Yep, still reading these terrible, terrible books. Still enjoying them enough to keep on, though. What is remarkable about this one is how it seizes on the trend from several of the previous, in which nothing really happens. Or, well, stuff happens, even on a regular basis, but the rise and fall of action is negligible; plot points are tossed about carelessly, and the drama! and tension! that you can see coming from the second chapter really only coalesce in the last twenty pages and are neatly resolved as always.
That being said, I did enjoy much of the non-narratively-important happening of stuff. It reminded me a bit of The Fire Rose or at least the bits I enjoyed most about that one (which, come to think of it, was really the first in this series), in that it was a very comfortable book, in and around the drama! and plot! and just reading about people having a Christmas and New Years celebration which is atmospheric but entirely irrelevant to pretty much everything else in the book is kind of soothing. Lingering, loving detail is spent on a train journey, the narrative importance of which was pretty much, "They got from A to B. It took a long time. They met a guy." Which takes, like, almost as many pages as multiple final confrontations/battles.
Oh, Mercedes Lackey. That pretty much could be the entire review, just, "Oh, Mercedes Lackey." And, well, you'd know what I mean, wouldn't you?
After my pretty negative reaction to the last 2/3rds of Eat, Pray, Love, I'm as surprised as you are that I even picked this book up. But 1) I'm actually very interested in reading about women who are skeptical of the institution of marriage/actively do not want to be married and 2) I thoroughly enjoyed Gilbert's 2009 TED talk on creativity, which found the balance between the slightly foofoo mysticism and practicality that was missing for me from most of Eat, Pray, Love, as well showing a practicality of "this happened; what next?" that I found v. appealing. She made me want to hear more of her thoughts, even if I didn't fully agree with them, which I found rather remarkable.
And you know what? I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It was far more Italy than India or Bali; it was on a topic in which I was already interested (so, you know, spaghetti instead of spirituality); it was engagingly written, and it avoided all the bits of her other nonfiction that made me cringe. It's funny; I deeply resented reading about her deeply personal spiritual experiences, but I thoroughly enjoyed reading her very personal musings on marriage.
Yes, she draws on some more universal research/case studies/etc., but let's be real - this is no Straight (which, for the record, I adored). This is someone coming from a very mainstream perspective - white, straight, cis, upper/middle class, American - and she makes no bones about that. She does a fairly good job of acknowledging that, of at least brushing on the way not fitting into these categories can affect other people's thoughts and feelings on marriage, but that is not at all her focus. I see it as both a strength (precision of focus) and weakness (narrowness of focus) of the book. Hell, I'm just glad the fact that it is an acknowledged focus, rather than assuming this is Just The Way Things Are.
Gilbert skirts a bit close to The Magical Rural People Of Color Are Teaching The Nice White Lady! thing in her explorations of marriage in the small southeast Asian communities in which she (I was originally going to say "found herself," but, no, it was very much an active choice for her) was traveling while writing this book. Still, I give her credit for at least a) being better than she was in the India/Bali sections of Eat, Pray, Love and 2) calling herself out on Nice White Ladyness on more than one occasion.
I think what I found engaging about this book is exactly what I found offputting about Eat, Pray, Love: it is a very personal thought process seen through the lens of something larger/historical.* It just so happens that this time around I'm far more engaged by her personal decision-making process and am more interested in the topic of how and why people choose to perform pair bonds than a search for inner peace.
*Fair caveat - I may be ranking this book higher than it necessarily should be just because I am so. very. glad. that she was a) aware and b) very clear that it was a personal story with research-y context, rather than pretending/tricking herself into thinking it was a research-y examination with personal context. I've been suckered into one of those sorts of books one too many times, and Gilbert's relative transparency about what she was trying to do with this book was delightfully refreshing.
Cecilia Grant is a delight. Her books have all the delicious trappings of romance novels, but there is something decidedly unromantic about them, which only makes me love them more. She manages to hit most of the beats you expect from a fairly classic romance novel plot - hero needs money to help him escape his ghosts form the war; heroine is a Fallen Lady who needs money to set herself up apart from her lover; together they fight crime! gamble! - but she subverts the emotional impact or twists the consequences of those beats almost every single time.
You actually believe the heroine is a math whiz, because it's shown onscreen. Speaking of - not only does the Fallen Lady heroine have sex with her client, she does so onscreen and to her own enjoyment. I also appreciate that this is the second novel in which Grant includes a scene (or in the case of A Lady Awakened many scenes) where the hero and heroine have deeply, deeply unsexy sex that moves the plot/their character arcs along. That sex is not a one size fits all thing.
I also very much enjoy how she does the romance novel thing of making everything work out in the end and gets to that same happy ending you'd expect in a more traditional romance, but there are always consequences and often sacrifices--meaningful ones--to the choices the hero and heroine make in order to be together. All in all, a delight. Still a confection, but a salted caramel instead of saltwater taffy. I enjoy them both but for very different reasons.
I'm very glad I didn't let my distaste for the first book in this series (A Night To Surrender) keep me from trying this one, because it was delightful. A lovely wallflower/rake pairing, with suitably tragic backstory and bonus dinosaurs! Nobody was overly possessive or overly dumb (though we edged a bit close to the "I know what's best for you" line a time or two, and the levelheaded scientist "just knows the lizard is a girl" what whaaaat?); there were Wacky Hijinx on the Road. It's the sort of novel I would recommend to people who are already inclined to like romance novels, not an introduction to romances, but it is a sweet little read nonetheless.
Marvelous for Mitford's exquisite devotion to France and French society, but the characters begin to grate, ever so slightly. Whereas her frivolous society girls in The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate come across as charming despite their ridiculousness, I spent most of this novel wanting to shake everyone, but especially Grace and Charles-Edouard. Let us not even speak of their offspring, the precocious plot moppet extraordinaire Sigi, though it is fair to say that Mitford gave him an excellent set-up and explanation for why he is as selfish and manipulative as he is. Still doesn't repress the urge to shake.
Oddly enough, I think this is the closest Mitford ever really gets to a happily ever after. That's exactly as funny and depressing as it should be.