protect her already fragile heart and to shut her life close. Her unforgiving and untrusting nature seem to be merely her weapon to hide her insecurity. But Daniel Brennan is a gallant hero, in every single way a man could be. If I am to describe him in one sentence, I would use one of his dialogues in which he says:

“A man is what he is, no fancy lodgings or fine clothes will change that.”

He may not a filthy, stinking rich man who has everything, but he is certainly a hard worker. He is not a man who spoils the woman he loves with luxury, but he can naturally understand her. And, in addition, he is so funny and gentle, a nature every woman loves to cherish.

Following Daniel and Helena’s journey was not only amusing and a lot of fun, but also encouraged me to think. At some point in the story, my mind got boggled at the conversation occurred between them. Sabrina Jeffries has proved herself to be a romance writer with a sharp wit and great sense of humor, but she never leaves her works dried of lessons to learn. She doesn’t try to be a smart aleck, so she wraps all the meaningful dialogues up in a blanket of jokes and amusing scenes so the reader won’t feel that she’s trying to preach. I cannot say that she is a genius at making a storyline, for A Notorious Love doesn’t have quite a good plot, but she never fails to tug at the reader’s heartstrings with her wonderful stories and deep, complicated characters. Jeffries is also adept in twisting words and idioms linguistically, which is very much fun and smart of her. All those amazing skills are compiled into this one great romance novel.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. A Notorious Love is not just another fun bodice-ripper novel to light your day with its explicit sexuality and romantic love story, it has something more. Never before I read a love story as mind-blowing as A Notorious Love. It’s a complete novel in some ways, putting aside its awkward plot. What’s more, it has awesome classic poems and ballads at the beginning of each chapter to represent its particular scenes. So, I highly recommend this book to anyone, not only to historical romance readers, but also to those who want to try one.

Rating: 3.5/5

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A Dangerous Love

Indonesian edition’s cover (source: facebook.com/dastanbooks)

What will you do to prove yourself? Will you just do anything? The answer is explicitly implied in Sabrina Jeffries’ groggily funny, heart-wrenching historical romance of Swanlea Spinsters series, A Dangerous Love. Set in early 1800s’ England, as many other historical romances commonly are, it is an engaging family drama filled with hatred, revenge, rightful wrongdoings, emotions, and, of course, blazing love and sexuality. A Dangerous Love is not a sweet, sappy love story, though it still has the basic “ended in living happily ever after” premise, and it definitely will not lead you to adore the main characters. Readers might want to prepare themselves for something tricky and treacherous, for that’s what this book is all about.

It all starts with an agreement between Griff Knighton and his man of affairs, Daniel Brennan. In exchange for an enormous amount of money, Daniel agrees to change places with Griff as they come visiting the Laverick family in Swan Park so that Griff can sneak around and steal his parents’ marriage license. After years and years of suffering from having a bastard status, it is Griff’s chance to vindicate his mother and get his legal title back, plus to expand and strengthen his business even more. But meeting Lady Rosalind proves to be a disaster, both for his carefully arranged plan and his heart. Soon, it is not enough for him to only seduce the already suspicious, plump and smart Lady Rosalind to smooth his way, and it’s definitely not enough just to satisfy his St. Peter. His cold heart is clamoring to be heard for the first time in his entire life, asking for something that requires him to sacrifice not only his plan, but also his future, his rights, and the legal status of his existence.

A Dangerous Love has one of the best characterizations of all Sabrina Jeffries’ works of romance I’ve read so far. Griff Knighton is not a likeable hero, he is selfish, stubborn, unforgiving, holding a grudge everywhere he goes. He may be well-built and handsome, but that’s very much beside the point. He spends his life trying to fit in, to get what he wants, what he thinks he deserves, and to prove himself respectable and noble to anyone who wants to listen. His heart is so full of hatred and revenge, merciless to a fault. That’s why falling in love with Rosalind is confusing him. Not to mention that Rosalind is not just another “lady of the noble family”. She is not only scandalously brave, emotional, well read, and don’t forget stubborn, too, but also determined and true to her heart. She is not physically pretty, either, with a plump build, round face, and oddly red hair. All these are combined into a heart-wrenching, mind-squeezing relationship guaranteed to make the readers mad.

I don’t think bringing up the subject of revenge in a love story, moreover in a historical romance, is something unusual. But Jeffries composes it in a very vehement narrative with such a vengeful character as Griff Knighton that every sentence and the dialogues occurred in between radiate hatred and tiring emotions. Jeffries’ typical sense of humor is still there, thankfully, and her concoction of desire and romanticism leaves us dangerously high on its atmosphere. Though sprinkled with explicit sex scenes, some of which might make your pores oozing sweat, A Dangerous Love is not merely one of those bodice-ripper novels you look down your nose at. It’s something more. It has a great story, unusual, hateful characters, nice humor, meaningful dialogues, strong emotions and all. The only disappointment is its unbelievably unrealistic plot. It happens a lot in many romance stories, I don’t doubt that, but falling in love only in one week and finding out that it’s truly our true love in life are just too much for me.On the positive side, it has the best scene of all, the best scene that forced me to cry when reading it. It’s in the last chapter before the epilogue.

In conclusion, A Dangerous Love by Sabrina Jeffries is not only an entertaining story to devour, or even a light reading to wash our stress away and make our day. It’s something to ponder about, something which gives us more than just a love story and a lot of sex. This is the kind of historical romance that I’d highly recommend.

Rating: 3.5/5