Fairy Tales · Romance

Once Upon a Tower

Once Upon A Tower

by: Eloisa James

This book is part of James’ fairy tale series – it’s (very)loosely based upon the story of Rapunzel.

Our heroine is Edie, a lady who plays the cello rather brilliantly.  It is only her gender that keeps her from becoming a famous cellist, but Edie, only daughter of a wealthy earl is happy with her lot in life nonetheless.   Attending a ball despite her illness one night, she makes the acquaintance of Gowan Stoughton, a Scottish duke (and yes, that first name does make some of the more erotic scenes just a wee bit confusing.  Or, at least, it did for me.)  He falls in love at first sight, proposes, and the rest, is well…

Quite complicated, actually.  I really like James and I thought that this book shone in ways that some of her latest works haven’t.   First of all, Edie’s parents (father and significantly younger stepmother) are the product of a fairy tale romance and they find themselves struggling after the happily ever after.  Layla is unable to conceive a child, there’s a complete lack of communication, and there’s absolutely no understanding from either party of the importance of communication.  (They just don’t work like that, you understand!)  Layla and Edie are good friends, and depictions of female friendships are truly sets James apart from other romance authors.   Though her parents’ relationship is a very secondary part of the story, it dramatically affects Edie’s love story.

Layla is also young and flighty and, though a good friend to Edie, not always the best source of wisdom, which does help create the major plot point.  The juxtaposition of a couple just finding their happily ever after with a couple answering the age-old question of what comes after the HEA is rather brilliantly drawn.  It also gives a sense of richness to the ending; that even though our hero and heroine may (do) find themselves back in wedded bliss, there are other obstacles that must be overcome.  Takes away a bit of the tint from the rose-colored glasses, if you will.

The other absolutely amazing part of this book – truly wonderful, I loved it so much – is that the sex isn’t great.

In fact, it’s terrible.  The physical attraction is there, mind you, but neither party really knows what they’re doing.  And it’s a huge point in the book; it is the pivotal issue around which several major issues rest.  James handles it beautifully – Edie’s feelings upon being unable to orgasm, when her husband so desperately wants to please her, and the choices she makes in response are realistic and, I think, felt by modern women still.  Gowan’s reactions and emotions are equally well-depicted and I imagine very relevant, though I am less familiar with the social pressures men feel than with the ones women feel. (James has used bad sex before but neither so well nor so prominently.) And the solution to the bad sex is not, as it is in so many romance novels, more sex.  Edie is thrust into the throes of passion by his magic manhood, nor does her magic womanhood suddenly endow him with the skills of a Casanova.  This despite the fact that they’re both so very attracted to each other! In fact, sex only worsens the problem exponentially.

The solution, the reader begins to believe, is what Dan Savage himself would preach – communication.  Do they begin to communicate? Does Edie ever orgasm?  Does she come down from the tower?

I’ll quickly note that I did not much care for the epilogue – one could very well not read it and still be satisfied with the ending.  In contrast to what I wrote earlier, it is a little too pat and happily ever after for my tastes; epilogues often are.

If you, dear reader, love romance, novel love romance, or are looking for an honest depiction of a common problem that is ignored in most of literature, you should read this book – even if you don’t like romance novels, you should give this one a shot. If you read romances for the torrid sex scenes or if you like stories featuring Casanovas, than perhaps this isn’t the book for you.  Although it is excellent and everyone who wants to be in a relationship should read it.  Just sayin’.


The Lady Most Willing

by: Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway

This is the second book co-written by these three romance authors.  (I enjoyed it more than the first, too.)  Julia Quinn is my absolute favorite romance author – and one of my very favorite authors – because of her witty writing, wonderful characters and the way her writing acknowledges the social pressures of the world she sets her novels in.

This story, set in 1819 in a Scottish winter, follows four girls who were kidnapped by an older laird, known around town for his drunken yet harmless antics, wanting to provide his nephews with potential brides.  And by kidnap, I mean Taran gets drunk and goes off willy-nilly to a ball and scoops up the girls, most of whom know him and are therefore rather more annoyed than scared. They then get snowed in at his castle with an assortment of eligible men and, well, romance happens.

I actually like this plot line as compared to the more often seen kidnapping plot lines: a) hero is angry and wants revenge and thus takes eligible woman or b) hero means to kidnap one woman and accidentally kidnaps another.  Here, the heroes are all rather embarrassed and/or amused by the circumstance.  The women, especially the heroine of the first part of the story, give Taran a good dressing down for his behavior and then wait out the storm with good humor and grace, free of fear or worry.  There’s a distinct lack of Stockholm syndrome – it’s known that as soon as the storm stops everyone is free to go – and it’s nice that nobody starts off with a grudge against anyone else.

Time-span wise, everything takes place in 4 days, which is rather short but well done. And it does lead to one of my favorite phrases from a romance novel, “Love at first meaningful conversation.” (Which is much, much better than love at first sight.)  I really loved Quinn’s story – she has, as I said, amazing wit. Her characters find humor in rather everyday things and nothing ever feels contrived.  I just really, really enjoy her writing, even in short-story format.  At some point, I’ll review one of her books and really explore why I love her novels.

Eloisa James wrote the second portion of the novel and I enjoyed it much more than I did her last novel.  Her heroine has a bad reputation, which is a theme she’s dealt with before. I liked how she dealt with it for the most part, and honestly, some of the things her heroine is dealing with women still deal with today. Her writing, generally, is best when she’s dealing with the relationships between the main characters and side characters, such as close friends and family.  Here, the heroine and her sister are constantly interacting and I think that’s part of the reason why I liked it better than her last novel.

Connie Brockway wrote the last third of the novel.  I don’t read her novels on a regular basis, but I did like her writing her better than the last novel in three parts.  She’s a decent writer overall but compared to Quinn and James her writing comes off as ever so slightly contrived and a tiny bit overly dramatic. Her hero was a little angst-y for my taste but I did like that her heroine, Cecily, was shy and reserved and completely okay with that.  Others find her quiet and reserved and she states that she only truly feels at ease enough to be herself around loved ones.  Regardless, Cecily is well-liked, popular, and self-confident.

All in all, this was a fun read and I was often delighted while reading it.  I smiled, I laughed, I snorted – it was good times, y’all.  Its worst fault is that it is the tiniest bit cheesy because of the short time span.  Definitely read it if you like charming and witty romances, novellas, love at first sight (or meaningful conversation!) stories, or if you’re looking for a fun light read (this one is bubble-bath recommended). If you like drama-filled romances, steamy ones full of people ripping off clothes at the slightest provocation, or ones where a deep love develops slowly over a long period of time, then alas!, this may not be the book for you.

Have you read it? Do you enjoy this format? Drop a line in the comments and let me know!


Seduced by a Pirate

Seduced by a Pirate is Eloisa James’ most recent novella.  I’m not actually too fond of novellas, but I’m quite fond of Eloisa James, so I went ahead and read it.  It’s – okay.  Which is disappointing, coming from Eloisa James.  Normally, her books are lovely, full of wit and charming romance.  (She and Julia Quinn are my favorite romance authors.) Most of her books have focused quite heavily on female friendships, as well as the main romantic plot but this little novella didn’t.  The plot was a little too neat and tidy and, I think, lacked the time (space?) to be well-developed.  Like I said, I’m not terribly fond of novellas and I usually find them to be lacking either in character development or plot development.

The main female character was really isolated – the whole of the story was fairly isolated, come to think of it – and though the male lead had some interactions with a good friend of his, the story is almost entirely focused on the leads’ interactions.  (If you’ve read her four books in “The Duchess Quartet,” you’ll understand how female friendships really makes her work shine.)  The premise is that Sir Griffin Barry, who ran away from his wedding night and became a pirate, has finally returned home to his wife, whom he barely knows.  Sir Griffin was, mind you, a fairly principled pirate – no one walked the plank, slaves were freed or returned to their homeland if found, and he only pirated other pirates.  Thus he ended up being a privateer instead of a pirate.  (I do get a little bored of romance novels who have the “good-guy-masquerading-as-the-bad-guy-I-was-always-principled-in-the-end” thing going on. It’s somewhat tiresome.)

Though the characters had a believable chemistry, things were a little too pat. Example:  Sir Griffin can never return to society; his wife disdains society.  The wife (I can’t remember her name; my apologies!) was a bit too modern to be quite believable – though I’m no expert on Victorian society, of course.  It could be that her views were quite common to a certain sect of the time and I just don’t know it.  The writing style was good, because Eloisa James is quite an excellent writer, but this wasn’t up to her usual standards.  It was short enough that I don’t think it was a waste of time to read it, but I doubt that I’ll ever reread it.