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bookish posts reviews

Listen to the Moon by Rose Lerner

listen to the moonListen to the Moon is the third in Rose Lerner’s Lively St. Lemeston series. As in many historical romance series, it features a number of cameos from the protagonists of the other books, which is always a fun thing to spot! In this case, Lerner does something slightly unusual and features as her main characters two servants.

I’ve definitely read other historical romances with servants as main characters before. But they often tend to fall into a couple of patterns: distressed gentlewomen down on their luck, or illegitimate children of nobility, or people in disguise. In this instance, Lerner resists all of these patterns: John and Sukey are genuinely part of the servant class. They expect to be part of this class for the rest of their lives.

I very much appreciated the way the complexities of being a servant are shown, both within the characters and in the different experiences depicted. John, for instance, is well paid and highly trained, someone for whom work is a source of pride. Sukey works because she must in order to live, and she doesn’t have the same pride in the job nor the same prospects (which is a source of conflict in the story). But at the same time, there’s an inherent tension between the reality of being perpetually lower class and at the mercy of your employer’s circumstances, and having a sense of fulfillment from doing the job well. It’s not resolved, because it can’t be resolved; there are no simple answers here, and Lerner doesn’t attempt to pass off platitudes as wisdom. Instead, she shows us John, and Sukey, and Thea and Molly, and Mrs. Khaleel. We’re given a sense of some of the very small range of experiences, not a single story. We’re also shown that even a well meaning or kind employer doesn’t erase the structural inequalities.

In terms of the relationship at the heart of the book, I really liked the contrast between Sukey’s impetuousness and John’s exactness. It gives food for realistic and believable tension between them, though I occasionally did want them to just talk. I also liked the way John’s concern about his age and suitableness for Sukey relieved some of the worry about that inequality of age and power that might otherwise be there for me.

I also really appreciated the way Sukey was shown as a young woman who knows her own mind, who wants to be valued for who she is. Her anxieties and strengths both worked well for me, and I liked that she’s someone who doesn’t leap into romance and who’s aware of the potential costs to both love and marriage.

Perhaps the most resonant thread of the story for me was actually John’s struggle to come to terms with his family and how much of him comes from his father. This fear that he’ll be as tyrannical and feared combined with his desire for things to be done right was nicely balanced. Especially, I think, when we begin to see his genuine pride in doing things well at the same time as he wants to find his own way.

Having read this book twice, I do feel that there’s something a little awkward about the ending. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is–pacing? a shift in tone?–but I noticed it both times. However, as an overall story, I loved this one, and I found the emotional payoff of the ending to still be very rewarding. As usual, Lerner writes engaging and complex characters, and I really appreciated John and Sukey’s story.

Book source: review copy from author

Book information 2016, Samhain; adult historical romance

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My review of Lerner’s True Pretenses

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bookish posts reviews

True Pretenses by Rose Lerner

true pretensesA few months ago, I was very surprised and flattered when Rose Lerner emailed me to ask if I would like a review copy of True Pretenses. Having read and thoroughly enjoyed In for a Penny and Lily Among Thorns, I happily accepted.

And hurrah! True Pretenses is a lovely book, and I can recommend it without reservation. It’s exactly the kind of historical romance I really like–focused on ordinary people, with texture to the setting and awareness of the social world without being completely bound by it. (For other writers who do this well, see Courtney Milan and Cecilia Grant)

Plus, I immediately liked both Ash and Lydia. The ways in which they’re similar really worked for me, and I have a soft spot for over-zealous older siblings (NOT like I ever was one myself, OH NO). They’re both flawed, deeply, and in ways that create a lot of the tension that carries the story. But they’re also intensely sympathetic, and I completely believed in their relationship.

There’s also a lot here about the stories we tell ourselves about our lives and about other people. Ash and Lydia are both guilty of rewriting their lives, of being oblivious to how even the people they love the most see the world. I really appreciated the way this strand was written; it could easily have been frustrating to read and instead it was just slightly heart-breaking.

Both Ash and Lydia are to certain degrees outsiders looking in, Ash more so than Lydia. He’s spent a long time holding his bitterness in. Lydia has a good heart–she truly cares about people–but as Ash thinks early in the book, for her it’s an academic question. I really liked the way both the sincerity of her motives, and the limitations of them, were pointed up. At the same time, there’s lots of interesting historical detail about political parties and machinations, which Lydia cares a great deal about. It worked for me, even though I didn’t particularly care about that aspect, because I enjoy competent characters who have interests.

Even more than all of this, though, I loved Ash and Lydia’s slow journey to trusting each other, and even more to trusting themselves. Lerner has a deft hand with situations that might otherwise be melodramatic, mainly because she trusts readers to get things without a lot of heavy-handed pointing. For me, this means that I can concentrate on the relationship between the characters and not fuss about the rest. And by the end of the book I really believed that these two people could be happy together, had grown into themselves enough to trust and be trusted.

Book source: review copy provided by the author
Book information: 2015, Samhain; adult historical romance