Book Review: His Convict Wife

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Title: His Convict Wife

Author: Lena Dowling

Genre: Historical, Romance

Rating: 5 (4.5) Stars

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Description/Synopsis:

For Irish convict Colleen Malone, being framed, transported to Australia and forced into prostitution seemed like the worst that life could throw at her. Then she fell pregnant to a client and was sent back to prison by her cruel owner. Now, her only hope of a decent life for her and her baby is to find someone to marry.
Widower and former London businessman Samuel Biggs arrived in Australia hoping to put his grief behind him. When James Hunter offers him a job on his Parramatta farm, he accepts eagerly. He’ll put his back into his new work, and bury any thoughts of new love and marriage in the rich earth of his new home.
However, all plans are compromised when Samuel is manipulated into visiting a workhouse to choose a new housekeeper, and Colleen seizes her chance — literally grabbing Samuel and begging for her life. The only way Samuel can oblige is by marrying her, but on one thing he stands firm — there is no way he will fall in love…

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I have to admit, I was more than thrilled to have the opportunity to review another of Ms. Dowling’s novel’s. I was even more thrilled to see that yet again, it was another historical romance. Though the author has a definite talent for writing, I have found in my experience that her historical novels really stand out as exceptional writing. Again, I wasn’t disappointed.

This novel came to me on the tail of a series of lack-luster fiction I’d read recently, so opening the first page I was already mentally worn out and though I’ve enjoyed Ms. Dowling’s previous novels, I was hesitant to dive into what could potentially be another mediocre story. Instead, after just the first line of the novel, I was grinning from ear to ear.

“May the little people come in the dead of night, wrench your evil eyes out from their sockets, and fry them on the griddle for breakfast for what you’ve done.”

Colleen Malone may yet be one of the best heroin’s Ms. Dowling’s written to date. She’s a spitfire of a character who’s stubborn, straight-forward, and hilarious. Colleen is a character that despite playing the role of a woman of ill-repute, manages to convincingly keep hold on her innocence in a way I wasn’t sure was possible until I encountered her. The author’s given her a moral boundary that served to separate the role she’d been given in life with her personality, and I think it’s a testament to Ms. Dowling’s writing skills that she managed to draw that line and convince a reader like me that it’s possible for someone so lost in the dregs of society to hold on to their innocence and morals. Despite the position Colleen found herself in, I believed she was at heart a good character.

Was the story formulaic? Yes. As with most of these types of romances, I wasn’t truly surprised at any point in time with where the story was going – but I don’t consider that a failing mark. With these types of books I think being a bit formulaic and predictable is part of what makes these romances a good read. It’s comfortable knowing that in the end everything is going to turn out all right… like reading a fairytale that always ends with “and they lived happily ever after”. It certainly didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.

The story was full of tension between not only the main couple, but also the minor, side, and other lead characters, and that helped to drive the story onward. I didn’t feel rushed, bored, or confused, and I never had a moment where I sat back and went “really? That’s what’s happening right now?” The characters were very convincingly written, and from a technical standpoint, the writing was clean, fast-paced, and well-written.

Was it a book to break the boundaries of the genre? No—but it was certainly a good book, and one I’m happy to be setting on my “Keeper” shelf. I think anyone who enjoys a good historical romance will enjoy this book, and I highly recommend it to anyone who’s new to Ms. Dowling’s work.

Book Review: Legally Addicted

ImageTitle: Legally Addicted

Author: Lena Dowling

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Rating: 4 Stars (I rounded up from 3.5)

On Sale May 1, 2013

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Description/Synopsis: A fast-moving, high stakes battle-of-the-sexes story with a Hepburn/Tracey flavor (and a hot one-night stand!).

Georgia Murray’s one-night-stand with fellow Sydney lawyer and billionaire property magnate Brad Spencer was supposed to be just that – one-off, fun. Case closed.

But Brad knows something Georgia doesn’t: their lives are about to become entwined in an unavoidable way. The tension smoulders towards ignition point, and Georgia is terrified to find herself contemplating more from Brad, even the possibility of love – a concept with the power to frighten her more than anything else in this world.

WARNING – SPOILERS MAY ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – REVIEW BELOW

I went into this book expecting to love it having read another of Ms. Dowling’s books previously. In some respects I was right on par, and in others, I feel a little let down. I came away from this book feeling like Ms. Dowling’s writing strength may lie more towards the historical fiction than the contemporary, but on the other hand, this was still a good book. I’ll explain why.

I found the writing in this novel quite a bit drier than the last, but I don’t want anyone to think I’m saying that negatively. In the context of the story between these two lawyers, I found the rather formal writing to really fit the personalities of the main characters, and in that respect, I think the author has an extraordinary ability to get into her character’s head-space and really write the story in their voice.

It wasn’t easy to get into the writing like with her last book, but once I got used to it, it fit well. I noticed right away at the beginning of the story, that unlike her previous story where the romance of the language of that period really drove the narrative, in this story the narrative went from one chronological action to the next. The story was very methodical in the way it was written, and in a way it really captured the way the main characters, Brad and Georgia, observed their world quietly rather than waste a lot of time talking. Because of this, like I said, the narrative was very dry and action-driven rather than dialogue-driven, and it was a bit harder to get into… but I found it appropriate to the characters.

Something I really did enjoy about this story was the humor. I wrote myself notes all throughout reading this story and there were more than a dozen times I literally laughed because of the character’s internal thoughts. Likewise, there were many moments where I literally gasped aloud and covered my mouth, shocked by the character’s actions. If there’s one thing that can be said for the author’s writing, it’s that she’s very good at eliciting a response towards her characters. Without even really realizing it, I began to root for the characters, who were unbelievably obtuse at times–but I’ll get to that. Here are some of my favorite moments:

“There was no loving, and no leaving. Just dinner, okay?”

“I’ll believe you, but thousands wouldn’t,” Miriam said in a singsong voice as she left the office to return to her own workstation.

(two paragraphs later…)

“Is he as good in bed as they say?”

Miriam’s head had reappeared back around her office door.

Without thinking Georgia answered. “Yes. What? No. How would I know?”

“Ha! Gotcha. You said yes first.”

Damn it.

aannnnddd….

“I owe you an apology Georgia.”

“What?”

Georgia couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She looked at the empty glass, disbelieving. How strong was this stuff? Had Brad’s butler drugged her?

I did find the dialogue in this story a little unnatural at times – mostly concerning the butler, Jeffrey, who was often not as formal and concise in his speech as I was expecting. It was almost as if he was trying to be formal, but it just wasn’t convincing. There were also a few times I cringed at Georgia’s responses when I felt she wasn’t being nearly as professional as I’d expect from a woman who’d just become a partner in a law firm, but these moments were relatively rare. For the most part, I was comfortable in the other character’s dialogue, and there were a few that I genuinely loved.

As for the characters, Jeffrey and Miriam had to be two of my favorites. There were moments when that sly dog of a butler made comments that had me sitting here tongue in cheek snickering:

“Oh dear, sir. Well, it comes to us all eventually. None of us is getting any younger. Perhaps you should think about settling down.”

and Miriam had me wanting to high five her:

“Dayton Llewellyn Murray, Georgia Murray’s office, how may I help you? Yes, Mr Spencer.”

Georgia automatically looked over in the direction of Brad’s office, but it was empty.

“Sure, I can check her diary for you.”

Georgia mimed “give the phone to me” hand signals, but Miriam carried on talking.

“Yes, Georgia’s weekend is free.”

“Of course, Mr Spencer, I’ll check.”

Miriam pressed the mute button on the phone.

“He wants to know if you can go away with him for the weekend.”

“I don’t know, Miriam. Tell him I’ll have to think about it.”

Going away for the weekend was a significant step along the path of seriousness. She would have to chew it over before she could commit to something like that.

Miriam released the mute button and recommenced speaking, “Georgia says she would love to.”

As supporting characters they really shone in the way they interacted with Brad and Georgia–Miriam especially. Miriam is my home girl as far as I’m concerned. *Thumps chest in solidarity.* The way the author painted the characters was amazing, and I’m not sure everyone would have picked up on it. There are so many moments throughout this story when I sat back in wonder at the tiny ways Ms. Dowling had used the narrative of the story to really paint a picture of who here characters were. I cannot get over how amazingly she portrayed her characters, as flawed as they were.

As for Brad and Georgia, most of the time I wanted to slap them upside the head. They both had so many inner issues and were so absorbed in themselves in a way, that it was no wonder when their relationship became super-complicated very quickly. This wasn’t a hot-steamy romance in the way I expected, but a fumbling, awkward, but sweet romance between two characters that were still both children emotionally. They made bad decisions and said stupid things. A lot. They threw tantrums and acted unprofessionally. A lot. Still, at the end of the day, their romance was endearing, because despite their self-sabotage and doubt, it was easy to tell that they both really loved each other… they were just terrified to admit it.

Unfortunately, there were some definite downsides to this novel, and they are the reason I marked this down to 4 stars. First, the copy I got was from NetGalley, and probably a pre-edited version, so forgive me if this is inaccurate to the version sold on Amazon, but there were a lot of punctuation and general grammar mistakes. Those may be cleaned up in the for-sale version. I don’t know.

That being said, another issue I constantly ran across was the seemingly random bits of narrative that just didn’t fit into the story. At times the writing would become extremely informal and out-of-character. For instance, when Georgia, the lawyer, started talking about “bling” and someone getting “all up in her face”. I’d expect that from a teenager, but from a lawyer? Not so much. Another time was when Brad referred to “she-balls” and then later in the story, Georgia used the same phrase. As a writer myself, it stuck out at me. It’s not a common saying, and to see two characters use the same phrase stuck out as sloppy writing. It was an obvious author-preferred phrase rather than a character-derived one.

Another problem for me was the constant use of slang. The author used phrases like “OMG” and “perving” (which I don’t consider a valid verb), and in one instance substituted “uni” for university. Now, I realize the author is from a different part of the world where “uni” may be a common slang term, but here in the USA where “college” is more common a phrase than “university”, using the slang “uni” stuck out like a sore thumb. I would have preferred to see the longer “university” which I could at least understand without much thought. I’m willing to let it slide because the book was written as being in Australia, so the slang was probably appropriate for the characters, but as someone from another country, I found the various slang terms very confusing at times. I didn’t know what half of them meant. (For instance: What on Earth does “paps” mean? or “coalface” ?) There were also a lot of word spellings I wasn’t familiar with (such as “kerb” instead of “curb”) but I can only assume those are the Australian-English spellings, and are therefore appropriate.

All of those negatives aside though, I really liked the story. The writing was superb as far as inflections go. Not once did the author have to say “he was angry” or “she was nervous”, the way the characters responded to each other inferred everything I needed to know about how they were feeling without it ever having to be said, and that is a sure sign of amazing writing. I feel as if there are going to be a lot of readers who go into this book, skim, and say “eh.. it’s a dry romance” and are going to completely miss the subtleties of the writing that really make this story amazing. Maybe it’s just easier for me to see as a writer because these are the things I look to do in my own work. Ms. Dowling may not have many books under her belt, but from what I’ve seen, give her a few years and she’s going to be amazing.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who’s looking for a less-standard romance. There are some steamy bits, but that isn’t really what this book is about. It’s a very real take on two people just trying to figure out a complicated relationship, and all the mistakes they make along the way.  It’s a quick read, and very funny – I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

By the way, isn’t that cover gorgeous?!

Book Review: The Convict’s Bounty Bride

ImageTitle: The Convict’s Bounty Bride

Author: Lena Dowling

Genre: Historical Romance

Rating: 5 Stars

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Description/Synopsis: Life as a convict in an Australian penal colony was brutal, but James Hunter had the advantages of raw physical strength and courage on his side. He survived, and now he is back; a self‐made man of means, determined to take the bride he was promised.
Lady Thea Willers knows nothing of the bargain her father made to save her brother, nor does she have any interest in marriage. It might be a radical idea, but what Thea wants is a career.
The revelation that her brother’s liberty depends on her marrying James Hunter is devastating. But nothing, it seems, has the power to shake Thea’s world upside down like James himself, or the way he makes her feel.

WARNING – SPOILERS WILL ENSUE BEYOND THIS POINT – DETAILED REVIEW BELOW

I’m going to try and keep the spoilers to a minimum because this book has not yet been published, so bear with me. I received my copy through NetGalley in return for some feedback/a review. First off, have you seen the cover? It is GORGEOUS. I love it when a book has a great cover (because yes, I do judge books by their covers sometimes. So sue me.)

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. The characters were interesting and strong-willed. The story was full of humor and crazy antics by the heroine, Thea, and there was some definite sizzling passion between Thea and James. (Can I have him now? Thea doesn’t really need James.. I’ll just.. borrow him, you know?) My only real complaint is that maybe the book was too short. I wanted more. A lot more. It’s not that anything felt missing from the story… I’m just super greedy with the stories I love, and I didn’t want this one to end. It was well-written, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I’d recommend this book to anyone who loves romances, bold heroine’s, and Harlequin books. I sped through it in about 2 hours, so it’s a great quick read for anyone who doesn’t have a lot of time to wade through a larger novel.