Posts Tagged Romance Saturday at SBR
It’s Romance Saturday at SBR!
And as everyone here knows, that means it’s time for a romance. So what could be better than the latest novel by Lois McMaster Bujold, featuring one of my favorite heroines ever, Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan? (For those new to her, Cordelia was featured in SHARDS OF HONOR and BARRAYAR — later collected as CORDELIA’S HONOR — and had much to say in several other novels in Bujold’s long-running Vorkosigan series, including MIRROR DANCE, MEMORY, and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN.)
GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN starts three years after Cordelia’s famous husband Aral Vorkosigan’s death. She is now the sole Vicereine of Sergyar, a colony planet of the Barrayaran Imperium, and while incredibly busy with a variety of issues — scientific, political, and economic, she finds herself at loose ends, romantically.
This was not a place she ever expected to be. She’s in her mid-to-late seventies, which for a Galactic is closer to mid-forties in health, so she has plenty of life left to her. Yet her husband, to whom she was devoted, has died…and there are additional complications for her in finding a romantic partner, as both she and her husband are/were powerful personalities with difficult and time-consuming jobs.
Fortunately, there is one man who understands that. His name is Oliver Jole. He’s an Admiral in the Barrayaran Naval Fleet stationed in Sergyar orbit, and he’s well acquainted with both Cordelia and her husband, Aral. (For long-term readers of the Vorkosigan Saga, Jole was a Lieutenant we barely saw in THE VOR GAME; Cordelia and Aral’s son, Miles, comments that Lieutenant Jole is blond and almost too good-looking to be borne — my best paraphrase, as I don’t have the book in front of me.) Oliver is nearly fifty, he has a similar background to both Cordelia and Cordelia’s late husband, is intelligent and funny, and hasn’t dated anyone in many years. And he’s fallen for Cordelia…but he doesn’t know how to get past her formidable reserve.
And on Cordelia’s part, she sees Oliver as attractive, but doesn’t realize he could be a possibility for her. They’ve been friends a long time, but Aral knew Oliver far better — and besides, Cordelia thinks Oliver is gay.
But Oliver isn’t. He’s bisexual.
This shouldn’t throw Cordelia half as much as it does, mind, as her husband was bisexual as well. But because she’s older than Oliver, and because of the history she has with Oliver, it takes her a considerable amount of time to realize that Oliver is indeed a match for her.
Complicating things markedly is the whole issue of biology. You see, Cordelia and Aral were only able to have one son, Miles, during Aral’s lifetime. (Their other son, Mark, was cloned from Miles illegally by an intergalactic criminal; once the family realized Mark was alive, they welcomed him with open arms, but Mark was not raised with Miles or by Cordelia.) However, Aral’s sperm and Cordelia’s eggs were frozen, and now Cordelia has to decide if she wants to bring more children — daughters, she’s decided — into this world.
(Minor spoilers ahead. You have been warned.)
How does Oliver come into this issue? Well, Oliver also had a close relationship with Aral, that Cordelia condoned. (You can see why Cordelia never expected to find something with Oliver now, yes?) This is why Cordelia offers Oliver some genetic material from both herself and Aral, so Oliver might be able to have children as well. (Sons, he thinks.)
Anyway, just as Oliver and Cordelia attempt to make a match of it, Cordelia’s son Miles shows up with his family. Along with all of the expected complications (it’s not that easy to explain to your fully grown son that you’ve taken up with a new, much younger man), Cordelia also has to explain her decision to have more children…and the material she’s donated to Oliver as well, so he, too, can have children of his own.
How will Miles take all this?
(Further reviewer sayeth not.)
This is a phenomenal novel that has it all. Growth. Loss. Grief. New love, all unlooked for. Romance — dear Gods, yes, romance.
I loved GENTLEMAN JOLE AND THE RED QUEEN, and think it is one of Bujold’s best novels — right up there with BARRAYAR, MIRROR DANCE, and A CIVIL CAMPAIGN.
Bottom line: What are you waiting for? It’s Lois McMaster Bujold at top form, and it’s excellent.
–reviewed by Barb
It’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review! So what could be better than a frothy little Victorian Era English romance by Victoria Alexander?
THE SCANDALOUS ADVENTURES OF THE SISTER OF THE BRIDE stars Delilah, Lady Hargate, and American entrepreneur Simon Russell. Delilah, a widow, is attending the wedding of her sister Camille (note that Camille’s story was reviewed here), and so is Simon, who just so happens to be an eligible bachelor — and friend of the groom, to boot.
So what’s the problem? Well, Delilah and Simon shared one night of passion a few years prior to this wedding and didn’t tell anyone about it for obvious reasons. Making matters more dicey yet is the fact that both Delilah and Simon did their best to blur the lines of who they really were — Simon didn’t talk about his business doings, while Delilah simply called herself “Mrs. Hargate” and passed herself off as her sister’s long-suffering chaperone.
Now, they’re supposedly meeting each other for the first time, and sparks fly — but are flying for all the wrong reasons. Simon is angry that Delilah didn’t tell him that she’s a member of the nobility, and presumably wealthy in her own right, while Delilah is angry that Simon led her to believe that his business doings were far less than they actually are — and that Simon didn’t even tell her that he was a good friend of her sister Camille’s intended, Gray.
While Delilah’s extended family continues to be befuddled by Delilah’s seeming antipathy to Simon, Gray actually figures out that Simon and Delilah must know one another no matter what they’re saying. But, of course, he’s in the midst of planning his wedding to Camille. As Camille is a Bridezilla of the first water, Gray mostly stays above the fray and makes only a few, mild comments here and there.
Simon’s purpose in England isn’t just to attend Gray and Camille’s wedding, mind. He’s also there to look into “horseless carriages” — the ancestor of today’s modern automobiles — as there’s some interesting experimentation going on with Karl Benz (yes, the same Benz from the famous auto brand Mercedes-Benz), and now some French and English investors have decided to get involved as well. All of this is historically accurate, and it is sensible that Simon, who in our terms might be considered a venture capitalist, would take a liking to the various automotive prototypes available in the very late 1880s/early 1890s.
However, Delilah is a sensible kind of gal, and she does not like the idea of motor cars. They are dangerous. They belch toxic fumes — a lot. They barely work. And their steering apparatus (much less their primitive brakes) are no match for a competent horseman driving a traditional coach-and-four.
At any rate, the sexual spark is very strong between Delilah and Simon, so as you’d expect, they don’t refrain from sexual activity despite their strong disagreement about the merits of motor cars. But they try to keep the fact they’re sleeping with one another to themselves . . . and that doesn’t work too well.
Complicating things further, Delilah has a problem with her finances. Her late husband, Lord Hargate, wanted Delilah to remarry within two years. Her two years are nearly up, and because of that, she’s been cut off without a penny from Hargate’s fortune even though he had no known heirs at the time of his death besides herself.
Delilah comes to realize that she loves Simon — granted, she has to be dragged to this realization kicking and screaming, but still — but she refuses to marry for money. Instead, she’d rather drive Simon away . . . so she gets her second cousin to step in and pretend to be interested in Delilah so Simon won’t marry her out of pity.
So, will these two get together, or won’t they? (Hint, hint: bet on the happy ending. In fact, bet large.) And will the rest of the family be able to bear with Camille as she continues her “Bridezilla from Hell” routine? You’ll have to read the book to figure these things out, but you’ll mostly enjoy every minute of it.
Now, why did I say “mostly?” It’s simple. There’s some really poor editing here, which is unusual in a mass market romance. I saw numerous sentences with twenty-five or more words in them with zero commas.
Yes, I said zero.
This is something that’s hard to overlook for three reasons:
- To be accurate for the period, commas are needed to set off clauses. The Victorians were much bigger sticklers than I am about proper punctuation, so if you’re going to evoke the Victorian Era, you need to keep this in mind.
- It is nearly impossible to read a twenty-five word sentence (or longer) without commas. So for ease of reading alone, commas should’ve been inserted . . . but they weren’t.
- This particular romance had a big budget behind it and should’ve had proper editing as a matter of course. Why this book was so poorly edited is both inexplicable and inexcusable.
Look. I have dinged numerous self-published and small press novels for poor editing. So it’s only fair that I ding a big publisher — in this case, Zebra Books — for its own poor editing.
Because of the vagaries of the editing — almost nonexistent in spots — an otherwise A-minus read must be downgraded by one full letter grade to a B-minus.
Bottom line? This is a good, frothy romance with several laugh-out-loud moments. I liked the characters and believed the automobile subplot was plausible. But the editing was absolutely appalling — and I can’t pretend it wasn’t.
Recommendation: Get this one as an e-book, and hope the editing for the e-book edition is better by far than the mass market paperback.
–reviewed by Barb
It’s Romance Saturday at Shiny Book Review! So what could be better than another romantic science fiction/mystery offering from Stephanie Osborn?
Tonight’s subject is book 5 in her long-running, popular Displaced Detective series featuring Sherlock Holmes and his wife, Skye Chadwick-Holmes, A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION. (Books one and two of the series were reviewed here; book three was reviewed here; and book four was reviewed here.) This time, Sherlock Holmes is summoned to merry old England without his wife, Skye, to consult on a perplexing case: the village of Stonegrange has died all at once, apparently of spontaneous combustion, and no one knows how or why. And for reasons of national security, Sherlock isn’t even allowed to wake her up to tell her what’s going on.
This is a problem, as Sherlock and Skye haven’t been married all that long (maybe a year, tops), and have just had a huge fight (as newlyweds the world over tend to do). The fight was over something minor, and if Sherlock had been able to tell Skye that he’d been summoned to England, it’s possible the two would’ve made up right then and there — but he wasn’t, and they’re both about to be in a world of hurt.
While Sherlock tries desperately to figure out what’s happened that’s caused Stonegrange to spontaneously combust, Skye is left at home in Colorado. Both are miserable, both try to write each other letters, but as their letters are considered classified on both ends, there are intermediaries between them and their letters to one another.
And their letters are not getting through, which adds immensely to their overall “frustration factor.”
Making matters even more dicey, the mystery of Stonegrange has a strong scientific component, so Sherlock needs Skye. And she’s not there, so solving the mystery is made that much slower and more complex, too.
Mind, Sherlock doesn’t know why Skye wasn’t sent for along with him. Neither do the people who guard Sherlock and Skye on a regular basis. And as the National Security Act has been invoked, it’s keeping them from talking with their counterparts as they normally would.
So that, too, is a mystery that both need to solve . . . but as they’re both extremely upset (Skye has fallen into a severe depression), it takes a bit more time than usual to get to the bottom of this problem.
Regarding Stonegrange, Sherlock goes undercover to find out who did this and why. He uncovers a few leads, but again realizes he needs Skye’s scientific expertise.
After quite some time, romantic and domestic matters are resolved and Skye’s back where she belonged. (So for romance readers, there is a “happily ever after” ending.) And a good thing, too, as Skye’s knowledge of physics is absolutely essential to the solving of this particular mystery.
As always with the work of Stephanie Osborn, her command of language is strong, while her knowledge of physics, England, and Sherlock Holmes trivia is excellent. Her pacing is good, the romance is outstanding, and the hard SF component (the physics involved) is explained well enough that I had no trouble figuring out what was going on.
The one quibble I had here is that the ending was a bit too gentle for my tastes. After all the sturm und drang Sherlock and Skye went through to get back into contact with one another, and then back to each other, I would’ve liked to see some retribution handed out to the person who kept them apart.
But everything else worked quite well.
Bottom line? It’s not everyone who can make cutting-edge physics comprehensible to the intelligent layman and write a kick-butt romance along with an absorbing mystery all at the same time, but Stephanie Osborn did just that in A CASE OF SPONTANEOUS COMBUSTION.
One, final thought: If you love Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day and haven’t tried Stephanie Osborn’s Displaced Detective novels yet, what’s stopping you?
–reviewed by Barb
It’s Romance Saturday! And considering it’s been a while since we last checked in with Stephanie Osborn’s inestimable Displaced Detective Series, which features the great detective Sherlock Holmes as brought to the modern-day by hyperspatial physicist (and love interest) Skye Chadwick, what could be better than to discuss book four, THE CASE OF THE COSMOLOGICAL KILLER: ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS? (Note that books one and two of this series were reviewed here, while book three was reviewed here.)
During the previous book, THE RENDELSHAM INCIDENT, our Sherlock and Skye got married, went to England for their honeymoon, and did their best to figure out whether or not a UFO was truly involved in a perplexing incident. But they also were contacted by an alternate universe’s version of Sherlock and Skye, who have a rather difficult problem of their own to solve. Simply put: the cosmos appears to be falling apart at the seams, and because other-Skye lost most of her original team due to sabotage, only the other-Sherlock is left to assist her. And while other-Skye and other-Sherlock do have feelings for one another, they are currently not lovers — instead, their relationship is that of rather strained good friends, albeit with a whole lot of sexual tension between them.
Anyway, other-Sherlock and other-Skye need our Sherlock and Skye’s help to figure out whether or not other-Skye’s equations are correct. Because of a twist of physics (crudely put, you can see any time that’s in the past from your own, and universes don’t always match anyway, time-wise), other-Sherlock and other-Skye are actually four chronological years older than our versions of the same. Because of that time differential, they are able to give our versions of Skye and Sherlock some space to get up to speed on the equations.
During book four, ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS, our Sherlock solves what’s going on in the English countryside while Skye works with other-Skye and other-Sherlock to save the cosmos from complete and utter destruction. Which would make you think there’s no time left for romance . . . but actually, there is.
You see, our Sherlock and Skye are worried about other-Sherlock and other-Skye. The latter pair has been overworked and underslept for quite some time; further, neither of them is able to derive any comfort, physical or otherwise, due to all of the emotional baggage they both have picked up due to the disastrous events that took out nearly every member of other-Skye’s Project Tesseract team.
As our Sherlock and Skye just got married and are on their honeymoon, they obviously want to rectify this. But how can they do so without intruding on other-Sherlock’s legendary privacy and other-Skye’s tragic calm?
Anyway, even though it’s never fully stated in the text, the subtext is clear: our Sherlock and Skye do not want to see their other selves floundering like this.
So we have a triple-stranded plot going on. The first plotline deals with the wrap-up of the Rendelsham case. The second plotline deals with Skye’s efforts to check other-Skye and other-Sherlock’s physics equations (what I like to think of as “their homework,” in short). And the third, which overarches both of the other plotlines, is this: How can two extremely intelligent people like other-Skye and other-Sherlock, who’ve gotten off on the wrong foot romantically, make their relationship work?
One of the delights of ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS is in seeing these two strong characters be vulnerable in both sets of incarnations. Our Skye admits things to other-Skye she’s never said to anyone; ditto for our Sherlock and other-Sherlock. And because of this vulnerability, which is a direct outgrowth of their overall intelligence and strength, it’s possible for other-Skye and other-Sherlock to repair their relationship at the same time as they do their best to repair the cosmos itself.
And that, my friends, is exactly why ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS is such a delightful book from beginning to end.
There is only one quibble I had, though, and I needs must mention it: We don’t actually see what other-Skye and other-Sherlock do to fix the cosmos. We see all the preparation beforehand, yes. But we don’t see the actual events.
Mind you, it’s possible that it wouldn’t have made any sense to do so from an action-adventure perspective. (Which is why this is but a minor quibble.) Still, I would’ve liked to see a little bit more physics and a whole lot more of the sense of menace and danger while other-Skye and other-Sherlock actually fixed everything . . . and I didn’t get it.**
That being said, this is the best SF/mystery/romance I’ve read thus far in 2014. It has everything you’d want, and then some . . . and the romance between the two sets of incredibly intelligent people is to die for.
Bottom line? Anyone with a brain and a pulse who loves SF, loves mysteries, loves Sherlock Holmes and/or loves it when intelligent people find their true soul mates should adore this book.
— reviewed by Barb
**This, for the record, is the only reason ENDINGS AND BEGINNINGS did not receive an A-plus.